Archive | July, 2019

Updates–The Family Pride, Mirror Image, The Empire’s Corps, Etc

31 Jul

Hi, everyone

The first piece of good news is that The Family Pride is up and it’s already got some good reviews. I’m currently mulling the next two-three books in the series – I’d like to do something with Bella, Cat’s other sister, but I haven’t figured out what. (Yet, anyway.) I do have one idea, but it would be a bit OOC for Bella – I may give it to Saline instead. I haven’t decided yet.

The second piece of good news is that I have completed the first draft of Mirror Image, Schooled in Magic 18, and it is now off to the editors. No cover or publication date yet, but watch this space.

The third piece of good news is that I have a short story in Tom Kratman’s (and Baen’s) Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation collection. Doing Well By Doing Good is an idea Tom actually gave me (long story – he gave it to me a long time before the collection was more than a glint in his eye) and it seemed to fit, so I wrote it. The collection itself is currently available as an eARC and will be out properly in early August.

The final piece of good news is that the next project will be Favour The Bold, The Empire’s Corps 16, which will go back to the marines in the core worlds.

That said, my wife insists I need a holiday – and I probably do – so it will be around two weeks before I actually start writing. Watch this space …

As always, comments, reviews and shares are more than welcome.


Out Now–The Family Pride (The Zero Enigma VI)

26 Jul

Six years ago, in the aftermath of the House War that nearly tore Shallot apart, Akin Rubén and Caitlyn Aguirre were betrothed in a bid to keep their rival families from returning to war. Now, with both of them on the brink of maturity, that marriage is starting to loom. The moment of choice, when they must decide to go through with the wedding or risk their families resuming their rivalry, is fast approaching.

And yet, all is not well in House Rubén. Akin, the presumed Heir Primus, has many enemies, relatives who will do anything rather than see him succeed his father and link their families to their former rivals. Powerful factions are gathering, ready to oppose the match by any means necessary. Secrets from the past are being dug up and turned into weapons, just waiting to be launched. In desperation, Lord Rubén – Akin’s father – forces his son to enter the Challenge – a contest that will either prove his right to inherit or utterly destroy him.

But the Challenge is not quite what it seems …

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On Generosity and Risk

20 Jul

I wrote this a while back, but forgot to post it. Sorry <wink>

A few days ago, someone said that I could be remarkably generous when I wanted to be.

To put that in some context, I was collecting pieces of old cardboard – cereal boxes, for example – for my son’s nursery. I don’t see it as a stunning example of generosity because I would have bought the cereal in any case (I have to eat <grin>) and it doesn’t cost me anything extra to give them to the kids. It does cause me some minor inconvenience, as I have to carry a bag of cardboard to the school, but the only other options are throwing it out or giving it to the council for recycling. And let’s face it – I feel better about giving it to the kids.

The trouble with generosity, however, lies in how you balance generosity with risk.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received, when it comes to managing money, is never loan money you cannot afford to lose. If you, for example, loan money to a friend which is not repaid on time (the borrower cannot or will not repay you), you have to cope with the consequences of losing that money. If you need that money to pay your own debts, you’re in trouble. The landlord (or anyone else you might happen to owe money to) is not going to be pleased with an excuse of ‘I loaned my money to Bob and he didn’t repay me on time.’ No, Bob has left you holding the bag.

Pretend, for the sake of argument, that you earn £1500 a month. Your monthly living costs (anything you cannot put off; food, rent, tax, etc) are £1000. You may earn £1500 per month, but your actual free cash is £500. You can save this for a rainy day or you can go wild and spend madly – it’s fine, as long as you keep money in reserve to meet your expenses, the money you cannot afford to lose. If someone asks you to loan him £1000, you need to think long and hard about what you’ll do if he doesn’t repay you.

This causes problems for both personal borrowers and lenders – families have been torn apart over money – and international banking. If you owe the bank £1000, as someone (Heinlein) said, you have a problem; if you owe the bank £1’000’000, the bank has a problem. Bankers need to be careful who they loan money to because it is pretty much always a gamble. The borrower might repay the mortgage or they might not. If they don’t, the bank may not be able to recover the money. There is a certain requirement for due diligence (i.e. a risk assessment) before loaning anyone any money. Someone who has a good job and excellent prospects is a better risk than a drug addict who hasn’t been able to keep a job for more than a week.

Indeed, one of the reasons I dislike the EU is because the EU failed to do any kind of due diligence (let alone a risk assessment) before allowing new EU members like Greece and Spain to join. They were, put bluntly, bad risks; they literally cannot pay back the money they borrowed, leaving their creditors holding the bag. The politics of EU expansion trumped cold business sense. This might also be true (this is hotly disputed, for obvious reasons) of the housing bubble in the US. The banks were encouraged to make loans to people who were bad risks in the hopes this would help first-time homeowners. Unsurprisingly, most of the loans failed and the bankers were left holding the bag.

I am, by nature, a naturally cautious person. If someone came to me and asked for a loan, I would consider – first – what would happen if the money was not repaid. I would not assume that the money would be deliberately held back – accidents happen, as I know all too well – but I have to assume the worst. It would be easy to say no to a request for a million pounds – I don’t have a million pounds – but a smaller sum might be doable. However, I would still want to know just how exposed I was if things went badly wrong.

For example, I recently discovered that landlords require parents (or someone with a good job) to underwrite student accommodation. If a student fails to pay his rent, for whatever reason, the landlord can claim it from the parents. The paperwork was a little vague about how far this actually went. Would the parents be responsible for damage? If so, how much damage? If the apartment is completely trashed, are the parents on the hook for everything? It’s possible, at least. The average student simply doesn’t have the kind of money necessary to repair and renovate an apartment.

If my kids asked me to underwrite their accommodation, I would insist on performing a great deal of due diligence first. That’s basic common sense. I’d want a solid upper limit on just how much I’d be expected to pay, if the worst happened, and I’d want to be sure the other parents (if we’re talking about a shared apartment) could pay their share. And I’d want to know who else was going to be living in the flat. If my kid is sharing with five or six others of the same age and so on, I’d be more concerned about exposure than if the kid was living alone. (Apparently, teenage boys are regarded as a higher risk. Who knew? <grin>)

And if I thought the risk was too high, I’d say no.

Someone reading this is probably going to call me heartless. That’s exactly what happens, by and large, when someone is trying to stampede someone else into making a decision without carefully considering all the ramifications. It might be an enthusiastic stockbroker telling you to put all your money into Mr. Burns Holdings because the price is going up and what goes up could not possibly go down. Or it might be a relative, because relatives always help each other out, or it might be a wastrel friend who pours on the emotional blackmail until you either give in or harden your heart. And this always leads to trouble, because people come to resent emotional blackmail and eventually turn bitter and jaded.

What makes this worse is that people who consider the money theirs feel that they have a right to control how it’s spent. If you loan a friend some money to support himself until he gets back on his feet – and he then spurges on luxuries rather than getting himself another job – how long is it going to be before your relationship turns sour? Would you loan him another penny? Would you – or would you not – be demanding your money back, particularly if it’s clear his bad habits are actually harming his chances of getting another job and being able to repay you? How long would it be before generosity turns to bitter rage?

What makes this even worse is that there are few legal ways to recover the money. Can you afford a lawyer? Can you prove the loan even existed in the first place? Does he even own something that can be seized and sold to pay your expenses? If he has nothing … what then? You can win in court – you can get a judgement that is wholly in your favour – and still be left holding the bag.

I understand the urge to be generous. I also understand the urge to help. But generosity must be balanced with a risk assessment if it is not to turn sour – or, for that matter, to do more damage than it sets out to fix.

Snippet–Mirror Image (Schooled In Magic 18)

8 Jul


“And now we have exhausted all the trivial matters we wished to discuss,” the Chairman said, “we should turn our attention to the news from Heart’s Eye.”

Grandmaster Gordian of Whitehall let out a sigh as the table came to attention, the attendees straightening up as it dawned on them that the committee was finally going to move on to something important. The Educational Committee rarely had anything useful to do, beyond reaffirming the status quo. The really important decisions were discussed in the backchambers, compromises hashed out and deals struck before the final decision was presented to the White Council as a fait accompli. Gordian himself had been tempted to decline the invitation to the council, even though he was supposed to have a permanent seat at the table. It was ironic that the person who had finally given the council something useful to do was the same girl who had been the bane of his existence, during his first two years as Grandmaster.

Not a girl, not any longer, he reminded himself. She’s a young woman.

“Ten years ago, Heart’s Eye was invaded by Dua Kepala, a necromancer,” the Chairman said, as if no one in the room was familiar with the story. “He held Heart’s Eye as his own personal fortress until Lady Emily killed him and reignited the nexus point, claiming Heart’s Eye for herself. By both law and custom, we could not take the building from her. Attempts were made to convince her to gift the school to its former owners, but they were unsuccessful.”

“Naturally,” Professor Aguirre muttered, brushing his brown hair out of his face. He was a dumpy man who wanted to be more than he was, but never would be. Everyone knew he’d be a disaster, if he were trusted with any position of responsibly. “Who would surrender something so valuable?”

Gordian nodded, tightly. Heart’s Eye was literally priceless. The school alone was worth more than anyone, even the White Council, could reasonably pay and the nexus point … no one in their right mind would give it up, not for anything. A source of near-infinite power was beyond price, even if the owner could barely tap into its limited potential. And, given what Gordian knew of Emily’s activities, it was quite likely that she could tap into its potential. Why would she give it up? He found it hard to imagine anyone wanting to give it up.

“It has since become clear that Lady Emily and her supporters intend to open a university” – the Chairman stumbled over the unfamiliar word – “which will encourage the study of both magic and something she calls science, the source of the New Learning. Heart’s Eye will become the home of this … establishment. The Old Boys League has apparently accepted her decision and has offered her their assistance, in exchange for a presence at the school …”

Professor Aguirre held up a hand. “They’ve conceded defeat?”

“They’ve conceded that a presence at the school is better than nothing,” Gordian said. It was against tradition, but … what choice did they have? Heart’s Eye had been ruined and the surrounding region devastated. Even if the Old Boys League had been gifted the school without any quibbling over the price, they might have found it impossible to restore the school to its former glory. “And who can blame them?”

“I can.” Professor Aguirre glared around the table. “I read the statement, the call to pens and parchment. They’re flying in the face of tradition by denying apprenticeships and …”

Gordian kept his face impassive as an argument broke out. Professor Aguirre had a point. Traditionally, students who wanted to gain their masteries apprenticed themselves to masters, serving them in exchange for a formal education. It made a great deal of sense, particularly in the more dangerous fields of magic. An apprentice could be given the kind of one-on-one education that was simply impossible in a school, where each teacher might be responsible for multiple students. It also made it easier to screen out students who couldn’t be trusted with such magics, although Gordian knew it was far from infallible. Despite everything, too many secrets were outside the White Council’s control.

And yet, it also limits the number of trained masters, he reminded himself. There might be something to be said for expanding the apprenticeship program …

He dragged his attention back to the table as the Chairman banged for order. “She is young,” the Chairman said. “But she is in possession of the school.”

“And possession is nine-tenths of the law,” Gordian reminded them. “She cannot be dislodged by force.”

That didn’t go down well. Another argument broke out. Gordian sat back and waited, trying to determined who thought what. It was difficult to tell. Gordian had no doubt the White Council would rule against Emily, if pushed. He also had no doubt that the council would find it impossible to enforce its ruling. Emily had a nexus point and enough knowledge to use it. His brow furrowed as a thought struck him. He, perhaps, was the only councillor who knew just how formidable Emily could be, with a nexus point under her control. Everyone else would assume – and they’d be quite right, bearing in mind what they knew – that it would take her time to master the power. And they would be wrong. Devastatingly wrong.

And the law is clear, he thought, grimly. Anything taken in honest combat becomes the property of the victory.

He felt his frown deepen as the argument raged on. Taking the former school by force was simply not an option. Lady Emily might not realise it, but she had more allies than she knew – and people who would back her because an attempt to seize the school would also fly in the face of tradition. The Gods alone knew how many fortunes had been built on something taken in combat. They would all be at risk if the White Council set a terrifying precedent by seizing Heart’s Eye.

The dispute grew darker. Magic flickered through the air. Gordian braced himself, wondering who would cast the first hex. Too many councillors had too much wrapped up in the affair for it to end lightly, from the councillor who’d studied at Heart’s Eye to the councillor whose distant grandfather had won his fortune in a series of carefully-planned duels. Power started to build, a couple of magicians muttering spells to carve protective wards. Things were slipping out of control …

“I think we have to admit something, right from the start,” he said, as if he were addressing a bunch of rowdy students. He rather felt that his students would be better behaved. “Lady Emily has possession of the school. And there is no way to take it from her, not legally.”

“Not legally,” Professor Aguirre repeated.

“And if we try and fail to take the school illegally,” Gordian asked, “where does that leave us?”

“She’s lost her powers,” Professor Aguirre snapped. “She may not even be able to get into the school.”

“Rumour claimed she lost her powers,” the Chairman said. “However, there are over a hundred eyewitness accounts of her defending herself against an assassination attempt at the Faire. I doubt she could have fooled everyone into believing she still had her powers, if she’d really lost them. The reports made it clear that she used a whole string of spells …”

“They could have been faked,” Professor Aguirre insisted.

Gordian snorted. “And the only way to fake such spells would require the magic to cast such spells,” he said, dryly. “It seemed a little pointless, doesn’t it? Why would she bother?”

He went on before Professor Aguirre could think of another objection. He’d read the reports very carefully, from the first suggestions that Emily might have lost her powers to the final eyewitness accounts. The former were vague, crammed with innuendo and loaded with wishful thinking; the latter were cold, precise, and attested by some of the most respected magicians in the community. Gordian doubted they could all be fooled – and there was no way they could be fooled without magic. Emily might as well pretend to be alive.

“Furthermore, we have what seems like a workable compromise. Emily will build her university. It will, inevitably, take on the characteristics of a school. She will discover, as many have before her, that it will be difficult to train masters without one-to-one tuition. She may lay the groundwork for their education, but she will be unable to complete it. Her students will seek out masters so they can finish their training. And, in the meantime, the New Learning will continue to spread.”

Professor Aguirre huffed. “Is that a good thing?”

“Yes.” Gordian disliked Emily – he admitted as much, at least to himself – but he had to admit that she’d done a lot of good. Who would have thought that something as simple as phonic writing could change the world beyond recognition? The Old Guard might sniff at any change, but Gordian … he was prepared to embrace anything that would make his life easier. “The New Learning has already done wonders for us.”

Professor Yael – a tall woman with more interest in theory than actual magic – leaned forward. “We still don’t know what actually happened at Heart’s Eye, when the school was invaded. Do we?”

“No,” Gordian said. Heart’s Eye should have been able to hold out forever, even against a necromancer. That it had fallen suggested … what? Treachery? Or … or what? There had always been strange rumours about Heart’s Eye, rumours suggesting that Schoolmaster Edmund and his staff had spent half their time researching magics rather than teaching students, but none of the stories had ever been proven. If the Old Boys League knew something about what had actually happened, they’d kept it to themselves. “We may never know.”

Or Emily may be in for a surprise, when she reopens the school. Gordian couldn’t imagine something that could collapse the wards from the inside, not without direct access to the nexus point, but … he admitted, freely, that imagination wasn’t one of his strong points. He’d never really had the mindset for theoretical magic. Who knows what she may find in there?

He shook his head. Emily had walked into Heart’s Eye when it had been controlled by a necromancer. If she could handle that – if she had survived something that would have daunted an older and wiser magician – he was sure she could handle whatever surprises might have been left behind by the Schoolmaster. And besides, Dua Kepala himself had lived in the school for nine years. He’d had ample opportunity to remove any booby traps … if, of course, he’d bothered. Dua Kepala had been surprisingly sane, for a necromancer, but by any reasonable standards he’d still been dangerously irrational. He might simply have sealed up a number of sections and left them alone.

“We may have to rely on Lady Emily to tell us,” the Chairman said. “If she ever finds out …”

“We may never know,” Gordian said. He’d want to know, if there was something that could take down a set of invulnerable wards. Whitehall’s wards weren’t that much stronger. “But it’s also beside the point.”

He cleared his throat for attention. “I think we have no choice, but to wait and see what happens. Emily will find it harder than she thinks to run a school, let alone a university. It’s possible that someone will find a way to ease her out of her position, or even convince her that she doesn’t want it. And who knows? She may even do a lot of good.”

“Hah,” Professor Aguirre muttered. “She’s your student.”

“She was my student,” Gordian confirmed. “And that has given me some … insight … into her personality.”

He kept his face impassive with an effort. There was a great many things around Emily that simply didn’t make sense. She was … odd, by any reasonable standard. She’d turned the world upside down, time and time again. She was a genius … and yet, there was something weird about the countless innovations she’d introduced. Gordian couldn’t put his finger on it, but it was there. It didn’t make sense. Emily herself simply didn’t make sense. She wasn’t what he would have expected from the daughter of a Lone Power.

“We wait and see what happens,” he said. “There’s nothing else we can do.”

“True,” the Chairman agreed. “And, if she does run into trouble, we can offer her our support.”

“And she will,” Professor Aguirre predicted. “It … demeans us to play court to a slip of a girl.”

“We have no choice,” Gordian said. “And if she learns a few hard lessons through trying to do everything herself, so much the better.”

Chapter One

There was magic in the air.

Emily took a long breath as Frieda led her through the city gates and into Celeste itself. Her senses were almost overwhelmed, almost blinded by the constant surges of magic all around her. Street performers roared and chanted, putting on performances for the city’s children and their families; shopkeepers warded their shops against intrusion while, sneakily, casting spells to entire the curious to inspect their wares. Hundreds of people, almost all either magicians or bonded servants, thronged the streets, wearing everything from wizard robes to flimsy outfits that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Arabian Nights. And yet, the city was oddly muted. Nearly everyone used some privacy spells to keep their conversions to themselves. Emily found it a little disorientating.

She gritted her teeth as the sense of pressure grew stronger, even though it wasn’t aimed at her. Her senses had sharpened in the last few days, as her body and mind struggled to embrace her magic. She’d lost her magic for a handful of months, barely long enough to come to terms with the prospect of being powerless for the rest of her life, but it felt as if she’d never had magic before. She remembered what that was like, of course, but then she’d been at Whitehall. She’d been allowed to grow into magic at her own pace. Now …

I’m the deaf woman who suddenly discovered she could hear, at a rock concert, Emily thought, wryly. And the noise is deafening even if it’s great that I can hear.

She smiled at the thought as they walked past a series of stalls, each one selling the same potions ingredients. The owners waved at her, trying to convince her to stop and buy something – anything – from their wares. Emily had worried, the first time, that they’d recognised her personally, before realising that they were doing it to everyone. She didn’t stand out in a crowd, not even in Celeste. As far as the shopkeepers were concerned, she was just another potential customer.

A trio of bondservants walked past her, wearing collars to indicate their servile status. Emily shivered, despite herself. She’d been told that most bondservants sold themselves into slavery, putting themselves in bondage to ensure their families would have a decent life, but she’d never believed it. The collars held more than just obedience spells. It would be very hard for someone to take the collar off, even if they were a trained and experienced magician. She doubted a mundane could do it at all. Someone could be forced to don the collar and then … she shuddered. They’d be enslaved for the rest of their life.

And no one would give a damn if their master broke whatever agreement he’d made, she thought, sourly. Who cares about a slave anyway?

She glanced up, sharply, as a street performer stepped into their path. “Hey, pretty ladies,” he said, with a smile that sent a shiver down her spine. “Come and see what I can do for you?”

He cast a spell into the air. An image of Emily appeared in front of him. Emily studied it for a moment, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. He was trying to impress her, but honestly … she’d mastered such spells in her very first year. It wasn’t that hard to find out what she looked like, from the rear. Alassa had taught her the spells when it became clear, to her, that Emily didn’t have the slightest idea how to take care of her appearance. It was something she’d never dared to do before coming to the Nameless World.

Her image winked at her, then started to change. Brown hair became blonde, then red; her blue dress became green, then thinned out and started to drop until she could see the tops of her breasts. Emily flushed, angrily, as the performer adjusted the size of her breasts until they became truly absurd. A handful of people laughed. They were drawing attention … unwanted attention. Her magic started to crackle under her skin …

“Look what I can do,” the performer said. He waved a hand at the image, which now resembled a bad parody of femininity. “A simple handful of spells and you’ll be a beauty to rival Lucinda herself …”

Emily flared her magic. The performer gaped at her, then stumbled backwards in shock. He’d taken her for … she wasn’t sure what he had taken her for, but it clearly wasn’t a powerful magician. The image shimmered and vanished. Emily allowed her gaze to harden, drawing on lessons she’d learnt from Lady Barb. The performer bowed a hasty apology and looked away. The crowd found something more important to look at and started to disperse, heading away before the fireworks started. Emily didn’t blame them. There were too many horror stories of what happened to people who angered powerful magicians. Being turned into small hopping things were the least of them.

She nodded to Frieda, who led her further down the street. Emily gritted her teeth, cursing the performer under her breath. He’d put her in a bad humour, all the more so because she dreaded to think of what would happen to someone without her power. The memory of being powerless still haunted her, even though she’d regained her powers. He could do a great deal of damage to a powerless girl. Even if his spells worked correctly – and there was no way to be sure – his victims would have a lot of trouble afterwards. No normal girl could possibly have had a comfortable life if she looked like a Barbie doll.

The stalls faded away as they made their way into the residential area. There were fewer spells in the air, but those that she could detect were powerful. Very powerful. Magicians liked their privacy, even when they congregated in their communities. She felt a handful of wards prying at her, testing her magic although she hadn’t stepped across the wardlines. The residents had enemies. Some of them might try to attack in broad daylight. It wasn’t as if the city guard would try to intervene.

There’s no law here, not really, Emily reminded herself. Celeste was an armed society, to all intents and purposes. The people who weren’t armed – who had no magic – didn’t count. They couldn’t defend themselves. It’s a miracle the entire city didn’t tear itself apart a long time ago.

“Here,” Frieda said. She indicated a little detached house, practically indistinguishable from the rest of the street. A simple number – no name – hung on the wooden door. “Should I wait outside?”

Emily shook her head. “You’d better come in with me.”

She took a breath as she walked up the tiny lane, feeling the wards poking and prying at her. There was no point in trying the door, or even knocking. It would have opened if she was on the approved list. Instead, she clasped her hands behind her back and waited. The wards wouldn’t have let her get so close if the occupant hadn’t been at home. And if she did anything they took to be unfriendly, she might not survive long enough to explain herself.

The door opened, slowly. Mistress Irene stood there, gazing at them. Emily swallowed hard, feeling the years draining away to leave her as an innocent schoolgirl once again, trying to explain to her stern form mistress that she really did have a good excuse for late homework, poor performance or simple tardiness. Mistress Irene had always been intimidating, even though she’d never been anything other than helpful. She’d certainly been a great deal more educational than some of the teachers Emily remembered from Earth. It probably helped that she had both the power and inclination to punish misbehaving students.

“Emily.” Mistress Irene sounded mildly surprised. “And Frieda. What can I do for you?”

Emily took a moment to gather herself. She wasn’t a schoolgirl any longer, although – technically – she hadn’t taken her final exams. She didn’t have to. She already had an offer of apprenticeship from Void himself. And she certainly didn’t have to answer to Mistress Irene any longer.

“I have a proposition I would like to put to you,” she said, carefully. “Please can we come in?”

Mistress Irene stepped to one side, an invitation that wasn’t – precisely – an invitation. A supernatural creature that required a direct invitation to actually enter a dwelling would have been unable to step inside. Emily was surprised to see it from an experienced and powerful magician, but perhaps she should have expected it. Supernatural vermin would be drawn to the city like moths to the flame. She stepped over the threshold and into the building. Frieda followed her a second later. Mistress Irene nodded and closed the door.

“This way,” she said.

Emily looked around, interested, as she followed Mistress Irene down a short corridor and into a sitting room. It was surprisingly elegant, so neat and tidy that she knew it wasn’t where Mistress Irene spent most of her time. Emily had been in Mistress Irene’s office, often enough, but she’d never been invited to her teacher’s private rooms. No student had ever managed to crack those wards. A great many had got in trouble for trying.

“Please, take a seat.” Mistress Irene sat herself, on an armchair that looked too big for her. “What do you have in mind?”

Emily sat, never taking her eyes off her former teacher. Mistress Irene looked to be in her sixties, although she knew that could be an illusion. She’d met magicians who looked young, even though they were in their second century, and mundanes who looked two or three decades older than they were. Mistress Irene still looked every inch the prim schoolteacher, although she’d left Whitehall two years ago. Emily wasn’t sure if she’d left of her own free will, or if Gordian had pushed her to go, but it hardly mattered. The point was that she was unattached.

“Two years ago, I came into possession of Heart’s Eye,” she began. “I killed …”

“I am aware of the story,” Mistress Irene said. Her tone gave nothing away. “What is the point?”

Emily took a breath. “I – I and a few of my friends – intend to turn Heart’s Eye into a university. Ah … a very different centre of learning, concentrating on science as well as magic. It’s going to be a research institute” – an unfamiliar concept on the Nameless World – “rather than just a school. The people who attend will be trying to find new ways to do things, rather than merely studying magic.”

“There is nothing mere about studying magic,” Mistress Irene said, tonelessly.

“No.” Emily had to fight the urge to apologise meekly. “But we will be studying more than just magic.”

“You are repeating yourself,” Mistress Irene said. It was impossible to tell if she was trying to offer constructive criticism or being sarcastic. “And I think you will find running a … research institute to be quite difficult.”

“Yes.” Emily recalled her disastrous tenure as Head Girl with a shudder. “I intended to start earlier, but … things … got in the way.”

“They have a tendency to challenge the less-ordered mind,” Mistress Irene commented. “I heard a rumour you were … ill.”

“Rumours of my powerlessness were greatly exaggerated,” Emily said. She didn’t dare lie outright. Everyone said that Mistress Irene could smell lies. A student who tried to claim the dog ate his homework – or his homework ate the dog, which wasn’t impossible – would regret it shortly afterwards. “As you can see” – she cast a lightspell – “I have recovered.”

“Quite.” Mistress Irene studied her for a long chilling moment. “Let us get to the point. What does this have to do with me?”

“Heart’s Eye needs a … a manager,” Emily said. The formal title was Schoolmaster, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to keep it. It had obvious connotations. “The staff and students will need someone to keep them in order. I was wondering if you would like the job.”

Mistress Irene let out a long breath. It was the first hint of actual emotion Emily had seen from her. “Do you know what you’re asking? Or what you’re offering?”

“Yes.” Emily met her eyes. “I know.”

“Really.” Mistress Irene didn’t sound convinced. “If you did, you might want to keep it.”

Emily frowned. The Nameless World wasn’t Earth. Here, teachers were important. She knew, all too well, that headmasters were respected as well as powerful. Gordian wouldn’t have worked so hard to succeed Hasdrubal if he hadn’t been sure the position was worth the effort. And it was. The mere fact he ruled a school made him one of the most powerful people in the world. She was offering Mistress Irene a pearl beyond price.

“I don’t like dealing with people,” she admitted. There was no point in trying to hide it, not from someone who’d shepherded her through four years of magical education. “And a lot of older magicians don’t take me seriously, despite everything.”

“Which they should,” Frieda put in.

“Indeed.” Mistress Irene’s face was emotionless, again. “And they think they’ll take me seriously?”

“You spent decades in Whitehall.” Emily took a breath. “Let me tell you what I have in mind.”

She launched into her prepared speech, explaining – as much as she dared – of the concept behind the university. It was more than just a college of magic; it was something new, something more for adults than immature teenagers. Her students would – hopefully – already be experienced in using magic, having grown out of the urge to sneak up behind an unsuspecting victim and turn him into a frog. The teachers would be researchers as well as teachers … in many ways, they would be teachers themselves. And mundane craftsmen and magicians would work together as equals.

“That might be a hard sell,” Mistress Irene pointed out. “They’re not equals.”

Emily couldn’t hide her irritation. Magicians tended to look down on mundanes, insisting that magic – the gift of the gods – made them superior. There were few magicians who sneered at newborn magicians, magicians born to non-magical families, but there were far too many who wanted to take them from their parents and have them brought up in proper magical families. She’d never shared the disdain – there was no way she could have shared it – yet … she winced, inwardly. It had been hard to develop her powers, the first few months after she’d gone to Whitehall. How much harder would it be to be powerless at a magic school, to be the butt of everyone’s puerile sense of humour? She didn’t think she would have survived.

“Mundanes are not stupid,” she said, firmly. “And I expect them to learn to … tolerate each other, if they are unable to be friends.”

“That should be interesting,” Mistress Irene said. “What sort of authority do you propose to give me?”

“Enough.” Emily had given the matter some thought, then discussed it with Caleb before putting pen to paper. “You won’t have absolute authority – and the board will be able to overrule you, if necessary – but you should have enough.”

“I see.” Mistress Irene didn’t sound happy. “You do realise that anyone I expel for bad behaviour will complain to the board?”

“I’ll be on the board,” Emily said. “You can hardly be blamed for expelling someone who breaks the rules.”

Mistress Irene laughed, suddenly. “You little … innocent.”

Emily felt her cheeks redden. “I don’t promise it will be easy. It won’t be easy. You’ll be setting a lot of precedents, although I intend to make sure that each case is judged on its merits, rather than what has gone before. There will be a lot of room for controversy. But … it’s also a chance to get in on the ground floor of something completely new.”

“People my age don’t like controversy,” Mistress Irene said. Her lips curved into a smile. “But you’re right. It should be interesting.”

She met Emily’s eyes. “When do you want my answer?”

“As soon as possible,” Emily told her. “I’m due to meet Caleb and the others at Farrakhan later this evening. We were planning to cross the desert in a day or so, depending on the weather, and set up base at Heart’s Ease before heading to Heart’s Eye the following morning. Ideally, I’d want to know in a couple of days.”

“Or now, you mean.” Mistress Irene nodded, slowly. “It isn’t as if I have much else to do with my time, so yes. I will come with you.”

“Thank you,” Emily said.

Mistress Irene held up a hand. “That said, I have some … matters to finish first. I won’t be able to join you for at least two weeks, more likely a month. Is that going to be a problem?”

“We’re not planning to open for students for a while,” Emily said. She would have preferred Mistress Irene to come at once, but that was unfair. The older woman could hardly drop everything on a moment’s notice and move to Heart’s Eye. “As long as you’re established before I have to start my apprenticeship, we should be fine.”

“Then I accept your offer,” Mistress Irene said. She held out her hand. “Thank you.”

Emily opened her pouch and removed the paperwork. “There’s an outline of what we have in mind here, along with a draft of the contract. Let us know what you think.”

“Naturally,” Mistress Irene said. “I’ll be reading them very thoroughly before I sign.”

“Of course.” Emily stood. Frieda followed. “And thank you for your hospitality.”

“It was scant enough,” Mistress Irene said. She escorted them to the door, then waved goodbye. “Good luck.”

“Now what?” Frieda asked. “Dinner?”

Emily felt her stomach rumble. “Why not? And then, we go to Farrakhan. Again.”


4 Jul

Hi, everyone

As you know, it can be tricky to get the word out about new releases and suchlike – Facebook is inconsistent, MEWE doesn’t have the user base and I’d prefer to reserve my mailing list for new books (rather than spam everyone with constant updates about audio and paperback editions.)

So … I’ve created a page on RALLYSITE where I can keep everyone fully up to date at all times, plus an up to date listing of all books.  I will also be trying to do some giveaways – free eBooks, paperbacks, audios, etc.

The current page can be found here – obviously, it’s a work in progress, so any suggestions would be warmly welcomed. The below pic is a peak at what it looks like (so far).


Screen Shot 2019-06-28 at 3.09.10 PM

Pre-Order Now–The Alchemist’s Apprentice (Audio)

4 Jul

Link here:

Beautiful young witch casting a spell