Chapter 17 Part 7 | Lovers and Beloveds | IHGK Book 1

Neya's Day flower buntings no longer arched above the streets of Arren, but a soft, flowery mood still hung over the town, weeks after the festival. The winter's coal smoke had finally blown away with the snow, leaving the air clear and the sky a fragile but unbroken blue. Mattie Dunley, now Mattie Ambleson, walked through the streets toward Arren's market square, and saw none of it.

Mattie hated market day in Arren, even with the newly mild weather. She missed Reggiston's clean, wide boulevards, the squares with their pots of colorful flowers. The outdoor cafes would be open now; girls in bright dresses would be drinking coffee and eating little cakes with their young men on their day off, and she would not be among them. (She wouldn't have been among them were she still there, but in her homesickness, she glossed over that unfortunate fact.) The ancient, gnarled apple trees lining the sloping road toward the Mother's Temple on its little rise were probably in bloom now, she thought with an inward sigh.

Arren was gray by comparison, the high brick and stone houses piled on either side of her throwing the narrow street into shade. Even the windows looked funny here: tall and thin, topped with arches that made her feel like startled eyes looked down on her. Without its Paggday basket, Mattie's arm felt bare; her bored but attentive footman held a much larger one instead. Mattie was used to being a servant, not having one trailing behind her, and the liveried young man's presence at her back set apprehensive prickles at her nape, as if she were being followed. She was being followed she told herself, but it was just Pawl.

Just then, her new and unfamiliar bootheel caught in a chink in the paving stones. She abruptly teetered and tried to catch herself, but gravity was against her.

Hands caught Mattie firmly round the waist and checked her fall; even so, the world spun and sparks flew all around her vision. "Are you all right?" a man's voice said. "Can you stand?"

She put her foot down, and pain flowered in her badly twisted ankle. "No, Pawl, I can't. Let me lean on you...oh!" she cried, the sparks increasing. "Perhaps you might hail a cab."

"Most certainly, and I shall escort you home as well, miss, yes?" said the man in a musical, cultured Corrish accent not at all like her footman's rough monotone.

Now that she no longer feared for her skull, she realized a stranger's hands held her up, not Pawl's. They belonged to a Corrishman whose dark eyes tilted down at their outside corners. They would have given him a mournful, almost sinister, air, but for the rest of his handsome face, kind and attentive. "Oh, thank you, sir," she said, coloring, "but Pawl can see to me."

"Nonsense, I won't hear of it," said the man. His smile warmed the gray street; it went straight into her heart, a small ray of unexpected spring. The painful sparks in her vision receded, and Mattie suddenly saw the gilt work on the lamp posts, and the cheerful, molded plaster swags of fruit and leaves festooning the elegant, narrow windows of the building opposite. The hair at Mattie's nape prickled again, this time with sudden, inexplicable elation.

A quick gesture from the man, and a hackney cab appeared as if it had been waiting. Between the Corrishman and Pawl, they gently packed Mattie into the hackney; the Corrishman sat down on the seat opposite, and said to Pawl, "Run to your mistress, and tell her to expect us." Pawl nodded unquestioningly and trotted double-time down the street toward the Ambleson townhouse; the Corrishman tapped on the roof twice, and the cab followed the footman more slowly through the Paggday traffic. How easy everyone found it to obey this stranger, she thought somewhat drowsily.

"I'm afraid these are hardly the usual circumstances. May I introduce myself, miss?" said the Corrishman. His voice fell in velvet folds around her, silken and rich, and she wondered how she'd ever thought the Corrish accent sounded funny; in his mouth, it sounded lyrical, almost exotic.

"Oh, please do!" she said.

"I am Adrik Adrikov, and it is my honor to assist you, Miss...?"

"Dun--Ambleson, sir, Miss Ambleson." She became acutely aware that she was alone in a cab with a strange man. "Oh, dear," she said faintly. "I'm afraid I've behaved very improperly."

"Never say so, Miss Ambleson, never! No one would speak ill of you--why, what were you to have done, lie there in the street? But never worry, here we are at your own front door." He climbed down from the hackney and turned back, holding out his arms. "I shall carry you up the stairs and make sure you're safe, yes?"

"Oh, Mr Adrikov, that's far, far too much trouble--oh!"

The Corrishman scooped her up before she could object further or wonder how he knew her address, and she put her arms around his neck rather than be dumped into the street. As he carried her into the house she could smell his cologne, a golden, mossy scent that mixed with the fine wool of his suit, and something else far beneath, a lurking dark; it registered deep in her heart. She closed her eyes and let herself enjoy his closeness, his strong arms holding her as if she were a little package. "I'm so lucky you were there today, Mr Adrikov," she murmured. She felt as if he were carrying her into a new life, into some unexpected, exciting future; Reggiston and its enticing beauties began to fade.

"Oh," the Corrishman smiled, "the luck was all on my side entirely, Miss Ambleson."

THE END OF BOOK ONE

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Comments

Kreyopresny's picture

Petitioner

I must've read Book 1 four times now; once in the draft, once when my ebook came, once when the physical book came, and again online, and it still blows me away. Can't wait for Book 2 to see where all this goes and how the changes from the draft play out differently.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

In editing the draft I'm finding I used more material from the first draft than I thought, but it's pretty drastically remixed. Twenna's initial story arc, which never finished in the draft, finishes in book two, for instance. I hope you like where the story goes from here, and thank you for being such a devoted reader--four times, wow! Biggrin

Basil MacVae's picture

And now I'm just going to sit here, all pouty-face. I've finished reading the book, and I'll most likely read it again, but now I have to wait for numero two-o. That, and I don't think I'll be able to afford the pre-order before it comes out. WHEN DOES IT COME OUT? Sad-like. Bee the Wee, totally weren't kidding about it being different than I remember. It was. IT WAS BETTER. The story was WAY more fleshed out. If I didn't know better, I'd say that you were Teacher, in the cyber flesh; what with the way you drew me in, and made everything so real. I wanted to punch a few people in the face, more than a few times. Falcon--PAONCH!!

Why am I still typing? I'll stop now. Ciao, bella~

MeiLin's picture

Most High

At this very moment it's with editor Annetta Ribken. I don't expect to have it back for at least a week, and I don't know what notes she'll have for me. I'm hoping for February, but we'll see.

Basil MacVae's picture

Does this mean that I have time? SWEET!!

MeiLin's picture

Most High

But I don't know how much. Smile

Cheez-It's picture

It's somewhat hilarious that I just finished book 1, decided to definitely go and preorder book 2, only to find that preorders ended a couple hours ago. Guuuh, hahaha

Cheez-It's picture

I am ... absolutely speechless. I clicked on a sidebar ad for this series because the ad was pretty, so I figured that starting it and seeing how it was would be a quick, fun, light read to while away a few minutes.

It is now two days later and I have barely stopped to eat and sleep while I read this gorgeous, exquisite book. And I'm going to make my partner read it posthaste.

It perfectly combines the kind of escapist fantasy that I loved in high school with a witty, gripping world full of perfect snippets of fantasy-Victorian culture and character relationships that make me want to slap or hug people on every page.

I'm just ... absolutely blown away.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Aw, what a wonderful comment to wake up to. Smile

Kitabare's picture

Petitioner

Over already? I'm glad I can go immediately on to the next book. I think, however, that I'll be taking a couple of days off of reading. I do look forward to eventually catching up to the current story and having to wait in anticipation like everyone else though.

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