Year in Reading

Since Friday was Christmas and I don’t have anything for Sunday anyway, I thought I’d do a spurious post about my reading year. I don’t think many people will wander on blogs on Christmas Day, and even today is risky, but well… wouldn’t let you 4 days without posts, LOL!

I have read 39 books (might be 40 if I manage one last title this last week of the year) including 7 manuscripts and 12 non-fiction books (which means I’m halfway through the non-fiction bundle I’ve bought in two separate bundles between end 2014 and beginning 2015).

I read also 2 anthologies/short story collections – When the lights go out and Fairy Tales Slashed. The latter I loved in spite of the bad formatting, typos and missing words everywhere, so it’s a recommended reading if you like that genre (m/m).

I had also bought 2 bundles of SFF with the non-fiction bundles, and I think I’m halfway through those too. I’m still trudging through a Campbell Anthology (I think from 2014), and I’m skipping all the novel excerpts! 😦

I did not finish a couple of books (one non-fiction and one fiction) – the first because I don’t have that problem so I’d rather read other stuff before getting to that topic and the second because it really didn’t drag me in.

Of those almost-40 books, only 5 were paper books… (and the manuscripts were printed, of course, I just can’t read on a computer screen). I prefer reading non-fiction for research purposes on paper, but if it’s books on writing, my Kindle is just fine! 😉

Now, the recommended FICTION reading list by Barb!

A walk across the Sun (contemporary story set all over the world – India, Europe, US…)

Ivory (science fiction)

Alien Influences (you can guess from the title – SF)

and the above Fairy Tales Slashed. For the NON-FICTION (all books on writing)

The pursuit of Perfection: and How it Harms Writers

Million $ Productivity

The Write Attitude

Now for next year I hope to read 50 books, if possible 30 fiction and 20 non-fiction (I still have some of those bundle books and I need to study business and publishing in Italy, I already have one book I bought last year, I really should start it, LOL!).

That might take down my TBR list a little, and then I can tackle the Smashwords wishlist or the Goodreads want-to-read list! 🙂 Happy reading!



Fiction Wednesday

Records of the Varian Empire

A new emperor

Blondsun was lost in a book of magic spells when his friend Sunray distracted him from a very convoluted passage. Blondsun was relieved for the interruption, as concentration was giving him a headache.

He was twenty-five, but geing Genn he was barely out of adolescence. Although his innocence had ended three years earlier when he had stolen the Varian Emperor’s life with a spell.

He had been considered an adult since, also because his family had all moved to Issanda. The Governor of Jinxie had welcomed him into his household and he had become a good friend of Sunray, but sometimes he felt he was living a second life. Locked in the ghetto that was the last Genn city, able to see his adoptive brother only because he was a magic user and could travel without Human means.

“Not the same reading experience of Benedetto Black’s novel, right?” Sunray commented as Blondsun stretched his limbs and closed the book of spells. “Is it true you personally know the author?”

“Yes,” Blondsun grinned getting up from his desk and following Sunray out of the room. “Busy writing the second book.”

“Hmm… why do you hide pronouns when you talk about him?” Sunray asked as they walked towards the Governor’s office. “He’s good for a Human, he has a wild imagination, but also did some thorough research…”

Blondsun guffawed. “Yes, and she’s actually a woman,” he said, unable to keep the secret from his best friend anymore.

Stunned, Sunray stopped in his track as he processed the information, then groaned. “I should have known!” He shook his head, resuming his walk towards his father’s office. “Why does she use a male pen-name?”

Blondsun chuckled. “Because she’s Human, she’s a woman and her family thinks she’s dead.”

“She’s proven smarter than many of her peers, even if your adoptive brother had to save her in the end,” Sunray said, amused. “Anyway, I’m curious to read her latest fantasy.”

“Keep her real identity a secret, though, we’re too close to Havenstock to let it leak,” Blondsun said, serious.

Sunray nodded as they entered the Governor’s office.

“Did something happen?” Blondsun asked, worried.

The Governor – Sunray’s father – looked at them, serious, and signaled them to sit down. His desk was covered with manuscripts and parchments, both sealed and unsealed.

“Prince Vario turns sixteen,” he said. “He will be crowned Emperor.”

So?” Twenty-nine-year-old Sunray stared at his father, puzzled. “He won’t lift the ban, Father! And we can’t go to him.”

“No, but the Sila can,” the old Genn said patiently.

The Sila had always been closer to the Genn than the Humans. Yes, they worked for the Varian Emperor, but they were of a Magical Race, like the Genn, and preferred dealing with their pointed-eared brethen than with Humans.

“Is Winged Liam here?” Blondsun asked.

The Governor smiled. “No, he’s flown to Xendaria and looks forward to your meeting with your adoptive brother.”

Blondsun grinned. “Thank you, Skydreamer.”

Kurt Allistairson was the only Human friend the Genn had left in the Empire. Kurt, his wife Beth, and their children – at the moment a little girl called Penelope who was almost two. They lived in Xendaria because Jinxie was too close to Havenstock, Beth’s hometown.

“Why has he gone to pick up Kurt?” Sunray asked.

“He can be our ambassador too,” his father answered. “He’s Human, he can travel freely – unlike us.”

“But he refused to serve Vario X;” Blondsun said, frowning again. “Why should he serve his son?”

“We all hope he’s different, better,” Governor Skydreamer replied. “I think he should really pay homage to the new emperor, even for his own good.”

“Yeah, so Vario XI can outlaw him as well,” Blondsun muttered, knowing his adoptive brother’s temper.

“Is he still such a poor diplomat?” Sunray teased. “He should have learned something – he’s an adult Human, isn’t he?”

“Of course, but he’s also a warrior, even if he now lives as a merchant.”

“Maybe his life could go with him?” the Governor suggested.

“Beth is pregnant.” Blondsun shrugged. “They didn’t even go to the Gladius Games this year.”

“Empress Reika knows him as Gladius Champion.” Governor Skydreamer pondered. “She could receive him. He’s been Champion twice already.”

“The first time with Vario X,” Sunray observed.

The second time the Imperial grandstand hadn’t seen an Emperor, only the Regent Empress and the underage heir. Prince Vario had commended Kurt’s prowess, but hadn’t asked him to join the Imperial Guard.

“Prince Vario admires the left-handed warrior,” the old Genn said. “He would probably listen to him.”

Blondsun wasn’t sure his adoptive brother had acquired any diplomatic skills, but promised to talk to him before he went to the Capital to meet the new Emperor.


Kurt reached the Capital the day after Vario XI’s coronation, transported by Winged Liam who deposited him directly in the gardens of the Imperial Palace.

Both requested to meet the newly crowned Emperor and the presence of the young Sila probably helped them to go through the many levels faster than any common Human visitor.

Kurt had already met the Emperor when he was still prince heir. Vario was blond like his father, but more good-looking. Even if he was only sixteen, he was aware of his personal charm and the fact he had become the most powerful man of the world.

“Your Highness.” Kurt bowed to the boy who was merely eight years younger than him. He didn’t envy the responsibility that had just landed on those still frail shoulders.

“Rise, Champion,” the Emperor answered, his eyes bright. “I hoped to see you again at the Gladius Games this year.”

“My wife is pregnant and we couldn’t afford the journey,” Kurt explained.

“But you’re here, the day after my coronation,” Vario said, sounding like the excited teen he indeed was. “Did you come to pay homage?”

“Of course.” Kurt bowed again with a smile. “And I hope your reign will be better and longer than all your predecessors’.”

“I wish to follow in my father’s footsteps and keep the peace in the Empire,” the boy announced gravely.

“Your Highness, I’m here on behalf of the Jinxie’s Governor.” Kurt decided it was useless to postpone his message. “The Genn request to be admitted back to the Empire, or at least to lift the ban and allow them to travel freely without being killed on sight.”

For a moment Vario looked just like his father as his eyes narrowed and his lips thinned in anger – an Emperor with an angel face capable of genocide.

“Right, you’re the Genn’s friend,” the boy said coldly, his enthusiasm for the Champion gone.

“Your Highness, the Genn saved my life more than once,” Kurt tried to reason with him.

“And now you want to return the favor,” Vario said. “But I’m not going back. The Genn have no more rights on these lands and I will not revoke my father’s edict.”

“Why?” Kurt asked, nonplussed. It couldn’t be a teenager’s tantrum, Vario sounded way too serious and determined.

“Because I think, no, I know one of them took my father’s life,” the young Emperor said, staring at Kurt who was stunned into silence.

He couldn’t tell Vario that he was right, that his adoptive brother Blondsun had indeed killed Vario X to avenge the unfair death of Silverstar and Penny. Only him, his wife and Governor Skydreamer knew that secret. How Vario could suspect the truth was anyone’s guess.

“Have you ever had a Genn friend, Your Highness?” Kurt managed to say at last. “Have you ever read their books or studied their culture?”

“No,” Vario snapped, frowning at him.

“Of course not, your father wouldn’t let you,” Kurt said. “How about the Sila?”

“I like Winged Liam.” Vario smiled briefly at the Sila who stood one step behind Kurt with a worried look on his face. “And he likes me. I know Genn and Sila are very close, they’re both Magical Races, but nobody will convince me the Genn are not demons. If this is what you came for, Kurt Allistairson, you might as well leave.”

Kurt sighed. Damned boy, he was more stubborn than his father! How could he convince Vario to revoke the anti-Genn edict?

“Your Highness, allow me to spend a few days with you to tell you about the wonderful family who raised me,” he begged. “I’m from Xendaria, I had never seen a Genn until the day I was orphaned and Sunriver’s family saved me from death…”

“No,” Vario said, determined. “I don’t want to hear about the Genn! I told Winged Liam already – keep your stories, the Genn are doomed!”

Kurt left, frustrated by his failure. He doubted Beth could have done better.

“He’s stubborn, huh?” Winged Liam said. “I didn’t dare telling Skydreamer, but I knew your trip would be useless.”

“You’re his friend, right?” Kurt asked.

“Yes, he’s a good boy, with some limits,” the Sila shrugged. “He was raised into hating the Genn, Kurt, he won’t forget. Reika never really liked them, and Vario adores his mother.”

“Will you do your best to change his mind?” Kurt asked, depressed.

“Of course, but I doubt I’ll succeed.”


“Thanks anyway.” Governor Skydreamer couldn’t refrain from sighing.

“How long can you go on?” Kurt asked, feeling a complete failure for not convincing the young Emperor. The Varian pride was already too strong in the sixteen-year-old.

“Until they chase us from here. We do have a place to go if things go too much down the hill for us.”

“It’s time you go back to Xendaria,” Blondsun added. “Your second born is on its way. Give a kiss from me to Beth and little Penny.”

Kurt hugged his adoptive brother, then Winged Liam brought him back home. His wife welcomed him with a serious expression. She expected the son to be as ruthless as the father and confirmed she couldn’t have done any better. But little Penelope was oblivious of the politics of the Empire, and she rushed in her father’s arms with a squeal of delight. Kurt relaxed as he cuddled his daughter, happy to be at home.

A few days later Sarah was born. Master Kurt’s shop was still heirless, but the young merchant was very happy to be surrounded by women. The left-handed warrior had been buried after his wedding, when he had gone back to his father’s trade for the safety of his family. Sometimes he missed his few adventurous years traveling the Empire with Blondsun – and smiled when in his wife’s book he found autobiographical events masked as fiction.

Beth had managed to write that novel she had had in her head for years – although to circulate it she had to sign it Benedetto Black – and was now writing another, while nursing her daughters, cooking and keeping the house and shop clean and loving Kurt more and more.

They were a happy family. Kurt hoped soon Blondsun could be happy too.

end of part 1 – continues next Wednesday


I had scheduled another post, but I thought it was a useless rant, so I’m saving it for some other day. I’m going to muse today on Loralie’s post about envelopes – or how we all live in an enclosed space (like an envelope) – trying to figure out which envelopes I’m in and how I make them interact, if at all. Mostly because Loralie makes also an excellent point on readers – you know, those people who buy your books but don’t bother to check your writer blog because, guess what?, they’re readers, and they don’t give a s… about writing?! 😉

So, my envelopes first. Let’s see if I can make a list: writers, readers, Day Job, comicon friends, family, other assorted (pen)friends. Do they interact? Not really. All envelopes are quite separate. And if I have to hang out with people from one envelope, I usually don’t invite people from another envelope (say, mixing colleagues with comicon friends – although at the latest medieval dinner I was with 1 colleague, 1 high school friend I hadn’t seen in 25 years and 3 comicon friends). Not easy to mix envelopes’ content. Although it should be easy to mix writers and readers, but most writers I know don’t read, so… but then, that’s what Goodreads is for! 😉

Now, Loralee’s musing about readers are on the spot. Readers who are not writers won’t come to your little writerly blog. That’s not what this blog is for anyway. I know my readers won’t come to look for this – but for a web page that says when the next book comes out, yes. So I’ll have to work on that ASAP – a more static page for the readers. I’m not selling books through my blog, really. Yes, I announce new releases, but you don’t hear me ranting about that every day.

This is my personal blog, and I’m already thinking of posting less often, so I have more time to write what I love – my stories. I don’t care about SEO rankings/traffic for this blog. Readers of my books are not interested in my ramblings anyway. I do this because I like to keep in touch and be part of the blogosphere – and because I’m having fun and meeting new people.

Blogs: Writers, don’t do it only to promote, because it won’t work, my friends. Do it because you enjoy it. Not because everybody and their mother says so. Sales will come, eventually. The only thing you should never ever forget is WRITERS WRITE. Go write your next book and stop worrying about low sales. Amanda Hocking had 7 books out when she made it big. Do you have that many? Then stop whining and go back to writing.

Which is something I better do myself – editing at the moment, but it’s still related to writing! 😉 Happy writing!

Story Wednesday

OK, we seem to be losing authors for the Holiday Season at Serial Central, so, again, if you have a longish story you’d like to put out there, be brave and join us.

Also, Lua Fowles is back! Check the beginning of her brand new story – a creepy beginning, I wonder where she’ll take us this time!

A new author with be with us for a couple of Fridays, but I’m not saying his name yet (you know who you are, haha! :-D).

As for me, change of genre. From today you can read “Modern Fairy Tales”, my take on some famous fairy tales set in our time. First is Cinderella, as, like I said, Pretty Woman can’t be the only contemporary Cinderella (along with Kate Middleton?). Then I’ll have my very own version of the Ugly Duckling, then I don’t know. Some stories I still have to write them. But these two will get you to next year.

About the first story: it all started with a boy/girl dialog, duly noted (in Italian) on my moleskin on March 31, 2003. I won’t scan it because it’s in Italian and the page is messy! 😉 But it remained pretty much as it was in its final version at the beginning of Cinderella.

original comic book cover - never used - notice the pseudonym that I planned on using when writing in Italian, then I stopped altogether and never actually used it

Then I decided to make it a comic book, in an original format (horizontal, and it was supposed to be printed, not a web comic) for some obscure publishing house that is probably gone by now. I never actually finished it, so I don’t know. I still have some pages done, without balloons, though, so I might post them as illustrations to the story.

Then I translated it in English for an episodic movie which had Cinderella, Ugly Duckling and Sleeping Beauty. The third one became a full-fledged spec script called “Six Months”, hence I won’t put it in prose in this series. It might be a longish short story of its own – I don’t know when, because I think it’s quite good as a screenplay, so maybe I will NOT turn it into prose.

So that’s the story behind the first “episode” of Modern Fairy Tales. Now hop off to Serial Central for the first part of Cinderella!

Story Wednesday

Because I’m still with limited access, I’m treating you with short posts – that’s because on Be The Media they recommended to make them short. Daily, but short! 😉

I will go back to normal posting next week (i.e. sometimes long, sometimes short, depends on what strikes me! ;-)). I’ll have probably plenty to say after I catch up with all your wonderful blogs out there.

BUT it’s Story Wednesday, so just hop by Serial Central to read the second episode of Jessamine… yes, we’re still on the comic book version (although you can’t see it in the preview), but soon it will be all unexplored territory! 😉

Happy reading! 😀

Fight, fight, fight! Blogfest

It’s my first blogfest, but I thought I’d give it a chance. Fight (or battle) scenes are not my strength, but here’s a duel from my novel “Air” (so if you’re a beta-reader, skip this post to avoid spoilers! ;-)). And no, it’s not India, although it’s inspired by India and Persia! 🙂

The rest of the blogfest is at JC Martin’s blog – the code doesn’t work on WordPress, so just follow the link to her blog for more entries! Happy reading!


The stone bed was hard and the blade of the scimitar cold. Kumar drifted back to reality from an unusually peaceful sleep. In spite of the stone bed, he slept better in that little forgotten temple than in Rajendra Royal Palace. But it wasn’t comfortable enough to stay in bed all day either.

Elephant calls in the air, but not Maya’s. Kumar dressed quickly. Either the king of Lakeshi (or his arrogant son) was visiting, or someone more dangerous had just arrived.

The temple was empty, therefore whoever was waiting outside hadn’t come to pray. Kumar picked up the scimitar. He moved silently to the temple door to peer outside and cursed under his breath.

Rajendra’s guards. They had found him. It was really time to leave the southern kingdoms forever.

He took a deep breath and stepped into the light of day.

“Good morning,” Naveen was standing in front of the temple porch, his arms folded on his chest. “I will not violate a temple, but sooner or later you will have to come out, and I’ll catch you.”

“Don’t you have anything better to do at Argantael?” he retorted.

“Lots of things, actually, but I cannot go back without you.”

“Tell your king his wretched son-in-law is dead. I swear you’ll never hear my name again.”

“I considered this option when you escaped from Jevina,” Naveen admitted. “But I will not be your messenger. Besides, Princess Indira wants you back alive.”

“So what do you want, a duel to the death?” Kumar whirled the scimitar once, threateningly. “I don’t think Indira would appreciate it, though.”

“Why don’t you just come with me?” Naveen started to lose his patience. “You can settle the matter with your wife back in Rajendra.”

“I’m not going back!” Kumar hissed.

“Don’t make me do things we’ll both regret,” Naveen turned his attention to the other two guards, who were keeping Maya at weapon’s distance.

She was standing between two males, subjugated by the matriarch of the king’s herd, who had reminded her she was just a female without family.

“Why don’t you fight instead!” Kumar exclaimed, feeling the Fury mounting fast.

“I’m the captain of Rajendra’s Royal Guard, and you have become a member of that same Royal Family I have sworn to defend, even from your very own self,” Naveen replied.

Kumar had slipped his wedding ring onto a piece of string around his neck. He now ripped this off and threw it at Naveen.

“I’m not a prince anymore, now fight!” he challenged.

“Only my king can strip you of your rank.”

“I will not follow you, how will you force me?”

“We are three against one, if we have to, we’ll take you back tied up like a criminal, but we will not hurt you.”

“Son of a bitch!” Kumar lost his patience. He attacked the captain who unsheathed his blade to fend off the first blow. The duel was inevitable: both men were too angry to talk anymore.

Jesminder had run to call Takeshi and Sarita, and now the whole village poured into the clearing, forming a circle around the duelists. They had seen the tiger hunter, now they were introduced to a trained warrior who could fight a royal guard of the neighboring kingdom.

Blades clanked, filling the forest with metallic sounds. Kumar left his flank unprotected only to cut Naveen’s arm: the bone stopped the blow, but the captain lost his grip on his scimitar with a scream of pain; he tried to stop the blood as his knees failed him and he found himself kneeling on the grass.

“Captain!” Mohan exclaimed. Impulsively he charged Kumar before Anupam could stop him and hit the bloodied scimitar with a loud clang.

Kumar let it go. Unbelievably fast, he undid his noose and jumped behind Mohan who was still trying to stab him and wrapped the silk around his neck, pulling hard. Mohan collapsed with a death-rattle just as the knife appeared in Kumar’s hand, ready to be thrown. Kumar glared at Anupam, ready to kill again, slowly reaching for his scimitar.

Anupam raised his hands and didn’t move, as Naveen stared breathless at Mohan’s lifeless body. Kumar put away the knife and coldly took back his silken noose, then put the tip of his scimitar to Naveen’s throat.

“Now you go back to Argantael and leave me alone,” he hissed. “Or I’ll kill all of you, or die trying.”

Naveen nodded, and Kumar pulled back. Sarita and Suneethi rushed to look after the wounded captain while Kumar stared around angrily. He walked towards the village and the small crowd silently opened to let his bloodied weapon pass.

the masked ball backstories – Carlotta part 2

Because Nikalee doesn’t have her own blog (yet) and she’s been my pen-pal for so long (since Jan.1997 – geez, how time flies!) AND I missed her writing so much, I’m very proud/honored/glad to have her on my blog.

This is her back-story for the masked ball, part one being on Mesmered’s as usual. You might guess that our back-stories are somewhat intertwined… stay tuned! 🙂

Carlotta and Nicoletta

Some days later I was in another part of town, unaccompanied on my way home from the house of my music teacher. So it was with a thrill of excitement that I noticed Phantom tethered near the gate of a shaded courtyard. Some dim part of me warned that I was taking a stupid risk going any closer, but something even stronger than curiosity was beckoning me. Noting that the courtyard belonged to a restaurant, I boldly entered. Riccardo was sitting at a far table, deeply shaded by old grapevines. He was absorbed in conversation with a cloaked figure, and didn’t notice when I seated myself nearby.

“So it must be that family? There is no other way?” Riccardo’s tone was intense.

The cloaked figure’s face was invisible under the hood. “The auras of the Gigli family are the most potent for this task. It must be they. You were not able to convince the daughter?”

“She is stubborn – I have tired numerous times to entice her without success. She is prejudiced and won’t have anything to do with our kind.”

“And forcing her is not an option. She must willingly agree.” Riccardo’s advisor had a raspy, female voice. My ears felt as if they were on stalks. Nicoletta was right! Riccardo needed her for something suspect!

I dared a sideways glance at him. I could just about make out his profile. The way his black hair curled on the nape of his neck sent delicious shivers down my spine.

“What about her?” I recoiled as Riccardo turned to look at me, following the extended finger of the cloaked figure.

“Carlotta?”  he frowned. “For how long have you been sitting there?”

My traitorous face burned again. “Not long. Does it matter?”

“It does if you’ve been eavesdropping. Did Nicoletta send you to find me?” I tried to meet his icy blue gaze but it was taking the breath out of me. Still, I managed to gasp out, “Of course not! I don’t do my sister’s bidding. In fact, she has no control over me whatsoever.”


“It was a stupid assumption on my part,” Riccardo said, partly to himself, “As if a child like you would be sent out unaccompanied on such a task.” He turned back to his companion. “She is too young. I wouldn’t consider her.”

“I am not too young!” I blurted out before I could stop myself. “I am seventeen years old, hardly a child. I am old enough to do as I please; certainly old enough to attend a ball where I am properly escorted.”

Riccardo looked momentarily startled, then his eyes narrowed. He looked back at his mysterious companion, who inclined her head slightly.

“I apologise; seventeen is certainly mature.” He turned back to me. “You must realise, then, that my reason for wanting your sister’s attendance is something more than her beauty.”

My whole body was in a flush of self consciousness. I would have agreed to anything, riveted as I was in Riccardo’s gaze, but it was also in defiance to my sister that I spoke next.

“I am aware of that – though not your specific reasons of course. I have no escort to the ball, no invitation either. If you are asking, I am accepting.” I couldn’t quite believe my boldness, and as soon as the words were uttered, I felt almost horrified.

A small smile tugged at the corner of Riccardo’s mouth. He turned back to his cloaked companion.

“Druscilla, it seems I have found my escort. Consider us attending the masked ball, and we shall discuss the arrangements closer to the date.” He stood up, immaculate and handsome in his riding attire, and bowed to the immobile Druscilla. “Pray speak to the lovely Carlotta, and assist her in her chosen attire for the ball. I know you will enjoy the diversion.”

With this utterance, he swept out of the courtyard, vanishing within seconds. Stunned, I sat staring at the cloak that enveloped Druscilla. What had I done?

“Don’t worry; no harm will befall you.” As I watched, a slim white arm appeared from the cloak’s folds, and the hood was pushed back. The creature before me could scarcely be called human, though she had human features; they were so delicate, pale and elfin I knew she could be nothing but Other. Large prismatic eyes gazed at me, and her hair was a cream coloured cloud about her heart-shaped face.

Suddenly aware my mouth was agape, I closed it, and looked away.

The masked ball – part 5

My back story continues. The first part is here on Mesmered’s blog.

Bianca and Kareem before leaving the Raji palace

Bianca and Kareem left the palace in a comfortable carriage that would take them to Veniche as fast as possible. The inside was cozy and Bianca put down the red rose Kareem had given her upon leaving and blotted herself against him.

He was wearing his Raji clothes without the huge turban he normally used in public appearances, and she looked at his serious face, sweeping her fingers through his short black hair.

“Why did you cut it?” she pouted.

“I do it every ten years to allow it to grow back stronger,” he answered.

“But I loved your curls!”

“The curling-iron is the cause I have to cut my hair from time to time,” he smiled.

“When I first saw you, your hair was almost like this,” she sighed. “I was so happy you let it grow!”

“Would you like me to wear a wig at the ball?” he suggested, amused.

“No, only elder men wear them nowadays.” She lay her head against his shoulder. “I think we should hide weapons somewhere, you could have a knife in your boots and I…”

“Why would we do that?” he interrupted, puzzled. “It’s a masked ball, is it not?”

She looked him in the eyes, serious.

“It is. But Lucia tells me the Others will be there too. She knows personally some of them! I want to be ready, just in case…”

“You always wear silver and I’ll have my charms, what could the Others do to us anyway?”

“I don’t know, that’s the problem. They’re unpredictable. What if they take a fancy in you or me?”

“Oh.” He pondered and sighed. “Then we shall conceal weapons in our costumes. I know you can be an action woman when necessary.”

“Thank you, my shrimati,” she purred. He grinned.

Kareem's official dressing before the haircut

“That’s my line,” he said.

“Is it?” she giggled. Then lowered her eyes, serious again. “I hope we’re doing the right thing,” she said with a sigh.

“If it’s a mistake, we’ll make it together,” he said gravely.

“With you, I feel invincible,” she said, holding him tight. “If we survive, I’ll take you to my family.”

He smiled.

“And where will we stay until the ball?” he asked.

“A hotel will do,” she shrugged.

“Then I’ll ask my good friend the Raji ambassador to shelter us.”

“You’ve been to Veniche before?”

“Of course. But never with a native.”

She pulled back to stare at him with mild suspicion. He gently laughed at her expression.

“What?” he said. “You know I traveled as much as you!”

“And how familiar are you with secret messages?” she challenged. She picked up her gloves and her fan. “Did you know we use these to communicate?”

the original drawing - I'm more towards medieval fantasy, but gladly re-did it when I found out it was more Regency style

“No, my shrimati, please, teach me the ways of Veniche women…” And after hearing all sorts of complicated explanations, he sighed. “I’m afraid your world is too complicated for me. I can talk the language of the roses, but fans and gloves are beyond me.”

She smiled fondly at him.

“You will learn. I know you will.”

“Do I have to dress like them as well?” he asked with a glint of irony in his dark eyes.

“If you want. You don’t have to wear the cravat, though,” she decided.

“I knew it,” he scoffed.

“I hate them,” she frowned.

“I know.” He kissed her. “Don’t worry, I can be a western gentleman if I have to,” he whispered.

“I know you can.” She lost herself in his eyes, thanking Aine for having put him on her path.

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