How I Feel About Books in Fifty-Five Questions

Thanks to Mirriam (at whose feet we may lay the blame for many fun things) you may know my answers to these book-related questions.
fifty-five questions about books & me.
1.  Your favourite book as a child?  It would be a toss-up between The Silver Branch and The Last Battle.

2.  What are you reading right now?  The Last of the Mohicans.

3.  What books do you have on request at the library?  None.  I don't do libraries.  If I want a book, I buy it.

4.  Bad book habit.  I steal them.  From members of my family.  Without telling them.

5.  What do you currently have checked out from your library?  If we include our little church library, I should mention an old copy of The City of God and the copy of Practical Religion which I kind of "appropriated" and began underlining in...

6.  Do you have an e-reader?  No.

7.  Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or do you tend to read several at once?  I prefer to read them one at a time, but ain't nobody got time for that.

8.  Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?  I don't believe so.  I don't know that I necessarily write about the books I read more, either, as I am not naturally gifted with an analytical mind, and also I tend to fill my letters with monologues about my reading anyway.  Since joining the blogosphere, I have been privy to more recommendations, that's for sure!

9.  What was your least favourite book this year?  I would have to say The Tombs of Atuan, which is a nice book in its way, but it didn't have the sense of deftness in the writing and the cohesiveness I wanted in a fantasy novel.

10.  What was your FAVOURITE book this year?  Without a doubt that honour goes to The Grand Sophy, in all its hilarity, its strength of writing, its historical accuracy, its story-arc, its characters, and the brilliant time I had reading it.

11.  How often do you read out of your comfort zone?  Well, this is a nebulous question.  My comfort zone encompasses many genres, and when I think of "outside" my comfort zone, I generally think of "philosophies which are not my own, but which I might read for the purpose of acquainting myself with that view."  And no, I don't read those books as I should because (self-deprecation alert!) I'm lazy.

12.  What is your reading comfort zone?  Welp.  Again, across a wide field of genres, my comfort zone would be a skill of writing above that which I can currently attain, a visceral connection with the text, and the intuitive sense that the author has a firm grasp of either his story, his faith, or both. 

13.  Can you read in the car?  Absolutely not and I have never been able to.  I wonder that no one named me Puke-Guts as a child.  I could never seem to hold anything down...

14.  Where is your favourite place to read?  I don't believe I have one.  I like to be in a reading state of mind, which is the only thing which matters.  Unless I'm in the car.

15.  What is your policy on book-lending?  I'm a full-blooded hypocrite.  I'll take books, but unless you are part of my immediate family and I can drive to your house with a bayonet, I will not let you take my books.  I would rather buy you your own copy than risk losing my own.

16.  Do you ever dog-ear in books?  No.

17.  Do you ever write in the margins of your books?  Only my non-fiction books - and the same goes for underlining.

18.  What about text books?  I don't read text books.

19.  What is your favourite language to read in?  English, over which I have the most mastery.  I can limp through a touch of French, partly by context, partly from having been taught a little as a highschooler.  Latin is still beyond me, and Spanish is hard.  German is straight out.

20.  What makes you love a book?  The timing, the characters, the skill with which the author has crafted the story... 

21.  What would inspire you to recommend a book?  It depends on the book and it depends to whom I am making the recommendation.  Generally, if I think a book is any good, I will take into account the kind of person I am talking to and whether or not he or she may be compatible with the story.

22.  What is your favourite genre?  I don't think I have one.  I have favourite books from numerous different genres, and the older I get, and the more books I read, the harder it is for me to even have a favourite book.

23.  What is a genre you rarely read but wish that you did?  Theology.  I wouldn't say rarely, but I would like to have the drive to read more in that genre than I do.

24.  Favourite biography?  There is a genre I don't read much in.  Honestly, I would have to say Gaudy Night, even though that is not strictly a biography.  Cheatin'.  I'm supposed to read A Severe Mercy, and I have read Surprised By Joy (which is an autobiography) and I did enjoy Theodore Roosevelt's Oliver Cromwell...  But no, I look on the mountains of biographies which Abigail and my father read, I get a bit knotted in the gut, and despair.

25.  Have you ever read a self-help book?  No.  'Cause I'm just going to help myself anyway, or get someone more qualified to do the work for me.  No sense beating around the mulberry bush.

26.  Favourite cookbook?  One of my mother's.

27.  What is the most inspiration book you have read this year?  Practical Religion by J.C. Ryle, even though I haven't finished it yet.
"Awake from your dreams, I entreat you, and show yourselves men.  Think of the uselessness of living a life which you will be ashamed of when you die, and of having a mere nominal religion, which will just fail you when it is most needed."
28.  Favourite reading snack?  Cherry tomatoes. They are remarkably good for the complexion.

29.  Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.  I cannot recall any such instance, and seeing as, if the book were coming out, I would be offending a living author, and also seeing as, if the book were ardently recommended by a friend although the author is deceased, I would perforce be offending the friend, it seems safest to leave myself in ignorance of any such occurrence rather than actively try to hurt anyone's feelings.

30.  How often do you agree with critics about a book?  I don't read critical reviews.

31.  How do you feel about giving negative reviews?  I don't give them.  It is my own opinion to which I am entitled, and I see no reason to clog the internet with my negative views of a book.  People can always read the book and find out for themselves what they think.

32.  If you could read a foreign language, which would you choose?  Le poot.  I should probably choose Latin, because by extension I could muddle my way through any other Romantic texts, but I think I would rather learn French.  I used to hate it as a child (a product of my strong bent toward English history, even though French was the lingua franca of the island for a long time) but now I wish I had a better grasp of the language. 

33.  What was the most intimidating book you've ever read?  It was probably something for school.  No doubt something for philosophy or Church History class.  Something which I have since forgotten.  Oops.

34.  What is the most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin?  When Christ and His Saints Slept, because it is massive and it is historical - and history is full of tyranny, tragedy, and destruction.

"It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of son of a bitch or another."
Malcolm Reynolds

35.  Who is your favourite poet?  I haven't read enough poetry to decide.

36.  On average, how many books do you have checked out of the library at any given time?  Again, none.  I don't even check them out of the church library - I just take them.  Which is monstrously horrible in a laughable way.

37.  How often do you return books to the library unread?  Apparently never.

38.  Who are your favourite fictional characters?  Oh.  Oh no.  You can't do that to me.  Fine.  Brandoch Daha (The Worm Ouroboros), Justin (The Silver Branch), Lord Peter Wimsey, Sophy Stanton-Lacy (The Grand Sophy), Aslan (The Chronicles of Narnia), and I will make myself stop there.

39.  Who is your favourite fictional villain?  King Gorice XIII of Witchland (The Worm Ouroboros) and Tracy "Devil" Belmanoir, Duke of Andover (The Black Moth).

40.  What are the books you are most likely to take on vacation?  Any of my Georgette Heyer novels.  'Cause I'm lazy and I like ulcers.

41.  What is the longest you have gone without reading?  Maybe...five days?  That seems extreme.  I have never measured the time.  I read when I want to.

42.  Name a book that you could not or would not finish.  The White Mare by Jules Watson.

43.  What distracts you easily when you're reading?  The desire to go write.

44.  What is your favourite film adaptation of a novel?  I love the 1995 "Pride and Prejudice," but the BBC "Chronicles of Narnia" films hold a magical place in my heart.  And then of course there is Jeremy Brett.

45.  What is the most disappointing film adaptation?  That I have seen?  I can say that I never made it through the first ball scene of the Keira Knightley "Pride and Prejudice." 

46.  What is the most money you have spent in a bookstore at one go?  I get the books I want and I pay the nice people and then I leave and I don't look at my receipt.  I have no idea.

47.  How often do you skim a book before reading it?  I never skim. 

48.  What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?  A lack of connection with the story, an inability to sympathize with the view of the characters, a lack of morals...

49.  Do you like to keep your books organized?  I think it gives Abigail an actual pain when she comes over and sees the disharmony of my shelves...

50.  Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you're done with them?  If I actually make it through the book, chances are I at least mildly enjoyed it, and if I mildly enjoyed it I probably want my children to read it.

51.  Are there any books you've been avoiding?  When Christ and His Saints Slept...

52.  Name a book that made you angry.  There was one pointless novel I read back in middle school that was totally disrespectful of the Puritans in Holland.  It was crass and rude and by golly I despised it.  Jerks.

53.  A book you didn't expect to like, but did?  I was really not sure I was going to like Georgette Heyer's Bath Tangle because The Black Moth was not as good as The Grand Sophy, and I thought I might have been on a downhill spiral from there - but it was actually really fun.

54.  How about a book you expected to like, but didn't?  A Wizard of Earthsea.  I was hoping to like the Earthsea novels, but I haven't been able to engage with them.

55.  Favourite guilt-free pleasure reading?  Oh pisht!  The Scriptures. 

All Stories in the End

Looking over my list of 2013 reads, I seriously doubt anyone really cares to know, but writing up a list on The Penslayer has become a kind of tradition, so here's to tradition.
Goodreads tells me that I am 74% of the way through The Last of the Mohicans; I doubt I'll be able to finish it by the end of 2013, but I have certainly been enjoying it.  My husband gave me a nice little book for Christmas - which exchange, seen by an outsider, might provoke unpleasant jibes.  It's a little reprint of what was originally published in 1936 as Do's and Don'ts for Wives.  I had seen its companion in Waterstones in Glasgow, but hadn't had the time to sit down and read the female version, and Tim remembered and picked it up for me.  I've been casually perusing it, approving of its practical aspects, and nodding over the many ways in which Tim and I manage to emulate a good couple.  Being right is such a good feeling.  My nephew also got me a fantastic little journal for keeping track of one's books read - essentially the physical version of Goodreads, which is awesome because I often feel Goodreads is embarrassingly public: who wants to know my views on books anyway?  So thank you, James: that was an awesome present.  I will get much use out of that.

cut to the chase what have I actually read this year for pete's sake let's get on with it

The Tombs of Atuan // Ursula K. Le Guin
The Five Red Herrings // Dorothy Sayers
In the Teeth of the Evidence // Dorothy Sayers
Have His Carcase // Dorothy Sayers
World War Z // Max Brooks
Fools Rush In (Where Monkeys Fear to Tread) // Carl Trueman
Thera // Christos Doumas
On the Incarnation // Athanasius
On Christian Truth // Harry Blamires
1215: the Year of the Magna Carta // Danny Danziger
Mystery and Manners // Flannery O' Connor
The Grand Sophy // Georgette Heyer
The Black Moth // Georgette Heyer
Bath Tangle // Georgette Heyer
Friday's Child // Georgette Heyer
Dragonwitch // Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Goddess Tithe // Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Orthodoxy // G.K. Chesterton

That is what I read: not an overwhelming haul, and quite a stiffening of Georgetter Heyer in there (please try not to notice that bias), but I am that much closer to reading all the books in my library.  Considering my lengthy stint in Glasgow, I say that's pretty fair.  But enough about me.  I also like seeing what other people read - such as, I don't know, Rachel read The Mind of the Maker at last and loved it, making her twenty percent cooler than ever; and she read Manalive, and At the Back of the North Wind, and The Door in the Wall, which, even though I read it a billion years ago and it is technically meant for children, is still a great book.
very little brings souls together like the mutual love of books.

Home Again, Home Again

"He wants you home, Ebenezer - home!  Home for good and all."

Answer: yes, my husband and I made it back safely to our own town in the States. The flights over were swift and smooth, the layovers comparatively brief, and despite the fact that we only got roughly three hours of sleep the night before we set out, by the time my in-laws picked us up and took us to supper at their place, my husband and I were both cheerful and felt well. Our layover in Newark took the aches and stiffness and stress of customs off, but was not so long that we became stir-crazy. I dozed several times on the flight down the coast: in the end, we felt better and more comfortable than when we had stepped out our flat door for the last time Monday morning. It is wonderful to be back home. It feels as though a tesser happened: Scotland feels as if it happened out of time itself, and that our departure from and our return to home are slapped back to back in our life. Time is a strange thing.

Cue Christmas.  Rather than sitting down chipping away at Talldogs, I'm crashed on the spare room floor surrounded by brown paper, washi tape, and new My Little Pony scores playing on YouTube.  So while that is going on, I'm going to hurl a few snippets at you to throw you off my scent.

some writing pieces
mostly dialogue

"Not while Mars is in retrograde, darling. That will blow back in your face."

There was a brief lull as the Black Prince spun his ruler across the sheet and lined it up between the fourth house and Capricorn—then the battered tentflap shunted back with a scream and the man himself came in like a lightning-bolt, yanking at his chin-strap and hurling his lobstertail heedlessly from his hand into a dark corner.

The girl, who had not detached herself from the dog as ordered, pushed a damp, furry hand beneath her nose and stared up at Raymond with watery eyes and an expression of one having been promised a thrashing and given a hare-hunt instead.

Rummy thing, your sister. She doesn’t receive much attention, does she?”

Light of the sun!” crowed Riadra, and ripped off her hat to fan her face. “Surely it is time for a drink! The world begins to swim back and forth whenever I stand up.”

What in the world—from what crack to Hades have you sprung?”

His friend’s face creased gently in a wry smile. “Lord love you, Rips. And once I thought my pedigree a harsh and blighted thing.”

"If you stand up with her now, you will lend credence to her words. I will dance with her. And you can lay your head at my feet afterward," he added, stepping away.

"She will be bracing for you." He pointed along the list wall. "If you fetch her in the crotch of the shoulder and throw out her couch, you may knock her clear."

Ampersand was a blood-bath.” She flung her heels up onto the table and leaned back into the chair. Settling in, as much as one could, she gripped her steaming mug of coffee between both hands and tipped her head back to frown at the ceiling. “It was the tide-turn of the war. With Marius busy in the east, clearing off our shores and securing the sea-ways, Genoving thought he could act without impunity upon our southern borders.” A smile lacerated her face and her voice turned guttural: “He walked into Ampersand Valley with the hubris that he could take it, and we buried him there. It was a blood-bath, of course. He swore he would keep it, and he tried to. The lords were all for pulling out as though from a tryst gone wrong, and giving way to him, but Auxoris and Phillip Cheval and Marius’ son Raymond of the Heights between them held the field and choked Genoving with his own pride. In the end he had no choice but to make peace and make alliance.” She swung her head up off the chair-back and bent her gaze to her coffee; in the long gilt shadows of the lamplight Alwin watched the smile diminish into a curious look of tenderness and regret. The middle finger of her left hand began to circle noiselessly on the ceramic, sketching the formlessness of the thought which puckered a shadow between her brows. “A great one for blood, old Ampersand,” she mused softly. “Not the last battle that was fought there between the Honours.”

You?” demanded Avery when he could speak. “Oh, light of Mercury.” He gasped on laughter and swept his fingertips over his eyes. “You are, say, nine—ten? Are not even of age! Make a leman of her, indeed!”

"A couple of hands ago, she was the most popular card in the deck."

Please, I am begging you—put the razor down!

Next up, Christmas? Oh boy.

The Blackguard

Well.  There goes November.   I said at the outset, I said 2013 would streak by, and lookee here it has.  My husband and I are due back in the States on the 16th; we have loved it here in Glasgow, but we're definitely ready to get back home to our family and cats and Christmas.  I hit a bit of a funk with Talldogs, partly because I'm using my typical feeling-my-way method, partly because I am ready to get back to my desktop computer in my green spare room back home, which is my thinking space.  Soon.  Soon.  I have more or less recovered from the funk, you'll be glad to know.
It is, however, time for yon Chatterbox session.  I cheated, like I do, 'cause I'm an artist...  Once again, if you are new to either Chatterbox, or The Penslayer, or both, it is a simple exercise invented by Rachel in which she throws a topic out once every month and you get to write a piece about it, or around it, or vaguely shy-cat-trying-to-be-friendly brushing up against it.  This month's topic is
and, again, it was not easy.  So I cheated.  Like I do.

With a soft wave of his fine, flecked hand, the Blackguard brushed the trail of smoke from his nostrils.  “The chit knew she was not supposed to be alone with a gentleman,” he concluded in that same light, humoured tone of voice, “but I do not believe she knew why.”
A face flashed upward in the circle of lamplight, teeth bared in a laugh.  “You’re gammoning!”
The Blackguard shook his head.
“Someone has grossly miscalculated that chit’s education.  Spurs going in the pot, Blackguard?”
Electing to hold onto his own glass of admittedly third-rate wine, the Blackguard leaned upon the back of a chair and swung up his heel, fingering the latches of his spurs.  In the smoky gloom he could see the whole ring of men huddled round the depressed table, faces ruddy in the overhanging light, rough about the morals and well-versed in the art of ripping through life to gain one’s best advantage.  It was a hot, close night within the room, with little air-flow and a peat-fire adding to the smoke and glow of the lantern; they were all stripped to the shirtsleeves, doublets hanging on the backs of their chairs.  They were all enjoying themselves, but it did not escape the Blackguard’s notice that they all had their eyes on their own doublets—beautiful creatures of the highest order—lest someone should choose to quietly make away with them.  In high humour, he put his heel back down and tossed both his spurs onto the centre of the table.
“There you are, gentlemen.”
Across from him, Darren, skipper of the Sagacity, jerked up his head at the Blackguard, the gold ring in his left ear swinging wildly in the light.  “Are you losing your spurs to me, Blackguard?” he asked insinuatingly.
With that same cool smile, the Blackguard replied, “You are not my style—unless it turns out that you are a woman.”
There was a collision of derisive laughter.  Darren set back his bulky shoulders, slammed the dice in the cup, and began to shake them.  The shadow of his moving hands flew across the spurs—sharp, dove-shaped things lying like stunned birds on the tabletop, trailing their harness among a tangle of coins and a vial of Sleep.  The Blackguard’s eye fell on the little bottle and his stomach cringed; he looked away quickly. 
“Come on—give me Venus!” coaxed Darren, shaking the cup for all he was worth.  Everyone braced, half-rising from his seat.  The skipper flung the dice end over end upon the table, breathless until they stopped…
The Blackguard raised a finger.
“Yes!”  Darren drove his fist into the shoulder of the next man. 
“Go to the devil!”
Beside the Blackguard, Marcy spoke up, tongue red-lashing as it was wont to do.  “Venus loves you by far the best, Darren.  You seem to roll her overmuch.”
Soothingly, the Blackguard said, “Everyone knows Venus came from the sea.  Perforce she would prefer seafarers.” 
The blunt, dark-browed face swung round in the scarlet light.  “ ‘Twas your spurs you lost.”
The man is bored of dice, thought the Blackguard.  I wonder…  With a little smile that had a decade ago been mistaken as shy he looked at the toe of one boot, shining in a slim patch of lamplight among the shadowed chair-legs.  “Yea, they are my spurs.  And presently I will play Darren again for them.  Darren does not garner Venus’ disapproval, and I do not lose my spurs.”
“You could go on like this all night.”
“Indeed, we could!”  The Blackguard flashed his disarming smile that was, he had been told, like a knife in the dark which is not meaning to be friendly.  “But that would be poor sport.  A gentleman knows when to salute and stand down.”
“A gentleman!” scoffed Marcy.  “We all know you are the least of a gentleman among us, Blackguard.”
This remark was caught by every ear at the table and there was a collective stall in movement; every eye was on the two of them.  Out of the corner of his eye the Blackguard could see Darren’s earring jinking softly in the light.  He became acutely aware of his riding gages slipped inside his heavy sword-belt, in clear sight of all…
His lips lifted off his teeth.  “Coming from you, Marcy, I believe that is a compliment.”
The man swung his head as if from a touch, but before he could launch back Lucius, Master of the Game, said, “Are you playing, Marcy, or aren’t you!  I was in a passing fair mood and I am not interested in having you go steel to steel with the Blackguard.”
The Blackguard lifted his free hand dismissively.  “I am not offended.  I am aware my infamy precedes me.”
Darren waved his hands provokingly.  “Then come and get me.  Do you want your spurs?”
The Blackguard snapped his fingers and held out his palm for the cup.  “For the pot,” he said honeyily, one eye still on Marcy.  “Up to the hilt.”
“Damn you to the devil, Blackguard.”
The dice were slammed into the bottom of the cup and shaken until their spots must have fallen out.  They spun like stars and the Blackguard cast them out on the table, looking like ivory jewels falling from a strange and twisted dream.  They spun, crashed against the spurs, and stopped.
A good beginning.
Darren and the Blackguard duelled with the dice for twelve rounds, Lucius all the while keeping score—until the Master said, lifting his head from his tablet,
“The Blackguard needs only a pair of Twins to win this.”
The Blackguard met Darren’s eye.  He was in the last stretch now.  The skipper’s head shifted ever so slightly, acknowledgingly. 
Time to win his spurs.
The ivory rattled, the heavy lamp-smoke swirled; the Blackguard’s head was bitingly clear in spite of it all and he saw the dice go crashing down, skipping, rebounding, whirling on invisible lines.  He saw them hit the raised side of the table and come rolling back, falling into place with a pair of threes staring at the ceiling.
With a jerk of his hand and a vicious, triumphant smile, the Blackguard demanded to be given his spurs.  His ears rang with the cacophony of their excited disbelief.  With the gesture of one admitting defeat Darren himself leaned across and slapped the steel spurs into the Blackguard’s palm; they were cool and hard and familiar, and he was glad to have them back.
“I will leave you to Venus’ consort,” he said playfully, stepping from the table and slinging his doublet over one shoulder.  He drained his wine and set the glass on a little niche in the wall.  “You have given me enough enjoyment for one evening.”
“Go on, Blackguard—go back to the abyss from which you came!”
Nodding farewell to the pack of them, warm with wine and the thrill of the place, the Blackguard turned into the narrow white-washed hallway, sloped a little upward toward the front room, and ducked through into the crammed mudroom and out through the battered door to the garden beyond.  Cool autumn air rushed into his lungs and he stood a moment under the glare of a broad crescent, clearing out the heavy lamp-smoke and hauling his brain back under control.  There in those last moments he had been in a kind of calculated rage of excitement for the hunt had called to him and his blood could not resist that.  He had been aware of their eyes—of Marcy’s eyes—watching him intently.  He had been aware of his spurs waiting for him to win them back.  He had been aware of much, and the alchemic concoction had nearly driven him mad.
With a little jink he refitted his spurs in his grasp and began walking up the garden path, aware of a whippoorwill calling from the pond down the way, aware of the silvered night-light glistening on the grass and the leaves of the trees.  It was a beautiful night—like a plunge into a cold stream.  He walked through the garden and up to the lane with all the noise of an owl on the wing; with a little familiar creak he set back the wicket latch and stepped out onto the road.
Almost at once he was conscious of someone approaching him and he flung up his head, perceiving a little figure half-running through the dark toward him.  It came out from under the tree shadows and stood in the blazing light, stopping within a few paces of him.
By the twelve houses, it was a girl.
He frowned, glancing back the way she had come.  The road was empty and there was no sound of human foot or horse’s hoof to be heard in the silvered filigree night. 
“Sir,” the girl went on breathlessly, “can you help me?  I am trying to find Majester Chlorus’ house.  Do you know where it is?”  Her tone was wrung with concern.
And she was lost.
“Do you not have an escort?” he inquired.  “You should not be out alone at night.”  And especially not in front of this particular house.
She exuded an aura of perplexity.  From the midst of a mass of long, curling brown hair which stood out from her head like the mane of a lion her enormous pale eyes stared at him, brows puckering.  “No.  I was riding with Charigold—” she gestured back down the lane.  “I would have made it home sooner, but I’ve only just come to Mithras and I don’t know my way around.”  She gazed about her, fists clenched at her sides.  “Things looked so much clearer in daylight.”
During this artless speech, the Blackguard had got a good look at her.  She was small—of age, but quite diminutive, with a slip-figure, pale skin, and a face that narrowed beneath the cheekbones and allowed a good grip about the mouth for a hand his size or larger.  She was the perfect prey. 
His voice hardened.  “You ought not to have been let out at this hour.  Your friend ought to have sent a manservant with you.”
She swung back to him, surprised by this.  “But—I don’t need to be walked like a dog!  I would be well if only I knew where I was!”
Feeling that his story about the chit, which he had constructed for the amusement of the others, was becoming real in front of him, the Blackguard began to wonder if he ought to scare some sense into her.  It would be an easy thing.  She was a pretty little creature, probably rather simple and tender-hearted, sensitive as a highly bred filly.  It would be an easy thing…
Aloud he said, “Which street does Majester Chlorus live on, do you know?”
She cupped her hands together and pressed them over her mouth, pondering.  “I think…perhaps…Autium Way…?  He is my uncle,” she added, seeming to think this helped to locate him.
The Blackguard’s shoulders relaxed.  She was a truly artless chit, even a trifle amusing.  “I know the road.  I will take you home.”
“Will you?” she cried, coming forward a step.  “Oh, I am so—glad—I…”  Her voice trailed off; her blue eyes sharpened, widened, catching a view of his face.  He started, alarm ringing in his brain.  “Oh!” she cried.  Oh!  You are the author of The Colour of Death!  You are—”
He crushed his finger over her soft little mouth.  He felt the lips gather into a surprised pucker.  “Shh!” he commanded; after a pause, he took his hand away. 
Her hands stole over her mouth—frightened, not because he had touched her rather suddenly, but because she had almost blurted out his name.  “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.  “Are you working?”
Very clearly, he thought, I could wind you around my little finger, couldn’t I, and you would not mind.  “Yes, after a fashion.  But now I must take you home.  Your uncle will be worried about you.”
Rather in awe of him, she allowed him to draw her alongside and walk her by him down the shaded lane.  But after a few paces she stopped of a sudden, drawing up one leg like a horse favouring a hoof.  “Oh dear!  I am so sorry.  I must—I think I have—my lace,” she explained.  “It has come undone with my running.”
She sat down at once on the low stone kerb of the roadway, thrust out her right leg, and hauled her riding habit up to her thigh.  The Blackguard started back, thrown into a fit of silent laughter and surprise.  He did not have the heart to tell her how indecorous she was being; he could only stand, hands on hips, still holding his spurs, watching the little chit paw at the laces of her tall riding boots until she brought them into order again—and glad all the while that it was he who had discovered her pattering about at night and not a man like Marcy.  
“There!”  She leapt to her feet, striking her skirts down.  She beamed up at him.  Their difference in height was very great; she bare came to his shoulder while she stood in her heeled riding shoes.  “I am so sorry.”
“It is better now?” he asked, humoured.
“Yes, it is better now.”
He gestured toward the lane and, with a little bob of her head that was at least some vestige of a good girl’s upbringing, she fell into step beside him again. 
“I am Jinievere, by the way,” she began conversationally when they had gone a few paces.  Shyly, she knocked the sides of her fists together.  “And, of course, I know who you are.”
He turned to see her head bent, riotous hair falling over her face.  He could hear her skin blushing. 
“I’m—I really—I love your books, sir.  You have such a way of capturing the setting and making me feel that I am really there.  I would adore being able to write like that.”
While he could not help thinking that a girl who had read his literature ought to have known better than to be caught out at night unattended, it did not escape him that, for the first time in a very long time, he did not feel a sense of judgement extending from his interviewer, as though he were a kind of mythic creature which must be examined and understood.  The girl was starkly in awe of him, and it was a new and curious feeling to experience. 
“Do you write at all?” he asked.
She did not lift her head.  “A little.  I try.  I know it isn’t very good, but I like it.  Sometimes.”
The Blackguard’s lips kicked back in a smile.  “It is a good beginning.  When you love it, you will make it good.”
Jinievere looked up from her clasped hands, biting her lower lip.  “Do you think so, sir?” she begged of him.
“I know as much.  It was thus that I became proficient.”
“Did it take long?”
He had to turn his head to hide his amusement.  Her enormous eyes followed him like a lovesick pup.  “I think that it takes differing times for differing people.  The time is of no consequence.  We will, no doubt, have God’s eternity with which to hone the art.”
“Oh yes!” she cried, seeing this truth so clearly before her that she started like a cat which has had a rock dropped next to it.  “And I was so crestfallen for I have been working since I was twelve.  I am seventeen, now,” she added proudly, swinging her massive mane round at him.  “And you are—thirty.”
“Not until the winter,” he corrected her gently, thinking in the back of his mind that she had a pathetic ageless grace about her which would probably never grow old and had nothing to do with the fact that she was seventeen.  Indeed, he was surprised to discover himself hoping she did not outgrow this pet-like innocence.  It greatly amused him.
“It is of no consequence,” she said with affected gravity.  Her accent became Refined Honour, mimicking his own.  “It will be winter soon.  But thirty is so old!” she exclaimed, returning to her own voice.
“Not so!” he protested.  “Not once you have reached it, in any case.  But I see you have been watching me quite closely!” he added, giving rein to laughter at her expense.
She coloured.  For a spell she walked in silence, boots crunching the gravel underfoot; the Blackguard’s feet made no noise.  At last she prompted shyly, “I don’t mean to pry…  Was that—was that a dice house back there?”
There was a telltale note of worry in her voice which caused him a sense of relief: she was not insensible of danger, after all.  “Yes.”  His eye was drawn upward as the shadow of a hunting owl drifted across them.  “And you must thank God it was I who came out and found you, and not someone else.”
He was grateful to see her shoulders shudder, but this also put him in mind of the cool air and he wondered if she was a little chilled as well.  “What did you do in there?  Am I allowed to know?” she added, swinging round with her blue-planet eyes gleaming at him with concern.  In that worshipful gaze, the Blackguard saw no thought that he had done anything unscrupulous. 
I seem to have wrapped her round my little finger already.
“I was playing for my spurs,” he explained.  He held them up so that the light slid across them as they walked, the jagged blocks of shadow quenching the metallic light as they passed under the trees.  Jinievere’s hand stole out and she touched one briefly before drawing away again.  “Do you care to know why?”
Again the pup’s eyes, luminescent, fixating on his face.
He chuffed softly and twisted one of the spurs, pausing in a bit of light so that he could see the thing that he did.  The chit stood on tiptoe, peering over his forearm.  He sprung a latch, twisted back the metal half-circle, and drew the rowel off, revealing a hollow place within the neck.  A piece of paper whispered in the movement; with two deft fingers he drew it out and held it before Jinievere’s face.
“I was winning that.”
“What does it say?” she whispered, gazing on this magic with such rapt attention that her body trembled with the excitement.
“It should tell me who I am looking for.  And here.”  He put the dismantled spur and its twin into the cupped palms she held out and fell to unrolling the little scrap of paper.  It would be hastily written.  Darren’s writing was always swiftly-paced and nearly illegible.  He tipped the paper to the light.
The man is Marcy—but I think you already knew that, my lord.  Still looking for his warehouse.  Give my regards to the Dragon’s Eye.
Jinievere gasped softly.  “The Dragon’s Eye!” she whispered.  The Blackguard glanced at her from the paper.  She had her hands clenched over the smooth ring of the spurs, knuckles pressed against her lips. 
She has blundered into what she thinks is a fairytale. 
His heart clenched.
Silly pet!  Ought to know what fairytales are really like.
He pressed the slip of paper between his palms until all that was left of it was a sideways drift of ash.  With a smoking palm he took back the spurs and they continued on.  He was thinking of Marcy now, and wondering how soon Darren could locate his warehouse.  He had a great mind to help, and rather wished he could call upon the help of his—
“What is in the warehouse?” asked Jinievere.
The Blackguard walked a space in silence.  “I think it would be better if you did not know.”
He knew she had looked at him then, sharply, curious and yet startled by her hero’s forbiddance.  It seemed to shock her with a new sense of dread.  She drew closer; after a slight pause, he felt her hand slip inside his own.  On instinct, he closed his fingers over hers.
They walked for some time in that way, side by side, the Blackguard’s long, fine hand growing accustomed to the soft paw inside his grasp.  The night was cool and clear, blood-rousing, and the man found himself the willing victim of a surprisingly powerful possessive nature, dredged up out of a sleeping genius.  It was a sense much like rage, and he liked it.  Glancing aside from time to time at the silver-lit curve of button nose beside him, he wondered if the girl knew what she had awoken. 
“Pet,” he said at length, “are you easily frightened?”
She looked up at him, that soft little mouth drawn into a surprised vowel shape.  “No.  I don’t think so.”
He showed his teeth in an All Hallows smile.  “Good.  Then do not be.”  And he swung round to face the road behind, sharp eyes picking the figure out of the gloom.  “Come out, sirrah!” he called with a lashing taunt.  “I know that you are there.”
Marcy came into the light, a sword drawn in his hand. 
“Good evening, Marcy,” said the Blackguard.  “How may I help you?”
“You can put away your cool talk, Blackguard.  It is not my style.”
The Blackguard sniffed like a horse.  “I cry you mercy, I was born with that.  I cannot give it up so easy.”  His eye fell to the man’s sword, noting the angle at which he held it, the flexibility of the elbow, the strength of the wrist.  “Is there any other way in which I might oblige you?”
The heavy face shadowed with the clench of the brows.  “Do not take me for a fool, sir!  I know there is something to those spurs, and I rather fancy it has much to do with myself.”
Again, the Blackguard indulged in a soft little laugh that could cut a man’s pride like a razor.  “Are you much used to making conspiracies about yourself?”
“Show to me the spurs,” the man demanded bulldoggishly.
It did not escape the Blackguard’s notice that to kill Marcy now would be to render superfluous the discovery of his warehouse.  Yet he suspected Marcy would have a second who would just as easily take his place, and the work would go on with very little upset. 
He wondered what had become of Darren.
With a great show of giving in, as though half-humoured and wholly bored by the ordeal, the Blackguard took his spurs out of his doublet pocket and tossed them underhand at the man’s feet. 
“There,” he said in the voice of a cat stretching.  “The spurs.  Art happy, thunder-brow?”
Marcy held up his hands.  “Dost really take me for a fool?”
The Blackguard, too, flung up his hands and gazed around in theatrical despair.  Now what do you want?  I gave to you the spurs!”
“Yes,” said Marcy, “who would not let them go without a fight over dice.  The thing I want is no longer there, I think.”
The Blackguard was silent for a moment, fallen into stillness.  At last he said, “You are right.  I had taken you for a fool.  Permit me to do so no longer.  For instance, I think it unlikely that you should have come after me without reserves.  Am I correct?”
Marcy did not betray a glance to either side.  But the Blackguard was already beginning to sense men closing in around them and he asked himself quite seriously what he meant to do.  It was only a matter of a few moments before Marcy took note of the girl.  The Blackguard would have to decide quickly.
“You are correct.”  Marcy took a step closer, shifting into a long broken shadow cast by an elm-bough.  “You are outnumbered seven to one—”
And now he has noticed the girl.
The darkened head turned.  “Who is this?”
The Blackguard was conscious of Jinievere standing rigid beside him, hands at her sides, clenched into fists.  The ephemeral fairytale was gone from her demeanour: she was taking this interchange with a morbidly serious mind.  “My witch-accomplice,” said the Blackguard glibly.  “She can catch the Lower Light in her hair and make a net of it.”
“Don’t gammon with me,” said Marcy smartly.
“I cry you mercy.”  The Blackguard lifted his shoulders.  “It is of a piece with me.”
“Give me the girl and perhaps I will consider being merciful.”
The hackles lifted on the Blackguard’s neck.  A strong cold wind, blowing down the lane, lifted the pulse in his body to such a level that he could feel the ground gathering underfoot—he could feel the backflung tree-branches, the soft glint of light on a man’s drawn knife, the taut-drawn strap of Orion’s belt… 
He drew his hand before him, palm upward, in a circle.
He did not hear Marcy’s call to attack: he felt it, as one feels the reverberation of a drum which has been struck.  His sword was in his hand as if it had grown out of his arm.  A pall of silence fell over his world; everything stood out in relief.  The ground beat under his feet as he ran forward three steps; the long piece of cavalry steel crashed against Marcy’s and felt to the Blackguard like a sky of stars coming out in summer.  There was a strange sense of beauty in every sensation that cascaded over him, but no sense of joy.  In Marcy’s grim face he could see a reflection of his own, silent, like a death-mask, intent to kill.
There was no joy, but there was also no fear.
Marcy was a good blade, but the Blackguard was better.  He hammered him down the lane, blow by blow, and he had the man down on one knee with his sword rasping against the other’s, flinging Marcy back at a harsh angle with his arms above his head.  With a few deft twists and a thrust he would have the man finished, and he would trust to God that the rest of the operation would not be ruined. 
A scream of pain cut through the silence.  His foot came up, striking Marcy in the jaw so that the man was sent over onto his back with a broken jawbone and a nose spraying blood.  Turning, deluged in sound again, the Blackguard saw Jinievere only a few paces from him, having kept as close as possible, huddled on the ground with her face in her hands.  She was screaming and thrashing—and across from her stood a man coaxing a whipcord back into his hand.
A rage too large for his body flooded his veins.  The high possessive blood-fire of the ancient thrones and dominions coursed through him, breaking his voice until it sounded like the voice of a dragon. 
No one—” he came forward, sword shredding fire from its blood-groove “—no one ever—ever—ever—ever—EVERHITS PET.
The thing they had unleashed exploded in their faces.  Somewhere he heard a man cry, “By the gods—it’s—” and then he had swung, shoving up his hand into the man’s face and compacting all the bone into the back curve of his skull.  The side of his hand contacted the whipmaster’s jaw: he watched the bone break beneath the skin in a hundred tiny fragments: with his other hand he took the front of the face and pulled it off onto the ground between his feet. 
Two down, one crippled. 
Four to go.
Let us dare.
He drove his sword into one man’s body, all the way up to the hilt until, in a distant sort of way, he felt the gut-blood of him rush down onto his fist.  No one was near Jinievere now; the few left alive were trying desperately to make an escape, but the Blackguard had had enough of them.  The ground was repulsed by them.  The tree-roots seemed to recoil in revulsion.  They had tempted his wrath: they would drink it—they would drink it all the way down to its dregs.
With both hands he hauled a man’s arms behind his back until he heard the spine crack.  He released; as the body was falling he drove his fist into the back of the man’s skull, killing him upon impact. 
Four down, one crippled.
He broke a man’s thigh with a destrier’s kick: the scream tore through the dark wood.  He caught the sixth man as he made a lunge to get away, caught him through the ribs with both sets of fingers, up to his elbows in blood, and closed his hands, feeling the ribs crunch together in his grip. 
Now there was only Marcy.
Breathing heavily through his nose, scarlet light ebbing and flowing around his face with each breath, the Blackguard strode to the dazed, broken body in the roadway.  Bending down, he hauled it up by its doublet-front.  Out of an upward spray of blood Marcy glared back at him, unable to move his jaw to speak.  The Blackguard was glad of that.
“You should have let me alone,” he said softly.  “But I suppose your neck would have broken either way.”
He took the head between his hands and wrenched it, swiftly, cleanly.  The body fell limp.
When he turned to her, Jinievere had stopped screaming and knelt in the roadway, her face in her arms, trying with a visible force to choke back her sobs.  Brave chit!  She had taken a whip across the face and she was trying not to cry like a girl.  The Blackguard knelt in front of her and drew her up by her shoulders; blood spattered onto his knees and he got a glimpse of a clenched face, eyes half-shut against pain and tears.  The score ran at a sharp angle across both cheeks and the bridge of her nose.
“Ow!” she said simply, and bit her lip to keep quiet.
The physic in him came uppermost.  He slicked the blood off his hands, his motions quieted and gentle; with a palm across her face he pulled the lips of skin back together, sealing them off.  Her skin was supple and fresh: no scars would be left.  Her big blue eyes stared out at him from between his splayed fingers, still swimming a little, blurred with light and water. 
“There, that is the skin of you.”  He took his hand down.  “How are you on the inside?”
She sniffed and touched her face experimentally—not surprised, he saw, to discover the wound was gone.  “A little shaken,” she confessed, “But I’ll be well.”
His mouth kinked.  “Not easily afraid?”
Jinievere frowned severely and shook her head. 
 The Blackguard favoured her with a murmured, “That’s a good girl,” which brought the colour to her cheeks in a trice.  Like one coaxing a brood mare up from her first delivery he got her to her feet and held her for a moment to be sure she could keep her legs under her.  But she appeared to have an iron, stubborn streak in her, for she balled her little fists and straightened her back, very white, but very determined.
“Are they all gone for good?” she asked, as if it were a novel.
“I doubt anyone is coming after me.”  He grasped his sword belt and hefted it back to centre.  “But I want to know what has become of my friend.”  He regarded Jinievere for a moment, wondering, if the worst had happened to Darren, if she could stomach walking in on such a spectacle.  Her eye was hesitantly flitting from body to body already; her mouth compressed and he could sense her teeth grind, but she took it gamely.  His gaze lifted to her hair, which had become even more of a wreck than before. 
You know that she would gladly be flung into every corner of every room from here to Maresgate, if only she could tag along after you.
Her gaze whipped to his.  “What is the matter?” she demanded in a husky whisper.
The Blackguard kicked back his head, shaking it.  “We will go be sure that Darren has not come to a dog’s end, and then I will take you to your uncle’s house.  An’ sure he will be frantic for you.  Then tomorrow I will come by as myself and offer for you.”
Jinievere stared at him with the first truly serious expression he had seen on her.  Something like horror had come over her, horror and something much like stomach sickness.  “Oh,” she gasped; then, “Oh!  Oh, don’t!  Please don’t!  Don’t gammon with me, sir!”  And she burst into tears, backstepping swiftly with her face hidden in her hands.  “Please—please—anything but—please, don’t!
“I do not gammon, Pet,” he assured her, realizing how just how deeply her infatuation with him ran.  “I think we would suit famously.  Don’t run,” he added, lunging forward and grasping her wrist.  He was strong—he could have crushed her skull with one hand—but he did no more than close his fingers over her arm.  She stopped and shrank into a little huddle.  “Don’t run.”
Her words did not come very clearly through her tears.  “Why—why did you—why did you—come?  I wish you—had never spoken!  Don’t tease me!  I couldn’t bear—go away!  Why—why—why me?
Pitying humour clenched in his chest.  “By the twelve houses, girl—why not you?  Anyone can tell you are heels over head in love with me.  Don’t pull away!  You will hurt yourself.  Also it is very clear in my mind that we will do very well together.  I had made up my mind about it thirty minutes ago, so if you suppose this is all because I fought for you and patched up your face, your romantic spirit is mistaken!”
She flung down her hands and began what would have been a spirited denouncement of her charms—which were, to the Blackguard, readily apparent and blissfully artless—but he had been expecting that.  In a rush he had caught her up, gently but firmly, and had closed that soft little mouth with its first kiss.  She was too surprised to struggle, so he had the opportunity to enjoy it as much as she did.  She did not have much grace in her kiss, but that was half the charm of it.  He broke off with a swift soft laugh and put her down, drawing back to see the face shining up at his. 
“I told you, I do not gammon, Pet,” he recommended. 
Her little hands came up, clenched, pressing against his doublet-front.  “I—I am going to cry,” she said thickly.  “I am sorry.  It is so stupid of me.  I am so happy.”
“If you like.”  He took her hands down and drew her along beside him.  “You may do whatever you like.  I should warn you, I have a strong mind to spoil you to distraction.  You are adorable.”
“Am I?”
“Yes.  And remarkably competent in a scrape.  One gets into those around me.  I am glad you have that skill.”
Her feet skipped beside him.  “Oh, I will do anything—anything!  And—and you really mean it?”
He lifted his head, watching the long silver patterns swelling among the shadows of the road.  The owl came back, watching them as it floated by.  Soon it would become too cold to be out of doors.  “Every once in a long while, a princess gets her white knight.”
After a catch in the silence, she prompted, “And the white knight likes that?”
He dropped his gaze, his face stolen over by the shy little smile which was his habit.  “The white knight is rather relieved.  He does not like being alone.”
She took his hand and pattered beside him, head upflung and her little button nose already displaying an air of pride.  “I am glad.  I know I’m not majestic and I know I’m not witty…or smart…  But if—if you think I will suit…  Oh!” she cried, stopping and pulling back on his hand.
He swung round, still clasping her hand.  “What is it?”
“My boot lace!  It has come untied again.”
The Blackguard kicked back his head and laughed.