Below is the next bit of my novella, Dropping Slow, which I am posting serially during the month of June, as part of the Every Single Day Challenge to raise money for Sharon the Light. If you’re enjoying the story, please feel free to donate via my Crowdrise page ($10 minimum donation) or directly, at this link (no minimum donation). Everyone who donates will receive an ebook copy of Dropping Slow, once it’s all posted (if you donate directly, please leave a comment to let me know!).
Trini knows they’re coming, all three of them. It’s not easy to hide the movements of the First Ardriyne and her security team, and so the press also knows they’re coming. Therefore, Tace feels safe in assuming her parents know that she and both her lovers are answering the Former Cisare’s Summons; what takes her aback is that both their parents are flanking Trini at the ridiculous entrance to Holtzdorrne House when the car pulls up in the drive.
“Fucking bloody mastadonian hell,” she murmurs, and Javi–whose knuckles went white on the armrest of his seat as soon as the gates opened–cracks up. Tace looks at him and smiles helplessly, caught between his laugh, Lin’s straining to stay calm expression, and the fact that she’s going to have to remember how to do formal introductions.
“Do we bow?” Javi asks as the car stops and the driver gets out of the car to open their doors.
“Yes,” Tace says. “More deeply to Trini.” The door opens, and Tace catches one of each of their hands. “Don’t worry–Trini’s the only one with any actual power. And she won’t execute you.”
Linea laughs this time; Javi’s not sure if she’s kidding or not. She’s not, actually–she thinks knowing they won’t be beheaded or hanged is a comfort–but it does mean they’re all looking halfway calm when they get out of the car and start up the drive. Javi and Lin pace her; her knee is stiff from so much sitting the past day and a half, so she moves slowly.
Trini is grinning. Of course she is; she hasn’t met Lin or Javi, but she’s always liked that they exist. Her father is looking benevolent and serious, as, she supposes, befits his station and the fact that his war hero daughter is limping up the steps of their ancestral home.
Her mother has lost weight since Tace left. She’s thin in a way she’s never been before–skin draped on bone, tendons and what muscles she has striking in their relief–and her impeccably controlled face seems held that way now by force of will rather than long practice.
There are cameras, of course. Tace hadn’t thought of that, how this is their official announcement. The First Ardriyne is part of a triad; it’s not a scandal, exactly, but it is scandalous, in its way. The Flogystons have historically been monogamous, if not always faithful. As they come to a stop two steps below her family, Tace realizes that she will, in the next few minutes, secure herself a place in the family tree alongside Haemish Flogyston and Velloise, the grisly murderer. She’s reasonably sure her parents expected that of only Trini.
“Cisara. Venae Cisare and Cisara. May I present my …” She pauses, panicked for a moment because the word is gone; she hears the whirring noises of the vid equipment and imagines the nebula, watches it undulate inside her skull for a moment, and comes up with, “consorts.” Not exactly right, but better than concubines or courtesans. She takes a breath, turns to Javi and touches his elbow; he bows low, eyes on Trini. “Javiel Reyes.” She turns then to Lin, who glances at her quickly, eyes slightly panicked, and Tace feels gleeful because she knows exactly why–Lin heard Javiel and realized full names were the order of the day. “Linea-plucked-from- wretchedness-and-hellfire Succor-in-the-gloaming-of-our-days Ouine.” She feels doubly gleeful that she remembered and got all of it out without stumbling.
Lin bows as well, biting her lip. Neither one of Tace’s parents react openly, but Trini’s eyebrow lifts just a touch.
“I am honored by the presence of your consorts in my house,” Trini says brightly. “And by your return to us, Lieutenant and First Ardriyne, for however long you choose to stay.” She stops, takes a breath, and grins at Tace before bouncing forward and down the steps, throwing her arms around her. “I am so glad you’re here.”
It’s sincere, the hug, even as it’s also for the cameras. Tace hugs her back, hard, and says, “I’m happy to see you.”
“You sound so much better,” Trini whispers into her ear, then pulls back, beaming at Javi and Lin. “All right, we have a luncheon prepared–members of the press, that will be all for the day, thank you for your documentation!”
Trini doesn’t take her arm away from around Tace, which is a kindness as her knee is not pleased to find out there are two more steps to manage–and so when she looks up it’s to find Lin and Javi already on the landing, and her parents shaking their hands and smiling at them.
“It is very nice to finally meet you,” her mother says to Javi, who half-bows over her hand.
“Is Linea all right?” her father asks Lin. “I’ll say the whole thing if you prefer–” And Lin, startled, laughs and says that Linea is fine; her father smiles at her and Trini’s arm tightens around her waist. Tace glances at her sister; neither of them is nearly as reassured by this pleasant reception as they are meant to be.
For all her suspicions of hereditary monarchy, Linea is an historian, and she is clearly thrilled to be in Holtzdorrne House. The only bits of it the public has seen are the receiving rooms; the Residence has been off-limits since the place was built. As Trini leads them to Tace’s rooms she points out areas of interest–the goblin in the fireplace at the end of the hall outside her offices; the chunk of missing wall plaster from Velloise Flogyston’s final rampage before his death at the hands of his bastard daughter; the painting of Deanna Flogyston that, the story went, counseled her husband, Ekaterat, during his rule.
“That’s why he annexed Beatonne?” Lin asks, clearly appalled.
“That’s also why he established the poll tax,” Trini replies. “Apparently Deanna liked territorial expansion and understood the need for cash funds to do it.”
Lin covers her face with her hands and groans, “Oh my god, the papers I could write …”
“You know, we could set something up,” Trini says. “It’s been decades since we had a family historian, and god knows some of this stuff should be written down.”
Lin drops her hands and gapes at Trini, who laughs and takes her arm. Tace grins as they head down the hall.
Javi is less obviously impressed by the grandeur; he sticks close to Tace until the door shuts behind them and Trini is safely headed to her office. Lin, with a glace at Tace, slips through the sitting room door to explore the rest of the suite; Javi moves across the room to look at the desk and shelves. It’s odd to have him here, in these rooms where no one but her family and their staff have ever been; even the few friends she had growing up were never allowed in the Residence.
“There’s not much of you here,” he says.
“I don’t live here,” she says from the chair, pulling off her shoes. She’s tired, anxious, and a little sore, but all of it currently feels manageable. Javi moves to the paintings hung on the walls. Tace hasn’t actually looked at them … ever? Did she choose them? Are they new? They’re florals, something her mother might choose, so likely new.
“It’s all so … perfect?”
“Staff,” Tace says.
“I can’t even imagine you growing up here,” he murmurs. Tace watches him look around the room and tries to imagine how it looks to him; she thinks of quarters on a ship, but they’re hers. She has a thought of a curly-haired boy in a tiny apartment, like a memory of an impression. No matter how much she loves him, how much he tells her or she remembers, there are depths to him she can’t fathom.
“Javi, oh my god this bathtub–Tace, how did you not drown as a child?”
And the moment is broken as Javi starts quickly to the door to the bedroom and Tace laughs. “It’s not original, it’s theraputic!”
“It is big enough for three people; I call that highly theraputic,” Javi calls back, and Tace pushes herself out of the chair because, as odd as it might feel to have them both here, she’s certainly interested in taking advantage of that tub.
Copyright 2017 by Laura E. Price. Feel free to link to this story–signal boosting is welcome!–but please don’t reproduce it without permission.