Leliel: “I see the Council has once again chosen to disregard my warning about the Conclave. I can only assume they are prepared to accept responsibility for the consequences of their decision.”
Sariel: “And what might that be, dear brother?”
Leliel: “The death of those we’ve been given to protect, of course.”
Sariel: “While your council is always welcome, I fear your obsession with this particular species has clouded your judgment. If it makes you feel any better, we’ve requested additional Watcher’s.
Leliel: Lips as finely sculpted as the arched brows over the angels cerulean etched eyes, thinned. “Do you ever grow tired of the games, brother?”
Sariel: “Games? I’m not sure I understand. Are you referring to the task we’ve been given to preserve the continued existence of the prime objective or that which goes on between you and me?
Leliel: “Either. Both.” The angel of darkness turned his head to look out over the area once known as Puget Sound, the chiseled lines of his face a perfect backdrop for his pale skin and ebony hair. “Are you not the least tempted to try to discover what it is about them that has captured the attention of heaven?”
Sariel: “I don’t need a replay of history to remember what happened the last time our brothers gave into their temptations. We’re still dealing with the repercussions from that fiasco.”
Leliel: “Interesting. You see catastrophe, I see . . .potential.”
Sariel: “Is this conversation going somewhere? I have a progress report to type up and superiors to give it to.”
Leliel: “I can only assume, due to your lack of interest, it is not.”
The last rays of sunlight departed to the east as Leliel spread his wings, lengthening shadows and darkening the night. Behind him, Moon bowed her head in acknowledgment of his presence, while below the ship known as the Nergal, lay anchored in waves far less violent than those now crashing on the islands windward side. The sound of Captain Josiah Jyun’s voice drifted upwards from the ship’s hull, the words full of confidence, the order clear.
Prior to his discussion with Sariel, Leliel had been watching the damphir known as Fendar struggle to stay ahead of the storm’s earliest onslaught. But according to the rules of his mission, there was nothing he could do but watch as the man’s efforts to reach the city in time, failed when he was wounded by silver bullets shot from a gun aboard the Nergal – incapacitating, but not fatal. Had the captain’s intent been otherwise, Leliel would have swept down and removed his young charge, regardless of the rules.
The fact the pirate king trolled this close to land, boded ill for many of the tribes. It also added to the growing sense of unease he’d begun to experience more than a year ago. The fact that the Council ignore his repeated warning only made it more difficult for him to remain neutral, even though in all fairness, he couldn’t totally blame them. The last time an angel interfered in the affairs of men, the world had almost been completely destroyed.
Iridescent wings, as black as the night around him, folded close to his spine as the angle descended to a cliff-top overlooking a beach on Vashon’s northern shores. From his perch high above, Leliel watched as two men from Jyun’s ship rowed one of Nergal’s life boats ashore, then got out to inspect another boat located well out of the storms reach. With eyes that saw as well without light as they did with, the angel watched as the pirates discover dark stains on the crafts wooden seat, confirming what he himself already knew; someone had lost a lot of blood and chances were, they were hiding somewhere on this island. Leliel knew it would be no more than half an hour before the captain sent back a second landing party to track that person and take them captive.
Several millennia ago he’d begun to wonder, if Anakim were truly the more superior species, why had the All Father allowed the sons of God to take the daughters of Eve as their mates? Surely one who is both omnipresent and omniscient would have seen such a union and know what the outcome would be. If the prime directives were truly the abomination many of his kind believed them to be, then why had they been placed under the guardianship of angels such as himself?
Leliel didn’t wait for the men to return to their boat. Instead, he pulled the darkness around him, opened his wings and took flight, heading away from pirates towards the monastery located somewhere near the island’s southern point. In his earlier conversation with Sariel he’d asked his brother whether he was ever curious why the prime objective was of such interest to heaven. What he’d really wanted to know was whether, like himself, Sariel regretted not having been one of those who hadn’t allowed their prejudice to stand in the way of discovering for themselves what it was about this particular species that continued to fascinate the All Father?
The idea of acting upon those thoughts had been ruminating in the dark angel’s mind for some time. Taking into consideration what his instincts were telling him and what he knew of the pirate kings ways, Leliel decided it was time to turn thoughts into actions.
Insulated from the storms fury, it only took a few minutes before he reached a well-tended clearing lit by the glow of fire light streaming out windows located on the monasteries main floor. From his previous visits, Leliel knew the wounded damphir would be recovering below, in caverns originally designed for hiding escapes from government detection. His senses validated the other was close by.
By staying near the tree line, he hoped to be able to approach the sanctuary without detection by anyone who might be watching for Fendar’s return. At some point he knew he would be forced to make his presence known, but he wanted to wait until he was inside. With Captain Jyun and his men on their way, he had very little time in which to convince a protective damphir that he was not her enemy. Better to do it in a confined area he could control, than in the wide open space of the monasteries grounds, where Pedal would have a great deal more area in which to not listen.
Because monasteries were built with worship, not security in mind, the locks and bolts employed to keep unwanted visitors out, wouldn’t have prevented an experienced thief, let alone someone such as himself, from getting through. To minimize the noise factor, he chose the less obvious method and simply passed through the outer mud room wall. Once inside, his relied on his senses to lead him through the kitchen, down a short hall, into a great room where he found the younger monk and damphir Pedal, seated in front of a roaring fire, sipping from ceramic mugs filled with what his nose told him was tea, flavored with honey and cloves.
Leliel had been observing this particular group of damphirs since before the Great War, so he was intimately familiar with Pedal and the creature that lived within her. Which meant he also knew her reaction to any sign of danger was to kill first, ask questions later. Normally his kind did not reveal themselves to other species. But just as the coming storm had forced him to abandon his former position of detached surveillance, so it now forced him to remove the veil of darkness he cloaked himself in.
Pedal smelt the creature moments before it flew into the clearing, its scent familiar in a way she couldn’t put her finger on. Immediately the monster within her began to stir, its need to protect those she loved straining at the chains that bound it. Theo noticed the sudden dilation of her pupils, but before he could ask, she raised a finger to her lips, the reached down and retrieved the knives from a pack lying at her feet. Seconds later the blades were hidden in sheaths beneath her coat sleeves. Picking up her cup of tea, Pedal leaned into the back of her chair, then pretended there wasn’t a creature sent to kill them, sneaking up behind her.
As my readers know, I’m a big Hambly fan (she’s in My Favorite Reads list). As talent goes, Barbara always restores my faith in the power of good narrative – which, let’s face it, not every writer can do without making me want to shoot myself (or worse, skip over the entire passage). She also does an excellent job with dialog and the make-it-or-break-it, ‘show don’t tell’. (Which if you didn’t know, wasn’t a big deal until about fifty or sixty years ago.) And in today’s historical-paranormal-romance genre, its hard for an author to come up with a unique twist that doesn’t involve a woman in leather, give-me-a-break-sex scenes and vampires.
But Hambly does.
Fact is, she’s done such a great job with her James Asher series, I finish every book relieved to know my imagination is still in tact: i.e.- I get to decide whether the sex was hot and heavy, or if the main vampire, Don Simon Ysidro, is really as nasty as he’d like James and his wife Lydia, to believe.
“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” ― Neil Gaiman
I also appreciate that this author knows her history and does an incredible job of weaving fantasy, paranormal, romance and history into one really good plot; my four favorite escape genre’s, all rolled into one. Nine times out of ten, Hambly will hit a home run.
Unfortunately, this was that one that didn’t quiet make it to home plate.
Not that she didn’t do a wonderful job with the history and the paranormal and the romance or the dialog or the narrative. Where she would have lost me, had I not whipped out my ‘Loyal Reader Badge’, was the first twenty or so pages. It was almost as though it took her awhile to figure out where she was going with the story, and then forgot to go back in the re-write and tidy up the confusion. In other words, it took quiet a while for me to connect with the story she was trying to tell. Too convoluted by far. Which is not her normal style. It also didn’t help that there were so many Russian names, I couldn’t keep track of them (What do they always tell an author about having too many characters?)
So on my readers scale of 1-5 stars, I’m giving Blood Maiden, a 3 for taking too long to reach first base.
The pain caused from the silver bullet lodged in Fendar’s shoulder, stabbed at his consciousness until it finally drove him up out of the darkness he’d fallen into shortly after being brought aboard the pirate’s ship. That they hadn’t bothered to remove it, suggested the captain knew that even though small amounts of silver wouldn’t kill someone like himself, it would begin leaching away his ability to heal or recover enough to break out of the four by six cage they’d locked him in.
Needing something other than the pain to focus on, Fendar went back over everything he could remember about being shot and captured.
He, Pedal and Aryan, had been on their way to the monastery on Vashon Island, when their boat was spotted and shot upon by pirates – the arrow, a sentient weapon designed by the US military to seek out vital organs – missing him and hitting Aryan instead. It was decided, after taking her to the monastery, that he would return to the city and tell Spider and the others what happened, while Pedal stayed behind and waited for Aryan to recover from the surgery needed to remove the arrow.
Disguised as a monk, Fendar had taken one of the monasteries smaller boats, instead of the one they’d brought, in hopes that if he were spotted by the pirates, they wouldn’t attack or try to capture him. But shortly after getting out on the water, a storm rolled in from the south, keeping him so busy trying to stay afloat, he didn’t notice the pirate ship until it was too late. If he’d been shot with a regular bullet, the wound might have hurt like hell, but it wouldn’t have been enough to slow him down or keep him from reaching the Viaduct and disappearing into the tunnels. But they’d used silver instead, making him too weak to outrun them.
Fendar gritted his teeth as he tried to find a position that would ease some of the cramping in his legs without putting any more pressure on his shoulder.
When the ships crew hauled him up and dropped on the deck, a combination of the violence of the ships rocking and the bullet’s toxins caused him to vomit everything he’d eaten on the island, between the feet of someone with blue rubber soles. He couldn’t remember the particulars, but he thought one of those boots might have kicked him in the head, while somewhere above him, a man yelled to get the cargo below and clean up the puke. Everything after that it was a blur, until he woke and heard two of the crew talking about the captain having a buyer.
Knowing most pirates trafficked in flesh, be it human or otherwise, Fendar had a fairly good idea what they were talking about, even if they hadn’t given the details. said. What he couldn’t guess was, which of the Council of Four it might be. But since they all wanted the Damphir’s eliminated, he supposed the ‘Who’ didn’t really matter. Unless of course he did manage to find a way to take the bullet out, then he knew his chances against all but the Strigori, were better than good. And even against them, free of the silver’s poison, he could still inflict a lot of damage before they’d be able to take him down.
Now that he was finally awake he realized the vessel was no longer careening back and forth, which meant that the captain had either anchored in a harbor where the storm couldn’t reach them, or it had finally blown over. Since it didn’t feel like they were actually moving, he’ d have to go with the first; the captain had decided to hole up somewhere and wait it out. He was just thankful they hadn’t captured him near the island, otherwise someone might have spotted the boat, gone a shore and discovered the trail of Aryan’s blood.
Exhausted from his body’s struggle to try and purge itself of the bullet’s poison, Fendar closed his eyes and fell back to sleep. The next time he work, it was to the pain of someone prodding the wound in his shoulder. His jaw nearly cracked with the effort not to cry out. Opening his eyes, he found himself gazing into the hardened eyes of a man not much taller than himself, with thin lips and hair long enough to pull into a ponytail at the base of his neck. Like the companions to either side of him, the man’s features were a mixture of Asian and something else, maybe several something else’s. In the fading light it was hard to tell. To the right of Hard Eyes, was a man Fendar recognized as Captain Josiah Jyun. He assumed Hard Eyes had to be some kind of lieutenant, and the woman, maybe a second lieutenant. Since rowing small boats between the city and monastery was the sole extent of Fendar’s nautical experience, he neither knew nor cared. All he really needed to know was, once he found a way to get loose, who to kill first.
Hard Eyes leaned forward, threatening to prod him with the harpoon again. Fendar tried to scramble back, but didn’t get any further than the wire pressing into his back.
Captain Jyun reached over and laid a hand on the other man’s arm. “Let’s see if our cargo might not be forthcoming with the location of his friends, without using violence. Shall we, Mr. Maa?
Mr. Maa lowered the weapon, but didn’t withdraw it from the cage.
The captain squatted down, putting him on an eye-to-eye level with Fendar. “My name is Captain Jyun, and you are aboard my ship, The Nergal, and therefore belong to me. Earlier today, someone in a boat very similar to yours, was shot with an arrow. I need to know where that person is. And let me warn you, I have no tolerance for liars.”
It didn’t take a genius to figure out why Josiah Jyun wanted to find Pedal and Aryan. Being a pirate and flesh merchant, the captain would do whatever it took to meet the city’s supply and demand. There was no way Fendar was going to tell him about the girls.
“I don’t know anything about someone being shot. I’m from the monastery and was taking medicine to one of the tribes.” Theo had put some of the medicines used by the Humans and Morphkind into the satchel he’d been carrying, in case Fendar were caught and needed an alibi. “If you need proof that what I’m telling you is the truth, look in my satchel.”
The Captain’s eyes narrowed, sharpening his features. Stepping back from the cage, he nodded towards his lieutenant. ” Mr. Maa, please demonstrate to our cargo what happens to people who lie to me.”
The captain hadn’t even finished speaking before Maa drew back his arm and thrust the harpoon into Fendar’s side – piercing flesh without actually hitting any organs. Fendar nearly bit off his own lip to keep from screaming.
“He’s a Damphir. He’ll heal.”
“Yes. I’d forgotten. One of the perks of being related to the un-dead; a speedy recovery system.” Retrieving a bottle of water from the case behind him, the captain unscrewed the lid, took a long pull, than recapped it. “Yet, we must not forget, silver in the blood stream tends to slow that process down considerably, rendering them almost human. Hm . . . I’d like to see just how human. Mr. Maa, again if you don’t mind. “
On the deck above, The Nergal’s crew, all too familiar with Mr. Maa and Captain Jyun’s methods for getting information, went about their work, ignoring the screams coming out of ships hold.
The next time Fendar woke-up, it was to more than the wound in his shoulder. There was also the searing agony of multiple wounds, all of which were located in areas that would cause considerable pain, without being life threatening. And each time the captain and Mr. Maa had come back for another ‘lesson’, Jyun would remind his henchman how incredibly difficult it was to kill a Damphir without cutting off their head or ripping out their heart. Fendar might bleed like a stuck pig, but eventually, even with the bullets toxins in his system, his regenerative powers would, over time, heal the wounds. So far he hadn’t told the captain anything other than his original story. He prayed he still wouldn’t.
Without torch-light the compartment he was being held in was as dark as any cavern beneath the city. Even for someone like himself, whose very nature was a product of the night, he was finding it difficult to see much beyond the walls of his confinement. It didn’t help that he was finding it harder and harder to remain conscious. He almost laughed; not even a three-day stint guarding roof tops, with no sleep, had ever left him feeling this weak. He might as well be missing his head, for all the strength he had left.
His morbidity was interrupted by the sound of someone running on the deck over head. A few minutes later the thud of boots on steps and the flicker of torch-light in the passage outside his room, warned him he was about to have company. In his weakened condition, it took a few minutes before his eyes were able to adjust to the intrusion of light, to be see that Captain Jyun was the first one through the door, followed by Mr. Maa and a boy not much older than Trench.
Captain Jyun grabbed a bottle of water and thrust it into the cage. Fendar looked first at it, then the captain, all too aware of a shift in the man’s attitude. Jyun smiled. “The water is perfectly safe. I bottle my own.”
Fendar took the bottle, paused, twisted off the cap and drank the entire thing in one gulp. He’d been given nothing to drink since his first ‘lesson’, and with all the energy his body was expending in order to stop the bleeding, his hydration levels were dangerously low.
Settling into his customary squat, the Captain raised his own bottle as if saluting, then drank. When he’d replaced the lid, he leaned forward, his face almost euphoric. “I though you should be one of the first to know. One of my scouts just returned. It seems a boat matching the same description as the one we shot this morning, has been spotted on Vashon Island, on the beach below Gray’s Point. It seems you weren’t the only one to visit the monastery today.”
By Jan Morehead
Maybe I was expecting more from such an iconic hero of fiction and journalism than I had a right to. I certainly thought he’d be a lot taller, more ‘Gary Cooper’ in the way he carried himself or suffused the room with his presence. Instead, I watched a man of average height, sturdy build and care worn features step through the door, sweep the room with unmet expectation, then walk over to the nearest bar stool and take up residency.
Like everyone else in Gentleman Jones Bar of the Dead, Mr. Hemingway had about him the look of someone who’d once boasted a light as brilliant as a new-born sun, only to discover, as with all nova’s, their brilliancy had a shelf life and that he’d come to the end of his.
A neatly trimmed beard and half-moon face, supported a full mouth, boyish dimples and eye’s the color of ripened walnuts. A remnant of evenly matched dark brows, once mirrored images of each other, now sat catawampus – one straight – the other as an afterthought – the mismanaged result of a burning fuselage from the plane crash that nearly took his life eight years ago. His once thick hair, now receded to a point midway between forehead and crown, lay peppered and thin in his attempts to capture an earlier time. With an upraised hand he caught Jonesies attention, “Bar keep, start me with a whiskey neat, a pint of Guinness, and keep em’ comin’.”
My curiosity is notoriously my undoing, so you’ll understand why I was compelled to leap from my perch – neatly clearing of a bowl of mutilated peanut shells, but not so neatly the outer edge of Sally Loren’s shot glass. ‘Sorry, sorry.” I screeched, then hopped out of range of her half-hearted attempts to separate me from several tail feathers. Between me and our newest arrival, stood a labyrinth of shot glasses, half empty bottles of rum, whiskey and the piston like movements of Jonesies arm, as he filled and re-filled the cadaverous drinks; it took me a few minutes, but I managed to make it through with all the usual swagger.
Upon reaching my destination I was careful to place myself slightly to the left of his center, fluffed out the under pinning of my aqua and green plumage, raised and lowered my breast bone several times, then purred in a near perfect imitation of Mae West, “Hey big boy…what’s a girl…gotta do… to get a drink around here…huh?”
Now in the four hundred years I’d been propositioning the dead, I’d narrowed their response to finding themselves no longer among the living down to one of two categories: those found it necessary to spit their response onto my perfectly groomed feathers - thus the position of center left, and those who still believed that this was all just a bad dream and that they’d soon wake up. The day Hemingway walked into the bar, I started a third response; “I’ll be damned, I thought you’d be a lot bigger than that.”