Exercising the Mental Muscles, Part II: She was out of practice at this

March 3rd, 2017Posted by Nancy


Continuing the variations on a theme exercises I did from Wonderbook.  I’m sparing you the “dialogue only” version, which did not really work, and the combined “description only/dialogue only” version, which was not much better. Today’s version is third person and ended up being past tense vs. present. I think I might need to make Roussilon a more major character than I’d originally intended.


She was out of practice at this, Roussilon thought, as another sharp-edged gust of wind threatened to snatch her hat from her hand and send it cartwheeling down the beach. Her skirts were too long, her coat too thin, her hat nothing more than a useless encumbrance, and she had left her gloves in her tent. If Antonia had been there, the gloves would not have been forgotten.

She had been too long in the city and now she could not be trusted to remember her gloves without a maid to remind her.

The path of loose grit and pebbles that zigzagged up the cliff effectively prevented a discreet return to the tent to collect them. She had no choice but to hold her hat in one hand and tuck the other into the sleeve of her somber burgundy coat, alternating which was which went the exposed skin grew too cold. There was an ache in her joints that she misliked, just as she tried to avoid looking that the knobs her knuckles were becoming. An inheritance from her mother she had hoped to avoid and that magic could only ease but not prevent.

At least she had possessed the foresight to tie her hair back into a tight braid, so she was spared the indignity of having to spend her time keeping it from her face.

Erzabet, whether deliberately or not, had not bothered. Her hair was a dark banner in the wind but if she noticed it, as she crouched by the sea’s edge, she gave no sign of it, just has she gave no sign of discomfort at the occasional wave that rushed up and round her, for all the water that lifted her skirts must have been bone-chilling. She had been there, almost motionless, for long enough for Roussilon to begin to worry. The sight of the black-clad figure against the grey stony beach, the heave and break of the grey waves, and the lowered grey clouds did not inspire confidence.

Montreson, she decided, had been worrying all along, if his relentless pacing were any indication. He had been forced to hold his hat as well, revealing iron-grey hair that matched his coat. And the beach, and the waves, and the sky, Roussilon thought. As if this all were a matter of sympathetic magic.

“Are you certain she can do it, Montreson?” she asked. “Even diPreti would have found such a spell a challenge at her age.”

He shrugged, a faint motion, as he turned and began his even pacing once again.

“Then perhaps you might stop pacing.” She sounded waspish, which she disliked, because she had not intended it. “You are making me nervous. You are possibly making her nervous – though I am not certain she has anything as human as nerves in her.” They both looked towards the woman on the beach. “If she fails, I trust there is still time for the navy to deal with the matter in the old-fashioned way. Or the army, should their ship reach the shore.”

“Perhaps. “ Montreson, still moving, glanced back up at the escarpment above them, as if expecting to see ranks of soldiers assembled there. “It is by no means certain, though the Admiral has assured me there is a contingency. She is not going to fail, my lady Roussilon.”

Best she not, Roussilon thought, but did not say. Best for all of us. Mercifully, Montreson stopped his motion and they stood in silence, watching Erzabet. Her arms moved, her hands fanning out into the waves and then digging down into the pebbles tumbled by the retreating water. Roussilon heard something, though whether it was a cry or a bird or the wind she could not tell.

At the water’s edge, Erzabet rose and turned to pick her way across the beach towards them. Her face, veiled and unveiled by the wind-blown hair, was unreadable. Well? Roussilon thought but Montreson stepped forward before she could speak.

“Is it done?”

Erzabet only smiled and moved past them without another look, heading for the slanting path up the cliff. Her wet skirts dragged lines of her passage into the loose, gritty sand. She lifted them for a moment as she starts to climb, then dropped them. Roussilon watched her go, her head high, her dark seaweed hair swirling around her, and shivered.

After a moment, Montreson held out his arm, a gesture of automatic courtliness. It reminded her of who she was. “We must take it from that smile that it is,” she said, accepting it. “Now, Comte, perhaps we can find a warm tent and nice glass of brandy.”

He smiled and she wondered if he believed her, if he too could no more see below the glossy surface of her cultured accent and perfected charm than she had been able to see what lay behind Erzabet’s smile.



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