A Questionable Step-Parentage

I started writing something silly that I’ve decided to share on this blog, partly because it’s already cheered up two of my loveliest pals.

A few weeks ago, I saw this image from tumblr being shared all over Facebook:

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I cackled quite a lot. And then it rooted in my mind. This morning I decided to write the beginning, mostly just for my own amusement.

Uncharacteristically, I’ve made the witches one singular female witch and a male monster hunter (yes if you read this and think of Geralt from The Witcher that was most definitely my aim) – I do love a good lesbian story.

But there we go, a bit of fun that I will update once I’ve amused myself enough to write more chapters.

You can start here!

A Questionable Step Parentage: Chapter 1

Once upon a time, in a far away land, a baby was being born. Not just any baby, of course. An important baby. Not that babies in general aren’t important in their parents’ eyes. The thing is this baby was about to change the course of history.

Quite important, see?

In the glittering castle of Palam, the capital town of the land of Arcadia, Queen Hana was breathing heavily in her bedchambers in time with the rhythm set out by the nursemaid. Outside, King Adam was pacing back and forth to the same beat.

In the small hours of the morning, Hana had sat up and matter of factly informed Adam that the baby was coming. He had kissed her softly on her forehead, and called for the birthing group. Soon, a nursemaid, a midwife and a spare pair of hands in the form of a trainee named Gilda were surrounding Hana with hot water, clean linens and soothing voices.

Dawn had broken and the sun peaked over the horizon as a small bleat sounded from the bedroom, and Adam knew it was their child.

The wooden door creaked open and he was beckoned in, where he found the elegant Queen Hana in repose, clutching a very small baby to her breast. Her long ebony hair spread out behind her like a lion’s mane, and he paused for a moment thinking she had never looked so beautiful.

He took a deep breath, because he was certain she was soon going to be the most angry he’d ever seen her.

He perched on the edge of the bed and peered down at the bundle that was their child. Such a small thing, with a mop of hair that matched her mother’s and tiny brown-pink fingers and toes that peeked out of the blankets they’d been wrapped in.

“How are you feeling, light of my life?” asked Adam.

“Quite content, my darling King. We must name her.”

They looked down at the baby for a short while, then staring into each other’s eyes they both whispered the name their hearts had chosen – “Ella”.

They allowed themselves a few moments of silence to just stare at baby Ella, who mewed and wriggled.

“Darling, I have something to tell you that you won’t be quite so pleased about.” Adam’s eyes remained fixed on his boots while he wrung his hands. “Remember three Winters ago, when the coven of wraiths in the woods were finally slain at the hands of Bron the Hunter?”

“What a strange man he was,” Hana cooed in a baby voice at Ella, to protect her innocence from the meaning of the words. “He smelled of week old animal blood and magic.”

Ella gurgled.

“Well, yes. He had to do a very convoluted ritual to remove the curse on our lands, and conjure several elixirs before he could destroy them. I recall him mentioning something to do with the veil between life and death.”

“That’s nice dear.” Ella was feeding at Hana’s breast, her feet wriggling in the joy of food.

“Darling,” he whispered, now looking at her. “I had to promise him our firstborn.”

Hana’s head snapped in his direction, but rather than hatred and anger he saw confusion and fear. “You did what?”

“I didn’t want to! I promise you, I did not want to promise him our child! But the thing is, he said he couldn’t do it without a promise of blood, and the curse was destroying Arcadia. I had to act, as King. It was my duty!” He was pacing again.

“But darling, I promised our firstborn to Nehelia.” It came out like a whisper, somewhat sheepish.

Adam stopped pacing, and stared back at Hana. “Oh. Well. This is a problem, isn’t it?”

Nehelia was a witch who lived out in the Black Mountains behind Palam, and while she performed traditional herbalist duties for the local people, she also was very much a witch with powers beyond salves and ointments. Nehelia had been summoned to court by Hana and Adam when they realised they could not conceive an heir. Unbeknownst to Adam, the cost aside a hefty gold payment was the first child born from Nehelia’s help. This was also three Winters ago.

“But, how can we know who was promised first? What retribution will they bring down on us? Oh gosh, what if the one who doesn’t take the baby wants our second child?” Hana began to wail and, in turn, so did Adam. Ella continued to suckle happily, placidly ignoring the cries of her ridiculous parents.

Suddenly, a knock sounded at the door. The Captain of the Guard, Sir Wellington, strode in, stopped before them and saluted. “My Highness, my Queen. You have visitors who demand urgent intrusion on this blessed moment.”

Adam and Hana looked sheepishly at each other and shrugged. “Send them in here, good Sir.”

Sir Wellington strode fiercely back to doorway, signalled to the waiting visitors, and stood at the doorway inside the room, with his Greatsword before him.

In strode two very different people, but they were also the two people that Hana and Adam were expecting.

Nehelia was a green eyed, tall woman, with cascades of bark-brown hair that curled softly at her shoulders. She wore practical thick boots, and layers of thin black floaty fabric that appeared to be more aura than clothing. Her satchel was decorated with offerings from the forest – acorns, leaves, berries. Her face was very cross.

Bron the Hunter was equally tall, but very broad. His muscles were bound in his thick armour that was rumoured to have been made from Dragon scale, Wyvern hide and Phoenix feathers. His thick black beard and hair was streaked and peppered with silver, and a thick scar ran down the diagonal of his face from right to left. His face was also very cross.

It was clear they had been squabbling about old histories, which were likely very, very old, as no one really knew how old Nehelia or Bron really were. They were certainly older than a normal human lifespan, for they featured heavily throughout Arcadia’s history.

“Look, I remember distinctly telling you not to mix Nightshade with Breath of the Horse but it’s not my fault you are too pig-headed to ever listen to a mere woman,” sneered Nehelia.

“Pig-headed? Speak for yourself, you troll wife! You tricked me, as you witches are want to, and it nearly cost me a month’s wages for all the clean up!” Bron growled and clutched at the sword at his scabbard.

They continued picking at old wounds for some time, until the King loudly coughed. “AHEM!” Nehelia and Bron faced the King with fire in their eyes that cooled very quickly when they spied the bundle of baby.

“It is so good of you to come to us today,” courteously began the King.

“Would have been better if this one had fallen into that volcano last week after the wyvern, though,” muttered Nehelia. Bron kicked her shin to quieten her, but she yowled.

“GOOD FRIENDS,” shouted Adam, urging for peace. “You may recall bargaining with us for our first born, and that day has arrived.”

“Great,” said both Bron and Nehelia. They then turned to each other frowning and pointing.

“Aha,” chuckled Adam. “You have noticed our amusing predicament. It turns out that Hana and I may have promised both of you our first born, at the same time three Winters ago.”

Both Bron and Nehelia made noises of disgust and shock that cannot be spelled, as they certainly also contained very terrible words.

“Without me, she wouldn’t exist!” cried Nehelia. “Clearly, she belongs to me.” She gathered her skirts and advanced to the baby.

“Aha, not so fast.” Bron blocked her path. “To remove the wraiths from the wood, I had to have the promise of blood, of new blood, as part of the ritual.”

“So what, you sniveling oaf?” Nehelia stamped on his toe and tried to push past him, but his iron capped boots shielded him from her insults.

“It wouldn’t have worked if a baby wasn’t possible and so it may have in fact been I that brought this baby into existence.” Bron moved towards Hana and reached for the baby.

“Tosh and nonsense!” roared Nehelia. “You must have done that after I had seen them. I brought the baby into existence!!”

Adam and Hana glanced between each other. “I know this is awkward, but you might also recall that you met us both alone. Darling, pass me the Royal Diary,” requested Hana. Adam brought from the desk a plush red and gold book.

Hana opened it on her lap, tapped it and said, “Excuse me, can you show me December the 17th three years ago.” The book’s pages swirled and shimmered until the week requested was shown. “Ah yes, there it is, written in magical ink.” She pointed at the offending text.

2pm – Queen Hana will meet with witch Nehelia.

2pm – King Adam will discuss progress with Bron the Hunter.

“You see? It’s clearly an administrative error on our parts,” explained Adam. “It’s magical ink, so you know it is the truth.”

Nehelia and Bron sighed. It was magical ink. That meant that Princess Ella had been promised to the both of them at the very same time. “Well, we’ll just have to decide between us who gets the baby,” sighed Nehelia.

“Ella,” Hana helpfully added.

“If I don’t take her, there’s a risk of the ritual breaking and the wraiths returning to Arcadia.” Bron wiped his face with his hand, stress wringing from his eyebrows.

“If I don’t take her, there’s a risk of the magic breaking, meaning Arcadia remains without an heir.” Nehelia rubbed the back of her head. This was too much.

“Oh! I have an idea! Yes, yes I know what to do!” cried Hana with glee. “You’ll both take her and raise her together!” Adam and Hana nodded wildly and grinned at how clever they were after all. They clearly felt this was the best option, given the circumstances.

If Nehelia and Bron had been scowling as they entered the room, their faces took on a darkness, not helped by the gleeful joy of the ridiculous Royal couple. Nehelia’s lip curled back into a snarl. Bron’s frown deepened so much that his eyes appeared to sink into his head. They clearly felt this was the worst option, given the circumstances. Unfortunately, it appeared to be the only option.

“Look hog’s breath, there’s nothing we can do right here without researching this stupid bloody agreement. Let’s take the kid, head back to my place and research how the hell we can sort this out,” Nehelia reached for the baby, and wrapped Ella to herself with a sling she had produced from her satchel.

Bron grumbled. “I have to be in Glinthaven by the end of the week. I was just passing by to collect this child and take her with me.”

“Well, you know, when you become a parent everything changes, doesn’t it honey,” gleamed the King at the Queen. “All your priorities change.”

Bron and Nehelia stared. “You have been parents for approximately -” Nehelia sniffed Ella “- an hour, and you’ve already accidentally created a blood pact that might destroy Arcadia.”

They were not listening. They were doing eskimo kisses and discussing how it felt to be parents.

With a gurgle goodbye from Ella, the new family swept out the doorway, heading for the Black Mountains and Nehelia’s in depth library.
To be continued…

What you need to read this September

Autumn is drawing in and I don’t know about you, but the idea of standing around a park to catch that elusive Pikachu is becoming less appealing by the day. Autumn is by far my favourite season – not least because it heralds the most important point of the year, my birthday. Crunchy leaves and cardigans and tights and bright cold days. Those are days I wait for all year. And my birthday. Don’t underestimate how much I like my birthday. Tim has been woken up by me daily giving him the days-to-my-birthday tally.

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Anyway, back to books.

Many people find they read more once the rare British sun finally says tally ho and retreats back into the ether for another 10 months or so, and luckily there’s a great selection of books you could be reading right now to take your mind off that.

I’m hoping to keep this going monthly, with The Brand New, In Case You Missed It and Because I Said So recommendations remaining consistent. Keep me honest guys.

There’s quite a strong YA leaning to this edition, that for some reason I presume won’t always be the case. Hahahha no. YA forever. I will convert everyone to avid YA readers, I will I will.

So, onto the books.

The Brand New

Arguably one of my favourite non-fictions this year just (quite rightly) won the Wainwright Prize and has just landed in paperback. The Outrun originally hit our shelves in February this year, and after hearing much buzz particularly from the #seatwitter crowd, I decided it was worth a hardback spend – spoiler, it was… is.  The Outrun is part rediscovery-of-self memoir, part salute to nature and author Amy Liptrot’s Orcadian upbringing, completely engrossing. Amy words are raw, beautiful and harsh in turns. Named after a section of wild near her family farm, the book follows Amy through dipsomania in London where she chases wild highs and life’s edges, to her return to the islands of the very North, discovering new and old ways of life for herself. If Nature-memoir is your thing, then this is very much your thing.

I have quite literally just put down my copy of the most difficult to put down books for me so far this year. It is still sitting at my feet, warm from my clutching hands, flung down while I (lovingly but) furiously tweeted the author Laure Eve to say that a year was too long to wait for a sequel. The spiritual twin to The Craft has emerged – let all the former 90s witch babies rejoice and dig out black lipstick! The Graces follows River in her quest to be part of the circle of the Grace family – Fenrin, Summer, Thalia. Laure Eve cunningly gives away only minor details as you read, unfurling the plot, the magic and the deception. I only stopped reading to sleep and work, and have been glued to it since I started it 24 hours ago. What a stonker. Read it with some Nag Champa burning and The Craft soundtrack playing. I’d argue it’s probably my favourite YA release of the year.

I say that with it beating out As I Descended by a hair, a very fine hair at that. Because really, how can you beat lesbian Macbeth. You read that right. Robin Talley switches up the setting to a boarding school in Virginia, where Maria dreams of attaining the Kingsley Prize in order to attend a college of her choice. Replace witches with ghosts and a murderous history, and you have Macbeth via Heathers and The Craft. It opens with a ouija board. I cannot honestly explain how intense, brilliant and exciting it is. If you love Macbeth and YA, you have been waiting for this. If you’ve never read Macbeth, let this be your intro – Robin successfully needles into the desires of Macbeth (Maria) and Lady Macbeth (Lily) so well that it would be a great intro. While you are at it, definitely also pick up Robin’s book Lies We Tell Ourselves – desegregation of schools and cross-racial lesbian romance.

I’ve name checked The Craft twice already in this article, haven’t I?

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Okay, okay back to books.

Winding our way back to nature, Melissa Harrison has brought out another seasonal anthology of writing – Autumn. The anthologies combine prose and poetry from authors across Britain to celebrate the Great British Autumn. While I’ve not read this one yet, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed dipping in and out of the previous editions of Spring and Summer, and thoroughly expect my favourite season to receive excellent treatment. Melissa is also author of the brilliant At Hawthorn Time, nominated for the Bailey’s Prize and reviewed on my blog earlier this year, here.

In case you missed it

I’m about 50 pages off the end of The Essex Serpent, and I’m not sure I can explain how wonderful this book is. The mystery of the Essex serpent brings opposites Cora Seabourne and William Ransome together in friendship and adventure – she a keen amateur naturalist, he the local vicar. This truly is a great Victorian novel of science and religion, and of enduring friendships. It is beautifully written, seamlessly executed. Definitely one for fans of Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, due to shared settings, themes and stubborn characters. It’s taken me quite a while to get through The Essex Serpent, namely because on the morning of Brexit, I was so infuriated by the news that I left my copy on the Piccadilly line as it terminated at Rayner’s Lane. No amount of desperate tweeting from myself and lovely Sarah Perry could return my copy to me – though I must truly thank Penguin and Sceptre Books for being so kind to send me a handful of Fingers in the Sparkle Jar bookmarks, as I’d lost my only one in that book.

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Yes, so in the end I treated myself on payday to a brand spanking new copy of the book in glorious hardback. Time for you to get on it – its worth the extra pennies I promise.

Because I said so

This is the part where I’m going to mention something that is neither that new or relevant in terms of September but that I haven’t mentioned before. I’m starting it off with the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas (start here). My colleague Kate, who is an avid bookstagrammer, has long recommended me the works of Maas and I figured I’d get around to it eventually. And then, with one week before Empire of Storms landed, I got one of my signature ridiculous ideas and decided to try and read the series before the new one landed. Yes, completely silly. I did manage to read the first three though, which I consider a significant achievement of seven days. For complete transparency, I’m going to admit that I really disliked the first 70 odd pages of Throne of Glass – the focus remains on Celaena as being very beautiful don’t forget guys and setting up her love triangle. It was a little teeth achingly veering into Twilight territory for me and I found Celaena was being built up to be a Mary Sue. Thankfully I didn’t give up, because what people have told me about the books getting successively better really is true. It’s not due to revisionist writing either; Maas grows as a writer and reveals more of who Celaeana is and how her world functions. The writing is quippy, the violence gory, the love triangle contained to the first book, and Celaena herself grows on you, the grumpy little shit that she is.

Also here’s some fantastic fan art of her that keeps floating about on tumblr.

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So there you have it, we are wrapped up. Go buy some books from your local friendly bookstore.

You can find me wittering a lot on Twitter, taking bad photos and writing mini reviews on Instagram, updating every time I finish a page on GoodReads.

BYE.

I was sent review copies of The Graces (thank you to Naomi Colehurst & Faber Children’s), As I Descended (thank you to Olivia at Harper Collins), my original copy of The Essex Serpent (thank you to Serpent’s Tail). Receiving these copies in no way influences my reviews.