Latest Publication: Tales of the Quest

Tales of the Quest is now available in print! Tales is a compilation of previously published and new stories bound together by an overarching discussion of THE QUEST:

How do quests work? What types of tasks can prince (and princesses) expect? Are quests successful? Do the participants always find true love? Why are they and the questees so fascinating? 

The blurb:
Ah, the Quest! The sight of noble knights setting forth on heroic tasks to win the hand of the fair princess stirs any heart. Here are the medieval heroes who once donned clanking suits of armor to fence, joust, and battle fire-breathing dragons for honor and acclaim.

That is, until the tasks got too messy, too inconvenient, too strange. And the armor way too heavy. To be sure, talent and determination still count. But the Quest just as often becomes a tool of trade and diplomacy, with fortunes and royal reputations weighing in the balance.

Immerse yourself in chronicles of desperate princes, strong-willed princesses, and romantic beasts. This fourth installment in the Roesia series pulls together new and previously published stories of questing daring-do updated for the modern age.

Amidst all the politics and game playing, can true love still triumph? Therein lies quite the tale.
This is the fourth Roesia novella and a few characters from previous novellas do make an appearance.

As always, mucho mucho thanks to Eugene for editing Tales and making suggestions--particularly about the "in-between bits"--that substantially improved it. Every recent novella is my favorite; in this case, I also had a ton of fun.

Roesia Chronicles: Notes

First Cover--Designed by Eugene
Photo: Kezia Moore
The Roesia Chronicles are based around a created world filled with magicians, transformations, quests, and politicians. I came to the Roesia Chronicles after writing my tributes to Jane Austen and Samuel Richardson. Consequently, the Roesia Chronicles are heavily influenced by the customs, clothes, and architecture of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. All Roesia novellas fall into the same time period with the exception of Roesia 4 (coming soon!) which goes back a little further in time.
 
When I published Aubrey: Remnants in Transformation (Roesia 1), I posted notes about the writing process. I do not claim to be a perfect writer. I am a reasonably skilled craftswoman, that's all. But I find the writing process absolutely fascinating! How does one solve a writing problem?

Some of these notes also include information about the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially since I use relevant photos and portraits to illustrate each post.

Second Cover--Designed by Eugene
As with the Jane Austen and Pamela notes, I have attached links to each topic below.

Notes on Jane Austen and Her Time Period

My historical novels include two tributes to Austen's novels and a tribute to Samuel Richardson's Pamela.

Austen Tributes
Persuadable, my tribute to Austen's Persuasion, is told from the point of view of the "villains," Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay. They view the protagonists and antagonists of Austen's last novel with wry appraisal and insightful commentary. 

A Man of Few Words is my tribute to Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. It is told from the highly reserved Darcy's point of view and seeks to explain WHY this uncommunicative man does the things he does.

Pamela Tribute
In my omnibus volume, The Gentleman & the Rake, the "rake" refers to Mr. B from Samuel Richardson's Pamela (the "gentleman" is Darcy). Mr. B's novella, Mr. B Speaks! begins the omnibus and details his defense for seducing the novel's heroine. 

Each of these works involved research into the social environment of eighteenth and nineteenth century England. Notes regarding issues such as pregnancy, traveling, and scandal have been grouped into three categories. Links to these notes are listed below and to the right of the page:

Notes for Mr. B Speaks! (Eighteenth Century)

Notes for A Man of Few Words (Nineteenth Century)

Notes for Persuadable (Nineteenth Century)



Aubrey Final Chapter: Epitaphs

Aubrey came slowly to herself in a warm space. She lay on her side on a soft bed across from a square window beneath a slanting roof. Sheets covered the bottom half of her legs; a bare arm lay across her naked hip.

I should panic. But that thought came from a far away memory—this had happened to her before: waking in a new place, a storeroom. She’d been in pain. Now, she was drowsy and loathe to move.

Except there was that arm. In the window’s light, she could see that the arm was muscular and covered with light-brown hair. It ended in a square hand with long, blunt-edged fingers. Behind her, the owner of the arm breathed soporifically.

She slid forward—away; the arm’s hand slid along her hip and dropped laxly to the bed. She set her feet on a cold, wooden floor and stepped across to the window. Looking out, she sagged in relief. Below was Cleveland Square. She was in Police Headquarters..

She turned to study her location although she already knew it. There was a tall, three-drawer bureau, there a writing desk, and there a large bed containing a waking rumpled man. Charles pushed up on his hands to roll over and sit against the bed’s backboard; he studied her, eyes heavy-lidded.

“I thought that was you,” he said, his voice pure gravel.

“How long was I transformed?”

“You arrived here in cat-shape last night.”

She climbed back onto bed, rolled herself in the top quilt, and lay on her side facing Charles.

“I came to your room,” she said.

“You were sitting on the front step when our night patrol changed shift. I followed you up here.”

“I was at Lord Simon’s. There were two men—Mr. Jacobs and Kev—”

Charles stiffened.

“Yes,” Aubrey said. “Kev wanted to take me back to wherever this all started, continue his experiments. I transformed. I think I clawed him.”

“Good. And Lord Simon?”

“He got what he wanted. It was never about the initial spell. It was always about the second one. Or at least, it was always about what lasts—like these.”

She let her claws spring free. Charles touched one, moved his hand to her cheek. She opened her mouth, and he lightly touched her fangs.

“We’ll catch Kev,” he said. “We’ll lock him up—and this other man, Jacobs.”

“He put a bag over my head.”

“When you were human?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” He grinned slightly at Aubrey’s grimace and moved his hand to the back of her neck, massaged it.

“This way, we can hold him for kidnapping,” he said.

Aubrey yawned as Charles gently scratched her scalp.

“Should I purr?” she said crossly.

“You did before.”

She laughed and tumbled back, bringing Charles with her. She raised her chin, and he kissed her, she kissed him, pressing her scent against him; they became a tangle of quilt and legs until Charles moved his head to her shoulder, breathing deep, holding her with no other caresses.

Aubrey said, “Don’t you want—?”

“I prefer things regularized.”

“So Richard didn’t misread your intentions.”

“No.” He raised his head, smiled down at her. “I wanted you from the moment you ran to me out of Belemont Park—maybe even before when I hunted for you around Sommerville. But that night—you stood there demanding to go home, and I thought—I’m nine years your senior, Aubrey—Oh, damn, I’m going to have to be fatherly.”

“I've never thought of you as fatherly. I can’t imagine I did before.”

“You give me reason to think you don’t.”

She touched his cheek, claws faintly extended.

“You really don’t mind these.”

Charles shrugged, looking honestly perplexed, and Aubrey giggled, nudging her face against his arm.

She said, “I’m thoroughly compromised now.”

“Richard contacted me when you didn’t return home last night. He asked me to search for you. We should tell him you're safe—”

“And I leave you. Again.”

His arms tightened, drawing her closer.

“For a little while. I need to be able to—manage the situation.”

Protect her, he meant, from government interference. 

“There may be a way—The first step is to neutralize the Academy’s interest in you.”

The police’s idea, Aubrey learned as she sat in the office later (Charles had brought her a gray frock to wear), was to use Kev’s arrest (for the original kidnapping) and Jacobs’s arrest (for the latest one) to bring pressure to bear on the ministers to curtail Academy actions.

“If the Academy can no longer research potions at all, they’ll have no reason to pursue you,” Charles explained.

Perry clucked. “They were so worried about police monitoring, but without police monitoring, pressure has only increased for the ministers to do something, anything.”

“Should I give my story to another reporter?”

Charles half-smiled at Aubrey’s acerbity.

“Maybe later. I want to visit Lord Simon. I'll drop you at home on the way."

“I should go too.”

“The danger—”

“Lord Simon likes talking to me,” Aubrey said. “He's curious about what I'm going to do with my life.” He would enjoy seeing her with Charles, but she didn't say so aloud. “I'm a witness, you know. I can identify the location, show you what happened.”

* * *

What had happened was that Kev was dead.

His body was a pile at the center of the great hall, a troubling assortment of limbs splashed with red.

A lanky man, hands in pockets, stood over the corpse. He turned as Charles and Aubrey entered.

“Ah, Miss St. Clair,” his voice untroubled by more than curiosity.

Another person who knew her—she'd believe she'd been a real molly during her bespelling, if Charles didn't say otherwise.

Charles and Lord Simon.

“I'm Stevenson,” the lanky man said, extending his hand to Charles who shook it.

“From the Academy?”

“Yes. We heard about Mr. Marlow's mauling.” Stevenson glanced at Aubrey.

“Self-defense,” Charles said quickly.

Aubrey protested. “I only scratched him.”

Stevenson barked a laugh. “Not according to Jacobs.”

“We’d like to question him,” Charles said.

“You can have him. He ran to the Academy, but we don’t want the headache.” Stevenson's eyes darted back to Aubrey. “He keeps saying, ‘Just a cat? Simon made her a bloody tiger.’”

Charles went out to the carriage. Patrick had come with them, and Charles sent him to fetch Jacobs from the Academy infirmary.

“You won't have any trouble collecting him,” Stevenson said indifferently. “Sir James—let’s just say there's been a regime change. Sir James is looking for new patrons.”

“I'll have the body collected,” Charles said.

Stevenson shrugged.

“It's not like we want to cut him open.”

* * *

A tiger. Aubrey sat silently in the hackney, Charles’s arm around her shoulders.

“It was self-defense,” he said again.

She wondered if she should feel disgusted or guilty—bad—about Kev. But Kev had been evil and stupid. She didn’t even feel satisfaction. Just—he was done, over.

What did slow her thoughts, focus her mind was—

Tiger. Something dangerous, possibly even to Charles, who seemed entirely unworried.

She would have to be careful. With Charles.

With the Academy, however—

Would Stevenson's cohorts risk experimenting on a creature that could kill with the swipe of the paw?

If she was drugged maybe. Captured. Held—

She could still prove dangerous. She might become a lion. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to give the Academy that impression.

She said, “I think the Academy should show me more respect,” and Charles laughed.

The hackney stopped. Charles had brought her to her family’s home. Aubrey stepped down slowly, Charles behind her, and paused at the end of the short path.

If she didn’t want to become an Academy experiment, she certainly no longer wanted to be not-quite-a-debutante living in Richard's house under Gloria's eye. That life would have been enough once. Survivable.

No longer, she thought as she started towards the front door, Charles at her heels. Survival was a starting point, not an end one.

For an end—

There was Charles, the life offered by that cozy upstairs room in Police Headquarters. She would no longer have to read about mysteries in the newspapers; she would witness them directly.

Her family and Gloria waited in the sitting room. Mother, ready to swoon, reclined on the divan. Andrew stood beside her. He waved weakly at Aubrey (older sisters can be such embarrassments).

Richard came forward, grasped Aubrey’s shoulders, and peered down into her face.

“You’re alright?”

“Yes.”

Gloria didn’t believe it. Gloria stood in plump disapproval behind Richard’s shoulder, her supposedly affable mouth pursed, ready to rebuke.

I might even be able to rescue Richard.

Aubrey raised her hands away from Richard’s arms, let her claws spring out. She stared straight at Gloria and hissed. Full-mouth.

Gloria shrieked. Mother swooned, then quickly opened her eyes; she didn’t want to miss anything. Andrew gaped and sat. And all the while Gloria kept shrieking.

Richard looked over Aubrey’s shoulder, said, “Maybe you should just take her,” his voice impossibly dry.

“Yes,” Charles said in a matching tone. “I think that's a good idea.”

* * *

In Cleveland Square, the doors of Police Headquarters were propped open. Perry stood on the front step issuing orders to police going on patrol.

“You’re back,” he said to Aubrey and Charles.

“To stay,” Aubrey said, and a few of the police whistled and grinned, eyes resting on Charles's impassive face.

“Good, good,” Perry said and also glanced at Charles. “Patrick picked up the boy, Jacobs. The Academy didn’t object. David Duclaire wants a quote.”

Aubrey went up the steps and through the front doors. She heard Charles mount the steps behind her two at a time; reaching the lobby, he tapped her shoulder before she could start her ascent to Charles’s room. Their room.

“I told you, I prefer regulation,” he said softly against her ear.

She tipped her chin back to study the smiling-lined eyes.

She said, “Tigers are difficult to domesticate.”

His mouth tipped at one corner.

“I’ll give it a try. I’ll also get a license.”

“Soon?”

“Today.”

Aubrey patted his cheek, claws open, though not to scratch, and turned back towards the stairs. Behind her, she heard Charles head towards the office, greet Mr. Duclaire.

Deep inside, she began to purr.

Coming in 2014!
Sir Simon and Richard's stories.
And Aubrey Revised!

Aubrey Chapter 16: Transformation

Aubrey's ultimatum came two days later at Lady Vernal’s ball.

Olivia was full of a scandal—someone else’s for a change—and Aubrey, half-listening, was thinking that Olivia’s life was not a bad one. She executed its routines and excitements and not infrequent ennui with panache. If one was to have Olivia’s life, Olivia was how to lead it.

I don’t want this life. 

As an alternative to fear and pain, it was a good one. She must have thought that when she chose to forget. But as a single option, an ultimate decision, it didn’t have much to offer.

Charles with his inexhaustible equanimity offered more.

She danced and drank punch and held light conversations with the (real) debutantes; some of their chaperones looked on with indifference; others plucked their charges away from Aubrey’s presence; no one could decide what she was.

I need to decide.

“Miss St. Clair,” said a lanky blond man with a supercilious air.

He seemed vaguely familiar. Aubrey couldn't place the face but she could place the feeling: hairs rising on the back of her neck; the sensation of being watched, stalked. 

“Leslie Jacobs,” the man said with a bow that seemed faintly mocking. “We met at the Academy—during your adventure, as Sir James calls it.”

Aubrey kept her company smile in place, fangs hidden.

“Hello,” she said and gave him her hand, claws tucked away out of sight. 

“I hear you have questions. Seems you would have come to someone in the Academy before the police.”

He gave her a faintly quizzical look, the kind of look that said he didn’t think much of her intelligence (ask the police questions about magic?) but was too much a gentleman to say so.

Aubrey said, “Sir Prescott helped me.”

He smiled, a teeth-ful of charm.

“I would be honored to help you as well, Miss St. Clair. Perhaps—” he gestured towards the ballroom’s terrace.

Does he think everyone is a fool or just women or just me?

But it was time to make a decision, so Aubrey went with him onto the half-lit terrace where quiet couples leaned on the balustrades.

“Not terribly private,” Mr. Jacobs said.

“So many people,” Aubrey said, forestalling the next gambit. “I suppose we should next take a stroll in the garden.” 

A pause, then Jacobs chuckled.

“I forgot how, ah, saucy, you can be, Miss St. Clair.”

He didn’t mean it as a compliment.

“I can't go too far,” she said. "Sir Prescott worries about my health.”

“The Academy has many faces. Some of us, Miss St. Clair, some of us care about the Academy's magical tradition. We have created powerful formulas that could help our government, our country. We could resolve the problems of our age.”

“Without my help, I'm afraid. I've forgotten what happened to me.”

“Have you?” he said softly, bending to peer into her face.

He had maneuvered her towards the edge of the terrace. He held out an arm, generously allowing Aubrey to proceed him. She went down the narrow steps into the garden's shadows, knowing danger stalked her—behind and before.

She was not surprised when a bag was thrust over her head, when a voice hissed, “Now, I got you. Now, you’ll answer my questions.” She just wondered why Jacobs and this other man bothered. She was going to come willingly.

She sat in a carriage, the bag still on her head, her hands tied. Across from her, a thin, eager voice rambled about discoveries and transformations until Mr. Jacobs snapped, “Shut up!”

“I was that close,” the other man whined, “that close to a breakthrough. The Academy never accomplished as much.”

“Transformation is a dead-end.”

“It is the key. Lord Simon knows it. I said so. I said she could never revert completely.”

Aubrey said, “Are you Lord Simon’s lackeys?”

Jacobs answered, his huffiness reminding Aubrey of Gloria's posturing:

“Lord Simon doesn’t always appreciate others’ initiative.”

“Am I the proof of your initiative?”

“You are collateral. He wants you. He’ll get you. I get his formulas.”

“How enterprising,” she said and didn't bother not to sound snide.

“He's an opportunist,” said the other man. “They all are. Me—I will prove the power of permanent potions.”

Mr. Jacobs snapped, “I will be unbelievably relieved when I no longer have to spend time in your presence.”

Aubrey said nothing. She could feel the second man’s avidity, a mania that flowed from him like noxious air.

She carefully, cautiously let her fangs drop. But not her claws, not yet.

The carriage stopped. She was lifted to the ground, hustled down a path through a door into a cavernous space. Silence descended, filling a space that stretched beyond the present—as if she stood on the brink of a chasm.

A new voice, dry and elderly, said, “Why a bag? Do you think she doesn’t know her location?”

“Lord Simon?”

“When she clearly does.”

The bag was pulled up and off her head, leaving her hair in disarray. She used her bound hands to push it aside, looked across a beamed hall at an immensely thin man with a predator’s face: a hawk that kills.

“And bound?” he said. “Although that could make sense. Have your claws returned, Miss St. Clair?”

“Will they return?”

“Yes,” said the eager voice. “Yes. The spell was too permanent for removal. Wasn’t it?”

Aubrey looked at the speaker, a greasy-haired, stooping man who rubbed his hands against his pants, then each other, then his hair: ceaseless motion.

She wasn’t sure if he spoke to Lord Simon or to her, but she answered:

“Yes.”

“Show me!”

“No.”

Lord Simon laughed.

“She’s grandstanding,” said Mr. Jacobs in a bored voice.

“No. No, she's not. Didn't you catch the glint of fangs?”

“Show me,” Kev cried, coming around Aubrey on her left.

“Wait, Kev. You will have your chance. The fangs returned. And the claws?”

“Yes.”

“The spell itself?”

She didn’t respond. He nodded.

“What do you remember, Miss St. Clair?”

“I dream. I know some things. Why do you care?”

He beckoned, and she neared him. The man Kev began to follow, a shuffling of feet, but Lord Simon leveled a long stare over Aubrey’s shoulder until the shuffling stopped. Lord Simon began to undo the knots that held Aubrey’s hands.

“I care nothing for transformation. And nothing, you will be happy to hear, for you. I need to break a spell. You were the best specimen to test whether that was achievable.”

“Spells aren’t usually permanent.”

“No. But I have a poor track record in that record. The philter that transformed you—its base was mine. And you are not the first woman that I’ve harmed in this way: a spell without end.”

“Is she dead?”

“And not. She haunts me, haunts this house. I hope to restore her.”

“You couldn’t restore me to what I was before.”

“No. Yet, my potion wasn’t entirely ineffective. You are whole. The spell is stable.”

The rope around her hands dropped to the floor. Lord Simon took her shoulders, looked down at her face.

“Are you happy?” he said softly, and she saw that this answer mattered—not for her sake but for the quest he was on that took no moral notice of anything but his own objectives.

“Perhaps.”

“What would make you happy?”

“To be nobody, I suppose. Or just somebody to a few people.”

“Like your surprisingly sanguine policeman. You found him again?”

Aubrey tilted her head, said nothing. Charles was not going to be sacrificed to this man’s curiosity.

Lord Simon took no notice of her deliberate silence.

He said, “An upright man of sterling character, he must have his fetishes. Claws down the back, fangs in the lip?”

Aubrey blushed, and Lord Simon snorted.

“Still innocent.”

“Am I? Was I?”

“You were never truly corrupted.”

“But I’m not what I was before.”

“No,” he said and for the first time, he sounded remote, defensive.

Sad.

She’ll be changed,” Aubrey said.

“Yes.”

“I don’t want to be used again. Not for anyone’s sake.”

“You are no longer a useful candidate, not for me. You are innocent but not, shall we say, unsullied. However, I can’t speak for others.” He raised his voice. “Kev would certainly like to examine you.”

She turned to confront the avid-faced man and over his shoulder, bored Jacobs.

You experimented on me,” she said to Kev.

“I did. It was worth the sacrifice”—her sacrifice. “Important. Come. Come—” he held out a hand, fingers twitching. “He said I could have you when he was done.”

Lord Simon chuckled, a rasping sound that rattled his chest.

“I said you could try, Kev,” he said.

“I kidnapped you once,” Kev said. He beckoned more strongly. “Come. Come now.”

She showed her claws then.

Jacobs said, “Hey!” not to her but to Lord Simon.

Lord Simon was backing away, leaving her to face Kev in the center of the hall. She looked from Lord Simon’s retreating form to Kev's face, and she recognized the look in his eyes. Sir James, Sir Prescott, even Gloria had that look when they speculated what Aubrey meant, how she might serve or ruin them.

Only Charles looked at her, her complete, not a collection of parts to be used, studied, coveted.

Jacobs cut across the corner of the hall towards Lord Simon.

Kev said, “I have the right to get answers. The Academy claimed you. It got credit for your reversion. But I was the one who saw the potential in the first place.”

The bubble was already rising. Aubrey let it come until it touched the surface of her skin, rippled there. And still Kev reached out, panting, agitated. Lustful.

He said, “I should have let Dmitri have you—early on. We should have kept you docile. Submissive. Should have broken you.”

A door banged.

“Not again. You bastard,” Jacobs yelled in frustration.

Kev said, “You belong to me. I got you open. I know what’s inside. Mine,” and reached for her.

And Aubrey let the bubble loose.

She didn’t try to direct it: her clothes fell away in a outward explosion of fur and claws. Someone ran. Someone screamed. She pounced and tumbled. She felt human flesh, tasted warm blood and then she was pacing back and forth, back and forth across the wooden floor, claws clicking. Somewhere someone screamed again high and long, but the sound meant nothing, carried no threat.

She turned, paced forward, found fresh air. She raised her face, collecting information: animals nearby, people in the vicinity. Location. Palisade. Inland. Away from the sea. 

She bounded into darkness. She had her instructions. She knew where to go.

Resolved in Chapter 17 "Epitaphs" on December 6, 2013 . . .
©  Katherine Woodbury

Aubrey Chapter 15: Trophies

Charles and Aubrey sat at the scullery table, the pot of meat between them (“Lunch,” Charles said off-handedly).

She said, “I don’t know if I can control the change. I think it depends on the bubble.”

“The bubble?”

“Something like a bubble grows in me,” she said. “If it expanded completely—”

“Can you expand it?”

She hunted inside her chest for that resilient hollow ball, pulled at it unsuccessfully. Charles waited: patient, calm. She felt a sneaking need to surprise him, startled him.

She closed her eyes. The ball remained smooth, uncapturable.

“It expanded when I thought I was being watched,” she said.

“A reaction to fear? Instinct?”

Animal. Aubrey imagined herself apart from her human self-awareness (What does Charles think of me? What do I want my life to become?), let the worrying thoughts and emotions sink towards the bubble, fall inside. It pulsed.

She snatched at it, and it shrank away. Again she snatched; again, it shrank. 

Stop reasoning. Stop trying.

She rested, letting Charles’s silence invade her. The bubble swelled. She retreated physically, pushing back her chair to stand. The chair fell over; inside her, the bubble wavered, ready to shrink, collapse on itself.

She took a deep breath, and the bubble re-firmed, grew while Aubrey waited, let it come. The walls of the kitchen swelled, the ceiling fell upwards. She was squashed against the floor by suffocating softness. She wriggled forward; the dress, abandoned by its body, continued its collapse.

A hand flapped before her face. She hissed, scratched, and the hand withdrew.

She fled to the other side of the room, turned there at bay. She was gazing at an immense human leg bearing by an immense human torso: Charles on his knees, under the table.

“Aubrey, can you understand me?”

His right hand was bleeding. She edged forward slowly, licked the wounds clean. A heavy weight descended on her head, stroked the fur around her ears.

She could hear Charles's breath; it ruffled her fur. She flattened herself to the floor.

“Aubrey,” Charles said. “Aubrey, if you can understand me, jump onto the table.”

She straightened and leapt—a swift, fluid motion from floor to chair, from chair to table’s surface. The smell of meat assailed her nostrils; she followed it to a container, sniffed the outside, then the inside, upper lip curling.

Charles was standing now; he frowned.

He muttered, “Food might be the trigger. Aubrey, I want you to jump in the well.”

She tilted her head and hissed.

“A cat hunting meat is pure rote. A cat dunking itself in water is not.”

She swallowed the meat and dropped from the table, landing smoothly on four paws. She pranced across the stones to the well and hauled herself onto the lip, back leg following front. She stroked the water gingerly with one paw, gazed accusingly over one fur shoulder.

Charles actually shrugged.

She fell forward into the water and then she was sinking down into wet blackness. She tried to scream. She lashed at the side of the well with her paws. A vise gripped the scruff of her neck. She flailed.

The bubble burst. She was clutching upwards with fingers, thrashing with human arms. The hand gripping her neck lost its hold, then two hands grasped her shoulders and pulled her into the air.

She lay over the side of the well, gasping for breath. Charles also leaned there near her head. His arm nearest her eyes was covered with red scratches.

Scars, she thought. Charles is going to have scars.

“My apologies, Aubrey,” Charles said, his voice rueful.

They breathed together.

“You understood me?” he said.

“Yes.” She pressed her head to the rough, cool, stones. “But I didn't— I couldn’t—” She didn’t have the words. “I didn’t think, puzzle things out. I didn’t imagine. But I understood.”

He nodded, then moved from her across the kitchen. His pants and shirt were soaked with water and here and there, spots of blood. He picked up her dress, gazed at it doubtfully. Laughter overwhelmed Aubrey. Surely, he doesn’t expect to dress me? She clambered up out of the well, hands outstretched.

“Give it to me.”

She slid into the dress. The material soaked up the water from her skin. Light from the high window spangled the kitchen, emphasizing Charles' compact leanness. Aubrey watched his shadow—unruffled, unhurried—while she steadied herself.

She sank towards the bubble. It expanded more easily this time, the edges folding over her body until the dress fell away. She hissed in frustration, snapping back to human shape.

“I had it,” she told Charles. “The bubble. I lost it.”

“Can you pace the change?”

“I don't know.”

“Try. Wait,” as Aubrey began to dress. “Start with just the underclothes.”

She pulled on her shift and straightened, aware of Charles’s eyes on her. She rolled her shoulders, let them fall. Waited. The bubble reached the tips of her fingers, pressed against her toenails, rippled under her skin.

More. Grow.

And then her skin was no more skin but fur, and the bubble was still growing, folding back around her, enclosing her entirely. She yelped, the bubble burst, and she sprawled across the kitchen floor, still in her shift, Charles's hand at her elbow.

“I did it,” she said. “Didn't I? You saw it. I did transform. With the clothes.”

“Very good.”

“Good?” She rolled to her knees, scrambled upright, consumed by pleasure, a lust for her own abilities.

She said, “Do you want me to change again?”

And, damn Charles, who did no more than raise an eyebrow.

“No. Here—” he slid his hand into the pocket of his vest, pulled out a watch. He tossed it to Aubrey. “Transform holding that.”

Transforming with the watch was more difficult. The bubble broke at the tips of her fingers, leaving the watch to plummet slowly to the floor. Finally, frustrated, she pushed it into her mouth. This time, the transformation worked, and Aubrey reverted without a pause, gloating. She spat the watch—still intact, slimy with spit—into her palm.

“Easy.”

“Apparently.” He grinned. “Can you transform into any animal besides a cat?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think 'cat' when I build the bubble. That just happens.”

He nodded. “Try the heavier clothing without the watch.”

She did. The first few tries, the bubble burst too soon, and Aubrey ended up on the floor, naked and furious with herself.

She held her breath, calmed her blood, and the next tries worked. Charles returned the watch, and she began patiently, carefully, stabilizing the bubble around the object at odds with her form. She probed tentatively at the bubble, ran her thoughts along its surface and dipped through to the underside. She treaded there, rearranging the supple sphere in her mind. It could be molded, perhaps even strengthened.

She transformed. The watch transformed with her. Reverting, the brooch still clasped, intact, between her fingers, she yelled with pleasure.

Charles said, “You could carry money, a purse if necessary. How long do you think you can stay a cat?”

“How long was I a cat before?”

“The first time—at least six months, but you didn’t know yourself. The second time—a few hours. It might be dangerous to stay a cat too long.”

“But—?”

“You could protect yourself. If necessary, you could run, only—”

“Run too far, I might not want to turn back anymore.”

“If you trained yourself, your cat self—gave yourself instructions beforehand.”

“Like—?”

Charles eyed her.

“Tell yourself . . . say, ‘I will go to the lobby, then up the stairs two flights. At the end of the hall, I'll go up a small stairway, then through a half-closed door. I’ll take a pen from the desk, return, and change back.’ Got that?”

Aubrey nodded, repeating the instructions in her head. She transformed nonchalantly, wove around Charles’s ankles, then dashed out of the scullery. The lobby was empty, but she avoided the empty space by the door, squeezing instead between the banisters. She scampered up the stairs—one flight, two—then followed a hallway to a narrow staircase
near the front of the building. She mounted to a partially open door, nudged it further to reveal a tidy room with a sloping ceiling.

The room was awash in smells of cheaply laundered shirts, sea-salt, and ink: Charles's smells, and she looked about her until—

There was a desk to the left of the door. She jumped to it, batted at the fountain pen she discovered there before picking it up in her teeth.

Down the stairs, through the lobby—“Woah,” cried a pair of legs—into the scullery. She changed abruptly and sprawled across on the floor. She wiggled into sitting position when Charles knelt beside her and picked up the pen where it had dropped onto the stones.

“Very good,” Charles said in that achingly low voice, and she was all at once shy of him, his compact leanness, his flexible hands, his cropped hair.

She said, “What does the police gain from my ‘ordeal’?”

She got a wry smile for that.

“The police would like to monitor all magicians in Kingston, including those at the Academy. When you reverted the first time, you were the perfect symbol. After all, it was an Academy philter that changed you.”

“Another agenda.”

“Yes. We did look for you.”

“You looked for me.”

“Yes.”

“And now? Am I still the perfect symbol?”

“I wouldn’t presume.”

She studied Charles’s half-lidded eyes, lowered now to the floor. She leaned forward and curled his shirt in her hands, then peered up at him, breathless, unable to go further; he would have to help her the rest of the way.

“Oh, Aubrey,” Charles said so very, very softly and his lips closed on her mouth.

She felt his smile as he kissed her and relaxed further against him. His hands held her shoulders, and then he sat back, the kiss done, and gave her his deprecating look.

She said, “Richard wasn’t opposed to your suit.”

He actually flushed. Transformations he took in stride. His relationship with Aubrey—whatever that was—apparently evoked less sanguinity. She was almost relieved.

He said, “Others would be. We're not exactly the same class, Aubrey. And currently, powers in the government would rather you ignored your past. For now—”

I can't protect you: that’s what he was trying to say.

Except if she ran, he wanted her to run to him. He had sent her to his room.

If Charles had an agenda, he wasn’t very good at keeping it.

He pulled her to her feet, kept her hand in his as she straightened her clothes, his other hand smoothing her hair. He didn’t let her go until they reached the lobby to find that Richard had arrived, a tall, dark, disapproving figure.

He looked at Charles, at Aubrey: her mussed hair, her slightly damp dress.

“You’ve recovered from your swoon,” he said almost mildly.

“I bathed my face in cold water.”

“With Mr. Stowe’s help?”

“He was very kind.”

Richard harrumphed and shook Charles’s hand.

“I’ve suggested Miss St. Clair avoid government agents in the future,” Charles said.

“Wise advice.”

Now Richard took Aubrey’s hand, placed it firmly on his arm, and headed out the door. Aubrey glanced back. Charles followed but stopped on the threshold, hands in pockets, face blank. He caught Aubrey’s glance and gave her a smile that barely lifted the corner of his mouth.

Worried. Unsure. As if her leaving was inevitable.

No one will find out I can transform, Aubrey wanted to tell him. But she couldn’t even promise herself that that was true.

Richard heaved her up into a hackney and barked their address to the driver.

“I wasn’t at New Government House,” he said as they clopped away, Aubrey deliberately not looking back.

“I know.”

“I was at Lord Simon’s residence. You know, the area on that side of Palisades is going to be razed, only Lord Simon’s wants his dump to be declared a National Monument, untouchable.”

“Will that happen?”

“I don’t know. The ministers will probably agree. They don’t like him or trust him, but he still carries weight, influence. And aristocratic egos in various departments need soothing. The point is--he was there, Aubrey, in his hall when Sir Prescott arrived full of news about you.”

“Charles—Mr. Stowe says to avoid Lord Simon.”

“Charles?”

Aubrey didn’t reply, and Richard sighed heavily.

“He isn’t wrong. There’s odd stories about the man, his past. He may have killed a woman or she simply disappeared in his house—perhaps if we tore it down, we’d find bones in the basement. He did take the spell off you—”

Richard glanced at her then, his voice a faintly edged query.

Aubrey still said nothing.

“But then, he may have been involved in your kidnapping in the first place. The man that got arrested, Dmitri, supposedly worked for him. But they deported Dmitri, so the story got buried.”

“The police buried the story?”

“I understand it was a condition of your restoration. Mr. Stowe agreed.”

“He withholds too much.”

“Aubrey—you need to keep your head down. No police. No outings with Academy directors. Let people like Sir James and Lord Simon forget that you were ever a point of interest. Let the past fade. Things do, you know. They stop mattering.”

Is that what you’re hoping will happen with Gloria? She’ll fade into the background after you’re married?

Richard said, “Lord Simon asked about you. ‘How is the young lady?’ You don’t want that kind of attention, Aubrey.”

No. But perhaps it was inevitable. Sometime, somewhere, Aubrey would have to face the man who hadn't cured her.

She even knew what she would ask him: Can you remove the threat, the constant speculators who circle my existence?

She wouldn't ask him about Charles—she wouldn't bring Charles to his notice.

She would have to bargain. Men like Lord Simon always bargained. Perhaps she could give him the bubble. Or information.

There was the chance she could attack him. But that wouldn’t remove the “interest” (as Richard called it) on other fronts.

I can always run.

To Charles who didn’t deserve her kind of trouble. Or somewhere farther, safer: Sveholt. Ennance.

I’ll have to decide soon. Permanently.

Whatever Richard hoped, this particular ultimatum was not going to fade.

Continued in Chapter 16 "Transformation" on November 29, 2013 . . .
©  Katherine Woodbury

Aubrey Chapter 14: Recall


Mother and Gloria saw Aubrey off with Sir Prescott. Mother had dressed her like a doll in frilly taffeta. Gloria had brought her blue bonnet for Aubrey to wear. Aubrey could even appreciate why Gloria would help an obstructive and unimpressionable sister-in-law out of the house before she and Richard married.

If she wants Richard entirely to herself, she’ll have to marry Mother to Lord Ives next.

Gloria could do it. Lord Ives was already teetering under the pressure of Mother’s marital expectations.

Sir Prescott collected Aubrey in a barouche with a driver. He complimented her bonnet and complexion, then droned about the various buildings they passed as they crossed Berveley Bridge into Vale District where Government House loomed.

“The Roasia Gallery,” Sir Prescott intoned, “once the Royal Gallery, since it was built in the last century, was in pitiful condition when our current administration took office. New Government House was built around the existant building. Many of the paintings now on display were stored in the old palace. They were not, I’m sorry to say, considered of interest to ordinary citizens. But of course, these days, we know better, don’t we, Miss St. Clair?”

Not one of the old guard.

She said, “You’re a member of the Academy.”

“On its board, yes. It is my sincere wish to see the Academy modernize its charter and submit to more government regulation. It is no longer equipped—conceptually, you understand—to deal with modern techniques and approaches. Hide-bound. Terribly hide-bound. The mind, Miss St. Clair, is where the new philosophy should begin, not potions and pills. You still suffer from your bespellment, don’t you?”

Do I? “I have dreams.”

“Of course. Lord Simon's fantastical concoction could never be absolute or permanent.”

“So if I start to remember—”

“If I had my way, you would have gone directly from Lord Simon’s abode to one of my spas in Braemouth. We’re accomplishing great things with hysterics these days. Great things.”

“I’m not a hysteric.”

“Please don’t misunderstand. Hysteria refers to a collection of ailments, all of which stem from excessive trauma. Lord Simon set you on the road to full recovery, but it was pure arrogance to consider the issue resolved.”

“Yes.”

“With continual treatment, the entire ordeal will eventually become little more than a vague notion. No more fears or worries.”

No more questions or concerns.

Wasn’t that what she’d chosen before: forgetfulness?

I should have argued with you, Charles had said. But obviously the “ordeal,” as Sir Prescott called it, had been too painful, too much for Aubrey to want to remember. Wasn’t it better to stop bothering Richard and Mother and Gloria with her past? To enjoy scandal and balls with Olivia, rides in Belemont Park, trips to Merviole’s and Plimsoll’s? Rostand, Sommerville, Kingston. She might even marry. She might have the life Charles believed she deserved, the life she’d had before.

Wasn’t that the point of recovery—to get back to where one had been?

Age is age. 

She said, “Would you take me to the police?”

“Where?”

“Police Headquarters. Would you drop me there?”

“You don’t wish to go to the gallery?”

“I’d like to see Mr. Stowe.”

“The head of the police? Didn’t you see him a few days ago at Shops police station?”

Aubrey sighed. Olivia and her mouth.

“No,” she lied without a qualm. “But I think he could fill in some gaps.”

“What an excellent idea,” Sir Prescott cried, “I never did learn what happened after you transformed at the Academy. You ended up at Lord Simon’s, but I was never briefed on the police’s role in that decision. 39 Cleveland Square,” he called to the driver.

The carriage lurched forward past New Government House, swinging down the broad boulevard that bordered the building’s plaza. Beyond the boulevard, the carriage turned off into a series of narrow streets. Sir Prescott rattled on delightedly about the importance of self-knowledge while Aubrey watched tidy squares pass, small shrub-filled gardens at the center of each. The carriage entered a cul-de-sac and stopped before a thin, tan-brick town house.

Sir Prescott hopped down and helped Aubrey descend. Still chattering about “learning facts for oneself,” he escorted her up shallow stone steps through an open door.

They entered a bare lobby facing a steep staircase. The lay-out was not that different from the station house in Shops although this building was much taller. But its office was also to the right, a square room filled with charts on easels, tables loaded with papers, and chairs of various sizes and shapes. A burly man with a beard sat at a desk near the door.

“Miss St. Clair,” he said, rising to his feet.

Sir Prescott said, “And you are?”

“My name's Jonas Perry.”

“You encountered Miss St. Clair during her tribulations last year?”

“I met her.”

“Is Mr. Stowe available to see us?”

“Upstairs. Resting. Just got off late-shift. You want to see him?” to Aubrey.

“Yes.”

“Col!” Perry bellowed, and a young man with sandy hair slid into the room. “Get Charles, will you?” Tell him his gir—tell him Miss St. Clair is here.”

Aubrey tried not to redden. His girl. Sir Prescott didn’t appear to notice. He was looking about the room with bright interest.

“Always enlightening to see civil institutions at work,” he said as he ushered Aubrey to a chair.

“You alright?” Perry said to her.

“Supposedly.”

Sir Prescott smiled.

“Miss St. Clair has great spirit,” he said.

Perry, Aubrey noted, didn’t roll his eyes—at least, not where Sir Prescott could see him. She waited, hands folded, feeling claw tips against her palms. She shouldn’t be so nervous—she hadn’t been before. But Charles was more than a source now, more than a potential answerer of questions. Aubrey didn’t have much experience with beaus—watching other people’s beaus, yes, just not many of her own. How did one behave?

Not that differently, if Charles’s behavior was any indication. He entered the room quietly without fanfare, shook Sir Prescott’s hand and settled in the chair beside Aubrey’s.

“Miss St. Clair is putting her life back together,” Sir Prescott said. “Once she has all her memories in situ, she’ll be able to conquer them and move forward.”

Charles arched a single eyebrow in Aubrey’s direction. She smiled demurely.

The corner of his mouth quirked.

“How can I help?” he said.

“You had contact with Miss St. Clair on two occasions—immediately following her reversion and after her second transformation?”

“Yes.”

Sir Prescott made a note on a slim notepad.

“She was with you how long?”

“A few hours. Both times.”

“I see. The first time, you escorted her to the Academy.”

“Sir James fetched her.”

A slight barb in the voice, and Sir Prescott sighed.

“A heavy-handed man,” he agreed. “The second time—”

“Since she is collecting memories, why don’t you tell Miss St. Clair what happened at the Academy meeting?”

“I intend to do so. I even hope Academy members will assist. Since I was present, I can fill in any gaps. Now—the second time—”

“She was with the police only a few hours. Sir James collected her and took her to Lord Simon's home.”

“Did she return to the police station as a cat?”

“No.”

“She transformed before she arrived then. What condition was she in?”

“Presentable. Fully clothed.”

“Oh, dear,” Sir Prescott said. “I didn’t mean—Mentally, Mr. Stowe. How was she mentally?”

Aubrey stopped listening. Charles was clearly lying. What cat would change with all its human clothes? And if he was lying about that, what other lies was he telling the impressionable, if guileless, Sir Prescott? How long she had stayed with the police? What she and Charles had discussed on both occasions? She watched the mobile mouth, the amused eyes and drifted on the sound of his low voice.

“That is very helpful, Mr. Stowe. Thank you,” Sir Prescott was saying, and Aubrey roused herself. “Miss St. Clair?”

“The police can take me home,” she said.

Everyone paused. Everyone looked at her: Perry, interested; Sir Prescott, confused. Charles—expressionless.

“I’m sure they will provide a suitable escort,” she said.

“I assured your brother—”

“I told Richard I might be late. There are questions—Sir Prescott, you know there are some questions a lady can’t ask in front of a gentleman.”

He blushed. “Of course. Of course. But Miss St. Clair, I cannot relinquish my responsibility.”

He was serious. He didn't intend to leave her. Aubrey sighed inwardly.

I escaped before.

She set her hand in Sir Prescott’s, allowed him to lift her to her feet. She then pressed her hand to her left breast and sank to the floor, eyes shutting.

“Oh, my,” Sir Prescott cried.

She let herself go limp, even when Charles picked her up. She was truly fatigued, she realized. Tired of uncertainty, of questions—even her own.

Her head drooped against Charles’s shoulder, her eyelids fully closing.

“You’ll have to wake up eventually,” Charles said softly in her ear.

He was carrying her out of the office and across the lobby, entering another open space—

“You boys mind giving us the room?”

“No problem.”

“Sure.”

“Nice bundle you’ve got there, sir.”

Boot clomped away. Charles nearly dropped Aubrey on a soft surface, a sofa. She nearly opened her eyes in indignation, but waited for Sir Prescott.

She could hear him crying for smelling salts, a doctor. His voice neared as Charles squatted on the floor beside the sofa and took Aubrey’s wrist between his fingers.

“He’s more likely to haul you off to one of his spas than leave you here,” he murmured.

And then Sir Prescott was in the room, declaiming against the “horrendous terrors undergone by such an innocent young maiden.”

Aubrey allowed her eyes to flutter open.

“My dear,” Sir Prescott said, “I should never have pushed you to come here.”

“I—”

“It was too much, too soon.”

“Sir Prescott,” she said weakly, “if you could find Richard—my brother—and bring him here.”

“Of course. He will be fetched.”

“He may not come back here with a policeman,” she said, trying to keep her voice low and sorrowful—not argumentative. “If you go to New Government House, he will naturally admit you.”

“True. Yes. I will leave you to Mr. Stowe’s protection. Miss St. Clair, I beg that you consider a stint at one of my spas. Yes? Yes?”

She agreed. He hurried out, brushing past Perry who leaned in the doorway. They heard him calling to the driver—“New Government House as quick as you can.”

Aubrey sat up.

“Does she handle all gentlemen the same way?” Perry said.

“I doubt Sir Prescott comprehends female self-interest,” Charles said dryly.

He hauled Aubrey up by the elbow.

“Come on.”

She didn’t resist as he led her out of the office. They bypassed the steep stairs to the upper floors and headed to the back of the house, Charles’s boots scuffing the worn boards. He took Aubrey’s hand, pulled her through a doorway and down a few short steps into an empty square scullery lit by high windows. A well of water stood in one corner. A worn table topped by a heavy pot stood in the center of a rough-bricked floor.

Charles turned immediately to face her.

“What is all this?”

“I needed to see you, and he was the best way to accomplish that. The last time—I caused talk when I visited Shops station.”

“He seems a decent man. Does he deserve so much twaddle?”

“You lied to him, didn’t you? How much time did I really spend at the police station”

Charles half-laughed.

“Only a few minutes the second time. The first time—you spent the night in our upper room.”

“Scandal.”

“You are entirely unsullied, Aubrey.”

“It seems rather relative when nobody believes it is true.”

He sighed.

She said, “Sir Prescott thinks I should forget again. And again. Until the ordeal is over, and I’m restored to something—I don’t know what.”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t want to forget anymore,” Aubrey said, and that was the truth, what she truly thought. Sir Prescott talked about suffering and treatments and hysteria and all Aubrey could see was a yawning chasm, an absence of any real solution.

Age is age. Events make us, even forgetfulness

I don’t want negation. I want to be.

“I want to control it,” she said. “The transformation. You said practice, so here I am. Will you help me?”


“Now? Your brother—”

“Oh, he’s not at New Government House. He’s out surveying properties. It will take awhile for Sir Prescott to find him.”

Charles looked at her, just looked at her, then laughed.

“Oh, Aubrey,” he said. “Yes. I’ll help you.”

Continued in Chapter 15 "Trophies" on November 22, 2013 . . .
©  Katherine Woodbury