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Love's Labor's Won
cover art © Brad Fraunfelter

 

 

The Magical Families of Ashworth and Ashfall have been feuding for countless years, ever since something happened to split one family into two. Now, they have been invited to Cockatrice Faire... when no other magician would dare invite them both. And when it becomes clear that the Ashworth Heir and the Ashfall Heir have fallen in love with one another, Emily finds herself caught in the middle between two powerful families, each one capable of destroying her once and for all...    Book 6 in the Schooled in Magic series.

 

 

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Love's Labor's Won

fantasy

Christopher G. Nuttall

 

 

Prologue

To someone without magic, Ashworth House looked fragile. It perched on a hillside, a mixture of a dozen different styles from all across the Allied Lands, as if each generation of the family had added a whole new wing to the house. And yet, Melissa Ashworth knew, as she walked through the wards, that the house was far from fragile. The nexus point pulsing below the giant building ensured that no conventional attack could hope to breach the defenses.

She felt the pull as soon as she passed through the last ward, an insistent tugging that compelled her to walk towards the center of the house. Gritting her teeth - she was eighteen, not a naughty little girl to be summoned - she resisted the pull as best as she could, dragging her feet as she walked into the house. A handful of servants bowed to her as she passed, then faded into the back of her awareness as the compulsion pulled harder. The Matriarch of House Ashworth was clearly impatient. By the time she reached the stone doors that barred the way into the central chambers, she was practically running - and steaming with humiliation.

The doors opened as she approached, revealing a single spotless room, empty save for a set of paintings on the wall, a wooden table and a pair of chairs. One of them was empty, Melissa noted as she stepped inside; the other was occupied by her great-grandmother, the Matriarch of House Ashworth. The compulsion snapped out of existence as the door closed behind her, but she knelt anyway. There was a long pause and then her great-grandmother slowly rose to her feet.

"You may rise," she said.

"Thank you, Lady Fulvia," Melissa said. No one dared address the Matriarch by any other title, not even Grandmother. "I thank you for summoning me."

"You may be seated," Lady Fulvia said. "I trust your exam results were satisfactory?"

Melissa felt her cheeks burn as she sat down and looked up at her great-grandmother. Lady Fulvia was tall and inhumanly thin, with a face so pinched with disapproval that she looked as though she were permanently sucking on a lemon. It was a testament to her power that she was still alive - and that no one dared to mock her, even in private. Melissa would sooner have dealt with her grandfather than the aging harridan. But no one would say no if Lady Fulvia chose to make Melissa's business hers.

"I believe I passed," she said, finally. "But we won't have the full results for another week."

"I suppose not," Lady Fulvia said. She sat down, her eyes never leaving Melissa's face. "It was my fault for sending you to that school, even though it was quite unsuitable for one of our bloodline."

"You told me I could not share the school with the Ashfall Heir," Melissa reminded her, daringly. "And so I went to Whitehall instead of Mountaintop."

"How true," Lady Fulvia agreed. "But we still expect you to do your very best."

Her voice hardened. "And you have failed to make friends with Void's daughter."

Melissa winced at the cold scorn in Lady Fulvia's voice. No one had known Void had a daughter, right up until the moment she'd arrived at Whitehall. The Lone Power was so eccentric he hadn't even taught his daughter basic magic, although she had learned very quickly. But, by the time Melissa had received orders to befriend the girl, it had been too late.

"A girl who saved the school, twice," Lady Fulvia said. "A girl who crippled Mountaintop."

"Yes, my lady," Melissa said.

"And you have failed to befriend her," Lady Fulvia said. "That does not speak well of you."

Melissa cringed. Lady Fulvia never hit her grandchildren or great-grandchildren. She had other ways to discipline them. None of them were remotely pleasant.

"But, no matter," Lady Fulvia said. "There are other, more important issues to discuss. You are a young woman now, are you not? The measurement of blood-to-blood proves you are healthy and capable of bearing children?"

"Yes," Melissa said, embarrassed.

"Good," Lady Fulvia said. She gave Melissa a tight smile. "Because you're going to get married. The Matriarchy of House Ashworth will fall to you, one day, and it is important that you have both the right husband and the right father for your children. I have selected for you a suitable man."

Melissa felt as though she had been punched in the gut. She'd known her marriage would be arranged, but she'd always thought - her grandfather had promised her - that she would have the final say in who she married. To hear Lady Fulvia say, so casually, that her husband had already been selected...she stared, unable to conceal her horror. There was no point in trying to argue, or fight. She knew the Matriarch all too well. Lady Fulvia would simply override whatever she said and the wedding would go ahead anyway.

"My lady," she managed finally. "Who have you selected for me?"

"Gaius, of House Arlene," Lady Fulvia said. "He recently graduated from Mountaintop with impeccable marks and strong magic."

It took Melissa a moment to place the name. House Arlene wasn't a strong house, not by the standards of Ashworth or Ashfall. Their very lack of strength, however, made them ideal partners for Lady Fulvia. She could practically dictate the terms of the marriage contract, knowing they would have little choice but to accept. But...what little she had heard about Gaius hadn't been good. Women talked, after all, and stories were shared. Few girls had dated Gaius twice. She would have to write to them and find out why.

"You will be formally introduced to him at the Cockatrice Faire," Lady Fulvia continued, seemingly unaware of Melissa's innermost thoughts. "The wedding will be held on the final night of the Faire, once all the contracts have been signed. You and he can then enjoy the joys of married life."

Melissa colored, then frowned. "Lady Fulvia, I..."

"This is a great opportunity for you, and for your House," Lady Fulvia continued, smoothly. "I would take it greatly amiss if anything was to interfere with the planned wedding."

Shit, Melissa thought.

She hadn't wanted to get married until after her graduation - as a married woman, she might not even be allowed to return to school - but she knew there was no point in arguing. Lady Fulvia would have had the contracts drawn up already and also would have gone through the formalities of gaining the approval of the family's adults. The only person who might have been able to say no was Melissa's father - and he'd died years ago. And she was not of age. She couldn't refuse on her own.

"Go back to your rooms and prepare yourself," Lady Fulvia ordered. "We will leave for Cockatrice in four days."

Melissa winced, inwardly, as her mind caught up with what she was being told. Cockatrice. Of all the places they could hold the Faire, it had to be Cockatrice. It was not enough that she had to be pushed into a loveless marriage, was it? She had to endure her nuptials under the eyes of Lady Emily, Void's daughter and Baroness of Cockatrice. But again, there was no point in arguing. Lady Fulvia had made up her mind.

She rose, bowed again, and stalked out the door. There were letters to write, clothes to pack. And then...

My life is going to change, she thought, morbidly. And who knows what will happen next?

 

Chapter One

"We're done!"

Emily looked up from her book as Alassa and Imaiqah ran into the room, long hair streaming down their backs. They dumped their bags on the table and smiled at her. They'd loudly complained about Emily finishing her exams two days ago - they'd had to keep revising while Emily had been able to relax - but now it was over. Defensive Magic was the final exam of the year.

"Well done," Emily said, as Alassa sat on Frieda's bed. "How did it go?"

"Mistress Tirana hates me," Alassa said. She ran her hands through her long blonde hair as it fell out of her pins, framing her heart-shaped face. "I accidentally blew up one of her test dummies."

"Accident, my foot," Imaiqah said. She sat on the floor, crossing her legs. "You did it on purpose."

"The idea was to render any potential attacker harmless," Alassa countered. "I think I made the dummy very harmless."

"You can say that again," Imaiqah muttered.

"I think I made the dummy very harmless," Alassa repeated. She stuck out her tongue at Imaiqah. "And I did, didn't I?"

Emily snorted as she put her book down on the table. Alassa and Imaiqah were an odd pair by anyone's standards. One was tall, blonde and willowy, with a figure that wouldn't have been out of place on a Barbie doll; the other was shorter, with black hair and tanned skin. She couldn't help feeling a pang of jealously at how close the two had become, particularly in the days she'd been away from Whitehall. It was a natural reaction, she knew, but that didn't make it any easier to bear.

"So we leave in a couple of days," she said, softly. "Are you packed and ready to go?"

"Yes, mother," Alassa said, mischievously. "I have everything packed, save for my robes, dresses, underclothes, books..."

"Everything, in other words," Imaiqah cut in.

"Everything," Alassa agreed. "But don't worry about it. We can step through the portal at any time."

Emily nodded, ruefully. They could have left as soon as their exams were over - some of the students had already decamped back to their homes - but there was, as always, a leaving dance on the last night of term. She would have been happier skipping it altogether; her friends, on the other hand, had been looking forward to it since they'd started Third Year and there was no point in trying to argue with them. Imaiqah had persuaded Emily to try on various dresses for the last two months, while Alassa had threatened to ask her mother to send Emily even more dresses for her collection. It never seemed to matter that half of them were too revealing for Emily to wear in public, or that the other half were rarely used.

"You must be looking forward to the Faire," Imaiqah said, changing the subject. "Don't you think it will be wonderful?"

Emily winced. Last year, she'd been asked - in her persona as Baroness Cockatrice - to host the Faire on her lands. She'd agreed, and had then left the matter in the hands of her Castellan. There had just been too much going on in Third Year - first at Mountaintop, then at Whitehall - for her to pay close attention to her Barony. Now, she had the uneasy feeling that she was in for a surprise when she went back to the castle. The handful of reports she'd received had implied that the Faire would be larger than any before. Everyone wanted to get in on the game.

The door opened again, revealing the Gorgon and Jade. Emily waved cheerfully as the door closed, and winked at the Gorgon. In many ways, she was as much an outsider at Whitehall as Emily herself, all the more so because she looked utterly inhuman. Her body might be humanoid - if green, with scales in odd places - but instead of hair she had a writhing mass of snakes. She was one of the cleverest students Emily had met, yet also one of the most unfortunate. There might be no classical racism in the Allied Lands, but supernatural creatures - like Gorgons - were hated and feared.

Jade gave them all a bow. "A pleasure to be invited into this wondrous room," he said formally, with a smile of his own. "It could not be a greater honor."

"You're welcome," Emily said. Given that Jade had once, in all seriousness, asked her to marry him, it was astonishing how relaxed she'd become around him. "How did your last set of classes go?"

"Reasonably well," Jade said. He gave Imaiqah and Alassa a significant look. "But it all depends on the exam results now."

"I think we did well," the Gorgon said. "But someone blew up a dummy."

"There's plenty more," Jade said, unconcerned. "I blew up a dummy myself when I was a student."

"See," Alassa said. "Blowing up dummies is considered good practice."

"They made me pay for it," Jade said. "I don't think they thought I took it seriously."

Emily smiled at him. "Why?"

"Because I made a show of it," Jade said. He shrugged. "Sergeant Miles said it was a waste of time and energy."

The door opened again. Aloha stepped into the room, carrying a small wooden box under her arm. Her dark face twisted into a smile when she looked at Emily, then she closed the door behind her and walked over to the wooden table. Emily rose to her feet and walked over to join her as Aloha put the box down, then opened it. Inside, there were several sheets of charmed parchment. Magic crackled over them as Aloha picked them up and placed them gingerly on the tabletop.

"I had to spend several gold pieces to buy this lot," Aloha said, as the others gathered round her. "The price of parchment has skyrocketed in the past few months."

Emily winced, inwardly. That was her fault. Introducing paper had seemed a good idea at the time, but it was now so easy to produce that it was pushing parchment-makers out of business. Unsurprisingly, stocks of parchment itself had started to fall, even though it was used in a number of magic spells and rituals. Emily suspected that the problem would eventually sort itself out - there would still be a demand for parchment from magicians and their students - but for the moment it was harder to get decent parchment. It didn't make life any easier for struggling students.

"I can pay for it," Alassa offered.

"I managed to get a grant for materials," Aloha said, as she finished emptying the box. "But they may force me to repay some of it, once they've finished assessing my project."

She looked at Emily. "Or assessing the degree to which I...borrowed...one of your ideas."

"Don't worry about it," Emily said. "I don't intend to claim credit for anything."

The thought made her smile, inwardly. She knew she was no slouch when it came to practical magic, but Aloha was a genius. Emily suspected Aloha was the brightest - certainly the most capable - student in Whitehall. The idea behind the charmed parchment might have been Emily's - more accurately, it had been something copied from Earth - but it had been Aloha who had made it work.

"I don't feel good about using one of your ideas," Aloha admitted.

"You made it work," Emily reminded her. "I wasn't able to do that for myself."

"Yet," Aloha muttered. She cleared her throat. "I would remind you, all of you, that this ritual requires blood. If any of you have a problem with that, say so now or forever hold your peace."

Emily swallowed, uneasily. She knew - she had very good reason to know - just how dangerous it could be to let someone else have even a drop of her blood. Blood magic could be used to manipulate her mind, force her to do things she would normally never have considered, even control her body like a puppet. None of the others looked any happier at the prospect, even though they'd all known it was coming. To give up a drop of blood was to risk giving up control.

Jade stepped forward. "I'm ready," he said.

Aloha passed him a tiny silver knife. Like the others Emily had used in the past, it was charmed to prevent the cut from hurting. Jade held his hand over the parchment, then nicked his flesh with the knife. Blood dripped from his palm and down to the parchment, where it pooled on the sheets. Alassa shot Jade an unreadable look, then took the knife and made a cut in her own palm. Emily braced herself, when it was her turn, and then cut herself, very lightly. Cutting her skin wasn't easy, even with a charmed blade. It was hard to force herself to press the knife against her flesh.

"We begin," Aloha said, as she produced a silver wand and used it to mix the blood together. "Let the magic flow..."

Emily nearly took a step backwards as spells - complex spells - flared up around the parchment, shimmering into life. There was a moment when she thought everything had failed, but then the magic sank into the parchments and faded from her awareness. Aloha returned the wand to her belt - it was rare for any Whitehall student to use a wand, unless one needed to cast a series of complex spells - and then picked up the first sheet of parchment. It looked indistinguishable from the others.

"This would be yours, I think," she said to Jade. She passed it to him. "How does it feel?"

"Like magic," Jade said. "It's tingling."

Aloha nodded, passing Emily a second sheet. It felt like a normal piece of parchment to her, so Aloha took it back and gave her another. This one tingled with magic as soon as she touched it with her bare hands. The remaining pieces of parchment were rapidly exchanged until everyone had a piece that tingled for them, bound - literally - to their blood. Anyone else who happened to look at the parchment would see nothing but just another piece of blank parchment.

"Right," Aloha said. She reached into her robes and produced a pencil. "Let me see if this works."

She wrote a brief sentence on her parchment. There was a tingle of magic, then the sentence appeared on Emily's parchment. Emily scanned it, then produced a pencil of her own and wrote a response. Chuckles from the others told her that they'd all seen her words; they hurried to write comments of their own. Emily giggled as their words all appeared in front of her, shown in their handwriting. They all had neater handwriting than she did.

But that isn't surprising, she thought. They were all taught to write precisely, because missing a line in one place could completely change the meaning of a sentence. I was taught to write in English.

"We could do with a way to say who's writing," Alassa said, as she wrote another comment on her parchment. "And a way to send private remarks."

Imaiqah snickered. "You want to send a message to your boyfriend?"

Alassa flushed. "It would be a useful thing to do," she said.

Emily concealed her amusement. Alassa was the Crown Princess of Zangaria, Heir to the Throne, Duchess of Iron...as well as the holder of several dozen other titles, all of which were solemnly recited every time she stepped into her father's throne room. Whatever she might want, she couldn't have a boyfriend. Hell, it had only been two years ago when a number of princes had sought her hand in marriage. If the Iron Duchess - the former Iron Duchess - and her co-conspirators hadn't launched their coup attempt, it was possible she would already be married. The thought of her having a boyfriend was laughable.

"That's not possible," Aloha admitted. "These six sheets of parchment are bonded together. What is written on one of them, by the designated user, will appear on all of them. Anyone who isn't included in the original charm won't be able to see the words, no matter what revealing spells they cast."

"So don't go writing sweet nothings to your small army of boyfriends," Alassa said. Imaiqah flushed. "Can you add someone else to the list?"

"No, sadly," Aloha said. "If you wanted to include someone else, you'd have to have the entire spell redone."

"Which wouldn't be easy," the Gorgon said. As always, there was a very faint hiss underlying her words. "No one would want to leave their blood anywhere, no matter how secure, just so someone new could be added."

"Yeah," Aloha said. "That's the problem."

Emily shrugged. "But it's miles better than anything we had before," she said, reassuringly. "I think you will have passed with honors."

"It still wouldn't have been possible without you," Aloha muttered.

"But you made it work," Emily said, again.

Aloha was right, she had to admit. Emily had remembered the concept of Internet chat programs and tried to devise a way to make one work, magically. But it had been more - much more - than merely finding a way to link six sheets of parchment together. If she hadn't introduced English letters, it would have been hard for anyone to use the parchments without wasting a great deal of space. Old Script might be precise to the point of being thoroughly anal, but it was also far too complex for simple conversation.

"I have a question," Imaiqah said. "How do you wipe the sheet?"

"A simple erasing spell would suffice," Aloha said. "I did try to get the sheet to remember everything written, but it didn't last. If someone's parchment runs out of space, it will automatically start erasing the older messages."

So no scrolling up or down, Emily thought. If someone writes something embarrassing, they can keep writing in the hopes of making it vanish.

She shook her head as she placed her parchment on the table, then folded it up and placed it in her pocket. Everyone on Earth seemed to like the idea of instant gratification, but the Allied Lands knew better. The chat parchments were so much better than anything they'd had before, like the English letters, stirrups and several other minor ideas from Earth, that everyone would be delighted when they saw them. Aloha would probably become rich, just marketing the chat parchments to her fellow students. It probably wouldn't be long before they were unceremoniously banned from class.

It may be years before someone comes up with something as functional as a computer, she thought. But I can wait.

"Thank you," she said, sincerely.

"You're welcome," Aloha said. She ran her hand through her dark hair. "I had the idea of making the parchments tingle slightly when someone writes a message, so you can keep it in your pocket and look at it when someone writes you a message. You can alter the overlapping charms, if you wish, to make it sound a bell instead. But that would be rather noticeable."

They'll be banned from class for sure, Emily thought, amused. Her old teachers on Earth had always banned cell phones from their classes, which hadn't stopped a number of students from smuggling them in anyway and using them when the teacher wasn't looking. But someone could always turn off the noise.

Alassa frowned. "What would happen if someone burned the parchment?"

"You'd lose your link to the network," Aloha said. She'd learned that word from Emily, back when they'd been discussing the concept. "It might bring down the entire network, depending on precisely what happens. I've tried with a couple of linked parchments in the past, but never with six separate groups of interlinked charms. Try not to do it."

"We won't," Emily said. "How do you feel about your exams?"

"I should have the results in a week," Aloha said. Fourth Years were always marked first, Emily had been told; they were either leaving the school, with basic qualifications, or returning for Fifth Year. "And then...Fifth Year. I hear tell they're going to have someone special come to teach you and me."

"Martial Magic," Emily guessed.

"Yes," Aloha said. "We're outside the standard course now."

Emily shrugged. There was something to be said for repeating the standard course time and time again. She'd failed Second Year Martial Magic, after all, and even picking up on it again after returning from Mountaintop had still left her in limbo. She was expecting to have to repeat the entire year during Fourth Year. It would be a shame, in many ways, but she had to admit she needed the practice.

She looked up as the door opened and Frieda stepped into the room. Her former Shadow had blossomed in Whitehall, although Emily still felt a little responsible for her. It was almost like having a little sister.

"The Grandmaster wants to see you," Frieda said. "He didn't sound pleased when he spoke to me."

"Maybe that was because you were playing Freeze Tag again," Aloha said, not unkindly. "I thought you and the rest of the new bugs had already got in trouble for it."

"That was an accident," Frieda protested. "And they didn't say we shouldn't play!"

Emily smiled, and rose to her feet. "Do you mind the others staying here?"

"Don't worry about it," Jade said. "I have to go back to the sergeant, anyway. He probably wants me to do more hard work. Character-forming, he calls it."

"We will see you afterwards," Alassa said, with narrowed eyes. "You have to try on a dress or two."

Emily groaned, then smoothed down her robes. "If we must," she said, with a sigh. "But nothing too revealing."

Alassa grinned. "Just you wait," she said. "Wait and see."

 

Chapter Two

Once, Emily recalled, navigating the hallways and corridors of Whitehall had been immensely difficult. They changed frequently, in unpredictable ways; a corridor that had once led to the library might, the following day, lead directly to the Great Hall. Now, finding her way was merely a matter of listening to the magic running through the school. She walked up three flights of stairs and down a long stone corridor, lined with portraits of famous people from the past, then stopped as she saw the new portrait hanging from the wall. It was yet another painting of her.

She groaned, inwardly, as she took in the sight. The artist had never laid eyes on her and it showed; she would have been surprised if he'd even had a first-hand description or a look at another, more accurate, painting of herself. He'd painted her with long brown hair, which was about the only detail that resembled Emily herself, but the portrait's hair hung down to the ground and pooled on the floor. The portrait, too, was stunningly beautiful. Indeed, if her name hadn't been written at the bottom, she would have doubted the evidence of her own senses.

On the plus side, she told herself, anyone looking for me using this as their guide won't find me.

She took one last look at her doppelgänger, then walked past the portrait and down towards the grandmaster's office. Here, the walls were lined with suits of armor, carrying everything from sharp spears to broadswords too heavy for Emily to lift. They were part of the school's defenses, she knew; they'd come to life, when Shadye had invaded Whitehall, and attacked his forces until they were battered into nothingness. Magic crackled around them as she looked into their blank helms, then walked onwards. The grandmaster's office lay open in front of her. She stepped into the room...

...And stopped, dead.

A tall girl, with hair as black as coal, was standing in front of the grandmaster's desk. The Grandmaster himself, seated behind his desk, looked coldly furious. His eyes, as always, were covered with a dirty cloth, but Emily had no trouble reading his mood. She hoped - prayed - he would never be that furious at her, ever. The girl, whoever she was, seemed to be in deep trouble.

The girl whirled around to face Emily. Her face was so pale that her lips, no redder than Emily's own, seemed to stand out against her skin. She was striking, rather than pretty, yet there was a grim determination in her face that mirrored Emily's own. The white dress she wore showed off her hair and drew attention to her face, rather than her body.

"Get out," she snarled.

"Ah, yes, Lady Emily," the Grandmaster said. He sounded annoyed, although not at Emily personally. "Wait outside. Shut the door behind you."

Emily hastily turned and walked outside, making sure to pull the door closed. She'd thought the door was open for her, not someone else! But she hadn't thought to knock...kicking herself for her mistake, she leaned against the wall and waited, trying to think of something - anything - else. There had been something in the girl's dark eyes that had scared her at a very primal level, yet she wasn't sure why. She'd seen so many unpleasant people since coming to the Nameless World that one more didn't seem much of a problem.

It was nearly half an hour, by her watch, when the door opened and the girl stomped out, closing the door sharply behind her. Her cheeks were still pale, but Emily could see two spots of color as the girl turned to face her. For a long moment, they stared at each other - Emily silently readied a spell to defend herself - and then the girl turned and strode off down the corridor. Her back was ramrod straight as she walked away, suggesting a desperate attempt to remain dignified. Emily watched her go, fighting down the childish impulse to fire a spell at the girl's retreating back, then turned and knocked on the door. The door opened and she stepped into the room.

"I'm sorry, sir," she said, as the Grandmaster looked up at her. "I didn't realize you had a guest."

"Knock in future," the Grandmaster advised, "even if the door is open. You don't really want to intrude on a magician's private space without his permission."

"Yes, sir," Emily said, feeling her cheeks heat. "Why...why was she here?"

The Grandmaster's eyebrows twitched behind the cloth. "I am not in the habit of discussing your discipline or the reasons for it with other students," he said. "Should I not grant them the same privacy?"

Emily looked down at the bare stone floor, embarrassed. "Yes, sir," she said. "Sorry, sir."

"Glad to hear it," the Grandmaster said, dryly. "Now, if you will give me a minute..."

He picked a piece of paper off his desk, and wrote a long series of Old Script letters. Emily looked away, her eyes skimming the office; for once, instead of bare stone walls, there were a handful of decorations. A large painting hung on one wall, while - below it - there was a small table, covered with artefacts and strange magical devices. There was something about the painting that caught and held her attention, reminding her of images she'd seen on Earth. The figure looked like Charles I, a tall aristocratic man with long dark hair, a goatee and expensive clothes. But there was something about the thin smile on the man's face that sent chills down her spine. He seemed to be permanently laughing at the universe.

"There's an interesting story about that painting," the Grandmaster said. Emily turned back to look at him. "There was a wealthy magician who had it commissioned, years ago. The artist was a powerful magician in his own right and infused a great deal of magic into the canvas. Once it was completed, it was hung in the magician's studio...and then, one night, when no one was watching, the figure crawled out of the painting and killed the original."

Emily frowned. "If there were no witnesses," she said, "how do they know?"

The Grandmaster snorted. "Stories have a habit of growing in the telling," he said. "But as you can see, the painting is surrounded by powerful magic."

Emily turned back...and started. The figure had changed. Instead of smiling, his face looked disapproving, as if he'd smelled something foul. The eyes were fixed on Emily's face...she took a step closer, wondering if she'd see the figure move again. But there was nothing until she looked away for a split second, then back at the portrait. This time, the figure seemed to be winking at her.

"It changes," she said. "Why are you keeping it here?"

"Certain parties would like to lay the legend to rest, once and for all," the Grandmaster said. She heard him rise to his feet, then walk around the desk to stand next to her. "Or have it confirmed, if it is real."

He pointed to the items on the desk below the painting. "These were pulled from the house of a magician who was killed in a duel," he explained. "Most of them are junk, without the owner, but a handful shouldn't have been in anyone's possession. Finding that" - he pointed to a gold heart-shaped artefact that looked scorched and pitted - "was worrying enough."

Emily knew better than to touch it, but she peered closely at the scarred metal. "What is it?"

"A corruptor," the Grandmaster said. "Certain kinds of magic, as you know, bring emotional resonances in their wake. These...devices...amplify the effects of casting such spells. A magician under their influence will rapidly become addicted to using dark magic, ensuring an eventual collapse into madness. Even the most stable of magicians, a very rare beast indeed, would be threatened by their magic."

"If one's mind was changing," Emily said slowly, "and all the tools one used to measure it were changing too, how would one know one's mind was changing?"

"Precisely," the Grandmaster said. He waved a hand at the space in front of his desk and a chair shimmered into existence. "Take a seat, Lady Emily. We have much to discuss."

Emily sat, resting her hands on her lap.

"Your exams were marked ahead of everyone else, including the Fourth Years," the Grandmaster said. "We needed to know if you were ready to move into Fourth Year yourself or if you needed to retake Third Year. Our general conclusion was that you were ready to move forward, as you did manage to close the gap quite nicely with the other students."

"Thank you, sir," Emily said. Mountaintop used the same basic exams as Whitehall, she'd discovered, but the educational pathway was different. She'd mastered some tricks that were only taught to Fourth Years, yet she'd lacked others that had left her ill-prepared for Third Year at Whitehall. "I worked hard."

"Indeed you did," the Grandmaster agreed. "No one would have blamed you for choosing to wait out the year, then redoing the Third Year from scratch. You can justly be proud of your achievements. However, they do tend to cause us problems too."

He took a breath. "The one thing you don't have is a proposal for a joint project," he continued. "Your classmates had already teamed up, so we had no one for you to work with on your joint project, particularly as there was no guarantee you would go directly into Fourth Year."

Emily had a feeling that there was no guarantee that anyone would make it into Fourth Year, but she held her tongue. Alassa and Imaiqah had been working together from the start, while she'd been at Mountaintop, yet they'd had great problems putting their project proposal together. She...hadn't had the time to do one for herself.

"This problem caused us some concern," the Grandmaster added. "The purpose of this project is to teach you how to work with another magician. Allowing you to submit a project of your own, without a partner, would defeat the object of the exercise. Several of my staff felt it would be better for you to repeat Third Year, which would allow you to work with another student. However, as you passed the exams, you could not be held back academically."

"I could submit a proposal in Fourth Year," Emily offered.

The Grandmaster smiled. "And would you then actually do the project itself in Fifth Year?"

Emily cursed under her breath. She saw his point; if she had to do both the proposal and the project itself, she would need a full two years. Hell, she couldn't pass Fourth Year without a completed project - or, at least, a determined attempt at one. The books Lady Barb had given her to read had made it clear that working together was the desired outcome, not a magical breakthrough. None of the tutors seemed to expect any of their students to come up with something totally new.

Aloha did, Emily thought. But she had a concept from Earth.

"Luckily, we have an alternative," the Grandmaster said. "Have you heard of a student called Caleb, of House Waterfall?"

Emily shook her head. She didn't pay much attention to students from outside her small circle of friends. House Waterfall was one of the smaller magical families, she recalled, from some of the books she'd been forced to study at Mountaintop, but she didn't know much else about them.

"He is - was - a Fourth Year student," the Grandmaster said. "His proposal involved working with complex spell-structures. Unfortunately, there was an explosion in the spellchamber during the early weeks of Fourth Year and he took the brunt of the blast, after shoving his partner out of the way. He had to spend the rest of the year recuperating at home."

"Ouch," Emily said. Magic could cure most physical injuries, she knew from experience, unless they were immediately fatal. It was odd to have someone recuperating for longer than a couple of weeks. "Why didn't he recuperate here?"

"His...experiment accidentally tainted his body with magic," the Grandmaster said. "It took longer for him to recover than it would have done if he'd merely broken a few bones."

He shrugged. "Be that as it may, Caleb has expressed an interest in resuming his project," he continued. "It holds great promise, I feel, so I have conditionally given my consent."

Emily looked down at her pale hands. "Conditionally?"

"He needs another partner, as the last one moved to assist another project team and barely scraped through the exams," the Grandmaster said. "I would like you to be his partner."

"I see," Emily said.

The Grandmaster held up a hand before she could say anything else. "You would have to meet him over the summer and go through his proposal with him," he warned. "If you rejected the proposal, your only real option would be to redo Third Year from the start, with a partner in the year below you. I have made it clear to him that the final decision will be yours."

Emily groaned, inwardly. She wasn't good at working with anyone, even her closest friends. Teamwork defeated her because it meant relying on somebody else - and her childhood had taught her, time and time again, that no one was truly reliable. But she knew the Grandmaster had gone out on a limb for both of them. The rules, stated at the start of Third Year, were being bent into a pretzel. Working with a stranger would be bad, but repeating Third Year would be worse.

If only we could avoid doing some of the classes, the ones we already passed, she thought, sourly. But that isn't allowed.

"I will be at Cockatrice," she said, slowly. "He will meet me there?"

"His family lives in Beneficence," the Grandmaster assured her. "He will have no trouble crossing the bridge into Zangaria and reaching your lands."

Emily braced herself. "I'll try," she said. "What happens if we fail? Or if we don't get along?"

"You get to redo Third Year," the Grandmaster said. He gave her a rather sardonic smile. "It wouldn't be the first time a project team managed to fall out, even when the project was working perfectly. Learning to work with someone else is part of the whole idea."

"You said," Emily muttered.

The Grandmaster reached into one of his drawers and produced a large sheaf of papers, which he passed to Emily. "This is the proposal he put before the tutors, last year," he said. "I advise you to take it with you and read it thoroughly once you are in Cockatrice, then get in touch with him to arrange meeting times. Lady Barb will assist with that, if you ask, although she is forbidden from offering any direct help with the proposal or the project itself."

"I will," Emily said.

"I would add," the Grandmaster said, "that these proposals are considered confidential. You could get in a great deal of trouble if you showed it to anyone without his permission."

Emily swallowed. "Yes, sir."

"And another issue," the Grandmaster added. "Do you still want to visit the Blighted Lands?"

"No," Emily said. The idea of returning to Shadye's fortress was terrifying. "But it has to be done."

"Then I will have you return to Whitehall a week before the remainder of the students are due to return," the Grandmaster said. He looked down at his desk. "You will be attending the dance, I take it?"

"Yes, sir," Emily said. She would have preferred to avoid it, but Alassa wouldn't let her hide in her room. "I have to try on dresses later."

"There won't be time for us to have another chat," the Grandmaster said. "I would have...preferred...to speak with you just prior to your departure, but circumstances have developed that have rendered that impossible. You will be the official host for the Faire, will you not?"

"Yes," Emily said, flatly.

"Be careful," the Grandmaster said. "There will be many powerful people visiting, some of whom will want to get a look at you personally. Be on your best behavior and don't hesitate to ask Lady Barb for advice. You could make enemies for life by doing the wrong thing at the wrong time."

"I already have too many enemies," Emily said.

"Quite," the Grandmaster agreed. "Good luck, Lady Emily."

Emily rose, curtseyed to him and turned to walk towards the door. The portrait had changed yet again; this time, the man was snarling at her as she walked past him. Emily wouldn't have cared to hang such a painting in her bedroom, even if it hadn't been shadowed by dark rumors. Outside, she couldn't resist looking at the painting of her, but it didn't seem to have changed since she'd last looked at it. Shaking her head in amusement, she walked down four flights of stairs and back into the dorms.

"Emily," Alassa said, as she stepped into the bedroom. "You're just in time."

"I can come back later," Emily said, as Alassa held up a long green dress. "I don't think that would suit me."

"That's for me," Alassa said. "I brought this for you."

She held up two strips of cloth. Emily stared at them, then realized that Alassa was pulling her leg. The Princess smirked, then picked up a long blue dress from the bed and held it out to Emily. It looked plain, save for the decoration embroidered over her chest. And, unlike some of the dresses Alassa had to wear, it could be donned by one person without help.

"Fine," she muttered.

She looked back as the door opened, revealing Imaiqah and the Gorgon. Imaiqah wore her dress robes, but the Gorgon wore a long brown snakeskin dress that set off her green skin nicely. Emily rubbed the bracelet at her wrist before pulling her robes over her head. There was no point in trying to stall when Alassa was determined to make sure they were all dressed for the dance.

"So," Alassa said. "Did anything interesting happen?"

"I think I have a project proposal, and a partner," Emily said. "But I will have to wait and see."

 

Chapter Three

Alassa was merciless, as always; by the time Emily finally convinced Alassa to allow her to stick with the blue dress, it was dinner time. They changed back into their regular robes, then walked down to the dining hall and joined the other students. Emily kept a watchful eye on Frieda as she ate and drank her fill - and took several potions in quick succession - then relaxed, slightly. Frieda seemed to have fitted into Whitehall far quicker than Emily herself, even though she had started late. But then, new students arrived for First Year all the time.

"I need to go to the library," she said, once dinner was done. "I'll see you all later?"

"We have to go play Ken," Alassa said. She was looking up at the High Table, where the teachers - and Jade - were chatting amongst themselves. "We'll see you when we see you?"

"Of course," Emily said.

She nodded to Frieda - the younger girl always seemed to be surrounded by friends - and then walked up to the library. The giant chamber seemed empty now that exams were over; there were only a handful of students sitting at the various tables, reading textbooks and making requests for copies they could take home. Emily smiled to herself - the printing press was one of her innovations - and walked over to the biographical section. If there was one thing the magical families had in common with aristocrats, both on Earth and the Nameless World, it was a tendency to brag about their accomplishments. She was sure there would be at least a dozen books devoted to House Waterfall. And they would definitely have an entry in Magical Life.

The first entry was shorter than she'd expected. House Waterfall had one main family and five cadet branches. Caleb was listed as belonging to a cadet branch; his mother, according to the entry, had married outside the magical families. She'd been a Mediator like Lady Barb, Emily noted, which was probably why no one had objected. Mediators were skilled fighters, using both magical and mundane methods. Caleb was the second child, of five, but there were few other details. The only really useful piece of information was that Caleb was twenty years old, two years older than Emily herself.

He must not have done anything important, she thought, although that wasn't really a surprise. Caleb was younger than Jade and Jade didn't even merit an entry. They don't have room to give anything beyond the bare essentials.

She glanced through a handful of other volumes, but found little beyond an assertion that Caleb's father had been a general, commanding a unified army in battle against the Necromancers. Emily wondered just what sort of son he would have produced, then put the matter out of her mind. There was no point in guessing, not now. She would meet him at Cockatrice and find out for herself. Carefully, she returned the volumes to the shelves and then strode back down to the bedroom. Inside, Frieda was sitting on her bed, reading a sheet of paper.

"They say I have to move to a different room next year," she said. "You can't talk them out of it?"

"They wouldn't let me room with my friends in Second Year," Emily said. Master Tor had been trying to help her, she knew now, but at the time she had regarded it as little more than unwanted meddling. "But you have so many friends you're bound to be with someone you like."

"Yeah," Frieda said. "But they're not you."

"True," Emily agreed. "On the other hand, you could wander around without me feeling as though I had to object. And you could host your friends in your room without worrying about me."

Frieda brightened. "There is that, I suppose," she said. One hand tugged at her pigtail, nervously. "Will they like me in Cockatrice?"

"They will," Emily assured her.

She felt her heart go out to the younger girl as she showered, then readied herself for bed. Frieda had nowhere to go, not really; her family had no interest in taking her back for the summer, even if she'd wanted to go home. Emily, still feeling responsible for Frieda, had invited her to stay at Cockatrice. It wasn't as if she didn't have the room for a single small girl.

"And there's the dance," Frieda said. "Will anyone want to dance with me?"

"I'm sure they will," Emily said. Mountaintop hadn't held dances, which - in hindsight - surprised her. "Just relax and try to enjoy yourself."

"I don't know how to dance," Frieda admitted.

"Just follow your partner," Emily said. "Most dances are simple, once you start moving. It's only the really complex ones you have to learn ahead of time."

She smiled at herself as she climbed into bed and lay down, pulling the sheets over her head. Once, she'd hated the thought of stepping onto the dance floor; she'd been nothing more than a wallflower, even at the best of times. Now...she found it easier to dance, if someone asked her to join him on the floor. But she didn't have the nerve to ask someone herself...

I can ask Jade to partner Frieda first, she thought, as she closed her eyes. He can help break the ice.

"Wake up," Frieda said, what felt like moments later. "It's time to get up."

Emily groaned, reaching for her watch. It was nearly ten bells. She was tempted to just roll over and go back to sleep, but she knew her friends wouldn't let her lie in bed for much longer. Reluctantly, she stood, walked into the shower and washed herself in cold water. It helped to push some of the tiredness out of her system.

"Just you wait until you're in Third Year," she muttered to Frieda. "You'll want more sleep too."

"I never had time to sleep since the day I was born," Frieda said. "There was always something to do."

"I suppose," Emily said. She pulled her robe on, then led the way down to breakfast. Half of the students seemed to be missing, she couldn't help noticing, but Alassa and Imaiqah were both sitting at their table. "Did you sleep well?"

"It could have been worse," Imaiqah said. "Did you have a good time at the library?"

"You should play with us instead," Alassa added, as Emily sat down. "Joliette is graduating and we're going to be a player down next year."

"I keep dropping the ball," Emily reminded her. "There's an entire school of people who would make better players than me."

"Yes, but they're not you," Alassa said. "And besides, you need the exercise."

Emily rolled her eyes as a servant placed a plate of bacon, eggs and bread in front of her. "I get enough exercise in Martial Magic," she said. "We do forced marches up and down the hills, then scramble up the rocks and down the mountainsides."

"It's not the same," Alassa said, dryly.

"Better for me," Emily said. She knew Alassa was trying to do her a favor, but she loathed team sports with a passion. "Besides, everyone knows I can't play Ken to save my life. It will stink like month-old potion for you to give me the slot."

"I suppose," Alassa said, reluctantly.

Emily eyed her breakfast, then dug in. It never seemed quite right to eat so much for breakfast, but magicians burned calories with frightening speed. The few times she had skipped breakfast, she'd regretted it by the first class. Beside her, Frieda ate with astonishing speed, then went back for seconds. It was a mystery how she remained so thin, despite both regular meals and potions. Emily had a private suspicion Frieda was practicing her magic far more than the average First Year.

And who, she asked herself, could blame her for practicing?

"The dance starts at four bells, in the afternoon," Alassa said. "That gives us just enough time to get ready."

Emily glanced at her watch. It was barely eleven bells in the morning. "We can start later, surely," she said. "I don't need five hours to get dressed."

"Count yourself lucky," Alassa said. "Do you know how long it will take me to get dressed when I marry?"

"Hours," Imaiqah said.

"If I'm lucky," Alassa agreed. "My mother was depressingly frank about her wedding day."

Emily groaned inwardly. "Why don't you just run off and get married at the nearest temple?"

"Because everyone who thinks they're someone would think they'd been slighted," Alassa said, after a moment. "They all have to be invited to the wedding."

"Then get dressed quickly today," Emily said. "It might be your last chance."

Alassa laughed. "But dresses are practically my armor," she said. "I need to be careful what I wear."

It was futile to argue, Emily discovered, as they finished their breakfast. Alassa practically dragged them upstairs, then started trying out more dresses herself while Imaiqah made mischievous remarks and Emily fought to stave off boredom. She knew, from bitter experience, that Alassa was right; the right dress, worn at the right time, would give precisely the right impression to any watching eyes. It wasn't enough for Alassa to be a princess, she had to look like a princess. But Emily, who had grown up buying her clothes at charity shops, had never had the chance to become a clotheshorse. Her trunk was full of dresses Queen Marlena had sent her, dresses Emily had never actually worn.

I think I'm trapped in a time loop, she thought, as Alassa tried on the same dress for the third time. Or caught in a groundhog day. Or something.

But Alassa was relentless. By the time four bells slowly rolled around, she'd not only donned the green dress for herself; she'd also outfitted Emily in the blue dress, Imaiqah in a white dress that clung to her figure and showed off her curves and, finally, Frieda in a dark dress that showed off her face and hair. Emily left her hair draping down her back - Alassa and the others did up their hair - and then followed them down to the Great Hall. As before, there were hundreds of students and tutors, some already dancing on the floor.

"You look lovely," Jade called, as he walked over to them. Like most of the male students, he wore his dress robes, rather than a proper outfit. "Would you care for the honor of this dance?"

"I would be flattered," Alassa said, primly.

She allowed Jade to take her hand, then lead her onto the dance floor. Emily watched them go, wondering if it had been arranged in advance. Alassa, whatever else could be said about her, was far from shy, but it was always awkward to wait for a man to ask one to dance. It was quite possible that she'd planned her first dance with Jade beforehand, just to break the ice.

Emily sighed inwardly before blinking in surprise as two boys she knew from Martial Magic came up to ask her and Imaiqah to dance. She turned to look at Frieda and smiled as she realized that Frieda had already been pulled onto the dance floor by another First Year student. Turning back to the boys, she allowed one of them to take her onto the dance floor too, while Imaiqah followed with the other. She switched partners as soon as the music changed, then again and again. But she couldn't help noticing that Alassa stayed with Jade for every dance.

Maybe she arranged for them to share them all, she thought, as she found herself dancing with an older student she knew from Martial Magic. Or maybe she just wanted to stay with a reliable partner.

She nodded to her partner as soon as the dance finished, then made her way off the dance floor and over to the buffet. A dozen students were standing there, chatting about nothing; Emily took a plate, then nodded to them as she piled her plate with food. She wasn't familiar with them and she had never found it easy or comfortable to talk to people she didn't know. Long moments passed before the next dance came to an end, allowing Imaiqah to join her. Frieda was still on the dance floor, seemingly enjoying the time of her life.

"You seem to have quite a few admirers," Imaiqah said, as she filled her own plate. "One of my partners even asked for an introduction."

Emily felt her cheeks heat. "And you said...?"

"I said he should ask you himself," Imaiqah said. She laughed. "You're not exactly a fire-breathing monster."

"No," Emily agreed, looking down at the bracelet on her wrist. "Some monsters are much smaller and harder to see."

She shook her head. Imaiqah had had so many boyfriends Emily had lost count, some of whom had lasted for only a few days before she dumped them. Sorceresses - even students - had a freedom denied to other women in the Nameless World, but Emily knew she couldn't share herself so openly. Magic could prevent any physical consequences from the act, yet it could do nothing about the emotional repercussions. She sighed at the thought, then shrugged and dismissed it. Maybe one day she'd find a boyfriend. But, until then, she could wait.

The afternoon wore on as more and more students joined the dancers. Emily danced several more dances, each time with a different partner, before she was finally able to escape to the wall once again. This time, Professor Thande was having a long discussion with Mistress Irene, complete with diagrams drawn out on the table and several heated disagreements. Emily listened for a moment, then realized she could make neither head nor tail of the discussion. Instead, she turned to watch the next dance began. Alassa was still dancing with Jade.

"Emily," Lady Barb said. Emily jumped, then turned to see the older woman standing next to her. "I trust you are ready for tomorrow?"

"Everything is packed, save for the items going into storage," Emily said. The last time she'd taken a full trunk to Zangaria, she'd almost lost everything. This time, they were going through a portal, but most of her possessions would be left at Whitehall. "All I have to do is shove a few things in my bag and we can go."

"We will probably be delayed," Lady Barb observed. Her voice hardened. "But do try and be ready at the appointed hour. It makes it easier to reprimand everyone else."

"Alassa," Emily said.

"Yes," Lady Barb said. She shrugged. "We have other matters to discuss, Emily, but we can do that later, once we have arrived in Zangaria. I trust you have been keeping up with political developments?"

"Barely," Emily admitted.

Lady Barb poked her chest with a finger, none too gently. "You cannot afford to leave matters in the hands of others indefinitely," she said, sternly. "They are acting in your name, Emily, and you will bear the brunt of any problems it causes."

"I know," Emily said, quietly.

"I know you find it boring," Lady Barb said, warningly. "But you don't really have a choice."

She looked past Emily, smiling as Sergeant Miles walked over to join them. It took Emily a moment to recognize him; he'd ditched his armor for a set of black robes, representing his rank as a combat sorcerer. Without his armor, he looked like just another sorcerer, she realized slowly. Alassa, she admitted again, definitely had a point about clothes making the wearer. And, in the sergeant's case, it was a definite form of camouflage.

"Lady Barb," Sergeant Miles said. "Will you grant me the honor of this dance?"

"Of course," Lady Barb said, in a flirtatious tone Emily had never heard her use before. "I would be honored."

Emily watched them step onto the dance floor, feeling an odd pang in her heart. She'd come to think of Lady Barb as a mother, of sorts, yet her biological mother had ruined her life when she had married again. Emily knew that Lady Barb wouldn't allow someone to ruin her life - and Sergeant Miles was a good and decent man - but it still bothered her. And it bothered her that it bothered her.

I'm being selfish, she thought, bitterly. I should be happy for them, not sad.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the Master of Ceremonies said. "If you will take your partners for the last dance..."

Emily blinked - she hadn't realized it was that late - then looked around urgently. Jade was still with Alassa, while both Imaiqah and Frieda had partners. The only person who was missing was the Gorgon, who seemed to have stepped out earlier. A handful of boys were standing on the edges of the crowd, looking around for partners of their own. Emily hesitated, fighting down the impulse to remain on the sidelines herself, and nodded to one of them when he looked at her hopefully. He stepped over to her, took her hand and tugged her gently onto the dance floor.

Another year over, she thought. On Earth, it would have been pointless to mark the passage of yet another year. She'd known her life was hopeless. But here...she would miss Whitehall, when she finally had to leave. She'd never realized it was even possible to miss a school. And who knows what will happen next?

After the dance, the students started to scatter. Imaiqah and her current boyfriend headed off somewhere; Alassa and Jade stayed in the hall, chatting together in low voices. Emily let go of her partner, then made her way up to her room. She was too tired to wash; she merely removed the dress, then lay down on the bed and closed her eyes. Another year of schooling was definitely over.

And what, she asked herself again, as sleep began to claim her, will happen next?

 

bar

 

Author Bio

Christopher G. Nuttall is thirty-two years old and has been reading science fiction since he was five, when someone introduced him to children’s SF. Born in Scotland, Chris attended schools in Edinburgh, Fife and University in Manchester ... before moving to Malaysia to live with his wife Aisha.

Chris has been involved in the online Alternate History community since 1998; in particular, he was the original founder of Changing The Times, an online alternate history website that brought in submissions from all over the community. Later, Chris took up writing and eventually became a full-time writer.

Chris has produced The Empire’s Corps series, the Outside Context Problem series and many others. He is also responsible for two fan-made Posleen novels, both set in John Ringo’s famous Posleen universe. They can both be downloaded from his site.

Website: http://www.chrishanger.net/
Blog: http://chrishanger.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChristopherGNuttall

TTB titles:

Schooled in Magic fantasy series
  Schooled in Magic  book 1
  Lessons in Etiquette  book 2
  Study in Slaughter  book 3
  Work Experience  book 4
  The School of Hard Knocks  book 5
  Love's Labor's Won  book 6
  Trial By Fire  book 7
  Wedding Hells  book 8
  Infinite Regress  book 9
  Past Tense  book 10
  The Sergeant's Apprentice  book 11
  Fists of Justice  book 12
  The Gordian Knot  book 13

The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire military SF series
  Barbarians at the Gates  book 1
  The Shadow of Cincinnatus  book 2
  The Barbarian Bride  book 3

Author web site.

 

###

 

Love's Labor's Won Copyright © 2015. Christopher Nuttall. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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List Price: $18.95 USD

 

  Author News

  Articles

Christopher has a number of interesting articles up at his blog, The Chrishanger.

"The Stronghold Academy of Martial Arts"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/the-stronghold-academy-of-martial-arts/

"Emily's Finances"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/emilys-finances/

"Religion in the Nameless World
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/religion-in-the-nameless-world/

"The Military in the Nameless World - A Very Brief Overview"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/the-military-in-the-nameless-world-a-very-brief-overview/

"Wedding Hells: Randor and Alicia"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/wedding-hells-randor-and-alicia/

"Past Tense: Freedom and (Women's) Rights"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/past-tense-freedom-and-womens-rights/

"Wedding Hells Appendix (II) - History Exam"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/wedding-hells-appendix-ii-history-exam/

"Idle Musings (SIM 10)"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/idle-musings-sim-10/

"Whitehall's Liability Insurance"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/whitehalls-liability-insurance/

"Emily and the Barony of Cockatrice"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/emily-and-the-barony-of-cockatrice/

"Bonus Material: Whitehall History Essay Question"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/bonus-material-whitehall-history-essay-question/

"Schooled in Magic: Jade, Emily and Alassa" [Warning: spoilers]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/schooled-in-magic-jade-emily-and-alassa/

"Deconstructing Emily" [...There are a handful of spoilers for Books 1-6, so read carefully.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/deconstructing-emily/

"Love's Labor's Won: Playing the Blame Game [Warning; spoilers!]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/loves-labours-won-playing-the-blame-game/

"Christmas Post: Five Things that Could Have Happened to Emily"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/christmas-post-five-things-that-could-have-happened-to-emily/

"The Tragedy of Marius Drake [Warning: massive spoilers in this post.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/the-tragedy-of-marius-drake/

"Meet My Character Blog Hop" [Master Tor]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/meet-my-character-blog-hop/

"Draft Afterword (I)" [Cincinnatus]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/draft-afterword-i/

"But What Do We Do on Our Hols? An Introduction to Lessons in Etiquette"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/but-what-do-we-do-on-our-hols-an-introduction-to-lessons-in-etiquette/

"The Free City of Beneficence" [A new setting for Schooled in Magic.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/the-free-city-of-beneficence/

"An Introduction to Schooled in Magic"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/an-introduction-to-schooled-in-magic/

 

Interviews

"When did you start writing and what got you into fantasy?"
Author interview on Blogcritics

"When did you decide you wanted to become an author?"
Author interview on Blogger News

Character interview with Princess Alassa on Beyond the Books

"Deconstructing Emily" blog post

"Schooled in Magic is a fantasy book, but it draws extensively from real history."
Guest post on As the Page Turns

"The Inspiration behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
Guest post on Review From Here

"The Story behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
Guest post on The Story Behind the Book

"I was asked, at Ravencon, just what makes an indie writer successful.
I think they were hoping I'd know some great secret to success that I could tell them."
Guest post on The Writer's Life eMagazine

"No matter how well you write, you will get bad reviews."
Author Christopher G. Nuttall discusses The Decline & Fall
of the Galactic Empire novels in an interview with Edinburgh49

 

  Reviews

I found myself jumping in on Christopher Nuttall's latest Schooled in Magic (ebook) tale, moving it to the top of the pile. Emily was kidnaped from our world to the no-named lands by a necromancer looking for a child of destiny (Emily's mother was named Destiny) and rescued by Void, a powerful mage, who sends her to Whitehall for training. In the previous book she finished her third year. She also, with the help of the industrious family of a friend, has been introducing Earth technology like the printing press, steam power, and dynamite to this world and it is making massive changes. She has neglected the Duchy of Cockatrice she was given because she saved the princess heir to the local kingdom and unfortunately agreed to host the Magical Faire this year, leaving her steward in charge. He invited all the magical families, including Ashworth and Ashfall, families who have been feuding for generations and who are never invited to the same event.

It's a case of Love's Labor's Won (ebook from Twilight Times Books) when the heir of one family falls for the heir of the other. Mr. Nuttall is very aware of Romeo and Juliet, so that a far better result occurs. The stage is set for the fourth year in which she has to work on a project with another student. I don't know where this mixture of Connecticut Yankee and Harry Potter is going, but I've been enjoying the ride and glad that each book has a solid ending.

~ Dr. Henry Lazarus for Weekly Press
 




 


 

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