Today I am so pleased to welcome Carole Cummings to Joyfully Jay. Carole has come to talk to us about her latest release, Sonata Form. She has also brought along a copy to give away. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
It was strange how the next moments skidded by so fast they were almost blurred and yet in retrospect crawled so slowly Milo could almost count his heartbeats slip-thudding in uneven bursts. The thick aroma of steaming oysters blundered into the sweeter haze of sugary cakes fried in oil. Music came from just over the low ridge, something sprightly and made for dancing. Men and women in their fashionable high-hats scuttled past the obstacle course of proselytizers, or paused to listen.
Milo didn’t actually see the woman until he was right on top of her and trying to slew sidelong so he didn’t bowl her over. Ellis still had hold of Milo’s hand, pulling one way while Milo tried to yaw the other, and giving Milo’s arm a solid yank in its socket when Milo skip-stomped to an abrupt sliding halt just short of sideswiping a sturdy cenotaph commemorating the Green Coast War. Ellis flailed with a laughing “Oi!” as he turned, so he didn’t see the woman’s gaze take Milo in, surprised, then move to Milo’s earring and twist into… Milo didn’t know. Something sour. Outraged. Hateful.
“So sorry!” Milo stammered, thrown, confused, but he creased a grin at the woman, as friendly as he could make it, and tapped at the brim of his hat. “My apologies, syr.” He took a step back. “My friend and I were only—”
She spat. At Milo. At his feet. Spat.
Everything in Milo just sort of seized up and stopped working. He stared.
She glared back. Openly hostile. So many things slid over her face Milo couldn’t keep up. Disgust. Anger. Hatred. And underneath, the fixed foundation across which all of it played, a feral little glee at what she’d just done, and a What are you going to do about it? challenge.
Ellis said “Oi!” again, not nearly as friendly, and tried to put himself between Milo and the woman.
Milo didn’t move for a moment, couldn’t, but when he finally managed to jerk from his dazed contemplation of the well of ill will in the woman’s eyes, it was to the realization that they were attracting a small crowd. They were stood in a bundle in front of a monument to Kymbrygh’s war dead, the three of them, Ellis shocked and wanting to know “What the deuce was that for?” and the woman stepping back some, brazenly smug, eyes on Milo. Her gaze slid to Milo’s earring again, flaring into something so revolted Milo thought if he opened himself and Saw her, she’d be crawling with sickly reds and fulsome browns and pulsating greens the color of vomit.
“It’s….” Milo shook his head, took a deep breath. His hand was still locked in Ellis’s, so he tugged, backing away and pulling Ellis with him. “Nothing. A misunderstanding.”
The woman snorted, disdainful, then merely turned and walked away. Like a normal person. Like what she’d just done hadn’t been shocking and uncalled for and… bloody damn, it had been hurtful.
“Misunderstanding my arse,” Ellis snapped, still watching the woman and trying to pull Milo’s hand, no doubt meaning to follow her. “She spat at you! What even was that?”
The earring. Milo had watched her gaze land on it and turn wrathful. Had watched it.
He stared at the memorial—names etched in cold gray marble, dragons on the deep-carved coat of arms. Remembrance of honored dead in a war from which his mam emerged a hero. Milo wondered if that would’ve made a difference to the woman, had she known. He rather suspected… not.
“Dunno,” Milo managed, weirdly humiliated and stricken and wounded, and sixteen other kinds of feelings he had no idea how to parse. “Some people are just naturally unpleasant, I reckon.”
Except that wasn’t it. Milo knew it wasn’t. That Warden in Wellech, and now this.
I’m from bloody Whitpool! Milo wanted to shout, right there in the middle of the walk. I was born there. So was my mam, and her mam, and her mam. My ancestors were Dewin and dragonkin before yours even knew Preidyn existed!
“That’s one way to put it,” Ellis muttered, still fuming.
Milo wished he had the comfort of anger. All he could manage was shock and hurt and a strange lump of shame he couldn’t fathom, but there it was, hunkered in a sick little ball in his gut. And all he wanted in the world at that moment was to keep Ellis from knowing why. Milo didn’t understand it. He took great pride in everything the earring symbolized, all the years and work that went into earning it. Now all he wanted to do was slip it off and tuck it into his pocket so no one could see it. And Ellis guessing the source of the inexplicable humiliation, even guessing it was there at all, was just more than Milo could stand to consider.
“Right then.” Ellis gave Milo’s hand a bracing squeeze. He pulled on a grin. It might have been just a touch manic, a touch roguish. “Let’s get this out of the way, then.”
It wasn’t ideal for a first kiss—standing in the middle of a fairly busy walkway, having just been thoroughly insulted and unnerved by some horrible woman who apparently hated Milo for existing—and it was nothing more than a peck, really, a soft press, chaste and simple. It still took a tender swipe at Milo’s senses while at the same time reassuring him somehow. It settled his breathing. It took his heart from a rabbiting thwup-thwup-thwup to something steadier, gentler. Almost composed. Almost all right again.
Ellis pulled back, peering at Milo closely, assessing. Whatever he saw, it made him smile.
“The thing is,” Ellis said, hand still gripping Milo’s like he never meant to let go, “before this, I thought it might be nice to get drunk with you on sparkling wine. Now I think we should both get proper bladdered, scoff a half bushel of oysters each, and then snog until we can’t breathe.”
“…Oh.” Milo’s wobbly smile made his eyes water. He didn’t care. “That….” He swallowed. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day.”
Somehow all of a sudden brave, as though he’d borrowed courage from Ellis, Milo leaned back in, hesitant, but when Ellis only gave him a cheering smile, Milo tipped his chin and set a soft, grateful kiss to Ellis’s mouth.
Better now, more settled in his skin again, Milo pulled back, only a touch. “Actually,” thin and feathery, “it might be the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Old Forge is known for its dragons—savage little things, more singe than snarl—and Milo Priddy is known for his way with them. But as rumblings of conflict appear on the horizon, the dragons start to disappear. As dragonkin, Milo knows what he must do. But it is an uneasy choice, one he dares not reveal even to his lover, Ellis.
As leader of neighbouring Wellech, Ellis has his own hard choices. His skills are crucial to a secure homeland. And, more and more, the homeland he and Milo once hoped to share is under threat–not only from outside, but within.
For their own people are sowing mistrust of the magic users, seeding the betrayal of not only the dragons, but their kin.
Carole Cummings lives with her family in Pennsylvania, USA. She is the author of the Aisling series and Blue on Black and is the recipient of various writing awards. Several of her short stories have been translated around the world.
Carole has brought a copy of Sonata Form to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Thursday, February 4th at 11:59 pm ET.
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