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Wedding Hells
cover art © Brad Fraunfelter

 

 

With Princess Alassa's wedding fast approaching, Emily returns to Zangaria to play her part in the wedding ceremony and say goodbye to her friends as they leave Whitehall School. But with a demon's warning echoing in her ears, social unrest in Zangaria and her own magic no longer reliable, the wedding ceremony may turn into a hellish nightmare.   Book 8 in the Schooled in Magic series.

 

 

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Wedding Hells

fantasy

Christopher G. Nuttall

 

 

Prologue

"They say you can get a good view from here," Rahsia said, from behind him. She sounded grimly amused. "Do you like what you see?"

Gannet ignored her voice, choosing instead to look out the window at the sight below, even though it tore at his soul. Fourteen people - nine men, five women - were positioned in the pillory, surrounded by the City Guard. They'd been arrested only two days ago and slammed into the stockade, without even a pretense of a trial. But then, everyone had known they were guilty of the charges laid against them. They just hadn't believed that free speech, questioning the nobility, and demanding change were crimes.

They won't last much longer, he thought, morbidly. One woman - she'd been thirty, if he recalled correctly - was already lolling to one side, her head bruised and battered where pieces of rotten fruit had struck her. They haven't had anything to eat or drink since they were chained up in the stocks.

He clenched his fists in bitter, helpless rage. Five minutes. Five minutes had made the difference between escape and being arrested with the others. If Rahsia hadn't delayed him with news of potential new allies among the magicians...

I'd be down there too, he thought. Trapped, helpless, and surrounded by the people I wanted to save.

It had all seemed so simple, once upon a time. The New Learning had swept through Zangaria like wildfire, bringing change in its wake. Hundreds of thousands of people could now read, write and do their sums, without the aid of a guild. The printing presses had followed, allowing the newly-enlightened population to actually learn about the world surrounding them for the first time in their lives. And, with the political ideas emanating from Cockatrice, Gannet had dared to hope they were on the cusp of real lasting change - and freedom.

He knew, without false modesty, that he was smart. He'd been a merchant, after all, and no merchant lasted long without a canny eye for opportunities. But his low birth had doomed him to obscurity. His lack of connections ensured he would never be anything more than a small shopkeeper, beneath the attention of those who called themselves his betters. But why were they his betters? What separated an aristocrat from a commoner, beyond an accident of birth? Aristocrats were no more or less moral than commoners, he knew from bitter experience; commoners could show more nobility than some of the so-called noble aristocrats.

Rage - and cold hatred - flared in his heart as he lifted his eyes and stared at Swanhaven Castle, its malignant dark mass looming over the city. Lord Hans and Lady Regina lived there, competing for the favor of King Randor and struggling to win the Barony of Swanhaven for themselves. One of them had issued the orders to crack down hard on the freethinkers, taking his friends into custody and placing them in the stocks to die. Gannet neither knew nor cared which of them had actually issued the orders. If anyone deserved to die, it was the two of them - no one had a good word to say about them. They were both part of a vile and corrupt system that needed to end.

But how?

There were stories, hundreds of them, of brave swordsmen who'd fought their way into castles and emerged with the maiden fair, but Gannet knew he was no fighter. Like all commoners, he'd been denied the chance to wield anything more dangerous than a club. It was death for him to own a sword, let alone seek training in its use. And, with the castle surrounded by wards as well as armed guards, even a truly legendary swordsman would be unable to find a way past the defenses and into the keep. There was nothing he could do.

He swung around, suddenly, to glare at Rahsia. "Did you know this would happen?"

The dark-haired girl shook her head. She was around twenty, if he was any judge, although magicians were fond of making themselves look younger. She'd introduced herself, when they'd met, as a representative from a handful of magicians who also wanted political change. Gannet had been suspicious - magicians were practically noblemen - but she'd done nothing to justify his concerns. Indeed, he'd found her quite pleasant company when they'd talked about other things. She certainly wasn't one of the young firebrands who talked of nothing but revolution and war - and the paradise that was sure to come, once the aristocrats were dead.

"There was no warning," she said, softly. "We have no contact with the magicians in the castle."

Gannet nodded, cursing inwardly as a loud cheer rose up from the square below. Someone had probably thrown a rock and killed one of the prisoners, but he refused to turn and look, knowing that a friend of his might have been killed. If they'd been interrogated first, before being put on display, they might even have betrayed him too - if, of course, his name hadn't already been given to the soldiers. He knew he didn't dare go back to his garret.

They won't have found everyone, he told himself. I can rebuild...

"There's nothing to be done here," Rahsia said. She rose from the bed and held out a hand. "We should go."

"There's nowhere to go," Gannet said. It wasn't quite accurate - a flophouse would be happy to put him up without asking any questions - but for once in his life he didn't know what to do. "They've won."

"Not yet," Rahsia said. She gave him a considering look. "The core problem, as you know, is that the lords and ladies are backed by the king."

Gannet scowled back. "Of course I know," he snapped. "Everyone knows that!"

It was true, too. The peasants might - might - be able to overthrow a village headman, or a minor noble. But the barons - or the king himself - would be sure to respond. Entire villages had been burned to the ground, their populations slaughtered or sold into slavery, just for daring to lift a hand against their lords and masters. It had made the survivors unsurprisingly reluctant to risk taking a stand, even when their betters insisted on taxing the villages so harshly that their mere survival was in doubt. No wonder, Gannet thought, that so many had fled the lands to the towns - or Cockatrice. There was nothing left for them in the countryside.

"Then the problem lies with the king," Rahsia said. "We should seek to kill him and exterminate his line. And there will never be a better chance."

"The king," Gannet repeated. He was a minor merchant, by all the gods; he didn't even live in Alexis! "You want to assassinate the king?"

"Yes," Rahsia said, firmly. "And his daughter. The Iron Duke - the former Iron Duke - has already been disgraced. With the king and his bratty Crown Princess gone, there will be no legitimate heir to the throne."

"There are the barons," Gannet pointed out.

"None of whom have a clear-cut claim," Rahsia countered. "Those who did were killed after the coup attempt in Alexis. The survivors do not have a strong blood-link to the Line of Alexis. There will be civil war if they start disputing who should take the throne."

Gannet thought, fast. Like all merchants, he did his best to keep abreast of power struggles amongst the aristocracy, even though his ability to affect them was practically nonexistent. The strongest surviving baron was, ironically, the one who was least interested in wielding her power - and, perhaps, the one who would be the best monarch for the country.

"There's Baroness Cockatrice," he said. "Would she take the throne?"

"I have it on good authority that Lady Emily is not interested in such power," Rahsia said, dryly. "But even if she were, she'd be challenged by the other barons. They would see her as a more dangerous threat than any other."

"So there will be civil war," Gannet said.

"Yes," Rahsia said. "The social structure that binds the country together will shatter once the king is dead. Aristocrat will turn on aristocrat, which will give you the chance to prepare your forces to act. And all you have to do is kill the king and his sole heir."

Gannet hesitated. King Randor had to go - the man had worked with the commoners to save his throne, then started to marginalize them - but he had no particular dislike of the princess. He'd heard stories, of course, yet they'd all been so inflated by the time they'd reached Swanhaven that he didn't believe them. And besides, some of the stories about Lady Regina were far worse.

But the death of one young girl was a small price to pay for freedom.

"It won't be easy," he said. That was an understatement, all right. "How do we even get into the castle?"

Rahsia smiled. "Let me take care of that," she said. Her confidence surprised him. "We do have allies in Alexis. You just work on rebuilding our network here."

 

Prologue II

"The final guest list, Your Majesty."

King Randor, fifth monarch of Zangaria, took the parchment from Lord Nightingale and watched as the aristocratic functionary oozed his way out of the chamber. It galled him to rely on a man who would happily degrade himself completely for a scrap of power and safety, but there was no alternative. Nightingale was loyal because he had to be, because there would be no escape for him after his master's death. The Crown Princess loathed him, the Barons hated him and most of his fellow bottom-feeders regarded him with envy. The only real question would be which one of Nightingale's enemies would get to him first.

He shook his head tiredly as he felt the wards slip back into place, protecting his privacy from prying eyes. It was impossible to pretend that the kingdom hadn't changed, that Zangaria wasn't more unstable than ever. The remaining barons were plotting to regain power - and kept reminding their monarch, none-too-politely, that the other baronies needed to be filled - but they weren't the real problem. Randor understood the barons, understood the driving lust for power, for the prize of kingship, that drove them onwards. He might have beheaded four of them after their attempted coup, but he understood them. They were rats, doing what rats did.

No, the real problem lay with the commoners.

His father, King Alexis the Great, had played the commoners off against the aristocracy, using the former to regain the power his father had ceded to the barons. And it had worked, at a price; the commoners now had their Assembly and believed they should have a say in how the country was run. Even that wouldn't have been a problem, were it not for the flood of new ideas pervading the country. If he'd realized just how much trouble the printing press alone would cause, he'd have banned it on the spot instead of allowing it to spread. Now, even a Royal Edict wouldn't be enough to stop printers printing their damnable pamphlets and distributing them around the country.

And all because of a single girl, Randor thought, looking up at the portrait of his barons hanging from the fall wall. It had been painted a year after the coup and the artist had worked from preliminary sketches, but the images looked surprisingly realistic. Baroness Emily looked young, her face showing character rather than good looks; she certainly looked out of place, next to the other barons. She's turned my kingdom upside down.

In hindsight, he admitted privately, it might have been a mistake to ennoble her. But it had seemed a good idea at the time. He had needed to find her a reward commensurate with what she'd done for him, saving the lives of the Royal Family and preventing the plotters from seizing the kingdom. A barony had seemed the obvious solution. Baron Holyoake had left no heirs - at least, no innocent heirs - and the execution of everyone involved in the plot had left the barony vacant. And it had, he'd thought, the advantage of both keeping his hands off the barony and leaving it under the control of someone he could influence.

But she makes no sense, he thought, ruefully.

He'd tested Lady Emily, when they'd first met, and nothing quite added up. The official story claimed she was the daughter of two servants to a sorcerer, but someone who had grown up in that sort of environment would bend the knee to anyone she considered her superior. Rumor had it that she was actually the daughter of a powerful sorcerer, yet she seemed to lack the upbringing any such child would have been forced to endure. Even if her father was powerful enough to ignore the interplay of politics in the White City, his daughter should have known better than to invite both the Ashworth and Ashfall families to the Faire. Indeed, if Emily was Void's daughter, Randor couldn't help wondering if the sorcerer had neglected his daughter just as badly as Randor had neglected his own. Had he been disappointed in the girl? Or had he merely seen her as an unwanted burden?

It was a bitter thought. Randor knew his duties to the kingdom; his first duty, one he'd started even before assuming the throne, was to sire an heir. But, for all his fornication, he'd only managed to produce a single daughter. He'd left Alassa in the care of innumerable nannies and governesses for nearly fifteen years, while struggling desperately to sire a son; by the time he'd finally swallowed his pride and admitted he would probably not have another heir, his daughter had turned into a spoiled brat. Sending her to Whitehall, despite the risks, had seemed the only way to turn her into a suitable heir.

And it had paid off! Alassa had grown into a fine young woman, a capable heir to the throne...but it wouldn't have happened if she hadn't befriended Lady Emily. Randor had interrogated his daughter closely, the first time she'd returned to Zangaria; Emily simply didn't make sense. There were just too many oddities surrounding her. One moment she was a timorous little girl, the next she killed a combat sorcerer in a honorable duel.

He sighed inwardly as he tore his gaze from the portrait. Emily didn't realize it, he was sure, but she was causing problems for him. Her hands-off attitude in Cockatrice had spurred the development of printing presses and other industries; hundreds of thousands of peasants were leaving the land and moving to Cockatrice in hopes of making a better life. She hadn't started that problem, he had to admit, but she'd certainly made it worse! The gods alone knew how many people had left the lands, yet every single peasant who quit weakened society still further. The ties that bound the state together, ties that ensured that everyone knew their place, were snapping. His barons were already pressing him to do something about it.

And, if that wasn't bad enough, she'd snubbed him publicly. Her decision, apparently, to seek a courtship threatened to undermine his relations with the other barons. She hadn't even bothered to ask his permission before starting her courtship! And he was her liege lord!

Alassa's wedding comes first, he reminded himself. There will be time to discuss Emily's conduct with her later.

Gritting his teeth, he looked down at the parchment. Thousands of guests, thousands of security problems...and a warning from a demon that chilled him to the bone. He wanted to simply hold a private wedding, but he knew he didn't dare. It would be taken as a sign of weakness and the barons, who had assassins on their payrolls, wouldn't hesitate to start planning something. Randor had no illusions about them - and, for that matter, of the difficulty of securing the castle when hundreds of guests would be staying and thousands of guests would be flocking through each day.

And those fools who think a king can do anything need to sit in the throne for a day, he thought, sourly. The more I push in one direction, the stronger the reaction I get from the other.

The wards shimmered, once. He touched them with his mind and realized that Alicia, Heir Presumptive to the Barony of Gold, was waiting outside. No doubt she intended to petition him, again, to grant the rights she should have inherited from her father. After all, she was the only surviving member of her family.

And the aristocrats are pressing me to confirm her, he thought, as he lowered the wards. And that would mean finding her a suitable husband.

He shook his head at the thought. There were just too many demands on his time...

...And the more he concentrated on one problem, the more likely it was that another would explode in his face.

 

Chapter One

The magic felt...odd.

Emily braced herself; power sparkled around her fingertips and surged out of control. A glowing ball of light, ominously bright and dangerously hot, appeared in front of her, already shimmering into an unpleasant red glow. Emily cursed under her breath and fought hard to regain control, throttling back on the flow of magic until the light globe slowly flickered back to normal. It was a simple spell, one she'd mastered quickly, but now there was too much power at her disposal for it to work properly. She focused her mind, locking the spell in place, and let go. The light globe drifted into the air.

"Not too bad," Void said.

Emily scowled at him. "It's shabby," she protested, crossly. Her head throbbed as she canceled the spell, allowing the magic to drain into the ether. "And it could have turned dangerous."

"But it didn't," Void said. He rose to his feet and held out a hand to Emily, inviting her to stand. The rune she'd carved into her chest heated as it sensed the subtle magic protections surrounding him. "You're doing better than I expected, under the circumstances."

Emily felt her cheeks heat. "Thank you," she said, as she took his hand and allowed him to help her to her feet. "But it still feels frustrating."

"Your magic has expanded," Void said, "without giving you the time you needed to learn to handle it. The spells you cast by instinct are now massively overpowered. You just need to learn to control the flow of magic again."

He turned and walked through the door into the next room. Emily followed him, shaking her head in private amusement as he motioned her to a chair and picked up a large jug of Kava from the sideboard. She knew he had servants - she'd met them when he'd rescued her, so long ago - but he hadn't brought any of them into her house. Instead, they'd split the cooking duties between them. And he'd never complained about her food.

She studied him as he turned to take the seat facing her. His appearance had changed, several times, since they'd first met; this time, he was tall, with long dark hair that flowed down to his shoulders and an angular face that reminded her of the hunting hawks she'd watched in Zangaria. His dark eyes were easily the darkest she'd ever seen, so dark she sometimes fancied she could fall into them and never climb out. And the aura of power, which hung around him like a shroud, warned anyone who met Void that he was a very dangerous man.

"You have been doing well," he said, as he passed her a mug of Kava. "How are you feeling?"

"Tired," Emily said.

Void frowned. "No nightmares?"

"Not really," Emily said. She had taken potions every night for a week, but even after that she hadn't had many bad dreams. She'd expected to revisit the duel again and again in her sleep, yet she'd seen almost nothing. "Is that a bad thing?"

"You tell me," Void said.

Emily frowned. She'd killed a man, personally. It wasn't the first time she'd killed, but it was the first time she'd done it with her bare hands. Master Grey had wanted to kill her, but she'd killed him instead...and she felt almost nothing, as if she'd lost the ability to care. She'd snuffed out his life to keep him from taking hers...

She looked down at her hands. They were shaking.

"I don't know," she said, finally.

Void cocked his head. "And how are you feeling physically?"

Emily took a sip of her Kava before answering. "I have a slight headache," she said. She rubbed her eyes with her free hand. "And it feels like my skin is on fire. Is that normal?"

"Very little about this is normal," Void said. "Most magicians tend to shy away from the kind of exertion that boosts one's powers - or burns them out completely. I think your mana reserves have swelled past the point you can store them comfortably. You need to spend more time in the spellchambers, casting spells."

Or draining the magic into a battery, Emily thought. It hadn't been too hard to set up another couple of batteries, once her magic had renewed itself. But what happens if this carries on?

"It's a muscle," Void added, seemingly unaware of her thoughts. "The more you practice spells that require large amounts of mana, the more your ability to store and concentrate mana in your body increases."

He shrugged. "But you can handle that, I think," he added. "You haven't gone mad, thankfully."

Emily gave him a sharp look. "Is that why you stayed? Did you think I would go mad?"

Void met her eyes, unapologetically. "The possibility needed to be considered," he said, firmly. "And..."

"And someone had to be there to...handle me if I went mad," Emily interrupted. She couldn't help feeling a stab of betrayal. Void was the closest thing she had to a real father now, but he'd stayed with her out of fear she'd go nuts. "Did you plan to kill me?"

Void held her gaze. "Would you rather leave a possible necromancer to her own devices?"

Emily shivered. Void had saved her life...but Lady Barb and the Grandmaster had both warned her that he shouldn't be taken for granted. He'd done a great deal of dirty work for the White Council in the past, trampling roughshod over everything else just to get the job done. She had no doubt he would have killed her if she'd gone mad...

...And he would have been right. A maddened magician with her level of control - and her knowledge from another world - would have been very dangerous. But the thought didn't make her feel any better.

"No," she said, finally. She put the mug down on the table. "But I haven't gone mad, have I?"

"No," Void agreed. "And the more you practice with your magic, the easier it should become to handle it."

He cleared his throat, loudly. "There are, however, a number of matters we should discuss," he said, changing the subject. "For starters, Mistress Irene informs me that you will need to be back at Whitehall within the week if you wish to take your Fourth Year exams. Under the circumstances, Emily, I have no doubt you could redo Third and Fourth Year if you wished, instead of trying to take the exams now. I suggest you think about it over the next day or so and then let me know what you want to do."

Emily didn't need to think about it. "I want to go back," she said. "I can't leave Caleb in the lurch."

Void smiled. "Missing him already, are we?"

"Yes," Emily said, feeling her cheeks warming again. She'd wanted to invite her friends - and her boyfriend - to the house, but Void had cautioned her against it. "Is that so wrong?"

"No," Void said. He smirked. "I would advise you not to discuss your expanded powers with him, as he might get a little jealous, but that's your choice. You might also want to warn him that you're not entirely stable right now. There's a good chance you'll say something to him you'll both regret."

Emily colored. The first few days in the house had been bad, very bad, as her magic slowly returned. She'd found herself crying for no reason, then screaming her rage to the heavens, unable to keep herself under control. Void had been immensely patient, she'd come to realize slowly; she doubted there were many tutors at Whitehall who would have put up with her for longer than a few hours. She'd probably have been expelled several times over by now.

Void shrugged. "That does lead neatly to a second pair of issues we need to discuss," he added. "The first is this."

He reached into a pocket, produced a small wooden box and passed it to her. Emily opened it carefully, after casting a handful of spells to check it was safe, and blinked in surprise as she realized it contained a ring. There was a faint hint of magic surrounding the gold and silver band, but it didn't feel hostile. In fact, it felt almost welcoming.

She looked up at him. "Are you asking me to marry you?"

Void blinked, nonplussed. "What?"

Emily sighed. "Where I come from, married couples exchange rings," she explained. Void had listened to her stories of Earth with great interest, but she'd never discussed marriages with him. "The boy offers the girl a ring when he wants to marry her."

Void looked faintly displeased. "Traditionally," he said stiffly, "a sorcerer will receive four rings in his - or her - lifetime. The first one" - he pointed to the box in Emily's hand - "is a family ring, which is generally presented when the sorcerer is deemed mature. Most families hand them out in a private ceremony after the sorcerer passes his first set of exams. Among other things, they serve as proof of identity."

Emily looked down at the ring for a long moment. "And what does this one mean?"

"People will ask why I haven't given you a ring," Void said, dryly. "That one marks you as a member of my family."

"Oh," Emily said. It was suddenly very hard to speak. She had to swallow, hard, before she could say a word. "Do...do you have any other family?"

"I'm the last of my family," Void said, curtly. "But I do not believe they would have objected to me welcoming you into the family. It is far from uncommon to adopt promising newborn magicians and they are always treated as if they were born into the family."

He shrugged. "You can wear the ring, if you like, or keep it with you. Certain people may ask you to present it. If they do, make sure you have it on your finger when you show it to them."

Emily nodded, looking down at the ring. "What are the others? I mean, the other rings?"

Void held up his left hand, revealing three rings. "You'll get a ring when you complete your Sixth Year exams and leave Whitehall," he said. "Your master, assuming you do an apprenticeship, will give you a ring when you complete your training. And you'll get a fourth ring when you have a child."

"You've only got three rings," Emily said.

"So I do," Void agreed. He tapped the table, firmly. "You have entered a formal courtship with Caleb, as I understand it. You will be going to Beneficence after your exams, correct?"

"Yes," Emily said. She had no intention of letting him distract her for long. "I'm going to meet his parents. Lady Barb said she would accompany me."

"She's there to be your chaperone," Void said, curtly. "Under the terms of a formal courtship, his parents will be taking a good long look at you and your choice of chaperone."

Emily frowned. "Will they expect you to come?"

"It is generally assumed that a chaperone will be female," Void said. "A combat sorceress would be regarded as an excellent chaperone. She will be expected to defend your honor to his parents. However, there will be times when you are expected to defend your own honor."

"I see," Emily said, uncertainly.

"His siblings may challenge you, gently," Void added. "Keep your tone polite, but don't give them any ground. They'll be looking for signs of weakness."

He paused. "You and Caleb will be expected to behave yourselves," he warned. "His family will be watching to see how you treat him - and vice versa. When you're at a formal setting, be formal. Don't kiss in public..."

"I wouldn't," Emily objected.

"And I strongly advise you not to be caught in bed with Caleb while you're in his family home," Void finished, ignoring her comment. "His family will not approve."

He held up a hand before she could say a word. "Lady Barb will probably go through how you should behave as well," he added. "I suggest you listen to her. She's been through it herself."

Emily blinked, distracted from her embarrassment. "I thought she'd never married!"

"Her courtship failed," Void said. "Yours..."

He shrugged. "The purpose of a courtship is to build up a lasting relationship," he said, after a moment. "Sometimes, two people find that they are incompatible, no matter what they do. There is no shame in breaking off a courtship, even as you approach the wedding day; better that, Emily, than being tied to someone you don't like."

"I understand," Emily said, quietly. She took a breath. "What happens if his family doesn't like me?"

"Or thinks you're too dangerous to bring into the family," Void added. "It would depend on Caleb. Is he willing to give up his family to be with you?"

Emily swallowed. Markus had given up his family to be with Melissa, but she'd had the impression that Markus didn't like his family very much.

"I don't know," she said, finally.

"You're not just marrying him," Void said. "You'll be joining his entire family. You might discover that you can't bear the thought of being married to them."

Emily looked down at her pale hands. She would have left her family without a second thought; hell, she'd certainly never tried to find a way back to Earth. But Caleb? He'd admitted he had problems with his family, but he didn't hate them the way Emily had hated her stepfather. Would he leave his family for her? Could she ask him to make such a sacrifice?

"I don't want to think about it," she admitted, reluctantly.

"No one will think any less of you if you decide that you cannot bear to be married to them," Void said. "There are dozens of failed courtships every year, Emily. But you are the one who has to make that choice. I cannot dictate it for you."

"Fulvia tried to dictate who Melissa married," Emily pointed out, mulishly.

"I'm not Fulvia," Void countered. "And I have very little to gain or lose from your courtship. Fulvia had the interests of an entire family to consider; I...my position is not dependent on you."

Emily considered it. "Is that true of his parents?"

Void shrugged. "Caleb is the second-born, isn't he?"

"I think so," Emily said. She forced herself to remember what Caleb had said. "He's definitely got at least one older brother and a second brother - I think he's three or four years younger than Caleb."

"They're not that important a family," Void said, dispassionately. "They may see advantages in having their son married to you. I think they may be a little disappointed that it wasn't their eldest son who started to court you, because he'd be the heir. But if something were to happen to him, Caleb would be next in line."

"Caleb isn't going to worry about that," Emily objected.

"He should," Void said. "Unless he leaves the family, he will be the heir if something happens to his older brother."

"It all sounds very cold," Emily said.

"Courtships are cold," Void said. "But when they work, they tend to work very well."

He shrugged, again. "If you really want to go back to Whitehall, I'll arrange for you to be collected tomorrow; we can shut the house down together. After that, you'll be the only person who can enter and leave at will."

Emily felt a stab of bitter pain. The Grandmaster was dead. He'd left her the house and a letter, warning her that her life was about to become a great deal harder. Part of her just wanted to stay in the house, wrapping her wards around herself and forgetting the rest of the world. But she couldn't, not if she wanted to pass her exams. She needed those qualifications to advance.

And Alassa would kill me if I didn't attend her wedding, she thought.

The thought caused another bitter pang. Alassa and Imaiqah would be leaving Whitehall after their exams. She'd be alone; her only true friend left at school would be the Gorgon, unless she left too. Frieda would be staying, of course, and so would Caleb, but it wouldn't be the same. The former was two years younger than she; the latter was her boyfriend, not someone she could confide in.

"I have somewhere I need to be," Void added, quietly. "I probably won't see you again for a while. But, for what it's worth, I'm very proud of you."

"Thank you," Emily whispered. "For this and...and everything."

"You're welcome," Void said. He tapped the box. "Aren't you going to put on the ring?"

Emily hesitated, then cast a handful of detection spells. Void nodded in approval - he'd warned her, several times, to be sure she checked before touching anything - and waited until she was sure the ring was safe before allowing it to rest on her palm. It felt warm against her bare skin, pulsing faintly with magic. And it felt almost as if it belonged.

"I wonder," she said, slowly. "Does this make you my father?"

"It makes you part of the family, such as it is," Void said. He'd never talked about his family, even when he'd encouraged her to open up about her mother and stepfather. "There's only me now."

"I'm sorry," Emily said.

"Don't be," Void told her. "Their deaths weren't your fault."

Emily looked down at the ring, drinking in the details. It looked as if he'd wrapped a piece of golden thread around a silver thread and melted them together, weaving magic into the raw material until it was almost alive. She'd seen more elaborate pieces of jewelry - Alassa wore them frequently - but the ring was special. It told her that she belonged.

Carefully, she placed it on her finger. It was a little loose, but as the magic spiked around the ring it tightened just enough to ensure it wouldn't fall off. She pulled at it and discovered that it needed a hard tug to pull it free. She'd never really liked rings - she'd never had the money to buy any jewelry on Earth - but Void's ring seemed perfect.

"Welcome to the family, Emily," Void said. He took a breath. "And now you can go work on Alassa's wedding present."

Emily smiled. Imaiqah, thankfully, had reminded her that the happy couple would expect a present from each of their guests, saving Emily from a considerable amount of embarrassment. But she knew Alassa deserved more than a set of cutlery or a blender, assuming they even existed in the Nameless World. She'd settled, after confirming she wouldn't have to hand the gift over publicly, for one of her notebooks, outlining the different political ideas from Earth. Alassa wouldn't have an easy time of it when she took the throne and Emily hoped an infusion - another infusion - of ideas from Earth would help. She was, after all, one of the few people who knew about Earth.

"It's almost finished," she said. Writing the notebook had taken longer than she'd expected, but she was proud of her work. "She'll love it."

"As long as no one sees it," Void warned. "The truth of your origins is not something we want to get out."

 

Chapter Two

"I have spoken to Mistress Irene," Void said, the following morning. "Lady Barb will be here this afternoon to escort you back to Whitehall."

"That's good," Emily said. She couldn't help feeling torn. Part of her wanted to go back to the school that had been her first true home, part of her wanted to stay put. She'd killed Master Grey. Nothing would ever be the same again. "Will...will you be making me do more spells this morning?"

"I was thinking we might do something a little bit different," Void said. He tapped the table meaningfully. "But you would be well advised to eat before we start."

Emily smiled as she opened the breadbox and recovered a loaf of bread, a crock of butter and several eggs, the latter all wrapped in preservation spells. Void had already brewed a pot of Kava; she poured herself a mug, then whipped the eggs, dumped them into a pan and scrambled them on the stove. It wouldn't be very fancy, certainly not compared to the multi-choice breakfasts she'd enjoyed at Whitehall, but it would keep her going. Her appetite had increased along with her power.

"Make sure you cast preservation spells over everything before you leave," Void said, as she reached for a plate and poured the eggs over the bread. "The last thing you want is to come home and discover that the food has gone bad."

Emily nodded. Sergeant Miles had hammered that into her head, along with a number of other titbits she'd done her best to recall. She still wasn't a very good cook, but at least she could make something that would keep her alive. Sergeant Harkin, on the other hand, had been able to create the most stupendous feasts, just from ingredients he'd found in the forest. She couldn't help wondering, as she sat down, what that fearsome man would have made of her now. She'd killed a combat sorcerer in a formal duel.

"Your exams are scheduled for two months from today," Void said, as she ate. "I will be expecting you to do well, very well. Despite circumstances..."

He shrugged. "But you're still getting used to your increased power," he added, warningly. "If you feel yourself having too many headaches, or having problems coping with spells you used to be able to cast without bother, go to Mistress Irene and ask to be held back. There's no shame in admitting you need more time to recuperate."

"But everyone would point and laugh," Emily objected.

"You shouldn't care about the good opinion of idiots," Void said. "Would you have advised your boyfriend to take his scheduled exams even though he spent most of the year in a coma?"

"No," Emily said, reluctantly. She knew he was right, but she'd picked up enough of the school's ethos to believe that being held back was humiliating. She'd still be classed as a child even as she turned twenty-one. "But Caleb had an excuse for missing so many classes."

"So do you," Void said, dryly. "You can be held back, if you wish, and no one will think any less of you."

That wasn't true, Emily knew. It was rare for a student to willingly repeat their first four years of schooling - or even merely go back to Third Year or redo Fourth Year. The lure of being considered an adult, rather than a child, was too great. Caleb had been taunted, she remembered; she didn't want to have to endure classes with students two years younger than her, all of whom would be scared witless by her. But he was right. The people whose opinions mattered would understand precisely why she'd repeated a year or two.

She finished her breakfast, washed the dishes in the sink and followed Void into the next room. The Grandmaster - she felt another pang of grief - had turned it into a study, lining the walls with row upon row of bookshelves. Most of them were classic texts that had been reprinted - it had amused her to discover that he'd purchased hundreds of books from the printing presses - but there were a handful of rare editions among the dross. She suspected she could have completed most of her formal studies just by sitting in the study and reading the books he'd left on the shelves.

"There is a second tradition," Void said, once they were sitting. "When a child becomes an adult, at least in a magical family, the parents take the time to share certain magics that belong to one single bloodline. The children are sworn to secrecy and told never to share the spells with anyone, save for their own children when they become adults. It is quite rare for any of those spells to leak."

Emily frowned. "Melissa was disowned..."

"Melissa was probably too young to learn," Void said, dismissively. "I have no idea how the Ashworth Family handles such matters, but I imagine their oaths would make it impossible for Melissa to share any such spells with her children, now that she is no longer considered part of her former family."

"If she knows," Emily mused.

"If she knows," Void agreed. He cleared his throat. "Now, I have no such spells to share."

Emily blinked. "Your family didn't have any?"

"My family..." He shook his head, his expression darkening. "Suffice it to say I have no such spells to share."

"I'm sorry," Emily said.

"Don't be," Void said, bluntly. He produced a pair of black gloves and pulled them over his hands. "I would like, however, to teach you some other spells you will probably need in the future. If, of course, you want them."

Emily smiled, leaning forward. Learning new spells was one of the things she loved about being in the Nameless World. And learning something very few other people knew...she liked knowing something unique, even though she already knew too much. The Nuke-Spell alone would change the world beyond repair if it ever got out. She rubbed the snake-bracelet at her wrist as Void reached into one of his pockets and produced a small gemstone. It sparkled with an eerie light that sent shivers down her spine.

"Hold your hand above the gem, but be careful not to actually make contact," Void ordered, as he rested the gem on his gloved hand. "It could get dangerous."

Emily swallowed, then reached out. The sense of danger grew stronger as her hand approached the gem; she felt a sudden stab of pain on her chest, where the rune had been carved into her skin, once her hand was bare millimeters above the shimming crystal. And yet, despite the pain, there was something in the spell worked into the gem that called to her. She pulled her hand back before she could give into the pull and actually touch the gem.

"I don't believe you will have covered gem-work yet," Void said. Emily shook her head, unable to take her eyes from the glowing crystal. "Like a wand, you can embed a spell into a gem, but the principle difference is that the gem spell can be active. Nightmare Hexes, which I believe you have encountered, are often anchored to gems. A spell can be kept active for a considerable period of time, if the spellwork is done properly or there is a ready-made source of power nearby."

"Like a nexus point," Emily said.

"A nexus point would be considerably overpowered," Void said. He returned the gem to his pocket. "A living person would be sufficient."

He gave her a sharp look. "What do you think that gem was for?"

Emily hesitated. She'd felt a compulsion to touch the gem the moment she'd held her hand above it, but her rune had sounded the alert at once. Maybe it wasn't subtle magic - it certainly hadn't behaved like subtle magic - yet she was sure it worked along the same lines...

"Influencing people," she said, finally.

"Controlling people," Void corrected. His voice was flat, completely toneless. "If someone were to be enslaved, for whatever reason, one of these gems would be inserted into their foreheads and fixed to the bone. They would then have to follow orders from whoever mastered the gem."

Emily shuddered. "And you want to show me how to make those gems?"

"You need to know," Void said. He waved a hand around to indicate the house. "This isn't your castle in Cockatrice, Emily. You'll need servants eventually and those servants will have to be completely trustworthy. Binding them to you is the simplest solution."

"I couldn't do that," Emily said, flatly. She'd had nightmares for years after Shadye had used blood magic to control her like a puppet. "I couldn't. I just couldn't."

Void looked at her. "Would it help if I told you that most people who were enslaved thoroughly deserved it?"

Emily felt sick. "I couldn't...just take someone's free will like that, no."

"Even when someone exercising his free will decides to steal from you - or worse?" Void asked. "The real world is a messy place."

He met her eyes. "You will need to have servants, eventually," he warned. "And most of them will expect some form of binding. You'll be paying them well for their services."

Emily shook her head. If the gem spells were anything like as powerful as the compulsion spells she'd learned at Whitehall, few people would be able to resist them. The potential for abuse was far too high. It would be easy to make all sorts of promises to someone she wanted to hire, then break the promises as soon as the man was bound to her. There were some temptations that were best left untouched.

"You may find that you pay for refusing to learn," Void said. He looked down at the table for a long moment. "But I won't force you to master the spell."

"I know," Emily said. Void had never pushed her to do anything, let alone threatened her with punishment. It had taken her some time to realize he expected her to have the self-discipline to learn - and if she didn't, it would be her fault when the exams came and she wasn't ready. "I thank you for the offer, but I don't want to learn this."

"As you wish," Void said. He looked up. "Is there something you do want to learn?"

"Teleportation," Emily said. "Do I have the power reserves now?"

Void considered it. "You should," he said. "I understand you know the theory?"

"The basics, yes," Emily said. She'd been taught at Mountaintop; her tutor, who hadn't been best pleased to be teaching her, had warned her not to actually try the spell until she had the power to handle it. "But I've never tried to cast it."

"Pity you didn't mention that earlier," Void said. "It would have saved you casting so many high-power spells each morning."

Emily frowned. "I'm sorry..."

"Not your fault," Void said. He sounded more annoyed than she'd expected. "It didn't occur to me that you might be able to teleport now."

He pointed a finger at her. "But we will go through the calculations first, piece by piece," he added. "And you will not try to cast the spell until I'm satisfied that you know what you're doing."

Charms Tutors, in Emily's experience, were always strict. Too many things could go wrong with a badly-written spell for them to be anything but precise. Void, however, made her go through everything with an attention to detail that made her eyes ache after four hours of working her way through the calculations. The math she'd learned on Earth, at least, gave her an advantage. She was used to thinking in terms of multiple dimensions.

But they know the world is round, she thought, sourly. The more she looked at the spell, the more she was convinced she could use it to jump to the moon...if she had the power to cast the spell and the precision to ensure it didn't mean her immediate death. Why don't they know more?

She felt the wards shimmer around her and blinked. "We have a visitor."

"Don't try the spell until after your exams," Void said, as he rose to his feet. "Lady Barb is here early, I'm afraid."

"I've already packed," Emily said. She rose and headed for the door. "And thank you for everything."

Void smiled. "Just make sure you do well on your exams," he said. "You have a reputation to keep."

Emily opened the door. Lady Barb stood outside, wearing black robes that contrasted neatly with her long blonde hair. She carried a staff in one hand; beyond her, Emily could see a horse-drawn coach waiting for them. Emily gave Lady Barb a tight hug - she'd missed her badly - and then stepped back, welcoming Lady Barb into her house.

"I pledge to hold my hand in your house," Lady Barb said, tightly. Her lips thinned when she caught sight of the ring on Emily's finger. "I trust you are ready to depart?"

"I am," Emily said. There was bad blood between Lady Barb and Void. She'd wondered about trying to get her parental figures to talk, but she had the feeling it would merely get her hexed by one or both of them. "I'll just fetch my trunk."

She hurried up the stairs to her bedroom, grabbed the trunk from where she'd left it at the foot of the bed and hurried back downstairs. Void already stood at the door, holding his own trunk in one hand and quietly ignoring Lady Barb. Emily put her trunk down, hurried to place spells on everything that needed preserving and then started to close the wards. The house would remain sealed until she returned. She bid a silent farewell to the Grandmaster as they stepped outside, the final wards falling into place. Anyone who tried to break in would be held in stasis, if they managed to break through the first three protective wards.

"I thank you," she said to Void. "I'll see you soon?"

"Soon," Void confirmed.

He stepped backwards, nodded to her and vanished. Emily stared at where he'd stood, feeling a flicker of envy. His teleportation spell had been so perfectly controlled that he hadn't even caused a flash of light. Lady Barb caught her arm and tugged her gently towards the carriage, leaving the house behind. Oddly, Emily felt as if she was leaving home. She hadn't felt like that since she'd gone to Zangaria after her first year at Whitehall.

"I trust you have been preparing for your exams," Lady Barb said, curtly. "You have a great deal of work to do."

"I know," Emily said. The older woman looked stern, too stern. "I did my best to keep up with my reading and practical spells."

"You still have a great deal of work to do," Lady Barb said, as they climbed into the carriage and sat down. She tapped on the headboard, ordering the driver to start moving, and then looked back at Emily as she pulled the curtains closed and cast a handful of privacy wards into the air. "Are you all right?"

"He didn't hurt me, if that's what you're asking," Emily protested. She knew why Lady Barb disliked Void, but the Lone Power hadn't done anything to her. "He helped me learn how to cope with my new power reserves."

"I'd keep that to yourself if I were you," Lady Barb said, flatly. "Your masking is good, but it isn't perfect. Your fellow students will be quite jealous."

Emily swallowed. "What...what happened at the school?"

"Mistress Irene is still doing the Grandmaster's job without the pay," Lady Barb said. "So far, the White Council has yet to decide on a successor. There are so many deals being struck in the White City that no one can keep track of who's in the lead. I imagine they will come to an agreement by the start of next year."

"Oh," Emily said. "Why don't they just give the position to Mistress Irene?"

"Because she doesn't have the political capital the Grandmaster had," Lady Barb pointed out, directly. "The Grandmaster of Whitehall is more than just the ruler of the school, Emily; he or she has a great deal of influence over magical policy. It isn't a post that is given to just anyone. And...after what happened over the last four years, I think they'll want someone capable of taking the school and keeping it in line."

"There isn't anyone who dares to cross Mistress Irene," Emily said. "If she isn't the strictest tutor in Whitehall, she's certainly the second or third."

"That's not what they care about," Lady Barb said. She leaned back in her seat as the carriage shook, vigorously. "Master Grey was just the latest in a stream of...incidents."

Emily nodded. Shadye's invasion, the Mimic, the Demon...

Lady Barb frowned. "Did you inspect Master Grey's property before time ran out?"

"I wasn't in any state to go," Emily said. "Void arranged for me to get an extension."

"No other claimants, then," Lady Barb mused.

She shrugged. "Don't worry about it right now, though," she added. She fixed Emily with a gimlet eye. "You'll be back to classes tomorrow, so make sure you have a good night's sleep. No wandering out of your room after Lights Out."

"I won't," Emily promised. She took a breath. "What...what do they think of me now?"

"A great deal of respect, seeing you managed to kill a combat sorcerer with far more experience than you," Lady Barb said, curtly. Emily wondered what she thought of Emily now, but didn't dare ask. Being in proximity to Void always put Lady Barb on edge. "And also a considerable amount of fear. I'd tell you to watch your back, but I doubt anyone would take a shot at you. Just concentrate on your exams and leave the future to worry about itself."

She sighed. "And I would take a very careful look at anything Void gave you," she added, darkly. "It might well have a sting in the tail."

 

Chapter Three

"Emily," Imaiqah called, as Emily entered the bedroom. "Welcome back!"

Emily felt a lump in her throat as she hugged her very first friend. "I've missed you. Thank you for writing to me."

"Ah, it's a great deal easier with the parchments," Imaiqah said. "We were too busy to write longer letters."

She sat back on her bed and watched as Emily unpacked her trunk. "I'm afraid you'll have to stand still for measurements soon," she warned. "Queen Marlena dispatched two tailors to measure me for dresses and they'll want to do the same for you."

Emily sighed. There was no point, she knew, in suggesting she could wear just one dress during the wedding. She was expected to wear a new dress for each day of the ceremony - five in all - even though each dress cost enough to feed a poor family for a year. Queen Marlena would make sure of it, no matter what Emily said. But it could be worse. Alassa had to wear nine dresses during her wedding, including one that had to be worn the day after she tied the knot.

"There's no choice, I suppose," Emily said. She finished unpacking and picked up the timetable from her bedside table. "When are they coming back?"

"They said they'd arrange it for when you arrived," Imaiqah said. "Alassa will send her mother a note once she sees you."

She paused. "Have you seen Caleb yet?"

"No," Emily said. "We exchanged a few letters, but he couldn't come to the house."

She glanced at her friend. "Have you seen him?"

"He was in classes, but I haven't seen him otherwise," Imaiqah said. "I don't know what he was doing."

"I'll go find him later," Emily said. Caleb and she had to finish their joint project before the exams started or they'd be marked down. "Was he..."

"Well, I haven't heard of him being with anyone else," Imaiqah said. She stuck out her tongue as Emily colorcolored. "That was what you wanted to ask, wasn't it?"

"Just a little," Emily admitted.

She finished reading the timetable and sighed. Martial Magic had been taken off completely - she'd killed the tutor, after all - but the rest of the timetable was crammed. She would barely have any time to catch her breath before the exams started in earnest. Lady Barb had added a note, warning her to revise areas covered in the classes she'd missed; Emily nodded and silently promised herself that she'd get notes from her friends so she'd know what to revise. The only upside of being in the house, she suspected, was that she'd had plenty of time to practice her practical spellwork.

The door opened, revealing a tired-looking Alassa. "Emily," she called. "It's good to see you again."

"You too," Emily said. Alassa looked perfect, as always, despite her tiredness. Long blonde hair framed a heart-shaped face, inhumanly clear of marks or blemishes. "Did you have a long day?"

"Professor Thande kept me back because I managed to blow up one of his prized caldrons," Alassa said. Her robes were stained with something Emily preferred not to identify. "He wasn't pleased about the mess."

"Nor was the rest of the class, I suspect," Imaiqah said. "What did you do?"

"I'm not entirely sure," Alassa confessed. "I think I may have added the bat's blood a stage too early, but trying to compensate by adding lizard scales was definitely a mistake."

Emily looked from one to the other, then shrugged. "Back to work tomorrow," she said, firmly. "Or..." - she looked at Alassa - "do we have to do the fitting before the exams?"

"They'll come take your measurements within the week," Alassa said. "After that, there will be a few minor adjustments once you arrive in Alexis. You shouldn't have to worry about anything else until then."

"But Alassa will," Imaiqah said. "How many guests are you allowed to reject?"

"None, it would seem," Alassa said. She stomped her foot as she started to march around the room. "I'm going to have upwards of four thousand guests at my wedding - and, compared to some of the weddings of yore, that's small. But I'm not allowed to reject any of them, even though I wouldn't want to be in the same room with some of the assholes my father has invited. Can you believe he's invited Barnum De Born?"

"No," Emily said, "because I don't know who he is."

"Minor nobility," Imaiqah put in.

"Very minor nobility," Alassa said, "and about the only thing he's good at, apart from sucking at my father's teat, is gathering gossip and writing scurrilous poetry about the great and the good. But father wants to invite him to the wedding."

She shook her head. "You do realize I'm going to have to dance with all the male aristocrats? And that I don't even get to pick my own bridesmaids? Every young noblewoman between eight and eighteen has applied for a post. I'm going to have more bridesmaids than there are students in Whitehall."

"Not literally, I hope," Emily said. There were around a thousand students in Whitehall and fitting them all into the Great Hall was difficult. "Don't you get to whittle them down a little?"

"Just a little," Alassa said. "But I'm going to be preceded by at least a hundred young maidens."

"I'm sure it's worth it," Emily said. She didn't envy Alassa, not really. Maybe she'd been born to wealth and power, but it came with a cost. "And you can claim a reward for it later."

"I doubt it," Alassa said, pessimistically. "Gratitude simply doesn't last."

Emily frowned. "And you told your father about the demon's warning?"

"Father says he's taking every precaution he can," Alassa told her. "But he flatly refused to allow me a private wedding with only a few guests. My wedding is the event of the year."

"I know," Emily said. The vision the demon had showed her felt almost like a dream - or a nightmare. Alassa bleeding to death on her wedding day...She'd been told it was a possibility, not a certainty, but there were times when the mere thought of it scared her to death and times when it seemed nothing more than a trick of her unconscious mind. "Take all the precautions you can, please."

"Father and Jade are organizing them," Alassa said. She gave Emily a reassuring smile. "I can't refuse to have a public ceremony, Emily. Father would never let me get away with it."

She shrugged, expressively. "I've taken the liberty of arranging for a few friends to join us after dinner," she added, changing the subject. "I know you have to get back to work tomorrow, so you can catch up with everyone tonight."

"Go find Caleb now," Imaiqah advised. "He'll want you to seek him out personally."

"I will," Emily said. She glanced at her watch - there was an hour until dinnertime - and stood. "Thank you, both of you."

"Just be there at the wedding," Alassa said. "I might need to hide behind you midway through the ceremony. Too many aristocrats."

Emily smiled and left the room, walking down the corridor to the lower door. Madame Beauregard was standing in front of the door, berating a Third Year Emily didn't recognize for some offense. She waited patiently for the housemother to let the younger student go, then asked Madame Beauregard to find Caleb for her. The housemother eyed her for a long moment before consulting the school's wards and informing Emily that Caleb was in one of the higher-ranking spellchambers. Emily thanked her and hurried down towards the Armory.

The door was closed and warded, but opened when she rested her fingers against the locking charm. Master Grey had granted her permission to use the spellchambers whenever she felt like it, back when he'd been pretending to be a real teacher, and no one had bothered to rescind the permission. Inside, Caleb stood in the center of the room, tossing off hexes at the training dummies. Emily smiled and watched as he knocked down two more before noticing her and ending the game. The dummies picked themselves off the floor and marched back to the walls, where they would wait for the next training exercise.

"Emily," Caleb said. "I..."

He ran towards Emily and hugged her, tightly. Emily hesitated, then allowed herself to melt into his arms. Kissing him felt...strange as well as good, but she was no longer so reluctant to let his lips touch hers. She held him for a long moment, then stepped backwards, breaking the hug. Caleb let her go.

"It's good to see you again," she said, and meant it. "What were you doing here?"

"My father will insist on knowing just how well I've been doing," Caleb explained. "At some point, he'll have my mother take me into a spellchamber and put me through my paces - if he doesn't ask Casper to do it. I have to be ready. Sergeant Miles was kind enough to let me use the room."

"You're doing fine," Emily said.

"I'll never make a combat sorcerer," Caleb said, shaking his head. "I think too much, I think."

Emily smiled. Sergeant Miles had said, more than once, that some people reacted instinctively to any given situation, while others tried to think their way through before acting. There were advantages and disadvantages to both, he'd gone on to say, but someone caught in a situation that called for the other reaction was going to wind up in trouble. Caleb would spend too long, if he was challenged, thinking of what spell to use. He wouldn't just snap one off at once to upset his opponent.

"As long as you can look after yourself, it isn't much of a problem," Emily pointed out. "Are they still willing to see me?"

Caleb looked relieved. It crossed her mind, suddenly, that he must have wondered if she'd think better of dating him, after they'd been unwillingly separated for a month. She hadn't thought like that, but...she'd never really doubted that Caleb liked her, once she'd realized he did. He could have avoided her altogether if he'd wanted.

"They're looking forward to it," he said. He frowned, darkly. "Casper may want to ask you about the duel. He's got dueling ambitions of his own."

"Joy," Emily said, sarcastically. She'd expected Void to insist on going through the duel, spell by spell, but he hadn't asked her about it. She had received a handful of letters inquiring if she would like to write an outline of the duel, which she'd burned after reading. It wasn't something she wanted to think about. "What should I tell him?"

"Piss off, if you want," Caleb said. He smiled, rather nervously. "Or just that you don't want to talk about it."

"I don't think your mother would thank me for telling her son to piss off," Emily said, ruefully. Nothing she'd heard about Casper had been good, but it was clear that Caleb cordially disliked his elder brother. "I'll just say I won and that's all there is to it."

The dining bell rang. Caleb took her hand and led her out of the chamber, walking up towards the Dining Hall. Hundreds of students poured out of various classrooms; a number glanced at Emily, their eyes going wide, then backed away as if she were a wild animal. She sighed inwardly, cursing under her breath, as Caleb gently squeezed her hand. It was almost certain that many of the students staring at her had either watched the duel or heard eyewitness reports. The latter had probably grown in the telling.

"Emily," Frieda called, as they reached the entrance. She ran towards Emily, arms open wide. "Welcome home."

Emily let go of Caleb and hugged the younger girl tightly. "It's good to see you again, too," she said, as Frieda let go of her. Frieda looked to have put on a little more weight, thanks to the proper food she was receiving at Whitehall. Her dark hair had been tied neatly into two ponytails. "Did you have a good time?"

"I was the sole pupil in some of my classes until the others recovered from the demon's meddling," Frieda said, cheerfully. She shot Caleb an unreadable glance and then turned her attention back to Emily. "I learned some really interesting tricks that I can't wait to show you."

"I can't wait either," Emily assured her. She nodded towards the door. "Shall we go eat?"

Frieda nodded and pushed her way through the crowd into the hall. Emily followed at a more sedate pace, noting how the younger students seemed to be in awe while the older students watched her warily. There was a power hierarchy at Whitehall - she'd been told, in no uncertain terms, that picking on younger students would be harshly punished - but her defeat of a full-fledged combat sorcerer had smashed it. No one was really sure where she fit in.

But I don't care about the hierarchy, she thought, crossly. If other students wanted to engage in mock duels, that was their concern. All I want is to get on with my studies.

She took a plate of food - the servants, at least, didn't treat her any differently - and made her way to the table. Alassa and Imaiqah were already there; Melissa sat at the far end of the table, alone in a crowd of students. Emily felt a stab of pity and waved to the redheaded girl, who nodded back. At least Markus made regular visits to Whitehall, Emily knew. Melissa wasn't completely alone.

"You could always ask her to join you," Frieda offered. "She's hoping you will."

Emily hesitated. Both Alassa and Imaiqah had good reason to dislike Melissa, although Alassa had probably played as large a role in starting the feud as Melissa. If she asked Melissa to join them, they'd object. There were too many bad memories for them to be anything more than coldly polite to one another. And, if she was honest, Emily had to admit she had too many bad memories too. She'd already done far too much for Melissa.

"Not now," she said, sitting down next to Alassa. "It wouldn't go down well."

"I think I may have made a mistake," Imaiqah said. She held out a parchment to Emily. "I have to take care of all of this."

Emily took the parchment and unfurled it. "You have to supervise the bride, check the invitations with the guests, supervise the bridesmaids at their rehearsals, coordinate with the groom's family and guests...how many things are there on this list?"

"You need to get help," Alassa said. "Speak to my father's castellan. He'll tell you who can be spared to assist you. Make sure whoever handles the bridesmaids is nobility, because they won't listen to anyone else."

"Alicia," Emily suggested. "She's in line to be a Baroness."

"I'm not sure she would be terrifying enough," Alassa said. She smiled, sweetly. "You should do it, Emily. Tell them you'll turn anyone who doesn't behave into a bird."

Emily frowned. "Why a bird?"

"They'll make pleasant noises, if nothing else," Alassa said. She smiled, then looked past Emily at Caleb. "If you want to attend, please let me know so I can send an invitation."

Emily blinked. "You weren't going to send him one?"

"I can't send an invitation I know will be rejected," Alassa said, patiently. "That would make me look bad. So if Caleb agrees to attend, I can send him an invitation, secure in the knowledge I won't be embarrassed."

"Oh," Emily said. She rolled her eyes. "Does that mean that everyone invited to the wedding was asked before they were actually invited?"

Alassa shrugged. "Pretty much," she said. "But I only have to ask the ones I've invited personally. My father's servants can handle the ones he wants to invite."

She glanced at Caleb. "Are you coming?"

"Please," Emily added.

"If you will have me, I will come," Caleb said. "But I don't know what I can contribute."

"Just be someone I invited personally," Alassa said. "And keep Emily company."

Emily elbowed her, although she knew Alassa had a point. She would have to be fitted for her dresses, while Imaiqah was the Maid of Honor. Emily would have much less to do, once she arrived at Alexis; she'd intended to take Frieda and explore more of the city below the castle. If she'd tried to do anything else, she knew she'd just get in the way. But having Caleb there would be fun. They could go to Cockatrice and continue their joint project.

And hope to hell nothing goes wrong, she thought.

She ate her meal slowly, savoring every bite, while Alassa and Imaiqah continued to discuss the wedding in great detail. Frieda might have been insulted on Emily's behalf, when Alassa had asked Imaiqah to be her Maid of Honor, but Emily was privately relieved. There was just too much to do; seating arrangements had to be made, important egos with big mouths had to be soothed and social catfights handled with careful diplomacy. It wasn't something she knew she could handle.

"We could go for a walk now," Caleb muttered, as they finished their meal. "Do you want to come with me?"

"Just be back before Lights Out," Alassa said. She smiled at Caleb. "You're invited too, you know."

Caleb frowned. "Invited to what?"

"Just a small social gathering," Alassa said. "A chance for Emily to hear all the news before we get back to work. It should be fun."

"We'll be back," Caleb said. He didn't sound too enthusiastic. "Coming?"

Emily nodded as she rose to her feet. A social gathering sounded like torture to her; she'd never been really comfortable in groups of more than two or three people. Alassa - and Imaiqah - could be comfortable, or fake it; she'd never developed the skills to cope with it herself. But she did want to hear all the news...

...And see her other friends again. The Gorgon was missing - she'd been skipping meals even before the Demon had gotten its hooks into her - and some of Alassa's teammates had clearly decided to spend more time practicing in the Arena than eating dinner. They were going to regret that tomorrow, Emily knew; a starving magician was a weak magician. But it would be their choice.

Lady Barb caught her on the way out. "I assume you've seen your timetable?"

"I have," Emily confirmed. "It's very full."

"I'm giving up some of my free time to help you catch up," Lady Barb said. Her face darkened noticeably as she glanced towards the High Table, where Sergeant Miles was waiting for her. "And so are some of the other tutors. Don't waste it."

"I understand," Emily said. "I won't."

"You'll be expected to work like a maniac," Lady Barb added. "Make sure you get plenty of sleep tonight. You'll need it."

"She's right," Caleb said. "We've been working hard ever since the duel."

Emily nodded as they walked up to the battlements, where they could chat while waiting for the others to finish dinner. It felt strangely comforting to be standing next to him, without saying a word. Outside, darkness was already falling over the land, sending a chill down her spine as the sun vanished behind the Craggy Mountains. Caleb wrapped his arm around her and she let him.

"It feels good to be back," she said, seriously. "And thank you for all your letters."

"I would have come if I could," Caleb assured her. "But your father said no."

"You wouldn't have liked me so much," Emily admitted. She was still astonished by just how patient Void had been with her, when her magic and emotions had been running rampant. "I had some very bad days just after the duel."

"It doesn't matter," Caleb said. "I like spending time with you."

Emily nodded and relaxed into his arms for a long moment, then pulled herself free. "The others should be finished by now," she said. She wanted to be with him, but at the same time she wanted to catch up with her friends before she plunged back into schoolwork. "We can go spend some time with them."

Caleb looked doubtful. "If they'll allow me in the room."

"They will," Emily assured him. She took his hand and led him towards the door. "They invited all of our friends."

 

Chapter Four

Lady Barb was right, Emily discovered as she returned to classes; she was expected to work like a maniac. When she wasn't in the classrooms, having facts hammered into her head, she was working her way through a list of practical exercises at twice the recommended speed or writing essays to prove she'd mastered the source material. She wasn't the only one spending most of her evenings in the library, too; by the time the tailors arrived to measure her for her dresses, she simultaneously welcomed the break and cursed them for taking her away from her studies. She was so busy that she had hardly any time to spend with Caleb or her friends, outside classes. The only advantage was that she was kept so busy with the practical work that she didn't have to worry about taking time to expend mana.

"You'll be entering the exam protocols tomorrow," Lady Barb told her, one evening. "This is pretty much your last chance to apply to restart Fourth Year."

Emily shook her head. "I don't think I want to do it all again," she said, after a moment. Besides, she had the feeling she'd be expected to restart from Third Year, unless their joint project was credited to her anyway. They'd handed in the final version two days ago. "I just want to get it over with."

"You're doing better than I expected," Lady Barb said. "Do you feel confident?"

"I'm not sure," Emily admitted.

She sighed, inwardly. Exams on Earth had been useless; the ones she'd taken had involved nothing more than memorizing facts, none of which were any use outside the examination room. But at Whitehall, a good two-thirds of her mark would be based on her practical work and her results would follow her for the rest of her life. If she failed her exams, she would have to redo Fourth Year or simply be denied permission to advance to Fifth Year. In some ways, conceding defeat now would save her from being branded as a failure.

"I have to try," she said, firmly. "If I fail...I can go back to Third Year and start again."

"Very well," Lady Barb said. She smiled, rather dryly. "Tomorrow morning, make sure you have a good breakfast before you assemble in the Great Hall. And I suggest that you listen, very carefully, to what you're told. It could make the difference between success and failure."

Emily nodded, thanked the older woman and hurried back to her bedroom. Both of her friends were already there, Imaiqah working her way through a large volume she'd borrowed from the library while Alassa wrote a long letter to her father. She, at least, wouldn't have her results made public. The only reason Alassa was still taking the exams, Emily knew, was so she knew just how good she was. Everyone else thought she was being punished for abusing her position.

"There's a note from Mistress Irene," Imaiqah said, looking up from her book. "We're to assemble in the Great Hall at nine bells."

"And we're not to be late," Alassa said. She yawned and stretched - somehow, she managed to make even that look beautiful - as she rose. "Or there will be the dire punishment of being barred from the examination chamber."

"Easy for you to say," Imaiqah snapped. "My dad will kill me if I don't get good results."

"You're a noblewoman now," Alassa said. "You have a wonderful career ahead of you if you can't do magic..."

"It isn't the same," Imaiqah retorted. "And you know it."

"Calm down, both of you," Emily said. It wasn't the first fight or near-fight she'd seen as exams loomed nearer. Caleb had told her about a fight between five boys that had sent three of them to the infirmary and the remaining two to the Warden. Other students had snapped and snarled at one another as they'd struggled to finish their papers. "You both need some sleep."

"This book won't read itself," Imaiqah said. She paused. "Well, it could, if I charmed it properly, but it would be useless for me."

"You're not going to be taking much of anything in," Emily pointed out. "Leave it now, have a shower and relax. That will help you sleep better."

She paused. "Are we actually starting the exams tomorrow?"

"I don't think so," Alassa said. "Mistress Irene is going to talk to us, it seems. You should have tried asking Aloha."

Emily nodded, ruefully. Her older friend hadn't spoken to her since Master Grey's death. Aloha had practically had a crush on the combat sorcerer; she'd certainly learned a great deal from his harsh lessons. And now he was dead...Emily had a feeling that Aloha understood, but couldn't really forgive. Master Grey had been precisely the sort of tutor Aloha liked.

"I don't think she's talking to me at the moment," Emily said. She undressed, showered and headed for bed. "Get some sleep, really. I'll see you both in the morning."

She closed her eyes and concentrated on her meditations. It must have worked, because the next thing she knew, the bed was shivering, threatening to throw her onto the floor. She jumped up hastily, checked the time and showered while Alassa and Imaiqah struggled out of bed. When they were all dressed, they headed down to the Dining Hall for breakfast and then made their way to the Great Hall. Caleb sat next to her as they waited for the stragglers to enter, just before the doors closed with an audible boom. Emily had a feeling that anyone who was late would be in deep trouble.

"Good morning," Mistress Irene said. She marched into the room from a hidden door and stood on a podium, her cool voice carried across the room by a spell. "You stand at the cusp of taking your first set of major exams. If any of you have chosen to take a step back and repeat the year, please leave now."

There was a long pause. No one left.

"Very good," Mistress Irene said. "For those of you who are leaving us this year, these will be the most important qualifications in your life. You will find that they allow you to enter careers that would otherwise be firmly closed. For those of you who intend to continue your studies at this school, your results will hopefully convince your future tutors that you're worth teaching. I advise you all to make sure you put forward your very best effort during the exams."

There was a long, chilling pause. "You should have read the official guidelines by now, but I will go through them just to make sure you all know what you need to know," she continued. "You will be escorted from here to the examination section, where you will be completely isolated from the rest of the school until you have completed your exams. There is no barrier preventing you from leaving, but if you leave without completing all of your exams, the ones you miss will be marked as failed. You may take nothing into the examination section without special permission. If you feel you need to have something with you, speak to one of the tutors during the passage through the entrance corridor. Bear in mind that they will err on the side of caution, so I suggest you make your arguments convincing."

Emily fondled the snake-bracelet on her wrist and scowled. Lady Barb knew what it was, but no other tutors knew. The snake would have to stay with her or she'd have to tighten the spells and hope she could recover the bracelet before it reverted to its normal form. A magician's familiar wouldn't try to hurt someone who found it, but a Death Viper would certainly be seen as a threat. She'd probably be able to hear the screaming through several layers of silencing wards.

Someone coughed, loudly. "But what about our revision notes?"

"It's a bad idea to cram right up until the final moment," Mistress Irene said, coolly. "You'll have the information you need provided on the exam papers, if necessary."

She cleared her throat and continued. "You will be separated into two groups, male and female. Once you reach the entrance corridors, you will undress and don examination robes. You will be scanned by protective spells as you pass through the doors; again, if you are caught with anything, you will have to explain its presence. Everything you need will be provided. If we catch any of you trying to slip notes through the doors, you will be barred from taking the exams and quite possibly expelled. These exams are serious.

"Inside, you will be given your examination timetables. You will sleep in the dorms provided, be escorted to the examination rooms when the time comes and - when all of your exams are completed - you will be allowed to leave. Until then, remember that your fellow students are trying to rest when they're not in the examination rooms. Any of you who make a noise, or a disturbance, will be frozen until the start of their next exam. There will be no further warnings."

Emily shivered. Mistress Irene meant it.

"If there are no further questions," Mistress Irene concluded, "we shall begin."

No one asked anything, not entirely to Emily's surprise, but there were dozens of pale faces surrounding her. They'd known the exams were about to begin, yet they hadn't truly comprehended that they'd be separated from their revision papers. Emily sighed inwardly as Lady Barb started calling for the female students to follow her, then fell into line behind Alassa. She waved goodbye to Caleb as they made their way through a hidden door and down a long corridor into a changing room. There were so many wards buzzing over the compartment that her hair threatened to stand on end.

"You'll find robes in the lockers," Lady Barb said. "Place everything in the lockers, unless you feel it deserves special permission. Do not waste my time."

Alassa opened one of the lockers and pulled out a long dark robe that looked several sizes too small to fit her. Emily frowned, then realized it was charmed to resize itself to fit its wearer; Alassa pulled off her robes and underwear in one smooth motion and pulled the robe over her shoulders. It fitted tightly - too tightly - to her body. No one could be in any doubt she wasn't hiding anything.

"I don't think I can keep the knife with me," Alassa said, pulling it from her ankle holster and holding it up to the light. "I'd be too tempted to bury it in an examiner."

"I think that would be an automatic fail," Imaiqah said, as Alassa hid the knife in the locker and closed it firmly. "I'd be tempted too."

Emily laughed, despite herself. They'd been told stories about examination board supervisors who'd vanished one day and been discovered, a year later, in the frog pond, but they'd also been warned that attempting to hex the supervisors was a guaranteed fail. They were powerful and experienced magicians, after all. Getting caught trying to...convince them to give someone a pass would be embarrassing.

"Come on, Emily," Lady Barb called. Most of the girls had already passed through the other door, leaving Emily and her friends alone. "Use a glamor to hide yourself if you wish."

Emily nodded and undressed slowly, before pulling the robe on. It adjusted itself automatically, as she'd expected, but it was far too tight around her body. She'd never worn anything so revealing, even though everything below her neck was covered by black fabric. Caleb would probably like to see her in it, the treacherous part of her mind noted, as she hastily cast a glamor over herself. She had never dared let him do anything more than hug and kiss her.

"I need to keep this with me," she said, holding up the snake-bracelet. "It'll revert to its normal form soon, without me."

"Keep it," Lady Barb said, after a moment. Emily allowed herself a moment of relief as she returned the bracelet to her wrist. "Are you carrying anything else?"

"Only my hairpins," Imaiqah said. She took one of them from her hair and held it up, allowing her hair to drop down to her shoulders. "Should I dump them?"

"Yes," Lady Barb said. She took them from Imaiqah and dropped them into a box, which she marked with Imaiqah's name. "Anything else?"

Emily shook her head. Lady Barb gave her a sharp look, then motioned her up the corridor and into the dorm. She felt spells crawling over her as she walked through the corridor, probing at her body to make sure she wasn't hiding something. It was paranoid, she had to admit, but she knew why. Whitehall's reputation rested on its exam results. They couldn't afford to allow anyone to cheat, even though it would catch up with the cheater sooner rather than later.

A dark-skinned young woman in a black robe counted them into the dorm, then closed the door and motioned them towards the beds. Emily frowned in dismay as she realized she'd be sharing a room with forty girls, but there was clearly no point in arguing. Besides, no one would dare pick a fight on the night before the exams. She sat down on the bed, picked up an envelope with her name written on the front and opened it carefully, pulling out her timetable. It was as bad as she had feared.

Imaiqah waved to the supervisor. "Where are the boys?"

"They have their own dorm," the supervisor said, curtly. "You won't be seeing them until after the exams."

Good, Emily thought. She didn't want any of them, even Caleb, to see her in such a revealing outfit. The glamor might not work perfectly. There won't be any distractions for either of us.

"Charms first," Alassa said, reading the timetable. "That's not a surprise; Healing tomorrow...I'd have expected that later, really."

"Some of the students will be taking a second Healing exam," Imaiqah commented. "The ones who want to become Healers have to prove they can handle it."

"It isn't listed here," Emily mused. She ran her eye down the list, mentally ticking off the exams she'd prepared for. The second Healing exam had probably been left off, as there was no way she could become a Healer. "We have Alchemy on Day Three. And here..."

She frowned, then waved to the supervisor. "I've got Military Magic listed here," she said, puzzled. "I didn't apply for it."

"One moment," the supervisor said, checking her record book. "Sergeant Miles put your name down for it. You're only doing the theoretical section, it would seem. Didn't he mention it to you?"

Emily shook her head, blankly. She hadn't seen the sergeant since the Grandmaster's funeral. Lady Barb certainly hadn't mentioned it to her. She hadn't even revised!

"I'll check that," the supervisor said. She took Emily's timetable and inspected it. "You're scheduled to take it on Day Seven, I see. I'll let you know before then what's happened. It may be just a mistake."

Maybe, Emily thought. She hadn't wanted to take Martial Magic - and she hadn't taken Military Magic at all. It was a special course, as far as she knew; she didn't know anyone who'd taken it. Jade might have done, in his fifth year, but it was already far too late to ask him. Or someone might have entered my name for other purposes.

She shook her head and turned back to the timetable, just as a bell rang. The supervisor cleared her throat, loudly.

"The compartment has been sealed," she said. She jabbed a finger towards a set of doors at the far end of the room. "One of those doors leads to the washrooms; you may use them up to thirty minutes before the exams. Another leads to the dining room, where you can eat whatever you want; again, the doors will be locked thirty minutes before the exams. The toilets are always open, but I suggest you don't get caught in there when the exams start. If you fail to present yourself for the exams, you will be marked as non-attending and you will fail."

Emily swallowed. Beside her, Alassa and Imaiqah looked equally nervous.

"Your first set of exams starts in two hours," the supervisor finished. "Those of you who are attending should be lined up in front of the door" - she pointed a finger - "ten minutes before the start time. Once you are in your private rooms, you will be told when to start and finish. Until then, I suggest you relax as best as you can or talk quietly. If you sleep, bear in mind I will not be waking you."

Alassa elbowed Emily. "Are we ever going to get more than someone wittering away at us?" she whispered. "So far, we've been lectured by two separate people..."

"Yes," Emily said, before the supervisor could overhear. "In two hours, we start Charms."

She looked at the washroom door, then lay back on the bed. There was nothing to do, save rest and clear her mind as best as she could. She was almost glad of the lack of anything to distract her. Once the exam started, she knew all too well, they would be pushed to the limit. And afterwards...

Alassa will be married, she thought. It was a galling thought. She didn't begrudge Alassa her happiness, but Alassa would have less time for Emily in the future. And Imaiqah will be going to stay with her in Zangaria, while I stay here. And even if I learn to teleport, we won't be able to be so close after they leave. And...

She shook her head, firmly. She'd go to the dining room in an hour and eat as much as she could, then relax until the exam started. Charms would be heavily practical, she knew; she'd need the energy just to make sure she didn't run out of magic midway through the exam. And if Void hadn't forced her to keep practicing, learning how to handle a sudden excess of power...

Relax, she told herself firmly. There's nothing else to do until the exam starts.

 

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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
Discussion Forum http://thewritersclub.prophpbb.com/

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

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.

 

###

 

Wedding Hells Copyright 2015. Christopher Nuttall. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

To order this book:
Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Kindle/Mobi
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- via Amazon Kindle; Amazon.co.uk; Apple iBookstore; BN.com Nook; Kobo Books
List Price: $6.50 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

Trial By Fire chapter reveal on Plug Your Book

 

  Reviews

"I've also been following Christopher Nuttall's Schooled in Magic series about a young woman from our world who finds herself learning magic and providing information she remembers from Earth. The 8th episode it's time for Princess Alassa's Wedding Hells (ebook from Twilight Times Books). Gunpowder and the printing press have created political/economic changes and the nobility, especially King Randor, is trying to use force to keep calm. Between the craziness of a royal wedding and visions of the French Revolution running in her head, Emily can only try to protect her friends. Over the four years that Emily has been on this world, she has become stronger and more confident. I really look forward to her 5th year in school."
~ Henry L. Lazarus, Philadelphia Weekly Press
 




 


 

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