Most of my regular readers are already familiar with Nocturne, as it’s an older novella only recently gone out of print, but I’m going to post here anyway. Now that the rights have reverted to me, I’ve given it a new cover and have reissued it for the Kindle. (Note: I may do other formats in the future the way I do for my new releases, but that depends on demand.) If you’d like to have it on your Kindle, now’s the time, because you can grab it for free for the next five days!
I like to think of this as my Robin-Hood-meets-V-for-Vendetta story, but the truth is I came up with the idea while messing around with an automated story generator. This one suggested the idea of a “ninja librarian” to me. Although Alaric is neither a ninja nor a librarian (although he’d probably enjoy being a librarian), I liked the idea of a quiet, diffident guy who was secretly kick-ass.
Around the same time, I was reading Sex With Kings by Eleanor Herman, because I constantly read random nonfiction. I found it intriguing that many royal mistresses had literal contracts written up before consenting to bed the king. Often, once their “service” was over, especially if they remained on good terms with the king, they were rewarded with very advantageous marriages to other noblemen. The contracts frequently specified the rights of any children; the king’s bastards were often married to other nobles within the kingdom to strengthen ties with the royal family. I thought it would be interesting to write about a character who was a former mistress, now sent away and married off. What if she had genuinely been in love with the king? How would her new husband feel about it?
What if her new husband was a ninja librarian had a secret identity he had to protect at all costs?
Here’s an excerpt. In this scene, the dashing highwayman known only as Nocturne comes to the heroine’s rescue:
A hand clamped down over her mouth from behind, too sudden for her to get out a scream. “Don’t move,” murmured a familiar, gravelly voice in her ear.
Her back was pressed against his chest, so she felt his movements as he groped for something at his belt. A moment later, he flung a small sphere away from them, toward the road. It flashed and glittered, unnaturally bright in the darkness.
“What was that?” Marston demanded, spinning around.
“Damn me—it looks like gold! D’you think the whore dropped a bauble when she ran?”
Both knights left the wood to inspect the glittering sphere. But as they leaned over it, a puff of smoke suddenly exploded out from it, straight into their faces. They clutched their throats, gagging and coughing, then slowly slumped to the ground. Of the golden sphere, there was no remaining trace.
“They won’t be waking up anytime soon,” Nocturne said, letting go of her. Anne quickly stepped away from him. “Still, I wouldn’t advise walking up the road, in case the rest of them return.”
He took a tiny lantern from his belt and pulled back the shutter. Rather than the flickering light of oil, it put out a steady, red-tinged glow that seemed to come from no source she could see.
More chymistry, she thought, and felt a shiver walk up her back.
“M-my thanks,” she forced herself to say. “But I fear that you will be disappointed—you stole all the jewelry I had, along with my dowry, at our last encounter.”
The blank mask beneath the hat gave her no indication of his mood, but she thought she heard a whispery laugh. “Indeed. I suggest, my lady, that if you wish to berate me, you do so farther from the road. As I said, the other knights may return at any time. Follow me, if you wish.”
He started off with a swirl of cloak, as if it was nothing to him whether she followed or not. For a moment, she simply stared at his retreating back, wondering whether or not to trust him. He had now saved her twice, and robbed her once, and there was no knowing whether he had any darker intentions in luring her away.
I’d trust his intentions over those of the knights. Gathering her cumbersome skirts, she hurried after him.
By the time they reached the other side of the woods, her skirts were in tatters and brambles had scraped every exposed inch of skin. I think he led me through every briar patch in the countryside. On purpose, no doubt.
The soil here was thin over the bedrock, and the moon shone on exposed outcroppings. A ring of ancient dolmens stood mournfully atop a hill that was a little too regular to be of nature’s making. The wind blew in from the sea, carrying with it the scent of brine and seaweed. Near the dolmens stood a black horse, whose head swung around as they emerged from the trees. For a moment, Anne thought it was a natural beast, until she saw the hellish red glow of its eyes.
“A daemon,” she gasped, stopping in her tracks.
“Indeed.” The rogue sounded almost pleased. He lifted his hand, and the creature ambled over. As it drew closer, she realized that the horse was made not from flesh, but of metal. “I created the shell out of brass, painted it with black enamel to make it a bit less conspicuous, and then conjured up an earth daemon to inhabit it. They aren’t as flashy as fire or air daemons, but they have a slow strength and are incredibly loyal when treated well.”
“So you admit to being a rogue chymist, as well as a thief,” she said, feeling vaguely surprised that he should be so open about it.
“Should I be caught by agents of the crown, the charge of illegal chymistry will be the least of my worries,” he said dryly. “Now, my lady, perhaps you would like to tell me why the knights were looking for you?”
Anne hesitated, watching him carefully. The blank mask gave her no clue to his thoughts. Indeed, had she not seen the faint reflection from the lantern he carried, she would have thought that there was nothing but a void beneath his hat. “After our last encounter, I wrote a letter,” she said at last.
“Really? Allow me to guess—you wrote to your dear friend, Minister Gammon, and told him that his knights had not paid you the proper respect.”
For some reason, his words made her flush. “He is not my friend, dear or otherwise,” she said icily. “I knew him only as Robert’s—that is, as one of the king’s advisors.”
“I see. I suppose you were too busy securing what gold and jewels you could get from the king, to cushion your life after your inevitable dismissal.”
The words stung, the more so because it was hardly the first time the accusation had been leveled at her. “That’s a filthy lie! I loved Robert!”
Her hands flew to her mouth, aghast. What was wrong with her, admitting such a thing to a stranger—and a brigand, no less? What did his opinion of her matter?
Nocturne stilled at her words, cocking his head slightly to one side. She thought that he was staring at her from behind his disguise, and the scrutiny made her feel as if she was no more to him than a bug.
“Then I pity you,” he said at last.
Nocturne is available for the Kindle (and currently for free!).