As you can probably tell, it's fantasy with a teen-age heroine. For those of you who have been C. Dale Brittain fans, it's the second book in the "Yurt, the Next Generation" series, the sequel to The Starlight Raven. It's about Antonia, daughter of a wizard and a witch (a very rare union), trying to find her way as the only girl at the all-male wizards' school. In this book she's in her third year at the school, and is hoping things will look up now that they've finally admitted a second young woman. But her life is complicated because too many of the male students seem unduly interested in her, and then a terrifying haunting shows up….
(And let us all note that I had already been publishing books with a wizards' school for many years before "Harry Potter" showed up.)
It's available both as an ebook and as a paperback (your choice), available through Amazon here. In the near future, it should also become an ebook on other e-tailers. Amazon assumes most ebook readers will read on a Kindle, but they have free apps so you can also read on your computer, on a tablet, on an iPad, or even on your phone if you like reading one sentence at a time.
For those of you thinking, "Gee, haven't you been writing a lot of books lately?" the answer is that I've finally been able to retire from that pesky day job and get back to some stories I'd sort-of written as long ago as a dozen years, and get them into final form. (Besides, aren't more books good?)
Here's the opening to whet your appetite:
AN AUTUMN HAUNTING
To the left of me, Chlodomer gasped. “They’re not supposed to do that!” Something very strange was happening to his rats’ tails.
To the right of me, Harduin’s rats were growing bigger and bigger, until the wires of the cage made deep dents in their fur.
But mine, giving me what I could have sworn were reproachful looks from their little pink eyes, just keeled over, paws in the air.
“Antonia,” said the Potions teacher from the front of the room, “if the spells are beyond your abilities, you know you should have come and talked to me.”
This was not “beyond my abilities.” I’d known exactly what I was doing. This couldn’t be happening! Unless—
“Hey, ’Tonia,” said Chlodomer in a whisper. “What a change! You messed up even worse than me!”
Five more minutes. Potions Practical would be over in five more minutes. If I gritted my teeth I could make it out of the room before rather than after I started screaming at somebody.
If I’d had to choose someone to slam into, it wouldn’t have been Prince Walther.
But then it was hard to make a choice, running down the stairs so fast I was barely touching the steps. Only a quick spell saved me from going right over the railing at the last landing. When Walther stepped out the doorway directly in front of me, it was much too late even to think of a spell. We both sprawled across the staircase, and the books he’d been carrying sailed in all directions.
“Antonia! Slow down!” he said, standing back up and taking me by the elbow. He sounded as serious and sharp as one of our teachers. Two words in the Hidden Language drew all his scattered books together, and they tidily stacked themselves on the step beside him. “You are going to hurt yourself if you’re not careful!”
The last thing I needed was to be lectured by someone the same age as I was. I picked myself up slowly. He was smiling, or at least showing his teeth.
But I had to talk to somebody. “They’ve sabotaged my potions! And now they’re blaming me!”
He stopped straightening his student robe to look at me, one eyebrow lifted skeptically.
Walther had excellent eyebrows, heavy and black, under a thick shock of dark hair. I was never able to make one of my brows lift independently, as much as I practiced in front of the mirror. I could probably have raised one with magic, but that would be unfair. And I wasn’t about to be distracted now by facial hair.
“We were working on potions in class,” I said, a little more calmly, “herbal potions—some to strengthen, some to make a creature grow, some to give it a new color.”
Prince Walther nodded soberly. A smile never looked right on his face anyway.
“And we tried them on rats. Everybody else’s potions worked—some rats turned green, some shrank so small they were almost able to squeeze through the bars of their cages, some got so strong they were able to rip their cages open and the teacher had to stop them with a binding spell. Chlodomer’s rats all grew a second tail, though I don’t think that’s what he intended. But all my rats just rolled over on their backs and died!”
When I looked away from him I could still see their reproachful little pink eyes.
“And you think this was sabotage,” he said quietly.
“Well, what else could it be?” I demanded. “I know I did the spells right. And everybody else’s were working fine. But when I told the teacher somebody had been messing with my potions, he didn’t believe me!”
“What did he say?” Walther lifted an eyebrow again, and he looked as if he didn’t believe me either.
“He told me that I needed to study the chapter again, ‘properly this time.’ And that wasn’t even the worst! He said that maybe my ‘pretty little head’ just wasn’t made for doing magic! He thinks I can’t study magic because I’m a girl!”
Walther sat down beside his books. I noticed absently that the top one was a history of the Black Wars. He tried to smile again, but it was not a success—he looked for a second as though he felt someone might not think he could study magic. Which was silly.
I wished I didn’t feel overawed by him. It was only, I told myself, because he was a prince, and because he was the only student in our year who might be as good at magic as I was, and because he had grown so tall in the time we’d both been at the wizards’ school.
The momentary look of pain on his face was gone as if it had never been there. “Antonia, don’t start that,” he said, almost lecturing me. “You’ve a third-year student now, not a beginner. All the teachers know you’re smart. You’re one of the best wizardry students in our class.”
“If they think so, then why haven’t they admitted any other girls? No, they all just believe I’ve done as well as I have only because I’m the Master’s daughter.”
I sat down next to him, wishing gloomily that there was another wizards’ school somewhere I could attend, somewhere I wasn’t related to anyone. But without Father they would never admit me in the first place.
“If you want them to respect you, storming out of the middle of class isn’t going to make you look responsible,” said Walther severely. I started regretting having said anything to him. At one time I’d thought we were friends. What had gotten into him lately?
“It wasn’t the middle of class,” I said, glaring at the floor. “We were done. All that was left was cleaning up. And I wasn’t about to clean up a potion that someone else had poisoned!”
And it was feeling so guilty about the dead rats that made me want to scream, run, anything but look at their lifeless little forms.
“I would have thought,” said Walther slowly, “that you’d have been very careful to save the sabotaged potions. They could show you who did it—if you didn’t, of course, just do the spells wrong.”
Why hadn’t I thought of that? I jumped up, almost knocking Walther over again as he too rose to his feet. “I’d better get right back! Sorry I bumped you!” I yelled over my shoulder as I shot up the stairs. So the apology was five minutes late. So at least I’d given one.
Back in the classroom, the other students were pouring the last of their potions into the big tub, over which our teacher mumbled neutralizing spells. The teacher’s assistant, Nivard, one of the older students, was helping clean up. Right now he was trying unsuccessfully to calm down a rat enough so that it would drink a potion to reverse the spell put on it. It was one of Chlodomer’s that had grown a second tail, and it bit madly at the tail, squealing with pain and bleeding hard, and did not stop biting.
After a minute Nivard shrugged, took the rat firmly by head and hindquarters, and jerked hard to break the spine. “Sorry, little one,” he said as the rat went limp, and he dropped the body into the incinerator.
My own dead rats were already gone. In fact, my bench space was strangely clean and empty.
“I cleaned it up for you, ’Tonia,” said Chlodomer, coming over and smiling. He gave a quick glance toward our teacher. “I knew you were upset, and I didn’t want you to get into more trouble by leaving your bench space messy.” Tall, gangly, and freckled, he was five years older than I was, because I had entered the school much earlier than students usually did, but it was always hard to remember he wasn’t younger.
I forced myself to smile back. He’d meant well, and I couldn’t expect Chlodomer to have known that I wanted to save the potions, since I hadn’t thought of it myself.
Our teacher saw me and nodded rather distantly. Some of the potions in the tub appeared to be interacting badly, bubbling and sending off smoke. He added new phrases in the Hidden Language and poured in another potion that seemed to settle things a bit.
“Let’s go get something to eat before our afternoon discussion section,” said Chlodomer. “I can tell you how I figured out a potion to make my rats return to normal—all except for that one,” he added regretfully.
I wasn’t hungry, but there didn’t seem any point in hanging around—especially since our teacher might have been planning to tell me that even girls with pretty little heads needed to clean up their own failures.
We slipped out and walked down the stairs, Chlodomer speculating on why a potion that was supposed to make his rats able to run very fast had given them extra tails instead. He’d been able to reverse the spell by adding a handful of chopped dragon’s-bane to his original concoction, but he still wasn’t sure what had gone wrong in the first place.
When we reached the lower landing, Prince Walther was gone.
© C. Dale Brittain 2017
© C. Dale Brittain 2017