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Oh, the heck with it...
Flash
lil_shepherd
Under the cut is a short story that's been hanging around for a while, and that won't sell for all sorts of reasons, but isn't fan fic either (though one of the characters is 'cast') and involves two minor characters from an unpublished novel that, of all the people reading this, only inamac, sidhe_woman, miso_no_tsuki and la_marquise_de will recognise. It isn't easy to classify. Alternate history. Ruritanian Romance. In this case, steam punk. However, I haven't posted any fiction of any kind for ages, so...



HOT AIR

The steam carriage was just passing the monstrous triumphal arch commemorating Prince Romulus III's dubious victory over St Passiona's fleet when the stone bounced off the boiler leaving a long scratch across the hitherto pristine red paintwork. With a growl of rage, Gregori Attitus, Lord of the Rhodanus Delta, pulled the brake lever, vented the valves and had unfolded his six and one half feet onto the pavement before his companion had even realised they had stopped.

Admittedly, Major Antonius Alexandros's eyes were closed at the time, but the noise had been loud enough to penetrate even his abject terror.

"What in Mithra's name-?" he questioned, eyes opening wide, then wider. "Milord- Hey, wait!" He shot out of his seat at even greater speed than Gregori and pelted down the street after him.

He found him propped languidly with one shoulder against a doorpost watching a couple of score men and women, locals by their dress, exercising the time-honoured right of all honest citizens to hurl stones at each other while yelling abuse about politicians who inevitably weren't there to hear it. Currently, the names of the Grand Duke of Sicilia and the Duke of Ludun were being taken in vain.

"What's going on?" Tony demanded.

"It looks like a minor riot, dear boy," Gregori drawled. "With luck, it might even become a major one."

Tony recognised the expression on his face from the experience of years filled by painful precedents. "No," he said, with more firmness than he actually felt.

"Why not?"

"Because His Grace won't like it."

"I'm not under Guillaume's command. Besides, he's never been able to resist a brawl himself, so he can hardly complain if I emulate him-"

"Gregori, please. Sicilia made enough capital out of that fracas at Jacobi's."

"Not our fault. Not even Francesca's, much as I hate to admit- down!" Gregori used Tony's own grip on his arm to pull him sideways as a stone whizzed into the space where his head had been a moment before.

Before Tony had time to recover his composure, Gregori had leaped into the fray, tossing random opponents through the air with the purposeful delight of one of his own fighting bulls.

Tony groaned. He was certain that Gregori had no more idea than he had which, if any, of the rioters were friend or foe. Probably he didn't care very much, either.

He was still trying to decide what to do about it, when a wild-eyed young man, a cracked spectacle lens giving him a faintly piratical air that did not sit to well with what had once been an immaculate suit, surged out of the melee. He had a pirate's weapon, too: a hatchet which he waved ineffectually in the direction of Tony's stomach. Knowing that, even in this situation, if he drew sword against civilians he would never be forgiven, Tony stepped sideways and hooked his foot round a handy ankle. Just in case the idiot was clumsy enough to fall on his own weapon, he snagged his wrist as he went down, twisting it enough to disarm and disable.

Tony would have been happy to leave it at that. Unfortunately, the rioter refused to stay down, scrambling to his feet with what would have been a battle cry of "Ludun forever!" if he hadn't been so winded by his fall. His grab for the hatchet wasn't exactly co-ordinated, either. Tony had no difficulty in holding him off with his left hand, while using his right to hurl the hatchet at the piously-carved eaves above him, where it quivered tauntingly between the breasts of one of the Graces.

With both hands free, Tony lost no time in obtaining a stranglehold and the opportunity to talk.

"Oddly enough," he explained conversationally into his captive's ear, "I'm on Phillipe's side-" He added a silent plea to Mithra not to count the omission of "very reluctantly" as a lie. "Can't you recognise Army of the West uniform when you see it? Don't you know the Duke of Arlate is one of Ludun's supporters? And don't you realise that this kind of behaviour won't help Phillipe's chances of being elected once the police-"

The police! Less than a week ago he'd been present when the Grand Duchess Helena and her magistrates had discussed the dangers of trouble in their city during the Principate election period. Every officer Geralo possessed was sitting in barracks waiting for something like this to happen.

Drastic action was suddenly imperative. Tipping his captive back into the gutter, Tony unfastened his scabbarded sword and kicked, elbowed and clubbed his way to Gregori's side with a fine disregard for any chivalric rules.

He found him beside a stone horse-trough, which now contained more deflated rioters than water. "Fun, isn't it?" he greeted Tony, while he pushed a man's head into a tiny space between someone else's backside and a flailing arm.

Tony ignored the question. "Lord Gregori, we've got to get out of here."

Was that the sound of a police whistle or just his tattered nerves anticipating the inevitable?

"But we only just got here, dear boy," Gregori pointed out. "It wouldn't be polite."

Definitely a whistle, though still some distance away, back where they had left the steam carriage.

"The police will be here in a moment!"

"I'm not selfish. There're enough rioters to go round."

"Gregori, just think about it. Guillaume's aide de camp and his closest ally in a street brawl, for Mithra's sake. It'd be the end of Phillipe's candidature."

"No bad thing."

Tony played his trump card. "Julian would win."

"Oh, all right." Regretfully, Gregori picked up his current opponent by the scruff of the neck, hurled him back into the middle of the fight, kicked another fellow thoughtfully in the groin, straightened the set of his cravat, and followed Tony.

Shouts of fear from the rioters left no doubt that the police were behind them. But no decent tactician would leave such an easy escape route open. No doubt another squad was waiting quietly at the far end of the street. Tony, however, had spent some years in close proximity to one of the greatest military minds of the age. Accordingly, he swung right, down a narrow alleyway filled with rubbish of all kinds, including a massive wardrobe and what looked like the skeleton of a horse. Avoiding the latter, he used the former to give him a boost to the top the pile of rubble masquerading as an end wall.

From there, he could see down into the open drain that slimed between the backs of the tall houses in the general direction of the river Isar. The narrow banks were overgrown but the weeds were yellow and spindly from the effort of straining towards the strip of sky. Even the thistles look dejected.

Passable, then, if too much like a sewer to be pleasant.

Picking his landing spot, Tony dropped to the ground, then called to Gregori to take care as he followed. Indeed, the wall swayed alarmingly under the other man's greater weight, and Gregori slithered down more quickly than he had planned. It was only Tony's younger and battle-trained reflexes that saved him from an odorous soaking.

Even while Gregori was eyeing the drain with fastidious distaste, Tony herded him over the rusting cast-iron ladder that served as a bridge across the iridescent sludge.

Vaulting a wicket gate, they found themselves in a small vegetable garden, beyond which was an inn yard. Apart from a cat sprawled luxuriously on the stable roof and the head of an incurious nag lolling over one of the half doors, the place was empty, though both music and voices filtered out from the darkness of the inn, vying with shouts and curses from the drain behind them.

The way into the street and certain escape lay unguarded before them, but Tony let the music lead him in through the door, confident that Gregori would follow him into an inn, at least. Once ensconced with their beers in a quiet corner, he hoped they would go unnoticed.

Astonishingly, for this time of day, the place was packed, with more people entering from the street with each passing moment. It was only the general instinctive respect for Gregori's size and weight that secured them a table in a corner of the upstairs gallery.

Before leaving his chortling companion in possession of this choice spot, Tony took care to remove his jacket. It was not so much his Army of the West uniform as its badge - azure, a bull's head argent affronte, a wild rose on its forehead - labelling him as in the personal service of the Duke of Arlate that he felt it wiser to conceal. Julian of Sicilia had many friends in the city, as the last half hour had proved.

A conversation with the tapman and several coins procured him two huge pewter steins full of the good local brew. Tony was grateful for their lids as he climbed back up the stairs and threaded his way to where Gregori was waiting, surrounded by vile-smelling smoke-rings from his cigarette.

Tony wafted them away. "For Mithra's sake, milord, there are better ways to clear a space."

"Keeps the whores off," said Gregori, nodding at two overblown floozies who were eyeing him with a mixture of frustrated desire and spite.

"Like the mosquitoes in the Delta? I'd say they were more interested in sucking your money than your blood."

Gregori ignored him except for a mildly pained look which a huge swig of beer wiped away immediately. "Ah, that's good. Pity we have to get back to the steam carriage fairly soon."

"Why?" Tony asked, settling beside him and idly watching coloured lights rotate across the smoke-yellowed ceiling.

"Someone might steal it."

"No-one would want it. Where in Hades are those lights coming from, anyway?" he added, before Gregori could express his outrage.

"No idea. Same place as the music, presumably." Gregori leaned across to peer over the edge of the gallery. "Goddess! Would you look at that?"

Intrigued, Tony copied him.

Filling a good quarter of the floor below them was a most extraordinary object. It seemed to consist mainly of enormous gilded tubes, coiling one around the other, enamelled in screaming colours with more vines, flowers, fruits and birds that even the most fecund jungle had any right to boast. Sitting on the top like a huge hat was a revolving drum, the lights behind its stained glass panels giving the passable imitation of sunshine flickering through leaves that had first attracted his attention. The illusion of the tropics was completed by the little jets of steam issuing at intervals from the tangled depths below If it had an operator, he was presumably concealed behind it.

"What in Mithra's name is that monstrosity?" Tony breathed.

Though he did not expect an answer, he received one. "The Music of Angels Steam and Electric Pipe Organ that the Countess of Feltria was boasting of having hired for tonight's party, unless I miss my guess. Only reason I'm going..."

"His Grace will expect you to be there anyway, spreading charm on Phillipe's behalf. Not that his heart's in it since Francesca walked out on him."

Gregori looked faintly worried. "I've got to talk to him about that... "

"Really? Well, you won't get anywhere talking to Francesca, I can tell you. From personal and painful experience. Gregori, where in Mithra's name d'you think you're going?"

"To take a look at the Music of Angels Steam and Electric Pipe Organ. Then I won't need to go to Melissa's party-"

"Sit down," Tony snarled. "Honestly, being out with you is like entertaining a toddler. Show some restraint, will you?"

"But it's the only one outside France - the only one outside a cathedral, in fact. They're under Church patent and have all had to be specially blessed by the Pope."

"Mithra!"

"No, I don't think Mithra would pay patent fees for something blessed by the Pope. Though I suspect that our Gods and their God spend most of their time laughing at our differences."

"Shhhhh!" Tony hissed. "If you cause any more trouble, Milord Gregori, I'll... I'll steal the important bits out of all of your gadgets."

Gregori leered at him. "Now that'd be an interesting experience for you."

"Oh, just shut up!"

Astonishingly, he did.



While they had been talking, the chatter about them had slowly died away, but the music continued to play very softly. A voice was speaking through it. Finally, Tony and Gregori became aware of what it was saying:

"Friends, Phillipe of Ludun is the only man who can save us now. We need a strong Prince, one who will halt this policy of appeasement with Christian Europe and gain the ascendancy of our religion."

Gregori rolled his eyes. "That's all we needed, a religious fanatic. Doesn't he know that Phillipe's about as agnostic as they come?"

"But the Senate is blind to his virtues; to his courage and prudence, his intelligence and compassion."

"Don't get involved," Tony muttered at Gregori, without much hope.

"Wouldn't dream of it. Fellow may have a point-" Gregori stopped dead. He placed his forehead on his fists and said, softly and very carefully: "Phillipe of Ludun is weak, reckless and feckless, not to mention sadistic. The only reason I'm voting for him is that Julian would kill us all."

"And His Grace thinks-"

"Bugger what Guillaume thinks. I'm worried about what I think. Phillipe... is... a... sadistic... idiot," he repeated savagely, each word carefully separated from the others.

"I know that," Tony said, with a surprising amount of internal relief.

"We must show the Senate what will happen if they don't elect the Duke of Ludun," the demagogue was continuing. "When the Senators see your anger they won't dare defy you!"

"Oh, they won't, won't they?" the only member of the Senate of Cisalpina present muttered with savage sarcasm.

"Won't they?" Tony asked. "Blast it, I can't think with this cursed music-" He stopped dead as Gregori's huge paw closed with bruising force on his arm.

"Serpent's teeth! The music! Block your ears or something."

"Block... Have you lost your mind?"

"We both will have if that damn noise doesn't stop. Not to mention the pretty lights, They're making us believe, Tony, like chanting and sistra in a temple ceremony, only far worse."

The pain had cleared Tony's mind. "But, Milord Gregori, if this crowd riot, it won't help Phillipe. In fact, it'll almost certainly convince even more of the Senate that we need someone like Julian to restore order, just like that incident at Jacobi's restaurant did."

"Precisely. And it's already started. Where d'you think that mob outside had been drinking, eh? But that's not as important as the presence of that thing at Feltria's party tonight. Three quarters of the Senate - and certainly all of Phillipe's faction - will be there. Feltria's supposed to be a Ludun supporter, but Guillaume's sure he's Julian's man - and his wife's been messing around with Christianity. I'll bet my fortune against a counterfeit denarius that they're going to use that thing to swing the Senate in Sicilia's favour. Hades, they might even try to convince Phillipe to withdraw. Julian-

"Will walk into the Principate-"

"And we'll all be dead-"

"Within the month."

Gregori pulled the silk kerchief from his breast pocket and ripped it into small pieces. "Right. Tony, your job is to distract them. Get on your feet and make a noise. Say nice things about Julian. Tell dirty jokes or sing the National Anthem if you have to. Just make sure I'm not noticed.

"But-"

"Stuff these in your ears," he swept on. "They won't block out the music entirely but they will change its pitch."

"But-"

"And don't look at the lights."

"But-"

"Just give me a minute to get into position, then go to work."

"But-" Tony found himself sitting with a small ball of silk in each hand, watching Gregori plough through the crush, noticing absently that the other man had purloined his uniform jacket.

Even if he wants to pretend to be an officer, it'll never fit him, he thought. He's crazy. Come to think of it, we're both crazy. Oh, well...

He inserted the two balls of silk into his ears, scooped the - empty - pewter steins into his left hand, and scrambled onto the wooden rail that kept drunkards from falling off the gallery.

Out of the corner of his eye he could see that Gregori had forced his way into a position right above the Music of Angels Steam and Electric Pipe Organ.

Wedging his back against a roof joist, Tony took one stein in each hand and began clashing them together, deliberately out of time with the beat of the music.



Gregori waited until he was sure that every eye in the room was on his - plainly drunk - friend, then he scrambled over the gallery rail and dropped down unto the top of the revolving drum, praying to whatever God happened to be watching that it was strong enough to hold him. Certainly, the glass panels weren't, for they crunched under his heels as he staggered on the moving surface. It wasn't as easy as he expected to keep his balance, and he had to waltz with an invisible partner to stay facing the rear. As he shifted his weight from foot to foot, the drum tipped slightly on its gimbals. He was thrown forward, lost his footing altogether, and tumbled to the floor behind the organ.

A bald little man with buck teeth and an astonished expression was staring down at him.

Years of training at occupying the same space as an irritated bull had taught Gregori not to stay down, however much he hurt. He had bounced to his feet before the bald man could move: indeed, his mouth remained open and his hands frozen above the organ keyboard through this performance.

Gregori was physically well-equipped to loom menacingly and he was satisfied to see the organist cringe away. "Keep playing," he ordered, scanning the controls with a practised eye; eight-tier keyboard, twice the range of the largest he'd ever seen, lots of stops (fortunately neatly labelled, if in French), boiler, furnace, generator (for the lights, he supposed), control values...

"Julian is going to be dreadfully upset when you don't turn up at Feltria's party," he went on, conversationally. "If I were you I'd be out of the country before he finds out you've cocked up this afternoon's work."

"Pardon?" the organist said, his accent betraying his origins.

Gregori promptly switched from modern Latin to atrocious French: "Le Grand Duc Julian ne pas aime que tu fait ici l'apres midi. Mon advice est -"

"Attitus. I'm disappointed. When I recognised Alexandros up there I thought we might have flushed out the Wolf of Arlate himself." The voice that came from behind him was the same as that which had harangued the clientele. Now that it was unaccompanied by music, it was uncomfortably recognisable. Keeping his hands and body very still, Gregori braced himself for a glance that confirmed identity - and that the dandified and dangerous foreigner also held a revolver in his hand.

"Wolves come in packs, Duchampe," said Gregori, showing his teeth. "And they aren't over fond of rats." Outwardly unmoved, he was cursing his over-confidence. He should have recognised the voice, or at least noticed when it stopped preaching mayhem, and why in Mithra's name hadn't he borrowed Tony's gun? Keep talking, he told himself. Maybe you can give yourself an opening. "Am I to take it that the reward for arranging to kill Henri Macquette was his position as Chief French Spy and Sicilia's dogsbody?"

"Henri died in the Wolf's custody, from which my people will draw the obvious conclusion: that he was a martyr for his country and his faith," Duchampe explained piously.

Gregori nodded. "Ah, we must now equate both France and Christianity with your ambition - and Julian's. That makes sense. D'you mind telling me what Sicilia's promised in return for France's and the Pope's aid? Guillaume of Arlate's head, undoubtedly, but you wouldn't be satisfied with just that. Access for your Pope's missionaries? Or even a Papal return to Roma? If you've been promised Cisalpine territory, be assured you won't find it easy to hold." Even as he was speaking, Gregori saw the change in Duchampe's expression and knew he'd made the fatal mistake of correct speculation. Duchampe had decided to kill him. Tony too, probably.

Shit. He hadn't meant to lead the boy into this much trouble.



Tony was beginning to enjoy himself. Once the voice had stopped, he had no competition expect the music. "Phillipe of Ludun is the scum of the Earth!" he yelled, enjoying the angry growl in response. "He eats little children for breakfast, and babies for dinner! He slept with his mother and his father. After they were dead!"

A hand reached out to him, but withdrew rapidly when he rapped its knuckles with one of the steins.

"Julian of Sicilia is the chosen of the Gods! Phillipe's so stupid he can't even hit the pot when he pisses!"

He could keep this up all day. Or at least until Gregori did whatever he was supposed to be doing. He'd enjoyed the ridiculous dance on top of the rotating drum, but Gregori had appeared to finish it a little more quickly than he'd perhaps intended...

"Julian is the greatest man in Europa: Phillipe's balls were cut off at birth."

If Gregori was in trouble, there wasn't a lot he could do to help. And the voice had stopped. Suddenly, that seemed ominous. Maybe Gregori couldn't stop the music. Well, nor could he, but perhaps he could put out the lights...



"Killing me won't help Julian's chances," Gregori warned Duchampe.

"It won't make any difference to them. By tomorrow, the city will be in ferment, Ludun in jail and the most prominent of his supporters dead. It won't be difficult to lose a couple of extra bodies- What the-?



Tony hurled the first of the steins straight at the still-revolving light drum. An aim developed shying stones at birds on his parents' farm didn't fail him: the stein crashed into one of the panels, smashing it to pieces. There was a grating noise, and the speed of the drum slowed noticeably. Encouraged, Tony hurled the second stein, then drew his revolver and emptied it at the drum. Glass flew. The lights went out.



It was not so much the sound of shots and smashing glass as the resulting rain of razor-edged shards that distracted Duchampe, and that only for an instant. It was enough. Gregori broke his wrist first, then his neck.

"Keep playing," he snarled at the organist as he shovelled more coal into the furnace, leaving the door open to ensure an even better draught. Once it was burning fiercely, he shut off all output from the cylinder by jamming the cut-off closed, then tied down the safety value with strips torn from his cravat. The governor he removed completely, while Tony's jacket and his own were crammed into the stack. All of the little steam vents that gave such a tropical effect had to be closed by individual valves. Swearing softly, Gregori dealt with each one in turn as the organist played on.



Other steins were flying through the air now, but Tony's position gave him an advantage. Somehow, he managed to free his sword from its scabbard so he could wave it menacingly at whoever tried to approach. He could only hope that his Commander-in-Chief never got to hear about it.



Gregori listened with satisfaction to the angry gurgling noises from the boiler, then turned to the organist. "Tu! Mon advice est vous venez a France immediatement. Schnell!" he added, changing languages for emphasis.

The organist fled.

Gregori pulled out a stop and pressed top A on the keyboard. The result was a wonderful whistle. Not the exact note he wanted, though. He chose F instead. Better.



It was more difficult now. Other people were carrying swords, and some were improvising with chair legs, but Tony was still on his perch when he first heard the whistle, muffled though it was by his earplugs. Police?

He shook his head, dislodging one ball of silk. The whistle shrilled again. It certainly sounded like the police, but it was followed by Gregori's unmistakable bellow and Tony never believed what Gregori said, on principle. "Police! The police! Get out of here! Run! Everyone, run!"

The reaction, Tony thought, proved the effect of the machine beyond doubt. No-one thought to question the command: the stampede for the doors was total and impressive.

Assuming that the 'everyone' had been inserted specifically as a command to him, he looked for the quickest - and safest way - out. The doors were blocked and would be for some time, but a skylight had been let into the sloping roof above the gallery. Standing on one of the tables, he could and did smash it with an abandoned stein, and made his exit onto the roof. From that point he easily located the golden galley that topped Romulous's arch and started in that direction. The roofs seeming safer than the streets at present, he stuck to them. Luckily, in this part of Geralo the buildings were old and close together, though rain in the air was beginning to make the tiles slippery.

He was a couple of hundred yards away when an explosion shook the roof under him, forcing him to cling to a chimney stack as tiles rattled down beneath his feet.

When he stopped cursing Gregori and looked back, it was to see a piebald cloud floating above what had once been the inn's roof. While he watched it grew blacker, as the steam condensed and fire took hold.

"Suppose I'll need a new jacket," he muttered. Then, more happily, "Maybe I can get Gregori to pay for it."

Keeping that thought in mind - and trying not to surmise where Gregori had been at the time of the explosion - he sat on the roof watching the fire-engines clatter past, wheels and hoofs sparking on the cobble stones, drivers yelling at the galloping horses, with small boys and barking dogs in pursuit. Like hurling the steins, it made him feel nostalgic for his childhood.

Once he was sure they had gone he shimmied down a drainpipe and strolled back to where Gregori had abandoned the steam carriage. To his relief, he found the other man waiting for him, jacket-and-cravat less, but studiously nonchalant.

"Goddess be praised!" he exclaimed when he saw Tony. "I'd've hated to explain to Guillaume that I'd blown you to smithereens."

"Likewise," Tony replied. "His Grace expects me to keep you out of trouble, you know."

Gregori grinned. "Is that your interpretation? I see you as my pupil. You need all that seriousness knocked out of you."

Studiously ignoring the provocation, Tony said: "What I don't understand is why they took a risk like that instead of waiting for Feltria's party tonight, where the people with real influence would expect to be lobbied and maybe even change their minds."

All Gregori's normal humour suddenly vanished from his face. "Very simple, Major. It takes great will to refrain from the use of any power. Julian's orders, I am sure, were to save the use of the Music of Angels Steam Organ for tonight but, luckily for us, his subordinates are lesser men. They were lodging at the inn - and the landlord was no doubt pressuring them to perform - there was an audience, and Duchampe - yes, he was behind it, but don't worry, he won't be troubling us again - Duchampe had already seen the effect of that business at Jacobi's, when Julian emerged smelling sweeter than a lavender farm. When such an opportunity presented itself, the fools could not resist taking it."

Tony had sometimes wondered why Guillaume of Arlate paid so much attention to Gregori's opinions. They had been friends since boyhood, of course, but sometimes, as now, he wondered if there wasn't a great deal more to it than old loyalties.

Then he dismissed the notion as Gregori's expression changed to one of happy irrelevance. "When Julian hears he's going to be steaming mad," he said.

"Milord!"

"And if he needs help he can go whistle for it."

"I'm the one that's going," Tony said. "I'm supposed to be on duty in another hour, and anything's better than listening to this-"

"If you see Julian, don't let him get up a head of steam!"

"Arrgh!"

"He should be dancing to our tune in no time."

Gregori watched the young man disappear with an affectionate smile.

Ingenious, he mused. Might have worked too. Pity for them they tried to be too clever,

He looked back at the black smoke floating in the clear mountain air.

Let's hope we're not doing the same. It'd be an even bigger pity if this all blew up in our faces, too.

Satisfied with his final pun, he attempted to start his steam carriage. Unfortunately, he had left the engine running on standby; when the fuel had been exhausted, the furnace had gone out. The boiler was now stone cold. He never did arrive at Feltria's party, and so, he was later assured, missed all the explosive events of that particular day.
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Oh, God, this is a blast from the past! It has awakened very fond memories of the original novel - next time I visit, please can I read it again???

You can read anything we have in the house, m'dear. Come and see us soon.

I just wanted to say that I was much entertained by this!

I spotted a typo you might want to fix though...

A bald little man with a buck teeth and an astonished expression was staring down at him.

And a missing word.

"If I were you'd be out of the country before he finds out you've cocked up this afternoon's work."

Love you, Stella! Correction on its way!

As you know, I love a good swordfight! There's a lot of sharp writing and some lovely set pieces here, and I like seeing Tony as the protagonist. It does read a little too much like back-story for the novel, however, rather than as a standalone: the references to Guillaume and Francesca depend on knowing the book, and the references to Julian and Philippe, while clearer, still could use more context. And you probably want to say 'Je vous conseille' rather than 'mon advice'.
Love the organ and the insults.

You are right, of course, but, like I said, it's not saleable. The Bindings of Honour is single limited pov (Francesca), and odd little incidents outside that viewpoint are written for me, rather than anything else.

Hmmm... do I want Gregori's French to be any more accurate than it is (not at all)?

You are da woman, as my nieces say. I bow before greatness. That kicks ass, as always.

Thank you. Praise from the praiseworthy and all that...

Well, Gregori kicks ass, as usual. It's something he's good at.

As la_marquise_de says, the background isn't really understandable, and if I was trying to sell it I'd have to remove the references to Guillaume and Francesca, and probably Helena and various other people.

I'm about to be engaged on a major re-write of the original novel prior to having a go at selling it (partly on la_marquise_de's advice as well as my realisation that there is too much bad sex and too much sentimentality) but if you want to read, just ask.

Good action sequences. I enjoyed the whole steam driven thing. Not enough action in books involves steam.

One small niggle:

"Like the mosquitoes in the Delta? I'd say they were more interested in sucking your money than your blood."

Now mosquitoes such blood, but whores sucking ..... money?

Such innocence, such naivete, are these not men of the world?


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