A Christmas excerpt from Timebound

A merry Christmas to all you who are celebrating today, and a peek at Christmas 1815 in the Carrington household!


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William Carrington woke from a dream of hot Spanish sun to the depressing certainty that the temperature had plummeted at some point in the night. The dim blue-gray light filtering into the bedroom was insufficient to allow him to see the rafters, but he expected the nails were frosted. He wondered whether this winter were truly colder and snowier than those that had gone before it, or whether it was only an illusion caused by his newly-acquired poverty.

Very likely it was the latter. The autumn’s sunsets had similarly seemed more magnificent than any he had previously beheld, after all, and that was no doubt to be attributed to watching them with the woman he loved. It was remarkable how one’s frame of mind could change one’s perceptions.

Beside him, Elizabeth stirred. She cautiously extended one hand out of the bedclothes, then groaned and burrowed deeper, simultaneously squirming closer to him. He curled around her gladly, only partly to share the warmth. “Cold,” she muttered.

“Very.” The water in the wash-basin had doubtless frozen again. It was not possible to have a fire in this little bedroom, and the downstairs fire had very likely gone out sometime in the night. There was no one to build it up again unless and until he did it himself. No one, in fact, to even make breakfast unless and until the lady of the house did it herself. They had no live-in servants, and Mrs. Brewer, who did for them by day, was taking Christmas as a well-deserved holiday with her own family.

He and Elizabeth had thought themselves very clever, eloping to Gretna Green and not only avoiding parental insistence on a long betrothal, but avoiding the fuss and bother of a formal betrothal at all. No new clothing, no new carriage, no unpleasant relations descending for the wedding-breakfast, not one element of the fashionable wedding circus. They had even saved the cost of half the journey, arriving as they did by pocket watch from 1895 and only needing to scrape up the funds for lodgings.

But their cleverness had failed to take one key fact into account: Elizabeth’s parents were far angrier than their daughter had expected. Elizabeth had assumed her family would be so anxious to put a good face on the elopement that they would let her have her dowry, but her parents, most likely egged on by her aunt, had instead dispatched a servant with one trunkful of her belongings and forbade her to darken their door ever again.

It was the wrong move for the Bartons to make on the chessboard of society, anyone could have told them that—the one sure way to fan instead of dampen the flames of a scandal. But Mr. and Mrs. Barton, in the first flush of rage at the daughter who had so defiantly married “to displease her family,” had fanned the flame regardless, and that left William and his wife subsisting upon his lieutenant’s half-pay and a miniscule allowance grudgingly meted out to him by his own exasperated father. They would be counting pennies and living month to month until Elizabeth received her inheritance in just over three years’ time. At least the terms of her grandfather’s will had stipulated the thirty thousand pounds was to be hers “upon attaining her majority” if she had not previously married with her father’s permission, so there was no way for her furious parents to utterly deny her the funds.

But a lean three years stretched out before young Mr, and Mrs. Carrington. William had endured greater privation on the Penninsula, to be sure, but it hurt a man’s pride to be forced to subject his wife to a lack of the comforts to which she was accustomed. By dint of careful cheeseparing, they had managed to hire the cottage in Danby that had once, in the future, in a vanished timeline, housed Charles Wilton and Christopher Palmer. The rent was comparatively low, but there was still little enough left over for housekeeping, and all sorts of unusual economies had been forced upon them. It was a poor young couple indeed who could not afford even one scullery maid, and this bedroom of theirs would have been considered too comfortless for any but a servant, in his father’s house or in hers. William wondered, as he had wondered before, if Elizabeth had made a bad bargain.

She chose that moment to remember what day it was. “Oh,” she said in a tone of discovery, muffled by the quilt. “Happy Christmas, my love.”

The hesitation before he replied told her his thoughts.

She answered them in a tone of affectionate exasperation. “Will you please stop it. I’d rather be here with you than anywhere else.”

“If we were anywhere else for Christmas, someone would have brought up tea by now,” he couldn’t help pointing out.

“Yes, and then we’d have to dress and go down to breakfast and make polite conversation with the relations who have made clear the esteem in which they do not hold us. And then we’d have to go through a formal dinner and charades and word games and company manners and all the rest of the nonsense. I’d rather be here.” She turned over, nestling her head against his chest. “It seems something of a gift to have the house to ourselves, now I come to consider it. I can think of some amusements we might pursue before that lovely sitting room fire, knowing we could not be interrupted…”

William snorted. “Mrs. Carrington, you are a most willful and depraved creature.”

“A reputation I am glad to deserve,” Elizabeth responded tranquilly.

William was in no hurry to sacrifice the pleasures of an idle morning in bed with his wife, but eventually the twin demands of hunger and cold could not be any longer ignored. With nothing for it but to brave the icy air, they did so with feigned enthusiasm—throwing back the quilt all at once, breathing deeply, breaking the ice in the basin without wasting breath on complaint. On the one hand, it seemed absurd to don full formal attire for a day spent alone in one’s own house in pursuit of carnal pleasure—surely one was meant to wear a dressing gown for that sort of dissipation—but it was too damned cold to do anything but keep up the standards. Fully dressed, William at last followed his wife downstairs, intending to stir up the fire so she could make toast and tea.

He saw the shadow move in the sitting room while they were both still on the stairway. He caught Elizabeth’s arm to stop her, but she had already stopped, alert and watchful like a startled deer. She too had seen movement in a house that should have been deserted. And the first floor of the cottage, now he came to notice, was not the bone-deep barn-like chill he had expected. That shadow had been cast by the light of a gaily leaping fire in the sitting room—hopefully in the hearth, hopefully not a twin the leaping flame that had destroyed (would never destroy) that very room in 1885. Emil Schwieger had tracked Palmer and Wilton to this same house in that vanished timeline, had set that very fire to smoke out their secrets. He or another enemy could have as easily pursued Elizabeth and William here—

Maxwell stepped into the doorway.

For a long moment, nobody moved. Then their visitor cleared his throat. “Er, good morning.”

Elizabeth let out a breath she seemed to have been holding for six months, and ran down the rest of the stairs to embrace him.

William’s knees went momentarily so weak he had to put a hand to the bannister to steady himself. “Oh, thank God.”

Maxwell’s arms had closed awkwardly around Elizabeth and now he looked over her head at William, in what might have been a mute appeal for guidance. William closed his eyes for a moment against the stinging.

When he opened them again, Maxwell was holding Elizabeth off with his hands on her shoulders. “You, er…I take it you worked it out.”

“You did leave us your locket,” Elizabeth pointed out. “But yes, we were most of the way to working it out before we opened it. Oh, I’m so glad you’re well. We’ve been so worried.”

“We wanted to look for you,” William said, coming down the stairs to join them, “but it would have been foolish, with all of space and time to search. We’ve been telling each other for six months that we had to trust you, and you’d be bound to find us instead.” He held out his hand. “Welcome home.”

Thoughts on scars

(I drafted this before the appendicitis, and it was funnier then. But I’m posting it anyway.)

When I was at this stage of recovery from the first leg surgery, I was still wearing a pressure stocking most of the time, so it didn’t occur to me to examine the scars in any meaningful way. This time, I’m paying more attention to how they are fading, and I’m intrigued to notice that all three are comprised of a reddish-brown center-line, flanked by two whitish scar-tissue streaks. Eventually, all three will be entirely whitish scar-tissue, but not yet.

This is intriguing to me because a million and a half years ago, when I was in college, I played a LARP character who had a scar on her face. Because I had no money, I created this scar in the cheapest possible way – a line of dark red lipliner pencil flanked by two lines of white lipliner pencil, smudged carefully. Lipliner pencils were 99 cents apiece at the local drugstore, you see – which was within walking distance, which also was important, because I also didn’t have a car. It was for a college LARP; authenticity was not the foremost consideration on my mind.

But it turns out I got it right.

That LARP character was based on one of the female protagonists for my first novel, even then in its embryonic stages. In my twenties I wrote more of it and its sequel, and someday I’m going to go back to it and figure out what I can salvage. The plot is as trite as you would expect a first effort to be – but everyone who’s read it says with this tone of surprise that they can’t believe how much they care about the characters… Anyway, the aforementioned female protagonist, a dancer and swordswoman, suffers a severe and lifechanging injury as part of the book one plot. Book two deals in part with her slow, frustrating, incomplete recovery.

I wrote most of this between 1999 and 2009. In 2014, I broke my leg very badly, leading to a slow, frustrating, and not yet complete recovery.

Turns out I got that right too. I can tell you now about physical therapy, about relapses, about the terror of the word “permanent” when said by a medical professional, about the utter insanity of twelve weeks of bedrest, about rage. I can tell you about choosing grocery stores based on their size – how many steps to get everything on the list? – and about planning a day’s or a week’s activities based how much standing is involved. (“I’d better take a cab tonight, even though my destination isn’t far, because I have to go shopping tomorrow.”) I can tell you about having to ask people to slow down when they’re walking with you. And then having to ask them again, because they’re excited about what they’re telling you and they’re used to your old quick pace and they’ve forgotten. And then having to grit your teeth and say it a third goddamned time. I can tell you about the heart-pounding panic of slipping on ice or uneven ground and landing on the bad leg – it’s not even the pain, the pain settles into an ache pretty quickly, but the adrenaline stays with you. I can tell you about the crazy joy of recovering one lost skill at a time. It’s not that you’re  enjoying scrubbing a bathtub exactly, but the ability to crouch without pain is something to be celebrated. I can tell you about the bargains you make with yourself and the universe – it’s okay if I can’t have this thing back, as long as I can manage this other thing someday… The fictional character in question was a dancer before her injury, a skill lost to her permanently; me, I still don’t know if bellydancing is something I’ll get back. It’s okay if I don’t, since it was not central to my conception of myself as it was for her. But the parallel is…creepily congruent.

I got it right. I wrote it right, before I’d experienced it, relying only on secondary sources, and verified it through my own senses after the fact. Twice. With essentially the same character.

This tells me three things:

  1. 1) My instincts are quite good.
  2. 2) My research-fu is even better.
  3. 3) I should be really seriously careful what hardships I inflict upon this character or any future iterations of her. As they seem to rebound upon me, and all.

Fortunately for me (and for her), I’m a fan of happy endings, and I’ve always been working toward one for her. She winds up with the love of her life and they live happily, despite the chaos of the world outside and the need to deal with what it throws at them. She figures out her personal life at a later age than most protagonists of such stories – in her mid-forties, in fact, so I’ve stolen a march on her there. Her happily-ever-after is comprised of work she enjoys, the use of skills she once didn’t know she possessed, pleasant travel to interesting places, good friends, and no children. Mine too.

Maybe I’ll refrain from inflicting that second war on her. Just, you know. Just in case.

(The appendicitis? Links to absolutely nothing I’ve ever written for her. That one’s really mine, apparently.)

Seeking logistical advice (for a Timebound scene)

Hey, Internet, I need some logistical assistance with this scene. Got a minute?

The best access to the place you need to sneak 9 people into is a 75-foot suspension bridge over a gorge, patrolled by two guards, with a third sitting on an alarm system at the far end. Your orders are to “kill the guards as quietly as possible and get inside.” Of your 9-member team, 4 are the specialists who need to get inside, and therefore should preferably not be involved in a fight. The other 5 are cover.

(These constraints are historical and I did not make them up – not even the gorge – FWIW.)

A) What are some strategies / tactics the 9-person team might employ to get this done?

B) What are some best practices the guards should be employing to minimize the chances of people like this 9-person team succeeding in getting past them, in this way or in any other way?

It’s nighttime; the visibility can be as good or bad as desired. It’s winter in an exceedingly cold climate, and the guards are wearing hoods optimized for warmth that somewhat compromise their field of vision. Basic “throw a rock to distract the guards” tactics don’t fit the feel of the scene, since everyone involved is a professional soldier.

Timekeeper is now available for purchase!

See the Stillpoint website for more details!

Coming soon…

On June 18th – the 202nd anniversary of Waterloo – the story continues.


Timekeeper Cover Art!

Click through to the Stillpoint site to see the art and an awesome video presenting it!