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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

FRAIL HUMAN HEART RELEASE DAY!

Happy Thursday! And Happy Book Birthday! Yes, the fateful hour is upon us at last - the final book of the Name of the Blade Trilogy: FRAIL HUMAN HEART is OUT NOW in a variety of ebook formats and in print. Any photos of the book in the wild in shops or libraries (or in its new home on your shelf or ereader) would be much appreciated, my babies!

I've talked so much about this trilogy and why it's special to me over the past few years that I feel like today we don't need anymore of that. So instead, a selection of nice things that make me feel celebratory.

First, a link to FRAIL HUMAN HEART's book birthday interview with lovely author Katy Moran over on Author Allsorts in which I once again fail to keep my big mouth shut on various topics.

Some of the gorgeous #TNISelfies taken by Dear Readers over the past couple of weeks (still two books left!):



 



(If your photo is not here, btw, it's because I apparently saved some of them in a different place, a totally safe and sensible place, so safe and sensible that I... can't find them right now. Sorry!)

And some very kind tweets that readers have sent me over the last few days:






As normal, I'll be stalking my Amazon and Goodreads pages over the next few days hoping to see reviews - positive or negative! - go up, so if you have the book and have the time to give it a star rating or a fling a few words at the review form, I'll make sure to remember you in my prayers to the Writing Gods.

Thank for you sticking with me on my journey through writing this trilogy (and yes, I know its cheesy to say 'journey' hecklers in the back, but it's my blog and I'll be as cheesy as I want!). Read you later, my lovelies.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

CODENAME: DtH & #WALKERFICTIONFEST!

Hello, my lovelies! Today I bring you a report on my flying visit to London over the weekend, which was so flying that I didn't even tell most of my London based chums about it (if you're reading this - Hi! Sorry, guys!) because I had to squash so much stuff into such a short period of time. It was exhausting, but immense fun, and I not only got to spend time with lovely Walker people, and gorgeous blogger pals, but also to meet a whole load of NEW blogger pals AND squeeze some research for a new book (Codename: DtH) in there, too. At some point on the train ride down, I decided to document the whole thing with photos, so here we go.

First things first: I staggered off the train and onto the Tube with my extremely heavy suitcase and found my hotel, where I flung off my boots with extreme prejudice and flumped onto the bed for a little bit until I cooled down, because even though it was gloomy and dark, London was *ferociously* hot and I was (as always) not really dressed for that. I just can't get used to the difference in temperature and humidity - it feels like being in a different country.

Here is said bed before I wrecked it:


And it was supercomfy, let me tell you. Eventually, after a judicious application of air conditioning, I peeled myself off the supercomfy bed and took a picture of the view, which was pretty spectacular.


The Gherkin AND the Shard! When you read Frail Human Heart you will realise why I'm so thrilled about seeing the Shard. It didn't look like that by the time my story was finished with it, that's all I'm saying. By the way - Frail Human Heart IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD ON KINDLE. If you have a Kindle or the Kindle App on your computer, and you're into that. Again: just sayin'.

Having got myself upright, it was time to tackle the first part of Operation Flying Visit, which was to get my butt back on the Tube and to the British Museum, where there was much researching for Codename: DtH to be done. I don't think I've talked very much about this particular future book on the blog before - I've mentioned that it's another fairytale retelling and is a sort of companion novel to Shadows on the Moon, right? However, it's based on a Chinese story this time, and therefore the setting needs to be a fairytale version of Imperial China rather than Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni/The Moonlit Lands, my fairytale version of Feudal Japan.

And I honestly know nothing about Imperial China, which is why I have a pile of books to read that reaches nearly to my hip (mostly library books - reference books are so expensive, erk) and why I was seizing the opportunity to spend some time in the Asian Rooms at the BM.

Looking at my camera this morning I was a bit stunned at the amount of pictures I'd taken. I mean, I knew I'd taken a LOT, just... not quite that many. We're talking in the hundreds, here. There's just so much to see at the British Museum and it's all so fascinating that you start feeling worried you'll miss or not absorb something important, so the impulse to snap images of *everything* is fairly overwhelming. And that's what I did. Here's a small and carefully curated selection of those photos.


 







I stuck around until pretty near to closing time, and then headed back to the hotel to get some rest, because the next day was the #WalkerFictionFest. I'm a bit gutted that I didn't remember to whip my camera out for this as well, honestly - I could have gotten some great photos with blogger pals and the other authors, but I was feeling a bit flustered (I was doing my very first public reading from a finished copy of Frail Human Heart!) and it basically slipped my memory.

Luckily lots of other people with more presence of mind were attending, including my friend Sarah of Feeling Fictional, who has the most fantastic Instagram account filled with photos of everyone who was there, and who (among other things) made this fantastic photoset of all of us and our book covers (thank you, Sarah!):


I got to meet Lauren James, author of The Next Together and hear her presentation about this highly anticipated debut as well as her reading from it. As expected, Lauren was charming and smart and adorable. I'm sure anyone who likes my books will love hers.

I also got to meet Katie Everson, author of Drop, who was thoughtful and sweet and lovely and she had the presence of mind to get a selfie of us, which I've pinched off Twitter:


Her book sounds emotionally shattering - perfect for fans of Keren David or Melvin Burgess. She is also a professional cover designer and she's the one who created the covers for both the UK edition of FrostFire and the second UK paperback edition of Daughter of the Flames. How cool is that?

Here's me during my presentation, waffling on about something, probably Frail Human Heart or my love for sushi (I don't know who took this one - someone from Walker Books?):


Much talking and laughter - and Pringles and mini-doughnuts - were had, and a good time enjoyed by all, including me. And that was Operation Flying Visit! And now I have to go and renew my library books, so I shall bid you all adieu, Dear Readers! Tell me how your weekend was in the comments - and if you haven't entered yet, don't forget that there are still signed copies of Darkness Hidden up for grabs here :)

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

3 DOWN 7 TO GO

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! I'm just nipping in this week to remind everyone of the MegaHugeMassive Giveaway that is still running to celebrate the release of Frail Human Heart on the 2nd of July, and which is incredibly simple to enter.

So far three lovely people have sent me their #TNISelfies and have been rewarded with signed copies of Darkness Hidden, signed bookplates, and Frail Human Heart swag. But there are still seven signed copies of DH up for grabs, and plenty of time to get in on that action.

Tweet me or email me (at z d marriott (at) g mail (dot) com) your #TNISelfie - a picture of you with a copy of The Night Itself, which is book one of the Name of the Blade trilogy - and I'll tweet or RT it and get your prize in the post to you as soon as you let me know your address.

For more detailed information about why this giveaway is really important to me, visit the original post here. In the meantime, have a great week, and I'll read you later.


Thursday, 11 June 2015

THE NAME OF THE BLADE IS COMPLETE

Hello, oh lovely readers! Today I bring you a festival of loveliness in the form of my giddy photo-spree on receipt of this:


That's right, the finished copies of The Name of the Blade: FRAIL HUMAN HEART are back from the printers - just in time, as the book is out on the 2nd of July - and I have received my own, my precious, early copy. Which means, I can do this:


And this:


Aaaand this:


This is an amazing moment for me. Seeing these three books, finished, lined up together this way? Represents five years of my life. Half a decade of hard work on my part, and on the parts of Wonder Editor, Super Agent, Delightful Designer and Lovely Lass (we still miss you, Lovely Lass!) as well as the gathered forces of Walker Books and Candlewick Press. We had wobbles, tantrums, bursts of rampant insanity, and lightning bolts of pure inspiration. I believe that FRAIL HUMAN HEART is the best thing I've ever written, and that the trilogy as a whole represents my greatest achievement as an artist.

When I look at these pictures, and the real thing sitting on the coffee table next to me, and realise that my first (and probably only) trilogy is now officially complete, I can hardly believe it. We did that. I did that. The time has flown by so fast and so much has changed in my life since 2010 when I wrote the first synopsis.

It's bittersweet, though. This trilogy, begun with my father's encouragement, written during his final illness, and completed after his death, is inextricably bound up in my love for him. I will most likely always feel a pang of sorrow when I look at them, because he never got to see the story finished, and he would have wanted to, so much. At the same time, I know he would have been happy and proud today, and not want me to grieve too much for things I can't change. So that's what I'm going to try to do.

Here's how I want to mark today, and the upcoming release of FRAIL HUMAN HEART - which is now just three weeks away. I want to celebrate all the books in the trilogy, and I want to thank all my readers who went out and bought or borrowed the first book, and encourage them to snap the final one up as soon as it hits shelves. I want to do this by giving you free stuff. 

Let me explain.

Many of my Dear Readers (like myself - I admit it!) might have the habit of reading the first book in a trilogy, liking it... and then deciding not to buy/borrow the middle book until the last one comes out. I mean, come on, we all know that middle books are angsty and prone to end on cliffhangers, and then you have to wait a whole year and it's just too frustrating. I tried not to end DARKNESS HIDDEN on too much of a cliffhanger, but I have to admit it was pretty angsty, so I'm not innocent. Anyway, this wide-spread habit on the part of all readers means that the sales of middle books in trilogies is often way lower than the sales of first books, and this has definitely been born out in the figures I've seen for The Name of the Blade.

This would be fine, except that all too often if you (and I) don't buy the middle book of the trilogy, well... another year passes and the final book comes out and you just sort of miss it because, honestly, it's been two years since the first book and you've moved on or forgotten what the story was about... so you never end up buying the final book at all. And I just. This is where I put my writer hat on and say: No. No, man. This is not OK.

I put all the best STUFF in the final book. All kinds of amazing stuff, seriously! And all these subtle hints that you probably didn't even NOTICE in the first book, but they were there, and RIGHT NOW they are lying in wait - no, honestly, RIGHT NOW - in your brain, just quivering with the chance to spring out and make sense of all the awesome stuff - the final book is where EVERYTHING DOVETAILS OK and all these fantastic thematic elements that my subconscious was working on the whole time just suddenly emerge and it's beautiful, all right, and just - that story needs to be completed in your brain. It needs to find fruition, or else it'll be unfinished forever! YOU WILL NEVER KNOW HOW COOL IT ALL WAS! THIS WAS FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE, HOLY CR*P, PLEAASE VALIDAAAATE MY EXISTEEEENCE.

*Pants*

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that a good proportion of the people who read and enjoyed the first book have not yet read and enjoyed the second one, and I would really like them to, and also to read and enjoy the final one. So: free stuff.

I have ten signed copies of DARKNESS HIDDEN right here - my author copies, which I have saved for a year, for this reason - and I am going to give them away to ten UK readers.



The winners will also get assorted The Name of the Blade swag, and two signed and personalised bookplates.

I want these books to go to Dear Readers who read THE NIGHT ITSELF but haven't yet gotten around to buying or borrowing DARKNESS HIDDEN, because when Book #3: FRAIL HUMAN HEART comes out on July the 2nd, I want you to be as excited about it as I am, and I want you to run to your local bookshop, or Amazon/online retailer, or the library, or your big sister or dad or whoever buys or borrows or lends books in your life, and say: I need Frail Human Heart right now. I want us all to be celebrating the completion of this trilogy together. That is what will make me happy.

So how do you get your hands on your free signed copy of DARKNESS HIDDEN (and assorted swag)? It is so super easy, you'll laugh.

I want you to take a selfie of you (and any friends, relatives or pets who wish to be included) holding THE NIGHT ITSELF. It doesn't matter which version of the book it is, or if the copy of the book is yours, or if you borrowed it from the library, or a friend - only that you've got it there. Then email your TNI selfie to me at z d marriott (at) g mail (dot) com or tweet it to me (feel free to share it anywhere else that you like as well, because I'm sure you're gorgeous). I'm going to RT each and every one of these lovely pictures on Twitter, and then make a masterpost of them here on the blog to share, because I just want to feel like we're all being happy and excited about the release of FRAIL HUMAN HEART together, OK?

That's it, that's all you have to do - selfie with THE NIGHT ITSELF, and email or tweet it to me. The first ten people to do this get the signed book and swag. And I really hope that when FRAIL HUMAN HEART comes out you'll join in with my excitement, that you'll get hold of a copy, and talk about it online if you enjoyed it (or even if you didn't) but that's not required. It's as simple as that. To recap:

Step One - TNI selfie.
Step Two - Send TNI selfie to Zolah via email or Tweet.
Step Three - PROFIT.

The giveaway will remain open for as long as it takes for all ten books to run out (unless it gets silly) and, as I said above, is for UK readers only, please. Spread the word! Spread your selfies! Spread The Name of the Blade love! Make Zolah a happy writer. Fly free.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

THE SCORPION RULES BY ERIN BOW

Hello, hello, hello, my lovelies! I hope you are all doing well after my sort-of hiatus? I am mostly up and about again, although still not very comfortable in any position other than standing up or lying flat. Luckily I had a really, really good book arrive in the post last week - kindly sent to me by the lovely PR people of Simon and Schuster - and so I had something fun to do during the lying down parts. As a result, today I bring you what will hopefully not be an incoherent squeeful mess of an early review of THE SCORPION RULES, by Erin Bow, which will be released in September this year.


A quick precis: THE SCORPION RULES will probably be dubbed Dystopian by most reviewers, but actually I think it falls more comfortably into the category of pure science fiction (it might almost, almost be Utopian fiction, but there are arguments to be made there). In any case, the novel deals with a future perhaps five or six hundred years away from ours, in which radical climate change has forced a complete upheaval in the world order.

Humanity, facing catastrophic losses in habitable landmass, essential resources, and devastating plagues caused by the change in the environment, turned on each other with such ferocity that the world population dropped by half, and then by another third, and then another quarter. Extinction, largely self-inflicted, seemed inevitable.

And then Talis - a highly developed AI which had been given the task of 'conflict abatement' by the UN, and hooked into all the world's satellites, computers and - you guessed it - weapons systems, decided that enough was enough and took over with brutal efficiency. Having gotten everyone's attention by wiping half a dozen of the remaining cities off the face of the earth he (and the AI *is* a he, but no more on that because spoilers) set up a new system of government. He himself is the supreme planetary ruler, and he ruthlessly enforces a series of iron-clad laws in an attempt to stop large scale conflict from ever erupting amongst humans again.

The basis of this new world order is that when war happens, it must be personal. The only long range weapons are held by Talis himself; everyone else has to literally get their hands bloody if they want to fight. And as both a symbol of this and it's logical conclusion, the rulers of all nations in the new world are required to have children - and to offer those children up, at the age of five, to Talis. They're kept as hostages within strictly isolated and controlled enclaves known as Preceptures, where they are conditioned to accept that if their parents declare war - any war, for any reason - their own lives will be forfeit.

The children of the world leaders - known as Children of Peace - stay within these Preceptures, under the guardianship of AI carer/jailers, until the age of eighteen, at which point they can go home. But when that happens, their countries fall into regency (with the children of the regent offered up in the same way) until the former hostage themselves can produce a child, and that child is old enough to be offered up as a hostage, allowing their parent to ascend to the throne... and on and on.

The frontispiece of the book is Robert J. Oppenhiemer's famous quote:
"We may be likened to two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life."
It's a savage quote that sums up the savage world which Erin Bow has created. And yet THE SCORPION RULES is one of the most profoundly compassionate, hopeful, and human books I think I've ever read. And that's even though several of the most compelling characters are themselves inhuman AI constructs. 

Greta, the heroine of THE SCORPION RULES, is a seventh generation hostage, so perfectly educated for and resigned to her role as a probable sacrifice that her most passionate wish - in fact, her only passionate wish - is that when death almost inevitably comes for her, she will meet it with dignity. Her memories of her childhood friend, Bihn, who was dragged screaming to her execution when she was nine, are particularly chilling because Greta seems to regret the manner of that death more than the death itself.

But Greta isn't a cold or unloving person. It's simply that, as she herself puts it later in the book, Greta is sleep-walking through life. The reality of her existence - and the existence of everyone in her day to day life - is that in which an almost idyllic, pastoral upbringing with kindly AI teachers, unfettered access to books in a peaceful library, and days spent working in the garden with a sort-of-family of childhood friends is a white sheet of civility draped over the blood-soaked terror of absolute, constant surveillance at every moment by electric-shock wielding 'proctor' robots, the threat of physical and emotional torture for non-compliance, and a roll of inescapable, never-ending deaths. Unquestioning devotion to duty is how Greta manages to deal with that reality, and as the story unfolds we realise that her seemingly equally resigned fellow prisoners each deal with that reality in their own way too.

But even though Greta is only half-awake, she has... something. Some quality of leadership, resolution, strength, that makes others look up to her - and as such, she has the potential to become a fulcrum for change within not only her Precepture but also Talis' perfect world order. Which is exactly what happens when Greta wakes, is forced to wake, by the advent of a new hostage who is not peaceful, resigned, or willing to die (or be kept captive), let alone with dignity.

This captive is Elian, unexpectedly thrust into his role by the abrupt rise to power of his grandmother (who has no other close relative under the age of eighteen). Having grown up as the son of a humble sheep farmer, he is used to a kind of freedom - mental, emotional and physical - that Greta is hardly able to comprehend, and Elian is equally unable to comprehend the resigned compliance of Greta and the other Children of Peace. After seeing him brought to the Precepture in chains, Greta is struck by this quote from Talis himself: Slavery is no part of natural law. Even though Greta has never considered herself to be a slave before, and even though she at first refuses to accept the significance of her reaction to Elian's treatment, this is the beginning of the end of her blind acceptance of the life she has lived so far.

As always, I'm trying very hard to steer clear of spoilers in this review, but I need to make it clear that THE SCORPION RULES does not concern a heroic rebellion against a corrupt and self-serving government as in the style of The Hunger Games. This story is not a romance - although there are romantic elements - and nor does it shy away from moral grey areas. No easy answers are offered by Erin Bow in this book. We see firsthand the cruelty, the brutality of Talis' reign and the terrible consequences for the Children of Peace, innocent children who are warped and tortured almost to the point of breaking by the system. But we also see the consequences when humans successfully - although briefly - manage to circumvent Talis' rules in order to attempt to take control of the Children of Peace themselves, and it's more cruel and brutal still. There are no thrilling battle scenes in this novel, but it is basically a story about war - and there is no attempt to sugarcoat the realities of that.

As always, the shining strength of Erin Bow's work is in her characters, who are vivid, evolving and nuanced in a way that makes them unforgettable. It's often said that all villains are the heroes of their own stories (in fact, Erin said this to me herself, on Twitter) but very few villains are also sufficiently well written that they are able to be heroes or near-heroes within the protagonist's story, too. In this novel the main antagonists carry out acts of unforgivable horror, from small-scale torture to mass murder - and, importantly, the author does not attempt to justify or excuse these actions, instead depicting with visceral honesty the consequences. And yet the characters responsible are still portrayed as fully realised and even, somehow, sympathetic human beings (including, again, the ones who aren't really human at all).

While Greta is rightfully the central character and heroine of THE SCORPION RULES, this is an ensemble piece which beautifully explores a truly diverse range of characters. And when I say diverse, I don't just mean that they are varied personality types - they're also racially diverse, diverse in the presentation of their sexuality, and diverse in religion. There's a wonderful character who is disabled and uses adaptive prosthetics, whom I loved deeply. But then, if I'm honest, I loved all of them deeply. This book is also beautifully, beautifully written, as expected from the author of Plain Kate and Sorrow's Knot (my review for Sorrow's Knot can be found here). Here's an example from very early in the book that send a little thrill down my spine:
"It was almost noon; hot, dry, and windy. The apple leaves were gold from the dust on their tops and silvery underneath. The sun came through them in swirling coins, and beyond, the prairie chirred and whirred with grasshoppers."
The contrast of such lyrical, poetic language with the savage events of the story makes both more effective (and, honestly, gives me such an author-crush, it's slightly embarrassing).

THE SCORPION RULES is a bloody, breath-taking, beautiful book. Both terrifying and mesmerising, it looks unflinchingly at the human consequences of war and offers up complex characters and untenable choices without ever sinking into nihilism. I think Sorrow's Knot will always be my personal favourite of Erin's novels (and one of my favourite novels of all time), but Erin has definitely equalled her achievement with that novel in writing this one. As a fellow craftsperson I'm left in awe, and as a reader I'm left feeling transformed. It's a very fine piece of work indeed.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

DON'T PANIC...

Not a post as such today, my cutie-patooties - just a quick note to let you know that my old friend the prolapsed disc has decided to return for an unexpected visit. Thus the lack of post last week and this week too, and the general eerie silence on all my social media. I hope that I will soon be on the mend, but right now I'm still spending most of my time lying immobile on my back with a hot water bottle plastered to my spine and far too many muscle relaxants in my system, all of which makes it miserable to try and write anything.

I'm hoping by next week sitting upright won't be torture anymore, but if you don't get a new post then, just take it as read that I'm still fine and am just babying my back for a little longer. When I DO return, I have a mega-giveaway that I want everyone to enter and help spread the word about, so get excited about that :)

Read you later, lovelies.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

CHECKING IN

Hello, my magical muffins! Happy Wednesday to all.

First of all, a massive thanks to everyone who came to the Lincoln Inspired event last Saturday. It was great fun and all the writers and organisers and readers I met were wonderful. Here's us during the panel:
 

Taken by Bowen, the charming son of Kerry Drewery, who's on my right there (in a Roald Dahl t-shirt, no less). I actually felt terrible that day, with a sinus headache that would not quit - I ended up spending most of Sunday with my face in a bowl of hot steam - but I still have lovely memories of absolutely snorking with laughter at what everyone had to say. A+++ event, very good, would participate again.

This week I'm buried up to my eyebrows in my pre-submission edits on BaBBook. I was supposed to turn the book in to Wonder Editor and Super Agent by the end of April but the tonsillitis and complications thereof absolutely knocked the stuffing out of me, and although I did work through it as much as I could - I knew I was going to be late, but I didn't want to be horribly late - I reluctantly came to the conclusion last week that pretty much all the changes I'd made were utter &@)*, and that I'd missed loads of quite important stuff that I should have caught and improved or fiddled with in various ways. I wouldn't have been happy letting anyone see the 'edited' version.

So on Monday I went back to my original first draft (ALWAYS ALWAYS CREATE A NEW DOCUMENT FOR EACH NEW ROUND OF EDITS MY CHILDREN TRUST ME ON THIS) and started again. I'm already feeling much more positive about this version. Fingers crossed I can send it off soon.


Once that's done I'll actually be out of contract - that is, without any outstanding books contracted to be written and published - for the first time since 2005. Which is a liiiittle scary, not gonna lie. But I have two projects that I'm desperate to work on next and a third that I'm also very excited for (although that one is slightly less developed).

One of these is another fairytale retelling, loosely linked to Shadows on the Moon, which will star a trans* main character - though it's not Akira, sorry! The second is a timeslip story which takes place in both the 1920's and contemporary Britain. The third one is a high fantasy inspired by ancient Babylon which will feature griffins. I'm hoping that Walker will take a liking to one or all of these and offer me a new contract, but I've got considerable work to do on research and synopses, and Wonder Editor will be busy with BaBBook once I've sent it to her, so it'll more than likely be a while before I can talk in more detail about any of them.

In the meantime, here's a snippet from BaBBook. Let me know what you think in the comments!
______________________________________

Everything came back in a starburst of agony. Fire flowed through my flesh, eating away at it in long glowing runnels, like rivers of molten metal burning my shoulder, my hip, and deep, deep into my side. I tried to cry out. All that emerged was a high, thin wheeze, whistling between my teeth. The effort made the hurt surge up over the rest of my body like a red tide, and if I had possessed the breath in that moment to do it, I would have begged the Moon for death.

What happened where am I what’s wrong no no I can’t make it stop please make it go away –  


“Ssh now, ssh, you’re safe. You’re safe now. Don’t move.”

I heard the voice only distantly, my own pained, panicked breaths drowning everything out. A large, shadowy shape moved across the orange screen of my closed eyelids – I couldn’t seem to open them – before a strong hand cupped the back of my head and tilted my neck up. Something touched my lip. The rim of a cup, rough and unglazed.

“Hurts,” I whimpered.

“I know,” the voice rumbled softly, soothing. “I know it hurts. Drink this. It will help.”

The cup tipped. I tried to swallow, but the bitter liquid within made me choke and cough. The pain flared and I let out a weak, stuttering sob.

“I’m sorry.” The fingers on my neck rubbed a little at the tight muscles there, like an apology. “Too fast. Let’s try again.”

“Father?”

There was a quiet noise, and then the voice sighed. “I – yes. Yes, child, it’s your father. You’re doing well. Drink up for me?”

Comforted despite my suffering, I did. The liquid was lukewarm, and it tasted awful. I choked again – just a little – but kept trying, and finally the cup was taken away.

“There. Good girl.”

“Father, why...”

“Ssh. No questions now. Rest. Sleep and get better.”

He laid me carefully back down, my head nestling into some soft, spongy pillow – but the movement jarred my shoulder, which made me flinch, which made my side and hip scream. I bit my lip, but couldn’t hold in another sob.

“Breathe out,” the voice – father’s voice? – rumbled. The slightly rough surface of a damp, cool passed over my forehead and my cheeks, wiping away sweat and tears. “Breathe in. Slowly now. Breathe out. It will pass. Pain always passes. Breathe in. What we know will pass, we can endure.”

I followed the rhythm he set, breathing slowly and quietly until both the clawing fire in my side and the panic had eased enough to be bearable. I sensed more than heard him shift away and stiffened.

“Don’t leave me. Don’t go.”

“I won’t leave you. I’m not going anywhere. Be still now. Copper fish, dance, dance... leaves falling on silver pool...autumn rains, fall, fall...”

My mind slowly clouded over as the stuff he had made me drink took effect. I fell asleep to the gentle, rumbling growl of the sweet lullaby that no one had sung to me since I was eight years old...
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