Science, Fiction, Life

Month: August 2016

Flash Fiction: Challenge #475 – Like a Dog

So, it turns out last weekend there weren’t enough entries in the flash challenge, so it continued to this week That means that one of the triggers was the one I submitted, but I decided to go ahead with the challenge and hope the other trigger worked for me. It wasn’t super-inspiring, but I still managed 1200 words, so not bad! Here’s my entry:


 

“Malcom! Get out here, man, we are ready to be off!” prince Vincent yelled. Behind him, the courtiers chuckled and joked with one another.

Malcom the kennelmaster took his time. It would do the young prince good to learn some patience, even if it Malcom would pay the price for the delay. He limped down the kennel, looking at each dog with an appraising eye, choosing those who would be best for today’s hunt. His leg hurt. It would be raining later today, then.

Derek, the page boy was as eager to go on the hunt as the dogs were. Malcom sent the boy out with several of the hounds, and followed clutching the leashes of several more.

The prince waited atop his white horse, bedecked in bright satin and a ludicrous hat.

“You ought to get a new kennel master, your grace,” one of the courtiers said to the prince. “This one can barely walk, let alone ride with us on the hunt!”

“Derek will ride for me, m’lord,” Malcom said. “He’s a strong boy and knows his way with the hounds.”

The prince, aware of his audience of lordlings, sneered. “Not much to know though, is there? They are stupid creatures, just point them in the right direction and let them loose! Much like footsoldiers!” Laughter all around.

Malcom bit his tongue. The old wound in his leg throbbed, a souvenir from his fighting days. He spoke to Derek, with a message meant for the prince. “Now Derek, be sure not to release the hounds until the deer is in sight or they will tire themselves out too quickly. And once you do release them, give them their space.”

“Yes sir, as you say,” Derek said.

The prince and his lords wheeled and rode off laughing, followed by Derek and the pack of eager hounds.

* * *

They returned that afternoon, soaking wet in the rain. One of the dogs was missing.

“Your grace, I recall that ten dogs left with you this morning, but I see only nine here now.”

The prince snarled. “Train the beasts better and next time they will all come back!” He rode off in the direction of the castle.

“I’m sorry sir,” Derek said, once the prince was out of earshot. “I tried, but he didn’t listen. He rode too close once the hounds were loosed and when one darted left, he trampled the poor thing. We had to put it down.”

Malcom nodded. “Not your fault, Derek. Get the rest of the dogs in out of this rain. Did they eat?”

“No, sir.”

The hunt had been a failure to boot, then.

“Feed them before you feed yourself.”

* * *

Weeks later, on a crisp clear morning, Malcom found himself face to face with prince Vincent, just outside the kennel. The brash, blustering boy was gone, replaced by a hesitant young man.

“A word please, goodman Malcom.”

“Of course, your grace.”

“As you may have heard, the princess Elizabeth of Artea is come to visit us. She has… expressed a desire to hunt today.”

Malcom knew that this princess was intended as a potential wife for Vincent, and was rumored to be beautiful too. Did the prince realize how lucky he was that his political marriage also happened to be a desirable one?

“Of course your grace, I will make ready.” Malcom almost turned to attend to the dogs, but realized that the prince seemed to have more to say.

“Malcom, may I… confide in you?”

“You may,” Malcom said, cautiously.

The prince seemed greatly relieved. “I worry that the princess does not like me. I mean, we are meant to be married, and she obviously desires the title that would go along with such a match, but I want the match to be more than that.”

Ah. So the boy did realize his luck, and hoped not to spoil it.

“Well, your grace, I am no expert in wooing women, but it seems to me that maybe she is feeling much the same. If you want her to see you as more than a title, then you need to make it clear that you see her as something more as well. Show an interest in her. Not her family, not her kingdom, her. The person.”

The prince seemed to consider that.

“Thank you Malcom,” the prince said.

Malcom saw them off later that morning. He kept Derek at the kennels this time, to give the lovebirds some privacy. They returned that evening, emptyhanded but with cheeks flushed and smiling.

* * *

Winter, and with the snows had come an illness that reached all the way to the royal family. The king was ill, and rumor had it he would not see the spring. Malcom stomped snow from his boots and opened the door to his humble cabin to find the fire inside already lit. In front of it sat the prince, staring into the flames.

“Your grace,” Malcom said, taking a seat next to the young man.

“My father is dying.” Prince Vincent spoke without turning his eyes from the fire. Malcom said nothing, waiting.

“He can’t die!” the prince said after a moment, as if arguing with himself.

“He can, sad to say it,” Malcom said. “He’s a good man, but old.”

“And when he is gone, I am expected to take his place. I can’t do it. I can never be as wise and just as him. How am I supposed to do it? You have given me good counsel before, Malcom, though I did nothing to deserve it. How do I take my father’s place?”

Malcom sighed. Outside the winter wind sighed back.

“You know, when your father took this castle, it was a night like this one. Midwinter. We were cold and hungry. Out of supplies. The attack had to succeed or we were finished. I sat with him in his tent before the attack, and he said almost the same thing to me: ‘What right do I have to take the throne from King Uther? How can I take his place?’

He was only a little older than you are now.”

The prince stared at Malcom, wide-eyed. “You served with my father?”

“Aye, I did. From the very beginning, loyal fool that I am.” Malcom stretched his bad leg out toward the fire. “Earned myself this leg in that night’s attack. Took a spear meant for him.”

“And he punished you by making you the master of kennels?” the prince said, incredulous. “He should have knighted you!”

“Punished?” Malcom chuckled. “No, rewarded. I had nothing, and with a mangled leg I would’ve remained nothing. Your father gave me this position, this cabin. I had no desire for a knighthood, just a comfortable life.

Dogs have that bit right. A good life is not about power and glory. It’s about loyalty to your pack and working hard to earn a good meal and a comfortable place to lay your head.”

The prince was silent for a moment.

“Your father had the same worries that you do, Vincent,” Malcom said. “And he was a fine king, as you will be. Just keep in mind that bit of wisdom from the dogs. It’s not power and glory that make a good life or a good king. Be loyal to your men, make your loyal men comfortable, and you’ll do well.

Struggling to Stay Rational Through Infertility and Pregnancy

As a scientist, I try to approach everything in life from a rational, skeptical point of view, so it has been interesting to enter the world of conception and pregnancy and to begin to get a glimpse of the future world of parenting. “Interesting” not only because of the pseudo-science and outright superstition around every corner, but because I have found that despite all my training, it is almost impossible to stay fully rational about this stuff.

The first taste came when we started trying to conceive. We were just about as ready as any couple can possibly be: secure jobs, a nice house in a nice town, good financial situation, two dogs (aka imitation infants), etc. That was two years ago. Erin is 19 weeks pregnant right now, so if you do the math you’ll see that it took us a while. Everyone drills into your head that it’s so easy to accidentally get pregnant that you assume that as soon as birth control stops, it’s only a matter of months before there’s a baby on the way. That’s not how it worked out for us.

We started trying, and nothing happened. Months passed and Erin had not yet “fallen pregnant” (a term which I have learned to hate – as if getting pregnant is as easy and accidental as falling off a log). Meanwhile, our Facebook feeds were a parade of pregnancy announcements, baby bump pictures, birth announcements, and baby pictures, mixed in with self-righteous posts about choosing not to have kids. We tried to be happy for our friends and their growing families (or their choice not to do something we wanted so desperately), but as time went on, each adorable baby seemed to be less a promise of things to come and more of a reminder of our own failings.

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We got tested. Erin’s came back fine, mine did not. I didn’t realize how much of my identity I had based upon the idea that someday I would raise a family until suddenly I was staring at a test result that said I was unlikely to be able to do it. The results had a terse single-sentence note from my doctor, not even explaining any of the test results, just referring me to a reproductive specialist. Faced with such a result, it felt like the universe’s way of saying “you are failing at the primary purpose of your existence”.  It felt like a judgement. My life has been so fortunate and easy in every other respect, maybe this was karma: some way to balance out all of that privilege. Some cruel trick played by the Fates to even the score.

Of course, none of that makes any sense, but that doesn’t matter to my irrational brain. Ironically, I think my skeptical nature actually led me down the path to these sorts of irrational thoughts. I put so much emphasis on having and raising children as a part of my life precisely because I do not believe in any afterlife or higher power. Without the comforting promise of an afterlife or a divine plan, there is a lot of self-imposed pressure to do something with my life that will last after I’m gone, and the easiest way to do that is to pass on my genes to offspring and to rear those offspring to be good people.

Rationally I know how ridiculous it is to anthropomorphize the universe. To ascribe motives to it, to think that somehow bad luck makes me a failure,  or that this is some way to balance out previous good fortune. The luck of being a white straight male in a society that values those traits has nothing to do with misfortune of having a slight hormonal imbalance that impacts fertility. These variables are uncorrelated, orthogonal, independent. But when you want something so badly and have so little control over whether you get it, the natural response is not logical well-reasoned thought. The natural response is seek out some reason for things to have happened the way they did, because the alternative of an indifferent, random universe that is completely out of your control is anathema.

My other immediate response to getting the test result back was to seek out information. Some people get freaked out by medical jargon and technical language. I’m comforted by it. Something is wrong? I want to know everything I can about it. I can confidently say that I now know more about male (in)fertility than most of the population. Hell, more than some doctors. The extremely supportive infertility communities on Reddit were sanity savers. We live in a society where fertility is a taboo subject (thanks, religion!) which makes it really awkward to talk about this stuff. I didn’t learn that many men in my family have had fertility issues until I finally told my parents about the trouble we were having, and that wasn’t until months after I got those first results and we started to see a specialist in Phoenix.

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Luckily, we didn’t have to resort to IVF+ICSI.

In the initial panic and shame after that first test result (made worse because it had to be kept secret) the ability to find a group of people online going through the same difficulties, and to speak candidly and anonymously with them, was tremendously valuable. It was also very comforting to see how science-positive the people on the infertility boards were. It makes sense: many of the people on those boards had much worse diagnoses than I did, and so their only recourse is in-vitro fertilization (IVF), often using intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) which basically involves injecting a single sperm (sometimes surgically extracted!) into a single egg. These people are depending on cutting-edge science to be able to have children.

But at the same time, there was inevitably a strong undercurrent of pseudoscience in the infertility communities, especially if I dared to stray from the Reddit boards to elsewhere on the internet. Even as people complained about friends and family members saying completely nonsensical and often hurtful things like “just relax and it will happen” and “everything happens for a reason” they would, in the next sentence, talk about how they are looking into homeopathy or aromatherapy or, most of all, acupuncture. I’m sorry, but having a stranger stick you full of needles is not going to get you pregnant. That’s really not how this works. But at the same time, I get it. What else can you do? When you’re faced with infertility and even the most advanced (and expensive) medical treatments can’t help you, it’s irrational but also completely normal to look elsewhere. I just hated seeing these people who were suffering through infertility being given false hope by snake-oil salesmen.

Thankfully, in the end my diagnosis was very mild, and it was just a matter of taking some tiny, cheap pills and continuing to try. We were absolutely thrilled when we found out Erin was pregnant, and when the time came we made our own obnoxiously cute announcement on social media. To our friends who are secretly struggling to have kids, I’m sorry you have to go through that. Part of why I’m writing this post is to do my small part to fight back against the taboo of talking about it.

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I feel kind of bad about how adorable this is.

Now that we are expecting, I have found that it comes with a whole new realm of irrational thinking. First there is the superstition carried over from before modern medicine existed.  For example: ritual genital mutilation (a.k.a. circumcision) is still shockingly common. And then there is the highly personal and ambiguous morass that is the choice between a midwife and a doctor, and between a birth center or a home birth vs. a hospital birth. I hesitate to even write about this because it’s such a charged topic, but I think it’s an important one.

To me, the surging popularity of midwives and births outside the hospital setting is a symptom of a general mistrust of the “medical establishment” and anything that isn’t “natural”, which always causes alarm bells to go off in my head. I mean, I get it: I don’t have the highest opinion of doctors. I had to self-diagnose myself with Lyme disease in grad school because my doctor couldn’t figure it out. When I tried to establish a general care doctor for myself here in Flagstaff I was met with confusion and told not to come back unless I was sick. And as discussed above, the doctor who ordered my first fertility test was not exactly sensitive to the devastating news she was delivering. So I understand the desire to seek out someone who provides more caring and personal treatment for an extremely emotional and painful experience. With all that in mind, I think that midwives who have medical training and work at hospitals to provide that sort of care are excellent.

I also recognize that for the vast majority of uncomplicated pregnancies, giving birth at a birth center with a midwife is likely to be a better experience than a hospital birth. But to me it all comes down to what happens when things don’t go according to plan and the lives of the mother and/or baby are at stake. In cases like that, I want to be at the hospital already, with experts on hand to do whatever needs to be done. I just cannot trust the life of my wife and child to an organization that also offers herbal and homeopathic remedies and acupuncture (as our local birth center does).

To be clear, this is a very personal and complicated decision, and I am not in the best position to judge since I will never have to give birth myself. And I recognize that my aversion to birth centers and midwives just because they tend to be open to pseudoscience is not entirely rational itself. Most births are not complicated, and it’s not as if they force you to do acupuncture or to take sugar pills instead of regular medicine. This aversion is part of a larger theme for me: a lot of my feelings about pregnancy and birth are controlled by an overarching paranoia about all the things that can go wrong.

I think some of this paranoia is a direct result of our difficulty in getting pregnant. According to my irrational brain, since there is clearly something wrong with me that prevented conception for so long, there must now be something wrong with the baby. It didn’t help that the infertility boards were full of stories of miscarriages and genetic problems (Those infertility boards are a strongly biased sample of the population, but my irrational brain doesn’t care!). I find myself reading medical sites and trying to internalize all the statistics on birth defects and abnormalities and how rare they are. We did a blood test that came back indicating no chromosomal abnormalities. We did the initial appointments where we got to see and hear the heartbeat. All signs indicate that everything is as healthy as it can be. And yet there’s still this fear that something will go wrong.

You hear all the time that a baby is a “miracle”.  I don’t believe in miracles, but when I think about the near-infinite number of things that have to go just right for a single cell to grow into a functional human being, it quickly does begin to seem miraculous that anybody is ever born healthy. Every healthy adult human being, heck every healthy adult anything that has ever lived becomes this amazingly unlikely and precious thing. It’s awfully tempting to offer up a prayer that all of those steps go well for our baby, even though I know there is nobody listening. Again, when something is so completely out of your control, it’s a natural response even though it makes no logical sense. It takes a conscious effort to remind myself that procreation is a self-refining process. It is the one thing that life has to get right, and so life has gotten pretty good at it. It has been happening in some way or another since the dawn of life on Earth. The likelihood of a problem is as low as it possibly can be.

The problem is, once you are expecting a kid, everywhere you look there are warnings about all the ways you are going to harm your baby. Thou shalt never eat lunch meat or soft cheese or take a sip of wine or come within 30 feet of a piece of sushi or take any form of medication, etc. As a scientist, I can recognize that the vast majority of this type of advice is just an overabundance of caution. Lunch meat is fine, just don’t eat it if it’s spoiled because it can make you sick. Ditto soft cheese: just make sure your dairy products are pasteurized so you don’t get sick. Even sushi is technically okay if you avoid fish with lots of heavy metals and it’s fresh (so you don’t get sick, noticing a trend?). Despite the widespread paranoia about food on parenting sites, even my neurotic brain has been able to stay mostly rational about food advice.

Diet for Pregnancy - What Not To Eat When Expecting

How dare you eat sugar and wheat and cold cuts? Don’t you love your baby?

Various ingestible chemicals, on the other hand, have proved harder to think about logically (never mind the fact that food is also just ingestible chemicals). Everyone knows that alcohol is bad for the developing baby, but realistically a sip here or there is not going to make a difference. I know this. I understand how dilution works. And yet there’s still this faint irrational panic in the back of my mind when Erin tastes an alcoholic drink. Likewise for medication. Early in the pregnancy, while we were road-tripping around the west, Erin had some bad nausea and we got her some Emetrol to take. Now, this “drug” is just a sugary syrup mixed with phosphoric acid. Know what else is basically just sugar and phosphoric acid? Coke. But somehow the fact that Emetrol is a “drug” made the paranoia flare up. Now, later in the pregnancy, heartburn has replaced nausea and Erin has switched over to taking antacids. Again, these “medicines” are just basic harmless chemicals, this time things like calcium carbonate, but that irrational voice in the back of my mind is always there whenever she takes “medicine”.

As we pass each milestone in the pregnancy, I know that the likelihood of something going wrong decreases. And  yet, it’s not like all danger has passed once the kid is born. The flip side of Facebook’s endless parade of baby pictures is that several friends of mine have been brave enough to share sad news as well. One couple lost their baby shortly after birth (thankfully their second baby appears to be happy and healthy). Another couple’s son has had 5 surgeries and he is only a year old (thankfully the prognosis sounds good). Someone at work has a son with a genetic disorder so rare that there are only a handful of people in the country who have it. And even outside our personal network, I now find myself hyper-attuned to anything bad involving babies or children. Thankfully we are safe from Zika here in Flagstaff (too cold), but early in the pregnancy Humans of New York did a whole heart-wrenching feature on pediatric cancer. I find myself significantly more affected by even fictional stories about babies or kids getting hurt or dying (and once you start to notice them, you find that such stories are everywhere, just as when we were trying to conceive it seemed like every piece of culture we encountered was about pregnancy). Even just the process of shopping for our baby becomes a litany of nightmare scenarios. Shopping for cribs you read about SIDS. Shopping for car seats you worry about car crashes.  Shopping for toys you worry about choking hazards.

I know rationally that the odds are very good that our baby will be born perfectly healthy, that he will grow up safely, and none of the things I am worrying about will come to pass. But at the same time I get the feeling that this paranoia of mine is here to stay, that it is going to become the background noise of parenthood. My son isn’t even born yet and already I am developing a much deeper appreciation for what all the parents out there in the world have gone through.

I have tried to stay rational and reasonable about every step of this long journey that we are just starting,  but it has been a struggle. So much of this process is so completely beyond anyone’s control that it’s very hard to stay grounded. Part of why I get so paranoid about everything that can go wrong is that I am looking forward to being a parent so much.  It’s easy to lose sight of the joys that we have in store when faced with nothing but worst-case scenarios.

I was not expecting this post to end up so long or so relentlessly negative, but the reality is, that’s where my mind is lately. I know that I need to make a conscious effort to focus on the positives. In fact, I think a good follow-up post to this one would be to talk about all the many things I am looking forward to about becoming a father. Despite all my worries, I am really excited about it and that, at least, is definitely a rational response!

 

 

No Flash Fiction This Week!

So 1 week into my vow to post flash fiction every week, I am going to be skipping a week! Why? Well, first of all, my flash from last week was voted “Best Flash” from among the three entries so I provided one of the triggers. That means if I wrote this week I’d only have one to work from, and that can be an exercise in frustration. Also, I just spent the weekend army-crawling around in the crawlspace trying to insulate it and I’m pretty exhausted at the moment, so I think instead I’ll go watch an Episode of Stranger Things and get creeped out (if you aren’t watching that show, you should be!).

I’ll definitely be back in the Flash challenge next weekend, but in the meantime, enjoy the weird image I chose as one of this week’s triggers:

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“Immortality” by Chenthooran

Flash Fiction: Liberty Hall Challenge #474 – Memory

I am going to try something new here. I recently got back into participating in the Flash Fiction challenges over at Liberty Hall Writers (a writing group that I first joined years ago while I was in grad school). Activity has died down in many of the forums at Liberty Hall compared to six years ago, but I was pleased to find that there is still a dedicated core group who participate in the weekly flash fiction challenges. I’ve decided that I am going to participate in the challenges when I can, and then post the results here on the blog. In theory, it messes up any chances of actually publishing the stories to post them here for free, but since I seem to be incapable of actually following through and polishing my flash pieces and submitting them anywhere, it seems to me that I might as well share them in some form. I think it may be good for me to post some of my writing here for all to see so I can get over the tendency to over-think and over-edit which so often causes me to bog down and lose my forward momentum.

Here’s how the flash challenges work: each week two “triggers” are provided. One is an image and one is a short bit of text. From the moment a writer sees the triggers, they have 90 minutes to come up with a story inspired by one or both of the triggers and submit it to the Liberty Hall site. Then,  everyone who participated in the challenge goes through and critiques the other stories and votes on which was best.

The stories I post here are going to be “hot off the presses” meaning I’ll post them here exactly as they are submitted to the challenge. 90 minutes worth of writing and editing and nothing more. I will not be posting the triggers, since I’m interested in how the stories work without knowledge of what inspired them.

Without further ado, here’s my flash fiction for this week. Enjoy!


Memory

In Kira’s memory, this place was supposed to be a paradise: blue water lapping against a pebble beach, and a tumble of lush vegetation spilling down almost to the water. Master Brock’s cabin was supposed to be right there, on the edge of the sea and the edge of the greenery. Now, the ocean was dark and violent, the vegetation was scorched away, and the sand had been fused into black, shattered glass. The cabin was gone, and Master Brock with it.

The ministers had called her in from a mission in the Silver Mountains to investigate what had happened. The kingdom of Ruhall was rumored to be gathering forces, and the assassination of the most powerful mage in Var seemed a likely precursor to an attack. But that was not why Kira had come back. She came back because she should have been there. She could have protected him from the attack or died trying. It was a student’s duty to serve and protect their master, and she had left him to diminish in a hut by the sea while she hunted for glory. What glory had she thought she could find that would be better than serving Brock the Wise?

The black glass crunched under Kira’s boots as she made her way toward the former site of her teacher’s cabin. She tried to take her bearings but the place had been so devastated, even the familiar landmarks were gone. Had the cabin been here, or was it over there? Kira doubled back to was she had come, trying to remember.

Her mind tried to recall the first time she had come to see Master Brock here. She had been just a girl, sent from the academy to learn at the feet of the master. She had worked so hard to earn that honor. She had reined in her horse at the top of that rise over there, and looked down at the idyllic location, and then the master had looked up from his vegetable garden and—

The memory slipped away. It had been so clear but the more she focused her mind’s eye on it, the more it seemed to unravel. It was like trying to remember a dream. Like reading words written on the surface of the sea.

There was something more at work here than her faulty memory. Whatever magic had destroyed her master and his home was still at work somehow, toying with her perceptions. The closer she got to her goal, to more the memories slipped away. She needed to get away before they were gone entirely, and any chance of learning what had happened vanished with them.

Kira returned to her gray horse, mounted and spurred away, following the path up to the lookout. When she got there and turned around, she hoped that she might see something, but there was nothing there. She tried to focus her mind on the memories she still retained. Memories of her training with the master away from the site of his destruction. They had stood in the very spot she was standing and practiced controlling the sea birds. In the deep forest to her back, they had foraged for herbs for the master’s healing salves and he had taught her to speak with the trees.

As she pieced together the memories of her time with master Brock, she began to see a path in her mind’s eye, like stones beneath a rushing rapids. Precarious footholds at best, but leading somewhere. She followed the path of memories. Part of her knew that she was still riding her horse, that they were returning to the shore by some subtly different route.

She saw the end of that route now. It terminated at the doorstep of a small house, half-seen, like a mirage atop the blackened landscape. Carefully, wary of losing the vision, Kira approached and opened the door to the house.

The shimmering illusions collapsed around her as she stepped inside. It was an ordinary cabin. Wood walls hung with tools, gaps between the boards inexpertly patched. A warm fire glowing in the hearth with a kettle of fish stew bubbling above it.

Master Brock sat by the fire, reading. He continued for a few more seconds before marking his place with a bony finger and looking up.

“Hello, Kira.”

“Master Brock?”

“You found me.”

“But you’re dead!”

“Am I? I have to say I thought death would feel different. Cold and painful. But here I am, quite comfortable.” He gave her a wry smile and closed the book. He gestured at the other chair by the fire. “Take a seat my dear.”

Kira, unable to do anything else, obeyed. She opened her mouth to speak but master Brock cut across her words.

“The magistrates sent you, didn’t they?”

“Yes, to investigate your assassination at the hands of Ruhall.”

“Ruhall? What are they on about? Ruhall hasn’t dared to attack us in a century.”

“They just did! They blasted you into the void!”

“They did no such thing!” Master Brock seemed indignant.

Kira rubbed her temples. “Clearly, since you are still here. But if it was not an assassination attempt what happened?”

“Oh, I got tired of those bureaucrats telling me what to do. I have research ideas of my own, you know, but they were always ordering me to come up with ways to make bigger explosions or more efficient farmland. Boring.”

“So you staged your own death and prompted a war with Ruhall because you were bored?”

“No! Well, yes to the latter. But I have no interest in Ruhall.” He levitated a ladle full of stew from the pot to his lips and sipped cautiously, then nodded. “Soup’s ready. Stay and have some. But then I suppose you had better get back on the road and tell the magistrates not to go to war on my account.”

“I can tell them that you are alive then?”

“No, of course not. A student’s job is to protect her master.” Kira realized that he was very serious. He had cast a subtle spell even as they spoke. She literally would be unable to tell them. “But I’m sure you will think of something.”

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