I’m thrilled to announce that Peril in the Old Country is available for pre-order from Black Spot Books! I’m still working with the insanely talented staff at BSB to get every last comma in place. I’d have done it while I was writing the thing, but there was a shortage of commas. I blame the economy.
The book will be available online and in stores on June 5, 2018. Here’s an excerpt from one of the early chapters to whet your appetite.
Sloot was across the street from Gildedhearth, Lord Constantin Hapsgalt’s sprawling estate, when the tail end of the parade was walking by. Four columns of grans, walking single-file in the most orderly lines one can imagine, giving every cobble the most thorough sweep it had seen since this very same thing happened the year before. It was a rare treat indeed, seeing that many brooms in the same place all at once. It wasn’t as though one could just walk into a store and buy one. In spite of their mysterious power against the goblin menace, only married people were eligible to own them. Broom making was a highly profitable cottage industry, with the premier artisans in the field spending all of their time crafting works of art to be presented at the most decadent weddings of the year.
That’s tradition for you, Sloot thought, being careful not to do it aloud. If the people of the Old Country were more pragmatic thinkers, he’d be allowed to own a broom; then again, Sloot decided that maybe he didn’t want to live in a world where that sort of wanton anarchy ran unchecked. What would be next? Could he punch who he liked, cut in lines, and say the proper name of the Old Country to his heart’s content? His broom would provide a means to deal with the consequences, so why not? He shuddered at the thought.
The parade moved past, and Sloot was momentarily reticent to tread upon such clean cobbles; then again, he was far more reticent to keep Lord Hapsgalt waiting, so tread he did.
“Name?” The downward lilt, the drawn expression, and the powdered wig on the butler standing outside the gate had formed a committee for the single purpose of insinuating to Sloot that while he probably belonged somewhere, Gildedhearth was not that place.
“Peril. Sloot Peril. I’ve been invited to—”
“Summoned,” said the butler. “You’ve been summoned to dine with His Lordship, Mister Peril.”
“Right,” Sloot replied. “May I go in, then?”
The butler’s second chin followed his first in a righteous waggle, accompanied by his lips in a curling into a gentle sneer. “You’ll have to complete an application.”
The butler may have been formidable in his use of bluster and pomp, but Sloot was an accountant. He ate standardized forms for breakfast, in triplicate (literally in one case—teenagers can be cruel, but that was well over a week ago).
Sloot was provided a walking stick and a skin of water for his walk down the main hallway, every inch of which was festooned with gilded scrollwork, marble columns, and frescoes so lifelike that art students were encouraged to walk through it. Having done so, they tended to decide they were in over their heads and take up law or medicine instead.
Sloot was surprised that he’d never heard of many of the artists whose names he read from the plaques, and reckoned that their entire lives’ works may well reside in that obscenely long hallway.
It was nearly dinner time when Sloot finally reached the foyer of the main house. He was greeted there by a woman dressed in a high-collared black dress, wearing spectacles that would have been judgmental enough just sitting on a desk, much less perched upon a hawkish nose that could have looked down upon the sun.
“You’re nearly late,” she said.
“Then I’m on time?”
“That’s your one.” She took a step toward him and thrust what appeared to be a magic wand in his face. Sloot knew enough about magic to know that he didn’t know the first thing about magic. Best to assume that it could go off at any moment, then.
“Sorry,” replied Sloot.
“My name is Olga,” said Olga. “Mrs. Knife informs me that you’ve never dined in a proper house before.”
“I’m not sure how to answer that.”
“That’s all right, it wasn’t a question. I’ll be your mannerist for the evening, just do as I say and there’s an excellent chance you’ll leave here with all of your fingers. Are we clear?”
“All of my fingers?”
The wand was a blur as it went whack against the knuckles of Sloot’s right hand.
“I’m not keen on questions, Peril.”
“I understand,” said Sloot, who didn’t quite, but wasn’t keen on further instruction.
“Very well,” said Olga. “Here we go then, eighth chair on the left, don’t sit until Lord Hapsgalt has done.”
Sloot nodded. Olga turned and rapped twice on the great oaken door with the ornate bronze door knocker that looked eerily like Sloot being eaten by a dragon. He shook his head and chalked it up to hubris, nonetheless trying to recall whether any bronzesmiths had lately been studying him.
The double doors were opened from the inside by the most enormous pair of brutes that Sloot had ever seen up close. He followed Olga quickly past them toward an enormous table, where at least twenty well-dressed people were standing beside their chairs and speaking in low tones.
Olga led Sloot to his chair and motioned for him to stand beside it.
“No time for a proper lesson on forks,” Olga stated. “We’ll muddle through, just start from the outside and work your way in. You do know how to use a fork, don’t you?”
Sloot smiled. “Well, I haven’t had any formal training or anything, but I think—”
Whack went Olga’s wand on Sloot’s knuckles again.
“That sort of cheek might win you giggles in whatever pub you abuse with your presence, but do it again here, and I’ll have your apartment burned down.” There wasn’t a hint of malice in her voice, just the matter-of-factness with which a waiter might recite the soup of the day.
The other attendees abruptly stopped speaking at once, causing Sloot to wonder whether his hearing had quit. The sound of footsteps from behind him assuaged that fear.
Whack went Olga’s wand across the back of Sloot’s neck. He fought the urge to cower from the blow, noticed that everyone else had turned in the direction of the footsteps, and followed suit.
The man walking toward the head of the table could have been any one of the millions of people in the world whom Sloot had never met, but he was Lord Constantin Hapsgalt. That was not the product of probability, but the inevitable result of generations of well-orchestrated plotting. Lord Hapsgalt’s black suit was exquisitely brocaded in gold, and he towered over the pair of butlers walking before him. He was a tall man on his own, and the high-heeled shoes that were all the rage among the very, very rich would clear up any ambiguity that dared to hang around.
“Sit, sit,” said Lord Hapsgalt, waving his hands.
“Not until everyone closer to Lord Hapsgalt has done,” said Olga, her wand in a lascivious position to prevent him from sitting out of turn. She eventually withdrew it, and Sloot sat. Olga stood beside him.
Sloot looked around the table, despite the feeling of dread that came from knowing he might make eye contact with someone he didn’t know. Or worse, someone that he did. And then, as proof that the worst thing that can happen usually does, Sloot found his gaze met by that of Mrs. Knife. His heart sank into his stomach, no doubt hoping that she wouldn’t think to look for it there.