igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)

I've been spending an awful lot of time over the past week or so up to my ears in French, but here we are finally with the essential scene in any Phantom retelling: the unmasking scene (combined here with the kidnap, since events are being compressed into a single day...) And an Erik-PoV chapter; the gentleman known to my fandom-blind beta-reader of the time as "Crazy Erik" :-p

It's interesting writing a character who is insane but -- of course -- isn't aware of it...


Chapter 7: Behind the Mask

The great chamber beneath the hillside was dark, lit by only the faintest midnight glow through the viewport from the dust-laden sky high above. The shadows of the gallery stretched away far out of sight, in long shapeless aisles that threw back only a random glint or two in answer to the faint pool of light at Erik’s feet as he moved; at any other time he would have welcomed that refuge, a deep anonymous night in which all men were equal, both marred and unmarred. But he was no longer alone. And she— she was not at home here as he was. He had to see that all was well; that all was ready for her.

His body still ached from the vibrating drone of their long flight, but he would not have sacrificed one hour of it. To have her there, cradled close in the soft black leather of the seat with her white throat thrown back, utterly yielding in the heavy-breathing stupor of her drugged doze... If he had reached out — taken his hand for one moment from the yoke of the little flyer — he could have brushed that wisp of hair that curled behind her ear, or set his gloved wrist against the smooth curve of her cheek that still held the downy bloom of a child. He longed to set loose those tight-bound braids and see her veiled in the sheen of her hair, brushed out like true rain as Newparis would never know it. She had been close enough to touch... and that had been enough.Read more... )

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And here's the other half of the Blake/Gan chapter; Blake's scenes weren't really long enough to stand on their own, and Gan's big scene would have made a very long single chapter in contrast. So we have here the combined outsiders' view of some fairly tumultuous events (and I've tried to distinguish the two different viewpoints).

Chapter 6: Broken Trust

Gan felt his mouth go dry. The spectre in black and white held them all, effortlessly, by sheer force of dominion. The voice, when it came, was distorted: a rising inhuman hiss through circuits that shielded and manipulated alike.

“People of Newparis— I have brought you here to make an example. An example that some among you have forgotten. An example to all those in whose talent we trust.”

Long, gloved fingers gestured, and a girl somewhere to the right cried out in one short sharp whimper of surprise. The crowd stirred, parting, as two broad-hewed men in dockyard clothes elbowed through with the chosen one caught up between them.

Gan got one glimpse down at her face, white as ash beneath the pale plait that crowned her head; the whisper of Vargas’ double axe sang ghost-like through his mind and he almost reached out to her, but Blake caught at his sleeve, both of them unsure in that moment if she was to be heroine or sacrifice of the hour. “Gan, wait— we don’t know—”

And then she was past and gone, hastened up to the stage where Dar stood rigid and grim, and Gan had only the memory of blue eyes pale as waxen thread, filled with all-consuming terror of the Ghost.Read more... )

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In which our two sets of crossover characters finally meet... just about. (Sadly I suspect the Daroga doesn't really count for most people ;-p)

This was the chapter that was originally written in flashback with Gan looking back on prior events while waiting for the rally to start; in the end I decided to restructure it into chronological order simply so that I could split the scenes involved over two chapters, since it was running very long. As I'm discovering with "In Regret, Always", an enclosing flashback structure makes dividing things into sub-scenes very difficult :-(


Chapter 5: First Contact

Gan’s face was beginning to ache from the effort of keeping up a genial smile, and even Blake’s bonhomie had slipped considerably. A mutual glance confirmed that right now they had a single thought in common: how to get away from their pressing new acquaintances. With hindsight, buying everyone in the bar a drink had probably been a mistake.

Blake peeled away the arm of one burly spacer from around his shoulders and clapped another over-enthusiastic crewman across the back in farewell, navigating an unobtrusive path across the crowded room towards the exit. Shaking off the old man at his elbow — and the pocket-case of highly contraband ju-gems he’d been trying to sell him — Gan followed, wearing a politely fixed grin as an assortment of affectionately-inebriated strangers tried to detain them, accost them or offer inside information on trade deals guaranteed to be highly profitable for a small initial outlay. Between the raised voices and the flicker of the overhead lights, his head had begun to swim unpleasantly.

“Well, that didn’t go quite as planned.” Blake stopped in the street outside, taking a deep breath, and glanced behind him. Gan found himself doing the same, as if to check that the most persistent of their erstwhile boon companions had finally abandoned the fray.Read more... )

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I finally got one fanfiction.net review on chapter 3 after I basically begged one of the story followers from an earlier chapter to tell me what she thought of it... which basically amounted to "I don't know anything about the characters, but nice landscape" :-(

hide moaning )


Chapter 4: To See it Shining Plain

The viewport lay high in the city, up on the third level, and looked north-west, towards the mountains. Towards Angel Six: that memory came unbidden and uncomfortable, and Cris thrust it back down. If only her Angel could see Rall for himself— could know how shy and protective he was towards her, how utterly different from the jaded black-uniformed betrayer the Angel had surely been picturing when he’d spoken so harshly to forbid her his company. She had not wanted to hurt her beloved teacher; she’d tried hard to keep Rall at a distance. But surely her Angel, so wise, so gentle, could not have asked her to make her dearest friend this unhappy?

Rall had taken a few paces to one side, and stood now gazing out over the land almost as he had done when they were children— when they had painted the imagined distance with plants and animals out of old tales of her father’s, and dreamed of far countries beyond the horizon and worlds beyond the stars. Only... the young man’s hands were locked together tightly behind his back when once they would have reached out eagerly for hers, and three stiff paces separated them both. And she knew that it was her own actions that had set this new constraint between them.

Read more... )

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And... back to the "Blake's 7" perspective. Reposting the story cynically in one section or the other of fanfiction.net according to which set of characters are being featured (as opposed to using the official 'crossover' section, which very few people bother to check for new entries) at least gives me a chance to gauge readership in the two separate fandoms. Unsurprisingly, it's considerably larger on the 'Phantom' side. (Unfortunately, I forgot to change the fandom back when initially posting chapter 2, so any alerts that went out to my 'followers' will have listed the story as a "Blake's 7" one and thus of no interest to them...)

'Considerably', of course, is a relative term. A grand total of thirty-four people actually went so far as to glance at chapter 2, but one of them was so excited as to 'follow' the story (which I hope means she'll recognise the update when I post this chapter into the other fandom) :-p)


Chapter 3: Down and Safe

Blake was asleep when the call came.

They’d all been on edge for far too long — in the case of Avon, himself and Jenna, more or less constantly since they’d first boarded the Liberator — and Avon for one was starting to look exhausted, all the squared angles of his face drawn sharper and more uncompromising than ever. No doubt he’d barely rested all this time for fear that the rest of them might somehow double-cross him or work out a way to put the ship to profit at his expense. No doubt, Blake considered wearily, Avon himself could have come up with two or three ways of doing just that. He wondered if all geniuses were paranoid, or if it was close proximity to computers that had soured Avon on humanity at large... or more personal reasons, perhaps.

Well, he wasn’t about to pry; he needed Avon’s cooperation, and it was hard enough to get that out of him anyway. Any attempt to restore the man to the human race would have to wait until later. Much later.

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Chapter 2: Best of Friends

Most of the cadets — and ex-cadets — of the Borda had been billeted in an upper-level Administration building on the edge of Zone 1. The city was used to dealing with a periodic influx of Federation personnel, but rarely on this scale; the barracks reserved for Space Command had not been laid out in proportion to the cadet-ship’s capacity. The overflow arrivals, few of them able to believe their luck, had found themselves accommodated on a level of civilian comfort usually reserved for the staff of visiting members of the High Council.

The fact that they were obliged to share rooms two or three together was scarcely worthy of note to youngsters who were used to living on board in groups of five or six to a mess, but it did require a certain amount of tact where visitors were concerned. Especially those of the female variety.

Not that it looked as if he was ever likely to be the one privileged with that particular social dilemma, Rall reflected with a degree of bitterness, gathering up the few possessions he was likely to want for the day and preparing to vacate their shared room for his companion’s benefit. Read more... )

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Here goes!

(Memo to self: I still need to proof-read the last chapter against the manuscript and fix E.E.'s "globed head and hands" passage...) Done :-D


Blue Remembered Hills

Chapter 1: Outsiders

Olag Gan had never dreamed, in all his born days, that one day he would stand on the flight deck of a starship. But then many things had changed in the long months since he’d killed an armed man with his bare hands; since he’d brought down the Federation trooper who’d left the woman he loved crumpled and lifeless on the street.

There were weeks he preferred not to remember. Weeks of bright light and antiseptic and pain, as his helpless body had been passed from prison cell to test lab as involuntary subject, along with other specimens selected for their strength. Weeks that had left him with a shaved patch on his skull and a dead place in his mind where that act of retaliation had once lain: a metal spider sent its filaments into his brain, locking those impulses now and forever.

Read more... )

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I finally got round to doing the picture of 'Rall' and 'Cris' in their crossover "Blake's 7" incarnations that I've been vaguely planning for years -- it started off with the idea of being based on one of my favourite sketches from deviantArt, but once I actually got round to drawing my own version, four years later, the characters took on a look of their own...

(Click to view)

Which means that, for the first time in years and years, there is actually no remaining obstacle (other than the physical separation of computer from Internet) remaining between me and publishing my Grand Crossover Story. A very strange and unaccustomed situation.

(Although I do now have to go back and edit the details of the relevant chapter to make it match what's shown in the picture -- my ideas at the time about Federation uniform turned out to be based on a memory of Tarrant's costumes from the final series rather than what anyone in the Federation Space Fleet actually wore!)

And if I'm going to adopt my accustomed habit of posting new chapters here first for a final check-and-edit, it would probably make more sense, before I start, to post the Prologue chapters that are already uploaded to fanfiction.net...

BLUE REMEMBERED HILLS

Prologue-1 )Prologue-2 )Prologue-3 )Prologue-4 )Prologue-5 )

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
Various 'extra bits' that I created in response to readers who wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes; it would be nice to say that these characters are created with a depth and attention to detail that runs deeper than what actually makes it onto the page, but I'm afraid that, like the backstory in the actual text, these are mostly details that 'emerge' as and when it occurs to me to look at them, in other words that I make up as I go along...
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The issue with this story that I had not anticipated (I was worrying about coming across as whitewashing Raoul, or antagonising Americans by writing a grotesquely caricatured protagonist) is that the readers have spent most of the story wanting to know what 'Erik' is up to, what cunning plans he is going to unleash upon his opponents and how he is reacting to finding himself temporarily foiled. Everyone is waiting for the big showdown... and there simply isn't one. Issues with overlooked Phantom )


Chapter 6: Jos Confronts Christine

“He thinks the world of you,” Christine said softly, with a glance at the door. “I am so very grateful.”

And the smart thing to do would have been to leave it there. Take his thanks and go, and leave the lady to sing opera in peace for Hammerstein and the rest, with warm feelings all round. Only... he liked the pair of them, and maybe they were owed something more than that. Than just the easy way out.

“Nice guy — when he’s sober,” Jos said with a sigh. “What d’you reckon his chances at of staying that way? And... was there something you were planning on telling him sometime about the kid?”

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I'm increasingly concerned that Raoul comes across as getting rather an 'easy ride' in this story — a magical snap of the author's fingers, and then he's the Perfect Father and Husband overnight. The trouble is, I think, that I'm basing these chapters on the corresponding scene in canon where he really does miraculously scrub up and vow to do better... but without the corresponding tension of the unspoken bet on his marriage, and without the Phantom lurking around in the background waiting to make his own claims on Christine. Having been prevented by a fluke from being taunted into his reprehensible bet in the first place, all that is left of the character here is his genuine attempts at reformation. Which makes it come across as if I arbitrarily decided that Raoul is really a Nice Guy because I want him to be :-(

I considered replacing "mon vieux" with "fiston" as Raoul's form of affectionate address to the child, having come across this in Violonaire's Fantômes -- but I'm just not confident enough with it, and a check on Google Ngrams suggests that while the term 'fiston' did exist in the literature of this period, it's a term that has only really taken off in the last generation or so. So I'd better stick with what I'm fairly sure of so far as the French goes!


Chapter 5: Before the Performance

There were police at the Manhattan Opera in the end, that night. Not in the auditorium or outside the gallery entrance — the Daaé had scribbled a note for McWhirter to enclose with the ticket, promising there would be no trap, and she was dead-set on keeping her word — but outside the star dressing room, where a couple of big cops tapped nightsticks lightly on their holsters like they were just spoiling for someone to start making trouble.

If Mr. Y took a fancy to try something, of course, it wouldn’t be that crude. Jos could have told them that, and Miss Daaé had to know it better than any. But if fixing up protection for her with the management made her husband feel warm and wanted — well, it was no business of his how the theater was run. For Jos Perlman, the job had ended at ten o’clock this morning, when he produced the missing artiste and her party at the door of McWhirter’s office, signed, sealed and delivered. Another foul-up cleared; another disaster averted. His specialty. He’d gotten a fat commission out of it, too... and if at half six that evening he found himself paying a backstage call at the opera house, then it was purely on his own account. Besides, he told himself, he had to make sure she’d gotten everything she needed after their little undercover exit.

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In which Jos finally meets Christine Daaé, and she isn't — in several unsettling directions — entirely what he had expected.


Chapter 4: Ah, Christine!

Even caught flushed and off-guard in her morning wrapper with a cup of coffee in one hand, Christine Daaé in the flesh was quite some lady. As exquisite as the room that framed her — why, if he hadn’t had more sense, he might have thought the place had been designed express for the purpose. Hard to see how any man could have problems waking up next to that, Jos thought, unguarded... then took stock of the set unhappiness in her eyes that was a constant silent reproach.

Read more... )

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)

And the other material I've been working on this week...

I'm amused to gather from reviews that what I hear as 'Americanisms' the US readers hear as 'period talk' -- appropriate for this setting, of course, but it certainly dates the material from which I obtained this vocabulary!


Chapter 3: Once Upon Another Time

“I guess... what we do don’t always look too good, when you step back,” Jos said slowly, measuring out words like sips at the rough liquor he still nursed. Round here the stuff could strip your throat numb, if you let it. But it numbed other things. “Not too good, or too wise, maybe. But then it comes hard when your fairytale romance has you all set to fight off the dragon to save the pretty maid, and you wind up as the prince in ‘Rapunzel’ instead.”

Read more... )

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I've spent about a month mulling this over (and writing it!) for the Writers Anonymous Alternate Format challenge; unlike with the Halloween Challenge, I did actually put some effort into fulfilling the challenge requirements this time (and a lot less, i.e. none, into dutifully reviewing the other entrants, I'm afraid!)

I originally had ideas about taking up the 'epic poem' option and writing a ballad about the Daroga's rediscovery of Erik in Paris (which must have come as something of a shock) with a refrain about the bulls of Mazendaran. However, this foundered on my inability to come up with a plot idea for how on earth the Daroga did discover where Erik was living (EMK81 suggested that the obvious way was for Erik himself boastfully to let it slip, but I didn't really like that one) -- never mind the strain of actually writing a poem to a minimum of a thousand words!

In the middle of this I finally got round to rewatching the 2004 filmed version of "Phantom of the Opera" so that I could get a clear idea of what the 'canon' for a movie-based fan-fiction that I was reviewing was, and was rather surprised to find that, despite the fact that fan-fiction inspired by this film depicts the stage-hand Joseph Buquet as a villain purged from the world by the righteous hand of the Phantom, the film actually shows a man trying to do his duty and being hunted down in a horror-filled sequence. And when I was thinking as a result about doing a Buquet-centred fan-fiction to go with my Piangi-centred story, it occurred to me in a blinding flash that the unexpected narrator challenge would very nicely solve the problem of writing a man's death from his own point of view!

(I had the same issue in "Blue Remembered Hills" when trying to write a passage where the only person in the room throughout the whole scene from start to finish is the dead man -- in the end I had to write it from the point of view of two characters watching on CCTV.)

I still don't have a decent summary on this one for fanfiction.net purposes, though I've got four or five discarded attempts, but I did have a brainwave over the title on Wednesday. And at the last minute it occurred to me that the 'sun-allergy' theory (which I thought was rather neat) didn't explain why the Phantom only feels the need to wear a protective mask on one side of his face, so I decided I'd better remove the 'protective' element, though it was a pity :-P


The Man Who Knew Too Much

Joseph Buquet was no saint, that’s for sure. But for all his curses he took good care in his work, and I think he was fond of me. I trusted him. One has no choice, of course, but I’d have trusted him anyway.

And I never forgot the way he ended.

Who was Joseph Buquet, you ask? And well you might, for he was no-one. No-one who mattered at all to Paris beyond these walls; no-one they ever saw, save for those indelible jerking moments on that one night. He died a long time ago, when I showed a bright new face to the world, gilded and full of hope... but he was with me from the first. It’s something one doesn’t forget.

For I was young then, still fresh and raw beneath my elegant trappings and the paint so artfully applied, and he took me in hand: those calloused big hands of his, strapped in worn leather and hardened by rope. He learnt my ways, and I came to know his. And we went through our intricate dance of cues and curtain calls and backdrops night after night, until the last tremors of the roar at the climax had ebbed away at the last, and he was grouchy and sleepy and wanted only to slip away home. Sometimes, if he’d taken enough drink to be sentimental, he’d leave with a parting pat or a passing caress as he went. He’d learned his trade elsewhere — mastered it before ever he came to me — but I counted him as mine all the same. And no man set a hand out of place when he was around, not where I was concerned. Not where it mattered.

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One thing I hadn't anticipated when I started writing this was that I was going to pick up a genuine French-speaking reader on fanfiction.net! I did do my best on the 'back-translation' for the French-tinged English here, but I hope the outcome isn't going to be too embarrassing...

The language problem is, of course, something that gets brushed under the carpet by Lloyd Webber for the sake of simplicity -- one can assume that Christine, Raoul and Gustave naturally speak French in their scenes together, and that Christine and the Phantom conduct their relations by default in their shared native language, but the reporters at the dockside can't possibly be speaking French when they shout questions at the little boy, and when Christine accosts Meg without recognising her she has no reason to suppose that this showgirl understands anything other than English either — nor Raoul in his rant to the barman. So apparently everybody is effortlessly bilingual.

Since my viewpoint character is obstinately monoglot, I, however, had to address the issue.


Chapter 2: Why Does She Love Me?

The husband. Which made him the one who signed the cheques. Connections began to come together with an almost audible mental click.

Jos had been steadily coming to the conclusion that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to whisk Christine Daaé out of Oscar Hammerstein’s reach — someone with influence on both sides of the law. But this husband of hers was another matter altogether. Hard to imagine anyone covering up for the likes of him... but when it came to enforcing contracts, he might turn out to be just the leverage the Manhattan Opera company needed.

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I see that I finished writing this at the start of October, which indicates just how long it has taken me to push it (and myself) through the 'beta' process!

The original "American-picking" beta eventually dropped out after a series of month-long gaps, not all of which was her fault, and I was very lucky to pick up a replacement who steamed through the remaining three chapters in nine days -- the delay had at least given me time to get the whole thing typed up, which is always laborious for me. He found a lot more lapses in chapters 4 and 5 than the previous beta did in Ch1–3, as well, which makes me a little nervous about the earlier chapters...

After going through various Hammerstein-related titles I eventually settled on simply "The Daaé Case", since if the story is being seen from Jos's point of view every case he's involved in is some kind of 'Hammerstein Affair'! And I think that version conveys the 'private eye' overtones of the story well enough.


The Daaé Case

Chapter 1: Christine Disembarks

“What do you mean, the Daaé’s disappeared?”

John McWhirter was a big man with gray in his wiry black beard, but his voice had cracked into a schoolboy’s high-pitched incredulity, and Jos winced. When the boss blew his top, he could make you feel mighty small. And right now, in the face of a foul-up this colossal, Jos Perlman would give a fair sum to shrink clear away and out of McWhirter’s sight.Read more... )

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In fact this chapter turns out to be shorter than the previous one, despite occupying considerably more pages in the book -- a combination of heavy crossing-out and shorter paragraphs, I think, but mainly the former!

Photo under cut )

And since I've been doing the alternating trick to help keep my concentration -- ten minutes typing up one manuscript followed by ten minutes typing up from another, so that I actually welcome the opportunity to find out what happens next when I get to return to the first one so arbitrarily interrupted by the alarm -- I've managed to get another chapter of the infinitely-delayed "Blue Remembered Hills" onto the computer as well, which means I'm now up to fifteen unpublished chapters. With hindsight it might have been more immediately useful to have worked on "The Daaé Case" instead, but since it's actually in the same notebook as this one it would have meant an awful lot of page-flipping and finding my place again :-p

I'm pleased with how popular this story seems to have been on fanfiction.net, though the third chapter seems to have been a little less so than the others; I don't know if that is because people are too busy with Christmas to waste time on the Internet checking for story updates, or because reviewing a story every day starts to feel like too much hard work, or whether (as I strongly suspect) any explicitly R/C material tramples over people's Erik-allegiances although they're happy enough to read about Raoul in isolation so long as he poses no threat to their preferred 'pairing'... not much I can do about that, since the events in question are canon!

This final chapter, of course, isn't canon, although to be honest it's based on about as much detail from Leroux as most of its predecessors, which extrapolate from a mere sentence or two of backstory in the novel; Leroux simply says that Raoul and Christine eloped to enjoy their happiness in peace, and doesn't say anything about what happened next, save that 'the lonely wilds of the North echo with singing'. One feels that after what they'd been through, there must have been a bit of angst involved.

(The Astrid's accident happened to a vintage pond yacht of my own, albeit when sailing on Boxing Day rather than Christmas Day...)


Chapter 4: The boat on the lake

In Sweden the winter had come early this year, and cold, and the deep pool above their house had been frozen over since the start of December, with the stream that flowed down through it silenced in its bright chatter over the stones outside the back door. But two days ago Raoul had been woken in the night by the first faint tinkle of the thaw beneath the eaves, and sensed a change in what he had come to know as the hard tang of frost in the air.

He had slipped cautiously from beneath the quilts, avoiding the cradle, and gone to kneel by the tiny window, listening for the murmur of moving water. He heard nothing, and Christine turned over in sleepy complaint as her husband slid back to share the warmth of their bed, shivering; but in the morning when she went out to rinse the pans the stream had begun to chuckle quietly again between ice-fringed banks, and when Raoul ventured out cautiously onto the tarn it was no longer safe for skating.

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Still on course for tomorrow's daily posting... just about...

But I found seven things this morning that needed changing in chapter 2 before I could post that to FFnet -- was it really only this morning? It feels a lifetime ago. But that's what you get for night after night of having to get up four or five hours after you finally got to bed :-(


Chapter 3: The girl at the opera

Comte Philippe looked up, with his fine smile, as his younger brother came rather sleepily into the breakfast-room. They had returned somewhat late from the Duchesse de Montémar’s ball the night before, and despite the Comte’s best attempts Raoul was not yet accustomed to keeping society hours.

His ship had returned to France at the end of September by way of Cape Horn, and the young man had been sent on leave with a commendation from his commanding officer that had been hailed by his brother with an almost embarrassing afflux of pride. But weeks of leave had extended to a month, and then one month into two, before he learned his next posting. The de Chagny influence could not move mountains; but it could, it transpired, achieve miracles where officialdom was concerned, especially when wielded by one so adept in the art as Comte Philippe. The Vicomte had been assigned aboard one of the most sought-after missions of the year: the relief effort in search of the d’Artois expedition, dispatched to explore the Arctic Circle some three years earlier and now overdue.

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I'm more or less on schedule for daily posting of the Christmas story in that I've just completed typing and proofreading Ch2, and completed Ch4 in manuscript (with a great deal of crossing out; angst is easier than happy endings, and there was too much model-yachting detail, lovingly laboured over for hours) this afternoon. Whether I'm going to be able to type, edit and proof the whole of Ch3 tomorrow evening, when I shall have rather less free time versus more words to deal with, is another matter!

(Yes, the title change from 'The' to 'An' is deliberate; 'The' fits the pattern, but it doesn't look right.)


Chapter 2: The invitation in Africa

The vast African sky, bright and quivering overhead, seemed to vibrate taut as a drum, and the palm-fringed coast was fit to wilt in the heat. La Tauride lay at anchor in the roadstead of Assinie, tugging a little at her cables beneath a gentle onshore breeze, and the endless surf broke on the beach beyond, where a handful of pirogues lay drawn up under the sun. Another darted swiftly between the waves, guided by a few skilful strokes of the paddle from a dark-skinned native stripped to the waist. From his vantage point at the edge of the knot of officers gathered on the deck, the young Vicomte de Chagny watched it come, discreetly easing the prickle beneath the collar of his naval uniform with one finger and conscious of a certain envy.

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I've almost finished the final chapter of this -- enough to have a good idea of where it's going, anyway, and I think I can safely enter the first chapter for its contest without the likelihood of needing to make any further amendments. It's so short that it barely qualifies as a chapter, and the second scene isn't much better; but they don't really belong together at all, and I don't think I can sensibly run them together as a single first chapter in order to enter them as a pair...

Raoul's December birthday has been a part of my head-canon for some time now in order to help with chronology. It had not previously occurred to me that this would imply that his mother's death fell just before Christmas, however, which would tend to drain any enjoyment out of the season in the minds of the rest of the family :-(

The title, of course, is pinched from my translation activities on Gefangene der Angst. (Well, it's better than 'Unhappy Christmases', I feel!) The chapter titles were an even more last-minute decision, but I think I can run them along the lines of 'the girl at the opera', 'the yacht on the pond', etc. 'The invitation in Africa'?


Christmas as it ought not to be

Chapter 1: The boy in the library

It was a cold, grey afternoon outside, and the neatly-clipped trees in their huge pots — each almost as tall as the boy who stood gazing out at them through the long windows — stretched away from the chateau towards an empty fountain that held only a thin layer of ice. The hands of the clock on the mantelpiece behind him, with its hurrying uneven tick, showed a little less than half-past three, but shadows were already gathering in the corners, and soon it would be too dark for the picture-book that lay abandoned on the hearthrug where he had left it, in front of an empty grate.

The window rattled a little on its hinges, and Raoul de Chagny pressed the tip of an upturned nose against the cold, smooth pane, feeling the draught stir the ends of his hair with icy fingers. He was a small, fair-haired child, and dressed from head to toe in black he seemed today smaller and frailer than ever.

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