Friday, March 24, 2017

Paula's Prompt

I'm very late this week in my response to Paula Wyant's Wednesday Words (see her excellent writing prompts for yourself at This time, it was birdsong, a rabbit, and a gravestone.

I came up with a fragment for a story I've been working on, resurrected from the very first story I ever wrote when I was eleven years old. It's called 'Wind Me Up, One More Time'. Thank you, Paula, for inspiring me to move forward in this tale after neglecting it for too long!

The birds were singing in the trees, only it was getting competitive. One kept trying to outsing the others. 

“Prettier! Smarter! Has better feathers!” he trilled to any and all females who’d listen. Once Grace had imagined the birds greeting the day, or reponding the breezes. Only Maia had spoiled it. Maia had told her sharply that the birds were warning each other to stay out of the trees. 

Grace hadn’t liked that, but she couldn’t escape from Maia’s words. They crawled into her head, like an ugly slogan she couldn’t avoid. 

Being her bear, I felt all the sadness, irritation that my human child did. I wished I could comfort her. 

Grace cuddled me a little closer. Perhaps my wish had reached her imagination. 

The birdsong changed. Some of them were joining in one song. 

“Don’t mark the grave! It’s unlucky! Stay away!”

“The grave?” Grace asked. Still hugging me tightly to her chest, she approached the old monument, a statue of metal and wire. 

I peeked over Grace’s shoulder. My child willed it, so my button eyes could see. This was the statue where Maia had met Nathalie, so long ago. 

“I wouldn’t approach, if I were you.”

Grace and I both started at the sharp, feminine voice. It was a bit like Maia’s, but it lacked the angry impatience hers had gained, since she became Iama the Terrible. We both looked down. 

A rabbit was sitting at the base of the statue, a plush rabbit. No one, but another stuffed animal could see her twitching her whiskers. Grace might be able to see it, if she allowed me to touch her imagination. I wasn’t sure. This rabbit was sitting up, alert and ready to scamper into Grace’s daydreams at the slightest sight of an invitation. I wondered how long it had been since her child had even thought of her. 

“Here lies the heart of my precious one,” the rabbit said solemnly. “She left it behind when she became Iama the Terrible.”

Grace was more than willing to let this other toy take part in the on going story she and I played out. I recognized the rabbit…she’d been a gift. Nathalie had given her to Maia, just as she’d given me to Grace. 

“Grace, let me down,” I said. “I need to talk to her, stuffed animal to stuffed animal.”

My human set down with especially care, not to putting me below the rabbit, but on the same base, next to her. The bunny had to twist a bit to look at me. I might have smiled, if my muzzle had been capable of it, but I wasn’t a petty bear. Besides, the fate of Maia’s former toy might eventually be my own. Children grew up and put away their playthings. When they did, they took their imagination, their animating force away with them. It was possible for a toy’s spirit to move on, to reincarnate in a doll or a model with another child, but we would no longer be the same. I wouldn’t be Theodora Bear, when it happened. This rabbit was starting to flop from Maia’s absence. She’d reanimated a bit with Grace’s presence, but Grace wasn’t really her human. Not like Maia had been. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Paula's Prompts

On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, Paula Wyant posted a prompt involving a cage, a good luck charm, and a sudden rainstorm. Every Wednesday, she takes the time to post a prompt. As the Keeper of the Cauldron of Eternal Inspiration, I strongly recommend these prompts. They're quite refreshing if you crave the beautiful, the speculative, and the inspirational. To check them out for yourself, go to

Personal tragedy stuck me in the middle of a huge pile of work. I had some trouble moving forward while coping with it. This delayed me in typing up and posting my response. I'm here with it now. Or rather Shelley is here with it. My waifish hero from another world, who took the name of a poet from our world decided to respond to this. I'd like to weave his response into my Work In Progress, 'On the Other Side of the Mask', if I can.

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Gilt wallpaper, flowers, and marble floors. Lord Ruthvyn’s estate was more beautiful than the church cells could ever hope to be. It was as if the chapel and the naves had spread themselves throughout an entire manor. 

“It’s still a cage, though,” Shelley murmured. He rubbed his arms against the chill. It didn’t matter if he was in the church or the manor. The air always nipped at his arms with chilly, invisible lips, drinking up his warmth. 

Only one thing could heat him up. His good luck charm. The song he and Byron had created together. 

Shelley parted his lips and began to sing in a hushed voice:

“I am thine and you are mine
This is plain to see
I am thine and you are mine
For this is what’s to be…”

The sky growled outside. The faint patter of the rain began to tap against the windows. Water ran down down the glass, bluring the vision of freedom outside. What ever made Shelley think he could escape out there? Lord Ruthvyn’s gardens awaited, with all the figures trapped in marble and topiary, waiting to come alive at the sight of fleeing flesh. 

Shelley closed his eyes tightly. 

A voice begin to sing, some distance away with a boy’s sweet clarity. One particular boy’s unflagging spirit, refusing to give in, or bow to fate. 

“I am thine and you are mine
With all my soul I agree
I am thine and you are mine
And so it shall ever be!”

Shelley smiled, feeling lighter than he had since he’d been separated from the other half of his soul. Byron was still here, somewhere in the house. Shelley would find him, no matter where Lord Ruthvyn had concealed him. 

After all, he and Byron were bound together by their mutual song. No one, not even the Pale Lords of Paradise could keep them apart. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Wednesday Words/Paula's Prompt

Another challenge was issued by the incomparable Paula Wyant! To see her Wednesday Words, go to March 8, 2016 involved a teacup, a bridge, and a best friend backing away. Gabrielle decided she had something to say about this. What she revealed may turn out to be part of 'My Tool, My Treasure', the fourth book of 'Tales of the Navel/The Shadow Forest'...:)

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She was backing away in a flutter of orange skirts and red tassels. A flash of golden gleamed beneath her skirt, revealing a bracelet clinging to one brown ankle. 

“I have to leave you, Gabrielle, my poor little ‘Brie,” Mireille said. As always she smiled. As always she tossed her coppery curls to one side in a gesture of complete abandon. As always, Mireille seemed free. 

It was lie. She wasn’t free. She’d been the symbol of freedom, ever since she walked into a church and led a scared little girl out of there, away from the repressive sisters who kept her voice and body in bondage.

“‘Brie,” she’d said, reaching out her hand. “Want to come with me? See what’s outside these walls?”

Gabrielle had taken her hand, under her spell from the first time she looked into those laughing hazel eyes. 

Now she was backing away, like she’d done long ago. Like she always did in Gabrielle’s nightmares. 

“I have go, ‘Brie,” she said, moving back across the bridge towards the swamp. “Jean Paul is calling me and I’m still his woman, no matter how much I might wander.”

“You don’t have to go.” Gabrielle tried to force the words out, although they got trapped in her throat, squeezed tight in the emotion clogging it up. She couldn’t let Mireille walk away. Not again. “Mireille!”

“Wake up, Gabrielle,” Mireille said with a smile, before she turned away. “I’m already gone. Wake up and smell the tea that pretty boy is offering you.”

“Mireille!” Gabrielle cried. She opened her eyes and gasped for breath, inhaling cinnamon, cloves, and something which tickled her nostrils. 

“Who’s Mireille?” the boy asked. He held a cup inches away from her. Yes, he was pretty, with tendrils of raven hair clinging to a heart shaped face without a trace of a beard. He regarded with slightly slanted eyes, ruddy with curiousity and purple with patience. Rose colored irises. Only one boy had eyes that color.

“Damian Ashelocke,” she murmured. She looked up at the ceiling to see cobwebs, only they were made of the finest silver mesh. Only the arachnocrats spun webs here. “How did I get here?”

“I’m honored you remember my name,” Damian said. “You’re here, because my aunt has taken a fancy to you.” He offered her the cup, a pretty delicate thing, painted with flowers. “Drink this. Perhaps it will chase this away this phantom Mireille who haunts you.”

“Perhaps I don’t want her chased away!” Gabrielle retorted, but she snatched the cup from the boy’s hand. Very rude of her, considering that Damian might be trying to help her, but he was an Ashelocke. She didn’t trust any Ashelocke to offer aid without an ulterior motive. 

Damian didn’t show any offense at her behavior. He simply bowed his head in acceptance. It reminded her of how Mireille had always bowed her head in Jean Paul’s presence, even when he pushed her head down. 

It infuriated Gabrielle. She stared hard at Damian, while she gulped her sweet tea, for it appeared to be only tea. She couldn’t see his chin. It was a shame. It was a nice chin. Very like Mireille’s. All right, it was completely different than Mireille’s, but it was meant to be held high. Just like Mireille’s.

“It’s a crime to tuck such a chin away from the world,” ‘Brie muttered, after swallowing. “Those who tolerate dominion invite it.” She looked for a place to put down her teacup. “Why do you tolerate it?”

“You are a lady,” Damian said, taking the cup out of Gabrielle’s hands with a deft gentleness. “What’s more, you are my aunt’s current favorite.” He rose to his feet. Gabrielle marveled at the intricacy of the lace tunic he wore, a pattern of spiderwebs, roses, and vines. It went very well with the tea cup, along with the uncomfortable black velvet vest and breeches covering his slim legs. Damian Ashelocke was a slight boy, much slighter than boys in other places were. 

“Meaning you’ll put up with me until you’ve learned my secrets or my weaknesses,” Gabrielle said. She watched as he set the tea cup down on a shelf nearby. A spindly bent woman with a mousy blonde mop of a head shuffled over to claim it. “Isn’t that right, my dear?”

The bent woman raised her head to show an eye much brighter and bluer in an unwrinkled face. She grinned at Gabrielle, exposing needle sharp teeth. 

“I don’t know what you mean,” Damian said with a submissive sweetness, but the corner of his mouth twitched. He nodded at the woman. She shuffled out of the room, carrying the teacup in a long, spindly hands. Her fingers reminded Gabrielle of twigs. 

“Of course you don’t,” Gabrielle said with a wry grin. “Well, milord, why am I so favored by your aunt’s regard?”

“With Duessa Ashelocke, who can tell?” Damian countered. “By the way, there’s no need to address me as ‘milord’. There haven’t been any Ashelocke lords in a very long time.” The corner of his mouth drooped. “Only the arachnocratic ladies along with their lordlings, poppets, and sweetmeats.”

“Which are servants or favorites of one kind or another, I’m guessing,” Gabrielle said. She tried to sit up. Her body felt entirely too relaxed to move. “What we be, you and I? Lordlings, poppets, or sweetmeats?”

“That remains to be seen,” Damian murmured. He returned to the seat next to Gabrielle’s bed. “You don’t strike me as being any of these things, Lady Gabrielle.”

“Please call me ‘Brie,” Gabrielle said. The scrawny woman with the wild mop of hair had returned. She crept up behind Damian to rub her hands together. Yes, her fingers were extremely long and twig like. “Who’s our companion?”

“This is Una,” Damian said. He glanced up at the woman. She simpered at him and bowed her head. Such a thin face she had with a long, narrow nose. “She’s belonged to my aunt for centuries.”

“I’d never have guessed,” Gabrielle muttered, keeping a wary eye trained on Una. Una grinned at her, exposed those needle like teeth, longer than any human ever possessed. They belonged to a child eating monster out of a fairy tale. “Hello, Una. How very nice to meet you.”

Una winked in an almost coquettish way, showing very long eyelashes. Malice gleamed in her bright blue eye. 

“I do believe she likes you,” Damian said in a very dry voice. Once again the corner of his mouth twitched. 

“Hopefully not with mustard,” Gabrielle said, before she could think better of it. She could not seem to control her tongue. Blasted tea. 

Una let out a low cackle at this. “Never fear, Lady ‘Brie, I’d never have you with mustard.”

“No, you’re more of a honey and sugar kind of girl,” Gabrielle said, utterly deadpan. Mireille would have been proud of her sense of humour in her monster’s lair. “Aren’t you, Una?”

Una cackled again. 

“Not to mention a ray of sunshine,” Gabrielle said wryly, glancing from Una to Damian.

Una stopped cackling abruptly. She shook her head, sending shaggy locks flying around her head. 

The corner of Damian’s mouth dropped, once more. He lifted a finger to his lips. 

“Careful,” he said. “Light of any sort is not a favourite of Aunt Duessa’s.” He glanced up at Una. “She’ll snuff out any sign of it, even in those closest to her.”

“Yet she uses candles,” Gabrielle retorted. “I find it hard to believe she’s that against illumination.” She ought to leave it at that, but she couldn’t shut up. “Light and darkness are two halves of a whole.” This had been one of Mireille’s favorite sayings, especially when Gabrielle used to mouth all the phrases she’d been taught to say. Someday the light will overcome the darkness. Someday, the light will blaze in every corner of the universe.

Maybe some corners would rather not be illuminated. What would you say to that, ‘Brie? Mireille had raised a hand to point at the stars twinkling in the sky overhead. Look at all of that, up there. Would those light be half as bright if they weren’t sparkling in the darkness? 

“Two halves, until one eclipses the other,” Damian said. “One day, the darkness will swallow the light, just as it swallows every other color in existence.” He watched Gabrielle’s face carefully. “This is the Ashelocke way.”

“What do you mean?” Gabrielle demanded. A little thrill of fear, of uncertainty coursed through her limp limbs, bringing them new energy. “How is it your way?”

“This remains to be seen,” Damian said. He looked away, down at his hands. “Every Ashelocke must find her way.”

“Or his?” Gabrielle asked, almost challengingly. She managed to lift her head, just a little bit off the pillow. 

“There is no ‘his’,” Damian said. He didn’t bother to hide the bitterness which trickled into his words. “Not here. Not any more.” He rose from his seat. Una backed away, bowing her head. “Get some rest. My aunt will see you when she’s better.”

“Damian?” Gabrielle called, but the boy was gone, opening a door to go outside into halls she hadn’t yet fully explored, filled with dangers she didn’t understand. 

“Yes, you get some rest,” Una said, rubbing her hands. “We so seldom have guests here at the Ashelocke estate. At least not ones like you.” She grinned at Gabrielle again, baring her needle teeth. “Things are about to get very interesting.”

Gabrielle shuddered. She’d had enough of interesting things, but interesting things kept catching up with her. This was the problem with dealing with magic. You never stopped paying the price for the choices you made. Those bill collectors kept catching up with you. 

Una bowed, while continuing to grin. She backed out of the room, letting out another low cackle. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Wednesday Words/Paula's Prompt

Did I ever have fun with Paula's Prompt this time! To see the prompt, go to I'm using the picture from there...I hope it's all right, Paula? Thank you very much for offering it. I actually used it come up with a prelude to a prelude. :) For I've been posting a prelude to all my 'Tales of the Navel/the Shadow Forest' novels at my other Cauldron. It's called 'Waiting for Rebirth'. If you'd like to read it, go to

This prompt turned into a prelude to 'Waiting for Rebirth' itself. Come with me, inside Damian Ashelocke's head as he contemplates Doors and what it takes to open one to the Shadow Forest. Just don't forget this site uses cookies. I don't really understand them, but I'm supposed to warn you about them. Consider yourself warned. :)

A Door is opening in the middle of the temple. Faith, prayers, the concentrated beliefs of many in the entities which should be here came together in a concentrated force. This force pushed at reality, causing ripples within it, until it split. This split is turning into a Door. 

Not everyone can see it. Not everyone will be able to open it. If you wish hard enough, if your desire is truly strong, you can enter it. You’ll be able to step through the Door into the place between realities, where everybody dreams. You’ll be in the realm which which I call the Shadow Forest. 

This is the proper way to open a Door, according to Aunt Duessa. An Ashelocke uses the faith of the credulous, the hope of those too weak to make their own dreams come true. They step over these fools as they walk between worlds, carving out bits of unreality for themselves. From dreams, an Ashelocke can shape her own web of nightmares, luring unwary food to come to her. 

This is the way many Ashelockes and arachnocrats have chosen, but it doesn’t feel quite right for me. Such Doors are built on faith, a wish for something greater than themselves to manifest and grant their wishes. Not a desire to be great enough to make your wishes come true yourself. 

I’ll need a different Door. One I’ve created myself through art. Shaping such a portal will be going against my aunt’s wishes. She regards my painting and sculpture with utter scorn. I’ll be going against Gabrielle’s wishes, too. She completely lacks any ambition other than to collect the lost bits and bobs left by those careless enough to drop them. ‘Brie is trying to put all of those pieces back together again. The last thing ‘Brie wants is to open another Door to the Shadow Forest, luring more souls to fracture themselves in the realm beyond. 

If only Christopher was at my side! He would have understood, well, he wouldn’t have approved. At all. He’d support me, though, regardless of his fear and doubt. 

Perhaps if I stretched out my hand, reached through this Door, I’d be able to touch him. Christopher and I were never about temples, though. We were the questers through a secret garden of roses and thorns, whispering our hopless dreams to each other. 

I turned my back on the Door in the temple. Let Aunt Duessa gloat over what a masterpiece she’s wrought, even though she did little enough to create it. I’ll go back to Omphalos. I’ll walk in the garden beyond the gate, among the flowers. Perhaps Christopher’s shadow will come to me, if I wish for it with all my heart. 

After all, dreams and wishes can create and open Doors. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wednesday Words/Paula's Prompt

Paula Wyant offers up words every Wednesday, but I'm not able to respond to them until Thursday. Here's my response to her challenge at, involving a birthday present, laundry, and laughter. Emma decided it was time for her to remember the mortal days, when she gave Esther a present.

I'm going to post this at my Facebook Author page, too, since this poor little Cauldron is still being blocked by Facebook. This site uses cookies I don't understand, but I need to warn you about. Consider yourself warned.

“What’s this?” Esther asked. She held up an emerald green t-shirt with a panoramic fantasy playing across it. You grinned at the sight of the woman in armour holding up her sword towards angry clouds with hints of wrathful faces. Esther had fallen in love with this shirt at first sight. “I couldn’t afford to get this, so why is it in the laundry?”

“Why indeed?” you asked impishly. Coyly, you glance at the other shirts, with the Babylon logo, the Andromeda crew, and the Vampire Lestat baring his fangs spread over their fronts. Between Esther and yourself, you’d amassed quite the collection of t-shirts. “What day is it?”

“My birthday?” Esther is so cute, when she’s slow to figure something out. She blinked once, twice, before reality started to sink it. Esther usually stays as far from reality as she can. She’d much rather be in the fantasy vistas of her imagination, thank you very much. Reality was going to be nice to her for a change. 

“Surprise!” you giggled. The expression on her face turned your giggles into laughter. “I couldn’t resist!”

“Couldn’t resist putting a new shirt in with the dirties?” Esther quipped, but she’s smiling, too. She hugged the shirt to her chest. “Seriously, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” you said. You traipsed over to her side and kissed her cheek. 

Such a simple, solid memory. Now, it’s so hard for you to become solid, floating around your seat in the cafe where you spent too many of your waking hours. 

At least you still have Esther, even if your relationship is not what it was. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Unwilling to Be Yours

Happy Valentine's Day! If you've visited the Cauldron at, you may have seen my Valentine's Day offering. If you've been reading 'Waiting for Rebirth', you may wonder "Who is that Peter twit and why is hanging all over Christopher? Where's Damian?"

Here's a little introduction to Peter in his own words as I present to you a segment of another Tale of the Navel, 'Unwilling to Be Yours'.

I’ve never liked hot weather. It causes a strange shimmer in the air, which rises off the stones of the street and all the shop walls. Plus, it makes my clothes stick to my skin, plastering both with sweat. I’ve been assured of my sexiness, when I’m sweating. Such assurances are less than assuring, when you feel gross. Plus, I like long sleeves and vests. T-shirts, tank tops, and shorts have never appealed to me.

The boy leaning against the Navel’s wall didn’t like the weather, either. I could tell from the scowl on his face and the sweat dripping off his brow. He should have expected it, wearing black jeans and a turtle neck in this heat. Not that he didn’t look pretty in both, especially with his hair. It might be a little too short, curling right below the ears, but the color more than made up for its shortness. It was a golden chestnut with bright copper and bronze highlights, which captured the light of the sun.

The boy didn’t look up at me, or even seem to notice I was there. He was grumbling, having an animated conversation with someone I couldn’t see. 

“I hate being human, sometimes!” he growled. He shot a particularly malevolent glance at the sky. Perhaps he was talking to it? I might have worried more about in his sanity, if I hadn’t been so distracted by his appearance. I’d never seen so slender a boy, nor one with such delicate features. It made me wonder if he was actually a girl, but his voice was too low to be female. Not deep, not by any stretch of the imagination, but not female. “Why anyone would ever enjoy hot weather is beyond me!”

“I quite agree,” I said. I decided to take a step closer to him and act like he’d been talking to me. “There are far more agreeable ways in which to sweat.”

The boy nearly jumped out of his skin. His violet eyes, which were already too big for his small, heart-shaped face, got even wider. 

Perhaps my joke had been a little too coarse for this shy little blossom, for that’s exactly what he seemed like to me at that moment.

“Excuse me, I didn’t mean to startle you,” I said, gentling my entire manner. “Is this the center of all things bizarre?” I knew quite well where I was, but perhaps using Gabrielle’s catch phrase for the Navel would put this boy at ease. 

The boy stared at me. I smiled my most winning smile and waved a hand up at the sign hanging over the door. It was an old-fashioned sign using a picture, rather than a name. There was a woman’s belly and a woman’s belly button painted on the sign. It was cute. This little town was already called ‘Omphalos’, so having a shop called ‘The Navel’ in Omphalos was an additional helping of cute. Calling the Navel ‘the center of all things bizarre’ was more cute poured on top of far too much cute already, but it had been Gabrielle’s idea. You didn’t accuse your potential boss of laying on the cute too thick. 

“This is the Navel, if that’s what you’re asking,” the boy said. His manner became even less friendly, if such a thing was possible. Speaking of too much cute, no one should be that adorable when they scowl at you. It inspires one with the desire to do wrong. “What do you want?”

“Are you this charming to all your customers?” I asked with a certain arch disapproval. The mischief in me decided to let him think I was an insulted customer, trying to be a good sport about his attitude. “Or am I just special?”

“That depends,” the boy said, his eyes narrowing. “Are you truly a customer?” Clearly, he didn’t believe I was one. “Or are you after Damian’s job?”

Ah, there’s a reason for this beautiful boy’s scowl and his name is Damian. “Actually, I’m here about a job opening,” I said, raising my hands in a gesture of supplication. “I didn’t realize I was taking someone else’s job away from them.”

“I suppose you’re not.” All the hostility and suspicion seemed to run out of the boy, as his shoulders slumped. I almost felt a little guilty. “Yes, you’ve come to the right place.” He sighed, looking down at his feet, as if he couldn’t bear to look at my face. “I’m sorry. I’m still getting used to that job opening myself.”

I studied the shadows under the boy’s eyes, the slight trembling of his lower lip. Before I could say anything else, the boy was moving, turning his head, so I could no longer study his face. He opened the door for me, causing a few chimes to tinkle, as he did. 

“Go right in,” he said, not meeting my eyes. “Gabrielle is expecting you.”

Monday, February 13, 2017

Me Me Me Monday

It's Me Me Me Monday, a day to share one's me-ness with the rest of the world! I've been trying to work on my m/m mythical tale, 'Aissa and Polyxena'. It's been getting neglected, while I work on 'Waiting for Rebirth' 'Be My Valentine...Snack' (see for details) and 'Unwilling to Be Yours' (a segment of which will appear here tomorrow). I've been trying to spend a little more time with it, so I'll share a teaser. What's below explains the title of this Achille/Troile story.

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“Aissa?” I asked, glancing at the youth in women’s clothing. “Is that your name?” Not likely. 

“It’s what I choose to call myself on Scyros,” Aissa said with an airy wave of his hand. There was the tiniest tremour in the motion of his wrist. “It’s who I am, here and now.”

“Which doesn’t answer the question of who this boy is, here and now,” Deidamia said pointedly. She pulled at Aissa’s arm, trying to drag him closer to her, away from me. “He’s not even giving you the courtesy of a name!”

“True,” Aissa said, but there was a playful amusement to his accusation. His smoky blue eyes moved over me, touching my neck, my chest, my legs, my bum, and yes, my nether regions. “Will you give me a name, fair stranger?”

My true name was on the tip of my tongue, but caution kept me from uttering it. Aissa wasn’t using his true name, either. All he’d asked for was a name. The first name, which popped into my mind was that of my horse.

“Polyxena,” I said, before I realized I’d just given myself a girl’s name.

Deidamia snorted with laughter. Aissa’s eyes, however, gleamed. A tiny smile spread across his lips, acknowledging the jest. After all, he was using a girl’s name. 

My cheeks were warm, but I could feel an answering smile tugging at my own lips. 

“I’m charmed to meet you, Polyxena,” Aissa said. He lifted my hand to his lips with playful coquettishness. “We ladies must stick together, especially in such troubled times.”