As anyone who has been reading this blog for a while might recall, I really like seasons and seasonal events. And in particular, I’m a big fan of that magical week that combines Halloween with Bonfire Night. This time last year, I was on a “just published Oxford Blood” high, and therefore wrote about my feelings on the matter much more eloquently than I could manage today, in a “must finish Ivory Towers” frenzy. If you’re interested, check it out here: https://georgianaderwent.com/2012/11/05/gunpowder-treason-and-mulled-wine/
Sadly, there are no fireworks for me tonight, but I managed to get to a display on Friday evening. Rather more entertainingly, I also went to a Halloween party. Strangely enough, I don’t think I’ve ever dressed as a vampire before, but this year I finally bucked that trend. And just to be thorough, I decided to go as an eighteenth century* aristocratic vampire – as did my fiancé. Here’s what’s rapidly becoming one of my all-time favourite pictures to prove it, though you can’t quite see the lashings of fake blood here:
*An awful lot of my history degree revolved around early modern social history, or as I like to put it, what people were wearing. You don’t even want to know about the my internal debates over what decade of the eighteenth century I was channelling, or my uncomfortable worry that me and Freddie were dressed about 40 years apart.
Anyway, in celebration, I thought I’d be brave and finally put up an extract from Ivory Terrors (The Cavaliers: Book Three), considering that it has a lovely Bonfire Night scene. Before I launch into the text, I should probably explain where I am with Ivory Terrors. It’s taken a lot longer than I expected, and that’s mainly because the story has grown and grown. As of last week, I have something resembling a first draft – and it’s 160 000 words, nearly double the length of books one and two. It’s going to need lots of editing and much as it will break my heart, probably lots of cutting down too. It’ll still be a while before it’s available for sale, but the end is in sight.
IVORY TOWERS EXTRACT
This scene takes place about halfway into the book. A lot of plot has happened by then, which I have neither the space nor the taste for spoilers to explain here. I’ve cut some lines out of this scene that delve too deeply into the plot-heavy side of things so that you can just sit back and enjoy fireworks and George without trying to work out what on earth is going on. Oh, and please excuse the slightly unpolished nature of this – I imagine it will change between now and the published version.
“I’ve made hot chocolate,” Olamide said contentedly. “Want some? It’s absolutely freezing outside, we need to fortify ourselves.”
Harriet took the proffered mug gratefully. The drink had been made from scratch, grated chocolate melted into milk and cream – none of the cheap powdered stuff.
“I made a big saucepan full, so I thought we could take some in a flask, as well as a hip flask of whisky, to keep warm.”
Harriet liked the sound of that. It was indeed cold outside, but also clear and crisp, with no clouds in the darkened sky, just a bright crescent moon. Sometimes she enjoyed cold nights, relished the ritual of dressing up. Over her tartan miniskirt, opaque tights and a soft coffee coloured cashmere jumper, she layered on a long woollen coat, Ugg boots and a matching fluffy scarf, gloves and hat. Bring on the chill.
Caroline was obviously determined to get into the spirit of the thing – despite the fact that she no longer felt the cold at all, she was wrapped up in her best autumnal style, with cute earmuffs and fur trimmed leather gloves. Ben seemed to have forgotten to attempt to fit in and was only wearing a light jumper over his shirt. No one had commented – she guessed they were putting it down to him being a spectacularly fit rower.
They walked to the park chatting easily between themselves, as though they were still the same people they’d been in first year, as though there’d never been any arguments between them, as though they didn’t all have secrets.
There was a huge queue at the gate to the park. All of Oxford had had the same idea. Still, it was no chore to queue whilst catching up and sipping Ola’s hot chocolate and Josh’s whisky.
Finally, they were in. They followed the mass of bodies through the darkened park towards the huge bonfire burning in the centre. They grabbed a toffee apple and a cup of mulled wine each as they went. The crowds around the fire were already huge, but Ben’s physical presence helped them to push their way close to the front.
The impressive fire shot sparks right up into the sky. Even from a good few metres back, Harriet could feel the intensity of its heat.
“Where are the fireworks?” Olamide shouted impatiently. The mulled wine and hip flask whisky had clearly gone to her head. “We want fireworks.”
Right on cue, the first rocket shot into the sky. The display was spectacular, firework after firework blurring into each other and turning the sky every shade imaginable. Harriet looked up entranced. She’d always loved fireworks, watching her uncle set them off in their garden when she’d been a kid, holding Jane’s hand tightly to stop the younger girl being scared of the bangs. Later, as a teenager, she’d gone to the local park with the girls from school. For most of them, the display had been an excuse to have an illicit drink and meet boys in the dark, but even amidst the worst ravages of puberty, she’d taken an unfashionable joy in the fireworks themselves.
Tearing her eyes away from the sky for a moment, she saw that her Oxford friends weren’t much different. Both Caroline and Olamide were just as interested in the boys as the bangs. They were each standing in front of their taller boyfriends, snuggled into their arms, ohhing and arhing to each other, finding their romance reflected in the beauty of the display.
Despite her enjoyment of the fireworks, Harriet couldn’t entirely avoid a little pang of loneliness. She didn’t begrudge the others their happiness, of course she didn’t, but it would be nice to feel arms around her waist, to share the fireworks with someone and to feel that the display was just for them, a celebration of their love.
She took a couple of steps away from the two couples, ostensibly to give them some privacy. In reality, she didn’t want to have her singleness thrust in her face. It was her own fault, she knew that perfectly well. She could have been standing there with a handsome man who utterly adored her, if only she hadn’t broken it off with Tom. She almost wished she’d invited him. One event, perhaps one night together, it couldn’t have done any harm, surely.
She forced her mind away from depressing thoughts and concentrated on the explosions in blue and purple and pink. Then suddenly, she felt arms around her waist and someone stood behind her, as though she’d conjured them up out of sheer want.
“It’s a beautiful display. I’m tempted to say something cheesy like, ‘nearly as beautiful as you.’”
“George!” Harriet shrieked, spinning round to confirm that it was true. He was wearing a hood that covered most of his face, but the voice was unmistakable, as was the line he’d used on her once before. Besides, she’d recognise those green eyes, illuminated by the fire, anywhere. “Oh thank God. You’re here, you’re alive. You’ve not been tortured to death by the Roundheads.”
Acting entirely on impulse, she threw her arms around him, buried her face in his soft coat and hugged him tightly.
“Shush, no one can know I’m here. Though I’ve got to say, it’s nice to get a warm reception from you for once. All this hugging and ‘thank God you’re alive,’ makes a change from your usual variations on, ‘leave me alone,’ or, ‘don’t bite that fresher.’”
Harriet laughed with sheer relief. “Okay, I’ll be quiet. But what are you doing here? How’s everything been going? I’ve been so worried.”
George stroked her hair reassuringly. “I’m fine. But I’ve got lots to update you on. We ought to go somewhere more private, your room ideally, if you can bear to invite me inside again.”
Harriet nodded frantically, as though to deny that she could ever have mistrusted him enough to refuse to invite him in. “I want to watch the rest of the fireworks first though. They’re amazing. Can you risk waiting five minutes till they finish?”
George smiled. “Why worry about being captured when I can enjoy the display and hold you close. Now turn round, you’re missing them.”
Harriet did as he suggested. The rational part of her was screaming for her to push George away. Yes, she ought to talk to him to find out what was going on with the Roundheads, but she didn’t have to spend ten minutes standing encircled in his arms to do that.
The rest of her was fired up on mulled wine, fireworks and the magic of a cold autumn night. This half took quite firm control and she leaned back into his chest. The shimmering colours looked even more beautiful than they had before, as though George was somehow sharing his enhanced senses with her. He was certainly holding her tightly and stroking her gently where his hands fell. It ought to feel odd – for months she’d been trying to push him away – but it felt entirely right and natural, as though they’d been together for years.
She focussed her mind to check for any signs of mesmerism, but was fairly confident that he wasn’t doing anything to her that wasn’t entirely natural.
“You should have invited Richard,” George whispered to her. “He loves Gunpowder Treason day. Ask him about the first one. He stood by his beloved King James’ side whilst they threw Fawkes’ entrails on the fire.”
Harriet shivered. In all the beauty and cheer, it was easy to forget the dark origins of the celebration.
“It was just starting to become an annual thing when I was growing up. Though if you ended up at the wrong sort of event, there was a bit too much burning the Pope in effigy for my tastes.”
It struck Harriet once more just how lax she’d been about ever really asking any of the vampires about their lives. History fascinated her, and it would be wonderful to hear about events from eyewitnesses who’d been involved at the highest levels. Somehow though, however much she consciously knew that George was four hundred years old and Tom a hundred, she could never actually keep that fact straight in her mind whilst she talked to them.
The fireworks reached a crescendo and they lapsed into silence. About twenty rockets launched at once, leaving a trail of stars as they shot into the air then exploding all at once with an ear-splitting bang and a riot of colour.
“Let’s leave now whilst everyone’s still shellshocked,” George said firmly. “I’m fairly well covered, but I really shouldn’t risk being spotted. And if anyone sees you, they are going to ask questions about your companion.”
“I should let the others know I’m leaving,” Harriet said.
“Text them when we get back to Lilith. I’m serious, we’ve got to be careful.”
Harriet let him lead her away. If the hyper-confident vampire was worried, she supposed she should be too, but it was hard to feel any fear on such a beautiful evening.
They made it out of the park ahead of the crowds, George walking at a pace she struggled to keep up with.
“So what’s been going on?” Harriet asked again.
“Let’s get back and then we can talk,” George replied. Out on the street, exposed to the glare of streetlights, he was all business, little trace of the flirtatiousness and openness he’d displayed earlier. Harriet hoped he’d open up again once they got back to her room, though she couldn’t quite believe she was actually going to let him in. The porters were going to freak.
“Well, are you coming in then?” Harriet asked as she unlocked the heavy oak door.
Inside college walls, Harriet felt the sense of security the ancient buildings could always give her, as though the outside world were miles away. George seemed to relax a little too, safe in the knowledge that no vampires but him were likely to be on the premises. Nonetheless, he hurried her through the beautiful stone quads to her room in The Manor. To Harriet’s relief, they managed not to bump into anyone who’d ask any awkward questions.
“Come in,” she said formally, at the entrance to her staircase. Outside her door, she hesitated for a moment, remembering how she’d steadfastly refused to let George in throughout first year. Was she being stupid doing it now? He seemed to be on her side, whatever that side was, but it would hardly be the first time that he’d attacked whilst her guard was down. “Come in,” she said again, more nervous this time.
Stepping over the threshold, Harriet felt a little rush of pleasure at her huge, well-decorated set of rooms. Worry fell away for a moment as she admired them. She was sure that George must be impressed too – they were some of the best rooms in the entire University.
“Sit down,” she said, determined to take control of the situation before it completely ran away with her. “I’m going to make some tea. I’ll only be a moment. Despite the fact that she had a kettle in her room, she walked to the nearby kitchen to make the drinks, needing a few seconds by herself to ensure her composure was intact. Once there, she brewed the tea on autopilot, the homely gesture almost enough to make her believe the situation was normal, and that she wasn’t about to hear an update on a grand conspiracy from a deadly and beautiful vampire with whom she had a fanatical love-hate relationship.
Stepping back into the room, she nearly dropped the drinks in shock.
“What the hell happened to your hair?” she shrieked. She hadn’t noticed before, due to the hood that George had been wearing to shield himself from public view. But now he’d removed his cloak and was sprawled on her bed, it was clear that his usual long, lustrous blond hair had been cropped.
George touched it, a surprisingly self-conscious gesture. “It’s all part of the undercover arrangements. The senior Roundheads aren’t so keen on flowing locks. The clue’s rather in the name.”
Harriet couldn’t stop staring. She was quite a fan of long hair, but he still looked wonderful with it aggressively short. It was impossible to imagine him actually looking anything less than stunning in any style or situation.
He smiled at her horrified expression. “Don’t think it suits me? Don’t worry, it’ll grow back once the job’s done. Without conscious mental effort or very regular physical maintenance, our hair, figures and everything else always default back to a polished version of what we had at the time of our turning. They have me trim it every day, otherwise it’s be shoulder length again within a week.”
Harriet’s head spun. “There are so things I want to ask you about the last few months.”
George shook his head. “It’s a horrible place. I’d rather not talk about it myself. I’m sure I could be making much better use of my tongue.”
He slipped his arm around Harriet’s waist, and gently pushed her back onto the bed.
“Every time the undercover job got too much, when I thought I might be found out, or never track down the necklace or couldn’t take any more of the screams, I thought of you and it got me through.”
Cheesy, Harriet thought dimly. Cheesy, and let’s face it, probably untrue. But the rational, cynical part of her brain was being forced into submission by the rest of it, which just wanted to lie there and luxuriate in his words and his kisses and his touch.