Early Excerpt from A Year of Miracles

An early excerpt from “Year of Miracles”:

“From whom would I buy two dozen cows, a dozen pigs and as many sheep, and, oh, a flock of chickens for dining on?” A man’s voice, cultured voice; too cultured even to be a servant, and they were the ones most often sent to the slaughterfields. Sarah wiped her hands on her skirt–useless gesture; the fabric was damp and black with blood, and her fingernails crusted with it–and answered as she turned.

“Anyone along here, m’lord. Slaughtered and dressed and brought to yer table, m’lord.” She was self-conscious, as she was not with servants, of the differences in their accents: of the broadness of hers, and the refinement of his. Worse when she shaded her eyes, taking the sun’s glare down enough to see the man. Tall, slim, red-haired and green eyed, with a cloak only a fop would wear, its colors garish and bright in the sunlight. Layer after layer of fine cloth, reds and golds in no fashion she’d seen before, and the vest beneath it of cloth softer than she would ever touch.

His eyes widened with mock dismay. “Slaughtered and dressed and brought to my table? Now why would I want that, when it’s so much more fun to make the kill myself?”

She rubbed a finger in her ear, squinting at him. “My lord? You’ll want a farmer for that, if it’s for hunting them yourself…” Hunting boar: the wealthy did that, she knew. But hunting cows and pigs was an oddness, even for the rich, and this man was.

“Oh no.” He kicked a foot up, displaying a boot of dark red leather, rich and beautiful and covered in the worst a slaughterfield could offer. “Hunt cows? And ruin these boots?”

She stared at the muck and offal staining the fine leather, then lifted an incomprehending gaze to the bright-eyed man displaying the boot. “M’lord?”

“Your name,” he said gently. “What is your name, slaughterfield’s daughter?”

“Sarah,” she said after a moment. “Sarah Hopkins, m’lord.”

“Sarah.” He cut a bow, deeper than she imagined a man would give even the queen, and when he straightened again it was with a wicked grin. “All I wanted, Sarah Hopkins, was an excuse to speak to you. My name is Janx.”

And from later in the story:

“I can’t.” Sarah held back, breaking her grip on Eliseo’s hand. “I can’t.”

“Of course you can.” He stopped and turned back, a gentle brightness in his eyes. He gestured at himself, a motion that invited her to look at him as though she’d never seen him before. Dapper: that was a word she’d learned from the two extraordinary men in her life; from the slight and swarthy man before her and from beautiful, outrageous Janx.

And that was the trouble, whether Eliseo Daisani wanted to see it or not. He suited the fine clothes, the expensive shoes, the distant music and the wealthy crowd who attended such matters as balls and courts. He was not handsome, but his aspect, the part of him that was more–and less–than human, gave him a gravitas and a compulsion that drew people to him. He belonged where she did not. Even dressed in silks, even with the slaughterfields cultured from her voice, she was a daughter of blood and guts and gore.

“Sarah,” Daisani said, still gentle. “What do you see, when you look at me?”

“More than I should.” She couldn’t help it: not since the night a gleeful Janx had shed his human form, becoming the great red dragon who offered her a place on his back. She had flown so high that night, come so close to touching the winter moon, and when they landed, Eliseo Daisani, not to be outdone, was waiting for them with a waterfall of impossible flowers in his arms. The season was wrong, all wrong, and yet his arms overflowed with blooms. Daisies she knew, though the red ones were unfamiliar, but the others were thistle-purple and elongated.

“Amaranth,” Daisani said that night. “Love everlasting, and red daisies for beauty unknown.”

“Nothing lasts forever,” she had replied, and then he had offered her proof that she was wrong, never wincing as he parted the veins of his wrist and slow blood oozed out.

“Just two sips,” he warned. “The first for health. The second for life.”

“And if I take three?” she asked, playful with the wonder of Janx’s flight.

Daisani’s gaze darkened. “Do not. The third sip is death. That’s the price of a vampire’s gift.”

“More than I should,” Sarah repeated now, because she couldn’t forget, not ever, not looking at either of her men. “Always, more than I should.”

“And they see less.” He nodded toward the distant courtyard, and offered his arm once more. “They’ll see a woman of wealth and beauty, Sarah, no matter what you feel lies below.”

Year of Miracles

CE Murphy

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