Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lord Heliodor's Retirement by Amy Rae Durreson

Unlikely hero Lord Adem Heliodor saved his queen’s life during the Screaming, a magical attack on his city, but his broken nerves have forced him into an unwanted early retirement to his country estate. Adem thinks his life is over, but retirement holds some surprises. First, there’s his new librarian, who turns out to be not just the first love he thought was dead, but also someone surprisingly knowledgeable about political intrigue. Then there’s the assassin in the orchard and the discovery that the Screaming was just the first attack on the city.

Even though this is a tale of fantasy and magic, it's also a tale of recovery and second chances.  Lord Heliodor is dealing with what we now call PTSD and when he is sent home from what he sees as disgrace, a second chance at a new beginning finds him.  This is a great little read that combines fantasy with historical wrapped up together in a nice romantic bow.  Lord Heliodor's Retirement may be a novella but it is jam packed with reading goodness.


Chapter One: Return to Worldham
IT WAS not the Screaming itself that forced Lord Adem Heliodor into early retirement. Indeed everyone in the court was in full agreement that his lordship had acted with extraordinary and unexpected courage during the incident. After all, it was no common occurrence for a mere minister of ports and customs to be called upon to save the life of the queen, let alone in the face of a horror such as the Screaming.

No, Lord Heliodor’s retirement came two months later, in the wake of a council meeting where a passing remark of blinding stupidity drove him to his feet to shout, spittle flying and fists clenching, at the lackwitted, mealymouthed, porridge-brained imbecile who had made it.

And then, when the red mist cleared from his eyes and the rage stopped clutching in his throat, he found himself surrounded by silence, staring into the young, troubled face of the queen he had just insulted. Around the table, the rest of the cabinet were staring at him in wide-eyed shock, his old familiar colleagues and adversaries looking at him as if he was a stranger and the young, newly appointed councilors clearly wondering if the old man was mad.

“Give us the room, friends,” the queen said softly.

Heliodor stood there as they filed out, shaking harder and harder. He could feel a scream rising in his throat, and that in itself made him feel sick with fear. Had it caught up with him at last?

The queen closed the door behind the last of the council, poured a cup of tea, and brought it over to Heliodor. “Sit down, my lord, please. Here.” Her hand was warm and steady on Heliodor’s shoulder, pressing him gently into his seat, and Heliodor did as he was told, taking the cup with a shaking hand and sipping at the tea mechanically.

He had already been at court when the queen was born. He could even remember the royal baby’s naming feast, how he had spent it flirting with a certain golden-haired guardsman with merry eyes and a mouth as sweet as sparkling wine (for Heliodor had been young then, and wild, before he had spent his life in quiet service). Now his laughing guardsman was thirty-five years dead, and that baby was queen and had a husband and young son of her own, and Heliodor was… was just….

Heliodor was crying.

The queen waited patiently until he managed to choke back his tears. Then she said, her voice very kind, “You seem tired, my lord. If anyone in this kingdom has earned a chance to rest awhile, it is you.”

“Perhaps,” Heliodor said, and winced to hear how old and dry his voice sounded, “I could be excused from your council until tomorrow.”

The queen was quiet for a few moments. Then she said, “When did you last spend any significant time at home, Heliodor? In Worldham, I mean.”

Heliodor lifted his face with a mixture of shame and dismay. No. Surely she couldn’t just dismiss him to his country estate, to retirement. He swallowed hard and said, “My ministry?”

“Lord Zircon—”

“Zircon!” Heliodor flared up, anger blazing through him again. “That jumped-up little piece of—” Then he realized that he was bellowing at his sovereign for the second time in minutes and stopped, biting his lip hard enough that he could taste blood (blood on their mouths, running like tears from their eyes, and all the while the screaming, the endless shrill screaming….)


The queen’s voice recalled him, and he bowed his head, hunching his shoulders up. He said, “I’m sorry.”

“You have served your country so well,” the queen told him. “Take your reward, my lord. Go home. Rest, and let us remove the burdens of your office from your shoulders.”

But they are my burdens, Heliodor wanted to say. He refrained, though. He had done enough damage today.

By the end of the week, he was on his way out of the city, being driven back toward the country estate he had not visited in decades.

Worldham was relentlessly green. As his coach slowed down on the fifth morning of his journey, his city-bred driver cursing at the narrow rutted lanes that made even the most well-sprung of modern carriages jolt across the road, Heliodor stared out of the window at hedgerows, orchards, and fields full of grazing livestock. The valley was too low and damp for vineyards, but hops grew here by the row, and the air smelled thick, green, and faintly sour.

It felt like he had stepped back in time as he had passed over the leagues between here and the crown city. Where were the coffeehouses and salons, the theaters and concert halls? Where were the bustling streets full of merchants, sailors, beggars, and fine lords and ladies? How was he supposed to endure the soft twitter of hedgerow birds when he was accustomed to the squall of seagulls?

He had spent much of his childhood dreaming of escaping the tedium of the countryside. How awful to be sent here to end his days.

For this was an ending, no matter how kindly it had been phrased. It was a much gentler one than others had been granted, but it was still an end.

There had been so much blood. Politicians did not always die in their beds, but even assassination was a clean death by comparison, a dose or a stab or a swift accident. Lord Chalcedon, coolest of heads and driest of wits, had earned a dignified death, not the blood-drenched horror of the Screaming. Lady Avocet had been the lightest of dancers in her youth; she had stumbled at the end, blinded by her own blood. Hillis Wren had been a musician, a man of peace.

He was shaking again, pressing back into the corner of his carriage as it rumbled and jerked along the tough roads. It felt like a cage, the rich man’s version of an asylum cell.

At least they had spared him that.

By the time they finally rumbled to a halt outside Worldham Hall, he was sick of travel. His bladder was full, his joints ached from the jolting of the coach, and his clothes clung unpleasantly where more than one wave of sweaty panic had swept over him. His head was pounding, pain knotting in his temple and at the back of his neck.

Inevitably, the entire staff had gathered on the steps of the hall. They began to cheer as he climbed out, needing his footman’s arm in a way that made him feel old.

He was only fifty-six. Why did he feel one step from the grave?

He raised his hand weakly to the staff, wondering what all the damn noise was about. They hadn’t done this last time he came home.

A man he dimly recognized came forward to pump his hand. “Lord Heliodor, welcome home! We’re all so proud.”


“Saving the queen’s life like that,” said his steward—what was the man’s name? “Extraordinary.”

“Oh,” Heliodor said, “Of course. I’m honored, but perhaps we could—”

“Everyone is waiting to meet you,” the man continued, hustling him forward.

He had to live and work with these people for… well, for the rest of his life. There was nothing to gain from alienating them. He gritted his teeth against his headache and went forward to shake hands and smile at these kind strangers who managed his estates, and who would be feeding, clothing, and housing him.

It made him feel even more useless. His city house had been full of secretaries and clerks. He had been a busy man there, in need of many servants. Here, he served no purpose, beyond paying a great many wages.

By the time he made it into the house, he wanted nothing more than a very stiff drink.

What he got was a book landing on his head.

Heliodor scrambled backward with a shout of surprise.

Another book slammed down to his left and one more to his right. The noise and the rush of movement made his heart clench hard in his chest, and suddenly he was back in the council chamber, blocking the cold hearth as his colleagues, his friends, staggered at him, screaming and bleeding.

His friends. His friends, who were dead, who he had held back with a poker and an overturned table, who had become monsters before they died, though their eyes had still been human.

He knew he was shouting, but he couldn’t hear what, not over the shrill sound of the Screaming. When someone grabbed his shoulders, he tried to fight them off. If they touched him, the Screaming would take him too, and the queen was behind him, wedged into the shelter of the fireplace. Heliodor had to hold them off, had to force them back, had to get their damn hands off him!

“Adem, you are in Worldham,” a steady voice said. “You are safe. You are in Worldham Hall. You are safe.”

The darkness slid away, and he found himself standing in the dimly lit entrance hall once more. A stranger was standing in front of him, a sturdy man with a broad, kind face. He had blue eyes, and the color caught Heliodor’s attention, gave him something to focus on—blue eyes, like the horizon on a still spring morning, framed by laugh lines, and currently watching him with terrible compassion.

“What happened?” Heliodor demanded. “What kind of lackwitted moron goes around throwing books at people?”

“I’m afraid that I’m the lackwit in question,” the stranger said, still watching him with steady concern. “I apologize. I slipped on the step down to the landing.”

“And who the devil are you?”

The stranger’s smile faded a little, and he said slowly, “It’s Corun. Corun Larkspur. I’m your librarian now.”

“You’re fired!” Heliodor snarled and shoved past him, taking the stairs at a near run to get away from the shocked faces below.

It took him two attempts to find his rooms, and he stumbled in with a cry of relief.

He’d wanted a drink, or a piss, but all he managed to do was crash down on the bed and shake.

Author Bio:
Amy Rae Durreson is a writer and romantic, who writes m/m romances. She likes to go wandering across the local hills with a camera, hunting for settings for her stories. She's got a degree in early English literature, which she blames for her somewhat medieval approach to spelling, and at various times has been fluent in Latin, Old English, Ancient Greek, and Old Icelandic, though please don't ask her to speak any of them now.

Amy started her first novel nineteen years ago (it featured a warrior princess, magic swords, elves and an evil maths teacher) and has been scribbling away ever since. Despite these long years of experience, she has yet to master the arcane art of the semi-colon.



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