As to your material I’m afraid I will be passing — I’m just not
enthusiastic enough about the concept of your story to feel that I’d
be the right agent for the project. I realize it is difficult to judge
your potential from a query; nevertheless please know that I give
serious attention to every letter, outline, and writing sample I
Sorry I couldn’t give you a more positive reply. Thanks for thinking
of me, though, and best of luck in your search for representation.
Though this seems like a personal reply at first blush, look closer and you can see it’s a form rejection. I only say that as a point of interest, because this is the only thing I am really allowed to expect in the way of negative responses. Ms. Jackson seems like an excellent agent for sci-fi/fantasy, and her form rejection is kind and respectful, which makes me want to query her again in the future if I don’t end up with someone long-term before then.
It was a disappointment to receive this, to be sure, but a more minor one than you might expect. The Lord has been working on my heart a lot in this area. As I reevaluate my priorities, I remember that first in my life is Him, second is my husband, and third, my daughter. My career, as it were, comes at the very end of the list, even after taking care of the home. And lest those who don’t know me think me a quiet, mousy push-over (my husband will laugh when he reads that), know that I am anything but, but wouldn’t have my priorities any other way. Of course, I still value my writing career and will continue it (for I passionately love to write and always will!). I am simply able to rest in my lack of immediate success, because I know I am being faithful in the things that matter even more.
And now – with the evening breeze sweeping over the porch and a latte at my side – to write.
It took the length of Lorin’s story for Jatan, Antian and Namiss to recover from their shock. Ileniel still insisted on muttering to himself from time to time, but Lorin pointedly ignored him.
“I should’ve pressed her more. I should’ve gotten to know her better,” Namiss said to her hands, sounding disconsolate.
She jerked her head up with suprrise when Lorin snorted a dry laugh, though it was Jatan who put voice to what he was thinking. “Pressed her? Namiss, you know Sifani was never one to respond to pressure, especially in respect to personal matters. She is —”
“Self-reliant?” Lorin supplied dryly. “Excellent at deceiving herself? Or perhaps the phrase you’re looking for is ‘infuriatingly slow to trust others.’”
“I suppose she can be all of those things,” Jatan conceded slowly, completely missing the humor.
Not that Lorin himself found any of this truly funny. The fire in the center of the room was yet burning, and the only thing that kept him from going mad with the inability to act was knowing that as long as the flames roared, Sifani was probably still alive inside them. “She was planning to tell you all, you know, but only after she had asked her questions of Ileniel. Unfortunately, her temper got the better of her, as it often does.”
“She’s not the only one who had information that needed sharing,” mild-mannered Antian asserted as he glared at Ileniel, more fiercely than Lorin knew him capable of. Of course. Antian would’ve expected the other scholar to share any information about the epheria with him, at the very least. “Your direct experience with a Reehler like Nume would’ve put much more meat on our research. Perhaps this crisis could’ve been averted if we’d had the information you chose to keep secret.”
The words, bordering on pugnacious, seemed to rouse Ileniel from his blubbering stupor. His back straightened suddenly, expression only barely under control. “You weren’t there!” he spat. “You don’t know the terror of it – the burden of an experience not many could comprehend and even fewer would believe. What was I to do with what I had seen, hm? Besides, you signed me on to study the epheria, not the Deities. I knew the roads had to cross again someday, but until then…”
“The roads are one and the same, Ileniel.” Lorin had only been half-listening to the scholars’ exchange, but Ileniel’s last sentence had caught his ear and he had replied idly. But now that he was considering it, just how closely _were_ the epheria and the Deities interconnected?
He was following the path of that thought when the steady crackling of the fire ring died suddenly. Lorin spun, frozen for the briefest moment, then bolted to the space where the flames had been burning. He was there before any of the others had time to do more than stand. Was Sifani still alive?
Lorin was supporting Sifani’s hunched body by the time he was able to process that she was standing somewhat on her own, blessedly living.
“Ow, Lorin. OW. Could you be a little more careful, please?” Sifani flinched, and Lorin eased his grip with the closest thing to embarassement he had felt in years. “I didn’t draw these cuts on myself, you know!”
“Ever the sweet and demure damsel,” he mumbled, mildly vexed. “I’m keeping you from falling onto your face right now, and this is the thanks I get?”
“I thought the familiarity of my actions might reassure you of my good health,” Sifani retorted, wincing as she clutched a particularly large gash on her shoulder. “Ho, Jatan! Think you could fix me up?”
Discordant voices began calling for bandages, crying out in concern, and swearing as Lorin turned, putting Sifani in full view. Finally, Ileniel ran for the medical supplies while the rest gathered around Sifani, trying not to crowd her with their bodies or their multitude of barely-restrained questions.
“She let you live!” Namiss exclaimed, sounding near to tears.
Sifani reached out and squeezed the girl’s hand. “That she did. At least, for now.”
Jatan had come up on Sifani’s other side to help hold her up, nodding across her drooping body to Lorin. “Your partner has been telling us very interesting stories about you, Sifani.” His smile was a mixture of warmth, relief and solicitude. “By all things holy, it is good to see you – more than I can properly express.”
Lorin waited for the older man to finish his salutation before he addressed Sifani again. “You said Nume let you live ‘for now.’” He wanted to stop and look her in the eye, but he and Jatan brought her to the bench by the wall and seated her, first. Silence hung heavy in the air as they did. “What do you mean, ‘for now?’”
Sifani inhaled deeply, taking in the face of each member of the band in turn. Finally, her gaze lighted on Lorin, and he saw distress behind it. “I made a bargain with my mother.” Another deep breath. “I am to meet her in the garden two days from now, to put myself into her power. And…I am to bring you with me, Lorin.”
He could not have been more surprised. “Me?”
She nodded, looking away as if ashamed.
“I — why?” Lorin forced his mind to stillness, though it resisted. “I’m a little too young for her, don’t you think?”
Sifani shot him a routine look of annoyance, but she didn’t answer. Before the pause had time to become uncomfortable, Ileniel trundled into the room with an armful of bandages and the small pouch that contained the needle and gut. It wasn’t hard for Lorin to detect that Sifani was relieved by the distraction, as she made a show of summoning Ileniel loudly and setting Jatan to the task of stitching her up at once.
Fortunately, Jatan wasn’t going to have it. “We’ll clean you up, Sifani, but then no more secrets,” he told her gently but firmly. “You must explain what happened between you and your mother just now, and why she has demanded that both you and Lorin come to her.”
Sifani nodded, looking sick. For some reason, Lorin felt the slightest bit sick, too, but he forced himself to grin.
What followed might have been just a few moments of staring, but they stretched on to infinity in Sifani’s mind. The sheer number of words she had on the tip of her tongue alongside the bone-deep shock that had hit her cancelled each other out, so that she could say and do nothing. Nume was still as well, though her eyes – a bright hazel that seemed to glow almost gold in the light of the flames around them – narrowed with something much fiercer than evaluation. Sifani imagined that if a look could burn a person out of existence, that one would have.
After that split-second expression, Nume straightened, her face assuming chilly composure. She looked decidedly regal, but Sifani wasn’t intimidated. Deity, creator, matron, whatever – she was still one thing that Sifani couldn’t stand, and that was a coward.
“You’re fortunate I deigned to speak with you, girl,” Nume began at the same time Sifani hissed, “I’m surprised you summoned the courage to face me after twenty-seven years.”
The fire around them cracked as if in response to the tension. Sifani barely felt the strong heat pressing against her back, warming her fresh wounds and threatening and goading her. “You’re certainly less grand than I’d expected of a such a legendary being. Deity,” she spat, and the thrill of the heretical mocking was heady. “Now that I see you, I wonder what that word even means. You have power, but that’s the only thing about you that’s different from any aging farmwife.”
Sifani seemed to have struck a nerve, for Nume sneered. I’d always heard that mothers and daughters had a tendency to clash, she laughed – a bit madly – in her head.
“Power is the only thing that sets any of us apart,” Nume retorted, and now that Sifani wasn’t speaking over her mother, she could hear that the woman’s voice was low, seductive. The kind of voice that would entangle an insatiable, free-spirited man like her father.
“You can’t be that powerful, if you have to kill me to escape the wrath of your fellow Deities. Those are the actions of someone weak and afraid.”
“Don’t pretend you understand the workings of a people higher than you!” Nume stepped forward, eyes peering down at Sifani dangerously. A hint of petulance showed through, though. “Twenty-seven years is more than a lifetime for someone like me. The actions of the young are not to be accounted for, and I was but a child when I hunted Maric. He certainly was good sport,” she added with a predatory grin.
Sifani felt her face darken. “That’s my father you’re speaking about, harlot!”
The fire flared again, and it seemed that Nume was one moment across the circle from Sifani, and the next nose-to-nose with her, looming. Yes, Sifani considered fleetingly, I certainly got my height from my mother.
“As I was saying,” Nume breathed after a moment. “I was young.”
“And now, after years have passed, I suppose your wisdom has finally demanded you take action.” Sifani chose to speak carefully. The ground she trod was much too thin. “I know my religion – I assume the Golden Council forbade any dalliance with us mere mortals? Yes? I thought so. So, rather than face the consequences of your own actions, you’re going to erase the evidence.”
Nume snorted softly and took her face out of Sifani’s. She began to circle Sifani, then, looking her up and down in appraisal. “It’s a shame, really. You seem much like me, in a way, and your power is quite remarkable. I was certain that Maric could not have stayed with us, but you would’ve made a profitable addition.”
Sifani was doubtful that being “much like her mother” was a compliment, but the offense was overshadowed by sudden interest. What did she mean by “a profitable addition?” Was it possible to join the Deities? Sifani’s senses went on alert, and just like that the conversation reconstituted into a different thing entirely. Instead of a last confrontation, Sifani realized, this could be a first opportunity – an investigation into exactly who she was dealing with, and what that meant for a Reehler like herself.
“Joining you. That’s an intriguing thought,” Sifani answered, modulating her tone just enough to sound slightly desperate, likely pliable, and yet not suspicious. “If I’m as much like you as you think I am, Nume, that could be profitable for both of us, don’t you think?”
Nume’s lips twisted inscrutably.
“The way I see it, you have two immediate choices,” Sifani continued. “Kill me now and hope that erasing the evidence of your disobedience is enough to keep you from being found out and punished, or tell me more, and perhaps have a new and powerful ally.” She smiled grimly. “So, mother? What think you?”
Lorin stumbled back from the blaze that flared up between him and Sifani. “NO!” he shouted, taking a step foward as if he would attack the flame itself. Gods above, he could do nothing with fire! And that woman – Sifani was trapped in there with her!
Wiping both sides of his knife on the leg of his trousers, he shoved it into its leather sheath as he stalked back to where Ileniel, Jatan, Antian and Namiss stood, incredulous. They stared alternately between Lorin’s demeanor and the ring of fire burning in the center of their dining chamber, unsure which one was more incredible.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Lorin told them, “so stop staring, and I’ll explain what just happened.” He glanced irritably at Ileniel, who had his face in his hands and was murmuring into them lugubriously. Jatan stepped over to the man, looking only slightly disoriented that Ileniel had appeared seemingly out of nowhere minutes before, and put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“That woman,” Namiss said in an angry, tremulous voice, “Who was she?”
Lorin took her arm, and the arm of an unsteady Antian, and led them over to a long bench angled against the curved wall. He sat them down. “That would be Sifani’s mother, who’s a Deity.”
Jatan and Namiss gasped. Antian almost fell backward off the bench. Lorin caught him and propped him up with a hand on his back. “Get comfortable, you three. Ileniel and I have a whole lot to tell you.”