A snippet from A SONG WITH TEETH

All I have for you this week is a snippet from my current work-in-progress, A Song with Teeth, the third Los Nefilim novel. This comes from the first page and may or may not make it through the final edit:

“I will tell you a story,” the Nazi murmurs in his captive’s ear. “About two brothers …”

He pauses and stares outside the window, seemingly lost in the thread of his thoughts. For several minutes, the only noise is the susurrations of snow, whispering across the glass.

From somewhere within the great house, a door is shut, rousing the Nazi from his dream. He shakes his head and smiles a terrible smile full of bitterness and teeth—such long teeth he has …

The captive shivers.

The Nazi’s lips widens and now he grins. “A story about two brothers under night and fog …”

CODENAME: NIGHTINGALE
30 December 1943
Mauthausen Concentration camp

Prologue

They call him the Nightingale. It is his codename and it follows him into the camps.

In the beginning days of the conflict, the Nightingale is a new member of Los Nefilim, not yet tested. His handler is known as the Violinist. They barely had time to know one another before the war came, but when it did, the Violinist gave the Nightingale the most precious of gifts: his trust.

The other members of Los Nefilim call the Violinist a fool for assigning his MACHIAVELLI line in Paris to the Nightingale, but the Violinist is an old nefil of rank—none dare do more than grumble. The Nightingale is entrusted with composing songs, the first notes designed to be the Morse code that will convey messages to the Resistance. As his music is played on German radios, the Nightingale slowly earns Los Nefilim’s respect.

When the MACHIAVELLI line is compromised by outside sources, the Violinist manages to send a message. It comes too late for the Nightingale to evade the Gestapo, but the Violinist’s instructions are clear: Hold out for forty-eight hours, then tell them what they want to know. If they take you to the camps, find the Spaniards. You are one of us. We will watch for you.

And that’s the work-in-progress. I have a lot more and this is heavily edited, but it gives you an idea of how the third book begins. All of this might stay, or it might change drastically in the final edits.

Excerpt from Where Oblivion Lives ...

At his floor, Jordi stepped off the lift and went to his room, tossing his key to the desk before he closed the door. Placing the box beside the key, he opened Nico’s envelope first.

J,

The package arrived by courier, who said the contents were for your eyes only and quite urgent. I sent it via a trusted friend on their way to Valencia.

Yours,

N

Jordi doubted the “trusted friend” was on the way to Valencia. Nico was far too careful to give away a tactical position in a note.

Glaring at the package, Jordi removed his coat and loosened his collar. Nico’s apartment was known among many rogues as a contact point for Jordi, so it wouldn’t be unusual for him to receive mail for one of Jordi’s aliases.

But why that one? And why Sir George? Sitting at the desk, he turned the nondescript box over. No return address, but several postmarks stamped the package’s route to Avignon.

Sir George Abellio. The name resurrected a memory. Sir George. He was known as Sir George in his last incarnation, during the twelfth century.

Could this be from a nefil from that past life? Perhaps a rogue seeking to reconnect with Jordi? And if so, were they friend or foe?

Better safe than sorry. Jordi traced a sigil of protection over the box and hummed a chord. The red and gold vibrations of his aura charged the glyph. Only then did he feel safe to use the hotel’s letter opener to pry the wrapping free.

Behind the paper was a plain white jewelry box. Lifting the lid, he removed the wadding to find an identical pair of silver brooches wrapped in tissue paper. One was polished to a high shine while the other was black with tarnish.

Despite their conditions, they both depicted an intricately carved angel standing over a lyre. Unlike other angelic drawings from the period, this angel possessed three sets of wings and the feet of a raptor—an accurate depiction of a Messenger in his true form.

The angel on the brighter pin held gemstones set within the silver: jacinth in the right hand and an emerald in the left. The stones sparkled brightly beneath the room’s electric light.

The other brooch sustained damage deeper than tarnish. An indentation in the center made it appear as if someone had struck the brooch with a blunt object. Both the jacinth and the emerald were loose in their settings. Neither stone had clarity.

The banner over the angel’s head in both pieces bore the inscription: Amor vincit omnia.

Love conquers all.

“Love tokens,” Jordi murmured. He caught the scent of fire and metal from a blacksmith’s forge. A hammer struck the anvil with a measured rhythm, like the slow steady beats of a heart. The fires silhouetted a giant of a nefil. Jordi recalled those blunt hands and questioning whether the smith possessed the finesse to craft jewelry. Evidently he did.

Shifting through the tissue paper, he found a typewritten card at the bottom of the box. The note said: Wear your pin so that I will know you in this incarnation. We will judge the traitor in vehmgericht. Watch for me.

Jordi scowled at the word vehmgericht. The vehmgericht were the secret trials the nefilim once used in Germany to root out traitors to the angel-born. Mortals had eventually adopted the word and the custom during the Middle Ages to protect their feudal rights.

But in the beginning, vehmgericht belonged to us.

Jordi scanned the note again for any clues. The signature was nothing more than a hand-drawn symbol composed of a vertical line with two more lines branching upward to the right to make the rune Fehu.

“The letter F?” Why use such an archaic symbol in place of a signature?

Picking up the brooches, Jordi held them side by side. Whose name might begin with F? He kicked off his shoes and drew his feet onto the bed as he turned the pins first one way and then another. Nothing came to him.

“Christ burning in shit, but I hate riddles.”

The quickest way to discover the meaning behind the incarnation would be to read the stones. Unfortunately, the ability to divine the history of jewels was a daimonic skill, and Jordi didn’t trust the daimons in Barcelona. Any one of them would sell him out to Guillermo for a peseta if they saw something to gain from divulging the information.

Good thing he didn’t need them. An ingenious nefil always found other avenues to the same destination. Being more resourceful than most, Jordi had experimented with various substances until he found that opium quickly led him into lucid dreams.

Time to chase the dragon and see where he leads, Jordi thought as he opened his bag again. Beneath a false seam was a metal case next to a small tin of cocaine. Jordi removed both and placed the cocaine on his nightstand before taking the case to the desk.

He opened the lid and laid his equipment on the blotter: a stubby candle, a pin, some foil, and a paper straw. The foil and straw always left him feeling cheap and dirty, like a street addict chasing a high.

Exceptional times call for exceptional means. He selected a small brick of opium. Love tokens sent across distance and time qualified as extraordinary.

With practiced moves, he lit the candle, and then daubed a piece of opium about the size of a peanut from the brick with the pin. He transferred the opium onto the foil. Picking up the straw, he moved the foil over the flame. As the opium vaporized, the liquid oozed across the foil’s surface, writhing like a snake. White smoke rose into the air. Jordi followed the smoke with the straw, inhaling the drug deeply.

The sweet taste of opium filled his mouth. He repeated the procedure four more times before he blew out the candle. Knowing just when to stop is what separated him from the addicts.

He waved the foil gently and when it had cooled, he licked the last of the opium from the blackened surface. Once he had returned everything except the candle to the metal case, he adjusted the pillows and sat on the bed with his back against the headboard.

A feeling of peace and well-being suffused his body. As he moved the tarnished brooch to the nightstand, the jacinth fell free of its setting. Jordi caught the gemstone and placed it beside the brooch.

His memories lay behind the brighter pin. He was sure of it. Cradling the shining silver brooch in his palm, he shaped a glyph over the design and hummed a tune. The opium darkened the edges of his song, deepening the amber vibrations to brown.

Concentrating on the angel’s face, Jordi felt the room drift away. The angel’s smile. So serene, loving . . . loving . . . he was my adviser, my lover . . .

Jordi remembered his previous incarnation when he was known as George . . .

George and the angel burrow beneath the quilts and furs to escape the cold. Drowsy from their lovemaking, they are on the verge of sleep when the music finds them.

Light notes drawn from a stringed instrument with a bow travel over the night and through the shuttered window. A distant voice joins the instrument, a tenor singing in another language. It is the third night the enchanting musician has serenaded them from the town’s tavern.

“Arabic. He sings in Arabic,” whispers the angel. “Last night it was Italian. And his voice . . . I have never heard a nefil with such range. He is the one we need. Find him.”

“In the morning,” George murmurs. He has no desire to leave the bed to go wandering through a night made brittle with cold.

The angel, who calls himself Frauja, isn’t dissuaded. “Have I led you wrong yet?”

No. No, he hasn’t.

“You said you wanted the Key,” Frauja murmurs against George’s ear.

And he does want that song—needs that song—because now that he carries the Thrones’ blessing as king of the Inner Guard, he must shut his brother Guillaume into a prison realm, one where he can never again reincarnate in the mortal world. Then there will be no other nefil strong enough to challenge George’s rule.

“You know I want it.”

“Then I need his voice.” Frauja strokes George’s throat. “The whisper of his darkness to merge with your fire. No other nefil will do. Bring him to us.”

The request irks George. The initial arrangement between them required no other nefil, but George doesn’t argue.

If the Thrones discover he is hiding a fallen Messenger, he’ll be driven from his post as king and Guillaume will once more win sovereignty over the Inner Guard. George is playing a dangerous game and they both know it.

Secrets are like chains, George thinks as he slides out of bed and awakens his mortal manservant with a kick. “Find that musician and bring him to me. Take the guards with you. Don’t come back without him.”

The man stumbles from the room half awake. Another servant enters and adds wood to the fire. Candles are lit.

The covers of George’s bed lie flat. The angel is gone. No one sees him but George.

An hour passes before the manservant returns and leads an unfamiliar nefil into the room. At a gesture from George, the manservant backs into the corridor and shuts the door.

The stranger places his bag at his feet and cradles an instrument’s case in his arms. His clothing speaks of no country, of all countries: a surcoat of black with seams threaded in yellow covers a cote dyed a rich dark green. The loose pants, favored by the Hungarians, are tucked into his worn boots. Long black hair falls beneath a stylish chaperon popular with the Italian merchants, and it suits him well. His eyes are dark and green, surrounded by lashes so thick and black they resemble kohl in the chamber’s half-light.

George remains by the fire and glares at the flames. “Who is your liege?”

“I have none.” The stranger speaks the language with an accent that is impossible to place because, like his clothes, it belongs to no single country.

“You are a rogue?”

“That is your word, but yes.”

“What is your word?”

“I say I am free.” He meets George’s stare as an equal.

The impunity of the act angers George, but he doesn’t admonish the stranger. Until he is certain of the angel’s game, he will move in a judicious manner. “Play for me.” It is a command.

The stranger seems unperturbed. “Will we exchange songs?”

It is a reasonable request and a matter of professional etiquette that when one nefil plays for another, they exchange songs. In doing so, they are able to gauge the strength and color of one another’s souls.

George isn’t feeling reasonable. “Perhaps.”

The stranger seems to intuit George’s mood. His expression is serious as he retrieves a nearby stool. He brings it close to George’s chair and sits. From the wooden case, he removes a Byzantine lyra and its bow.

“What is your name?” George asks as the stranger adjusts the instrument’s pegs.

“Yago.”

“Where are you from?”

“Nowhere, everywhere.”

“Where did you begin?” George snaps the question like a lash.

“Córdoba.”

Balancing the lyra on his thigh, he draws the bow across the strings, testing the sound, and then he measures George with a critical eye. “Is there something in particular you would like to hear?”

“You choose.”

He chooses a love ballad and renders it with heartbreaking skill. His voice is as much an instrument as the lyra, and he progresses through chords no mortal and few nefilim will ever sing. When he finishes, the final clear notes of his tenor shades the air in viridian hues the same color as his eyes.

The angel appears behind Yago. “Don’t move,” he whispers.

Yago stiffens at Frauja’s sudden presence, but he doesn’t turn.

Reaching out to twine one slender finger in the black of Yago’s hair, Frauja pronounces, “He is the one.”

The angel’s touch is intimate, his smile more so. Worse still, he has revealed himself to Yago like he has to no other.

Jealousy grabs George’s heart with sharp nails and he winces, because . . .

. . . the brooch pricked his flesh, awakening him from the opium dream. Blinking in the predawn light, he looked down at his palm, where his blood smeared the angel’s lips.


WhereOblivionLives.jpg

Frohock has intricately woven a unique reinterpretation of history. Eloquent prose accompanies a lyrical theme amid prewar tensions, enriching this imaginative historical fantasy. starred review, Publishers Weekly

…the kind of story that casts a spell on readers, immersing them in words as vivid and resonant as the music the nefilim imbue themselves with as they weave their magic. –B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Scuppernong Books | HarperCollins | IndieBound or add it to your Goodreads list
Audiobook, narrated by Vikas Adam, is available from Audible

Schoolyard brawl ... Los Nefilim Snippet

A lot of you—seriously, more of you than I ever expected—said you’d like to see slice of life vignettes with the Los Nefilim characters. Little stories along the lines of “A Rose, A Dragon” aren’t hard to write, and these little shorts also work as characters studies for me.

So I added a category for Los Nefilim Snippets in the sidebar. That way, if you miss one, you can find it easily.

The following snippet has floated in the back of my mind from time-to-time. The sequel to Where Oblivion Lives is called Carved from Stone and Dream, and it takes place several years after the events in Where Oblivion Lives. In Carved from Stone and Dream, Rafael is fourteen and he plays a much more prominent role in the story. As I wrote his character, I thought a lot about the difference between Diago’s and Miquel’s personalities and their parenting skills.

Miquel is angel-born and more likely to use martial means to solve his problems. Diago tends to fall back on diplomacy. In Carved from Stone and Dream, we see the end result of Diago’s and Miquel’s parenting. But before Rafael grew into an emotionally stable youth, he suffered his own growing pains.

Here, we see the diamond in the rough:

Santuari, Spain
March 12, 1933

The front door opened and then snicked shut quietly. In the kitchen, Diago glanced at his watch. Across the table from him, Miquel stubbed his cigarette in a tin ashtray. They exchanged a glance. It was too early for Rafael to be home, yet Diago recognized his son’s soft tread on the floor.

And he’s sneaking … which never indicated good news. Diago lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. Please don’t let him be in trouble again …

Miquel leaned back in his chair, so he could see into the living the room. “Rafael? Why is school out?” A frown creased his husband’s mouth. “What happened to your face?”

“Nothing.”

Diago dropped his hand, alarm spreading through his chest. “What’s wrong with his face?” He rose and went to the kitchen door.

Rafael had already crossed the small living room and stood at the hallway’s entrance. At eight, he’d finally begun to acquire some height, though he was still small for his age. Dust coated the wild curls surrounding the lacerations on his face. His shirt was torn and his pants ripped.

He paused and smoothed first his hair and then his shirt with one hand. With the other, he twisted the strap holding his schoolbooks together. A large bruise blackened one eye and the side of his face.

Swallowing hard, he met Diago’s gaze. “It’s okay, Papá. Doña Juanita says it’s just a bruise and it’s already healing and it’s okay.”

Miquel joined Diago, standing just behind him. “Wow, that’s a shiner. What does the other guy look like?”

Diago nudged Miquel silent with his elbow. “Why were you fighting?”

“Georgio called me a monkey again.”

“And then you hit him?”

“No, I did what you said. I tried to be nice and I asked him to please stop calling me a monkey and then he started singing that I was a monkey from Morocco, and when I told him to shut up, he shoved me.”

Diago winced. “So why did you get sent home?”

Rafael glanced at Miquel. “Because this time I hit him back like Miquel told me to do, and it felt good, because I was really mad, so I hit him again. And then Emilia hit me to make me stop hitting Georgio, so Violeta hit Emilia, and then Ysa hit Georgio with a rock … at least, I think that’s what happened, because Ysa had her slingshot in her hand and Georgio was yelling and there was blood everywhere …”

Diago lifted his hand. “You may stop now.”

Rafael exhaled and looked down, feigning contriteness that wasn’t reflected in his eyes. “I’m really tired and my head hurts. May I go to my room?”

The play for sympathy fell flat with Diago. If Juanita had examined Rafael, then she gave him aspirin. If he thinks Miquel is going to smooth this over for him, then he has another thing coming. “Where was Father Bernardo during all this?”

Resigned to his interrogation, Rafael exhaled a long-suffering sigh. “Inside the church grading papers. He came out and broke up the fight when Georgio started screaming about murder; although I don’t think Ysa was trying to kill him.”

“She should have,” Miquel snapped.

Diago elbowed his husband again, more sharply this time.

“Ow!” Miquel put some distance between them. “What was that for? Georgio is twelve years old and in his second-born life. He is almost as big as I am. He has no business picking on Rafael.”

Knowing he had an ally in Miquel, Rafael nodded. “Father Bernardo broke up the fight. He pulled Georgio off me and I think that’s when my coat ripped, and oh”—he reached into his jacket and gave Diago a note—“Father Bernardo wants to talk to you and Miquel. I think you’re in trouble this time.”

“I’m not in trouble.” Diago took the note and shot his husband a poisoned glare.

Miquel stiffened. “What do you want? That Georgio beats him up everyday? Rafael needs to learn to fight back.”

Diago scanned the note. “You can explain that parental philosophy to Father Bernardo when we meet with him in an hour.”

Miquel shrugged. “You can handle it. I’m meeting with Guillermo.”

Diago gave the note to Miquel. “Not anymore. Guillermo is going to be there, too. See?” He snapped the paper with his fingers.

Anger flashed through Miquel’s dark eyes as he glanced at the page and then back to Diago. “Why are you looking at me like that? This isn’t my fault.”

“Who taught him to fight?”

“I taught him to stick up for himself.”

“Really? After you promised me—”

Rafael fidgeted. “Are you two going to fight now, because—?”

“We’re not fighting,” they said in unison.

The phone rang, jolting them all to silence. Miquel went to answer, jerking the handset from the cradle. “Miquel.” He closed his eyes as he listened. “Yes … yes … he’s fine … no, we were just talking about that … of course. I’ll see you in an hour.” Replacing the handset, he stood for a moment with his head bowed. “That was Guillermo. I’m going, too.”

A Rose, A Dragon--A Los Nefilim Vignette

Here is a free story to help you celebrate St. George's Day. If you don't know the legend of St. George, it goes something like this:

RoseDragonCover3.png

A dragon came to a village and began to terrorize the people. The dragon demanded that the villagers should feed him--first with sheep, then cows, horses, and finally with people. A lottery was developed, and of course, a princess was chosen to be sacrificed to the dragon. Enter St. George, who killed the dragon in order to save the princess.

This story has one minor difference: when the dragon died, its blood fell to the ground and formed a rose, which St. George presented to the princess.

In Catalonia and other parts of Spain, it has become the tradition on St. George's Day to give your loved one a rose for love and a book for culture. Barcelona comes alive with the scent of roses and open air stalls with books for sale.

So here is a very short vignette for you, whether you celebrate Valentine's Day or St. George's Day. Unlike the Los Nefilim novellas, no one dies and there is no great adventure. It's just a slice of life scene, but since so many folks have seemed to enjoy the moments with Diago, Miquel, and Rafael, I thought you might like "A Rose, A Dragon."

A Rose, A Dragon

Diago paused outside his son’s room and frowned. Another soft sniffle penetrated the silence, confirming what Diago suspected: Rafael was crying.

Across the hall, Miquel was already abed, where he awaited Diago to join him. Diago glanced at the closed door and sighed. His lover would have to wait a little longer.

A thin web of moonlight trickled through Rafael’s window and wound around the pure white rose Miquel and Diago had chosen for Rafael. Beside the rose was a book with the picture of a white cat on the cover: El Gato Sanson y Otros Cuentas. It was St. George’s Day, a day of roses and books, and they had all exchanged their carefully chosen gifts earlier in the afternoon.

Rafael had been delighted with his gifts and had even read passages from Sanson to his kitten, Ghost. Whenever he came to a word beyond his comprehension, he merely made up the rest of the story to a disinterested Ghost. Diago and Miquel, on the other hand, had thoroughly enjoyed Rafael’s attempts to instill culture in his aloof feline, who was far more interested in chasing the shadows on the floor.

Attuned as he was to his son’s moods, the sudden shift to tears troubled Diago. He entered the room and asked, “Are you all right?”

Rafael squinched his eyes shut and feigned sleep.

Diago couldn’t help but smile. The boy was a horrible liar.

Ghost had already settled into her spot on Rafael’s pillow and curled around his head. She blinked up at Diago with her odd eyes--one blue and one green--and gave a soft purr.

Diago stroked the kitten’s back and let his fingers trail into Rafael’s thick curls. “Why do you cry, my osito?” The nickname “little bear” often won Diago a smile, but not tonight.

“I’m asleep,” Rafael whispered and hunched his shoulders as he burrowed deeper under his covers.

Strangely enough, Diago wasn’t convinced. “Do you want to tell me what troubles you?”

“No.” He sniffled. “I am very happy.”

Diago sat on the edge of the bed. “You have tears in your voice.”

Rafael shrugged.

Diago didn’t move. Patience, he had found, was the key to unlocking his son’s many moods.

Moments passed and the moonlight made an imperceptible shift across the table. When Rafael spoke again, the words came tumbling one over the other until Diago had to listen very closely to hear why his son was so aggrieved. “I miss Mamá. If I’d been older or stronger, I might have saved her from the bad angels like St. George saved the princess from the dragon. I would have made those mean angels go away, and then she would be here to celebrate with us, and I would give her a beautiful rose, the most beautiful rose in the whole world, and a book made of leather so it would truly last forever.” The pronouncement was followed by a sob that wrenched Diago’s heart.

So there it was. Juanita, Los Nefilim’s doctor, had warned Diago that Rafael’s grief over the loss of his mother might take a while for him to resolve. The child was so afraid of being abandoned again that he tried to pretend everything was fine all the time.

Without a word, Diago gathered the boy in his arms and sat him on the edge of the bed.

Rafael blinked through his tears as Diago put on his shoes. “Where are we going? Are you sending me away?” A note of panic carried the last word high.

Diago soothed the child’s fear. “We are going to make a rose for your mamá.” Although it will be more for you, my osito, Diago thought as he buckled his son’s shoes.

A new wave of tears covered his cheeks, but the fear was gone from his words. “She won’t see it, Papa. She is dead.”

“I will tell you a secret,” Diago whispered. He put his mouth against Rafael’s ear. “Even the angels don’t know everything. She may be here--” he touched Rafael’s chest “--or anywhere.” He gestured to the moonlight. “So just in case, we are going to make her the most special rose in the world.” He took Rafael’s hand and led him from the room.

Ghost settled onto the pillow, content to have it to herself. Diago didn’t want her to follow, so he shut the door and led Rafael outside. The warm April air greeted them with the promise of summer, so they left their coats on the hooks by the door.

They walked to a spot in the yard, where the moon touched the earth. Diago evaluated the stars and their position, making a much greater show than necessary, but the longer he took, the more Rafael calmed. When he was satisfied Rafael was serene enough to sing, Diago positioned him beneath the moon, and then he took his place closer to the stars that formed Pleaides.

He faced his son. “I want you to sing of your love for her. And tell your mamá of your grief. Give her your sadness, too.”

“But how is that the same as giving her a rose on St. George’s Day?”

“You sing, and I will show you.”

Rafael bit his trembling lower lip into submission and thought for a moment. “Can it be anything?”

“Sing from your heart,” said Diago. “Anything.”

Rafael nodded and cleared his throat. Two more heartbeats passed before he parted his lips and released a soft note, which grew stronger as he sang. His loss and his love turned into vibrations of sound. Diago snatched the colorful ribbons from the air--blue for his sorrow, gold for his love--and he shaped the strands of magic into a rose. As he formed the stem, he deliberately pricked his finger on one of the thorns. Three perfect drops of his blood fell to the earth, but Diago made no note of the wound.

Rafael, caught deep within his song, did not notice his father’s cut. Instead, his gaze followed the contours of the rose petals, dyed crimson and silver--the color of his angelic mother’s eyes.

The rose glittered with the magic of his voice as Rafael came to the end of his song. His tears were gone and his voice had grown strong.

On the last note, Diago threw his arms wide. The rose that was not a rose but was a song shot upward and into stars.

“There,” Diago whispered in the ensuing silence. “No matter where she is, your song will find her.”

Rafael came to Diago’s side and took his hand. “Was St. George a real person, Papa?”

Will I ever understand how this child thinks? Startled by the sudden shift in topics, Diago took a moment before he answered. “His name was Jordi, and he was a powerful nefil.”

“Did he really slay a dragon?”

“Yes.”

“And did the dragon’s blood really turn into a rose?”

“Yes.”

They stood quietly for a moment, and then Rafael said, “I would slay a dragon for you, Papa.”

“And I would slay ten thousand for you.” Diago gave his son’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Are you ready to go to bed now?”

Rafael assessed the stars and said, “Yes.”

They went inside. When they opened the door to Rafael’s room, Ghost lifted her head from the pillow and gave a great yawn. She rose to greet Rafael, who immediately removed his shoes and got into bed. “I’m okay now, Papa. Everything is okay.”

“Good.” Diago kissed the child and tucked him beneath his covers. As he left, he heard Rafael whispering to Ghost and telling her about the rose he had made for his mother. Diago didn’t admonish him. Rafael talked himself to sleep every night.

Diago slipped across the hall and found his lover engrossed in his novel.

Miquel looked up and set aside the book. “Is he calm now?”

“Yes.” Diago took off his shirt and folded it.

“Good,” Miquel reached across the bed and tugged Diago down. “Because I have a song for you.”

* * *

The next morning Rafael found the new rosebush first. He came running into the kitchen and wouldn’t stop talking until Diago and Miquel followed him back outdoors.

“See?” He spread his arms wide and cocked his head. “This is where we stood, Miquel.”

Miquel glanced at Diago, who confirmed Rafael's facts. “It is indeed.”

“And it has three roses on it already, Papa. They grew there last night." Rafael backed away a pace and frowned at the rosebush. "But there was no dragon. I thought the roses came from a dragon’s blood.”

“They do,” said Diago with a smile.