Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Progress!!

Yes, this is my deck- according to hubby, it's 2/3 of the way done. I am so happy to have such a nice place to sit and relax. We even had a friend over for dinner, and it was such a joy for us all to eat outside. Well, until the wind picked up.

But still, it's so nice and peaceful... I can't wait to spend my summer here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Kindle Perspective

Last week, I realized that my Kindle was missing. I figured I'd lost it, because I lose stuff... except I'm pretty protective of my Kindle and where I keep it. However... after my neighbor told me about some car break-ins in the neighborhood, it got my thinking... maybe my Kindle was stolen.

I exhausted all of the possibilities, and I finally accepted that based on everything I've done and been told, my Kindle was, in fact, stolen. So today, I called the police and filed a report. They were really nice and didn't act like I was stupid. They even brought a guy out to fingerprint, but because I'd taken so long to report it, they said it was worthless. Still, I'm glad they took me seriously, and it was good to talk to them. Last summer, we had a group of teenagers who broke into cars, so if they're at it again, at least my report will help put them away.

But now I have to buy a new Kindle. I really didn't want one to begin with, but now that I have over 600 ebooks, I guess I need to have something to read them on, since I don't like reading on my computer. ERGH. I hate spending the money, and I hate having to make such a big decision.

However, I feel better about the loss of my Kindle, and I'm glad I called the police. I'm even okay with having to buy a new one.  All it took was a little change in perspective.

Yesterday at church, the pastor was talking about the Holy Spirit, and we had an extended prayer time that was really wonderful. And as they called out different things to pray for, I realized that the absolute worst thing that happened to me this week was losing my Kindle. You probably shouldn't read that again, because then you'll realize what a shallow dork I am. Even though I hate the idea of buying a new one, the reality is that I have the money to go out and buy another right now.

So what exactly is my problem?

Um, nothing.

I can't believe how much energy I have wasted over such a silly thing. There are so many other things in life to spend my time and energy on, so rather than letting the fact that a bunch of dumb kids broke into my car and stole my Kindle get me down, I'm going to focus on the other things in my life. The good things. The stuff that a bunch of bratty teenagers can't take away.

What are you wasting your energy on? Is there something unimportant you can take your focus off and put it where it belongs?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Me? A Revolutionary??

Well, a chicken revolutionary, anyway....

The more I think about my chicken dilemma, the more I realize it's not fair. I know, life's not fair, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do our parts to make it better. Even if I get chickens illegally, I'm going to blog about it, and hopefully encourage others to join in the adventure. But I don't want to encourage others to break the law. That isn't right. It's also not right that if I lived one block east, in a smaller house, with a smaller lot, I could have chickens. There isn't a consistent standard and that really bothers me.

I am in contact with people to try and change the law. I don't know if it will work. I've never done anything like this before, so I have no idea if I will be successful or not. I'm not even fully sure what to do. But I've got to try.

I don't want chickens just for me. I want anyone who wants chickens to be able to have that choice.

So here I am... writer, mother, aspiring evil overlord... chicken revolutionary.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Great Chicken Dilemma

Please mommy, get me a chicken!
Since hubby and I are thinking about taking the next step in our Urban Homesteading Adventure, I went ahead and took a class on chickens. And I was mostly sold on the idea of getting some for our family. Hubby and the kids are in love with the idea.

The problem: Where we live isn't zoned for having chickens.

We live in an unincorporated part of the county. All of the incorporated cities in our county allow chickens. However, since we live in unincorporated land, we're at the county zoning rules' mercy. Since our house is not zoned for chickens, we can't have them.

Here is my problem with that. Our lot size is twice the size of lots in the cities that allow chickens. Our neighborhood (other than having larger lots) is exactly like any other neighborhood that allows chickens.

I've talked to a few people, and their solution is to get chickens anyway.  My problem with that is that it is technically breaking the law. Hubby has argued that violating zoning rules is not breaking the law because they can't put you in jail for it- they can just make you get rid of the chickens. Uhm, okay... but that's still going against the county rules, which is still wrong.

Needless to say, hubby and I are at loggerheads over this issue. He wants to get chickens anyway, and I would rather follow the rules. I am such a rule follower, that one time, on a retreat, my friends went hiking and I freaked out over violating a "No Trespassing" sign. I still thank God we didn't get arrested. (Wait. Does anyone know the statute of limitations on trespassing?) My plan is to challenge the county on this rule and work through the legal channels of trying to get them to change this rule. Hubby says that will take too long.

My other issue is that I don't want to be a bad example to our kids. The rule says "No chickens." If we knowingly break that rule, are we teaching them that it's okay to break the laws they don't agree with?

What would you do?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Stopping the attacks

My friend Camy called me the other day about a post she'd written on her blog. She'd read an article that she found extremely upsetting and was even more upset by the level of comments she read. And you know, I was right there with her. I found the situation just as upsetting. But as I told Camy, it doesn't matter what she, I, or anyone else says in response, the article writer isn't going to wake up and say, "wow, I was wrong. Thanks for enlightening me." None of the commenters vehemently arguing against each other are going to take a step back and say, "You have a point. I'm so glad to see the other side." Instead, they dig in their heels, refusing to see the other side, and attack right back.

So today, I was reading some articles on the Internet, and saw a lot of the same sort of behavior ... worse, every attack seemed to end with some version of "you're not a real Christian if you think that," or "God would be really mad at you for saying that." I have a number of Facebook friends, and every time I log on, I am bombarded with messages of something that is against God... not going in to specifics, because those aren't important. For every person who says that liking apples is anti-Christian, I see posts from others who say that not liking apples is anti-Christian. We get into flame wars over supposed sin, and I have to wonder...

Have we missed the point?

Before I get people flaming me over this, let me be clear... there is a such thing as sin. And I believe that sin is very clearly outlined in the Bible.

But see, I don't think that is the point. We all know what sin is. Sure, some people will argue over it, and argue things like the definition of "is."  I look to Jesus, and what he actually DID in the Bible. He didn't sit around debating sin and pointing fingers. The only people he attacked were the Pharisees and their fake approach to religion. I think of James 1, and the warning in James 1:26 "Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless."

What do we gain by attacking people whose beliefs are different from our own? How is the Kingdom of God furthered by throwing stones at those we consider beneath us? The more I read the angry battles of words online, I am reminded of John 8:7 " When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”"

I don't know anyone who is without sin. I know a few people who think they are, but let's be honest- they're just as human and fallible as the rest of us. And yes, I will be the first to admit that I am just as guilty of running off at the mouth when I should shut up already.  


So what is the answer? 


Clearly, Proverbs 29:11 is one a lot of us (myself included) need to remember. "A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man holds it back." But I also like Proverbs 15:1 "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." One of my teachers shared that verse with me a long time ago, and I regret that I did not learn to take that advice until much later... in some areas, too late. But I hope, moving forward, I will be reminded of these verses, and instead of attacking, I will learn to give grace. 

Will you join me? I'd love to have some friends with me on the journey of learning to just shut up already.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Getting over lazy buying habits

I have a friend who likes to complain about how evil Amazon is taking over the universe. However, every time we talk about books and other items she's recently purchased, she always mentions that she bought it from Amazon. If they're so evil, then why do you buy from them???

It made her think. But then it made me think. Am I getting the best deals shopping at Amazon? Today, I went to buy Michael Hyatt's new book. I automatically started typing Amazon in my browser. Then I stopped because I noticed that he has listed a number of online bookstores carrying his book. Automatically, I assumed that Amazon would have the best deal. Wrong.

Out of the eight bookstores listed, Amazon's price was at the high end of the middle.

Because I am cheap, and refuse to pay shipping, especially on books, I looked for some others to add so that I'd get my free shipping. So I added some books to my carts. Amazon was STILL not the best deal. Which was counter my experience last Christmas, when I had to buy a TON of books (gifts... um, mostly) and Amazon DID end up being the better deal.

So which is it??

The truth is, it depends. And that's okay! If you're like me and want the best deals, then shop around. Or, if you have brand loyalty, buy from the brand that you prefer. What I learned today is that my automatic response to shop Amazon is pure laziness. I used to shop around, and from one result, figured Amazon was my best bet. So I developed the automatic habit, which, let's face it, was pure laziness, of typing in Amazon to buy everything. Now I will admit that the price differences I found were pennies... so you can decide, is it worth saving a few pennies to buy from the cheapest store?  Or, if you're like my friend, and wanting to shop based on your conscience, you can do so knowing that if you're paying a little bit more, it's just pennies.

I'm so glad Michael Hyatt gave links to multiple bookstores for his book.  It reminded me that as much as I get stuck in the same buying habit rut, I don't have to be. I have a choice where to buy things. When my friends complain about not having a choice, I can show them that they do. And, when I have some books to sell, thanks to Michael's example, I'll be posting multiple bookstores so you can have a choice too.


Monday, May 21, 2012

My New Summer Office




My daughter using power tools
You might remember my cautionary tale about giving me a box of pictures. Well, this edition is called "If you buy Danica new patio furniture...

Hubby's friend is downsizing his home. Friend asked hubby if he wanted to buy the patio furniture. Hubby had me look at it, and given that it's a thousand times nicer than what we had, I said yes.

The only problem is, our patio is too small for the set. The solution: Build me a bigger patio, of course! And, while we were at the friend's house, I noticed that his covered porch was open to the rafters, something I've been wanting a long time because the squirrels have been building nests between the ceiling and the rafters. I'd been trying to get hubby to make that change for me, but until I pointed out at the friend's house that I wanted my patio roof like his, he didn't get it. Once he understood, he agreed to tear down the ceiling.
In the back is the ceiling still needing to come down


Except... several owners before us decided to "improve" the roof, but rather than tear down and re-build, they built over. So, when hubby tore down the ceiling, we found two OTHER roofs and the remnants of a second-floor balcony. For whatever reason, we can never take on the easy projects.


The deck (so far) and some of my new furniture
So here we are... I have 1/4 the deck, just big enough for a table and a couple of chairs. Hubby and the cowgirl spent Sunday working on it. I spent Sunday evening sitting on my partial deck, listening to birds and thinking that I could get used to this place. Kiddo and I had breakfast out here this morning, and after having a very pleasant lunch on my 1/4 deck, I decided that I'm going to be spending a lot of time out here. My new chairs are soo comfy, and when I pretend that my back yard is not full of the junk that will be on my deck, I think this just might be my own personal heaven on earth.

Welcome to my summer office (in progress!).

If you pretend all the patio junk isn't on the lawn, it's very pretty!

Monday, May 14, 2012

My apologies to Ralph Nader

Jenny and her haggis
My friends and I have always made fun of haggis. In my favorite movie, So I Married an Axe Murderer, they've got some great anti-haggis jokes. The funny thing is, none of us have ever actually eaten haggis. Last summer, I went to dinner with some friends, and one of the people with us, Jenny, was excited to see haggis on the menu. So I asked Jenny if I could taste hers...

And it was good!!

Lately, I've had my eyes opened to more misconceptions than just the putrid nature of haggis. I'm finding that we're so used to people speaking badly of something that we end up believing it, even when we have no basis for it. Most of the people I know who say haggis is disgusting have never tasted it. But based on the description of what's in it (which you have to admit, sounds gross), and the few people who've tried and not liked it, everyone says they hate it.

What does this have to do with Ralph Nader? I'm not sure if he eats haggis, but he has been my political version of haggis for a long time. As a political science major in college, we made him the butt of many of our brilliant jokes. And yet, I can't honestly say I've ever done a bit of research into him or what he stands for.


Then the other day, I was joking around and I told someone that I'm finally giving Nader a chance. I mean, the guy has been trying to get elected president for the longest time, maybe he should be given a shot. All tongue in cheek, but then I felt guilty for being such a jerk about it when I honestly didn't know anything about Ralph Nader.

I went online and read some articles, as well as his blog, and I've concluded this. He's not the nutcase I've been ranting about all these years. Some of what he says actually makes a lot of sense, and *gasp* I even agree with it.

Shame on me.

While some of you are going to read this as a political commentary, for me, it's something much deeper, and I hope that's the point most people get. We spend so much time accepting mainstream common knowledge about someone or something and don't find out the truth for ourselves. I'm starting to realize that a lot of my prejudices often end up being unfounded, and I feel silly when I realize how much time I've wasted NOT giving something a chance.

So Ralph, I might actually vote for you this year, and not because I'm proving a stupid point. Even though I still believe that we've got a long way to go before third parties are viable in our country, I'm going to examine candidates beyond the (D) or (R) at the end of their name. And I hope that in the future, I'll do a better job of trying something before completely dismissing it.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Waiting for the soil to be ready

The trouble with living in Colorado is that our growing season is so short. And the weather so variable. Last month, we went from 80's to snow, back to warm, then cold again. Which means I have to continue waiting for the weather to be good enough to plant my garden.

For me, the hardest part about this weather is that on the days that we're approaching 70, I am sorely tempted to go out and plant my lovely little plants. In fact, on one of our 80 degree days, I did go to the garden center and buy a few plants. The next garden center had a big sign reminding us that the danger of last frost is not past until May 15th.

Waaa!!!

So my plants are sitting in my little red wagon. Every day, I wheel the wagon out to get sunlight, and at night, I wheel it back in. I still have a few more plants to buy, but for now, it makes me happy to see that I've gotten a start on my garden. And yes, for all of  my urban homesteading dreams, I still buy plants. I have terrible luck starting from seed because the light in our house is terrible, so my seedlings get leggy and don't transplant well. But hey, I am growing my own food, and it'll be really yummy come summer.

Even though I am impatient with the waiting, it is a nice reminder of all the seasons of life. There are so many projects I want to do RIGHT NOW, but it's not the right season. I could plant my tomatoes today, and they might be okay. Of course, my youngest was born during a May snowstorm, so my tomatoes might die. Which is a great reminder that even though I'm tempted to go for it, it's time to wait. I'm waiting on a lot of things in my life right now, so having this physical reminder of the necessity of waiting has been really good for me.

Is there anything you're waiting on for the right season? How do you deal with the temptation to plant prematurely?


Thursday, May 03, 2012

Fine! I'll talk about my writing!

Where my books are set

I guess since I'm a writer I should talk about my writing. Right now, there isn't anything exciting to talk about. Instead, I'm trying to tell you about the more exciting things in my life. Because seriously, my struggles with paint drying are a lot more exciting than my writing.  My agent has my latest book. He likes it. He'll be submitting it. Maybe he already has. I'm trying not to stalk him and ask for updates every ten seconds.

So I'm working on the next book and pretending that I'm not thinking about the book that somebody might be reading. Right now. Or now. Or maybe it'll be read sometime in the next ten minutes. You never know. And thinking about it only makes me crazy, so I keep busy to avoid thinking about it. Because that makes me think about what I'm currently writing, and I'm still in the "my writing is crap" stage, so let's not think about any of it. Let's pretend everything is good and  pretty and happy, and there will be rainbows and flowers and butterflies.

While I wait, I'll be working on my house, maybe doing something with my garden, possibly getting a few chickens, turning my children into minions, irritating my husband, and, if we can ever get past soccer season, I might even head back to Leadville to do some more research.

Because I really am working on my writing. Really.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Next Decorating Dilemma

I spent all of last week on my big decorating project and painting my basement. I was hoping that this week, I would be posting some beautiful pictures to show you all how hard I worked and how even I, a total decorating dummy, can make my house look beautiful.

Not so much.

Actually, my basement looks great. Just not great enough for the blog pic because my piece de resistance looks like a piece of crap. I made a huge boo-boo on my wall. I had this grand vision for a stencil design, and totally flubbed it. So I am instead posting a pic of my boo-boo.

I did so good, I measured and taped perfectly. Applied the paint. Waited for it to dry, and then I took off the stencil. And three layers of paint, including primer. Even though the instructions said to wait for it to dry (I thought my mistake was not letting it dry long enough), my friend Kaci, who is an expert at such things, said that you don't let it dry, you take it right off.

So live and learn. Don't follow directions, just ask the expert. :)

Now I have to fill in the part of the wall I broke up, find a way to re-texture, re-paint, and start all over.

Some day, my friends, you will see my beautiful basement.

The takeaway lesson is that sometimes, when you overextend your abilities, you end up with a crappy result. Fortunately, you can learn from your mistakes and hopefully *fingers crossed* get it right the next time. Just don't be afraid to try.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Garden of Madness by Tracy L. Higley

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books.  A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured.  The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between!  Enjoy your free peek into the book!




You never know when I might play a wild card on you!









Today's Wild Card author is:







and the book:





Thomas Nelson; 1 edition (May 1, 2012)



***Special thanks to Tracy Higley for sending me a review copy.***




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:








Tracy started her first novel at the age of eight and has been hooked on writing ever since. After earning a B.A. in English Literature at Rowan University, she spent ten years writing drama presentations for church ministry before beginning to write fiction. A lifelong interest in history and mythology has led Tracy to extensive research into ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and Persia, and shaped her desire to shine the light of the gospel into the cultures of the past.



She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Italy, researching her novels and falling into adventures.





Visit the author's website.





SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:







The Untold Story of King Nebuchadnezzar's Daughter.



For seven years the Babylonian princess Tiamat has waited for the mad king Nebuchadnezzar to return to his family and to his kingdom. Driven from his throne to live as a beast, he prowls his luxurious Hanging Gardens, secreted away from the world.



Since her treaty marriage at a young age, Tia has lived an opulent but oppressive life in the palace. But her husband has since died and she relishes her newfound independence. When a nobleman is found murdered in the palace, Tia must discover who is responsible for the macabre death, even if her own is freedom threatened.



As the queen plans to wed Tia to yet another prince, the powerful mage Shadir plots to expose the family's secret and set his own man on the throne. Tia enlists the help of a reluctant Jewish captive, her late husband's brother Pedaiah, who challenges her notions of the gods even as he opens her heart to both truth and love.







Product Details:

List Price: $9.99

Paperback: 400 pages

Publisher: Thomas Nelson; 1 edition (May 1, 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 140168680X

ISBN-13: 978-1401686802

MY REVIEW:


If Tracy wasn't a friend of mine, I would say that I absolutely hate her guts. In a very good way. Man, I wish I could write like her. She has got such a way with words that keeps me captivated long after the book is finished. I seriously couldn't put this book down. I'm really looking forward to more of her books.


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:








Prologue




Babylon, 570 BC




My name is Nebuchadnezzar. Let the nations hear it!


I am ruler of Babylon, greatest empire on earth. Here in its capital city, I am like a god.


Tonight, as the sun falls to its death in the western desert, I walk along the balconies I have built, overlooking the city I have built, and know there is none like me.


I inhale the twilight air and catch the scent of a dozen sacrifices. Across the city, the smoke and flames lift from Etemenanki, the House of the Platform of Heaven and Earth. The priests sacrifice tonight in honor of Tiamat, for tomorrow she will be wed. Though I have questioned the wisdom of a marriage with the captive Judaeans, tomorrow will not be a day for questions. It will be a day of celebration, such as befits a princess.


Tiamat comes to me now on the balcony, those dark eyes wide with entreaty. “Please, Father.”


I encircle her shoulders in a warm embrace and turn her to the city.


“There, Tia. There is our glorious Babylon. Do you not wish to serve her?”


She leans her head against my chest, her voice thick. “Yes, of course. But I do not wish to marry.”


I pat her shoulder, kiss the top of her head. My sweet Tia. Who would have foretold that she would become such a part me?


“Have no fear, dear one. Nothing shall change. Husband or not, I shall always love you. Always protect you.”


She clutches me, a desperate grip around my waist.


I release her arms and look into her eyes. “Go now. Your mother will be searching for you. Tomorrow will be a grand day, for you are the daughter of the greatest king Babylon has ever seen.”


I use my thumb to rub a tear from her eye, give her a gentle push, and she is gone with a last look of grief that breaks my heart.


The greatest king Babylon has ever seen. The words echo like raindrops plunking on stones. I try to ignore a tickling at the back of my thoughts. Something Belteshazzar told me, many months ago. A dream.


I shake my head, willing my mind to be free of the memory. My longtime Jewish advisor, part of my kingdom since we were both youths, often troubles me with his advice. I keep him close because he has become a friend. I keep him close because he is too often right.


But I do not want to think of Belteshazzar. Tonight is for me alone. For my pleasure, as I gaze across all that I have built, all that I have accomplished. This great Babylon, this royal residence with its Gardens to rival those created by the gods. Built by my mighty power. For the glory of my majesty. I grip the balcony wall, inhale the smoky sweetness again, and smile. It is good.


I hear a voice and think perhaps Belteshazzar has found me after all, for the words sound like something he would say, and yet the voice . . . The voice is of another.


“There is a decree gone out for you, Nebuchadnezzar. Your kingship has been stripped from you.”


I turn to the traitorous words, but no one is there. And yet the voice continues, rumbling in my own chest, echoing in my head.


“You will be driven from men to dwell with beasts. You will eat the herbs of oxen and seven times will pass over you, until you know that the Most High is ruler in the kingdom of men. To whom He wills power, He gives power.”


The tickling is there again, in my mind. I roll my shoulders to ease the discomfort, but it grows. It grows to a scratching, a clawing at the inside of my head, until I fear I shall bleed within.


The fear swells in me and I am frantic now. I rub my eyes, swat my ears, and still the scratching and scraping goes on, digging away at my memories, at my sense of self, of who I am and what I have done, and I stare at the sky above and the stones below and bend my waist and fall upon the ground where it is better, better to be on the ground, and I want only to find food, food, food. And a two-legged one comes and makes noises with her mouth and clutches at me but I understand none of it and even this knowledge that I do not understand is slipping, slipping from me as the sun slips into the desert.


And in the darkness, I am no more.






Chapter 1




Seven years later




The night her husband died, Tia ran with abandon.


The city wall, wide enough for chariots to race upon its baked bricks, absorbed the slap of her bare feet and cooled her skin. She flew past the Ishtar Gate as though chased by demons, knowing the night guard in his stone tower would be watching. Leering. Tia ignored his attention.


Tonight, this night, she wanted only to run.


A lone trickle of sweat chased down her backbone. The desert chill soaked into her bones and somewhere in the vast sands beyond the city walls, a jackal shrieked over its kill. Her exhalation clouded the air and the quiet huffs of her breath kept time with her feet.


Breathe, slap, slap, slap.


They would be waiting. Expecting her. A tremor disturbed her rhythm. Her tears for Shealtiel were long spent, stolen by the desert air before they fell.


Flames surged from the Tower and snagged her attention. Priests and their nightly sacrifices, promising to ensure the health of the city. For all of Babylon’s riches, the districts encircled by the double city walls smelled of poverty, disease, and hopelessness. But the palace was an oasis in a desert.


She would not run the entire three bêru around the city. Not tonight. Only to the Marduk Gate and back to the Southern Palace, where her mother would be glaring her displeasure at both her absence and her choice of pastime. Tia had spent long days at Shealtiel’s bedside, waiting for the end. Could her mother not wait an hour?


Too soon, the Marduk Gate loomed and Tia slowed. The guard leaned over the waist-high crenellation, thrust a torch above his head, and hailed the trespasser.


“Only Tiamat.” She panted and lifted a hand. “Running.”


He shrugged and shook his head, then turned back to his post, as though a princess running the city wall at night in the trousers of a Persian were a curiosity, nothing more. Perhaps he’d already seen her run. More likely, her reputation ran ahead of her. The night hid her flush of shame.


But she could delay no longer. The guilt had solidified, a stone in her belly she could not ignore.


She pivoted, sucked in a deep breath, and shot forward, legs and arms pounding for home.


Home. Do I still call it such? When all that was precious had been taken? Married at fourteen. A widow by twenty-one. And every year a lie.


“I shall always love you, always protect you.”


He had spoken the words on the night he had been lost to her. And where was love? Where was protection? Not with Shealtiel.


The night sky deepened above her head, and a crescent moon hung crooked against the blackness. Sataran and Aya rose in the east, overlapping in false union.


“The brightest light in your lifetime’s sky,” an elderly mage had said of the merged stars. The scholar’s lessons on the workings of the cosmos interested her, and she paid attention. As a princess already married for treaty, she was fortunate to retain tutors.


Ahead, the Ishtar Gate’s blue-glazed mosaics, splashed with yellow lions, surged against the purpling sky, and to its left, the false wooded mountain built atop the palace for her mother, Amytis, equaled its height. Tia chose the east wall of the gate for a focal point and ignored the Gardens. Tonight the palace had already seen death. She needn’t also dwell on madness.


Breathe, slap, slap, slap. Chest on fire, almost there.


She reached the palace’s northeast corner, where it nearly brushed the city wall, slowed to a stop, and bent at the waist. Hands braced against her knees, she sucked in cold air. Her heartbeat quieted.


When she turned back toward the palace, she saw what her mother had done.


A distance of one kanû separated the wide inner city wall from the lip of the palace roof, slightly lower. Tia kept a length of cedar wood there on the roof, a plank narrow enough to discourage most, and braced it across the chasm for her nightly runs. When she returned, she would pull it back to the roof, where anyone who might venture past the guards on the wall would not gain access. Only during her run did this plank bridge the gap, awaiting her return.


Amytis had removed it.


Something like heat lightning snapped across Tia’s vision and left a bitter, metallic taste in her mouth. Her mother thought to teach her a lesson. Punish her for her manifold breaches of etiquette by forcing her to take the long way down, humiliate herself to the sentinel guard.


She would not succeed.


With a practiced eye, Tia measured the distance from the ledge to the palace roof. She would have the advantage of going from a higher to a lower level. A controlled fall, really. Nothing more.


But she made the mistake of looking over, to the street level far below. Her senses spun and she gripped the wall.


She scrambled onto the ledge, wide enough to take the stance needed for a long jump, and bent into position, one leg extended behind. The palace rooftop garden held only a small temple in its center, lit with three torches. Nothing to break her fall, or her legs, when she hit. She counted, steadying mind and body.


The wind caught her hair, loosened during her run, and blew it across her eyes. She flicked her head to sweep it away, rocked twice on the balls of her feet, and leaped.


The night air whooshed against her ears, and her legs cycled through the void as though she ran on air itself. The flimsy trousers whipped against her skin, and for one exhilarating moment Tia flew like an egret wheeling above the city and knew sweet freedom.


This was how it should always be. My life. My choice. I alone control my destiny.


She hit the stone roof grinning like a trick monkey, and it took five running steps to capture her balance.


Glorious.


Across the rooftop, a whisper of white fluttered. A swish of silk and a pinched expression disappeared through the opening to the stairs. Amytis had been waiting to see her stranded on the city wall and Tia had soured her pleasure. The moment of victory faded, and Tia straightened her hair, smoothed her clothing.


“Your skill is improving.” The eerie voice drifted to Tia across the dark roof and she flinched. A chill rippled through her skin.


Shadir stood at the far end of the roof wall, where the platform ended and the palace wall rose higher to support the Gardens. His attention was pinned to the stars, and a scroll lay on the ledge before him, weighted with amulets.


“You startled me, Shadir. Lurking there in the shadows.”


The mage turned, slid his gaze the length of her in sharp appraisal. “It would seem I am not the only one who prefers the night.”


Long ago, Shadir had been one of her father’s chief advisors. Before—before the day of which they never spoke. Since that monstrous day, he held amorphous power over court and kingdom, power that few questioned and even fewer defied. His oiled hair hung in tight curls to his shoulders and the full beard and mustache concealed too much of his face, leaving hollow eyes that seemed to follow even when he did not turn his head.


Tia shifted on her feet and eyed the door. “It is cooler to run at night.”


The mage held himself unnaturally still. Did he even breathe?


As a child, Tia had believed Shadir could scan her thoughts like the night sky and read her secrets. Little relief had come with age. Another shudder ran its cold finger down her back.


Tia lowered her chin, all the obeisance she would give, and escaped the rooftop. Behind her, he spoke in a tone more hiss than speech. “The night holds many dangers.”


She shook off the unpleasant encounter. Better to ready herself for the unpleasantness she yet faced tonight.


Her husband’s family would have arrived by this time, but sweating like a soldier and dressed like a Persian, she was in no state to make an appearance in the death chamber. Instead, she went to her own rooms, where her two slave women, Omarsa and Gula, sat vigil as though they were the grieving widows. They both jumped when Tia entered and busied themselves with lighting more oil lamps and fetching bathwater.


In spite of her marriage to the eldest son of the captive Judaean king, Tia’s chambers were her own. She had gone to Shealtiel when it was required, and only then. The other nights she spent here among her own possessions—silk fabrics purchased from merchants who traveled east of Babylon, copper bowls hammered smooth by city jewelers, golden statues of the gods, rare carved woods from fertile lands in the west. A room of luxury. One that Shealtiel disdained and she adored. She was born a Babylonian princess. Let him have his austerity, his righteous self-denial. It had done him little good.


One of her women stripped her trousers, then unwound the damp sash that bound her lean upper body. Tia stood in the center of the bath chamber, its slight floor depression poked with drainage holes under her feet, and tried to be still as they doused her with tepid water and scrubbed with a scented paste of plant ash and animal fat until her skin stung.


When they had dressed her appropriately, her ladies escorted her through the palace corridors to the chamber where her husband of nearly seven years lay cold.


Seven years since she lost herself and her father on the same day. Neither of them had met death, but all the same, they were lost. Seven years of emptiness where shelter had been, of longing instead of love.


But much had ended today—Shealtiel’s long illness and Tia’s long imprisonment.


She paused outside the chamber door. Could she harden herself for the inevitable? The wails of women’s laments drifted under the door and wrapped around her heart, squeezing pity from her. A wave of sorrow, for the evil that took those who are loved, tightened her throat. But her grief was more for his family than herself. He had been harsh and unloving and narrow-minded, and now she was free. Tia would enter, give the family her respect, and escape to peace.


She nodded to one of her women, and Gula tapped the door twice and pushed it open.


Shealtiel’s body lay across a pallet, skin already graying. The chamber smelled of death and frankincense. Three women attended her husband—Shealtiel’s sister, his mother, and Tia’s own. His mother, Marta, sat in a chair close to the body. Her mourning clothes, donned over her large frame, were ashy and torn. She lifted her head briefly, saw that it was only Tia, and returned to her keening. Her shoulders rocked and her hands clutched at a knot of clothing, perhaps belonging to Shealtiel. His sister, Rachel, stood against the wall and gave her a shy smile, a smile that melded sorrow and admiration. She was younger than Tia by five years, still unmarried, a sweet girl.


“Good of you to join us, Tia.” Her mother’s eyes slitted and traveled the length of Tia’s robes. Tia expected some comment about her earlier dress, but Amytis held her tongue.


“I was . . . detained.” Their gazes clashed over Shealtiel’s body and Tia challenged her with a silent smile. The tension held for a moment, then Tia bent her head.


She was exquisite, Amytis. No amount of resentment on Tia’s part could blind her to this truth. Though Amytis had made it clear that Tia’s sisters held her affections, and though Tia had long ago given up calling her Mother in her heart, she could not deny that her charms still held sway in Babylon. From old men to children, Amytis was adored. Her lustrous hair fell to her waist, still black though she was nearly fifty, and her obsidian eyes over marble cheekbones were a favorite of the city’s best sculptors. Some said Tia favored her, but if she did, the likeness did nothing to stir a motherly affection.


Tia went to Shealtiel’s mother and whispered over her, “May the gods show kindness to you today, Marta. It is a difficult day for us all.” The woman’s grief broke Tia’s heart, and she placed a hand on Marta’s wide shoulder to share in it.


Marta sniffed and pulled away. “Do not call upon your false gods for me, girl.”


Amytis sucked in a breath, her lips taut.


Tia’s jaw tightened. “He was a good man, Marta. He will be missed.” Both of these statements Tia made without falsehood. Shealtiel was the most pious man she had ever known, fully committed to following the exacting requirements of his God.


Marta seemed to soften. She reached a plump hand to pat Tia’s own, still on her shoulder. “But how could the Holy One have taken him before he saw any children born?”


Tia stiffened and brought her hand to her side, forcing the fingers to relax. Marta rocked and moaned on, muttering about Tia’s inhospitable womb. Tia dared not point out that perhaps her son was to blame.


“But there is still a chance.” Marta looked to Amytis, then to Tia. “It is our way. When the husband dies without an heir, his brother—”


“No.”


The single word came from both her mother’s and her own lips as one. Marta blinked and looked between them.


“It is our way.” Marta glanced at Rachel against the wall, as though seeking an ally. “My second son Pedaiah is unmarried yet. Perhaps Tia could still bear a son for Shealtiel—”


“You have had your treaty marriage with Babylon.” Amytis drew herself up, accentuating her lean height. “There will not be another.”


Tia remained silent. Her mother and she, in agreement? Had Amytis watched her languish these seven years and regretted flinging her like day-old meat to the Judaean dogs? Did she also hope for a life with more purpose for Tia now that she had been released? Tia lifted a smile, ever hopeful that Amytis’s heart had somehow softened toward her youngest daughter.


“Jeconiah shall hear of your refusal!” Marta stood, her chin puckering.


Amytis huffed. “Take the news to your imprisoned husband, then. I shall not wait for his retribution.” She seemed to sense the unfairness of the moment and regret her calloused words. “Come, Tia. Let us leave these women to grieve.” She meant it kindly but it was yet another insult, the implication that Tia need not remain for any personal grief.


Tia followed Amytis from the chamber into the hall, her strong perfume trailing. Amytis spun on her, and her heavy red robe whirled and settled. Her nostrils flared and she spoke through clenched teeth.


“By all the gods, Tiamat! For how long will you make our family a mockery?”