Here’s the opening:
It was the finest teahouse in Trevanne; everyone agreed on that. The ancient Dragon Queen’s loyal courtiers would buy their tea nowhere else, for the quality of the tealeaves was unmatched and the blend was one that no other teahouse in the city could provide. The courtiers, all powerful men and women with subtle minds sharpened by decades of scheming, spent many a happy afternoon gathered around the central hearth, spinning political webs over steaming cups of tea while sitting in their favorite armchairs, which had worn over the years into the shapes of their familiar bodies.
The younger, wilder, and more dissatisfied members of the court, who cared far less for tealeaves than for wine, still followed the aging crown prince’s lead in spending long raucous evenings at the teahouse, bypassing the fire-lit rooms inside for the pleasures of the lush, beautifully laid-out open courtyard filled with lanterns and pink-blossomed magnolia trees, where the most popular musicians in the city played nearly every night. The fires burned cozily within the teahouse, keeping it the perfect temperature, never too hot even at the height of summer; the magnolias bloomed year-round in the warm inner courtyard even when three feet of snow piled up in the streets outside.
It had been the finest teahouse in Trevanne for generations, by then. No one thought to question its magic anymore. The owner had seen to that, long ago, with promises and threats and a contract that had nearly been forgotten, by now.
But that contract had not expired…
Of course, like almost every story I’ve written in the past several years, I wrote this one as a Christmas gift for one of my brothers – this time my brother Dave, who asked for an Agatha Christie-style story. Er…I swear, my concept STARTED there. It really did! It just kind of accidentally morphed into something else by the time I started writing it – something dark and creepy and magical, with dangerous dragons and tea, along the way! Oops. ;)
(This is kind of like the time Dave asked for a magical traveling circus story for Christmas and it turned into a creepy historical traveling salesman story instead. Allllllmost the same??? Kinda?)
I really hope you guys enjoy it. Let me know what you think of it!
Since I sent out an author newsletter today announcing this story and also (very belatedly) announcing my last story publication, “Pack Dynamics,” which has a very different (lighthearted urban fantasy) tone (it’s my werewolves-in-Pittsburgh story!) – and which was written as a Christmas gift for my other brother – it’s struck me hard just how lucky I am that I have brothers who actually request short stories from me as Christmas presents.
I really, really enjoy writing short stories, and there was a while when they made up the bulk of my writing income, so I wrote a LOT of them – but ever since I started actually selling the novels that I wrote, short fiction has felt like a side-indulgence that I can’t necessarily justify spending my writing time on. So if I didn’t have brothers, I might never write any anymore, and that would be sad (for me)! But I can absolutely justify writing short stories as gifts for people I care about, and I love doing that.
Thanks, Ben and Dave! I really, really appreciate you guys – and your patience when the stories I write aren’t exactly what you asked for. And I’m ready for this year’s Christmas-prompts any day now! :)