Chapter 223: Uphill Battles

on July 2, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Old Habits Resurge

Apparently my advice to Glory about how to deal with the accumulated stockpile of furniture in her new residence did the trick. She insisted on giving me a bonus payment for it, which I didn’t mind one bit. I was less sure about her suggestion that she pay me by slipping the money into my back pocket, especially since the jeans I was wearing didn’t have any.

Admittedly, that was because I’d chosen to wear my tightest pair of jeans to meet with her, instead of one of my more practical pairs. While I found her attention confusing and I still wasn’t sure where it was going or where I wanted it to go, I still appreciated it.

I didn’t mind her testing my boundaries, since she always backed down when she found where they were… and I think the process of finding them probably gave her at least a little bit of the same thrill she was looking for.

I know it did for me.

Was this what flirtation was supposed to feel like? Was this why people did it? I’d never really gone through a flirty phase in the lead-up to my relationships with Ian or Amaranth… Steff could be flirty, but a lot of her style was more teasing, and back then, I’d probably processed a lot of stuff as teasing even if it wasn’t.

I’d always assumed it was more… practical, like a less blunt way of stating one’s intentions. I’d never thought of it as something that could be fun in its own right.

I’d heard Amaranth and Steff both making points about how negotiating boundaries didn’t have to take all the spontaneity out of a relationship, and it certainly didn’t mean that you couldn’t have fun. With Glory, I felt like I was experiencing a slightly less regimented side of that.

Did I mind her putting her hand on my shoulder when she spoke to me? No, I didn’t. Did I mind her touching my face sometimes when she talked? No, I didn’t mind that. Did I mind her arm around my waist when she led me somewhere? Maybe, for now… but I didn’t mind her asking.

I didn’t mind that at all.

Amaranth surprised me by being the next one to evince jealousy at my budding… whatever… flirtation, I guess… with Glory. It’s not that I’d never known her to be jealous of others when it came to certain subjects… like perceived intelligence and wisdom… but she’d always been beyond open to the idea of me having relationships with others. “Enthusiastic” would be the word.

“I’ve noticed you’re doing your laundry more often,” she said to me the night of the pocket-that-wasn’t incident, as I was putting that pair of jeans in the hamper.

“Yeah,” I said, pleased with myself before I took a moment to catch up to the tone of the question, which hadn’t been proud or approving, but the studied attempt at neutrality that usually meant that something was bothering Amaranth. Still, I pressed on, because I was pretty sure this was something she should approve of. “I’ve been leaving my clothes on the floor less often, too.”

“Yes. I’d noticed. You know, I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen you wear the same shirt twice in a row,” she said.

She still didn’t sound pleased.

In fact, she’d started to chew on her lip, which was a sure sign that something was bothering her.

“Well… I run out of clean ones less often,” I said. “I don’t exactly plan these things out, you know… clothing is mostly something that just sort of happens.”

“I know that used to be true,” she said. “I’m just wondering when it changed.”

“I thought you’d be happy that your good influence eventually wore off on me after all this time,” I said.

“It’s the ‘all this time’ that makes me wonder,” she said. “Is it really my influence?”

“Well… Glory does prefer when I wear clean things,” I said.

“Baby, everybody prefers when you wear clean things,” she said. “Including and especially me.”

“So… everybody wins?”

“I guess,” she said. “It’s just… funny how Queen Glory can tell you to change your shirt a couple of times, and suddenly you know your way to the laundry room.”

“She’s never told me to change my shirt,” I said. “I’ve just been making a point of wearing clean ones.”

“Of course I know that,” she said, stamping her foot. “I brought it up. I just don’t know why you suddenly find it worth your time to do something to please her that you’d never do for me.”

“Okay, first of all… it’s not really fair to criticize me not wanting to wa… spend my time on laundry when you never have to do it, and you spend zero percent of your day having to clean anything to begin with,” I said, and I immediately regretted it. I didn’t think I sounded heated, though I felt like I was getting into the rhythm of an argument rather than making an important point.

More than that, mentioning Amaranth not wearing clothes was sort of hitting her below where a belt would go, if she was allowed to wear one.

“That’s not fair… you know it’s not up to me how I dress, or don’t dress. I would do laundry if I could wear clothes,” she said. “I like to think… I mean, I imagine that if I did, then the things I wore might occasionally get soiled, despite my divine influence, since they wouldn’t actually be part of me… it would be fun to find out, anyway. But I can’t.”

I remembered that when Barley had started wearing clothes the year before, they had visibly accumulated dirt. It was hard to say if that would have been the general case or not, because there had been some other complicating factors in play… and even if I hadn’t been smart enough not to bring up nymphs wearing clothes in general, I knew it wouldn’t have been a good idea to bring up Barley. I didn’t like thinking about her either, but the association between nymphs and dirty clothing was too strong.

It might have been there for Amaranth, too, because she kind of drew aback at the same time that I bit my tongue.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just… being more mortal than you means that I have demands on my time that you don’t.”

“I know that, baby,” she said. “But you’re less mortal than a lot of people who still manage to do what they need to… and anyway, that’s the thing. General personal maintenance isn’t about fair or not, it’s just… things that need to be done. They’re part of life.”

“Right, but there’s some wiggle room,” I said. “I’m sure I’m not the only college kid who slacks off on this sort of thing.”

“I’m sure most people do fall behind on their laundry once in a while… especially the people who were never responsible for washing their own clothes before,” she said.

“Well, there you go,” I said. “My grandmother never let me be responsible for anything. She held me responsible for everything, but she didn’t trust me enough to give me much of what you’d call chores.”

“But baby, there’s a difference between ‘once in a while’ and… you know, I kind of doubt that before recently, you did much laundry except when I specifically told you to,” she said.

“That… might be true,” I said. “Broadly speaking. But that just goes to show you that I don’t listen to Glory any more than you do.”

“But I had to keep telling you,” she said. “You never really accepted it as an ongoing thing, and you always acted like you were humoring me whenever you’d put your clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor by the bed… when you were resenting me for it. But she comes along and snaps her fingers and suddenly, you’re completely housebroken.”

“Let’s please, please stay away from any comparisons to a pet dog,” I said.

“Oh… I’m sorry!” she said. “But, I’m still upset.”

“Okay, but… even if Glory’s preferences were the most immediate impetus for the change, don’t you think that you deserve credit for putting me on the path to begin with?” I asked. “If you feel like you were pushing and pushing and pushing and getting nowhere with me, that’s because you were pushing uphill. Your hard work got me to the top of the hill, and once I crested that, it was just… all downhill from there? You know what I mean.”

“I do,” she said, and she smiled the almost shy smile that she got when she felt like she’d maybe got something wrong. Amaranth was a nymph; the only time she felt bashful was when she was abashed. “I guess I was… resentful… that I’d worked so hard, when I should have taken pride in that work.”

“You should be proud,” I said. “Glory doesn’t know how easy she has it… before you, I wouldn’t have had any idea what was happening when she hit on me, or how to handle it. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to admit that I might like it.”

“Well, I’m proud of you,” she said. “All the pushing in the world… even along with gentle support and loving guidance… couldn’t have changed you one bit. The progress you’ve made is yours. I’m just very happy to have helped.”

“What also helps, I think, is the whole thing with Acantha,” I said. “I mean, as much of a runaway wagon as that whole thing was at times, it did make me more confident and assertive, and I really started taking an interest in appearing more professional because…”

I stopped suddenly, as she’d put her finger up to my lips to shush me. I have to admit, I’d only stopped talking at first because I was confused about what was happening… it had been a while since she’d invoked this particular rule.

“Now I just need someone to teach you how to quit when you’re ahead,” she said, then removed her finger only to replace it with her lips.

“You know, I wasn’t kidding about the time constraints,” I said. “It’s really not fun taking time out of my weekend to do something that ties me to the general area of the lounge, especially when the rest of my week is so busy.”

“I know, baby, but it’s something that has to be done,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, I’m not trying to argue against it,” I said. “I’m just saying, with everything else… classes, school work, work… it’s been a while since we’ve made it to the library.”

“Well, I’ve still been ending up there sometimes,” she said. “But I know what you mean. Our usual Sunday date isn’t so usual, these days.”

“So, let’s make a point of doing it this weekend,” I said.

“Are you sure that won’t conflict with anything?”

“I’ve never actually had a conflict on Sunday morning yet,” I said. “It’s just that the more stuff I’ve got going on the rest of the week, the more likely I’m going to need that time for something else. It’s usually when I end up doing my laundry. But I don’t think my time’s actually so scarce that I can’t carve out another chunk of time somewhere for that. Even if I can’t… well, I think I can go more than a week between laundry runs.”

“Please, don’t start that again,” she said.

“I meant because I have more clothes now,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I have more than a week’s worth of unique outfits by now.”

“You didn’t even have a full week’s worth of anything when you came here, and you still didn’t bother washing them,” she said.

“That’s just a sign of how much I’ve changed,” I said. “If you’re worried about me falling back into bad habits, though, we don’t have to g…”

She gave me a light slap on the cheek, then shushed me with her finger again.

“You have gotten cheeky, haven’t you?” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, when she let me.

“Is that how you talk to Glory?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“And she lets you get away with it?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, you won’t talk to me that way, will you?”

“No, ma’am,” I said, and if yes, ma’am nudged me into submissive mode and started heating things up, somehow that… well, in terms of speed of change it was like the difference between being pushed up hill and being shoved down the other side.

“And why is that, my little toy?”

I knew what the right answer to that was… I knew the answer she expected was that she was my owner, and I almost gave that, but then something else came to me and I smiled, knowing it would be better. The smile might have been a little cheeky, but I thought the answer was sufficiently respectable, or at least would be flattering enough to be deemed acceptable.

What the hell… I’d try it, anyway, and if it crossed the line then I would be corrected and we’d move on. Hadn’t I been learning how much fun it could be to figure out where the lines were instead of staying safely in one place?

“Because Glory is only a queen,” I said.

“That’s… that’s right, baby,” Amaranth said, practically purring with pleasure. “That’s exactly right.”

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24 Responses to “Chapter 223: Uphill Battles”

  1. Zathras IX says:

    In an emergency
    Mack’s seat may be used as a
    Flirtation device

    Current score: 44
    • Riotllama says:

      I think this is the first time I have ever liked one of your poems. Good job!

      Current score: 4
  2. D. D. Webb says:

    Aww. I like cheeky Mack.

    Wasn’t expecting that from Amaranth, but eh…it’s pretty solidly in character. The toy isn’t the only one with growing up still to do.

    Current score: 8
  3. Dani says:

    Mack should get reversible outfits. That would enable her to go twice as long between loads of laundry.

    Current score: 2
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      I’m not sure the logistics of that work with human senses, let alone Elven ones.

      Current score: 4
  4. Daez says:

    Ahaha…. Reminds me of when I’d purposefully be a ‘brat’ to my soldier….. It usually led to the some of the very best fun! Go Mack!!

    Current score: 4
  5. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    “That… might be true,” I said. “Broadly speaking. But that just goes to show you that I don’t listen to Glory any more than you do.”

    I stumbled over this and couldn’t figure out what to make of it. I’m thinking maybe “than you do” should be “than I do to you”?

    Current score: 2
    • Lyssa says:

      I read it as “But that just goes to show you that I don’t listen to Glory any more than to you.” Didn’t notice the typo until now. 🙂

      Current score: 0
    • JS says:

      I think Mack means that neither she nor Amaranth take any greater notice of what Glory says than the other does.

      Current score: 0
      • Lunaroki says:

        That does seem to be how the line reads, but it doesn’t make sense to me that way. Why Mack would make an argument based on how much Amaranth listens to Glory when Amaranth has virtually no direct contact with Glory just seems like a total apples and oranges comparison.

        Typo Report

        “No, ma’am,” I said, and if yes, ma’am nudged me into submissive mode and started heating things up, somehow that… well, in terms of speed of change it was like the difference between being pushed up hill and being shoved down the other side.

        Missed this one on my earlier pass. That “and” seems like it might read better as “as”. Not entirely certain though, as the sentence construction is still kind of awkward either way, but it seems less so with “as” in place of “and”.

        Current score: 0
        • wocket says:

          No, “as” doesn’t really make sense there.
          But maybe quotes around “yes, ma’am” would help clarify things.

          [em]No, ma’am,” I said, and if “yes, ma’am” nudged me into submissive mode and started heating things up, somehow that… well, in terms of speed of change it was like the difference between being pushed up hill and being shoved down the other side.[/em]

          She’s saying that responding to Amaranth with “yes ma’am” nudged her into a more submissive mindset, but it was saying “no ma’am” that really put her in an actual subspace.

          Current score: 0
  6. N. says:

    Pretty perfect way to end a chapter. Bit of a surprise to realize I thought so, given that I don’t normally thrill at Amaranth/Mackenzie.

    Current score: 1
  7. Order of Chaos says:

    I like how Mack is growing as a person. In book 1 I felt Amaranth was at times stopping Macks growth by criticising her way of arguing without giving her an understanding of how to express herself in an acceptable manner.

    Current score: 2
  8. Glenn says:

    Reading this chapter after the last has made me think about the differences in the way I think about Amaranth and Ian. I’ve always had the impression that Mack and Amaranth are equals. Because they have different talents (Mack can fight and perform arcane magic, Amaranth is knowledgable about a much wider range of subjects than Mack and can perform life magic) I could imagine them working together as a team after they graduate. By contrast, I’ve never really taken Mack’s relationship with Ian as seriously, because Ian doesn’t seem to me to be Mack’s equal in any significant way. Part of the greater respect I have for Amaranth comes from the way Amaranth, unlike Ian, has sometimes been able to give Mack some real help. For instance, Amaranth has recently figured out that Twyla was an Ifrit, helped Mack communicate with Emily, helped her create her wand, and helped her find some interesting moss during her Local Hazards field trip.
    By contrast, if Ian has any special talents, he hasn’t yet really discovered them. As he said a few chapters ago, he hasn’t found that he has a knack for anything. He can fight and do some magic, but he doesn’t do either exceptionally well. He can play the lute, but again he doesn’t seem to be exceptionally talented at it.
    Looking at the potential futures of these characters, it’s clear Mack has a brilliant future ahead of her. I could see a comparable future for Amaranth as a genetic engineer, and a future for Steff as an artist specializing in death and undead themes. But Ian has no idea what he wants to do with his life, which makes him seem to me a much less interesting character.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I would agree if this were an adventure story, and the characters were out saving the world and fighting monsters. But it’s not that kind of story, it’s about college students doing college student thing – yes it’s in a fantastical world, but it’s still college.

      Ian doesn’t need to be special in the ways you are describing for this story. In an adventuring party he may or may not be of any use, but as a boyfriend he works just fine. And in this kind of story that’s what he is, not a warrior or an elementalist, he’s the main character’s boyfriend.

      And of all Mackenzies lovers Ian is the only one I could see her actually having a potential future with. Amaranth will have to return home, a place that wouldn’t really be all that great for Mackenzie. Steff is with Viktor, whether that actually lasts or not I don’t see her and Mackenzie becoming anything more than they are now. But Ian? He could potentially do many different things, and if he stays with Mackenzie they could live just about anywhere together. Now I don’t really see Ian/Mackenzie lasting that long, but I have even less hope for the other two.

      Current score: 4
      • Lunaroki says:

        It hasn’t been focused on much yet, but we’ve had hints and omens that Steff’s relationship with Viktor is crumbling. If Viktor is the only thing you see in the way of the Mack/Steff relationship, that might not be an issue much longer.

        Current score: 2
        • Lyssa says:

          It definitely isn’t the only problem I see. Those two are just incompatible on a core level.

          Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          I don’t see Viktor as the thing in the way, but as an important part of why Steff/Mack will never be much more than it is now. The big thing is that Mackenzie is Ian and Amaranths primary lover, but not so with steff – that’s Viktor. So the relationship she has with Mackenzie is more like a good friend than a girlfriend. So even if she breaks up with Viktor I don’t see that becoming much more. My predictions is that they remain good friends, and continue to sleep with each other, until Steff graduates, and then they will go their separate ways.

          Current score: 1
          • Cadnawes says:

            Statistically, none of them are likely to settle down with eachother for life. *end killjoy mode*

            I do have hope for Mack and Steff as permanent fixtures in one another’s lives, tho, partially because they are more likely to be open to shifting around what their relationship means. They also seem to have been uniquely good for one another. Steff opened Mack’s eyes on a number of points from gender to to religion; and Mack has been kinder to Steff than I suspect anyone ever has been. Also, Mack’s very existence has kind of helped solidify the difference between practical sexual fantasies and impractical ones for Steff.

            Of course, you know who I think would make a good couple? Steff and TWO. *cue mass disagreements*.

            Current score: 0
      • Glenn says:

        Tales of Mu is such a large, complex coming of age story that I don’t think it’s accurate to say it’s just about college, and not also an adventure story. It’s a story in which the hero in her first year of college might have been enslaved by Cara the dwarf, or cannibalized by Iona the mermaid if things had gone wrong. It’s a story in which the hero is much more skillful and experienced in her second year than in her first, and will likely be far, far more powerful by her fourth year than she is now. And as Mack advances in her second year, the implications of things foreshadowed in Book 1 are becoming more clear. Callahan isn’t just a tough teacher; she’s a Godslayer who is trying to start a world war by trying to kill gods and paying to develop radically new war magics like the mockboxes. The Owl Turtle thing isn’t just a weird annoyance Two dreamed up, it’s a new type of intelligent being. Do you really think Mack’s or Amaranth’s big problem at the end of Book 4 will be finding a job, the way it is for most college students? Mack is more likely to become a demigod than she is to be worrying if she can afford to commute between her job and Amaranth’s home in Paradise Valley.

        Current score: 3
        • zeel says:

          I think you’re still in the wrong genre here. Yes there is more too it than college, but my point is that it’s not an adventure story, so you can’t evaluate Ian as a character based on his skills like you would a character in that genre. This story is more about relationships.

          And yes I think that her biggest problem after college will be finding a job.

          It’s like some readers expect Mackenzie to graduate and go off on an adventure with all her friends, Callahan, and the More cast, to slay dragons and fight Mackenzie’s father. Then off to confront god and have Mackenzies soul redeemed so they can fulfill Amaranths fantasy of marriage (it was one of those dream OTs). All while she spends her nights with the ROTT developing her psychic powers she can defeat her ultimate nemesis (her grandmother), and reunite with her mother. And live happily ever after in paradise valley.

          While that would be epic, and I would read it. . . this isn’t that kind of story. Some of those things may happen, but in a significantly less dramatic manner.

          Current score: 1
          • Anvildude says:

            Nah, after all the soul redeeming and stuff, Mackenzie with finally, after decades of no communication at all, reunite with her grandmother on Brimstone’s deathbed and find out that her grammy always loved her after all and was supper proud of how she turned out. Then Mackenzie will become the first ever half-demon Paladin of mother Khael.

            Current score: 2
      • pedestrian says:

        zeel, I think I agree with your posting.

        The Human Species Advantage for Ian, is adaptability to changing circumstances.

        And endurance, tolerating that which cannot be changed at this time.

        Current score: 0
  9. Arancaytar says:

    “I thought you’d be happy that your good influence eventually wore off on me after all this time,” I said.

    This is true, Amaranth has only very rarely worn the same shirt twice in a row.

    Current score: 0