Sunday, March 31, 2013

An Easter Excerpt from The Firebird

Russian Easter Eggs © Christian Delbert |
 This just seemed like the perfect thing to post, today—a little sneak peek from my latest book, The Firebird (and one of my own favourite scenes, as it happens). I hope you enjoy it. 

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     “And,” said Anna, “when the people greet each other, there will be the giving of the painted eggs, which is great fun. Do you give eggs to one another in Livonia, at Easter?”
     Katie, being little, could not say with any certainty.
     “Well, here in Russia, there are painted eggs—some red, and some with all the colors of your mother’s jewels, in clever patterns, and most beautiful to see.”
     “And do you eat them?”
     “Yes, eventually. First though, people give them to each other, and receive an Easter kiss. Like this.” She held up an imaginary egg, and said to Katie, “First I tell you, ‘Christ is risen,’ and your answer should be, ‘Truly He is risen.’”
     Katie parroted the words.
     “Good. Then you take the egg from me, that’s right, and kiss me three times, starting here.” She put a guiding finger to her left cheek, leaning close down to the bed to let the little girl perform the triple kiss: the left cheek, then the right, and then the left again.
     “Must you kiss everyone?” asked Katie.
     “Yes, it is the custom. If you’re greeted in this way, then you cannot refuse the kiss,” said Anna. “Nor the egg.”
     “I wish I had a real egg.”
     From the open doorway just behind, a man’s voice said, “Will this one do?”
     The light in Katie’s face, all on its own, would have told Anna who it was that stood there, had she not already recognized his voice.
     And as she always did in Edmund’s presence now, she put on mental battle dress, composed her features carefully to be polite but only just, and straightened without haste to turn and face him.
     He had leaned one shoulder jauntily against the door frame, with his black wool coat left open to reveal the yellow waistcoat worn beneath, all edged with braid. She’d never seen him in a color, only in the plain black coat, or in the plain white of his shirtsleeves; never with this vibrant dash of light that made him seem a bit more human.
     In his hand he held an egg that had indeed been painted with a rainbow’s colors, red and blue and gold and green. “My landlady did give this to me earlier this morning, with instructions that, as soon as mass had ended, I should give this to the princess, and exchange it for a kiss. And I could think of but one princess in all Petersburg,” he said to Katie, “so now, Princess Katie, will you—”
     Katie cut him off, blond curls dancing as her face mingled delight and firm denial. “I’m no princess, Ned.”
     He paused, and feigned confusion. “Are you not?”
     She was decided. “No. Your landlady meant the imperial princesses. They’re at the palace.”
     “I see. Are you sure about that? Well, they’ll have so many eggs by now,” he said, “they’ll not miss mine. Here, you can have it.”
     “No,” she put him off again, but for a different cause. “You have to do it properly.”
     “How’s that?”
     “Like Mistress Jamieson was showing me. You have to tell me, ‘Christ is risen,’ then I answer you, and then you give the egg to me, and then I kiss you.”
     Edmund schooled his face. “It seems a lot of effort,” he told Katie, “for a kiss.”
     “It is the custom,” Katie told him, very solemnly, in a near-perfect imitation of the way that Anna had just said those very words, and Edmund’s mouth twitched faintly.
     With a shrug he came away from the door jamb and crossed to the little girl’s bedside, and Anna moved out of their way, standing back several paces to watch while the Irishman bowed very gallantly low to the child and announced, “Christ is risen. Now, take the damn’d egg.”
     “Not yet. First I must tell you, ‘Truly He is risen,’” said Katie, and looking to Anna, asked, “Is that right?”
     Any notion Anna might have had of telling Edmund not to curse in Katie’s presence fell away then, for she saw the child herself was not at all affected by it. Innocence, she thought, was often blind to other’s wickedness. And Edmund did not look so very wicked at the moment.
     He looked much as he had looked when she had watched him with the children in the yard, nearly two weeks ago: a gentle man, a stranger to her eyes, without a trace of the sardonic, cutting wit he liked to turn on her when they were in a room together.
     Seemingly mindful that Katie was still weak from illness, he leaned lower still for his kiss and received it at last, saying, “Three kisses! Sure, that’s a generous reward.”
     “Mistress Jamieson says every egg gets three kisses.”
     “Indeed? Well, I’ve no doubt she’d tell you the truth.” He was standing again at his full height and looking at Anna, as though he were trying to guess at her thoughts. “Mistress Jamieson, you appear troubled.”
     She said, “Hardly that. I was only admiring the egg.”
     “Oh, yes? I’ve another just like it.” Drawing a second egg out of his coat pocket, he held it up in full view as he leveled his gaze on her own, and the glint in his eyes told her she was a fool to have ever believed him not wicked. He said, “Christ is risen.”
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I hope you're enjoying this holiday weekend. Come back and read Julie's post, Thursday.


  1. Love the scene, Susanna! I'm looking forward to meeting Edmund when I finally get my copy of The Firebird. Happy Easter!

  2. Ha! Lovely. I think I shall like him. :)

    Christ is Risen indeed.

  3. That was great, Susanna! And what beautiful eggs!