Nov. 18th, 2013

Never (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Never'

"'Never!' she exclaimed, shocked, when he asked her to marry him."

She was attending the ball at the palace to dance. That was all. Which made it annoying to face a proposal of marriage from a guard who was distinctly not the sort of man she would ever consider marrying. Certainly not.

It was even more annoying to find that she kept thinking about the man. Why would she want to continue to speak to a guard who rudely implied that she led a frivolous life?

And why oh why were all the balls in the capital suddenly so boring?

This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series inspired by late nineteenth-century life.

Begins twenty-two years before Rebirth. Written as part of the 100 Darkfics challenge cycle.


Excerpt

"Are you sure you want to talk to him?" her brother asked dubiously. "He is working these days in the Eternal Dungeon."

"Oh, I know all about that," she said dismissively, in order to impress her brother. "It need not affect matters. We are only meeting briefly, and I am so very bored, Harold."

Her brother grinned and said that he expected so, since this was hardly the sort of event she was accustomed to attending. He made the introduction and then, curse him, he went off to talk with the prison's Keeper, who, as it turned out, had a beautiful, grown daughter.

She and her erstwhile suitor discussed the weather. She was quite careful to avoid mentioning any connection between the weather and crime waves. She was congratulating herself on keeping the conversation well away from dangerous topics when they were interrupted by a commoner who wished to wring her suitor's hand. The commoner was crying, she realized with discomfort.

"Never thought I'd thank you," said the commoner to her companion. "Never thought I'd do anything but slit your throat. But it made a difference, my time in the Eternal Dungeon. It made all the difference in the world, I vow by all that is sacred. I've lived a straight life since then – my wife can testify to that."

Her companion demurred, saying something about playing only a small role in such matters.

The commoner, however, shook his head. "Nay," he replied. "That's what they say out here in the lighted world, that it's the Torturers we have to look out for. But it's you guards who carry out the Torturers' orders, and how you do so makes all the difference. If you'd been harsh to me, or cruel or indifferent, then nothing my Torturer said would have swayed me. But you were always civil to me – you treated me like a man, not like a miserable criminal. And once I'd seen what it was like to be treated as a man, I thirsted for it, sir. I truly did. I began to think how I might live that way. So what the Torturer said to me, that made a mark. But only because of how you'd treated me, first-off."

This was, to say the least, a disconcerting speech. She made a private resolve to ask her brother afterwards what this was about. Surely all that took place in the Eternal Dungeon was that prisoners were tortured until they confessed to their crimes?

Her companion was apologetic, once the commoner had left. "I had not meant for you to be exposed to such dark matters," he said.

Paradoxically – for she had already regretted asking to be introduced to him – she found herself saying angrily, "I should think it would be the duty of every gentlewoman in this queendom to know of how criminals are handled in prisons, since the criminals' conduct affects the lives of everyone, elite and mid-class and commoner. That is why I am here today." Which was as bold a lie as she had ever told. She resolved to make her statement true by asking her brother a few questions about the Keeper's plans for Parkside Prison.

The conversation ended then, as her brother fetched her to take her home. She was relieved, knowing that she had passed through this trial unscathed.

And so it was not a little annoying when she received a letter soon afterwards from the guard.

He apologized for being so bold, begged her forgiveness if he was creating distress in her life by contacting her. He had been struck, he said, by the remark she made about the duties of gentlewomen. . . .
 

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc) or as FREE online fiction: Never.

Oct. 28th, 2013

Isolation (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Isolation'


"Now I was at the last prison of all, the one I'd be at till they buried my body in quicklime."

Being locked in a prison cell can cause a man to re-examine his priorities. Especially when the door never opens.

Gavin is young, but his time may be short as he enters a prison not known for treating its prisoners gently.

Even so, he is shocked to discover what his fate will be. Faced with living conditions even worse than he was raised in, he must call upon the lessons his immigrant parents taught him for how to survive in a slum.

But his life takes an unexpected turn when a secret correspondent suggests that Gavin may be able to play a role in changing conditions at Mercy Life Prison. To do so will mean risking what remains of his life, as well as turning away from the only life he has known. What reward can he hope to receive in exchange for such a sacrifice?

This short story can be read on its own or as the fourth story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison. Friendship and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.


Excerpt

I couldn't go and read the words of the guard's newsie, but I could be seeing the pictures, and they gave tale themselves. The news from the Queendom of Yclau, in the bottom-right corner of the newsie, wasn't the best. Mip's southern neighbor, which claimed to be the seed of all civilization in the world, had chosen to celebrate the Autumn Commoners' Festival by sending soldiers to beat up the Yclau branch of the Commoners' Guild. In the photo, there was a kiddie lying bleeding on the ground, her head bashed in by a passing soldier.

"Poor little lass," I muttered. "She should have someone to protect her."

The guard flicked another glance at me – this one a grimmer one, like as he suspected I was muttering curses against him – and then he gave back his attention to the newsie. I felt my chest tighten, having mind of all those poor commoners being beat over the head by the nightsticks of the soldiers. Then I came to have knowing that my chest was tightening for another reason. I was near on having another of my attacks.

I looked round, wild-like. Back in my last holding prison, one of the guards had gifted me with a cup to cough into. There was an empty cup next to the brandy bottle, within reach. I grabbed it and coughed up what was in my throat: a greenish-grey mess, with spots of red in it. The red spots had been worrying me for some days now.

I'd put from mind the sawbones. Right away, with a cry, he yanked the cup from me. I was figuring he didn't much care for having his cups messed up. He stared down at the cup and gave another cry of dismay. Dismally, I wondered if I'd gotten myself in trouble already.

The guard had put down his paper; he spoke something to the sawbones in Mippite. The sawbones turned and chattered away. I couldn't figure out any of the words he spoke, 'cept for one he gave tale to again over and over: Tibby. I wondered if that was the name of his girl. Drunks get soppy with having mind of love some days.

The guard got off his seat with great care. He walked over to where the sawbones stood and stared down at the cup. Then he looked up at me and smiled.

I didn't care for that smile. It was a cold smile, and I didn't have mind that the guard was the sort of man to smile 'cept at another man's bad luck.
 

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Isolation.

Oct. 9th, 2013

Now available in multiformat: Debt Price (Master/Other)

Cover for 'Debt Price'


"He kept his gaze cast below the belt. In the chill cell, sweat was beginning to form now on his neck, running down his back and between his bound wrists. 'Lord,' he said softly, 'I would be glad to pay to you my debt in any way I can.'"

No one would pay his debt price to gain him release from prison. So he sought to pay it himself by offering the only thing he could, his body. But one man would require more.

Convicted of helping to wage a campaign of terror against the lords who oppressed the commoners, the prisoner comes to realize the full implications of what he has done. All of his attempts to mend what he has broken will fail until he meets a young lord whose own struggles have just begun.

Set in an imaginary world based on Renaissance Europe, "Debt Price" takes the reader from the gritty punishments of prison life to the delicately balanced world of a farming estate, showing the slow healing of a prisoner who knows both what it means to be abused, and what it means to be the abuser.

This historical fantasy novella (short novel) can be read on its own or as part of Master/Other, a speculative fiction series exploring the dangers and sweet bonds of power.

This is a reissue of an older story.
 

Reviews

"[An] outstanding jewel [is] 'Debt Price,' the story of a young terrorist in a medieval world of lords and peasants who is sentenced for his crime to a brutal form of sex slavery at the hands of his victims . . . The story is one of tallying one's karmic debts and paying them off . . . It's a very dense, fascinating read." —The Annex Reviews.

"A story of the young man's struggles to recover and to understand his place in a world that doesn't seem to want him. . . . [It's] a story of love and compassion and, ultimately, is a promise that sometimes the intent to sacrifice is equal to succeeding in that sacrifice in order to honor a debt." —The Novel Approach.
 


Excerpt

To the right of him, sitting in a chair with his back to the youth, was a man. Slowly, like a shy beast creeping forward into danger, the youth walked toward the man. His heart was pounding so hard now that it was difficult to breathe. He could not see the man's face, but he could see the man's hand lying upon the arm of the wooden chair, and on that hand was a crystal ring.

He reached the chair finally, hesitated for a moment, then swiftly made his way round to the front and knelt before the man. After a moment he dared to look up.

The lord with the light hand was as he had been a fortnight ago: young and stern of face. He had over his lap a writing board and paper, and his left hand held a lead stylus. He was silent, looking down upon the youth.

"Lord master," the youth said softly, "I will do my best to repay to you my debt in any way I can." He placed his hand softly upon the inner part of the lord's thigh.

The lord recoiled as though a dung-beetle had run across his privates. He stood up, causing the chair to scream across the marble; the stylus broke in his hand and fell to the ground. His hand upon the writing board had turned white.

The youth, unaware that he was pressing his wrists together as though this might help, resisted the impulse to flee. Staring down at the ground, he whispered, "I thank you for paying my debt, lord master."

"Give your thanks to Hilder." The lord's voice was harsh. "He was the one who found the money for you."

The youth dared to raise his eyes to the crystal chain rising and falling upon the lord's heaving chest. The lord had moved several paces backwards, in the direction of the short flight of stone steps leading to the main door of the estate house. Still gripping his writing board, the lord said, "Hilder will take care of you."

And then he was gone, leaving the youth staring at where he had been, wondering who his new master was who would "take care of" him.
 

Available as a DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Debt Price.

Aug. 19th, 2013

Queue (Waterman)


Cover for 'Queue'



"Depositing money in the bank was always the worst problem."

What should a young servant do when his employer may fire him at any moment, his employer's beautiful daughter is absorbed with her high school textbook ("How to be Firm with Servants"), and he's blocked from carrying out a simple task by a snooty cyborg?

This flash fiction blends science fiction with 1960s domestic comedy. It is a side story in Waterman, a historical fantasy series and retrofuture series inspired by the Chesapeake Bay oyster wars, boarding school rivalries in the 1910s, and 1960s visions of things to come.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

Depositing money in the bank was always the worst problem. He'd be first in line at three a.m., to give himself enough time for the bank opening at nine a.m., but he always seemed to pick the day when two dozen misters just happened to saunter in, walk right past him to the bank clerks, and spend the next six hours chatting at length with the clerks about their problems. At three p.m., the bank would close, and he'd still be waiting in line. The bank manager would throw him out then, and he'd be left with bruises from the manager's metal claws.

"You should use our computer connection to the bank," Honey suggested, looking up from where she was studying her high-school textbook – vividly illustrated with holophotos – that was entitled How to be Firm with Servants.

She could be delightfully naive at times. "I'm not allowed to use the computer, miss. It's not permitted to servants, by landstead law."

"Well, talk to Daddy, then," she said, tossing back her long hair impatiently. "He'll come up with a solution. He always does."

He didn't talk to his mister – he never talked to the mister about such matters, because he lived in fear that, if he made any complaints, the mister would tire of him – but Honey must have spoken to him, because the next day, right at nine a.m., Mr. Tilbury showed up at the bank and stood behind Foster in the line. . . .
 

Available as a FREE multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Queue.

New Waterman collections

I've issued two Waterman collections. One (Master and Servant) is new, while the other (the Waterman omnibus) is an older collection that has been expanded to include the novel The Abolitionist. The only difference between their contents is that the omnibus includes Queue.

Cover for 'Master and Servant'


Another cover, plus blurbs, excerpts, and links to ordering information )

Aug. 5th, 2013

Unmarked (Waterman)


Cover for 'Unmarked'



"Master Meredith, whose entitlement to a last name had not yet been determined by the courts, was sitting in a window-seat overlooking the playing fields of Narrows School when the Third House bullies found him."

In his final terms of school before his university years, Meredith is faced with a host of problems: A prefect who abuses his power. A games captain who is supposed to protect Meredith but has befriended the prefect. And a legal status that makes everyone in the school question whether Meredith belongs there, among the elite.

Unexpectedly, rescue arrives, in the shape of a fellow student who seems determined to right wrongs. There's only one problem. . . .

"Fair play" is the motto of the Third House, but that motto takes on a different meaning when Meredith is secretly wooed by a young man from a rival House.

This novel can be read on its own or as the third and final story in the "Master and Servant" volume of Waterman, a historical fantasy series and retrofuture series inspired by the Chesapeake Bay oyster wars, boarding school rivalries in the 1910s, and 1960s visions of things to come.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

"Let's look at your arm now."

Meredith cautiously turned round. Carruthers stood fully dressed in his school uniform: shoes, trousers, shirt, vest, and a dark blue blazer – blue to represent transformation. No doubt he was entitled to a House cap as well, but he was as bareheaded as always. His hair was the color of yellow cordgrass when sun shone upon it. His eyes shimmered grey like pebbles in a pond. His skin was darker than the usual milky-white shade that distinguished masters from servants; one of the more vicious rumors circulating in the Third House was that Carruthers's parents, who were notorious Egalitarians, forced Carruthers to do servant-work during holidays. Meredith refused to believe the rumor, if only because he could not imagine any servant standing by and allowing Carruthers to do work on his behalf.

Carruthers had turned toward a table beside the students' lockers and was pulling open a first aid kit marked with the symbol of the Red Circle, for Narrows School was one of the few Dozen Landstead institutions that was charitable enough to raise funds for that international, humanitarian organization. "Giving money to the Yclau!" Rudd had once said in anger. One of Rudd's ancestors had drafted the Embargo Act of 1912.

Carruthers – like his father – clearly had no qualms about using foreign technology, for he was pulling out the kit's contents, carefully selected by the school, so as not to contravene the Embargo Act: bichloride of mercury tablets, tincture of iodine, aromatic spirits of ammonia, carbolized petroleum jelly, rubber tubes for tourniquets, adhesive plaster, picric acid gauze, cascara tablets, crystals of hydrated magnesium sulfate, and crystals of potassium permanganate. The last item – used to treat poisonous snake bites – was next to useless for a kit used on a Bay-island school, but some of the school's students who came from the mainland were convinced that every harmless water snake they saw was a venomous water moccasin.

In a prosaic manner, Carruthers focussed his attention on the kit's scissors and roll of bandages. As he cut a small square of bandage off the roll, he said, "Two pieces will do for now, I think, until we've cleaned your arm."

He was holding the scissors awkwardly, and Meredith remembered suddenly that Carruthers had sprained his right wrist at the last footer match. Meredith cried: "Oh, please, sir, let me do that for you!"

A moment later, he would gladly have borrowed Carruthers's heirship dagger and plunged it into himself. Carruthers glanced over at him, but this time he made no comment upon Meredith's eccentric eagerness. He simply handed Meredith the scissors and stepped aside. Meredith cut the final piece, sweat slickening his palms. He could feel Carruthers's gaze upon him.

"There's a bench over there that you might feel comfortable sitting on." Once again, Carruthers was being exceedingly careful in his wording. Meredith went over to the bench; then, at Carruthers's suggestion, he dragged it over to the table where the kit lay.

He felt light-headed as he sat down. The bench – which had been carved with the names of generations of Second House lads – was irregular under his bare thighs. The day had grown warm enough that Meredith had changed, that afternoon, back into his apprentice-aged clothing: short trousers and no blazer, only a vest, with his sleeves rolled up. Now Carruthers had Meredith pull up his right sleeve further so that the cloth would be well away from the cut.

"Fletcher's work, I take it." Carruthers placed his hands around Meredith's forearm and gently pressed the skin next to the cut with his fingers.

"Yes, sir. His cane." Meredith was all too aware now of the firmness of Carruthers's grip, and the tenderness of his probing.

"We'll have to hope, then, that he hasn't been sticking his cane into the ground for picket practice recently." He let go of Meredith. "The cut doesn't look deep, but tomorrow morning, when the school physician arrives, you should go straight to the sanatorium and have him check on you. If you wish, that is," Carruthers carefully amended his command.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"He may want to treat you with tetanus antitoxin. In the meantime" – Carruthers's fingers were suddenly on Meredith's forearm again, squeezing hard – "I'll do what I can."

Meredith held his breath as Carruthers squeezed blood out of the cut, then carefully wiped off the blood with one of the pieces of sterile bandaging that Meredith had cut. "This needs a bit of antiseptic," said Carruthers, straightening up. He leaned over Meredith, reaching for a bottle labelled "Peroxide of Hydrogen."

Meredith forgot to let out his breath. Sitting as he was, his face was only inches now from Carruthers's chest. The strong smell of sweat on Carruthers's body had been replaced, after the sponge bath, with a sweet, salty scent that reminded Meredith of Bay water.

"Hold still," said Carruthers as he pulled back, adding, "if you don't mind." He poured a few drops of the antiseptic onto the wound. It fizzed, biting into the fresh wound. Meredith remained still and silent, as he had done when Carruthers had probed his cut and forced out blood.

He looked up from Carruthers's hands to see that the Head was watching him. "You're a player on the Third House footer team, as I recall?" Carruthers said.

"Yes, sir."

"Ah. That explains it." Carruthers turned his attention back to the cut.

Meredith felt a warm glow cover him then. No further words were needed from Carruthers; the Head did not need to say, "You bear pain well." His sentiments were contained in the simple words, "You're a player."
 

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Unmarked.

Jun. 26th, 2013

The Abolitionist (Waterman)

Cover for 'The Abolitionist'


"The servants were scared stiff of him, and the masters were clearly uncertain what to say to a man who came from such an eccentric House. Nothing was different, nothing had changed. And yet everything had changed since Carr met a young foreigner who showed him not the least bit of respect."

When a foul-mouthed, seditious foreigner turns up at your door, what are the benefits of letting him in? So wonders Carr, a young man living in a bayside nation that is troubled by internal battles. In his world, servants fight against masters, tonging watermen fight against dredging watermen, and landsteads eye one another's oyster grounds with greed. It seems to Carr that the only way in which to keep such warfare from entering his own home is to keep very, very quiet about certain aspects of himself which his family would not be able to accept.

But "trouble" is a word that appears to delight the new visitor. He is ready to stir up danger . . . though he may not be as prepared as he thinks to confront what lies within Carr.

This novel about an unconventional pairing features a special appearance by a character from the Slave Breakers series by Sabrina Deane. The novel can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Master and Servant" volume of Waterman, a historical fantasy series and retrofuture series inspired by the Chesapeake Bay oyster wars, boarding school rivalries in the 1910s, and 1960s visions of things to come.


Excerpt

 "Why do they call it Gunners Cove?" his visitor asked.

At that moment, clear as a crack of Bay ice at the end of winter, came the sound of gunfire. In the same instant, the fleet of the House of His Master's Kindness burst round Bentley Point, rushing like Ammippian war arrows through the grey dawn.

"Down!" shouted Carr, envisioning what would come next; for extra measure, he grabbed his visitor and pulled him prone to the deck.

Aware of his responsibilities as the highest-ranked master on the steamer, he raised his torso high enough to see what lay behind him. But no children were on the viewing deck, and all of the masters – heeding the warning of Carr's shout or of the gunfire – had either fled through the doors to the lower decks or were flattening themselves against the deck. Carr turned his head toward the water in time to see, through the railings, an Oyster Navy schooner dash around Bentley Point, hot in pursuit of the skipjacks. The police had evidently not yet noticed the steamboat ahead, for the cannon on the schooner's bow boomed. The cannonball sped across the water and plunged into the river, just ahead of the steamer. The steamer gave out a loud whistle of protest.

The fleet of His Master's Kindness, sensing salvation, sped toward the steamer, the skipjacks' sails full and proud in the breeze. As the fleet passed the bow of the steamer, Carr caught a glimpse of Rowlett, standing in the foremost boat and shouting orders to the captains of the boats behind him. Then the skipjacks were out of sight, hidden behind the squat steamer.

The Oyster Navy sent another rain of rifle bullets in the direction of the fleet. Some of the bullets hit the steamer; women screamed on the lower decks. Then the rifles were silent; the naval police dared not fire at the skipjacks once they were hidden behind a steamer crowded with masters and their families. Already, Carr could hear the masters behind him growling their indignation at the policemen's action.

"You give fucking exciting tours, Carruthers," his visitor said cheerfully as he rose and brushed the dust off his recently bought trousers. "Who's the boys in blue over there? The ones who are looking like the mice got away from the cat?" He pointed at the police schooner, which – in defiance to watermen's tradition – was painted blue to represent the policemen's desire to transform criminals. The schooner had stopped alongside the steamer, no doubt so that the police could check that they had not injured any masters.

"Excuse me," Carr said, his voice more rough than he would have liked. "I need to see whether anyone was hurt on the other decks."
 

Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): The Abolitionist.

May. 6th, 2013

The Balance (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'The Balance'

"'The Eternal Dungeon is my home now,' the High Seeker said. But as he spoke, he lifted his face and looked at the Vovimian carving, as a man might look at a beloved he must leave forever."

The Seekers (torturers) in the Eternal Dungeon have always expressed contempt toward the Hidden Dungeon in the neighboring kingdom of Vovim, whose torturers abuse prisoners without restraint. But the balance between mercy and hell is not so clear as might be thought in either dungeon, and now that balance is about to tip. Only the strength of love and integrity will determine the paths of two Seekers whose fortunes are bound together.

This novel can be read on its own or as the third volume in The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
 

VOLUME CONTENTS

"Truth and Lies." When you're a prisoner, having a torturer who's mad can be an advantage. Or maybe not.

"Barbarians." Vovim was renowned for its strong monarchy, for its love of the theater, and for its skill in the art of torture. In other words, it had all the qualities needed to become a civilized nation. But would anyone be willing to defy Vovim's tyrannical king? And if they did, would they survive?

"Hidden." He had been given the kindest, gentlest torturer in the dungeon. The prisoner was left with only one hope: that he could teach his torturer how to be cruel.

"Death Watch." Death lurks everywhere in the Eternal Dungeon . . . even in a torturer's bedroom.

"Balladeer." Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the obvious.

"The Balance: Historical Note."


Excerpt

The corridor he stood in was very dark. With the furnace doors closed, the only light came from half a dozen oil lamps bracketed to the walls. The lamps were fitfully sputtering.

He tossed a coin in his mind and began walking slowly south, in the direction of the bats. There were doors all along the eastern side of the corridor, opposite to the furnaces, but none of the doors were marked in any way. He tried the knob of one of the doors, but it was locked.

He reached the last of the furnaces and paused, uncertain. A further stretch of corridor lay ahead of him, but the doors on the eastern side had ended. Was it worth travelling on and risking meeting one of the Eternal Dungeon's notoriously skilled guards?

It was at that moment that the Seeker entered the corridor from the west.

Yeslin received only a glimpse of him, for the Seeker immediately turned right, in the direction of the southern end of the corridor, and then disappeared through another western doorway. All that Yeslin caught was an impression of black. Black boots, black trousers, black shirt, and, of course, the mark of a Seeker: the black hood that hid a Seeker's entire head.

Yeslin stood irresolute for a moment more. The Seeker he had seen could not be the High Seeker; he knew that much. But tangling with torturers of any rank seemed the ultimate in danger. Moreover, what likelihood was there that the Seeker would give Yeslin the information he needed? These men were trained to extract information, through horrific means; Yeslin doubted that their training extended to giving out information to a passing stranger.

He thought this and felt his feet carry him forward. He realized afterwards that what carried him forward was not any conscious thought, but a sound: the very faint sound of machinery.

The sound of machinery grew louder as he approached the doorway that the Seeker had entered. Yeslin paused at the threshold, and not only because of the danger which the Seeker represented. He was pausing in awe of what lay beyond that doorway.

It was a steam engine – his ears had already told him that – but it was the biggest steam engine he had ever seen in his life. It was rigged up with what Yeslin could only describe as a giant's accordion. Two accordions, one squeezing down at the same moment that the other accordion released itself with a whoosh. Squish and release, squish and release – the two accordions worked in harmony with each other as the great steam engine that ran them pushed its rod-arms backwards and forwards.

Standing in front of them, with his back to the doorway, was the Seeker. The sound of the steam engine had evidently hidden the sound of Yeslin's footsteps, for the Seeker did not turn around as Yeslin entered the room. The torturer had his head tilted back, in evident contemplation of the machinery. Yeslin could imagine a Seeker being fascinated by the workings of a rack or another instrument of torture, but a Seeker who seemed wholly absorbed at the sight of less destructive machinery . . .

Yeslin closed the door. The Seeker's back stiffened. Then the Seeker turned. Yeslin could see nothing except his eyes, which were a deep blue.

"Mr. Taylor?" Yeslin heard that his own voice was shaking.

For a moment, the Seeker remained still, leaving Yeslin in an agony of certainty that he had misidentified the man. Then the Seeker raised his hands, pulling up the portion of his hood that hid his face.

It was indeed Elsdon Taylor. He looked tired, but no more so than the last time Yeslin had seen him. His face remained youthful.

"Yeslin Bainbridge." Elsdon Taylor's voice was incredulous. "How in the name of all that is sacred did you get in here?"

The dipping of his eyes was automatic. He did manage to keep from going down on one knee. But it had been three years since he had last met Elsdon Taylor, so very briefly, and though they had exchanged letters since then, he had not been able to communicate with the Seeker for the past fourteen months. Men can change a great deal in the space of fourteen months, particularly when they spend their nights torturing prisoners. . . .

"Yeslin." There was an indefinable shift in Elsdon Taylor's voice which caused Yeslin to look up. The Seeker was smiling now. He opened his arms. "Sweet one."

Yeslin came forward to accept the embrace of his brother.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): The Balance.

Apr. 22nd, 2013

Balladeer (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Balladeer'


"Yeslin stood irresolute. Tangling with torturers seemed the ultimate in danger."

Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the obvious.

Once an abandoned street-lad, Yeslin Bainbridge has become a young man with a mission: to lead the commoner laborers in a fight against the elite men who exploit them. He knows exactly where to start his mission.

The Eternal Dungeon. Here elite torturers and guards force commoners to offer confessions to crimes they may or may not have committed. Here laborers aid the torturers and guards, unaware that they are being manipulated. Here, if anywhere, Yeslin can make his initial mark on the queendom.

But he faces many challenges: Officials who seek to hide the dungeon's secrets from outsiders. Dungeon traditions that foil efforts by outsiders to learn the truth. Most of all, Yeslin faces his own conscience, for he knows that, if he is to fulfill his mission, he must lie to the person he loves most.

This novelette can be read on its own or as the fifth and final story in the "Balance" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

[Yes, this is new. Yes, I'm publishing this out of order. This is the final story in the third volume of The Eternal Dungeon, which has already been published as part of the series omnibus. DP]


Excerpt

Leaning on the wooden handle of his iron shovel, Yeslin Bainbridge gasped for breath as he wiped the back of his blistered hand across his forehead. The hand came away slick with sweat. His chest was covered with sweat too, fierce with fire from the furnace before him. He would have liked to take off his shirt – he had enough sense not to wear an undervest on a job like this – but the Boss Man wouldn't permit it.

Or so he'd been told. The Boss Man hadn't shown his face yet. Nor would he, Yeslin had been made to understand. Only his voice.

"Hey, boy, why you stopping?" asked Wade, not pausing in his own stoking. "You think this is one of those picnics you masters hold?"

Wade had pitched his voice to be heard all down the corridor; the other stokers laughed. Yeslin could see them clearly in the furnace light: a dozen men of varying builds and ethnicities, but all young enough to shovel coal for hours . . . till they reached the age where their backs gave out and their throats wheezed from the accumulated dust of the coals.

Yeslin was the youngest of them, just nineteen. That placed certain challenges in his path.

He straightened up. He was not very tall, but he made up for it – he had been told in the past – by the expression that came onto his face when he confronted a bully.

It had taken him many months to learn to adopt that expression when he himself was being bullied. It had been his brother who had taught him that meekly accepting being bullied was as bad as encouraging another man to be a bully. His brother, he had found during the past three years, had good instincts in such matters.

"Oh, aye?" he said. He could not do anything about his accent, which had been beaten into him by a schoolmaster who had higher aspirations for him than his drunken birth-parents did, but he knew how to speak the local dialect, and would do so when the occasion warranted it. "So tell me, which am I? A commoner? If so, this is a matter for fists, ain't it? Or am I one of the elite? If so, speak respect to your better, lad."

Laughter came from the other stokers. Ward looked confused and a little frightened. Yeslin had guessed that this approach would have that effect. Wade was from the First District, where speaking disrespectfully to a man of the higher class was a killing matter. It must be a continuous trial to him to live in the capital of Yclau, where matters of rank were determined by speech and the cut of a man's suit. Someone like Yeslin, who spoke as though he were mid-class, yet wore the clothes of a laborer . . . No wonder Wade was angry to be working alongside him. No wonder the little jibes.

Suddenly filled with sympathy for the man, Yeslin reached over and slapped him on the back. "Nay, mate, I'm only making mock. Don't blame me for the accent I had beaten into me."

Wade's expression cleared. "Yeah, boy. Can't blame a man for following the orders of his betters."

This gave him the opening he wanted. "I suppose that it's easier to follow the orders of certain torturers, rather than the orders of other torturers. What I mean to say is, there are reasonable bosses, and then there is the other type—"

"Seekers," said Leo with a frown. A brawny man, he looked like the elite's caricatures of idiot commoners. Yeslin had already marked him as the quickest-minded man among the stokers. "They're called Seekers, not torturers. They seek the truth about the crimes that the prisoners have committed."

"So they claim," countered Yeslin, but this observation prompted so many frowns that he changed tactics. "You've seen this for yourself?"

Curt, a sandy-haired youth, said, "We don't need to. We got the Code of Seeking."

He pretended ignorance. "What's that?"

"Here." Leo reached into the breast pocket of his shirt, pulled out a slender object that was no bigger than the man's hand, and tossed it toward Yeslin.

Yeslin caught the object automatically with his free hand and stared down at it. He would have feigned astonishment at this point if he had not been so busy being genuinely astonished. A book. Written by the elite. In the breast pocket of a stoker.

All around him now was laughter. "Catching him off-guard, you are, Leo. He didn't look for that." "Guess he thinks none of us can read. Those fellows in the lighted world – they think they're better than us." "Aye, they don't understand us up there."

"Nay, I figured on you knowing your letters." Yeslin held up the book on his palm. "But bosses giving out free books to their laborers – now, that's something to ballad about."

He had said the wrong thing; he knew that, the moment he spoke. The laughter and smiles disappeared; the men exchanged glances.

It was Leo who replied, in a gruff voice, "We don't gossip about our work to the lighted world. You think you're going to gossip, well. . ." He exchanged looks with the others. The stokers had been drifting together during this conversation, no longer strung like beads along the long, narrow corridor on which the dungeon's furnaces were located. Now they began to shift together, massing into one group, in a manner that Yeslin needed no interpreter to understand.

He said quickly, "I'm no gossip." No gossip indeed. He was something more important than that, but it would take time to explain himself to the stokers.

"Aye?" Wade's eyes were narrowed. "Who are you, then? You ask a lot of questions. You don't answer none."

So he told them. No names, but he told them about his family, and about his new family after that, and how all that had ended. By the time he was through, the men were all relaxed again.

"Aye, well." Leo scratched his head. Being an indoor worker, he was capless, wearing the rough denim uniform issued to all the dungeon's stokers. From what little Yeslin had seen, the dungeon's elite didn't dress much better. "The fates will do that to a man: take him up to the heights, then drop him again. 'Least you're not all sour about it."

"Nay," Yeslin replied, scooping up more coal with his shovel. "These things happen. 'Tis probably for the best. I wouldn't want to be one of them."

He expected emphatic nods, even if some of those nods came from hypocrites who would gladly have embraced the wealth of the world if chance wandered their way. What he received instead was indifferent shrugs.

This was going to be more difficult than he'd anticipated.

He tried again. "So the tor— The Seekers. They treat us well?"

There were uneasy looks then, among the stokers. Leo said quickly, "Well enough."

"Oh, come now, Leo," said Jerry, a married man who was inclined to talk at length about his six young ones. "Be honest. You're as worried as the rest of us."

"Worried?" Yeslin raised his eyebrows.

"'Bout our jobs," said Curt. "There's talk of 'lectrifying the whole dungeon – of doing away with the coal furnaces. Doing away with our jobs."

"It's all rumor," said Leo with a growl.

"What are you going to do if it's true?" asked Yeslin.

Wade shrugged. "Look for other stoking jobs, in the lighted world. What else can we do?"

"Well . . ." said Yeslin slowly.

But Leo cut him off. "Listen!"

Everyone stood still. Away down toward the end of the corridor came a sound, indefinable at first, then growing louder, like the rustling of a thousand pieces of paper in a clerk's office.

"Work's done for the night." Leo tossed his shovel aside. "The day shift will be coming 'long in an hour or two. Let's go eat."

He had not learned what he needed to know. To steal time, he pretended that his boot had come untied. Kneeling down, he said, "Boss Man gives decent hours. Only eight hours of work."

Wade snorted. "In the summer. Come winter, it's fourteen hours."

"We follow the sun," Curt explained, bringing out a face-cloth from his trousers pocket to wipe the coal dust from his face. "Those were bats you heard, returning at dawn to the cave this dungeon lies in. In the summer, they come home soon. In the winter, they seem to stay forever in the lighted world."

"Seekers and guards, they follow the same hours." Leo frowned down at Yeslin, who was continuing to fiddle with his bootstring.

"Aye?" said Yeslin, taking care not to raise his eyes. "Well, that sort of schedule must be easier for the young Seekers than the old Seekers. Or do they have young Seekers?"

"Oh, aye," said Curt, walking blithely into the lure. "Youngest one is twenty-three. That's Mr. Taylor."

His fingers tightened on the bootstring, to the point where he almost cut himself. "Aye? Don't think I've seen him. Does he live in the dungeon?"

That prompted more laughter from the stokers. "All the Seekers live in the dungeon," said Jerry, his voice kindly. "None of them leave here. Least of all Mr. Taylor. He's the High Seeker's love-mate—"

"That's enough!" Leo's voice turned sharp. "The High Seeker, he won't stand for gossip, and neither do we. That's our pride, or have all you forgotten that?"

There was a murmur of acknowledgment from the other stokers. They looked shame-faced now, especially Jerry. Leo turned his attention back to Yeslin. "You're the worst man at boot-tying that I've ever seen in my life. You need a hand there?"

"I've broken the string." This was true enough; Jerry's remark had caused Yeslin to suddenly jerk his hand. "No worries; I got an extra string in my pocket. You go ahead. I'll catch up."

"Don't linger," Leo warned. "Boss Man don't like us staying in the inner dungeon after our work is through. Okay, lads—" He slammed closed the door to Yeslin's furnace and turned to the others. "Let's get our meal pails open, and see what we've got, and then steal from Jerry's pail."

Jerry yelped. Laughing, Ward said, "Well, if you will marry the best cook in the Alleyway district . . ."

They all closed their furnace doors and retreated toward the north end of the corridor, disappearing from view as they turned the corner. Yeslin waited until they were all gone before replacing the string, as swiftly as he could. Then he stood up. His heart was still beating hard.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Balladeer.

Mar. 28th, 2013

Truth and Lies (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Truth and Lies'


"Thatcher was having difficulty deciding who to attack first."

When you're a prisoner, having a torturer who's mad can be an advantage. Or maybe not.

Thatcher Owen is a soldier who has been sent to the Eternal Dungeon for doing his duty. Accused of committing war atrocities, he is faced with the possibility of being manipulated by his torturer into confessing to a crime that was no crime. So Thatcher sets out to trick his torturer. But how do you trick a man whose very sanity seems in question?

Seward Sobel is faced with a similar dilemma. As senior night guard to the Eternal Dungeon's High Seeker, his job is to prevent that brilliant torturer from abusing his prisoner. But how do you tell the difference between madness and genius?

As these two men perform their delicate dance of duty, their fates will depend on the High Seeker's truthfulness . . . and on the nature of his lies.

This novella can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Balance" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

The entry hall was a high, broad cavern that contained little except tables and chairs pushed against the walls, where they could easily be hidden by the shadows if a prisoner entered the hall. Now, though, the perimeter of the hall was bright with lamplight and the chatter of guards awaiting new prisoners. Seward found himself thinking of Mr. Urman, whose training would be completed soon and who would be transferred into the care of Weldon Chapman. Six months before, Mr. Urman had told Seward that he could no longer stand the idleness and would seek a transfer. Seward had rounded upon him with all the fury of a mother wolf protecting her children, but it had made no difference. It had been a full year since the High Seeker's day guards had resigned, and the Codifier had not bothered to replace them. It was doubtful that anyone would have taken their positions.

At the time of Layle Smith's madness, the dungeon inhabitants had been united behind their High Seeker, doing everything they could to keep his mind from destructing. Yet fame is fickle: as it became less and less certain that the High Seeker would recover the powers that had won him renown throughout the world, the dungeon dwellers had gradually turned away from him in indifference or disgust. So few remained loyal to Layle Smith now: the High Seeker's companion, two or three of the junior Seekers who modelled themselves after him, and a handful of senior members of the dungeon who had worked alongside him for many years.

And the High Seeker's shadow, Seward Sobel, who had been with Layle Smith since the beginning.

The High Seeker was in the midst of turning away from Weldon Chapman when Seward reached him. Seward found his gaze lingering upon his Seeker, looking for changes from the old times. He had seen the High Seeker little more than any other dungeon dwellers had during the time of his illness; Layle Smith had asked for assistance during that period from his love-mate and Weldon Chapman, but from no one else. Seward wondered whether the same man he had known lay behind the closed face-cloth of the hood, or whether the High Seeker had been irremediably altered during his absence.

The High Seeker's eyes, always cool, raked over Seward as though his senior night guard were a prisoner worthy of being racked. "Yes, Mr. Sobel," he said. "Did you have something you wished to say to me?"

Mr. Sobel was touched by the slight sickness he had felt in his stomach ever since the early days, when his attempts to reach out to a young Seeker in friendship had been rebuffed with a coldness like midwinter wind. He opened his mouth to reply, and then realized, too late, that he had not come prepared with any excuse for speaking to the High Seeker.

Twenty-one years they had worked together, and he still needed an excuse to talk to Layle Smith. He thought this, and thought also of the time of absence when he had lingered each long night in the entry hall, far beyond the time when his shift officially ended, waiting for Layle Smith to call for his services.

Now the High Seeker's eyes were growing narrow through the holes in his hood. Seward began to open his mouth again to make some excuse for his presence when a faint scream cut through his thoughts.

The chatter in the entry hall died in an instant, as though sliced clean with a blade. For a heart's breath, everyone stared at the door that led to the prisoners' cells. Screams were a daily occurrence at the Eternal Dungeon; what had caught everyone's attention was the fact that the scream had cut off abruptly. Out of the corner of his eye, Seward saw the High Seeker's hand go to the side of his belt, as though he expected to find something there.

And then the silence was broken by a whistle – a high, hard whistle that shot through the air like a cannonball. And Seward was running, running as hard as he had ever run since the day in his youth when he saw a revolver in the hand of a man who had murder in his eyes, and whose gaze was turned toward the royal princess.

He ran as he had not run for twenty-six years: but the High Seeker reached the door before him.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Truth and Lies.
 

Mar. 11th, 2013

Life Prison (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Life Prison'


"I'd heard of guards like this; they existed in prisoners' tales like beautiful princesses exist in the tales of ugly boys. I supposed that I ought to be grateful to have been assigned such a guard. . . . I didn't feel grateful."

In the unmerciful world of Mercy Prison, there is no rule but unending pain. For Merrick, the arrival of his new guard provides hope that he may break beyond the boundaries of his life prison. But appearances can be deceptive, and Merrick does not yet recognize the danger this guard poses to his future.

Merrick's guard is bound in his own special imprisonment. The meeting of these two troubled men will determine their destinies, and the destiny of their nation's life prisons.

This novella can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison.  Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Reviews

"Combining a historical background similar to that of Victorian England with a skilled perspective into the nature of human relations and a wide range of characterization, 'Life Prison' is a real page-turner . . . This is a story – and an author – not to be missed." —Rainbow Reviews

"Written in the first person, Life Prison is a dark, eloquent, and absorbing psychological tale that delves into the mind of a killer who, perhaps incongruously, manages to evolve into a sympathetic character in spite of the horror of his crime." —Top 2 Bottom Reviews

"[Outside the prison, Merrick] would be a criminal, a reject of the society; inside he is a man." —Elisa Rolle's Reviews and Ramblings

"Liveprison. Der Name sagt alles. Sehr düster." —Mllesatine: Empfehlungen


Excerpt

When Thomas arrived the next morning – it was my weekly day of rest from work, so I was engaging in a particularly agonizing examination of the walls – I said, before he could speak, "I'm sorry about my bad temper last time. I get out of sorts occasionally."

"Not at all." His reply was cool, as were his eyes, which rested upon me heavily, like a block of ice. It came to me as I watched him that this young man, whatever his flaws might be, had received personal training from Compassion's Keeper. He could not be quite the fool he appeared to be.

I'm nothing if not flexible, as Sedgewick had pronounced on the day he tried me in a dozen different positions. I let the smile drop from my face and said in my normal voice, "Well? What brings you here?"

The coolness disappeared from his eyes, and he said, "The usual. See to your needs and all that. The dancing girls are on their way, but I'm afraid I couldn't fit the performing elephant into the stairwell."

There was a moment's silence, and then, despite myself, I burst into laughter. Thomas grinned like a boy and moved forward, keeping well away from me and resting his hand on his dagger. He inspected the rubbish hole first, then the water – going so far as to give the wall a lick – and then, satisfied, moved to the other end of the cell. "You're short a blanket," he said. "That's against regulations."

I snorted. "There aren't any regulations in the life prisons, or hadn't you noticed?"

"Well, there are customs." He was inspecting the blankets now, checking them for secreted objects. "Short-tail whip – that's the type used at Mercy. Compassion uses the black whip – longer range, harder to control. Four of the other life prisons use the straight whip – rather like a bamboo rod, but more flexible. The remainder use the bamboo rod alone. . . . Your cell could do with some tidying."

Yes, he'd been trained by a Keeper all right. I wondered whether he thought he was scaring me. "What type of bamboo rod?" I asked. "Imported or domestic? The type that splinter? We had a prisoner last year who came close to dying from the splinters alone."

"Those ought to be banned." He got up from his hands and knees from inspecting under my bed. I had retreated into the corner to allow him to do this without nervousness. As he dusted off his hands on his trousers, he said, "Mind you, if a guard does his work properly, he needn't resort to any of those." He looked over at me.

It was hard to say whether his speech was more effective as an apology or as a threat. I was beginning to think that I might have underestimated this young man. . . .
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Life Prison. A shorter version of the novella is available as online fiction.

Feb. 3rd, 2013

A Prisoner Has Need (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'A Prisoner Has Need'


A cold-hearted murderer has been brought to the Eternal Dungeon, one who must be dealt with through firmness and perhaps harshness. Too bad he's twelve.

Reeling from a personal tragedy, Weldon Chapman is assigned what appears to be a clear-cut case of extracting a confession from a young man who has committed murder in front of dozens of witnesses.

But the prisoner comes from a neighboring country where ancient customs continue to be practiced. As Weldon penetrates the mystery surrounding his prisoner, he will come to realize that he cannot keep his distance from the agony of this tragedy, nor from the agony that lies within himself.

This novella can be read on its own or as the third story in the "Transformation" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

The guard's eyes widened; then the man smiled for the first time. "I suppose it's no good to keep thoughts secret from a Seeker."

"Certainly not when you come to his quarters with the express purpose of questioning him. Do you have questions about your duties?"

"Not my duties so much as my living arrangements. I asked Mr. Boyd, since he's supervising my training. He didn't know the answer and told me to go see Mr. Daniels. I suppose I should be asking him instead of bothering you, but . . ."

Weldon gave a chuckle as he waved his hand over his tea in an effort to cool it. "Personally, I send letters to Mr. Daniels. Or smoke signals. Anything to keep me from having to walk into the dragon's den."

Mr. Crofford laughed, his body relaxing. "I know I shouldn't be afraid of the Codifier, but . . . Well, it's easier to ask you questions. You remind me of my father."

After a moment, Mr. Crofford put his cup of tea down and said, "I'm sorry, sir; I didn't mean to offend you. Would you prefer that I leave?"

"Take no mind of me. I just had a hard time sleeping last night." Weldon did his best to smile at the guard. "What is your question?"

"It's about children, sir."

After another moment, the guard rose from his seat. "Sir, I can see I have caught you at a bad time. I should let you—"

"No, no, sit. What were you going to do, bother the High Seeker with your questions? You're working under me at the moment; it's your duty to come to me with any questions Mr. Boyd can't answer. Are you wondering whether, if you marry, you'll be permitted to raise children in the Dungeon?"

Mr. Crofford nodded. "Yes, sir. I'm engaged to be married; my fiancée works in the outer dungeon. I was wondering about children, and so was a friend of mine who already has a couple of daughters and is thinking of applying for a job in the outer dungeon. I'd assumed that we wouldn't be permitted to raise children here, but since my arrival, I've seen a number of children in the outer dungeon."

"I see." He did his best to keep his voice steady. The fates knew that he had enough experience at that in his work. "Well, Mr. Crofford, the answer is different, depending on whether we're talking about you or your friend. The Codifier occasionally allows dungeon residents to raise children born in the Eternal Dungeon, provided that the parents of the children have already committed themselves to remaining residents here for a number of years. In your case, I think the Codifier would want to wait some time for an indication that your work here was more than passing employment. In the case of your friend, I'm afraid that he would not be permitted to bring his daughters to the dungeon. We had a very hard struggle deciding whether any children at all should be exposed to the dark and bloody atmosphere of the Eternal Dungeon. The Codifier's final decision was that children born in the dungeon might be able to adjust to conditions here, but that it would be wrong to bring in children who had been raised in the lighted world."

"I see," said Mr. Crofford. "So it's possible that, with the Codifier's permission, my fiancée and I would be permitted to raise our children born here, but children couldn't come here from the outside. We couldn't adopt any children, for example."

"Precisely." He wondered that his voice sounded so calm. It was a tribute to the training he had received over the years. "If you have no other questions, Mr. Crofford . . ."

The guard hastily abandoned his tea cup again and rose, saying, "I appreciate your taking the time, sir. I understand the Codifier's conclusions in this matter – though I admit it makes me curious as to whether he knows about the new prisoner."

"The new prisoner?" Weldon frowned. "Why, is the prisoner a mother who is anxious at being separated from her children?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, sir. I forgot that you hadn't seen the prisoner yet. Here . . ." He handed Weldon the board of papers, pointing to the first line of the first page.

Weldon knew the precise moment at which his self-control shattered. Mr. Crofford took on a look of alarm akin to that of a child who turns the corner and sees a dangerous dog in his path. "Sir, I – I should go—" he stammered breathlessly.

"Yes," said Weldon. And then, his years of training rescuing him once more: "Thank you, Mr. Crofford. I appreciate your assistance. It is important for me to know when the prisoner has special needs."
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): A Prisoner Has Need.

Jan. 22nd, 2013

The Three Lands: an omnibus of fantasy novels set in the Great Peninsula - 2013 edition

Cover for the 2013 edition of 'The Three Lands'


Koretia, Emor, and Daxis were all founded on the same day, but as the centuries have passed, the Three Lands of the Great Peninsula have become increasingly divided by religion, government, and culture. Koretians worship many gods, Daxions worship one goddess, and Emorians revere only their law. Emorians claim that Koretians are vicious and superstitious, Koretians think that Daxions are vile oath-breakers, and Daxions charge that Emorians abuse their children and slaves.

If a god were to appear in the Three Lands, would his appearance bring an end to the fighting between nations? Or would he merely help to spark an inferno of war?

As the inhabitants of the Three Lands struggle to adjust to the appearance of an unexpected visitor into the human world, two people will play crucial roles in the conflict. One is a young Emorian – clever, courageous, and affectionate – who will come to understand the Koretians with a depth and intimacy that few others of his land can match. The second person is a Koretian boy whom the Emorian will seek to destroy.

This 2013 edition of the omnibus is expanded to half a million words. It provides a bundled collection of three novels, two novellas, and a novelette in The Three Lands, a multicultural fantasy series on friendship, romance, and betrayal in times of war and peace.

This is a reissue of older stories.


Excerpt

"How will the Chara avoid becoming the Jackal's next victim?"

"The Chara hopes," said Peter with a smile, "that his subject Andrew will not be leading him into any more ambushes. But in any case, I won't be travelling as the Chara. It appears that the Jackal doesn't murder Emorian lords at random, so I should be safe if I don't call attention to myself, but instead journey to the governor's palace in the company of one or two other lords." He paused, searching my face. "I may take a few lesser free-men along as well."

I did not move my gaze from his, but my expression remained masked. "Are you asking me to come with you, Peter?"

His voice, when he replied, was gentle. "I wish that it were Peter who was asking. I would like to say that the only reason I am asking you is because I, Peter, would like my friend to be able to visit his childhood home. But the fact is that the Chara is requesting his servant to accompany him so that, with your special background, you can find me information that I may wish to use against the Koretian rebels and their Jackal. I need you to be a spy in your own land."

I still did not move, but now that the words were said, I felt my heart ease somewhat. "Thank you for putting that so clearly, Chara," I said softly, "but I have only one land, which is Emor, and only one master, which is you. When I gave my oath of loyalty to the Chara, I did not say that I would serve you only on condition that you not give me any hard tasks to do. If you need my help, then I will gladly come with you to Koretia."

He bowed his head to me, as though he were the servant and I the master.. . .
 

Available as an e-book (HTML and PDF): The Three Lands: an omnibus of fantasy novels set in the Great Peninsula. An earlier, shorter edition remains available in ePub and Kindle formats.

Dec. 3rd, 2012

Twists and Turns (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Twists and Turns'

"'Sweet blood, no,' he whispered. 'Not now. Please, any time but now.'"

Only the loyal presence of one man has kept him alive. Now that man's loyalty is about to be tested.

In the queendom's royal prison, a young torturer is forced to choose between his principles and his love. At the same moment, a homeless boy living elsewhere in the queendom's capital receives comfort and compassion from a rich man mourning the loss of his son. But when the boy decides to fight the Eternal Dungeon's torturers in order to defend the liberty of his patron, he comes to realize that his battle must extend further than he had expected.

This novella can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Transformation" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

The orchestra paused; during the interval, the words of the song outside could be clearly heard. It was The Ballad of the Dying Prisoner, which was one of Yeslin's favorites, but before he could judge whether the ballad was well rendered by its singer, the violins had started up another sprightly tune. Under the renewed cover of their notes, Yeslin walked closer to the earnest-looking guests. He could hear now what they were saying.

". . . no heirs to leave his house and business to. There was only the one son, and he's gone."

"And the daughter too."

"The son killed the daughter, did you know that?" One of the women, in a bright red gown, announced this piece of tired gossip as though unveiling a new fashion. "I saw the body after it happened – the sight was simply shocking. I had nightmares for days afterwards."

"I told you that you shouldn't have looked, sweet one," said the man beside her.

"Oh, but I had to see what had happened, didn't I? I mean, it happened right next door to us. And her father was with us when the screams started. You should have seen the look on his face!"

"I heard that, when they arrested the son, his face was as cold and remorseless as though he'd killed a dozen girls – is that so?"

"Utterly remorseless." The woman in the red gown nodded. "I saw it myself."

"I'd have described his expression as stunned," said the man beside her.

The second man gave a sharp laugh. "Stunned at his success? I'd imagine so. Not many murderers can accomplish so bloody a killing without any weapons."

"The poor man." Another of the women, wearing a gown of sparkling beads, cast a glance at the figure lying motionless on the bed. "To lose his daughter in such a way, and for the murderer to be his own son . . ."

"That's not what I heard," said the third woman abruptly. She had been busy inspecting her face with a palm-sized mirror, which she now slipped into her purse. "I heard that the girl's true murderer was her father."

Several members of the group looked instinctively around to see whether anyone was close enough to hear. All that they saw was a commoner youth kneeling down to wipe up a drink that had spilled. Reassured, they leaned in closer to listen.

In a satisfied tone, the woman with the mirror said, "I heard all about it from De Vere – he works at Parkside Prison, you know, and he attended the son's trial. The son testified that, when he was quite young, his father murdered his mother—"

"No!"

"Oh, yes. And the son said that his father used to tie him to his bed and beat him till he was bloody. And that drove the son out of his mind, and that's why he killed his sister."

"He couldn't have been as crazy as all that if he was giving testimony," the second man objected with a snort.

"Still, you never know. The kindest looking men may hold dark secrets in their lives. . . ."

Everyone turned to look at the figure lying motionless on the bed. After a moment, the woman in the red gown said, "You know, now that I think of it, the son's expression really was stunned."

"Stunned with remorse, no doubt," her husband supplied.

"Or stunned with craziness," suggested the woman with the bright beads. "Completely driven out of his mind by his father's cold-hearted abuse."

"Or the son could have lied about it all," persisted the second man, evidently relishing the role of expressing the minority viewpoint. "He could have made it all up to save his own life."

"Well, he didn't succeed, did he?" remarked the first man.

"He succeeded well enough to save himself from the hangman."

"But the magistrate gave him over to the Seekers. How long do you think prisoners survive in the Eternal Dungeon?"

The woman in the beaded gown gave a dramatic shiver. "Oh, please, let's not talk of such things."

"De Vere told me that, when the son wasn't sentenced to a hanging, his father was furious," said the woman with the mirror. "And he was only satisfied when he learned that the son would be handed over to the hooded Seekers to be tortured for the remainder of his life."

"Let's hope his life was short, then," said the woman in the red gown, who was now dabbing at the corners of her eyes with her handkerchief. "Poor boy. That he should have been driven to such a terrible deed by so cruel a father . . ." She glared in the direction of the man on the bed.

"Really, you know," said the second man, "I'm not at all sure we should have come here today. He doesn't deserve our presence." He turned to take another glass of champagne from one of the passing servants.

Yeslin, putting aside the champagne glass he had picked up from the floor, took a step toward the speakers, and then felt his body yanked back with a painful jerk. Twisting his body to look, he saw that he had been hauled back by Harden Pevsner.

Mr. Pevsner was proof against the saying that face reveals character. He had bland blue eyes, and hair the color of wheat in sunlight. In this respect, he looked very much like his brother.

His hand was tight upon Yeslin's arm, though, as he hissed, "If you cannot keep from glaring at the guests, you ought not to be here."

"But they're telling lies about him!" Yeslin whispered back. "And they're dancing and laughing. . . ."

Mr. Pevsner's grip bit down yet harder as he gave a thin smile at the red-gowned woman, who was now staring with curiosity at the nearby scene. Pulling Yeslin away from the crowd, toward the western window, he waited until they were beyond hearing of the men and women before saying in a soft voice, "The death vigil is intended to give a dying person the opportunity to see his friends and neighbors for a final time – not in mourning, which would be inappropriate for a man facing his rebirth, but visiting in joy in order to remind him of the transformation he will soon undergo. I know that this is hard for you to understand, since you do not have such customs where you come from."

The words, which would have been a gentle reproof if spoken by Mr. Pevsner's brother, were voiced like a falling lash. Yeslin felt himself grow cold. He had forgotten how important it was – so very important – not to act in any way that reminded Mr. Pevsner that he did not belong in this room, but instead should be outside on the streets, where the singing continued.
 

Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub), with an online sample: Twists and Turns.

Sep. 16th, 2012

New e-book: Law of Vengeance (The Three Lands)

Cover for Law of Vengeance

For over twenty years, Lord Carle has told the heir to the Emorian throne that vengeance is only the other side of mercy, and that disobedience and treachery should never be forgiven. Finally it seems that his message has been received. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that Carle should have chosen this moment to break the law.

As war threatens and the foundations of his life crumble, his only hope for rescue lies with a man who has every reason to hate Carle.


Excerpt

For many years, I have wished to make a memoir of my life to pass on to future generations of Emorians who desire to learn what it means to have complete dedication to the Chara and his law. This is not to be the memoir I intended, but I find the time passing slowly here in the Chara's dungeon, and I would rather spend my days thinking of what has happened than of what is to come. For in one month's time I will be taken before the Chara so that he may pass judgment on me. After that – for we Emorians move swiftly in these matters – I will be taken to the execution yard, and my head will be sliced off.

It is a gentler punishment, says the Chara, than I deserve.

He told me this last night when he came to see me. He stood at one end of the cell, leaning back against the wall with his arms folded, and wearing the cold smile I knew he had learned from me. His tunic-flap was pinned shut with his royal emblem brooch depicting the Balance of Judgment, the Heart of Mercy, and the Sword of Vengeance. He has worn the brooch nearly every day since I gave it to him when he was a boy, but I knew from his look that he had worn it this time in mockery.

Mockery is an activity in which he has had much practice since my arrest. He has commanded me to address him as Peter, since I was always reluctant to presume upon our friendship and address my ruler in so familiar a fashion. By the same token, he calls me Lord Carle, though I am no longer a council lord and will soon be nothing more than a court case that may interest future generations, since I am the first man in four hundred years to be charged with this particular crime.

The Chara Peter says I ought to be happy to die in such a manner, because I have never loved anything more than the law books. He is right that I love the law, just as I have always loved the embodiment of the law: the Chara, who keeps this land alive through his judgment of the Emorian people. But it was not until my arrest that I realized what I love as much as the Chara and his law: the man named Peter, who for the past twenty-two years has been to me the son I never had.



Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle), with an online sample: Law of Vengeance.

Dec. 21st, 2011

Plus Love (Loren's Lashes; holiday gift story)

Everyone calls her a fag hag. But Gay Pride Day has arrived, and her best friend is about to give her a new name.

"Tell me you're gay!" Gary nearly knocked her to the floor as he scrambled over her. "Please tell me you're gay!"

Apr. 15th, 2011

FIC: Law Links (The Three Lands) 1/27

Cover for Law Links

Few events are more thrilling in a Koretian boy's life than a blood feud between two villages. Or so Adrian thought.

Torn between affection toward his traditional-minded father and worship of his peace-loving, heretical priest, Adrian finds himself caught between two incompatible visions of his duty to the gods. Then the Jackal God sends Adrian a message that will disrupt his life and send him fleeing from a danger he knows too well.

Sometimes I feel that he is as mysterious as the gods, and that he is hiding something of vital importance from me. Something that would transform my life.

All of the novel as part of an e-book.

Don't forget that anyone can start a story discussion by posing a question or comment about the story.

FIC: The Three Lands Omnibus (multiformat e-book)

Cover for The Three Lands Omnibus

Koretia, Emor, and Daxis were all founded on the same day, but as the centuries have passed, the Three Lands of the Great Peninsula have become increasingly divided by religion, government, and culture. Koretians worship many gods, Daxions worship one goddess, and Emorians revere only their law. Emorians claim that Koretians are vicious and superstitious, Koretians think that Daxions are vile oath-breakers, and Daxions charge that Emorians abuse their children and slaves.

If a god were to appear in the Three Lands, would his appearance bring an end to the fighting between nations? Or would he merely help to spark an inferno of war?

As the inhabitants of the Three Lands struggle to adjust to the appearance of an unexpected visitor into the human world, two people will play crucial roles in the conflict. One is a young Emorian - clever, courageous, and affectionate - who will come to understand the Koretians with a depth and intimacy that few others of his land can match. The second person is a Koretian boy whom the Emorian will seek to destroy.

This omnibus contains all the current stories in The Three Lands, a fantasy series on friendship, romance, and betrayal in times of war and peace.

I had come to tell him, in the cheerful manner boys have, that our world was about to be destroyed.

September 2017

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