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Nov. 18th, 2013

Cell-mates (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Cell-mates'

"They had to settle the issue of sex first."

Sentenced to life in prison, Tyrrell didn't have many opportunities for bed-play . . . unless he could count what the guards did to him as "play." So his future seemed brighter when he was paired with a cell-mate he'd been eyeing for a long time with affection and lust.

If only Tyrrell could keep from becoming his cell-mate's latest murder victim . . .

This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, 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

They had to settle the issue of sex first.

"No," said Merrick flatly as he shoved his only belonging – a toothbrush given to him by his previous guard – under the stone bed-ledge on the other side of the cell.

Well, that was a direct enough answer. Or would have been, if Tyrrell had been the type to accept 'no' for an answer.

If he had been the type to accept 'no,' he wouldn't have spent two years persuading Merrick to become his cell-mate.

"Is it because . . ." He paused, wondering how to put this delicately. Because the Magisterial Republic of Mip had originally been colonized by the two warring nations of Yclau and Vovim, cultural clashes among Mippite citizens were inevitable. It was said that even Cecelia – the great Cecelia – had been rejected by a suitor's family, which was clearly a sign of lunacy in that family. Some of the Yclau-descended folk had strange notions about maintaining the purity of their families. Anyone ethnic or foreign or darker than a pasty shade of white was considered off-limits. That would make Tyrrell extremely off-limits. "It isn't because I was born in southern Vovim, is it?"

Merrick looked annoyed. "What, do you think I have something against players?"

Tyrrell straightened his spine. Like most emigrants from Vovim, he had acted in plays from time to time. Street plays, with no props other than broken objects dug out of the local garbage heap, but they were plays just the same. "Do you?" he responded in a challenging voice.

Merrick's mouth twisted. He was busy tightening the blankets on the bed-ledge with what seemed to Tyrrell to be unnecessary thoroughness, given that they were both about to go to bed. Unless – Tyrrell brightened at the thought – Merrick intended that they use only one bed-ledge.

After a moment, Merrick said, "The Bijou. The City Opera. The Frederick.. . ."

It turned out to be a very long recital. Tyrrell was impressed. "You've been to all the theaters in this city?"

"All the theaters in the whole of eastern Mip." Merrick mumbled the words.

"Gods preserve us – that many?"

Merrick glared at his blanket. "Does it matter? I've spent plenty of time with players. Let's move on to more important subjects."

Tyrrell hated to think what Merrick's idea was of an important subject. Probably how to strangle all the guards at Mercy Life Prison. He asked, "Is it because I'm short?"

Merrick sighed as he turned toward Tyrrell. "Look," he said, "you could be six feet tall, with dashing dark eyes, and skin a delicious shade of sepia—"

Tyrrell began to tick off in his mind which men in the prison fit this description.

"—and I still wouldn't fuck you. I'm just not interested in doing that. Not with you. Not with anyone here."

"Married?" Tyrrell asked sympathetically. So many men in the prison were, or had left behind love-mates, male or female, when they were convicted of their crimes and sent to spend the rest of their lives in Mercy Prison.

Merrick's gaze turned toward the flagstoned floor. "Hell."

"You don't have to swear at me," said Tyrrell reproachfully.

"I'm not swearing. I'm praying to Hell to rise up and kidnap you to his domain so that I won't have to continue this conversation. Look—"

And suddenly his voice was low, as low as it had been when he had finally made the amazing declaration that he would submit a formal request to his guard that he be transferred to Tyrrell's cell. So Tyrrell held his breath, because he knew that Merrick was never low-voiced – never, never, never – unless he was saying something that cost him a great deal to say.
 

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

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.

Nov. 11th, 2013

In the Silence (Life Prison)

Cover for 'In the Silence'


"Images came, like flickers of a candle: Dark stones. Dark metal. Faint fire. A spoon in his hand, as someone urged him to eat. A stinking pit that he knew he was duty-bound to fill. A loom nearby that he vaguely remembered he had once known how to work, but which now stood as silent as the rest of his world."

He can't speak. He can barely see. He experiences only fear and the faint whispers of something he had once known.

But an intruder into his secure retreat from danger will pull him into awareness of what stands before him. What stands there is renewed danger. . . and the hope of something more.

This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, 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

Some of the prisoners began to retreat to the back of their cells, made uneasy by this breaking of the silence. He ought to as well. A prisoner was speaking. A prisoner was shouting. No good could come of this. Nothing could come of this but pain and fear and screaming.

Tears were running down his face now. He gripped the bars hard, trying to figure out what to do. He had emerged from a dream, only to find himself trapped in a nightmare. How could he make it stop?

The solid door opened suddenly. The guard named Sedgewick stood there, breathing heavily. His hair was dishevelled; his jacket was torn; his neck was turning purple. "Get chains," he snapped at Milton.

"Chains?" Turning, Milton gaped at him.

"Chains. From the showers. The manacles on chains that we use when we give the prisoners the cold-water punishment."

"The chains are bolted to the shower walls," Milton protested. "They're attached high up on the walls, above the prisoners' heads."

"Pliers. Stepladder. Be quick about it."

"Sedgewick, it sounds as though you're killing your prisoner. If you kill him, our Keeper will be angry—"

"Go." As the shouts inside the cell reached a new high pitch, Sedgewick slammed the door shut.

Milton looked around the level uncertainly. But in all the cells he glanced at, none of the prisoners were moving. Swallowing hard, Milton retreated to the stairwell.

The shouts from the battle-torn cell were so loud now that he covered his ears. He could still hear the bellow of the prisoner, who sounded like a bull let loose in a ring. "I am going to maul you so badly that you'll never be reborn!" the prisoner was shouting. "Just watch me!"

There was a loud crack. Identifying the sound, he flinched back, as though the whip had landed on him. The only response from the prisoner was another bellow, this time of profanity.

He bit his lip. He had no doubt as to the outcome of this struggle. The prisoner could not hold out against two guards armed with whips and daggers. It was a miracle he had done so already. How long would this last?

How long had it lasted? He glanced briefly over his shoulder at his cell, but it looked just the same as it had the last time he had seen it – had truly seen it.

Only the loom was gone. How had they taken the loom away without waking him from his dream? And how long ago had they done this?

He felt the bars under his hands. Bars. There had been no bars when he last saw this cell – only a solid door. The solid door was still there, but it was an inner door now, open. There were two doors to his cell now, one solid, one barred. The barred one must have been added.

How could they have added a barred door without him noticing it?

Sweat was trickling down his back now. He tried to read the time passed from the amount of ashes next to the fire. But for all he knew, the ashes might have been scooped out a dozen times or more. A whole month might have passed. Or two months?

He put his hand upon his cheek, trying to wipe away the tears that continued to stream there—

And froze. Were those wrinkles he felt next to his eyes?

He was twenty-one years old. How could he have wrinkles?
 

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

Nov. 4th, 2013

Curious (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Curious'


"It wasn't the first time that Ulick had met a man who received enjoyment at the thought of killing. This time, however, the killer was not a convict."

His job is to guard the prisoners. But against what?

Hired to work at a prison that has recently undergone a purge, Ulick finds himself caught in the midst of a vicious battle. The prison's Keeper wants peace. The Assistant Keeper wants blood. Each of the other guards has his own motive, and his own method, for keeping the prisoners under control.

Backbiting, threats, violent encounters, forbidden desires played out at night and in stark daylight . . . all this Ulick must face in his new job. At the center of the maelstrom lies Merrick, a foul-mouthed prisoner with a notorious reputation. But behind Merrick stands another man, hidden in the shadows, and Ulick's future depends on what that man wants of him.

This novella (short novel) can be read on its own or as the fifth and final 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 inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.


Excerpt

"We've had trouble with the prisoners," said Mercy's Keeper.

"Sir?" Ulick could think of no other reply to make to this bland remark, which might have been spoken by any Keeper at any prison at any moment of the day.

"Seditious activities. Attempts to manipulate the guards. That sort of thing."

"Oh." Understanding reached him. "Yes, I'd read that in the newspapers."

Mercy's Keeper – who was not gracious enough to offer his name, much less offer Ulick a chair – winced, as though in distaste at the foreign orange he was munching on throughout the conversation. "Too much publicity. Pressmen should all be shot. Good thing the death sentence is back."

Ulick decided not to ask how serious the Keeper was in his statement. Instead, he took the opportunity to glance around the Keeper's office, which also served as the man's living quarters. Opulent walnut chests, imported Vovimian carpets, a wall full of books, and a kitchen's worth of food. And the food was only for his lunch. If Mercy's Keeper was suffering from the presence of his seditious prisoners, there was no sign of it.

"Blasted Boundaries," said Mercy's Keeper, as though summing up matters.

"Sir?"

"They should be shot. Every one of them. Will, if I find out who they are."

Ulick wondered whether his expression held the proper amount of bewilderment. It must have, for in the next moment, from the corner of the room, came a quiet voice. "If I may, sir. . . . I believe that your new guard may need to be briefed on our situation."

"Eh?" Mercy's Keeper twisted round in his chair to stare at the speaker. "Oh, rather. If you say so. You explain, and I'll get on with . . ." He waved his hand expansively over his desk, embracing both paperwork and food.

"Thank you, sir." The speaker, who was standing in the shadows, raised his eyes to Ulick. Looking into them, Ulick had the momentary feeling of falling down a deep well. He considered himself moderately good at reading expressions; it was one of the skills that had led him to take up guard-work. But nothing lay behind those eyes to tell him what the other man was thinking.

"In brief," said the guard quietly, holding Ulick's gaze with apparently effortless ease, "one of the prisoners here, a kin-murderer by the name of Merrick, developed a very clever plan some years ago to gain power over the guards. He executed this plan with the help of a cunning strategist, a cut-throat named Tyrrell. Their plan was to put forward something that purported to be a code of ethics for prison conduct, and to persuade the guards here to adhere to it. Many guards were fooled into doing so."

Ulick, who had been trying unsuccessfully to move his eyes away from the speaker, heard himself say, "Many guards?"

A smile entered the other man's eyes. "Including myself. I will admit that I was a victim of Merrick's plan. A guard whom I respected had chosen to adopt the Boundaries of Behavior that Merrick advocated, and . . . Well, I will not recount for you the tedious story. Suffice it to say that, for too many years afterwards, I treated my prisoners in a sickeningly soft manner. I allowed them to get away with disrespectful behavior, with attempts to control me and all the other guards, and in the end I even went so far as to ally myself with these prisoners. I tried to bring to court a suit that, if it had been won, would have resulted in the complete loss of any power that the guards possess to curb the prisoners' destructive behavior."

"Ah." Ulick cleared his throat. "Yes, I thought your face looked familiar, Mr. . . ."

"Staunton. Please, call me Sedgewick. We are not formal here at Mercy Life Prison."
 

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

Free PDF edition of an Eternal Dungeon story

Cover for 'Green Ruin'


I forgot to announce this when I added the link. You can read Green Ruin (The Eternal Dungeon) as part of the free PDF zine Wanderlust: A Travel Anthology, edited by T. Spoon for The Slash Pile. (Green Ruin has both heterosexual and gay content, in case the cover leaves you wondering.) The e-book editions of Green Ruin (HTML, PDF, and Kindle) remain available for $2.99.

The blurb:

"During the dawn hours at the Eternal Dungeon, as the day shift yawned itself awake and the night shift yawned itself to bed, the talk turned, as it always did, to the injustices of being a guard."

Three guards and a mysterious substance provide a temptation too great to be missed . . . especially when two torturers add their skills to the mix. Soon three very different men – a married man who is committed to respect and honor, a bachelor harboring secret desires, and a soldier with an unfulfilled ambition – will find themselves caught in a trap. Their rescue will come from an unexpected quarter.

This darkly humorous short story of friendship and romance can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, a historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

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. 22nd, 2013

Searching (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Searching'


"Vito was beginning to wonder whether this dungeon's prisoners were questioned in pitch darkness. That was a matter of some personal concern to him."

Walking into a trap may be the only way to create one.

Danger runs high for Vito when he arrives at the Eternal Dungeon, escorted by guards. In this royal dungeon, prisoners are "searched" for their crimes, by torture and by more subtle means.

Vito knows that he will be searched. But he has his own searching to accomplish, and to do so he must undergo the scrutiny of the queendom's most accomplished torturer.

This novelette (miniature novel) can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Sweet Blood" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
 


Excerpt

For a prison, it was abnormally quiet.

Vito had lived in prisons for a long while now – over a dozen years, from the time he came of age. He had sampled all three of the city prisons, like a connoisseur sampling wines to test which was the finest. He had even spent time in the provincial prisons outside the queendom's capital.

Never before, though, had he encountered a prison where everyone spoke in whispers, and where business was conducted in the dark.

He looked around, straining to see. The great entry hall of the Eternal Dungeon – impressive both in size and in the fact that most of its walls were made of cave-rock – was virtually night-black. There were lamps scattered upon tables around the edge of the room, but these were all shuttered like lanterns. Guards stood by the tables, exchanging an occasional whisper. The only other sound came from the desk-seated Record-keeper, who studiously scratched away at a piece of paper with his pen, as though working in midnight black suited him.

And it was only four o'clock in the afternoon.

Vito was beginning to wonder whether this dungeon's prisoners were also questioned in pitch darkness. That was a matter of some personal concern to him. But then a stirring shuddered through the room, like wind over a field of corn.

Sounds came from the top of the steps that led to the palace above: a gate being drawn back with a screech, then heavy footsteps upon the cave-rock steps. Ignoring the vigilant escort of the dungeon guards who had brought him this far, Vito sidled his way toward the center of the hall in order to see better the stairway. Everyone else stood motionless. Even the Record-keeper had paused in his work and was now standing behind his desk.

Five men arrived: four were guards, dressed in royal scarlet, with ceremonial swords at their sides. Not the Eternal Dungeon's guards, then – those guards wore grey uniforms, utterly ungaudy. The Queen's guards, making their slow way down the steps, were struggling to hold level a stretcher.

The fifth man, who walked behind the stretcher could not be said to be gaudy either, but his appearance was most striking. He wore no vest and no jacket, and he bore no weapons. His shirt and trousers were raven-black, and covering his head and face was a black hood.

Instinctively, Vito drew to the edge of the room, near the door that led further into the dungeon. The guards who flanked that door flicked a glance at him, then ignored him. His escorts remained oblivious to the fact he had strayed. The procession was coming closer.

All around the entry hall now, guards were bowing their heads and rubbing invisible circles upon their own foreheads with their thumbs. Vito, so newly arrived that he remained dressed for the outdoors, pulled his cap off and bowed his head. The procession had come close enough to him now that he had recognized what lay upon the stretcher: a motionless body, covered from head to foot with grey cloth.

The funeral procession neared the door to the inner dungeon. Vito raised his eyes just in time to catch closer sight of the fifth man in the procession. That man also had his head bowed, and his eyes – barely visible through the eyeholes of his hood – were hardly more than hollow pits in the dim light.

Yet something – perhaps it was merely the combination of straight spine and lowered head – caused Vito to catch his breath.

The door next to him was open now, held back by the younger guard who had been flanking it. The older guard was peering carefully round the entry hall, obviously checking to see that nobody unauthorized was given the chance to slip through the doorway. The procession left the entry hall, the Queen's guards struggling to make their way through the relatively narrow entrance. The hooded man following them did not look up.

Vito had a sudden, wild desire to follow. Instead, as the door slammed shut, he stepped forward and tugged at the sleeve of the older guard, like an impatient child. "Who was that, please? The man behind the funeral procession?"

The guard replied, with careful precision, "That was one of our junior Seekers, Mr. Taylor. Please step away from the door, sir."

Vito did so hastily. He had already seen the younger guard draw his dagger; his escorts had likewise noticed his absence and had pulled their coiled whips from their belts. Vito – who was cursed with a sense of humor that helped him not the least in his work – had the impulse to pull out his hidden revolver and offer to trade with the guards.

But he was saved from acting on this disastrous impulse by the sound of a cough. Looking back toward where he had been standing before, Vito saw the Record-keeper silently gesturing. Further down the wall along which the Record-keeper's desk was placed, a man had appeared in an open doorway. His face was hidden by a black hood, and he stood quite far away in the hall, but Vito somehow knew, without having to see them, that the man's eyes were ice-cold.

Vito drew in a long breath. His mind had travelled beyond the dagger-and-whip-wielding guards nearby. They were unimportant. The true danger in this dungeon stood before him now.

He walked slowly forward for his employment interview with the High Seeker.
 

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

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

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.

Apr. 15th, 2013

Death Watch (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Death Watch'


"Sometimes Layle wondered why, in the names of all the minor deities, he had chosen a love-mate who kept him continually off-balance, rather than the helpless, compliant victim he had so often dreamed about."

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

Trained as a young man to execute prisoners by entering their bodies, Layle Smith remains a danger to others, even after he moves to a more civilized dungeon, with strict rules on the treatment of prisoners.

Unfortunately, he's unable to convince a former prisoner of that fact. Faced with an adoring, oblivious love-mate, Layle Smith must decide whether he can hold back his dark desire, or whether he should give in to that desire . . . for his love-mate's sake.

This novelette can be read on its own or as the fourth 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

Layle Smith caught his breath. He always caught his breath when Elsdon Taylor knelt in front of him, as the young man was wont to do at the most unexpected moments, probably because he enjoyed seeing Layle caught off-guard. Sometimes Layle wondered why, in the names of all the minor deities, he had chosen a love-mate who kept him continually off-balance, rather than the helpless, compliant victim he had so often dreamed about.

Then Elsdon would smile up at him, his eyes simultaneously filled with gentleness and wisdom, and Layle would remember.

"What is this?" Layle asked, trying to sound as commanding as a man who held the title of High Seeker ought to sound, though he very much doubted that his love-mate was fooled. Elsdon was a Seeker as well.

"My present," said Elsdon. "Did you think I'd forgotten?"

Layle, sitting in his usual armchair as he tried to finish reading a tall stack of guards' reports on the table beside him, looked down at where Elsdon knelt at his feet. Between his legs, in actual fact, a space which by all rights Elsdon should not have been able to reach without Layle noticing. Layle would have been long dead if he had been that careless with a prisoner. "Never forget that most of the prisoners in this dungeon believe that their only road to escape lies in killing you." He had told that to dozens of Seekers-in-Training over the years, including the young man kneeling before him.

When had he become so complacent to Elsdon's presence that his love-mate could take him unawares like this?

He cleared his throat. "I don't see any gift."

A dimple appeared in Elsdon's cheek. "Yes, you do."

Layle reflected to himself that Elsdon was showing unusual mercy by remaining clothed during this speech. Of course, that could be because he knew how much the High Seeker enjoyed ordering him to strip. Layle sighed and rubbed his eyes. He had not only become complacent; the pattern between him and Elsdon had become so predictable that his love-mate could plan the next move without awaiting Layle's word.

And that, he feared, was precisely what Elsdon was trying to point out to him.

He tried to stall. "Our fifth anniversary was three months ago."

"The fourth month of 355 is when we met. The seventh month is when we became love-mates."

He made a quick calculation in his head – a very quick calculation, for those early days were imprinted in his mind like gold upon scrollwork. "Then our anniversary was three days ago. That's when we first kissed."

"That was before I discovered what sort of dreamings you had about me. And when I did—"

"You quite sensibly broke matters off between us rather than risk being bedded by a sadist." He heard the harshness in his voice. After all this time, he still could not believe that Elsdon had made a wise choice in selecting him as a love-mate.

"And even more sensibly mended matters with you the next day." Elsdon sounded as blithe as he always did when discussing that decision.

"Which means yesterday was our anniversary." He strove to keep control of the conversation. The gods alone knew why; he had never won any battle that Elsdon set out to win.

He looked round the small Seekers' cell that he and Elsdon shared. All about him, he noticed for the first time in many months, were signs that he did not live alone. On a nearby table lay a technical manual on the workings of steam engines, the sort of information which made Layle's mind spin but which Elsdon happily gobbled up in his few spare moments. Nearby was a report by Elsdon about his latest prisoner, carefully composed in his school-neat handwriting. And over the bed-rail in the adjoining room lay Elsdon's hood.

Seekers never removed their hoods except when they were about to bathe or go to bed. They might raise the face-cloth of their hoods when they were in private, but the complete removal of a hood was reserved for bathtime and bedtime. For much of the year, Layle found the mere removal of Elsdon's hood to be an extremely erotic act.

And yet Elsdon had removed his hood without Layle even noticing it. And Elsdon could not have failed to miss the fact that Layle had not noticed it.

Layle rubbed his eyes again. This was beginning to look very bad.
 

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

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.
 

Barbarians (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Barbarians'


"With a movement too quick to see, the master torturer used his whip to send the prisoner to his knees. 'Crawl,' he said in the flat voice a man might use toward a stubborn animal."

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?

Grieving over an acrimonious departure from his love-mate, a youthful ambassador from the neighboring nation of Yclau has come to Vovim on a mission to help that barbaric kingdom's prisoners. But he faces unexpected barriers: An insane young king. The king's effeminate companion, who holds his own plans for the ambassador. And a populace whose greatest wish, it seems, is to see the ambassador die during a theatrical performance.

Then arrives the only Vovimian who seems to have a shred of sanity to him. But this man is a skilled torturer, and he is hiding depths that even the ambassador may not be able to penetrate.

This novella can be read on its own or as the second 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

Though the Code forbade Seekers all private belongings, long-standing custom permitted them a small allowance for luxuries. The High Seeker, being Vovimian-born, spent most of his allowance on books and art, and one evening in autumn, while the rain beat upon the crystalline rock that shed the only light into the underground Eternal Dungeon, the High Seeker had shown Elsdon Taylor an etching of a Vovimian theater company in performance. For the next two hours, Elsdon had listened with fascination to the talk of stage scenery and costumes, of introductory mimes and dramatic dialogues, of divisions into acts, of conflicts, climaxes, and finales, and (since this was, after all, a Vovimian theater) of bloody corpses on the stage afterwards, and of the theater companies' decision whether to fake the deaths or use criminal volunteers who had decided to let their execution be a final act of theater.

"But don't the condemned criminals panic at the last moment and spoil the show?" Elsdon had asked.

The High Seeker had bestowed upon Elsdon that look he often gave when they were discussing his native land, as though a lifetime of words could not complete Elsdon's education in this matter. All he said, though, was, "Not in Vovim."

Elsdon had spent the following night dreaming that he was watching a play in Vovim, performed by the world's finest players. For the next few weeks, his thoughts had lingered upon the regret that he would never have the opportunity to watch a Vovimian theater performance – not unless luck turned his way.

Luck, unfortunately, had turned his way. Amidst all his past dreamings, it had not occurred to Elsdon that he might take part in the performance himself, and that he would play the role of the criminal.

It was perhaps not surprising to learn that the King's palace was equipped with a theater, nor that the theater was located directly across the hallway from the throne room. Nor was it particularly surprising to learn that all of the courtiers and palace guests who had been milling about in the hallway, waiting for the King to emerge from his private audience with his High Master, were delighted to accept the King's invitation to enjoy the performance. They crowded into the vast theater, jostled their way into cramped rows, and stood on benches at the back and sides of the theater in order to get their best glimpse of the stage.

The stage itself had been stripped to the bare minimum, making a striking contrast with the fripperies and frills that usually adorned a royal performance. At Master Toler's orders, the only scenery left on the stage was a blood-red curtain, which would make for an arresting contrast with both the master torturer's uniform and the prisoner's lack of clothes. The middle part of the curtain had been pulled up to reveal the naked stone wall behind, and here a wooden post had been fastened to the stage floor. Attached to it halfway up was a set of iron chains, which sparkled under the lamps. The other lamps in the room shone their light on the stage, or on the narrow walkway leading from the theater door to the stage.

Elsdon made his entrance down this walkway. He was not permitted to walk.

"Crawl," said Master Toler.
 

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

Hidden (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Hidden'


"One hundred lashes today. At least, it was supposed to be one hundred lashes, but my darling torturer (I call him that to annoy him) was fooled when I pretended to faint after the fifteenth lash. He didn't even order the guards in the corridor to poke me back to wakefulness with their bayonets. Makes me ashamed to acknowledge that we belong to the same profession."

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.

When the High Master of Vovim's Hidden Dungeon is arrested and placed in the hands of one of his own men, High Master Millard's immediate instinct is to show his torturer how to do a better job.

But Millard is facing seemingly insuperable odds: a lackluster torturer, a bitterly insane king, and most of all, Millard's own doubts as to whether he will be man enough to face the coming ordeal.

Perhaps he won't. And perhaps that is part of the lesson he needs to learn.

This short story can be read on its own or as the third 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

Day 3: One hundred lashes today. At least, it was supposed to be one hundred lashes, but my darling torturer (I call him that to annoy him) was fooled when I pretended to faint after the fifteenth lash. He didn't even order the guards in the corridor to poke me back to wakefulness with their bayonets. Makes me ashamed to acknowledge that we belong to the same profession.

Afterwards he complied with my request for pencil and ledger-book. He even sharpened the pencil for me with his dagger. Idiot, idiot, idiot. Doesn't he realize what could be done to him if anyone finds out he's giving special favors to me?

Why am I surrounded by incompetents? This dungeon is filled with torturers who bungle simple rackings, burn themselves on their own pokers, and grow enamored with their prisoners and help them escape. I'm glad Toler isn't here to witness this.

Day 4: Another attempt at the hundred lashes, another bluffed faint. This time my darling torturer brought water to me. Any hopes I'd had, though, that he would dash it in my face were frustrated when I discovered that he was planning to give me water to assuage my thirst. I would have screamed at him, but I was too busy gulping down the water. It's been four days since I was allowed to eat or drink.

I reminded him of his duty afterwards, though. He looked hurt, and then slapped me to the ground. There might be some hope for him yet.

Day 18: The gap in time is because we actually managed to finish the hundred lashes. Instead of immediately following up on his advantage, though, my darling torturer allowed me time to heal. I might as well admit that he's a loss and resign myself to being in the care of the kindest, gentlest torturer who has ever performed in the Hidden Dungeon.

Curse it, no. He will not disgrace me like this. I'll see him dead first.

Day 19: Gave my darling torturer a small lecture yesterday about the duty of a torturer to his art. It seems to have done him good; he used the poker on me afterwards. I'm still able to write, which means he was too soft on me. I wish I could figure out how to reach him.

In the meantime, I can continue keeping this record, which I expect will be invaluable to future generations of the King's Torturers. This must be the first time in history that a prisoner has recorded his reactions while being tortured to death.
 

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

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.

Coded Messages (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Coded Messages'


"Sweet blood, Tom, sometimes I wonder at your innocence. Why do you think that your prisoners were sent to prison? It wasn't for lacing daisy chains."

One of them rapes prisoners. The other wants to help prisoners. So why are they talking to each other?

As guards send each other telegraph messages through their prisons' coding offices, strange developments occur in the life prisons of the Magisterial Republic of Mip: hardened prisoners become reformers, idealists dally with danger, and the prison keepers struggle to keep control. The strangeness will only become odder when two guards, who hold very different views on the proper handling of prisoners, strive to find common ground.

This short story can be read on its own or as the second 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.
 


Review

"Each cryptic phrase [in the telegraph messages] unleashes a whole myriad of action the reader is able to build in their imagination." —A. B. Gayle at Goodreads


Excerpt

Tom:

You might have warned me before that our letters are being read by Compassion's Keeper. You know that Mercy's Keeper has a hard enough time staying awake to do routine paperwork, much less bothering to read private correspondence between guards.

I don't know what you mean by "applicable to your own situation." I was just curious about your activities. One thing I will say for you, Tom: You livened this place up by always doing the unexpected.

Yes, Merrick's insanity has infected guards now. Our Keeper is tearing his hair out. He can't actually order those guards to rape prisoners, and none of the guards has been stupid enough to refrain from beating their prisoners when the prisoners break rules. But this is causing divisiveness in the guard-room. Up until now, except for the occasional eccentric like you, we were all agreed on how the prisoners should be treated. Now that unity is gone, and I'm not the only guard worried that the prisoners will take advantage of this fact to start a riot.

Sedgewick

o—o—o

Dear Sedge,

I should clarify what I said in my last letter. My father reads outgoing correspondence from Compassion. He considers it a matter of honor not to read incoming messages. He isn't concerned about the activities of guards in other prisons, but he doesn't entirely trust his own guards, least of all me.

I think that, when you come down to it, trust and lack of trust are what divide the guards at your prison. The guards who keep the Boundaries trust the prisoners to adhere to the rules with minimal need for punishment. The other guards don't.

How are matters with your prisoner? Is he continuing to cause problems for you?

With respect,
Thomas

o—o—o

Tom:

Wake up to the real world. What divides the guards here is that some of us like to rape prisoners and some of the guards are too goody-good for that. Bloody blades, Tom, you're never going to be able to keep control of Compassion if you continue talking like a child.

My prisoner is driving me to distraction. I might be able to take leave some time during the next century.

Sedgewick

o—o—o

Dear Sedge,

Maybe you should take leave now. I sense there is more going on than you're saying. . . .
 

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

Milord (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Milord'


"'You've been very well-behaved here. You deserve a better assignment than Milord as your guard.'"

He was the model prisoner, respectful to his guards and loyal to his fellow prisoners. What no one knew was that he held the key to destruction.

Having pledged himself to assist in a popular movement by prisoners and guards to reform Mercy Life Prison, Llewellyn fears the future, when it is likely that the reform movement will face stiffer opposition from Mercy's Keeper. But Llewellyn's fear of the future is overwhelmed by the present knowledge that he is not what he appears to be. Until now, he has managed to hide his secret and to sway his guards to follow his chosen path.

Now he has been placed under the power of a guard who cannot be swayed and who is intent on bringing Llewellyn under his control. Can Llewellyn escape from his new guard's control? Will he really want to, once he has seen the door open to a world filled with true respect, loyalty, and love?

This novelette can be read on its own or as the third 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.
 


Excerpt

Panting from his exertions, Merrick began to inspect the plumbing. "Drip pan looks fine. Nothing clogging the strainer. Let me get this pipe open. Have you chosen your guard yet?"

Llewellyn hesitated. "I'm not sure. . . ."

"There are lots of us guards abiding by the Boundaries these days," Denley pointed out, removing a cigarette from his jacket.

"I wondered . . . I thought perhaps I could do more for our Alliance if I picked a guard who doesn't keep the Boundaries."

"Try to persuade him to join the Alliance, you mean?" Denley tapped the end of his cigarette against the broken refrigerator.

"Milord," said Merrick, frowning over the plumbing pipe as he thrust his hand into it.

"You think so?" said Denley, his eyebrows raised. "He keeps the Boundaries."

"He has never admitted it, though." Merrick pushed the handkerchief into the pipe. "'I'm not going to have my judgment as a guard second-guessed by a scheme dreamed up by a clique of convicted criminals. . . .' He natters on and on about it, if the subject comes up."

"But he keeps the Boundaries?" said Llewellyn.

"Yes," replied Denley, lighting a match from the stove-fire.

"Yes, if you define the Boundaries as beating your prisoner every night." Merrick extracted the handkerchief, which showed little sign of having been inserted in the pipe.

"Not every night," Denley protested. "Be fair to him, Merrick. He's a strict disciplinarian, but he only beats prisoners who deserve it."

"Why is he called Milord, sir?" Llewellyn asked Denley.

"Oh, he's Lord Vere, officially. Comes from southern Vovim originally. He's one of those Vovimian lords who lost his land during that kingdom's civil war." Denley lit his cigarette. "He still has a lordly air to him, so we call him Milord, for fun. He doesn't mind; he'll accept a good-natured joke."

"So he's an honorable guard, but he's strict," Llewellyn concluded. "He'll only beat me if I've done something that makes me truly deserve a beating."

"Not that that will be a problem for you." Denley bestowed one of his condescending smiles upon Llewellyn. "You've been very well-behaved here. You deserve a better assignment than Milord as your permanent guard."

"Request Milord." Merrick threw aside the plumbing pipe with a gesture of disgust.

"You think I should?" Llewellyn asked uncertainly, standing up and leaning against the squat box of the refrigerator, which he and Merrick had laboriously pushed aside at the beginning of the evening, while Denley stood next to them, chatting brightly as other men did the hard work.

"He's the right guard for you." Merrick's voice was flat.
 

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

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