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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.

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.

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.

Apr. 22nd, 2013

Balladeer (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Balladeer'


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

Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out the obvious.

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

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

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

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

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


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He pretended ignorance. "What's that?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Worried?" Yeslin raised his eyebrows.

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

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

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

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

"Well . . ." said Yeslin slowly.

But Leo cut him off. "Listen!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar. 28th, 2013

Truth and Lies (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Truth and Lies'


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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar. 11th, 2013

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.

Feb. 3rd, 2013

A Prisoner Has Need (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'A Prisoner Has Need'


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

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

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

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

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's about children, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan. 22nd, 2013

Torture (The Eternal Dungeon / Life Prison)

Cover for 'Torture'


When the High Seeker of the Eternal Dungeon visits a foreign prison, he discovers that his dark reputation has preceded him. So has the dark reputation of his dungeon. The host is eager to show him that matters are run very differently in Mercy Life Prison.

The High Seeker has his own suspicions about what he will find in that prison, but even so, he is not prepared for what the prison has to teach him about man's nature . . . and his own nature.

This alternate-universe short story of a meeting that never happened brings together major characters from two of Dusk Peterson's historical fantasy series about Victorian prisons: Life Prison, about an unlikely alliance that forms against the prisoners' captors, and The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

"We have no need of racks or death sentences to control our prisoners," said the young man who represented the Magisterial Republic of Mip in the United Order of Prisons. The criticism of the Queendom of Yclau's Eternal Dungeon was implicit. "By lifting all threat of torture in the life prisons, we are able to appeal to the better nature of our prisoners."

"Indeed?" responded Layle Smith politely. He wondered whether he himself had ever been that naive. It seemed unlikely.

"Of course," added the young man in an evident effort to match his guest's politeness, "we have learned a great deal from the Eternal Dungeon's Code of Seeking. Your Code was carefully consulted at the time that our republic founded, seventeen years ago, and its best elements were incorporated into our plans for the life prisons . . . with a few improvements. These doors, for example—"

"Yes, I see." No privacy for the prisoners. None whatsoever. The barred doors in this life prison allowed any casual passerby to see what the prisoners were doing at any time of the day. The prisoners' urination and defecation must be public events.

"—are simply a wider extension of the principle you established, in your revision of the Code, that guards must keep watch over the prisoners at all times."

He managed to keep from wincing. "We use watch-holes in the cell doors in the Eternal Dungeon."

"Yes, we thought we could improve on that." The young man smiled at him. "Is there anything else you would like to see while we are here?"

Layle turned slowly, taking in the view before him. A fire-pit in the center of the circular level appeared to be the only source of heating – heaven only knew how cold it became for the prisoners in the winter. The cells held no pitchers of water and no chamber-pots. As for the bedding. . .

Exactly the same as the hard bed-ledges in the Eternal Dungeon.
 

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

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

Cover for the 2013 edition of 'The Three Lands'


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

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

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

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

This is a reissue of older stories.


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec. 3rd, 2012

Twists and Turns (The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for 'Twists and Turns'

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

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

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

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

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

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

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

"And the daughter too."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov. 26th, 2012

Deception (The Eternal Dungeon)



"Weldon could not remember the last time he had met a prisoner who seemed delighted to be searched by him."

He thought she had come to change his workplace. He found she was there to change his life.

Still pained by the loss of an old love, Weldon Chapman has his life complicated by an order to question a prisoner with a mysterious past. That she is also a discerning woman seems unimportant at first. Having worked for many years in a prison where he is forbidden to marry, Weldon has long since reconciled himself to the fact that his relations with female prisoners must remain strictly professional.

But Weldon is about to learn that his own past is as much a mystery as his prisoner's . . . and that his prisoner holds the key which will open the door to that mystery.

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

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

Having deliberately avoided the portion of Birdesmond Manx's records that gave her personal information, such as her date of birth, he had drawn two competing images in his mind of what she would look like. One image was of a scrawny girl, still at the age of sexlessness and confusion over what it means to be a woman. The other image, more sinister, had been of a mannish spinster, loud and aggressive, demanding to be called by her family name as though she were a man, and undoubtedly wearing bloomers.

The prisoner before him fit neither of these images. She was a soft-spoken, attractive woman in her early thirties, with her hair swept onto her head in a manner that emphasized rather than detracted from her femininity. In accordance with the customs of the Eternal Dungeon, she had been permitted to keep her own clothing, and in accordance with the customary treatment of female prisoners, her body had not been searched. The latter custom had once resulted in Weldon being stabbed by a concealed knife, and he found his gaze flicking down toward the dress that might conceal anything. It too was utterly feminine, with its tight waist and ballooning skirt and high collar. The only concession to comfort seemed to be the dress's cloth, which was a practical flannel, and the low-heeled boots, which Weldon had noticed briefly when Mistress Birdesmond curtsied politely upon his entrance.

It was just as well concerning the boots, as she had refused Weldon's offer to take a seat, a courtesy only offered to female prisoners. Weldon wondered whether she was trying to prove that she was as strong as a man.
 

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

Apr. 15th, 2011

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

Cover for The Three Lands Omnibus

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

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

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

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

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

Aug. 8th, 2009

FIC: The Unanswered Question (The Eternal Dungeon)

No weapons, no allies, and no guarantees that he will survive the test.

Parental supervision is strongly suggested.

He was weaponless. Or rather, not quite weaponless, for he knew what he was capable of doing with his body, but he bore no blade, nor any whip, nor any lead pipe with which to stun his victim, nor any rope with which to strangle the victim . . . The number of potential weapons he had deliberately laid aside was frighteningly high.

Jun. 7th, 2009

FIC: Rebirth 6: Tops and Sops (Darkling Plain and The Eternal Dungeon)

Cover for Rebirth

New online fiction.

The torturer was naive, inexperienced, and lacking in knowledge of the world. The prisoner was tough, worldly-wise, and had an infallible plan that would give him escape from this place. So why did the prisoner feel as though the torturer had the edge?

I could see before me a ceiling-high slate tablet covered with prisoners' names, and a goodly number of those names were crossed out. I knew what that meant.

Index to series links:

Darkling Plain at the Main Bookshelf.

The Eternal Dungeon at the High Bookshelf.

Comments, queries, discussions, and calls for lynching me are welcome. (Okay, not the last, but I'm expecting a few calls after the previous installment.) Main Bookshelf readers should be aware that High Bookshelf stories may be mentioned in the comments below.

This is (I'm sure you High Bookshelf readers have noticed) the final part of the first volume of The Eternal Dungeon. The second volume of the series is coming soon.

Dec. 28th, 2008

FIC: Re-creation (The Three Lands) - 2008 holiday gift story

Cover for Re-creation

What can you give a slave who, by law, can own nothing? . . . A 2008 holiday gift story for Dusk Peterson's readers.

He could not leave this room without his father's permission. And he could not imagine going to his father and saying, "Please let me go gather moss so that my slave can have a proper New Year for once."

ONLINE FICTION: Re-creation (The Three Lands) - 2008 holiday gift story

Cover for Re-creation

What can you give a slave who, by law, can own nothing? . . . A 2008 holiday gift story for Dusk Peterson's readers.

He could not leave this room without his father's permission. And he could not imagine going to his father and saying, "Please let me go gather moss so that my slave can have a proper New Year for once."

Sep. 16th, 2008

FIC: Mystery (The Three Lands)

Cover for Mystery

Three days ago he faced death by fire. Now he faces a bigger challenge.

Prosper felt the words like a blow. He sensed at once the change in mood in the surrounding men and youths: the shifting of spear from left hand to right, the movement of hand to hilt, the tensing of muscles in preparation.

ONLINE FICTION: Mystery (The Three Lands)

Cover for Mystery

Three days ago he faced death by fire. Now he faces a bigger challenge.

Prosper felt the words like a blow. He sensed at once the change in mood in the surrounding men and youths: the shifting of spear from left hand to right, the movement of hand to hilt, the tensing of muscles in preparation.

Nov. 17th, 2007

ONLINE FICTION: Twenty Thousand Gold Stars (Master/Other)

White Rose has lived a double life for too long. For too many years, he has struggled alone to determine how he should handle an ethical dilemma he never wanted to face. Now, finally, he has found help online. But is it the right help?

Parental supervision is strongly suggested for this story.

It was a foundation of his life that he must tell no one. The first signs that this foundation would be shattered came on a windy day at the end of February, as he sat in a room lit only by the bright colors glowing from his computer screen.

(Warning: The replies below include spoilers for the story.)

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