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.

Oct. 28th, 2013

Isolation (Life Prison)

Cover for 'Isolation'


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

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

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

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

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

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


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 9th, 2013

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

Cover for 'Debt Price'


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

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

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

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

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

This is a reissue of an older story.
 

Reviews

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

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


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aug. 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.

Jul. 22nd, 2013

The True Master (Waterman)


Cover for 'The True Master'



"Ledwin growled, 'I trust the slave is dead. The last thing our landstead needs are perverts wandering about causing trouble.'"

In a society where the rank of master or slave defines every aspect of a person's being, what do you do when you're a master and you envy your slaves?

This question is debated by the men who have gathered for the quarterly meeting of the High Masters of the Dozen Landsteads. It seems an impossible dilemma; in the Dozen Landsteads, one's rank is determined at birth. A master or a slave who wishes to hold a different rank is considered shocking.

The masters sitting in that room, receiving the service of slaves, would be even more shocked if they realized how deeply this question will affect their nation's future. Only one man there could tell them, but he is not yet free to reveal his secret.

This fantasy novella (short novel) of gay love can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Master and Servant" volume of the Waterman series.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

Masters' children played upon the courtyard flagstones, young boys and girls making a hurried and serious consultation with each other over the conditions of the play. The decision was reached: a young boy stepped forward, looked around shyly at the adults who were watching with amusement, and knelt down before one of the girls. The boy gave an uneasy grin as the girl ruffled his hair in a masterly fashion.

"You ought to marry, Celadon."

The young High Master cast his gaze down and shook his head. He had been watching the children until a few minutes before, but now his attention was focussed upon a line of slaves carrying his wardrobe through the narrow, heavily guarded door that led to the winding stairwell of the newly completed tower. Perhaps it was only his imagination that told him the guards were watching, not the slaves, but himself, judging their new High Master with penetrating scrutiny, reading what sort of man he was from his gestures and posture.

Celadon managed to raise his eyes; the very effort exhausted him as much as though he were a weak man trying to lift a heavy stone. To his relief, the expression of the master beside him held nothing but friendly concern.

Celadon shook his head again. "I don't – I don't see why there's a need, Pentheus. I already have an heir."

Pentheus smiled, and his own gaze switched over to the young boy who was continuing to play at being a slave. "Now I will sound as though I'm asking you to strip my youngest son of the honor you have bestowed upon him. That is far from the case – Basil is well suited to inherit your rank, and I was pleased that you recognized that fact. But there are more reasons than children to marry, Celadon. You might find it easier to bear the burden of your rank if you had a companion to provide comfort to you in your leisure hours."

Celadon found that his gaze had dropped again. Cursing himself inwardly, he forced his eyes up and said, "I'm not sure— That is, I don't think my inclinations take me that way."

He kept his eyes carefully fixed upon Pentheus as he said this, but the lesser master's gaze drifted over to the male slaves, who were continuing to carry Celadon's many formal gowns into his new residence.

"Ah," Pentheus said. "Well, I can't say I'm happy about that, but at least I can be sure you would never force a slave. So the rumors I've heard are true? You've taken a bed-slave?"

Celadon gave up the struggle to keep his gaze level with Pentheus's. "I— Yes."

"Then I wish you happiness with him, Celadon; I need worry no longer that your nights will be lonely. Now, about the upcoming quarterly—"

"I don't know!" Celadon knew that his voice sounded desperate, and he tried to modulate its tone. "I haven't decided yet. I'm just not sure .. ."

"Celadon, you have been saying that for the past month. Sooner or later, you must make up your mind about the topics that the High Masters will discuss. You cannot remain silent through yet another quarterly; no true master—"

He stopped abruptly at the approach of a slave. The man knelt at Celadon's feet; without looking up, he murmured, "Master, a messenger has arrived for Master Pentheus."

"Mm." Pentheus eyed the slave, clearly wondering whether he should be the one to chastise the slave for his interruption of the conversation. He looked over at Celadon, but the High Master did not speak, so Pentheus said only, "That will be from Druce's homestead; I asked Sert to keep me informed as to Druce's condition. If you will excuse me, master?"

He gave Celadon a formal bow for the sake of the slave who was continuing to kneel at Celadon's feet. The High Master opened his mouth, then closed it again, uncertain how to respond. This caused Pentheus to give Celadon another sharp look, but the lesser master turned away and began walking through the courtyard toward the gate, where the slave-messenger from Druce's homestead was being held in waiting by the guards.

Celadon turned back to look at the slaves. They had finished bringing the wardrobe into the tower and were now carrying a series of chairs; Celadon saw that one of the chairs was high-backed and bore the symbol of the golden sunburst. He closed his eyes.

A soft cough beside him startled him into consciousness again. He had forgotten the slave who had brought the news about the messenger; the man had evidently given up hope that Celadon would order him to rise, and had risen to his feet on his own initiative. Celadon cleared his throat and said, "Thank you. You may return to your duties."

To his surprise, the slave did not move. He was wearing the heavy tunic of an outdoor slave, and it occurred to Celadon that the man might be lingering in the courtyard in order to avoid returning to the blustery winds outside the castle walls. Celadon knew that he ought to reprimand the slave for this, but he could not seem to find the words.

Of course, he never could; that was the problem. Feeling his chest grow tight, he swung his gaze away from the slave, dealing with that trouble as he had dealt with all troubles since he took the High Mastership, by remaining silent. He could feel next to his right hand the hard sheath of his dagger, and he had a sudden wild impulse to throw the dagger onto the ground and see how everyone reacted. His gaze travelled over to Pentheus, who was deep in conversation with the slave-messenger kneeling before him. Nearby, Pentheus's son bounded up from his knees and began to argue with the girl who had been mastering him.

"Summon me to your presence."

For a moment the words did not register, so unexpected were they. Then Celadon swung round awkwardly and found that the outdoor slave was still standing beside him. His gaze was level upon the High Master.

"What?" said Celadon, convinced that this new nightmare must be of his imagination.

"Summon me to your presence." The slave's words were soft, but there was a hardness at their core that stunned Celadon momentarily. He stared at the slave open-mouthed, trying to put his whirling mind to rights.
 

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

June 2017

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