NEW NOVELETTE: Journey to Manhood (Young Toughs)
"Perhaps, when they spoke next, the other young man could tell Simmons of any masters here who were in need of an apprentice who was perilously close to the age of journeymanship."
Simmons has been waiting all his life for the day when he would come of age and pledge his service to a liege-master. But at the last minute, all his plans go awry; he is left in the awful position of having to find a liege-master quickly. Desperation may force Simmons to pick the worst of liege-masters.
Working at his uncle's waterfront store on a bay island, Simmons seeks a way out of his dilemma. Then another young man walks through the door, one whose problems may be even worse than Simmons's. . . .
With a setting based upon an island on the Chesapeake Bay in the 1910s, this novelette (miniature novel) can be read on its own or as a story in Young Toughs, an alternate history series about the struggles of youths in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Young Toughs is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.
¶ Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Journey to Manhood.
At that moment, the door opened. A light spring breeze, fresh with the smell of Bay water, entered the store, along with a waterman, unmistakable in his oilskin hat and coat and boots. Simmons caught a flash of the man's rank-mark on the back of his right wrist as he removed his glove: black.
The servant wasted no time in the doorway; he limped forward as Simmons's uncle said, "Ah, Sol. I'm glad to see you up and about. How's that leg of yours doing?"
"None too good." The servant's reply was so brief, and without proper salutation, that Simmons might have thought the waterman rude, but he noticed that the man had carefully removed his hat the moment that the owner of the general store spoke.
His uncle, at any rate, seemed to treat his remark as inoffensive. "I'm sorry about that – very sorry indeed. But you've found a new captain, I hear? How have the oysters been this winter?"
Sol shook his head as he removed a list from within his coat. "None too good neither. Way I figure, all the right good ones've been stole by those dredgers from the Western Shore."
His uncle sighed. "It's very sad, very sad indeed that there's such animosity between our landstead and the Second Landstead. That their boats should take oysters from our own territory . . . Ah, well, oyster season is over. And Captain Harvey is doing well, I suppose, if he could afford to hire you as his new man."
Sol shrugged as he laid the list on a lard barrel next to Simmons's uncle. "Needed couple more servants for his boat. He's still short a man. Come autumn, he'll be looking for more watermen."
"Really? He needs more crew, with all the watermen on this island?" Simmons's uncle took the list and peered at it through his spectacles.
"'Deed he do. He's like to hire a full-grown man, but an oyster-shucking boy would do." Sol's gaze wandered over to Simmons. After a moment, Simmons realized why, and he felt his face grow flush.
Travelling from the capital to Hoopers Island had been no problem; Simmons had simply hired a boat with most of the remaining money his father had given him for the brief period during which he would still need his family's income, before his liege-master should begin paying him. But Simmons's belongings had been a greater problem. He had not anticipated having to move them further than the bedroom that had long awaited him in the house of his liege-master's father.
With his plans turned awry, he had been forced to dispose of all but his most precious goods. Fortunately, school term had only just ended; he had been able to give many of his belongings to the servant who had tended his study-bedroom at Capital School.
His trunks, he had sent down to Hoopers Island by road. He had taken care to hire an automobile, naively believing that, with such a swift means of transportation, his trunks would be awaiting him when he arrived by boat.
His uncle had smothered a laugh when he heard this, then had patiently explained that most of the marshy roads between the capital and Hoopers Island were not yet paved. The roads on Hoopers Island were. The pavement consisted of logs and oyster shells.
Feeling very much an ignorant townboy, and envisioning the automobile wallowing in the mud – or even sinking without a trace in the marshes – Simmons had made do as best he could. His uncle, a portly man, had no clothes that would fit the new arrival, and his uncle's apprentice was several sizes too small. So Simmons – by now grateful for anything that would cover his body – had borrowed clothing from his uncle's manservant, a waterman who spent most of his days making deliveries by boat.
His uncle, looking up from the list and seeing Sol's gaze upon Simmons, seemed to realize the mistake that the waterman had made. Characteristically, he did not reprimand the erring servant. Placing his arm across Simmons's shoulder, he said, "This is my nephew, Jasper Simmons. His journeymanship birthday is coming next month, so he's staying with us this month while he decides which master he wishes to pledge his liege-service to."
Sol did not embarrass Simmons by asking, "Why did you wait till now?" But neither did he dip his eyes, as any well-trained servant would ordinarily do under such circumstances. All that he said was, "Right glad to meet you . . . sir."
The slight pause could have been taken any number of ways, but Simmons, staring into the waterman's eyes, suddenly realized that this was a servant who rarely addressed masters as sir.
Smiling at the special courtesy he had just been granted, Simmons said, "I'm glad to meet you as well, Servant Sol."
Then, and only then, did the waterman dip his eyes. And Simmons realized that he had been granted a deep courtesy indeed. Simmons wondered what, by all that was sacred, he had done to earn such honor.
His uncle squeezed Simmons's arm in some sort of silent accolade. "I won't keep you, Sol; I know you're busy. Some of these items will have to be wrapped. Your boat-master still docks at Back Creek? I'll have my apprentice bring the goods over, then."
"Master Simmons." Sol's slight nod of farewell encompassed both uncle and nephew; then he turned away.
At the doorway, he paused. Another man had just arrived, wearing a wool coat against the spring chill. He made some brief greeting, and Sol, hearing the man's refined accent, carefully stepped to one side to let the master enter.
"That's a good man," said Simmons's uncle softly as the door shut behind Sol. "A very good man. I'm glad you didn't take offense at his mistake."
"Why should I?" Simmons laughed as he turned to his uncle, but he kept his voice low as well, so as not to disturb the newly arrived master, who was now at the other end of the store, fingering a bottle of morphine.
His uncle raised his eyebrows. "Some masters would be very offended indeed to be mistaken for a servant."
"Oh, but I look like a servant at the moment." Simmons stared down at his shabby clothing. "It's not his fault. I suppose I ought really to change out of these, lest I mislead—"
A bell, higher in pitch than a fog-bell, interrupted his speech. His uncle glanced out the window facing the water and said, "Postal boat. It's early today."
"Shall I help you bring in the mail, Uncle?" asked Simmons.
"No, no, my lad. You stay here and tend the customers." His third-ranked uncle patted Simmons's shoulder somewhat awkwardly.
Simmons could understand why. He was still becoming used to it himself, his rise in rank. At school, he had always held the awkward position of being the son of a third-ranked master who was very, very rich. Now, after many years, the Third Landstead's House of Government had eased the lack of alignment between their family's wealth and rank by granting to Simmons's father the title of Envoy Extraordinary, assigning him duties in an overseas nation in the Old World and raising him to second rank.
Until that time, as a third-ranked lad, Simmons's choices were clear: as a journeyman, he could train under his father, under a third-ranked master, or under a second-ranked master – not under a first-ranked master, as he futilely tried to point out to his first-ranked schoolfellow Eugene on many occasions.
But now Simmons was second-ranked. He could train under a first-ranked master. He could even pledge his liege-loyalty to that master.
"I told you it would work out," Eugene had squealed, hugging the older boy on the day that Simmons received the news of his eligibility to be Eugene's liegeman. And Simmons had hugged Eugene back, stunned and joyful at this turn of events.
But it had not worked out – not in the end. . . .
¶ Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Journey to Manhood.
FREE FICTION: Crossing the Cliff (Darkling Plain)
A reissued story at Archive of Our Own.
Crossing the Cliff (Darkling Plain). After ten years as apprentice to a Peacesteward, the one thing Erastus is sure of is that he's ill-prepared to become a master. Unfortunately, he's about to discover just how ill-prepared he is.
When he and his master stray into forbidden territory, Erastus is thrust alone into a community that is on the brink of war. His only hope for bringing peace is to ally himself with a young boy . . . a boy who has stolen what Erastus values most.
REISSUES: The Eternal Dungeon
Now available in multiformat. Click on the covers for more information.
REVIEW: Life Prison
FEATURED BACKLIST TITLE: Unmarked (Waterman)
"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."
He needs a guard.
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 speculative fiction series set in an alternative version of the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1910s and during the future as it was envisioned in the 1960s.
¶ Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Unmarked.
"Power boats is more important," insisted Billy to Theo. "Think of all the right calm days when we could be tonging oysters."
"The master of the House of His Master's Kindness wants power boats too," pointed out Sol. "And power dredging to go with it." In the silence that followed, he raised his voice, saying, "Lad, you're as quiet and dark as a dredger boat come night. Didn't hear nor see you till now."
Meredith stepped forward from where he had been fingering a muskrat trap that hung for sale from the ceiling. "I didn't mean to disturb your conversation, sir."
"You ain't disturbing nothing that don't deserve disturbing. You looking to find your daddy?"
"Yes, sir. My father said that he would meet me at the foot of the drawbridge, but he isn't there, and his skiff isn't docked at Back Creek. I thought you might have seen him recently."
"'Deed I did – seen him at his workplace just this morning, and he gave me this note for you. He figured you'd be coming by here." Sol reached down and pulled a piece of paper out of his rubber boot – probably the driest place he had for storing paper. He offered the note to Meredith, without rising.
Meredith cautiously came forward. As he reached out his hand to take the note, his overcoat spread open to reveal his blazer. The new crewman, who had just taken hold of the mug, choked on the coffee. The crewman hastily rose to his feet.
None of the other servants followed suit. With the exception of Sol, the servants were looking at the fish-hooks, the stuffed eagle on the wall, the turpentine, the tins of chewing tobacco, the corsets . . . anything but the young master standing in their midst.
Meredith tried to ignore his churning stomach, instead concentrating his attention on unfolding and reading the message. It was written in his father's uneven hand and erratic spelling: "Substute keeper sik. Yu come. Yur father, Master James Hooper."
His father had almost written "Yur daddy," but had scribbled out the servant-style word in time. Meredith looked up. Everybody was still staring at the store's merchandise, other than the new crewman – who was gazing with horror at his fellow servants – and Sol, who was watching Meredith.
"Thank you, sir," said Meredith to Sol. "Will you be going back to see my father any time soon?"
Sol shook his head. "Not till Spring Death. You needing a ride out? Believe Master Simmons is sending out goods to your daddy today."
"Thank you for that information, sir. I'll ask him whether I can ride along in his boat, then." He hesitated, seeking an excuse to linger longer, but most of the crewmen were beginning to shuffle their feet, and the new crewman looked as though he was about to expire from terror. "Goodbye," Meredith said, looking around at the crew, trying to make the farewell general.
Sol was the only one who bothered to reply to him. "You keep warm and safe, lad, and you give your daddy my respects, hear?"
"Yes, sir, I'll be glad to," replied Meredith eagerly, relieved to carry out a duty. "May I do anything else for you?"
In the next moment, he would gladly have thrown himself in front of the rifles of the Second Landstead's dredgers. Billy and Theo exchanged looks, while Hallie simply rolled his eyes.
Sol, far more patient than the others, said, "Thanks, lad, but there ain't no need. You'd best be getting on your way."
Meredith, taking the hint, backed away from the warm circle of fellowship. He opened the store's door, which was nearly wrenched from his hand; a moderate gale wind had blown up while he was inside. He swiftly closed the door, then leaned on it to make sure it had shut properly. As he did so, he heard the new crewman say, "Sol, have you gone mad as a 'Mippian in battle, speaking like that to a master? He's making fun at you, certain, calling you 'sir.'"
Sol said something in a voice too low for Meredith to hear.
"Him?" The new crewman sounded incredulous. "He don't look nothing like his daddy."
"Don't speak like him, neither," said Billy. "But he's the one, all right – Jim's son."
"You mean, Master Hooper's son." Theo's voice was bitter.
Billy made a sound like spitting. "Mean what I say. Jim was born a servant. He's still a servant, whatever he may think."
"It's him getting that new religion that messed up his head," suggested Hallie, who had barely been born at the time that the episode happened. "Him and all them Reformed Traditionalists—"
"Ain't a matter of Traditionalists 'gainst Reformed Traditionalists," Billy insisted. "Even if a man can go in one lifetime from being servant to being master, Jim ain't that man."
There was a murmur of agreement, and Theo asked, "Why d'you suppose he asked to be raised in rank? He was doing right smart in our crew."
"Why d'you think?" shot back Billy. "Way I figure it, he wanted a crew of his own."
"If that was his reason, he's well punished," interjected Hallie. "Ain't a crew in this fleet that'll sail under him."
"Neither would any boat-master take him as journeyman, back in the days when he was that young. Well, he's burned his own corpse-ashes." Theo sounded satisfied.
"The lad's who I feel sorry for," said Billy. "Being brought up figuring he's a master, when it's plain to see that he's just like his daddy."
"That's enough talk," said Sol gruffly. "You boys shouldn't be speaking 'gainst your betters."
"Our betters?" said Billy incredulously.
"Servant Sol, you keep your tongue to yourself," said Theo. "You ain't my master."
"But Jim is his best pal." Hallie sounded hesitant. "We shouldn't be talking like that 'gainst Sol's pal."
"He ain't my pal." There was no mistaking the bitterness in Sol's voice. "He's ranked as a master now; masters can't have servants as pals. But he was my pal once, and he followed the water along with us, over many a year, so there ain't no call for talk 'gainst him. He's catched his fair share of oysters and crabs and fish; it's his right to do what his faith and his conscience tells him."
There was an acknowledging murmur that sounded like it was more of dissent than of agreement. Sol, reading his fellow crewmen's mood, said, "Ain't worth talking 'bout what we can't change. You hear that wind out there? Sounds like the nor'west blow has arrived. Oh my blessed, I sure am glad the master let us take the day off."
That remark brought loud calls of agreement, and Theo began talking about what the annual autumn storm had been like in his great-granddaddy's day.
Meredith, turning away from the door, almost tripped over the watermen's tongs, leaning against the wall by the door. One of the tongs still had an oyster shell stuck within its tines. Absent-mindedly, Meredith took off his mittens, pried the shell off the tine, and nearly threw it in the great pile of shells near the porch. Master Simmons bought shells from the oyster packing houses and then resold them to companies that used the shells for road paving or fertilizer or chicken grit.
Then, on a whim, Meredith curled his hand round the shell. Letting his rucksack lie sheltered against the leeward side of an empty barrel, he shoved the shell and his mittens into his overcoat pockets and stepped off the porch.
The wind was hard as a culler's hammer now. The water had nearly emptied; most of the boat-masters, seeing the signs of the coming storm, had retreated to harbors and coves. Meredith, who had endured worse winds than this over the years, walked slowly toward the store's wharf, his thoughts on matters other than the weather.
It had never occurred to him to call Sol anything other than "sir." Whatever Sol's perspective might be on Servant Jim's transformation into Master James Hooper, Meredith knew that Sol was the closest thing his father had left to a friend. And so, since Meredith called his father "sir," he had also called his father's friend "sir." His father had never forbidden him from doing so, and Sol had not seemed disturbed by Meredith's manner of address.
But Meredith had not seen Sol in over three seasons, he recalled now. Perhaps the rules for proper address had changed, now that Meredith was beyond his apprentice years. Perhaps it would be safer to address Sol as "Servant Solomon." That would still be respectful, wouldn't it? Or would it overemphasize Sol's rank in relation to the young master who spoke to him?
Meredith sighed. The person he should be addressing such questions to, he was fully aware, was his liege-master. But Pembroke would treat any such question as a sign of weakness in him. Meredith supposed he would have to ask his own father instead – yet he was growing overly old for seeking answers from his father. Most of his fellow students treated their confirmation ceremony as a time when they broke away from the care of their parents. As journeymen, they still could not own property or run a House or business in their own right. But they were old enough to work under their liege-master, to study at university, and – with their liege-master's permission – to marry. They were even old enough to father children.
Meredith reached the shore. Master Simmons had cleared out all the Bay grass from the shoreline, so the shoreline was bare except for mud and the usual assortment of shells. Meredith fingered the shell in his pocket as he stared out at the churning waves, his eyes blinking against the harsh wind. He had wished, many a time, that he had never been fathered, or at least had been fathered after the revocation of the Act of Celadon and Brun. If that had happened, then his life's path would be clear. As it was . . .
The oyster shell was cutting into his tightened fingers now. He stared out at the water, where the crew of a lone shallop was struggling to reach shore. In a sudden and uncharacteristic fury, he took the oyster from his pocket and prepared to hurl it into the waves.
¶ Available as a multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc): Unmarked.
NEW TOUGHS SERIES & NEW YOUNG ADULT FICTION PORTAL
I've started a new Turn-of-the-Century Toughs series, entitled Young Toughs, which will center upon teenage characters in the Toughs world. Some of the characters will have appeared in other Toughs series, while other characters will be new. So Young Toughs is a crossover series with other Toughs series. It's also crossover fiction in another sense: this is a young adult series that is intended for both teens and adults.
I've added a portal, ya.duskpeterson.com, that will help readers go directly to my YA fiction. All the series listed there appear on the duskpeterson.com website, so you needn't check both places. However, those of you who are interested in young adult fiction may like to see my links to my favorite YA adventure fiction authors.
ABOUT THE REISSUES OF REBIRTH AND SPLIT
The Toughs series' volume e-books (Rebirth, Whipster, etc.) have needed new covers, and some of the volumes haven't been available in multiformat, so I'm gradually (re)issuing them all in multiformat editions. I'm taking this opportunity to reread the stories within the volumes to catch any stray typos or continuity errors that I missed the first time through. Other than that, there are no changes to the content.
Speaking of typos, I'm usually pretty good about catching them before publication, but I let a couple of really horrendous ones slip by me with Split. (Such as switching my protagonist's first and last names toward the end of the story.) Since I didn't want to wait till the full volume of Sweet Blood was issued before correcting errors of this magnitude, I've uploaded a corrected version of Split to the bookstores. If you've bought a copy in the past, you can try downloading the e-book again from the bookstore where you bought it, if the bookstore allows that. (The new edition is marked as the February 2016 edition in the copyright notice.) If that doesn't work, drop me a line, letting me know which format(s) you bought, and I'll send you a replacement. I'm sorry about the extra trouble to you.
THE THREE LANDS IS GOING TEMPORARILY OUT OF PRINT
Or whatever the electronic equivalent is of "out of print." Although I'm keeping all of the Toughs stories published as I reissue the volumes, The Three Lands is a more serious marketing challenge, since it's never found much of a readership. I've decided that it would be best to take an entirely fresh approach to the series, so I'll be taking down the current editions as I begin to issue the new editions (and will bring out new stories in the series, if my Muse is cooperative). I'll be taking down the current Three Lands e-books at the beginning of April; in the meantime, they remain available.
The progress report of my writings has been updated, showing which stories are closest to being published (and which aren't).