duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
He'd abducted him, bedded him, and taught him every position he knew. So why wasn't the fool grateful?

This is a reissue of an older story.
 

Reader reviews

"My goodness, this story has stayed with me for two days now. I like the simple 'journal' format, that starts off almost lighthearted. . . . But it begins to hit hard fast, and by the end I had a lump in my throat that comes back whenever I think about it." —Glass Houses in a post to an e-mail list, April 2002.

"I adored the tonalities of it. It ranges from greys to very dark shot through with flashes of light. Beautifully done – angsty and edgy and just wonderfully written." —Jedi Clara in a letter to the author, April 2002.

"Delicately done, such that the reader is drawn deeper and deeper in to the situation, just as our unlikely hero is drawn to his destiny." —Smara in a post to an e-mail list, April 2002.

"Witty and ironic and rather sad all at the same time. I loved the way that you drew the developing relationship so lightly." —Lucie at orig_slavefic.

"I once had a literature professor who demonstrated how 'The Great Gatsby' is the perfect novel. Every chapter is carefully constructed; the pacing is perfect. I think this is probably the condensed version of the perfect slavefic. Just wonderful." —Pierrot Dreams at orig_slavefic.


Excerpt

Ended up telling him more than I'd intended, including the tale of how I first joined the tribe. He asked me whether I remembered my family, and I said I didn't; I was much younger than he was when I was captured. I don't even remember the man who first took me. I proved myself worthy of tribal status quickly, though, and I impressed upon the boy that he could do the same if he worked hard enough.

After all this time, I suppose nothing should surprise me about the boy, but it was still a shock to hear the boy say he didn't want to belong to the tribe. He called us "land pirates," which is the kindest name I've ever heard applied to us, but I managed to keep from laughing. Pointed out instead that he had no good alternatives now, and asked him whether he wanted to risk becoming a bed-slave again if I died. That shut him up.

Truly, the boy's the stubbornest person I've ever met. He reminds me of myself when I was young.
 

Available as online fiction: The Fool.


duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
Cover for 'Night Shadow'

"That will be your death."

A prince who could see beyond his borders but not see the people around him. . . . An enemy who would take any measure to get what he wanted. .. . And now a stranger has brought news to the prince of an approaching danger.

Young though he is, Farsight has inherited a powerful gift from his father that allows him to protect his realm. But when a conniving king in a neighboring country sets his sights on Farsight's mountain of gold, the prince will need help to protect himself against an assassin's knife. Will a newfound companion-in-arms be enough to save Farsight, once the Night Shadow crosses the border?

This stand-alone novelette can be read on its own or as part of Darkling Plain, a collection of fantasy tales about young people in times of conflict.

This is a reissue of an out-of-print story.


Excerpt

Farsight, less commonly known as Prince Clerebold, ruler of Dawnlight since the death of his father by mischance, stood on the highest, narrowest tower of his keep and looked down upon his realm. From here, far higher than the birds swooping from tree to tree, he could see clearly his people: castle dwellers walking to and fro across the drawbridge under the watchful eye of the soldiers, tradesmen bumping carts against each other in the busy streets of the town under the keep's shadow, craftsmen working in their village houses with steady concentration, commoners spreading seed in the fields under the spring sun, and, most clearly of all, the nervous soldiers near the gold-filled mountain that stood by Dawnlight's northern border with Duskedge. Within Duskedge itself, Farsight could faintly sense fear and pain, especially the prolonged agony of men held captive in a faraway castle. But the darkness that Farsight had sensed during the past weeks was quiescent, perhaps driven into sleep by the light.

Kneeling on the ledge of the crenel that provided a gap in the tower's stonework, Farsight stared down at the hundred-foot drop and murmured to himself, "If only I could see the people near me clearly. They seem so dim."

"That will be your death."

Startled, Farsight turned so suddenly that he nearly matched his father's death by pitching through the crenel into open air. Standing behind him, near the trap door leading to the winding stairs, was a man not much younger than Farsight, wearing the clothes of a commoner. He was standing so close to the prince that Farsight could see little more than mud-colored hair and eyes that matched the burnished blue sky.

"Who are you?" asked Farsight sharply, his hand moving to the gold-hilted dagger at his side. "Why are you here?"

Farsight's abrupt words seemed to startle the young man. He stepped backwards onto the trap door, stumbling as he did so. The sound of his heavy swallow followed, and the blur of his outline shifted. Narrowing his eyes to better his sight, Farsight realized, with amusement and something more, that the young man's hands had tightened nervously like those of a boy facing scrutiny.

The gesture reassured him, as did the faint sound of footsteps below the trap door, which told him that the guard was still at his post. "Why are you here?" he asked in a more moderate tone. "The guard had orders to let no one through."

"The guard?" The young man's voice was breathless and somewhat puzzled. "He wasn't at the landing when I came up. I saw him— Well, he was at one of the windows of the stairwell, fiddling with his breeches."

Farsight sighed, wondering again what sort of men he was training to be in his personal guard. He tried not to let too much of this show in his voice as he said, "That was careless of him. So – the fault is not yours, but why are you here?"

He heard the young man swallow again. "That's why. To warn you to guard yourself better."

Farsight frowned, trying to read what lay inside the young man, but he was too close. Pulling himself out from the crenel ledge, which had begun to turn warm under the morning light, the prince walked toward the eastern side of the tower, until he was as far from the young man as he could go. The young man, perhaps sensing his need, obediently stepped backwards until he was at the opposite side of the tower.

He was still too close, but Farsight could at least see now the man's features: a heavy jaw, lips too asymmetrical to attract lovers, a broken nose, a scarred temple, and blue-lit eyes bearing nothing except uncertainty. As Farsight watched, the man licked his lips anxiously.

His hand, though, was resting with practiced ease on his dagger hilt, and his cheeks were shaven – he was not a field commoner, then. "You're a soldier?" Farsight guessed aloud.

"A guard, my prince." The young man hesitated, then added, "My name is Amyas. I've been with Lord Grimbold's household until recently." With delicate timing, he allowed his hand to drop from his dagger.

Farsight felt the blood thrumming through his throat and resisted the impulse to call for his guard's protection. "You're far from home," he said. "I wouldn't have thought you'd have left Duskedge at time of war. And why call me your prince?"

"My prince, I—" Amyas faltered, staring at his mud-wrapped boots. "Because you are my prince. I was born in Dawnlight, near the border. I would have stayed here, but I couldn't find work in this land. So I went over the border and took service with Lord Grimbold, but part of our agreement was that if war broke out between our two lands, I'd be released from his service to return home."

"War broke out four months ago," Farsight observed. "That's when Royston turned his hungry eyes toward our gold-mountain near his border."

"Yes, my prince, and I left Lord Grimbold's service at that time. It occurred to me, though, that you might be in need of information, so I went to King Royston's castle and listened to the gossip there. I'd been there in the past, so no one took notice of me."

Amyas spoke with a pure simplicity, as though risking his life as a spy were the most natural activity in the world. He had a habit, Farsight noticed, of shuffling his feet on the ground, as though he were a boy who might be noticed at any moment and would need to flee the room to escape his elders' wrath.

Farsight suddenly felt very old. He smiled at Amyas and said, "So you have come to me with that information. Thank you."

Amyas looked up at him. For a moment, on the edge of his expression, something seemed on the point of breaking through. Then his eyes grew sober, and he said, "Yes, my prince. I came to warn you to guard yourself. King Royston has sent his Night Shadow to seek you."

A wind, chill from the north, travelled through the crenel behind Farsight and played like a cold blade against his back. When he could breathe once more, Farsight said, "Well. I suppose that is the easiest way for him to win this war."

Amyas took a step forward, faltered, then said in an impassioned voice, "My prince, forgive me, but— In Duskedge, I always kept to my place, so I do not wish you to think I was ill-trained there—"

Farsight managed to pull his smile back from the black pit where it had dropped. "We handle matters differently here in Dawnlight, as you'll recall from your childhood. You needn't be afraid to offer advice – I welcome your thoughts."

"Then, my prince—" Like the surge of a blade, Amyas flung the words forward: "Prince Clerebold, you're as close to death at this moment as you were when you were kneeling on that ledge! Do you know how easy it was for me to enter your presence? No guard challenged me at the drawbridge, your soldiers in the courtyard were indifferent to my presence, your courtiers gave me detailed instructions on where to find you, and your bodyguard was off making water when a man from Duskedge arrived looking for you. My prince, if I were an assassin, you'd be dead now!"

Farsight let out his breath in a long sigh and walked forward until Amyas's face blurred into the stones. "No, I wouldn't be. My guard is close by; the Night Shadow never allows himself to be seen, and he never kills anyone except his mark."

This answer appeared to disconcert the young man. A moment passed before he said, "And what if the Night Shadow decides to change its pattern for this kill? My prince—"

"Call me Farsight," the prince said mildly. "You've been too long away from home."

"Farsight . . ." Amyas fumbled with the name. "Farsight, the Night Shadow always wins. Everyone knows that. That's how Royston keeps his people in terror. And you . . . Your soldiers are the best trained in the world; Royston dare not attack you again through battle. That's why he's sending the Night Shadow. My prince, how can you have such fine soldiers at the border and such poorly trained guards at home?"

Farsight closed his eyes, released a long breath, and opened them once more to the blur that was the young man. "I'm farsighted," he said.

"My prince?" Amyas's voice was tentative.

"I'm farsighted. I can't see you unless you're far away; I can't see anyone unless they're far away. The soldiers I train at a distance – I can see them. The people I rule from a distance – I can see them. But the people I work with from day to day – I can't see them. I can't understand them, I can't know them. So I make mistakes. In some cases, mortal mistakes."

The wind rattled grit across the tower roof. Faintly from the sky above, birds called to each other, but Farsight could hear nothing more, not even the shouts of the guards on the drawbridge as they changed their watch. Below the trap door, the guard continued to shuffle in his place. By now, he must have heard Amyas's voice, but Farsight's moderate tones had apparently reassured the guard as to the nature of the interview. With exasperation, Farsight wondered whether the guard thought that Amyas had flown to the tower from one of the trees.

"Are the stories true?" Amyas's voice was subdued.
 

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


duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
I've issued two Waterman collections. One (Master and Servant) is new, while the other (the Waterman omnibus) is an older collection that has been expanded to include the novel The Abolitionist. The only difference between their contents is that the omnibus includes Queue.

Cover for 'Master and Servant'


Another cover, plus blurbs, excerpts, and links to ordering information )
duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)


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.


duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
Cover for 'The Abolitionist'


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

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

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

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


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
Cover for 'The Balance'

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

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

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

VOLUME CONTENTS

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

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

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

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

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

"The Balance: Historical Note."


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeslin came forward to accept the embrace of his brother.
 

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


duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
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.


duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
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.


duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
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.
duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
A prince who could see beyond his borders but not see the people around him. . . . An enemy who would take any measure to get what he wanted. . . . And now a stranger would bring the prince news of an approaching danger.

Farsight stared down at the hundred-foot drop and murmured to himself, "If only I could see the people near me clearly. They seem so dim."

"That will be your death."
duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
A reporter is assigned to cover what sounds like the perfect feel-good story: the victim of a crime will forgive her offender. The only problem is that the criminal and the victim are refusing to cooperate.

Parental supervision is strongly suggested for this story.

The adults wear the usual casual attire of weekend leisure: jeans and shorts and tee-shirts. The only oddity about this suburban gathering is that no children appear to be present.

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