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


"Halvar leaned forward. His eyes were the color of an arctic sky. 'I am not a fool, Egon,' he said softly, 'so do not treat me as such.'"

Egon had a position that won him respect, friends who raised his spirits, and lovers who gave him pleasure. Then a man came into his life who would take all that away from him. If Egon was lucky.

As a slave, Egon has already reached the highest position he will ever achieve: he is the household's airship chauffeur. Forced to confront the contradiction between his ideals and his behavior, Egon must make a choice between continuing to pursue immediate pleasure or willingly submitting himself to another man for the sake of a higher goal. What Egon does not yet know is that his guide on this journey into the unknown is hiding a secret that will transform both their lives.

This science fiction novella of gay love and service can be read on its own or as part of Slaves of the Northern Corporate Dominion, an award-winning science fiction series on exploitation and love, set in a time when the nation's corporate government has institutionalized slavery.

This is a reissue of an older story, moved to a new series.
 

Review

"An unconventional and unexpected love story between two men who aren't free in any sense of the word, but who nonetheless forge a loving bond." —The Novel Approach (Lisa).
 

Coming soon as multiformat e-books from Love in Dark Settings Press: Remy Hart's original three stories in the Slaves of the Northern Corporate Dominion series.


Excerpt

He stood motionless, a bulky shape looming over the older man sitting at his desk, examining his datapad. He was taller than Halvar, and stronger. He reminded himself of these facts, though he knew that they were of no relevance.

It was not the first time he had been called into Halvar's office. He had been sent there many times over the years, at the Chairman's orders. Sometimes the beatings he received at Halvar's hands were merited, sometimes they were not. He took no notice of them either way, nor any notice of the words from Halvar that accompanied the beatings. His mind was on higher matters, and the beatings always gave him the excuse he needed to court the latest of his lovers, showing her his welts and pouring out his sorrowful tale.

Not that he lacked gratitude for what his lovers gave him. They helped to distract him from the horrors of his life, so he did his best to return the favor – and was successful, he knew. In his ears were still ringing the cries his latest lover had made when he pleasured her.

Halvar looked up from his datapad. "Sit," he said briefly, and Egon sat in the straight-backed chair opposite Halvar's desk. He suspected that Halvar wanted him seated only because it allowed the Supervisor to stand over him. His theory was confirmed in the next moment as Halvar rose, emerged from behind his desk, and leaned back against the front of the desk, his arms folded as he contemplated Egon.

"Well," he said finally, "you are fortunate. The Chairman received a good price for Karia from the breeding farm – they took one look at the genetics information from your chip's database and decided that your child and its host were worth buying. They wanted to buy you as well, but they didn't offer the Chairman a good enough price."

Egon sat immobile, unable to think what to say. That he had escaped being sold to a breeding farm ought to give him joy, he knew – but that he would never see his child, and that laughing Karia would now be condemned to a life of forced mating and endless pregnancies . . .

"So that matters to you." Halvar's voice was chill. "I had wondered whether it would."

Egon raised his chin and looked Halvar straight in the eye. "We didn't intend for it to happen."

"No, I'm quite sure she didn't intend for it to happen." Halvar's voice remained cool, though quiet. "At sixteen, she was young enough to believe you when you told her that you were infertile. I'm only surprised that you have continued to use that tale, since none of your other bed-mates believed it."

Egon's face grew warm, and he shifted his hands from the arms of the chair to his lap, lounging back in an effort to look relaxed. "I thought it was true. My parents only ever had one child, though they made love often, and they told me that my uncle—"

Halvar's rod shot out to full length; it crashed down upon the chair arms with a crack like lightning. Egon, who would have fallen out of the chair if the rod had not barred his way, went rigid and pressed himself against the chair's straight back.

Halvar leaned forward. His eyes were the color of an arctic sky. "I am not a fool, Egon," he said softly, "so do not treat me as such. If you are a fool, and believe the words you are saying, then I suggest that you rapidly educate yourself. You cared not whether you impregnated that girl and ruined her life – you cared nothing for her or for any other woman you have bedded for the past ten years. All you care for is your own pleasure."

"At least the Chairman has permitted me that much."

The words had escaped from his mouth before he could pull them back. Halvar looked down at him a moment more before slowly raising the rod from the chair. His wrist flicked; the rod collapsed back in on itself.

He did not return the rod to his pocket, though; instead he ran a hand slowly across its surface while saying, "So you expect rewards from the Chairman. For what? For the lackadaisical fashion in which you perform your duties?"

"Maybe." Egon kept his gaze fixed upon Halvar, unwilling to concede him any ground. "Or maybe I'd like payment for the parents he took from me."

Halvar did not speak for a moment. His office was of spartan appearance – no more than a desk and two chairs – and his personal appearance was likewise simple: scorning the black suits worn by the more privileged slaves of this household, Halvar wore a grey uniform, as though he were a slave just beginning his training. On him, it did not look odd.

"You blame the Chairman for the loss of your parents." The Supervisor's voice was flat.

"Who else am I to blame?" The bitterness that Egon had succeeded in hiding until now spilled out of him, like acidic liquid from a poorly tended ionizer. "My parents both served the Chairman with loyalty, and he rewarded that by selling my mother to a household where she'd be beaten or worse, and by driving my father to his death. What justice is there in that?"

"Justice?" The Supervisor raised his eyebrows, as Egon's father had. "Is that what you seek?"

Egon gave a short, humorless laugh. "Not justice. Slaves can't expect justice. That being the case, I'll take what pleasure I can, where I can."

"Interesting." Halvar folded his arms again without releasing the rod from his hand. "How far do you extend this philosophy of taking without giving? To your friends? To your lovers?"

"Of course not." Egon glared at Halvar, resuming his slouched position. "I always do my best to give pleasure to my friends and to my lovers. I entertain my friends with stories, and my lovers— Well, I give them a different sort of pleasure. Any of them would tell you that."

"Even Karia?"

"Especially Karia!" Egon leaned forward, his hands now in fists. "She and I— Not using protection was a mistake, I'll admit that. But I gave her pleasure all the same. Towards the end of each time, when she—"

He broke off, realizing the futility of what he was saying. As far as he knew, Halvar was completely celibate; if he had had any lovers in his youth, he had given them up at the time he became Supervisor. Halvar had not even participated in the rape fourteen years before. He probably had forgotten what bed-pleasure could be like.

"Mm." Halvar appeared to contemplate this information, staring down at his rod and lightly touching its surface. After a while he said, without looking up, "Well, your lovers seem to hold a different view on this matter. They regard you, uniformly, as the worst mistake they ever made."

For a moment Egon was still; then he relaxed further back into the chair, chuckling. "Do you expect me to believe that?"

"Believe it or not, as you wish. According to one of your lovers, 'When he took me in the store-rooms, while I was supposed to be checking the flour bins, it was as though I was making love to a machine on automatic. His thoughts weren't on me – I'm not sure where they were. I'm not sure whether he has any thoughts, beyond satisfying his body.'"

His mouth had turned so dry that he had trouble swallowing. He knew whom Halvar was quoting – it was Karia, telling of the day on which he had given her his child. The day on which she had cried his name into his chest, over and over . . .

"But she enjoyed it," he said, his voice dull. "I know she enjoyed it. She . . . Towards the end . . ."

Halvar slid his hand around the rod, gripping it tight. "I seem to recall," he said conversationally, "that you were present where you should not have been fourteen years ago, and that you witnessed a certain punishment that took place in the kitchen. Did you happen to notice, on that occasion, whether the slave in question reached orgasm?"

A heaviness in his throat prevented him from speaking for a moment. "He . . . That is, my father . . . The man being punished was forced .. ." He stopped and tried again. "Even if Karia— That is, she was only one. There were others . . . And my friends. You can't tell me that my friends don't enjoy my company."

"Ah, yes, your friends. You claim to them that you are a skilled lover – is that not so?"

His hands clenched once more. "Yes."

"Prove it."

He stared up at Halvar's opaque expression, but could think of no better response than, "What?"

"Prove that you are a passably good lover. I will offer you a choice. You may receive a beating now for the loss of a young slave – and that beating will be consonant with the heinousness of your offense, I can promise you. Or return here tonight before lights-off and prove to me your skills as a lover. If I find that you have told the truth, I will let you go without further punishment. If I find that you have lied, you will receive a beating, though a lesser one than you would receive now."

"I don't understand the point of this," Egon said slowly.

"Don't you?" Halvar flicked out the slender rod full length, then pulled it back, as though he were a towtractor hooking a dead aircar. "You were once a hard-working servant – indeed, I had hopes that you would prove as skilled at service as your mother. Then you lost interest in your duties. I had held out hope all these years that, though you were as poor a chauffeur as any household could bear to sustain, you were at least a hard worker in the hobby you had taken up in place of mindfulness to your duties. Now I'm beginning to doubt even that. So prove me wrong."
 

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


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)
Re-creation

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

What can you give a slave who, by law, can own nothing? That is the question faced by Peter, the teenage heir to the throne of an empire. Despite his father's desire that the imperial heir maintain a formal distance from servants, Peter finds himself drawn in friendship to the younger boy who serves as his slave.

But a shocking revelation on the eve of the New Year forces Peter to confront his own motives for keeping the slave close by. And that in turn will help him understand the deeper meaning of the gift-giving festival.

This novelette is a holiday tale that can be read on its own or as a side story in The Three Lands, a fantasy series on friendship, romance, and betrayal in times of war and peace.

A 2008 holiday gift story for Dusk Peterson's readers. This is a reissue of an older story.
 

Reader reviews at Amazon

"Wonderfully written. A harsh tale told by the slave to a boy too young to really understand it at first. Over a few days a boy grows up and learns just how unfair his world is." —Gina.

"This novelette was a compelling read. It inspired thought, evoked emotion (sympathy, pity, anger, and ultimately a bit of happiness). . . . The story (for me) showed a glimpse in time when a boy became a man." —Christine Staeven.

"When I started reading, I had no idea where this would go. The prince was very naive. The slave a bit too hardened. But it all became clear and a friendship developed. . . . Such a short tale left me with much to think about." —Lee Phillips.

Full reviews at Amazon.


Excerpt

"Well," said Peter uncertainly, "it looks a bit like a Balance of Judgment."

He glanced over at his new slave-servant to see whether he agreed. Andrew was kneeling on the floor, carefully rolling bits of clay and attaching clay crossbars to them so that they held a vague resemblance to the Sword of Vengeance.

For a moment, Peter thought Andrew would not reply. It was becoming increasingly hard to tell which comments the other boy would reply to. If asked a direct question, Andrew would of course respond; that was part of his training. But slaves were also trained not to speak to free-men unless spoken to, and Peter had not yet figured out a way to convey that he wanted to hold ordinary conversations with his slave.

Could any conversation be ordinary, when the other person had  no choice but to speak if bidden to?

Andrew said, without looking up, "I suppose that we'd need an Arpeshian to tell us."

Peter laughed. "And I don't know any Arpeshians. Do you?"

"A couple. They were young children when your grandfather, the Chara Anthony, suppressed the first rebellion in the dominion of Arpesh."

Peter started to make some light-hearted remark about Andrew being well-versed in Emorian history; then he bit his lip. No doubt all of the inhabitants of the palace slave-quarters were well-versed in the parts of Emorian history that related to wars in which the Emorians had taken slaves. Andrew could almost certainly give a detailed account of the Border Wars between Emor and Koretia.

To cover his chagrin, Peter said, "The Balance is hard enough to make." He gave another doubtful look at the object in his hand, made up of scrap bits of metal joined together by sticky sap. "I don't know how we'll manage to make the Book."

"You needn't worry about that." Andrew reached over to gather a bit of clay, and as he did so, his back came into sight. He was wearing a slave's tunic, of course, which meant his back was bare . . . except for the bandages there. "I know how to make books."

"You do?" Peter asked, surprised. He had turned his eyes away; he still could not stand to look at Andrew's back, even though the bandages hid what Lord Carle had done to him, barely a week before.

If Peter had been beaten nearly to death, he thought he would have spent the next six months moaning in his bed. Instead, Andrew seemed determined to rise from his sickbed. Peter wondered whether Andrew believed that he would be sold back to Lord Carle if he did not immediately show his worth to his new master.

Peter would have as soon impaled himself on the Sword of Judgment as give Andrew back to the master who had ordered an eleven-year-old boy to be beaten so harshly. Lord Carle had meant well, no doubt, but Peter still could not imagine why the council lord had found it necessary to go to such measures. As far as Peter could tell, Andrew was an extremely obedient servant.

Perhaps too much so. Peter looked down once more at the pathetic little object in his hand that purported to be the Balance of Judgment. Judgment weighing vengeance and mercy.

"We've forgotten about the Heart of Mercy," he said suddenly.

"I know how to make that too," Andrew replied, inspecting the tip of the clay sword in his hand.

"You're a wonder," Peter said, setting the lopsided Balance aside and rolling over onto his stomach. They were in his chamber, of course, which meant that the only places to sit were some stiff-backed chairs, the bed, and the floor. Andrew seemed to prefer the floor, though Peter had invited him onto the bed each day since the younger boy became his slave. Peter supposed this was due to some Koretian custom; he resolved inwardly to ask Andrew about that. After all, Peter's ostensible reason for having Andrew as his slave was to familiarize himself with his empire's southern dominion of Koretia. Peter's father – who was legally Andrew's owner – had said that mastering Andrew would help Peter learn how to rule his subjects.

"How did you learn to make crafts?" he asked Andrew.

"From a friend."

Peter waited, but no further details emerged. Finally Peter said, "Was he a craftsman?"

"He was a boy. But he lived with the priests, and they trained him at artisan work, in case he should need such work when he grew up and—" Andrew shut his lips tightly. He bowed his head, as though concentrating all his thoughts on the clay he was flattening with his fingers.

Peter felt then that he deserved the beating Andrew had received. A friend. A boy whom Andrew had known in the Koretian capital. Probably the boy had been enslaved during the final battle there, if not killed outright. And Andrew had been forced to speak of him.

To Peter, Chara To Be, son of the ruler who had conquered Andrew's native land.
 

Available as a FREE DRM-free multiformat e-book (epub, html, mobi/Kindle, pdf, doc) or as online fiction: Re-creation.


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)
Cover for 'The New Boy'

"'We'll be hiring the finest craftsfolk in the city, giving them hours of training to perfect their much-demanded skills and allow them to perform their tasks to the peak of their mastery – and the peak of the satisfaction of those who buy our goods.'"

Running a business seemed a simple enough matter: you learned what the patron wanted, and you forced an employee to satisfy his needs. Then along came the new boy.

Male prostitution has a new face, with an old score to pay: an ex-whore has started a pleasure house, and he has turned all the old rules on their head. Now the centuries-old system of prostitution in the Kingdom of Vovim is in danger of being overturned in favor of a new, gentler way of doing business. But will the young man who is carrying out this revolution be able to keep himself from repeating history?

This novella can be read on its own or as the first story in the "Whipster" volume of Michael's House, a historical fantasy series set in a Progressive Era slum. Male friendship and gay love intertwine in this multicultural series based on life in America during the 1910s, a time when society seemed as stable as ever, though it was about to be turned topsy-turvy.

This is a reissue of an older story.
 

Review

"Tease away the outer layers [of the story], and a whole fascinating world of triumph over tragedy emerges." —Rainbow Reviews.


Excerpt

Michael laid down his crop and sat on the fountain edge, stretching out his long legs and saying, "Nobody warned me that scolding was so great a part of whoremastering."

"It's part of being a teacher," replied Janus.

"You would know. Speaking of which, what is this?" Michael plucked a piece of paper out of his pocket and held it up for inspection. The gold seal upon it glittered in the late afternoon light.

Janus pulled himself upright, staring with disbelief at the paper. "Michael, have you been searching my room?"

"I've been searching all the rooms, to be sure we sealed up every mouse-hole. You should have picked a less obvious place to hide this than under your bed."

"It's nothing."

Michael glanced at the letter. "'Royal tutor.' 'By request of His Majesty, at the recommendation of your uncle.' It certainly sounds like something."

"It's a bribe."

"Of course it's a bribe. It's a handsome bribe. Why aren't you taking it?"

Janus sighed, reached over to pull the letter from Michael's hand, and tore the note into pieces. "Why aren't you still selling yourself, Michael? Even at your age, I'd bargain that men like that patron we met earlier this week would gladly pay for your services."

Michael raised his eyebrows. "That's not the same."

"Of course it's the same. My father, having failed through all other methods to break me away from highly unsuitable company, is offering me the biggest bribe he can produce. The letter doesn't actually say, 'If you take this job, you will never see Michael again,' but you know how unlikely it is that His Majesty and my uncle the prime minister would allow the royal tutor to spend his free evenings visiting the proprietor of a house of prostitution." Janus tossed the letter fragments into the fountain, saying, "I know what riches I value most, Michael, and I'm not prepared to give them up for a royal job."
 

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


duskpeterson: An apprentice builds a boat as a man looks on. (Default)
Cover for 'Cell-mates'

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

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

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

This short story can be read on its own or as a side story in the Life Prison series. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is inspired by prison life at the end of the nineteenth century.


Excerpt

They had to settle the issue of sex first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Gods preserve us – that many?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Sir?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

The blurb:

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


Excerpt

For a prison, it was abnormally quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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 '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.


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 'Truth and Lies'


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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Crawl," said Master Toler.
 

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


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


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

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

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

This short story can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.

This is a reissue of an older story.
 


Review

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


Excerpt

Tom:

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

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

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

Sedgewick

o—o—o

Dear Sedge,

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

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

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

With respect,
Thomas

o—o—o

Tom:

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

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

Sedgewick

o—o—o

Dear Sedge,

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

This novelette can be read on its own or as the third story in the "Mercy's Prisoner" volume of Life Prison. Friendship, desire between men, and the costs of corruption and integrity are examined in this multicultural historical fantasy series, which is based on late Victorian prison life.
 


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But he keeps the Boundaries?" said Llewellyn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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