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


"He looked at Linnet, smiling as sweetly as though she had offered to buy the man's shop. 'Tell me,' said the shopkeeper, 'what caused you to leave your barony?'"

Linnet is trouble. Everyone agrees about that. Driven from her native barony, she arrives at Goldhollow in hopes of beginning a new life, only to discover that she cannot escape her past.

As Linnet is drawn into memories of a dark young man she once knew, she must deal in the present with a boy who is headed toward danger, as well as a child-like baron who may force her to betray her past.

This novella on love and disabilities 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 older story.


Excerpt

Crows mocked her in the trees as she grubbed under the fallen trunk for the piece of house-wood she wanted. It had been a good house, before the tree fell on it; the quality of the wood attested to that. She wondered for a moment, with bitter irony, what its rich owner would have thought if he had known how she would make use of his leavings.

The crisp leaves under her knees crackled as she shifted her position, straining to pull out the plank. Her hand caught at one unvarnished edge, and she gave a yelp as several splinters drove into her palm. With a sigh, she sat back on her haunches, plucked out the splinters, and sucked at her hand as she surveyed the valley below her.

Like black fish entering the broad entrance to a river, men and horses still poured into the valley from the mountain pass below the rising sun. Pulling her cloak further closed against the soft autumn wind, Linnet stared at the relatively tiny force that was meant to protect the town above her. If she had been any other woman, her thoughts would have been on the women and girls huddled behind the town walls, whose lives would end in slavery or death if the army below failed in its task. As it was, though, all that she could think as she reached down once more toward the plank was, "All those dark boys who will never grow to be golden."

Several minutes later she extracted the plank from its grave, but she saw that it was hardly worth the effort, for the plank was cracked in the middle. Stubbornly refusing to acknowledge her failure, she rose wearily to her feet and began to stagger toward the wood-pile with her find. It was then that she saw the man.

He was leaning against one of the wild apple trees nearby, with his cloak tossed back to reveal the scarlet clothes beneath. Fine gold along the edging matched the color of his hair, which shone like sun-gilded water. His body was slender and youthful, and his eyes held a blue brighter than the mid-morning sky. They sparkled now with laughter.

When he spoke, it was with the accent she had heard many times in recent days. "Fair maiden," he said, "you seem somewhat burdened with your labor. Might I assist you in finishing your task, and then, perhaps, escort you to a place of greater leisure where, if your favor extends so far—"

"You can save the rest of that speech." With an effort, Linnet turned and cast the plank onto the pile before her, then stood breathless for a moment, trying to calculate how many days it would take her to gather the remaining wood.

"Ah." The man, whom she was no longer facing, seemed more amused than before. "You have heard this approach on a previous occasion, I believe."

"On more than one occasion. The answer is no."

"Perhaps if I were to approach your father in the proper fashion . .."

"Go right ahead." Linnet pointed toward a fenced area further down the hill. "You'll find him there."

"Ah," the man repeated. He came over to stand beside her, and she saw that his expression was now properly grave. "A soldier, perhaps?"

"That's the trade which all the men in our barony lay claim to these days—those who are alive."

The man nodded, continuing to stare down the hillside with his sparkling blue eyes. Then he looked her way suddenly, and as though he had indeed received a proper introduction from her father, he said, "My name is Golden."

Linnet was wondering whether, if she wielded a plank against him, this gadfly would leave her alone, but she said with all the politeness her parents had taught her, "I am Linnet."

Golden took the hand she offered him, but his gaze never left her face as he slowly raised her hand and kissed the back of her fingers in a manner that made her body tingle. "Well, fair maiden," he said. "I am deeply sorry to hear of— You are a fair maiden, aren't you? I'm not wasting my time on someone's wife, am I? Not that I'm above that sort of courting if the pickings are lean."

Linnet laughed then, turning her back on the cemetery below. "Fair and sixteen, as the song goes," she replied. "And you?"

"Nineteen and golden, as the same song says." The young man offered her a sweeping bow.

"Is your name really Golden?"

"It's what the girls call me, anyway. I think it's quite apt, don't you?"

"As long as one doesn't look under the surface," Linnet remarked dryly, and she walked past him to the remains of the fallen house.
 

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


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

"Then he remembered (on the edge of his memory, like a smudge of land on the horizon of the Bay) the reason that he and his father had lived alone on an island where once hundreds of people had lived."

Amidst a servant's nightmare, can a haven of hope be found?

Meredith has brought his beloved master to the island where he spent the happiest days of his childhood. But when danger descends upon them, they must seek refuge, and Meredith must confront the tantalizing sorrows and rewards of change.

This short story about love between two young men can be read on its own, or as a side story in 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.

A 2013 holiday gift story for Dusk Peterson's readers.


Excerpt

He saw his master's boat long before it arrived, skimming over the afternoon-bright waters of the Bay. The closer the lithe vessel approached, the deeper the sun dipped in the sky, and the more the grey clouds huddled together like cloaked guests awaiting the start of a dinner party. Meredith began to worry that his master would arrive so late in the day that he and Meredith would be trapped there overnight, with a storm approaching. Then Meredith recalled that a house awaited them, with four walls and a roof to shut out the wind and the water – a haven on an island that he had always considered a haven, since the time he left it as a child.

The Bay, which sliced like a knife between the two shores of the Dozen Landsteads, was already growing choppy from the upcoming storm by the time that the skipjack anchored, a few yards from shore. By that time, Meredith was hiding in a grove of loblolly pines, so he did not see the yawl carry his master from the skipjack to the island. However, he did hear the uncultured voice of a servant say, "You sure you don't want us to come back, sir? Looks like a rough place to stay the night, and there's a blow coming in on the tide."

Meredith did not hear his master's reply, but it must have been reassuring, for when he peeked out again, he saw that the little yawl was being hauled aboard the skipjack, while his master stood on the shell-strewn beach, his back to Meredith, his hand waving farewell to the crew who had brought him to the island.

The anchor came up, the rising wind bellowed the sails full, and the crew began the painful job of turning the skipjack and tacking their way back to the Western Shore from whence they had come. They would be eager to return home, Meredith knew, for tonight was the final day of the festival week of Spring Manhood, when servants would feast in honor of their masters.

Meredith had never attended such a feast, either as a master or as a servant. He never would, he knew. He would be embarrassed to be toasted by servants who believed him to be a master, and as for receiving the joy of toasting his own master . . . It was enough that he finally had a master, after so many years spent masquerading as one.

Or so he told himself.
 

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


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 '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 '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.


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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)


Cover for 'Unmarked'



"Master Meredith, whose entitlement to a last name had not yet been determined by the courts, was sitting in a window-seat overlooking the playing fields of Narrows School when the Third House bullies found him."

In his final terms of school before his university years, Meredith is faced with a host of problems: A prefect who abuses his power. A games captain who is supposed to protect Meredith but has befriended the prefect. And a legal status that makes everyone in the school question whether Meredith belongs there, among the elite.

Unexpectedly, rescue arrives, in the shape of a fellow student who seems determined to right wrongs. There's only one problem. . . .

"Fair play" is the motto of the Third House, but that motto takes on a different meaning when Meredith is secretly wooed by a young man from a rival House.

This novel can be read on its own or as the third and final story in the "Master and Servant" volume of Waterman, a historical fantasy series and retrofuture series inspired by the Chesapeake Bay oyster wars, boarding school rivalries in the 1910s, and 1960s visions of things to come.

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

"Let's look at your arm now."

Meredith cautiously turned round. Carruthers stood fully dressed in his school uniform: shoes, trousers, shirt, vest, and a dark blue blazer – blue to represent transformation. No doubt he was entitled to a House cap as well, but he was as bareheaded as always. His hair was the color of yellow cordgrass when sun shone upon it. His eyes shimmered grey like pebbles in a pond. His skin was darker than the usual milky-white shade that distinguished masters from servants; one of the more vicious rumors circulating in the Third House was that Carruthers's parents, who were notorious Egalitarians, forced Carruthers to do servant-work during holidays. Meredith refused to believe the rumor, if only because he could not imagine any servant standing by and allowing Carruthers to do work on his behalf.

Carruthers had turned toward a table beside the students' lockers and was pulling open a first aid kit marked with the symbol of the Red Circle, for Narrows School was one of the few Dozen Landstead institutions that was charitable enough to raise funds for that international, humanitarian organization. "Giving money to the Yclau!" Rudd had once said in anger. One of Rudd's ancestors had drafted the Embargo Act of 1912.

Carruthers – like his father – clearly had no qualms about using foreign technology, for he was pulling out the kit's contents, carefully selected by the school, so as not to contravene the Embargo Act: bichloride of mercury tablets, tincture of iodine, aromatic spirits of ammonia, carbolized petroleum jelly, rubber tubes for tourniquets, adhesive plaster, picric acid gauze, cascara tablets, crystals of hydrated magnesium sulfate, and crystals of potassium permanganate. The last item – used to treat poisonous snake bites – was next to useless for a kit used on a Bay-island school, but some of the school's students who came from the mainland were convinced that every harmless water snake they saw was a venomous water moccasin.

In a prosaic manner, Carruthers focussed his attention on the kit's scissors and roll of bandages. As he cut a small square of bandage off the roll, he said, "Two pieces will do for now, I think, until we've cleaned your arm."

He was holding the scissors awkwardly, and Meredith remembered suddenly that Carruthers had sprained his right wrist at the last footer match. Meredith cried: "Oh, please, sir, let me do that for you!"

A moment later, he would gladly have borrowed Carruthers's heirship dagger and plunged it into himself. Carruthers glanced over at him, but this time he made no comment upon Meredith's eccentric eagerness. He simply handed Meredith the scissors and stepped aside. Meredith cut the final piece, sweat slickening his palms. He could feel Carruthers's gaze upon him.

"There's a bench over there that you might feel comfortable sitting on." Once again, Carruthers was being exceedingly careful in his wording. Meredith went over to the bench; then, at Carruthers's suggestion, he dragged it over to the table where the kit lay.

He felt light-headed as he sat down. The bench – which had been carved with the names of generations of Second House lads – was irregular under his bare thighs. The day had grown warm enough that Meredith had changed, that afternoon, back into his apprentice-aged clothing: short trousers and no blazer, only a vest, with his sleeves rolled up. Now Carruthers had Meredith pull up his right sleeve further so that the cloth would be well away from the cut.

"Fletcher's work, I take it." Carruthers placed his hands around Meredith's forearm and gently pressed the skin next to the cut with his fingers.

"Yes, sir. His cane." Meredith was all too aware now of the firmness of Carruthers's grip, and the tenderness of his probing.

"We'll have to hope, then, that he hasn't been sticking his cane into the ground for picket practice recently." He let go of Meredith. "The cut doesn't look deep, but tomorrow morning, when the school physician arrives, you should go straight to the sanatorium and have him check on you. If you wish, that is," Carruthers carefully amended his command.

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"He may want to treat you with tetanus antitoxin. In the meantime" – Carruthers's fingers were suddenly on Meredith's forearm again, squeezing hard – "I'll do what I can."

Meredith held his breath as Carruthers squeezed blood out of the cut, then carefully wiped off the blood with one of the pieces of sterile bandaging that Meredith had cut. "This needs a bit of antiseptic," said Carruthers, straightening up. He leaned over Meredith, reaching for a bottle labelled "Peroxide of Hydrogen."

Meredith forgot to let out his breath. Sitting as he was, his face was only inches now from Carruthers's chest. The strong smell of sweat on Carruthers's body had been replaced, after the sponge bath, with a sweet, salty scent that reminded Meredith of Bay water.

"Hold still," said Carruthers as he pulled back, adding, "if you don't mind." He poured a few drops of the antiseptic onto the wound. It fizzed, biting into the fresh wound. Meredith remained still and silent, as he had done when Carruthers had probed his cut and forced out blood.

He looked up from Carruthers's hands to see that the Head was watching him. "You're a player on the Third House footer team, as I recall?" Carruthers said.

"Yes, sir."

"Ah. That explains it." Carruthers turned his attention back to the cut.

Meredith felt a warm glow cover him then. No further words were needed from Carruthers; the Head did not need to say, "You bear pain well." His sentiments were contained in the simple words, "You're a player."
 

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


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


Cover for 'The 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.


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