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)
He'd abducted him, bedded him, and taught him every position he knew. So why wasn't the fool grateful?

This is a reissue of an older story.
 

Reader reviews

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

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

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

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

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


Excerpt

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

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

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

Available as online fiction: The Fool.


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

"That will be your death."

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

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

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

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


Excerpt

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

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

"That will be your death."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cover for 'Master and Servant'


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


Cover for 'Unmarked'



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

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

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

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

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

This is a reissue of an older story.


Excerpt

"Let's look at your arm now."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, sir."

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

VOLUME CONTENTS

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

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

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

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

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

"The Balance: Historical Note."


Excerpt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeslin came forward to accept the embrace of his brother.
 

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


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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.
 


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Cover for the 2013 edition of 'The Three Lands'


Koretia, Emor, and Daxis were all founded on the same day, but as the centuries have passed, the Three Lands of the Great Peninsula have become increasingly divided by religion, government, and culture. Koretians worship many gods, Daxions worship one goddess, and Emorians revere only their law. Emorians claim that Koretians are vicious and superstitious, Koretians think that Daxions are vile oath-breakers, and Daxions charge that Emorians abuse their children and slaves.

If a god were to appear in the Three Lands, would his appearance bring an end to the fighting between nations? Or would he merely help to spark an inferno of war?

As the inhabitants of the Three Lands struggle to adjust to the appearance of an unexpected visitor into the human world, two people will play crucial roles in the conflict. One is a young Emorian – clever, courageous, and affectionate – who will come to understand the Koretians with a depth and intimacy that few others of his land can match. The second person is a Koretian boy whom the Emorian will seek to destroy.

This 2013 edition of the omnibus is expanded to half a million words. It provides a bundled collection of three novels, two novellas, and a novelette in The Three Lands, a multicultural fantasy series on friendship, romance, and betrayal in times of war and peace.

This is a reissue of older stories.


Excerpt

"How will the Chara avoid becoming the Jackal's next victim?"

"The Chara hopes," said Peter with a smile, "that his subject Andrew will not be leading him into any more ambushes. But in any case, I won't be travelling as the Chara. It appears that the Jackal doesn't murder Emorian lords at random, so I should be safe if I don't call attention to myself, but instead journey to the governor's palace in the company of one or two other lords." He paused, searching my face. "I may take a few lesser free-men along as well."

I did not move my gaze from his, but my expression remained masked. "Are you asking me to come with you, Peter?"

His voice, when he replied, was gentle. "I wish that it were Peter who was asking. I would like to say that the only reason I am asking you is because I, Peter, would like my friend to be able to visit his childhood home. But the fact is that the Chara is requesting his servant to accompany him so that, with your special background, you can find me information that I may wish to use against the Koretian rebels and their Jackal. I need you to be a spy in your own land."

I still did not move, but now that the words were said, I felt my heart ease somewhat. "Thank you for putting that so clearly, Chara," I said softly, "but I have only one land, which is Emor, and only one master, which is you. When I gave my oath of loyalty to the Chara, I did not say that I would serve you only on condition that you not give me any hard tasks to do. If you need my help, then I will gladly come with you to Koretia."

He bowed his head to me, as though he were the servant and I the master.. . .
 

Available as an e-book (HTML and PDF): The Three Lands: an omnibus of fantasy novels set in the Great Peninsula. An earlier, shorter edition remains available in ePub and Kindle formats.


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Cover for Law of Vengeance

For over twenty years, Lord Carle has told the heir to the Emorian throne that vengeance is only the other side of mercy, and that disobedience and treachery should never be forgiven. Finally it seems that his message has been received. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that Carle should have chosen this moment to break the law.

As war threatens and the foundations of his life crumble, his only hope for rescue lies with a man who has every reason to hate Carle.


Excerpt

For many years, I have wished to make a memoir of my life to pass on to future generations of Emorians who desire to learn what it means to have complete dedication to the Chara and his law. This is not to be the memoir I intended, but I find the time passing slowly here in the Chara's dungeon, and I would rather spend my days thinking of what has happened than of what is to come. For in one month's time I will be taken before the Chara so that he may pass judgment on me. After that – for we Emorians move swiftly in these matters – I will be taken to the execution yard, and my head will be sliced off.

It is a gentler punishment, says the Chara, than I deserve.

He told me this last night when he came to see me. He stood at one end of the cell, leaning back against the wall with his arms folded, and wearing the cold smile I knew he had learned from me. His tunic-flap was pinned shut with his royal emblem brooch depicting the Balance of Judgment, the Heart of Mercy, and the Sword of Vengeance. He has worn the brooch nearly every day since I gave it to him when he was a boy, but I knew from his look that he had worn it this time in mockery.

Mockery is an activity in which he has had much practice since my arrest. He has commanded me to address him as Peter, since I was always reluctant to presume upon our friendship and address my ruler in so familiar a fashion. By the same token, he calls me Lord Carle, though I am no longer a council lord and will soon be nothing more than a court case that may interest future generations, since I am the first man in four hundred years to be charged with this particular crime.

The Chara Peter says I ought to be happy to die in such a manner, because I have never loved anything more than the law books. He is right that I love the law, just as I have always loved the embodiment of the law: the Chara, who keeps this land alive through his judgment of the Emorian people. But it was not until my arrest that I realized what I love as much as the Chara and his law: the man named Peter, who for the past twenty-two years has been to me the son I never had.



Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle), with an online sample: Law of Vengeance.

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Cover for 'Spy Hill'

On a hot summer's day, on a high hill surrounded by the enemy, the best battle-companion can turn out to be the truth.


Excerpt

"Prayers," murmured Fairview as he knelt down beside me to look at the shallow trench. It went down barely a foot before the sappers had hit rock.

"How many prayers do you know?" I tried to smile.

"Oh, plenty." Fairview turned to accept a sip of water from Davey, who was holding Fairview's water bottle. "When we joined the navy . . . do you remember that day?"

I nodded. "I was just remembering. We flipped to see who went first in line."

Fairview laughed. "Did we? I'd forgotten that, after all these years. Well, the night before we joined, I went to my grandmama and asked her what advice she had for me. My grandpapa had been a soldier, and I thought she might have overheard him talking about military matters before he died."

"Indeed?" I relaxed back onto my haunches. Around us, the enlisted men were tidying up after their breakfasts, while their officers checked to see that everyone's rifle was loaded, everyone's extra ammunition was at hand. In the dressing station, doctors and their assistants carried out final preparations. There was no sign yet of the stretcher-bearers and water-carriers, though I knew that Fairview had sent orders for their arrival, after he discovered that the General had neglected this task.

Fairview nodded, pushing back his helmet. The morning sun was growing brighter; an occasional bird flew past us, chirping brightly. Otherwise, all I could hear was the equally bright chatter of our men. "She taught me as many battle prayers as she could recall, and then she said, 'Alec my boy, the most important thing to remember is to put your affairs in good order before you go into battle. It's no use worrying about your affairs, once battle has begun. You need to do beforehand everything that needs to be done. The Fates get awfully annoyed at you if you arrive in afterdeath and tell them you've forgotten to do something. It's like leaving a stove fire going when you depart the house."

Fairview's messenger-lad put his hand over his mouth to smother his titter. I laughed outright. "And have you followed her advice?"

Fairview gave a quirk of a smile. "I suppose not. I've always been poor at tending to needed tasks."
 

Available as a free multiformat e-book (for a limited time) and as a Kindle e-book: Spy Hill.


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Cover for Law Links

Few events are more thrilling in a Koretian boy's life than a blood feud between two villages. Or so Adrian thought.

Torn between affection toward his traditional-minded father and worship of his peace-loving, heretical priest, Adrian finds himself caught between two incompatible visions of his duty to the gods. Then the Jackal God sends Adrian a message that will disrupt his life and send him fleeing from a danger he knows too well.

Sometimes I feel that he is as mysterious as the gods, and that he is hiding something of vital importance from me. Something that would transform my life.

All of the novel as part of an e-book.

Don't forget that anyone can start a story discussion by posing a question or comment about the story.
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Cover for The Three Lands Omnibus

Koretia, Emor, and Daxis were all founded on the same day, but as the centuries have passed, the Three Lands of the Great Peninsula have become increasingly divided by religion, government, and culture. Koretians worship many gods, Daxions worship one goddess, and Emorians revere only their law. Emorians claim that Koretians are vicious and superstitious, Koretians think that Daxions are vile oath-breakers, and Daxions charge that Emorians abuse their children and slaves.

If a god were to appear in the Three Lands, would his appearance bring an end to the fighting between nations? Or would he merely help to spark an inferno of war?

As the inhabitants of the Three Lands struggle to adjust to the appearance of an unexpected visitor into the human world, two people will play crucial roles in the conflict. One is a young Emorian - clever, courageous, and affectionate - who will come to understand the Koretians with a depth and intimacy that few others of his land can match. The second person is a Koretian boy whom the Emorian will seek to destroy.

This omnibus contains all the current stories in The Three Lands, a fantasy series on friendship, romance, and betrayal in times of war and peace.

I had come to tell him, in the cheerful manner boys have, that our world was about to be destroyed.
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Cover for Noble

When Corbin is taken hostage by York, the King of Fossenvita, he refuses to surrender to the sadistic King's demands that would allow York to win the war between the world's two kingdoms. Only thus, Corbin believes, can he help the petties of Tascania, on whose behalf Tascanian nobles such as himself are fighting the Fossenvites. Rather than lose his honor, Corbin accepts York's "gift": a wounding that will prevent him from ever again fighting with his blade.

But Corbin lives in a world that has been at war for generations, in which only the nobles who command the battles and raids are considered to have honor. Stripped of his title and his ability to fight, Corbin begins to see that the petties alone may hold the answer of how he should live his life. Maimed as he is, though, Corbin cannot seek answers from the petties unless he receives the help of one man: York's son Firmin, who has warned Corbin that he will betray him.

He had made it more than clear during the past three years that he considered me a frail creature, incapable of enduring the hardened life of a soldier. But, then, his opinion was shared by all in the Tascanian Army.
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Cover for Crossing the Cliff

After ten years as apprentice to a Peacesteward, the one thing Erastus is sure of is that he's ill-prepared to become a master. Unfortunately, he's about to discover just how ill-prepared he is.

When he and his master stray into forbidden territory, Erastus is thrust alone into a community that is on the brink of war. His only hope for bringing peace is to ally himself with a young boy . . . a boy who has stolen what Erastus values most.

"For a full minute, it seemed, we remained as we were, his left hand upon my shoulder, his right upon my face. His eyes did not move from me; I knew they did not need to. I strained to hear what he was hearing."
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Cover for Blood Vow

He has taken a blood vow to the Jackal God to bring freedom to his land by killing Koretia's greatest enemy. But what will he do when the enemy becomes his friend?

Thrust into exile and pain, young Andrew has no choice but to accept the friendship of the very person he had vowed to kill. When he returns with his friend to his homeland fifteen years later, though, he finds himself in a land of conflicting loyalties . . . where a vengeful god awaits him.

This novel is part of The Three Lands, a fantasy series set in a multicultural world where conflicts over law and spirituality provide opportunities for friendship and romance, and for betrayal.

I had come to tell him, in the cheerful manner boys have, that our world was about to be destroyed.
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Cover for Bard of Pain

In the battle-weary lands of the Great Peninsula, only one fate is worse than being taken prisoner by the Lieutenant: being taken prisoner if you are the Lieutenant.

As the world's most skilled torturer struggles with his change of fortune, he finds that his fate is intertwined with the destinies of an idealistic army commander, an affectionate prisoner, and a protégé who reveres the Lieutenant's art . . . but is on the wrong side of the conflict.

The beginning of the end for him (or so it seemed at the time) came in the moment that he stepped into the shadow of Capital Mountain and was assaulted by a stranger.

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