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    Saturday, November 17th, 2018
    November 2018 round-up: AO3 stories linked again


    ONLINE SERIALIZATION: Challenge (The Three Lands: Breached Boundaries #2)

    "Something kept me back. Perhaps it was the faint sting I still felt upon my cheek, perhaps it was Rosetta's notes of warning, perhaps— No, there was no question. What kept me back was the knowledge that the Song Spirit had sent my father her command, and in some manner my father was about to disobey it."

    When danger arises, an enslaved princess must reconsider her decision to remain loyal.

    Her father the King has enslaved her, ignored her suffering, and promised his throne to her cousin the Prince, whom she hates. Yet Serva, bastard daughter of the King of Daxis, still loves her father. She has passed up chances to escape from slavery because that would mean leaving her father under the dangerous influence of the Prince.

    Now, six years after a meeting with a Koretian spy that still haunts her, Serva must choose how highly she values her father's life, for war is about to begin between Daxis and the neighboring land of Koretia. And the King of Daxis, it turns out, has a secret that is far more dangerous than the war.

    Breached Boundaries #2: Challenge (The Three Lands). Available through a monthly subscription to my Patreon account, for as little as $1 a month. Begin Breached Boundaries at the first chapter, which is available free.


    Richard said with bitterness heavy on his tongue, "Not that the prisoner couldn't have found a dozen ways to escape. We only have one wall here, when we ought to have two, for safety's sake. The wall we have is crumbling at its foundations, hence the ease with which the prisoner was able to dig the hole. And if he had chosen to try to escape through the palace gates, I've no doubt he would have succeeded there as well, since we have such a light guard at those gates. The King says a heavier guard isn't necessary. Nor is a new wall necessary. So all that I can do is check this wall every month for holes and anticipate the day when our palace is burned down by the Koretians because the Commander of the Army thinks he knows more about palace defense than the subcommander who has been fighting in wars for over twenty years."

    Without thinking, I said, "He ought to pay attention to your advice, since you have knowledge on this subject."

    Too late, I realized that Richard had tricked me into expressing my opinion, but he did not follow up his advantage. Instead, he leaned back against the wall as bits of flaking stone floated down onto his tunic. With his arms folded and his gaze fixed on the forest rather than me, he said, "Oh, having no knowledge of a subject has never stopped Uncle from interfering. If he had his way, every council decision and every battlefield command would come from his lips. The only reason our council has any independence left is because it has Lady Elizabeth as its mistress, and the only reason our army wasn't destroyed long ago by Uncle's incompetence is because I periodically threaten to resign from my post. He knows that he couldn't find anyone of comparable skills to replace me. I may have to make that threat again to persuade him to let me attack the Koretians now, while their army is at its weakest. If we wait for the other Koretian divisions to arrive back from Emor, we'll have no hope of winning this war without sacrificing a large portion of our soldiers. But of course the King is always prepared to make sacrifices, as long as they aren't his own."

    For the first time, the Prince's eyes travelled over to meet mine; they were serious and dark. His voice – a low, level baritone that never wavered, even during the years when he was taking on a man's tone – was cool and controlled as he said, "I tell you, Serva, on the days before a battle when I awake to find a royal messenger awaiting me outside my tent with a missive from the King, overruling my plans for the day . . . When I know that my easy victory has been replaced by a hard-fought one and that my men are the ones who will pay the price for the King's arrogance . . . Whenever that happens, the only thought in my mind is the pounding certainty that I cannot wait another year until the King is—"

    He stopped before the ultimate word, which hung between us like an unsheathed blade.

    Breached Boundaries #2: Challenge (The Three Lands).

    Archive of Our Own

    Website housekeeping

    1) I've readded links to my AO3 online fiction on the series pages of my website. The stories remain member-locked, but if you're one of the million-plus members of Archive of Our Own (or end up joining the archive; membership is free), you'll be able to reach my AO3 stories from my website.

    2) I've taken down the pages of upcoming series that don't currently have published stories associated with them, so as not to confuse new readers.

    3) I've made the links to my stories more visible. Bright new buttons!


    FEATURED BACKLIST TITLE: The Balance (The Eternal Dungeon)

    "'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.

    A winner of the 2011 Rainbow Awards (within the "Eternal Dungeon" omnibus), this tale of love and adventure can be read on its own or as the third volume in The Eternal Dungeon, a speculative fiction series set in a nineteenth-century prison where the psychologists wield whips.

    The Eternal Dungeon series is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (The Eternal Dungeon, Dungeon Guards, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, Waterman, Young Toughs, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.

    Available as an e-book: The Balance (The Eternal Dungeon).


    The King of Vovim sat on his throne, his cloak flowing onto the floor in a regal manner. He did not deign to look at his guest, but stared upward at the gilded dome of his throne room, shining bright in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the high windows.

    "Twenty-four years ago," he said, "one of the master torturers at my dungeon took an apprentice. The boy was nothing before he came to the dungeon – nameless, having accomplished no deed in his life that would attract others' attention. But the man who apprenticed him thought he had potential to serve the King. The boy certainly appeared to have some small capacity in the art of searching prisoners. Then, at the end of three years, when he had scarcely started his journeymanship, the boy ran away. Broke his oath to serve the King and fled to the land of Yclau, our enemy in war!"

    The guards, standing at stiff attention on both sides of the King and on the perimeter of the vast room, winced at the sound of the King's roar. A couple of them shuffled uneasily, as though they were accustomed to seeing unpleasant sights follow from such a roar. The King, though, followed his scream by flopping back into his throne and saying, "Milly, I want more of those tomatoes. The sweet ones."

    "Of course, sire!" The man lounging at the feet of the King put down his glass and reached with eager hand to the platter resting on the floor beside him. Crouching on his knees like a dog begging for food, he carefully placed the tiny tomatoes, one by one, into the King's open mouth, pausing only as the King swallowed.

    The King waved away the last of the tomatoes, and the man returned to the ground, raising his glass and letting the liquid in it swirl about in a playful manner. Taking no further notice of him, the King said, "This traitor – Layle Smith was his name – proceeded to tell poisonous lies to the world, claiming that Yclau's Eternal Dungeon was better than any other dungeon in the world. Not surprisingly, his flattery worked. In due time, he was appointed High Master of that dungeon – 'High Seeker,' as he styled himself. He let people call him the greatest torturer in the world, though any gifts he might have possessed he had stolen from my dungeon. Then, three years ago, he made a mistake. It was a very great mistake, wasn't it, Milly?"

    "Oh, the High Seeker excels at mistakes, sire!"

    "Be quiet, Milly – I didn't ask your views on the High Seeker."

    The man kissed the knee of the King in an apparent attempt to placate him. The King ruffled his hair, causing the man to give a simpering smile. "Where was I?" asked the King.

    "You were speaking of that horrible traitor before I rudely interrupted you," the man said, picking at the food on the platter, his mind now apparently absorbed in a decision over which of the delicacies to choose.

    "Oh, yes. Well, the traitor, Layle Smith, made the mistake of persuading the Queen of Yclau to send one of the Eternal Dungeon's junior Seekers to Vovim, to deliver her message to me concerning peace talks. The Seeker in question, a man by the name of Taylor, was actually Layle Smith's love-mate – can you believe that? He risked his own love-mate! Naturally, I had the junior Seeker arrested—"

    Several of the guards shuffled in their place, exchanging glances. The man at the King's feet quickly looked up and said, "Forgive me for my audacity in interrupting, sire. I believe you meant to say that a traitor torturer in your dungeon kidnapped the ambassador, unbeknownst to you."

    "Of course." The King accepted this translation with ease, then reached out and hit the man hard in the head. The guard nearest the man gripped his rifle tight, as though fearing he would need to make use of it. But the man reacted neither with sign of pain nor with anger. He simply hung his head like a puppy who has received just punishment.

    "That was your fault, High Master," the King told the man. "You should have known you had a traitor in your dungeon."

    "You are too good to me, sire." The head torturer of Vovim's Hidden Dungeon did not raise his face. "The times you have forgiven me are far too great to count. I don't understand why I have so much difficulty controlling the torturers under my care. For some reason, my men don't seem to respect me."

    There was an audible snigger from the guard nearest the High Master. Several guards shifted their hands over their mouths in an evident attempt to hide their smiles.

    The King did not attempt to hide his. He laughed openly and ruffled the torturer's hair again. "Grow up to be a man, and maybe they'll respect you, Milly."

    The High Master, who looked to be twenty years older than the King, reacted to this remark by kissing the King's knee again. The King gave another laugh and said, "Now, what was my tale? Oh, yes; Layle Smith's love-mate, Taylor, was kidnapped to the Hidden Dungeon. He was tortured, of course – and raped also, I believe?"

    "Most certainly, sire." The High Master, whose face had been hidden by his long hair since the blow, looked up at the King, smiling. "Even a traitor torturer would not neglect to fulfill his duties to you."

    "You train them well," the King said offhandedly, and the High Master beamed, as though he were a small child who had been praised. "At any rate," the King said, "Layle Smith's love-mate would have died there, except that I received word from the United Order of Prisons, which was meeting in Vovim at that time, that Taylor was being held in the Hidden Dungeon. The conference delegates asked permission to send a raiding party to the dungeon, led by the Yclau delegate." The King shrugged. "I gave them permission. In my mercy. Of course, any love-mate of that traitor apprentice deserved a lingering death, but I wanted the world to see that Layle Smith's claims were wrong. The Hidden Dungeon, not the Eternal Dungeon, is the most civilized dungeon in the world."

    Several of the guards apparently decided it was safest at this point to burst into applause; they did this the Vovimian way, by jumping up and down. The King smiled at them indulgently.

    Then, without warning, he was on his feet, kicking aside the platter and splattering wine onto the legs of his guest. The King took no notice of him.

    "It was all a trick!" the royal personage screamed. "The Yclau delegate was Layle Smith himself, disguised as a guard, returning to Vovim in defiance of my death sentence upon him! He took his love-mate back to Yclau and claimed I was the one who ordered the man's torture! He made me look like a fool!"

    The guards stared at the dome, at the floor, at the guest . . . anywhere but in the direction of their furious monarch. The High Master apparently did not consider such cautionary measures to be strong enough – he had fallen to his hands and knees and was kissing the King's feet. "Please, sire," he begged, "do not allow that ugly traitor to disturb you. He is not worth more than a wave of your hand to order his death."

    The King considered this as the red in his face receded. Then he chuckled and reached down to pet his High Master. "I suppose so. Milly, I'd like some more of those tomatoes."

    "I have been selfish and eaten the rest," the High Master said, his gaze flicking away from the tomato that the King had stomped underfoot. "I can give you some nice sweet-pastries, though."

    "Oh, very well." The King flopped back onto his throne, pouting petulantly.

    The High Master carefully gathered up one of the untrampled sweet-pastries and fed it into the mouth of the King, and then just as carefully wiped the King's mouth with his fingers. Afterwards, he transferred those fingers to his own mouth, which caused the King to smile.

    Now thoroughly returned to good humor, the King turned his attention to his guest, who had been standing motionless throughout this recital. "How very nice it is," the King said with a dark smile, "to finally meet you, Taylor."

    Available as an e-book: The Balance (The Eternal Dungeon).

    Challenge 5/10 (The Three Lands: Breached Boundaries #2) [Patreon fiction]

    [Silly me: Here I'd been dillydallying creating blurbs for each section of "Breached Boundaries." Turns out that I wrote all of them months ago.]

    When danger arises, an enslaved princess must reconsider her decision to remain loyal.

    Her father the King has enslaved her, ignored her suffering, and promised his throne to her cousin the Prince, whom she hates. Yet Serva, bastard daughter of the King of Daxis, still loves her father. She has passed up chances to escape from slavery because that would mean leaving her father under the dangerous influence of the Prince.

    Now, six years after a meeting with a Koretian spy that still haunts her, Serva must choose how highly she values her father's life, for war is about to begin between Daxis and the neighboring land of Koretia. And the King of Daxis, it turns out, has a secret that is far more dangerous than the war.

    "'The breath of the Spirit is heavy tonight.'"

    All chapters in this novel. The first chapter is free.


    Preview, relatively spoiler-free )
    Author inspiration #4: Rosemary Sutcliff / Book Review: "The Lantern Bearers," by Rosemary Sutcliff
    "The Lantern Bearers" has haunted me for nearly forty years. I discovered this historical novel during my sixteenth summer; rereading it now, I find passage after passage that inspired incidents in my own stories. The novel made its way into my very bones, shaping me as a writer and as a person.

    These days, it seems that the only way in which great writers can be remembered is if someone makes a film of one of their books. In this way, a so-so 2011 movie called "The Eagle" has brought a new influx of readers to an author who assuredly should have never have been forgotten.

    On purely stylistic grounds, I can think of few writers to match Rosemary Sutcliff. She is a poet who chose to write in prose. In this passage, which I have chosen entirely at random, she immerses her readers in the British landscape:

    "It was full dark now, though the flat-topped clouds massing above the pass to the coast were still touched with rose-copper on their under-bellies. The air was without freshness, lying like warm silk over one's face, and the stars were veiled in faint thunder-wrack. Certainly there was a storm coming, Aquila thought, as he made his way round the curve of the hill below the inner rampart and plunged into the twisting cleft among the rocks. The thin silver plash of the water under the ferns sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness, and the faint honey scent of the blackthorn breathed up to him. Looking down as he scrambled lower, he saw the pale blur of the blossoms like foam on dark water, where the thorn trees leaned together over the little hollow in the rocks - and the pale blur of a face suddenly turned up to him."

    Sutcliff's lyricism is pervasive. She is just as capable of beautiful wording when describing a cavalry charge:

    "A great warning cry went up from the nearest ranks of the enemy, and snatching one glance over his shoulder, Aquila saw the flower of the British Cavalry sweeping towards them along the tawny slope. There was a swelling thunder of hooves in his ears, and the wild, high song of the hunting-horn as the great arrowhead of wild riders hurtled down upon the battle. At the shining point of the arrowhead, [the leader] swept by, his great white horse turned for a flashing moment to silver by the burst of sunlight that came scudding down the valley to meet him, the silver mane streaming over his bridle arm, and the sods flying like birds from the great round hooves. . . . Just for the one instant they were there, seen out of the corner of the eye, with the white, fierce brilliance of figures seen by lightning; then they were past, and the following Cavalry thundered after, to hurl themselves into the Cavalry of [the enemy] - into them and through them, scattering them as dead leaves scatter before a gust of wind, and on."

    The concreteness of her description evokes a long-ago world, as does the care with which she crafts the characters' dialogue. (In her essay "History is People," Sutcliff spoke disparagingly of a certain modern trend in historical fiction: "Personally, I find it destroys the atmosphere when a young Norman Knight says to his Squire, 'Shut ip, Dickie, you're getting too big for your boots.'") In "Combined Ops," an essay she wrote about how she came to create "The Lantern Bearers," Sutcliff names her main historical guides as two books by Trelawney Dayrell Reed: "The Battle for Britain in the Fifth Century" and "The Rise of Wessex." I leave it to others who know more than I do about British history to say how historically accurate her novels were at the time she wrote them. All I can say is that, at the level of myth, they provided me with a framework that I continue to build upon.

    "The Lantern Bearers," which won the Carnegie Medal in 1959, is a hard novel to summarize; the spoilers begin in the second chapter. But it's not giving much away to say that this is an Arthurian novel, set in the time of Ambrosius Aurelianus. In this novel, Ambrosius is the Prince of Britain, while the boy we know as Arthur is growing into manhood. The protagonist is Aquila, a young British-Roman officer who finds himself torn by loyalties between Rome and Britain as his childhood world is swept away.

    One remarkable aspect of this young adult novel is that it covers the space of a quarter century. According to Sutcliff in "Combined Ops," we first meet Aquila when he is nineteen; by the end of the book, he is forty-three. I wish there had been more books like this in my teens: books that showed me what it is like to grow up and to change into someone new. For change, and a quest for permanence within that change, is the theme of the book. In a world in which Saxons, Jutes, Picts, the Irish, and even the Celts conspire to destroy what is left of Roman Britain, is it possible to have permanence? Is it possible to retain something from a much-beloved world that has died?

    The novel explores this through the eyes of Aquila, who is character development incarnate. At the beginning of the novel, Aquila is wrenched into a harsh life. This harshness makes its way deep into his inner being, which leads eventually to some of the most poignant scenes in the novel, between Aquila and a young relative - both of them striving to show affection to each other, but both blocked by what life has done to Aquila.

    Alongside Aquila's personal struggle, we witness the playing out of the Arthurian tale, set in fifth-century Britain. All of the authors today who write realistic stories about Arthurian Britain owe a great deal to Rosemary Sutcliff. She was one of the pioneers, paving their way by attempting to reconcile the fragments of surviving fact with the later Arthurian legends. She is best known for her adult Arthurian novel, "Sword at Sunset," but that book is actually a sequel to "The Lantern Bearers," which has just as strong a claim to be one of the great Arthurian novels.

    "The Lantern Bearers" is also part of Rosemary Sutcliff's series about the life of a British family, ranging from Roman to Norman times. The series (variously named) begins with "The Eagle of the Ninth," the novel which inspired the movie "The Eagle."

    I feel obliged to offer a caveat: One thing you will find as you read Rosemary Sutcliff's novels is that she is exceedingly fond of love-hate relationships between enemies. This is a little unsettling when it involves men of equal power, more disturbing when it involves male captors and male captives, and, from my perspective, enters into Stockholm Syndrome territory when it features male captors and their female rape victims. Sutcliff would probably say I've oversimplified the situation with a psychological label, yet I remember as a teen being frustrated by how Sutcliff's heroines seemed strong and defiant, right up to the moment when they wilted into the arms of their captors. I now realize how much Sutcliff was influenced by the romantic conventions of her time, but I don't think this is an aspect of Sutcliff's writing that has held up well over the years.

    Other facets of Sutcliff's novels grate a bit, such as her relative lack of female characters and her tendency to romanticize the Roman Empire. But as far as I'm concerned, these irritants are overshadowed by the greatness of Sutcliff's prose and purpose.

    Although "The Lantern Bearers" abides by the conventions of juvenile literature at the time (which leads to the entirely unheralded appearance of a baby; it might as well have been brought by a stork), this has certain advantages. A lesser author (*glances in the direction of George R. R. Martin*) might have taken the bloody violence of the original historical record and turned that into an excuse for a gore-fest. Instead, Sutcliff is carefully selective, saving violence for when it would propel character and theme forward.

    Most of all, Rosemary Sutcliff is an author filled with hope, which we all need in these bleak times. Not long ago, her godson (who runs Sutcliff's literary estate) posted this quotation from "The Lantern Bearers," which is an apt climax for this review:

    "It may be that the night will close over us in the end, but I believe that morning will come again. Morning always grows again out of the darkness, though maybe not for the people who saw the sun go down. We are the Lantern Bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind."

    Official Rosemary Sutcliff website.

    Rosemary Sutcliff at Fanlore.

    [community profile] sutcliff_space and [community profile] sutcliff_swap at Dreamwidth.
    NaNoWriMo 2018: In which I take further measures against my Internet addiction
    Total NaNo wordage so far: 22,661. Total NaNo hours so far: 11.

    Internet addiction fall )
    No wordage, ack )
    Adjusting my writing schedule )
    Foreshadows and story outline )
    Crossing the dateline )
    Gathering research books )
    Wrapping up the week )
    Sunday, November 11th, 2018
    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    John McCrae

    This entry was originally posted at https://lexin.dreamwidth.org/658067.html. You can comment here or there, it's up to you.
    Saturday, November 10th, 2018
    Challenge 4/10 (The Three Lands: Breached Boundaries #2) [Patreon fiction]
    The boundaries of rank declare that Serva can be a princess or she can be a slave. But for the bastard daughter of the King of Daxis, life is not that simple.

    Forced to be a tool in a battle waged by her land's unstable King and his dangerously devious heir, Serva cannot even find refuge among her fellow slaves. Instead, she secretly explores the hidden portions of the palace. In this way, she meets an imprisoned spy who is scheduled for execution.

    But when a simmering war bubbles to the surface, Serva must choose where her loyalties lie. She must also solve the mystery of the spy's past, and of her own future.

    "'We can't marry each other simply because we're afraid of each other.'"

    All chapters in this novel. The first chapter is free.

    Preview, relatively spoiler-free )
    Book review (post-election edition): "The Enormous Egg," by Oliver Butterworth
    Well, I certainly didn't expect this humorous fantasy novel from the 1950s to feature activists protesting Congress.

    The premise of this children's novel (wonderfully illustrated by Louis Darling, who also illustrated the Beverly Cleary novels) is that a rural boy's hen gives birth to a Very Unusual Animal. A ruckus follows: reporters ("It was a newsreel outfit down in Concord that wanted to come up and make some pictures"), scientists ("Every one of them had a different theory, I guess, and each one was trying to talk louder and faster than the next man to prove that his theory was right and the others were all wrong"), and, inevitably, advertisers ("'Oh, we'd put him on display in a big truck, and paint it all up in flashy colors, and put banners on the top, hire a sound truck and tour the country'").

    Also, let it be noted that the twelve-year-old protagonist is allowed to engage in the following activities without adult supervision: fishing in a boat, chopping wood, scything grass, and walking for a half mile daily. Through Washington, DC. Man, those were the days.

    On the other hand, the treatment of the female characters is cringe-worthy. Despite that defect, I recommend this novel for its satirical value. Here's a passage in which a U.S. senator is speaking.


    "'I need not remind you that our government is trying to reduce its topheavy budget, and to lower the staggering tax burden that strains the backs of all American citizens. I myself have spent many weary hours seeking out waste and unnecessary expense in the various branches of our Federal establishment. You can imagine my dismay when I discovered an example of such waste right here in our national capital. I am grieved to say this, gentlemen, but right here in our National Zoological Park is an animal that is squandering the taxpayer's hard-earned money at the disgraceful rate of twenty-one dollars and sixty cents a day, every day of the week, Saturdays and Sundays included. And what is more, gentlemen, this animal is absolutely worthless. It does no honest work, it pulls no plow, it grows no wool. And what is even more, gentlemen, this animal I speak of is no normal creature like the lions and tigers and elephants that roam the woods and plains of our fair country--' Someone nudged the Senator when he said this and leaned over and whispered with him. 'Of our fair country, I say,' Senator Granderson went on, 'or the woods and plains of our sister nations across the seas.'"

    The Enormous Egg at Goodreads.
    NaNoWriMo 2018: In which I try to wrestle my Internet addiction to the ground
    Total NaNo wordage so far: 13,009.

    The details )
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