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).
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).