Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 53

Captain went rigid, and I stepped in close to support him but didn’t touch him. His breaths came sharp and his jaw was clenched. “Quarters. Now.” He marched through the ship and we followed in his wake, drawn along silently.
Deke’s hand stayed next to his belt and his weapons. The traitors, whoever they were, must really have him on edge.
“Are we secure?” Captain asked in the lift.
“No. Not even close.” Deke was grim. “I couldn’t arrest those named without alerting some who were unnamed.”
I frowned. “If they’re unnamed, how do you know who they are and that they’d find out?”
“If you are part of a conspiracy, wouldn’t you know your conspirators? Especially once some of them have been caught for questioning?” Deke growled. “I think a few got off the ship.”
“Onto Mackinack?” Captain smirked. “Won’t do them any good without an in with those who guard the portals.”
“But they might find passage off the planet and reveal our location.” Deke locked Captain’s door behind us as we entered his quarters.
“Won’t do them any good. We’re not gonna be on this ship much longer. I sold it. We’ll transfer over to Freska’s ship, and I authorized her to do a few makeovers. Just in case and all that.” Captain went over and created a few drinks. “Thirsty?” He offered one to me and then asked Deke what he’d like.
He refused, settling on the chair in the sitting quarters. Captain paced from side to side. “Report. Don’t draw this out.”
“It’s not your fault there are traitors on the crew.”
“They’re my crew. Of course it’s on me—I’m the captain.”
“No, they’re not. You didn’t put them on this ship.”
Captain sagged, turning to lean against the wall. “So they’re not original crew members?”
Deke shook his head. “Not from the beginning, no. But they’ve been here a while. And it’s more than I’m comfortable with. Little cells. We broke their code, so we know them all, but they don’t all know each other. Not even Lakshou knew who else on the ship was dirty.”
“Really?” I scrunched my eyebrows down. “Don’t you think he would’ve sensed it?”
“He had a narrower focus than that, remember? And there’s a lot of emotion on this ship, especially after we do a rescue mission.” He spat out the words, his disgust clear.
“Oh, right.” It felt like forever ago, but it hadn’t been that long when Captain and Deke had opened my cell.
“Names, Deke. Who is it?”
“Basma Kada, Aparoe’s assistant is the one who did the poisoning back when we stopped to resupply. Vlassil, Kressisida, Berilyn, and Taxxii from Environmentals, which means we’re vulnerable to manipulation there. Worse, SaARALA MaDAreda  from communications.”
“That’s it?” I asked when Deke stopped talking.
“Isn’t that enough? A medic with access to medicine that can also be poison, four people who can get into our food, water, even our fucking air, plus one of the few people not only rated to handle our communications but repair them which means they can also destroy them?”
“When you put it like that….” That was six people too many. “What did you do to them?”
“Do? Nothing. I have security watching them. Captain has to make that call.”
Captain pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. I stood, going over to him. “It’s going to be okay.”
“No, it’s not. I’m just fucking done. When did our side, the side that’s supposed to be the good guys, become as bad as the fucking bad guys?”
Deke snorted. “When did you become so naïve that you thought there was a good guys and bad guys side? Politicians are bad guys doing the wrong thing while trying to pretend they’re doing the right things. Soldiers are often forced to do the wrong things while trying to fight for the right things. It’s a shitty fucking universe, but it’s the one we got. So buck the fuck up and give me an order, Captain.” Deke was barking by the time he was done speaking, and Captain had gone from slumped with his hand over his face to standing rigid, nearly at attention.
He glared at Deke. “You want an order? I can give you a damn order. Terminate the threats to this crew and the people we rescued. Happy now?”
“No?” Deke shook his head. “Makes it a little easier to share the blame when the nightmares come though.” He stood and stalked out of the room while we stared after him.
“Shit.” All the anger had drained out of Captain. “Just when I think I hate him, he goes and shows he’s still got a heart in there under that ruthless exterior.”
“I think Deke needs a vacation too,” I said.
“I think you’re right.”

Those six crew members went missing in the shifts to the shuttles, but the only one who really noticed was Aparoe. They were informed by Captain, who awkwardly patted their back while they cried until Captain escorted them to a tiny bunk room. There were twenty bunk rooms, with five bunks each. There were two pilots quarters with room for four pilots total. Then the Captain’s quarters, which were tiny compared to the ship but still twice as big as my cell.
“If there are fifteen shuttles, why cram this one so full?” We had all the rescued members plus at least twice that in crew. There was maybe one or two beds free and that was sleeping in shifts for the crew.
“Because,” Captain said. “We’re not going with everyone else. This is my original crew, Kohen, and the people I will save this time. It’s time to make our move.”
“We’re just abandoning everyone else? Finding a new planet to hide one? Vacation?”
“No vacation yet. But I will see this through with only those I know I can trust. Freska will meet us soon.” 

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 52

“What do you mean? Exactly.” I had to ask. My heart was racing, and I couldn’t slow my breathing down. My hands shook, but the synthgar didn’t seem to mind. The tiny creature had shiny blue scales tipped with red peaks on each one. It’s body was nubbly, but smooth and not poky. “Did you say sting?”

“I did. But you don’t have to worry about it happening on accident. The bond will only be cemented if you’re willing.”

“Willing for what?” I asked again. I’d already given him everything. All that I remembered of my past, my life at the demands of the alien doctors and scientists who were apparently working for some damn politicians. Even my body.

What more did I have to give him?

“Lakshou said he could see our auras mingling. That is something that only happens when two compatible beings on my home world are willing to link their lives together in an intimate bond. That you depend on me and I you for our physical wellbeing already is unusual, something that doesn’t usually happen until one partner gifts the other with a synthgar.

“We might already have mingled out spirits, but I believe that our bond can only be deepened by this ritual. His venom will free our spirits to mingle fully, and we will form a permanent bond. As part of our spirits, the synthgar will need to stay with one of us or he would sicken like you did before.” Captain stood close, cupping one hand below mine to still their trembling. He nudged the synthgar under one side, and it flipped, itss short limbs tipped with miniscule claws waving as Captain stroked its paler underbelly.

“Do we do it here?” I looked around the small stone chamber. It was empty, but I could hear the guards outside and more people moving around beyond them. What Captain suggested sounded… intimate.

“No. He’ll be okay for a time without a bond with us, but soon.” Captain inhaled and let his breath out slow. “Do you say yes? Do we take him with us?”

It was more than just committing to taking care of this little creature in my hands. The choice might have been taken away from us before, but now Captain was asking me to make it. He’d apparently already had.

I pulled my hands in closer to my chest. The synthgar had curled into a tight ball in my palm and closed its eyes. It was like holding a small, warm ember in my hand. It tickled as he moved and stretched, his claws pricking the soft skin of my hand. “Yes.”

Captain cupped my neck and leaned down, tenderly brushing our lips together. “Soon,” he promised. 

“Behind us,” I muttered. I walked a step to the right and behind Captain, my chest brushing his back.



Captain took a few breaths, gauging the guards’ responses. “Not sure.”


“Keep moving. It’s Mackinack.” Captain didn’t hesitate. He stopped at one more shop and haggled with the dealer and the little aliens who scampered around about knee high. “What’s happening with the tail?” he asked when I turned.

“You know it has an actual tail?”

“Funny. Report.”

I straightened. “It broke off. A new species began following us, but it’s a flier. It’s also freaking small. No bigger than a few handspans, but it’s got something red on its head.”

Captain stopped, his eyebrows raised. “Red? Like a helmet, a covering?” He mimed the same shape.

“Stop, it’ll see,” I hissed.

“It’s okay. They’re not hostile.”

I crossed my arms. “If they’re friendlies, why aren’t they making contact? Why are they following us?”

“Not hostile and friendly….” Captain waved a hand. “Try intermediaries. Messengers.” He glanced over my shoulder. “We just have to be available. Freska’s message will delivered.”

“Freska? Why would she send us a message this way?”

“Have we had any communication with the ship?”

“Well, no.” I frowned. “But you sold it.”

“No, it’s because there’s no way to get a signal down here to the surface and then up to space. If Freska is here we’ll rendezvous with her.”

“Won’t we just fly the shuttle up to her ship?”

“Gotta find it first. She’ll have changed it. And if she’s under pursuit, we might have to bug out in a hurry. These guys will go facilitate the process, once we know when and where.”

Captain’s predictions came true. The man knew his crew and knew his plans, even if he didn’t know his family. Freska’s message contained a coded location. We headed back to the shuttle which was surrounded by crates.

We loaded in a flurry, and the claustrophobia of the tiny shuttle was made worse by everything inside taking up all the available floor space, and even some of the not available space. Good thing I didn’t mind being close to Captain. I’d worried the synthgar might get crushed, but it curled up around my ear, tangling its claws in my hair and anchoring in place. I didn’t even feel it after a few minutes.

“I didn’t even need my weapons,” I said.

“This time.” Captain patted the sheath on my wrist. “I feel better that you have them though. Freska’s message said she’s still being pursued. Our,” he paused, “guests are either more important than I thought or have some important information on someone who really doesn’t want to be revealed as part of this plot.”

“Isn’t that everyone?”

Captain stopped, his hands on the controls. “Good point.”

So now we had what seemed like confirmation that there bigger bad guys out there. “Hopefully Deke has gotten some answers.”

“If he hasn’t, I’m sure Freska’s crew has come up with some creative methods; her staff always have a certain… flair.”

Deke met the shuttle. “We have a problem,” he said grimly.

Captain pulled up short. “What?”

“There’s more traitors on board, and you won’t happy when you hear who they are.”

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 51

Mackinack was going to be dangerous. Deke wasn’t happy Captain didn’t take more people with him, but their argument seemed like something they said before and were saying again just to say it. I watched them but tried to make it subtle, so they wouldn’t know I was watching them.

“At least you’re going,” Deke grumbled. “He won’t let me go after last time.”

“What happened last time?” I asked. I took the new knife Deke handed over.

“This one doesn’t have a paralytic, by the way. It wasn’t a big deal. I just broke a few appendages off this Faa Loo. They’re practically stick people anyway. Fragile.”

“Uh huh. That cost me twice what I would’ve had to pay for the fuel pods we needed so he could afford to regen. Maybe three times.” Captain grunted as he slid into a tight harness, buckling it around his chest. “Set Kohen up with a light rig.”

“Light rig?”

“Mackinack is underground. Depending on who you negotiate with, where you go, you’ll need different types of illumination to be able to see. Freska and her team developed these light rigs. They have settings, here, here, and here.” Deke pointed to different spots. “Everett or someone else can show you how to turn on what you need.”

“I’ll show him,” Captain said. “Ready?”

The harness pinched, and I rolled my shoulders and took a deep breath to settle it. “Fine. Yeah.”

The trip down was long. It was rough. There was something to be said for having an underground city, apparently, when the winds were as strong as the ones raging across the flat soil that made up the majority of Mackinack’s crust. The city above was nearly deserted, and those beings moving about were protected naturally or with artificial fields. A few hardy things lived up there, but we started to encounter more life signs on the way through the hidden, twisting tunnels that riddled the firmament.

“How does Central not know this exists?”

“Masking, scanner jammers, a lot of misdirection and disinterest.”

“Not even scientists when they categorized the planet?” I’d learned one thing when I started all the different species on the ship with us; the databases held research on all the beings, creatures, plants, resources, anything and everything Central might be able to use—when they found a new planet. Unless there was a species already advanced enough to prevent it living there.

“The Faa Loo didn’t allow it. They already claimed this planet. And they’re mercenary enough to enforce it.”

Mercenary? “But, Deke…?” He’d damaged one.

“As a species, not individuals.” Captain glanced over. “What someone looks like and physically are capable are isn’t all they are. I know that.”

I frowned. What did that mean?

We stopped the shuttle at what looked like an empty cave, but as soon as we stepped out, Captain hit a button on his rig and gestured toward mine. I tapped it.

A green beam lit up the room, and the darkness was gone. In its place were clear walls with small sparkles reflecting the lights. “Oh!” The other side of the cave was the open city area, and it was teeming with beings.

Unlike the other port, there was little sense of public community. These people were here for business. They walked quickly. They stayed in groups.

My muscles tensed, and I stayed right on Captain’s heels. The rest of Deke’s guys fanned out on either side and behind us. “You know where to go already?” I asked.

“Yes. We’ll sell the ship, get credit in advance, make what purchases we need, and I bet Freska will be parked alongside and transferring crew before we get back.” Captain’s head was up, his strides long, his arms swinging freely at his sides.

I was out of my element as we trekked through the caverns. We dropped through two grav chutes, hunkered over and scooted through a small tube, and then entered a room that was shaped like a large octagon with a glowing crystal roof. Captain shut off his light, and I copied him.

My translation device didn’t seem to work, or I was hopelessly muddled because I couldn’t begin to follow whatever it was that he did with the beings who oozed down from the center of that ceiling to hang from long slimy strands that vibrated every time it spoke.

Okay, so maybe I just didn’t want to look at it. I’d seen some weird alien species: some were beautiful, some ugly, some bizarre. This one looked like… mucous.

Captain touched it, and I gagged, expecting his hand to come away glistening with nastiness. There was no sign of anything on his hand but, still, he’d be cleaning it before we touched.

Eventually, I drifted, following Captain’s body, watching his back, but leaving the rest up to him. We were in a tiny antechamber, our rigs glowing purple to light up the room, when he turned. The others waited outside, as they had at the last three places we’d stopped.

“Here,” Captain said. He cradled something.

“What?” I held out my hands instinctively and then nearly dropped the thing he put in them.

It was alive.

“What is it?” I peered at the tiny creature in my cupped hands, pulled protectively close to my chest.

“That is a synthgar. They’re not real, well, real but not wild. Bred, so you don’t have to fear a premature sting. They are something of a natural wonder on my homeworld.” Captain cleared his throat. “It is a bond gift. For you. If you accept him.”

“Bond gift? Accept him?”

We were alone in the antechamber now. “Accept me,” Captain said. “We have a bond already, but this will mingle my body and your body. Then he will stay on one of us at all times, as long as we live.”

A pet, and a gift, and a… poison? Blood bond? DNA tie? What to call it…?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday Briefs: Denied Chapter 50

The nightmare that consumed my mind as I slept held me in its grip when I woke as a hand touched my shoulder, and I lashed out and backed away. The corner of my cell was safest when they were trying to prod me out. They’d get me, eventually, but I couldn’t make it easy on them.

“No, no, no, no,” I chanted as I rocked. The darkness shocked me. My cell was never dark. What new trick was this?

“Kohen, open your eyes.”

I froze. That voice didn’t belong. Not here, not in this place.

“Kohen. I need you to open your eyes and look at me. It’s Everett. You’re safe. Just open your eyes.”

My breath sawed in and out. Not again. I’d had another nightmare, and I’d hurt Captain again. I didn’t want to open my eyes and look at him, see what I’d done.

“I’m fine. Don’t worry, just open your eyes. Look at me and see.” Captain’s hands were on my face, his fingers stroking my cheeks. Cautiously, I opened my eyes. His were the first thing I saw.

The darkness was gone, a low light brightening as we kept moving around.

I searched Captain’s face, his neck, his bare chest. There was a faint red mark on his shoulder. “How…?”

“Before I woke you up, I put a cushion between us. It blocked most of the blow.”

“You shouldn’t have to… I’m sorry.” I touched the spot. “I should go to my quarters.”

“No, you shouldn’t. You should stay right here, with me.”

I pulled away, pushing to my feet. I had to use the wall for support. “We can get enough contact when I’m awake and it’s safe for you.”

“But I like sleeping with you. Space is cold, even when the ship’s enviro controls are set to perfect human parameters, it feels chilly. I’ve never had someone in my bed before.” Captain was still at my feet, and it was strange to look down at him. I wanted to offer him a hand up, but I hesitated. Finally, I held one out.

“Are you going to stay down there?”

Captain heaved a big sigh but let me help him up. “I was thinking about it. If I’m vertical, we need to get back to work. We should be arriving soon, and I want to ditch this ship.”

My mouth was probably around my knees. “Ditch. The ship?” The words didn’t make sense together.

“Shame for something like this to be sold off for parts, but it’s time to go underground. When Freska gets free, she’ll pick us up.”

Captain pulled me into his arms. I relished the feeling of his skin against mine and drew in all my sense of him. He seemed okay, not favoring his arm. I probably hadn’t hurt him, but I hated the risk. I wanted to do the meditation exercises Lakshou had taught me to calm down, but they were tainted with the knowledge that he’d just gotten close to me so he could get my trust to turn it against Captain and hurt me.

“So where exactly is this place? That you can sell a whole ship?” It was strange to quietly clean up and dress. I moved around Captain’s quarters with him, like we’d done it a hundred times or more instead of being new.

“Most races know of Mackinack, but don’t actually know which planet it is. Have you heard of it?”

I shook my head. “No.”

Captain smiled. “Mackinack is like… the shadiest dreams can be reality. Nothing too dark, no slavery, no eating sentient beings or anything like that, but if it can be voluntarily bought and sold? It is. Or gambled. Or traded. And it all happens below the surface, literally. The virtual market is on a secondary plane, a virtual one that can be accessed below the crust. You must know a gatekeeper to get in, and you must have something the gatekeeper wants in order to garner their interest enough to gain access.”

“Do you?” That was a silly question to ask. Of course he did. “Never mind. So you’ll sell this ship there? And Freska will meet us? Will it be safe for her? She won’t be tracked?”

Captain snorted. “No one could track Freska’s ship if she doesn’t want it to be. I’m sure she’s late because she decided to draw away some pursuit or saw some means of capturing more intelligence. She is very capable. If she was one whit more bloodthirsty, she’d take over Deke’s position. Well… if she cared for more than machines. It’s harm to any of her precious metal companions that really pisses her off.” Captain shook his head, a wry grin creasing his cheeks and forehead. “Her poor babies, she moans.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” No crushing any shuttles or other metal parts around the crazy mech lady. Got it. “So will we get to Mackinack soon?”

“We’re arriving at J277 Alpha Zenta in the Jexan quadrant now. That’s what Central knows this planet as. I’ve a few contacts here, no one anyone else would recognize. Friends of friends of friends. People who served and know what it’s like.” His grin was gone, and Captain paused with his hand on his stomach.

“Mackinack is… underneath?” I asked to break him from his trance.

“Yes. We’ll go down with a few guards. Leave the ship up here where it is safe and take a shuttle like we’re going down for supplies. I’ll use vid images to make the trade.”

Captain stopped, and I nearly ran into his back. “Together, remember? Where I go, you go. I learned my lesson. Nothing is going to separate us.”

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Featured eBook: No Way Out by Eric Alan Westfall

Today there's an eBook cover with a man with an eyepatch on my blog. An eyepatch! Epic! Check out No Way Out by Eric Alan Westfall, but first, he answers a few of my best questions.

no way out

QSFer Eric Alan Westfall has a new MM historical romance out:

It’s April of 1816 in Another England.

And Jeremy—a whore from the Dock—is living in a guest bedroom at the London home of the (in)famous Iron Marquess, with over fifteen days missing from his life.

For someone who remembers everything from his third birthday on, it’s unnerving not to know. Fine, fourteen days for the coma and the infection delirium. But those first thirty-six hours. Do they explain how he got hurt, how he got to Ireton House, and why his lordship’s mountain-sized valet is taking care of him? Or why his ironness looks at him with nothing iron at all in his eyes?

Jeremy and the Iron Marquess both have dark secrets. Forced engagements, an inheritance, a scheme to clap Jeremy in Bedlam, the revelation of the missing hours, a problem with plumage, some numbered accounts, and a long sea voyage, all seem to mean there’s no way out of the snares surrounding them. Or is the old saying true: where there’s a waltz, there’s a way?

All royalties will go to a local LGBT organization.

Universal Buy Link | Amazon | QueeRomance Ink | Goodreads


Eric is giving away two backlist eBooks (ePub or mobi) to one luck winner. Enter via Rafflecopter:

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Direct Link:


Do you have a favorite quote?

            I have, I think, a sort of packrat mind, which over quite a few decades (to quote my late partner, I’m older than dirt) has accumulated bits and pieces of lines that I like. Lyrics from songs, nothing recent, and a lot of them musicals. Snippets of Shakespeare. Things from poetry or novels. And I use them in pretty much everything I write. Although I don’t sit there and think, “Okay, I need an allusion to a lyric. What will it be?” I’m just typing along and there the reference is.

            So I have a Shakespearean “thing.” The first quote is one I’ve used often, and it appears in no way out, to hopefully good effect. It’s King Henry’s speech at Harfleur, the start of which is:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility:

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage...

I know that much “by heart,” but the totality of it is so extraordinarily powerful.

            The second is because it always moves me, no matter how many times I reread it. Sonnet 29, which begins: “When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes//I all alone beweep my outcast state...” and ends with such a glorious uplift.

How did you come up with the title?

            The title and the opening line are one and the same. It was never going to be anything other than no way out—lowercase. Why lowercase? Because I think it visually suggests flatness, despair, fear, concern. Those three words are the core of the book. Both men feel there is no way out of the problems which beset them individually, and later, together. Yet they try. And since all of my Another England (alternate history) novels ultimately have an HEA, they succeed. But how? Well, I hope the manner is unexpected, a great deal of fun, and quite beautifully romantic...with a little Latin thrown in. (No, no, no. Get your minds out of the gutter. The language, not a guy. Sheesh!)

Do your characters try to make like bunnies and create ever more convoluted plots for you? Or do you have to coax them out of your characters?

            Any convolution in plots is pure (impure?) me. When I start writing, I have the title, the opening and the ending, and a pretty good idea of how I’m going to get from start to finish. The only book I didn’t have the right title for at the start was The Warlord and The Bard. It started life as a long, long ago short story called “The Meeting” and pretty much stayed that way until I started expanding the plot and eventually the final title popped into my head.

            I know writers who have had characters do just that...demand more, different, you can’t do that you have to do this...but it’s never happened to me. What takes the plot off in a new direction is usually an idea that occurs to me, and once I start writing, the story expands to explore the logical (my logical, not necessarily the world’s “logical”) consequences.

            For example, in early August when I was starting the push to finalize no way out...which included finishing a number of incomplete chapters (I don’t write linearly)...I woke up in the middle of the night, stumbled around until I got to my office, blinded myself with the light, grabbed a pen and bit of paper and started writing, then stumble-staggered back to bed with my night vision shot.

            The first thing was a new title for an important chapter:  In Which Several Secrets Are Surrendered. The second thing was notes on a box and its contents which have significance for one of the MCs, some dialogue, jottings on what happened. But when I started turning the notes into typing I realized this scene revealed something important about the MC, a facet of him I hadn’t realized existed, but which made so very much my never humble opinion. I started having fun exploring that facet and incorporating it elsewhere.

            I hope this makes sense.

What are your future projects?

            After a long dry spell I’ve released three books recently. A Cocky Confession Story Collection was released 8/6. It’s an eclectic collection of fantasy, paranormal and contemporary short stories, with the contemporaries being sexy, humorous reading. On August 13, Of Princes False and True, a gay retelling of a fairy tale from Andrew Lang’s 1910 collection, The Lilac Fairy Book. (Appropriate, huh?). The third was no way out.

            I’m hoping to have Christmas at the Baths done and out before Christmas. It’s a somewhat different, perhaps unusual story, from what the title might suggest. Contemporary. I’m not sure whether it’ll be a short story or a novella. I’ll have to see where Mike the Manly Muse takes me, if he’s not spending too much time in a towel, cruising.

            Next year, I’m confident I’ll have two more fairy tale novels to publish. 3 Boars & A Wolf Walk Into A Bar (I’m sure you can figure out the source) and The Truth About Them Damn Goats—setting the record straight in the words of the troll himself...on a TV show.


6 April 1816
1:38 p.m.
Ireton House, London

no way out
The voice was back.
Inside my head.

Still I swiveled, twisting to look behind, knowing I would see what I always see when the words are said—nothing. The unpainted, scuffed wooden floor was empty. The door to second story elegance had not creaked since we passed through, shutting it behind us, moments ago. The stairs to lesser third-story elegance and fourth story no elegance at all were both bare of bodies who might whisper words only I could hear.

I turned forward again, teetered, and reaching out, slapped my palms flat against the walls of the narrow servants’ stairs. Pressing hard, I tilted back, but my socked foot slipped on the slick wooden edge. When I landed, the floor made known its displeasure with a sharp splinter through the rope-belted loose trousers, ill-fitting smalls, and into my bum. I yelped.

The cold voice of Thomas, the senior footman, rose up the stairwell from the landing below. “His lordship is waiting.”

I shifted my weight to my left hip, and rolled to my knees, giving him a fine view of my bottom if he was watching, which was by now instinctive. I made a point of lifting my left leg with great care, and with equal care placing my foot on the floor, again in case he was watching. A right foot repeat and then some clearly awkward struggling to get myself as upright on the landing as I could—although a boy with a twisted spine and a twisted leg can never be truly upright—followed by a shuffle-step away from the edge. I suppressed the temptation to rub my right arse cheek. Without turning around I called down, “Well, bugger ‘is bleedin’ lordship! Me feet ‘urt ‘n me arse ‘as been ‘urt, too.”

My feet didn’t hurt much any more. Though bandaged still, and covered with the thick wool stockings sagging around my ankles, they had almost healed. But the pretense might keep me here, with a comfortable bed, and good food, for just a while longer. I grinned a small, wicked grin to myself, and wiped it away as I turned to face the stairs. “Right, then. Shall I drop me britches, turn ‘n bend and you can see what’s stickin’ in me bum, ‘n maybe come up ‘n pull it out?”

It was amazing how much disdain could be contained in stare and stance. Thomas even managed to look down his nose while looking upthe stairs.

“Orright, orright. Jus’ wait a bleedin’ minute. ‘n you might want to close yer eyes so’s y’don’t see somethin’ what might ‘orrify you, just in case me grip slips, ‘cause I ain’t goin’ nowhere with somethin’ stickin’ in me arse.”

My hands were on the knot in the rope, and I grinned broadly when the footman closed his eyes, with a stern “Be quick about it then, boy.”

I untied the knot, loosening the waistband since whoever supplied the trousers was much thicker around the middle than me, using my left hand to hold the pants up. I reached behind, and working my right hand into my smalls and found the painful little bugger. With thumb and forefinger I wiggled it free, brought my hand round to the front, and looked at the bloody, bloody thing. I shouldn’t have, but I did. I lifted the three-quarter-inch sliver before my face. “Oi! Is this a dagger wot I see before me?”

Bloody hell. Bloody, bloody, bloodyhell. Maybe Thomas wouldn’t.... Well, bloodyhell all over again, he did. The footman was looking at me now, his eyes wide, his mouth open to say something, and then he slowly shut it.

It would only make it worse if I tried to cobble together an explanation of why, or how a sixteen-year-old street boy (the age I gave) could paraphrase The Scottish Play. I shut my own mouth, dropped the splinter, retied the knot, and began descending the stairs with care, one thumping step at a time. I braced one hand against the wall—his lordship did not believe in hand rails for his servants—in case of another slip. The footman waited until I was almost at the landing before turning away. Watching my downward struggle, he was unconcerned about the possibility of another fall, his expression informing me if I fell I was on my own. I followed in silence as we went through the halls of the first floor to the front of the house.

Ah, his lordship’s library. I stared at the door.

I’d been in there, just the once, when I shouldn’t have been. But then, I shouldn’t have been in the house in the first place, but I was, though I didn’t know why. Or how I came to be here. Both were part of what was missing. I could remember every...bloody...thingin my life up to the night before...whatever...happened. Remember the Dock on the 12th, the clock in my head saying it was ten thirty at night when I finished the last man. I remember the glint of the shilling as it spun through the air, making me get off my knees, bend and stretch to reach it in the muck. The feel of the metal between my fingertips as I picked it up. Then the twist and roll away, my back taking the brunt of the kick meant for my belly. The man was one of those who, once done, and eager to be tucked and buttoned away, feels guilty and lashes out at the one responsible for his sin. I remember his silhouette as I got to my feet, his realizing how much taller I was, and how the silhouette turned and hurried away.

Then nothing more until I woke up too damned many days later in a bloody nobleman’s house, in sobbing agony, weak, my feet, head and thigh throbbing with pain.

Author Bio

Eric is a Midwesterner, and as Lady Glenhaven might say, “His first sea voyage was with Noah.” He started reading at five with one of the Andrew Lang books (he thinks it was The Blue Fairy Book) and has been a science fiction/fantasy addict ever since. Most of his writing is in those (MM) genres.

The exceptions are his Another England (alternate history) series: The Rake, The Rogue and the Roué(Regency novel), Mr. Felcher’s Grand Emporium, or, The Adventures of a Pair of Spares in the Fine Art of Gentlemanly Portraiture(Victorian), with no way out(Regency) coming out a month after Of Princes.

Two more fairy tales are in progress: 3 Boars & A Wolf Walk Into A Bar(Eric is sure you can figure this one out), and The Truth About Them Damn Goats(of the gruff variety).

Now all he has to do is find the time to write the incomplete stuff! (The real world can be a real pain!)

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