Table of Contents
A Swain of Kneaded Moonlight
The Page Turner
The Beheaded Queen
The Etherine Road
A Morsel for the Plague Queen
The Vapors of Crocodile Fen
SAMPLE – A SWAIN OF KNEADED MOONLIGHT
A Swain of Kneaded Moonlight
Long ago, silver dripped from a crescent moon. The drops fell upon the land and became the glimmering brides. They were magical women. The great men of long ago won them as consorts — whether by force, seduction, or contract — and sired children upon them.
The brides lingered in the known realms until their children were grown. When their mortal flesh had aged and its grip upon them loosened, they slipped away. Now they are the stars that wander in the skies.
Or so they say.
I know there is some truth in the tales, because the moment I met Lissa, I saw the avatar marks. The color of her irises churned through shades from gold to burnt umber, as though smoke was pulsing in front of a setting sun. Her fingernails appeared to be mother-of-pearl. I admit those details fascinated me as they would anyone. But it wasn’t our differences that mattered to me. It was how we were the same.
We were both eight. Both of us had lost our mothers to the cinder pox the year the Silk Coast traders brought it to our shores. And now we were both dwellers under the same roof.
That was a happy time.
Lissa was the ward of Firin, Lord of Osprey Harbor, who had been her late father’s friend. She slept in a bedroom she had known since age five. She was free to step out on her own balcony and wait for the fog to roll in and kiss her cheeks. She was able — with an escort — to explore the tidepools north of town or go out sailing on the bay.
I was Wyvva, the scribe’s daughter. Of an afternoon, I would visit the chamber where my father composed the lord’s bills of lading and copied ships’ charts, and he would give me tea and candied lime and ask about my day. Of a morning, I would help Lissa learn the thousand runes of the North, the seven hundred glyphs of the East, and we would practice side by side with our quills and our iron-gall ink.
In the beginning, those lessons were my duty as a servant. They became a pleasure. All Lissa and I had lacked was a best friend, and now that lack was cured.
We played. We laughed. We became inseparable.
But eventually, the world around us turned to shit.
Now we were grown. My father’s corpse had long since been heaved from the funeral bluff to join my mother’s among the kelp and starfish. Lissa’s foster father had gone into debt to his liege lord, the Duke of Mareswold, and been given little choice of what to surrender in payment. To me, Lissa was a sister of the heart. To others, she was a commodity.
Now our life was this tower room, with no view, and every breath heavy with inland heat. Now, we were in the clutches of a maggot.
In a few minutes, we would meet a man who might, if luck continued to run sour, take her away to a worse place than this one.
“How do I look?” she asked.
Her gown was dark as coffee. That and its cut took attention away from her curves. The wimple concealed her hair. Yet…
“Still worth throwing on a bed, I fear.”
She turned green in the gills. I thought she might vomit on me. I stopped adjusting her sleeves and moved to the side. Unfortunately that meant she glimpsed her reflection in the mirror.
We had tried to dim her beauty, but take a butterfly out of the sunlight and it is still a butterfly.
“I truly do not deserve this,” she said.
“You truly do not,” I replied.