Fantasy Classics: “Castle of Wizardry” (by David Eddings)

And so we come at last to Castle of Wizardry, the next-to-last volume in David Eddings’ magnificent epic The Belgariad. Fleeing from the ruins of the Murgo fortress, the company eventually comes to the island of Riva, where Garion claims both the Orb and the throne. In assuming the throne of Riva, Garion has now set the stage for the final, dreadful combat between himself and Torak, a clash that will quite literally determine the fate of the world.

As the penultimate novel in the series, Castle of Wizardry spends a great deal of time setting up the actions that are to come. However, it still has that sense of breathless pacing that makes The Belgariad as a whole such a pleasure to read. Somehow, Eddings manages to strike the right balance between keeping the story moving forward at good pace while also slowing down to immerse the reader in the world that he’s created. Once again, we have the evocative descriptions of scenery and natural beauty, as well as those tender domestic scenes at which he seems to excel (I found myself tearing up while reading the moment when Garion, overwrought with the burdens placed on his shoulders, puts his head on Polgara’s lap, as he did when he was a child).

The novel, for the first time, has an extended sequence told from C’Nedra’s point of view (while there were chapters that were this way in the earlier novels, the entire last section of Castle of Wizardry is all about her). Some will no doubt find C’Nedra a rather irritating character, and it’s true that she’s not one of the more compelling female creations (Polgara, however, continues to shine). However, looked at in the right light she can be a bit charming. She is, after all, a young woman who has spent her entire life being taught that everything revolves around her, and the quest has thrown all of that into confusion and doubt. More than that, though, she also has a key role to play in the unfolding of destiny. While it’s true that she is as much of a pawn of prophecy as Garion, she does take the initiative in some important ways, and this entire part of the book is a subtle (sometimes too subtle) poke at the conventions of fantasy that have consistently sidelined women. Her manipulation of the other kings of the West in fact relies upon their own prejudices regarding the intellectual faculties of women.

My personal favourite part of the novel, however, was the confrontation between Belgarath and the witch. She’s a woman who has been cast out from the world of men because of her powers, and as a result she has taken the creatures known as fenlings (who appear to be something akin to a beaver or a muskrat) under her wing, changing them so that they are somewhere between human and animal. In one of the book’s more haunting passages, she blackmails Belgarath into granting them the power of speech, so that they won’t be hunted after she dies. He does as she wishes, and the results seem to good but, as any good sorcerer knows, sometimes the consequences of one’s actions can’t be seen immediately.

That’s the thing about so many of Eddings’ works. While they are seemingly simple stories that are a fleshing out of the basic archetypes of epic fantasy (and of just plain epic), there’s so much else going on here. He genuinely seems to have an interest in the workings of the human heart, of the ways in which people–especially young people–contend with the weight of responsibility that is put on their shoulders. In that sense, this really is a coming-of-age novel, in which Garion (and, to a lesser extent, C’Nedra), have to leave behind the trappings of their childhood so that they can enter into the world of adulthood. When Garion takes a side trip with Polgara to Faldor’s farm and, with just a glance, says farewell to Zubrette, it’s a wrenching reminder of the prince that must be paid when one leaves such things behind.

At a larger level, of course, the novel is also a rumination on the power of free well, and whether or not humans have it. Of course, the idea of a young person (usually a man) having to fulfill a destiny is a staple of epic fantasy, it gains some much-needed complexity in the work of Eddings. Here, it’s not just that the hero is reluctant; it’s that he literally has no choice about the course that his life is going to take. His sole function, so far as he knows, is to fulfill the purposes of the prophecy, just as Torak is fated to fulfill the purposes of the other great destiny. All of human time, and indeed all of cosmological time, has led up to this pivotal moment. Garion’s burden is that he has to figure out how to carry the weight of time on his shoulders without breaking. Oh, and he also has to fight Torak to the death.

Some might decry this as lazy writing, but to me it’s a compelling question, and it’s one that both philosophers and writers have struggled with for centuries, though of course it has taken on a particularly added relevance in both modernity and postmodernity. One can see in the work of Eddings a reflection of the 1980s, when the concept of a strong America was resurgent, but in Eddings there seems to be some healthy skepticism toward the idea of a superman savior, though obviously even he can’t leave such things aside altogether.

I’m not sure that I’d say that Castle of Wizardry is my favourite entry in this series, since it’s not quite as compelling as the ones that preceded it, and it doesn’t have the sense of closure that looms ahead in the final volume (Enchanter’s Endgame). However, there is a lot to to enjoy, and I’m looking forward to finishing the final volume and then moving on to The Mallorean.

Stay tuned!

Science Fiction Classics: “Heretics of Dune” (by Frank Herbert)

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been slowly making my way through the various books of the Dune saga. I’ve now finished the fifth book in the original series, Heretics of Dune. This is one of the entries in the saga that has a rather mixed reception among fans, and I can see why. It’s not quite as focused as some of the other entries in the series and, given that it’s the first not to include one of the original Atreides (or at least a close descendant), it takes some getting used to.

That being said, I enjoyed God Emperor of Dune more than a lot of people, but I still thought it was a rather strange book, particularly in comparison to the ones that preceded it. I mean, it’s difficult to really get into a book in which a man has allowed himself to become a strange hybrid of human and sandworm, even if he does happen to be the most powerful man in the known universe. Heretics is, in my opinion, is much more accessible by comparison. At the time that the novel begins, 1500 years have passed since Leto II was assassinated (at his own orchestration). Though in the subsequent years many humans dispersed in a phenomenon as the Scattering, they have now started to return, led by their sexually fanatical Honored Matres.

The novel largely follows three clusters of characters. One is the newest ghola of Duncan Idaho, who is being trained by the Bene Gesserit, including Lucilla, and protected by the Bashar Teg. Another group is comprised of a young woman named Sheeana, who is blessed with the ability to command the sandworms, as well as the Reverend Mother Odrade and the Tleilaxu Master Waff. The third is Mother Superior Taraza, who encounters and guides many of the other characters.

As the novel progresses, we see the ways in which the old Imperium has been shattered and rearranged in a new power-sharing arrangement, with the Bene Gesserit, Tleilaxu, the Spacing Guild, and the Ixians sharing power. The issue is further complicated by the return of those who were dispersed, particularly the Honored Matres, who are very like the Bene Gesserit but have mastered the ability to sexually dominate men. For this reason, the Bene Gesserit (and the Tleilaxu) refer to them as “whores,” and it’s precisely this very problematic gender politics that makes parts of the novel frustrating to read. The Dune Chronicles have always had a rather vexed relationship with women, and that reaches new depths in this book.

That being said, it was actually rather refreshing to get an inside look at the Bene Gesserit in a way unmatched by any of the other books in the series. At this point, they are sole inheritors of the Golden Path of Leto II, though this gradually reveals itself to be more of a burden than a blessing. However, that’s precisely the point that the novel is making, as it explores the consequences of Leto’s actions. However, it’s only when the novel is concluded that we finally see structure in its entirety.

To my mind, one of the most enjoyable, if strange, aspects of the novel was its exploration of the inner workings of the elusive and secretive society known as the Tleilaxu or Bene Tleilax. Now, we learn that they believe their adherence to the faith to be the only true one in the universe. More sinisterly, we also learn the truth about their celebrated axlotl tanks, which are (as perceptive readers will have already guessed) women who have been turned into giant biological factories. It’s one of the series’ most horrifying revelations.

As one would expect, the characters are rich and developed, and many of them have competing loyalties. Duncan Idaho is, of course, the centerpiece of the novel, and you can’t help but feel sorry for this man who has already been resurrected so many times. Now, he appears to bear the memories of all of the other gholas that have existed, in addition to his memories from the very first Dune novel. Personally, however, I most enjoyed those chapters from the perspective of Teg and Taraza, the Bashar and the Mother Superior. Both of them seem like they could have been characters from the original novel, and they are refreshingly normal after the weirdness of the characters in God Emperor.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that so much of what transpired between God Emperor and Heretics is left in the background, and there isn’t an info dump that would catch readers up to speed. Time jumps are always a difficult writing feat to pull off well, and while Herbert did many things well, that wasn’t one of them. The novel itself is easy to follow and read, and the plot is relatively simple, but that lack of crucial background leaves the reader struggling to figure out exactly what has happened. In my opinion, this is one of those times when I wish that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson had continued their plan to write some interquels that would flesh out the events between the original series of novels.

Nevertheless, Heretics is a fascinating exploration of the power of physical desire to change the course of human events on a truly cosmic scale. For, ultimately, it is the conflict between the Bene Gesserit, with their ruthless logic, and the Matres, with their sexual intensity, that sets the stage for the conflict to come in Chapterhouse. We are also a long way from the events that took place back in Dune, and the universe has changed in remarkable ways. However, there are still elements of the old families, particularly the Atreides, swirling about, and the novel suggests that genetic lines can hold true across numerous generations, for both better and worse.

Now that I’ve finished Heretics, it’s on to Chapterhouse. I’ve found myself very caught up in the elaborate and detailed universe that Frank Herbert has created, and so I look forward to seeing both how the next volume shapes up and, just as importantly, how the final two volumes in the series (by Brian and Kevin) finish things off.

Stay tuned!

Book Review: “The Fall of Shannara: The Stiehl Assassin” (by Terry Brooks)

Note: Some plot spoilers like ahead!

When it comes to the giants of fantasy, Terry Brooks is right up there with the greats. His book The Sword of Shannara, as well as the sprawling series that it spawned, helped nudge fantasy into the realm of financially viable genre rather than an idle curiosity. Now, 40-odd years later, we are coming to the chronological end of the Shannara saga, and the Four Lands stand on the precipice of catastrophe. The Skaar have invaded and are engaged in a tense standoff with the powerful Federation. However, new Ard Rhys Drisker Arc has a plan to (hopefully) avert the all-out war that seems inevitable, but to see it to completion he must enlist the aid of the Kaynin siblings, the boy Shea Ohmsford, the warrior Dar Leah, and the Elven prince Brecon Elessedil. Even then, his efforts might yet be thwarted by the villainous Druid Clizia Porse, who wants to see the Druid Order remade under her own aegis.

The novel moves at an amazingly brisk pace, drawing you along for the ride and leaving you a little breathless at the end. For all of that, the characters (as Shannara characters always do) still have a little time to live and breathe, to bring us into their own inner lives. And, unlike some fantasy authors–who only give us the perspectives of the good guys–Brooks gives us both the heroes and the villains. And, let me tell you, he is most definitely not afraid of killing off some significant characters.

In The Stiehl Assassin we also get to see some parts of the world that have remained unexplored. With a few exceptions, most of the stories set in the Shannara universe have taken place in the Four Lands or Four-Lands-adjacent. As part of the company is sent on a specific mission to the land of the Skaar, we get to see some of the lands they encounter along the way. At this point, those revelations have been fascinating but not terribly illuminating, but I have no doubt that will change in the fourth installment (and let’s hope that we actually get to see the land of the Skaar itself!)

Now, as to the villain of the piece: not since Shadea a’Ru have we seen a villain as cunning and cruel as Clizia Porse, a woman willing to sacrifice a great deal on the altar of her own ambition. However, Brooks does a great job of showing us that, beneath the ruthlessness, there is just a glimmer that she is something more than just a villain. She seems to have an idea that, if she is given control of the Druids, that she will be able to make the world a better one than the one she found. Of course, the lengths to which she is willing to go to do that–including acts of truly horrific violence–give the lie to whatever more noble ambitions she might have.

I have to admit that the best part of the novel for me was the appearance of Grianne Ohmsford at the Hadeshorn. Canny readers will recall that she was banished to the Forbidding at the end of the Dark Heritage of Shannara trilogy. Now, it seems that she is angling to find a way back into the Four Lands from which was banished. This, I think, is an eminently good thing for, as many people pointed out at the time, having her banished to the Forbidding seemed an awfully anticlimactic way to resolve her evolution as a character. She’s always been one of Brooks’s most fascinating creations, and I very much look forward to seeing how this storyline wraps up. Considering that, at novel’s end, Drisker has been dispatched by Clizia into the Forbidding, it’s virtually guaranteed that we’ll get to see Grianne in the next book.

What really stood out to me as I read this book, however, was how Brooks has started to expand the range of issues that he is willing to tackle through his fiction. While all of his books have always had deep philosophical themes–particularly focused on the environment–in this new quartet of novels we’ve really seen him diving deep into the question of colonialism. Are the Skaar justified in their invasion, given that their own home has become increasingly uninhabitable as a result of climate change? If not, what should the residents do about it? There are, of course, no easy answers to these questions. As in the real world, so in our best fictions.

The genius of the novel lies in its ability to weave together this larger question with the larger issue of magic vs. science that has been a prime motivator for the plots of many of the previous entries in the Shannara series. Now, it might just be that it is only through a cooperation between these two seemingly opposing forces that the world as it has come to be understood can be saved. Whether it will be successful, or whether the people of the Four Lands and the Skaar will lead each other toward mutual oblivion is still very much up in the air. One thing is for certain, though: nothing about the world that we have come to know and love will ever be the same.

So, now we stand at the brink of the end of an era. While Brooks has said that he will continue writing Shannara books that are set in previous eras, “The Fall of Shannara” will mark the chronological end of the saga. I’m still not sure that I’m ready to say goodbye, but at the very least we can say that it’s been a great run, and we are all very lucky indeed to have had such a great story for so many years. Somehow, by some alchemy, Brooks has managed to do the impossible: to continue making a venerable series as new and interesting and vibrant as it has ever been. For that, Mr. Brooks deserves our gratitude.

The Madness of Queen Dany

Hey, everyone! Now that Game of Thrones is approaching its final episode and, given the very mixed reception the penultimate episode has received, we thought we’d share some of our thoughts about that “twist” in Dany’s character.

KC: Well, it’s no exaggeration to say that the fans (and some critics) have taken vehement issue with the transition of Dany from savior to Mad Queen. I know that I’ve been seeing this coming since the very beginning, but clearly others haven’t been watching the same show.

Kellen: I can understand some of the problems people have had with everything being rushed this season- it WOULD have been nice for a lot of the other arcs to have had a little more time to play out than they were given. But I feel like this is the obvious and inevitable conclusion to an arc that started way back in Season 1. I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ve been watching a different show this whole time or something.

KC: Exactly. Like, yes, it is a bit rushed but, frankly, I’d rather have things be a bit rushed than have to endure the interminable side-tracks that have really damaged the quality in the most recent two books. Because, let’s be real, both A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons were not, despite the retconning by some of the fans, in any sense “good.” So, if that means that the pace is a little breathless in these last two seasons, I’m personally fine with that.

Kellen: I know the fandom keeps going on and on with “subverting expectations” jokes both in reference to the way some arcs are playing out and the pace, but honestly I would have been more shocked if Dany didn’t do at least SOMETHING horrible by the end of the show. How many time has she been on the edge of something and she only gets talked down because of one of the supporting characters? And it become more and more common for her to NOT get talked down by them in the last couple of seasons- see burning the Tarlys.

KC: OMG, so much this. I’ve been thinking a lot about the fans’ reactions to “The Bells,” and I’m actually rather disturbed by the way they’ve justified Dany’s actions in prior seasons. Basically, it seems to boil down to some variant of: “Yes, it was awful that she crucified the Masters, torched one (whether or not he was innocent), burned the supply wagons, and burned the Tarlys and the khals, but they DESERVED their horrible, ugly deaths for opposing her.” I, personally, find this line of reasoning repugnant and disturbing, and I think that it reveals a lot more about how we justify violence than it does about the strengths and weaknesses of the show or its writers.

Kellen: I think if nothing else the Tarly Torching should have been everyone’s big clue if they hadn’t figured it out yet. I mean yeah, I probably would have torched at least Randyll, but 1) I know precisely what kind of jerk he is in general and how he treated Sam, and 2) I am well aware that I am not suited to being a wise and noble ruler who just wants to make everything better for everyone. Tyrion tried to tell her it was a bad idea, but it didn’t work. Which brings me to another point about her: everyone complaining Tyrion and Varys got dumber. I feel like Tyrion and Varys realized they were past a point where Dany would only listen to them up to a certain point before she executed them next.

KC: I think, honestly, that part of the reason that people are responding so violently to this narrative turn is because it forces them to acknowledge that, all along, Dany has been a cypher for what they wanted her to be, rather than what she actually was. Relatedly, I also think that her turn into Mad Queen really challenges our deeply-held desire for a hero that will save us, either in the fictional worlds that we invest our energies in or in the real one. When that fantasy comes crashing down, either in fiction or reality, the response is often anger, both at the failure at the fantasy and at ourselves for failing to see it for what it was in the first place.

Kellen: I think the big failure and the big success of both books and shows is that everyone is either grey, fallible, an idiot, or a combination of any and all of those. Sure, Dany in the books and until the last season of the show- all of her Essos parts- is the Good Guy because it’s easy to say “Well, she burned slavers. So that’s a net good.” and coming up with reasons that it’s ok that innocents also got caught up in that. Through all of that, Dany has always said she wants to break the wheel, and she feels a little bad here and there, locks up her dragons, and so on. But she does nothing to actually change these things about herself. Like, ever. She just says she wants to be a good person and goes on mucking everything up. Maybe if she had stayed in Astapor for a little while instead of just kind of dipping out and leaving everyone in the lurch, Cleon wouldn’t have taken the city over almost immediately.

KC: Right. And, speaking of breaking the wheel. It’s worth pointing out that, brutal as her actions are, the reality is that the Westerosi are reluctant to ever acknowledge anything other than brute might. So, even though her actions are horrific, the reality is that burning King’s Landing to the ground and rebuilding may, in fact, be the only way for her to start over. I think that, at least in part, is what she realizes when we get that great look at her face as she gazes at the Red Keep. While some have read it as the moment when madness takes hold, I think it may also signify that this is the moment when she realizes that nothing less than absolute destruction will ever cement her undisputed claim to the throne.

Kellen: I think it’s at least the moment when it really cements for her that what she said to Jon about people loving him and fearing her was the best she’d ever get and she completely loses what little rein she had over some good old fashioned Targaryen madness. It’s also when we come back again this season to Season 1, as it turns out Robert was right about pretty much everything. Robert has been a better prophecy than any of the actual prophecies. Dany turned out to be precisely what everyone said she would turn out to be, and no one wanted to believe it because they were the bad guys or the drunk king with no interest in ruling. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the two biggest characters to have defended Dany to others in Westeros are Ned and Jon, both of who are idiots completely blinded to anything else by honor. All the rest of the Westerosi in Westeros have been saying this exact thing would happen all along, people. Foreshadowing.

Well, it seems we’re at least in agreement about Dany! We don’t know about y’all, but we’re pretty psyched for the final episode. Stay tuned for our thoughts on that, as well as other Game of Thrones stuff!

Kellen and KC

It’s Release Eve!: What to Expect from Our First Novella

Well, it’s finally here, the day before the first installment of “The Filliquiuan Chronicle,” To Seek the Flesh, hits Amazon. Have you been waiting with baited breath? We really hope so!

In any case, we just wanted to drop all of you lovely people out there in the dark a few notes about what to expect from us going forward.

First: genre. As we noted some time ago, this series is very much a blend of erotica and epic fantasy. There is quite a lot of hardcore sex–gay, straight, and everything in-between–but rest assured, it is very much key to the plot and to the world that we’ve created. And fear not, the epic part is also very much in evidence, with quests and magic and gods and such. There’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Second: frequency: Every two weeks, we’ll be releasing a new installment of this story. We’ve been working on this project for a very long time, and we’re confident that we have a firm hand on the narrative, what directions it will take, and so forth. We really feel that the serial mode of storytelling is best suited to the tale that we have to tell, and we hope that you’ll agree with us. Besides, that means that you won’t have to wait that long for your next fix!

Third: format. At this point, we’re primarily releasing our works through Amazon Kindle, as well as through Kindle Unlimited. This basically means that we’ll be focusing on e-books, though there is also the option to have the book printed paperback on demand if you so desire. And for those who don’t know what Kindle Unlimited is, it’s basically like Spotify or Netflix for books. I subscribe to it personally, and the choice of books available is actually quite robust and at around $10 a month, it’s pretty reasonable ting.

Those are the most important things that you need to know about reading “The Filliquian Chronicle.” We’ve had a blast writing it, and we really hope that you all enjoy it, comment on it, and share it with your friends. We are still in the process of building this website, but as the story grows, we hope to make our own little corner of the internet a place where you can learn more about our fantasy world(s), what we’re reading, as well as whatever else piques our interest.

So, thank you for joining us, and we look forward to sharing our world with you!

All Our Love,

Kellen and KC

An excerpt from “To Seek the Flesh”, the first part of the Filliquian Chronicle

Hi everyone, Kellen here. As we start the final edit and clean up of our first novella in our new series, The Filliquian Chronicle, I’d like to share an excerpt. The main character of this part of the arc, Nicholas, has left home for the first time and is finding that things in the world aren’t the same as they are back home.

It took me less than an hour to gather all that I needed for my journey. In addition to a week’s worth of food—dried meat and fruit, cheese, bread, and skins of water. I also took a map. It was an old, crumbling thing, but it still had most of Troyeis laid out in some detail. I had never been further than a day’s ride from the castle, and if I wasn’t careful I’d soon be hopelessly lost.

When I went to the stables, the lads went quickly about their business, but every so often I thought I saw one of them give me a knowing look, as if he could somehow sense that I had given myself to Alric. I knew that I was probably just imagining things, but I couldn’t shake the feeling, even after I had ridden out of the city and started making my way south.

When I was several miles beyond the city walls, I stopped and turned back. The castle reared above the city, and I almost wept with the loss of leaving it for who knew how long.

Goodbye, Father, I thought to myself. I promise that I won’t fail you. Keep those bloody Glokstadters and Khoranthines at bay, and I’ll be back when I can.

With that, I turned my face to the south and began my journey.

The days passed as I rode away from all I had ever known. Our lands were sparsely populated, with only an occasional village to break up the bleakness, and the only thing connecting us to the world outside was the Kingsway. I had no idea what king it was named for or who had ordered its construction, but for time out of mind it had connected our little outpost to the rest of Troyeis, and to the capital.

At the thought of my ultimate destination, the splendid city of Yvelian, I felt a faint tremble of fear. What will I ever do when I reach the south, where there are actual cities? I thought to myself. Just the thought of being hemmed in by so many buildings, surrounded by so many other people, caused a nervous fluttering to start in my belly.

I began to wish, as I rode through that desolate country, that none of this had ever happened: not Alric, not Father’s revelation about the relic. None of it. I wanted nothing more than to just be a simple country lord again, content to spend my days riding through the fields and hunting, listening to my tired old tutor drone on about things in which I had no interest whatsoever.

At the same time, I also found myself enjoying being out in the wild, camping in the open at night. These days the lands were largely at peace, the last war with Glokstadt having been concluded over a decade ago, when I was still a boy. I didn’t have to worry about being attacked as I camped each night, nor did I fear lighting a fire.

A week away from Father’s castle—and beyond his domains—I came to a village that was significantly larger than any I had seen up until this point. Consulting the map, I learned that it was called Avay-du-ser. By now, I was far enough south that the weather had already turned somewhat milder, and I had noticed the change in architecture. Gone were the stern buildings that I was used to, replaced by more sinuous designs that showed the clear influence of the south.

As I rode through the well-laid streets of the village, I noticed the brightly painted storefronts and the well-tended homes, each with their little garden out front. This was the type of town that had probably rarely seen incursions from Glokstadt.

I also noted that there were two temples, one devoted to the God and one to the Goddess, and I frowned. Even though I knew I was beyond my father’s domains, it was still startling to see the worship of the Goddess so openly embraced. At the end of the main street stood the only inn in town, and there I tied my horse to a post and walked in.

It looked to be a well-kept establishment, with the floor swept clean and the tables reflecting the ample light that streamed in from the windows. It smelled remarkably homey, with the mingled scents of baking bread, beer, and beeswax.

The innkeeper, a plump man with an apron that seemed to strain against his girth, came forward to greet me, his face breaking into a wide smile. He took immediate note of the fine cut of my clothes, and nodded his head in recognition.

“My stable lad will take care of your horse, my lord.” He gave me an appraising look. “Be sure that you keep an eye on him. He’s a bit of a rascal.”

“He is?” I asked with a nervous laugh, wondering why the inkeep would keep a stableboy that was such an obvious problem. “Am I that obviously an easy mark?”

The man smiled in return and clapped my shoulder. “Oh no, my lord, it’s not that obvious, but I know how Stefan is. He never met a man of noble birth who he didn’t try to seduce. He’s worse than a woman.”

I stirred uneasily. I had assumed the innkeeper had meant the stable lad was a petty thief or tried to beg coins from rich guests; I was obviously wildly off target. Things had clearly changed significantly the further south that I came. The people here had no more adherence to the Order than I heard that they did in Yvelian.

What have I gotten myself into now? I wondered.

“I’d like a room for the night,” I said to cover my discomfort, “as well as a meal.”

The innkeeper nodded vigorously, clearly happy that I was about to put some coin in his purse.

“Very good, very good, my lord. Will you be taking your meal in your rooms, or would you like to join the rest of our the guests in the common room? The trade is a bit small at the moment, but I’m sure there are many who’d like to hear some word of the north.”

I debated for a moment. While I was tired and would have preferred to stay in the comfort of my own room, I didn’t want to arouse suspicions by appearing to be unsocial.

“I’ll join everyone in the common room,” I said. “I’ll just take my horse to the stables, and then I’ll take a rest in my room.”

“Aye, that’ll be just fine by us,” the innkeeper replied. “Oh, and you can call me Guiot.”

“Thank you, Guiot. You’ve been very kind, and I much appreciate it.”

With a final smile at him, I went back out to my horse. “Looks like we’re going to finally be spending the night indoors,” I said, and though I might have imagined it, I could swear that he gave me a grateful nod.

When I entered the stables, I breathed deeply of the smell of horse-flesh and hay, a pleasant mix that reminded me of happier days spent among Father’s horses and grooms.

The stable-lad was as dark-skinned as Alric had been, but where the singer had exuded a potent masculine air, Stefan had something…almost feminine about him. His hips swayed with a sensuous grace, and several times as we set about stabling my horse, I saw him shooting me knowing glances, and once I could swear he winked at me.

As I bent to gather my saddlebags I sensed him moving up behind me. “Where are you from?” he asked, his voice honeyed and smooth.

I tensed and paused for a moment. Something about that voice called to me, and for a moment I had a glimpse of what Alric must have felt when he saw me, a raw, vital desire to feel his flesh wrapped around my cock, to know that I was inside of another man and to feel that sense of raw power.

“The north,” I said shortly as I stood back up, feeling a flush of anger at his presumption in questioning me.

He was not at all discouraged by my terseness, and as he moved about the stable he continued to eye me. When I was satisfied that he was treating my companion with care, I gave him a final glare and went back into the inn. After Guiot showed me to my room, I threw myself on the bed without even getting undressed and within a few moments, I was asleep.

When I woke, the sun was already sinking into the west, and I felt as if I had slept for days. Getting groggily to my feet, I descended the stairs to the common room. As Guiot had said, there weren’t many people there, but there was still a steady hum of conversation that ceased the instant that I appeared. As each face turned toward me, I felt a growing urge to flee back up the stairs, but I forced myself the rest of the way down the stairs and seated myself in a corner table. After a few minutes more of scrutiny, nearly everyone went back to what they were about before I came, and I was left in peace.

Guiot appeared with a tankard of a very dark beer, as well as a loaf of warm, crusty bread, a tart cheese, and a bowl of sliced apples. “I think these should do to start you off, my lord,” he said. “The main course will be out directly.”

Before I could say anything else he whisked away, making his way from table to table with the ease of one who was born to talk to people.

How I wish I had that gift, I thought to myself.

Sitting there, I took the chance to study the men and women seated around me, wondering exactly what kind of place it was into which I had wandered. In many ways, it was not different than an inn at home. There was the usual sort of clientele: the locals in their homespun, the occasional prosperous merchant smoking a pipe in his silk and velvet, and even a few who had come from somewhere further away. But still, I couldn’t help but to think of the temple openly dedicated to the Goddess and the brazenness of the stable boy and how accepting Guiot was of it.

Now that the initial surprise of my appearance had worn off, the rest of the people had turned back to their own affairs, although I would occasionally see one of them give me an appraising look, and one or two of them looked as if they would actually get up and join me at my table.

Before any of them could do so, however, Guiot returned with my dinner, a huge platter filled with roast beef swimming in gravy, peas lathered in some sort of white sauce, and broiled potatoes. “I hope that our fare is suitable for my lord’s palate,” he said, bowing his head just slightly. “We might not be the wealthiest village, but we do take pride in our table.”

“I’m sure that this will suit my tastes just fine,” I said kindly, smiling at Guiot and his obvious desire to please.

The meal was so good that for a time I simply gave myself up to the pleasure of it. When at last I was finished, I felt a peculiar tiredness settling over me. Bidding Guiot a good night, I made my way back to my room and, taking my clothes off, I slithered into bed. Though I hated to admit it, even to myself, I was a little disappointed not to have seen the stable boy Stefan in the common room.

What’s wrong with you? I asked of myself. You’ve gotten into enough trouble already, so don’t go looking for more.

For some time, I tossed and turned, sleep continuing to elude me. Gradually, however, I felt my emotional and physical exhaustion beginning to overwhelm me, drawing me deeper and deeper into the warm embrace of oblivion. Of course, I was finally on the edge of sleep when I heard it: the deliberate scratching at the door of someone wanting admittance.

Don’t answer it, I thought to myself, turning to the wall. Don’t do it. You know who it is and what he wants. You made a vow to God. You can’t go back on it now. Again.

While my mind might be saying these things, my cock was saying something else altogether.

The scratch came again.

“My lord?” Stefan’s breathy voice came through the door. “I thought…I thought that you would like to see me.”

I tried to shut out the sound of his voice, to pretend that he wasn’t there, but it was no use. I knew that if I didn’t let him in, I would never get back to sleep. My cock was already so hard that it ached, and all I could think of was the feel of him brushing against me, of what it would feel like to be inside him, his warmth embracing me. I climbed slowly to my feet and made my way to the door, feeling all the while as if I were wandering through a dream.

Please, that voice inside me whispered again, don’t do this. It’s not too late to move away from this path. There’s still a chance to save yourself!

But my body refused to listen to these commands, moving steadily forward. My hand reached out and opened the door, and I stepped back to let Stefan come inside.

I knew as soon as he stepped into the room that I was doomed. He was barely inside before he was taking off his clothes, revealing the exquisite smooth skin beneath. His whole body was as hairless as polished marble except for a triangle of curly hair around his cock. He was lithe and beautiful, and I found myself wanting to be inside him, to possess him body and soul. And from the look on his face, I could tell that he wanted that as well.

He walked across the room, his hips swaying, his cock already hard. Though it wasn’t as large as mine or Alric’s, if was almost perfectly proportioned. I yearned to touch it, to feel its silky length. I found that I could do nothing more than stand there, watching him approach, my own cock already leaking precum. My entire body tingled with longing.

Hardly knowing what I was doing, I opened my arms and he stepped into them. Our lips met, the silken feeling of his mouth on mine stirring my desire to ravish him, to make his body my own.

His hand reached down and started stroking my cock in expert motions, forcing an unwitting moan to escape my lips. “Does my lord like this?” He whispered, his hand moving first fast and then slow. Even though I didn’t want it, I could feel my climax mounting, and I definitely didn’t want release just yet. There was far too much that I wanted to do with—to—him to want that.

I put my hand on his. “If you keep that up I’m going to come. And I’d hate for this to end so soon.”

“My lord doesn’t have to worry. I trained for a time in the Courts of Love. I know what it takes to pleasure a man and to keep the pleasure going.” He smiled. “Even with someone from the north.”

I felt a momentary flush of anger at the way he spoke of my homeland. Well, we would see just how much this youth would enjoy being fucked by a barbarian. I turned him roughly around and pushed him over the bed. He immediately looked over his shoulder at me and wiggled his arse, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to find any peace until I was inside him.

Moving up behind him, I spit on my cock and then on my fingers, using them to open him up. If I had thought that using only spit would be painful for him, I was immediately disabused of that notion when the moans that came from him were ones of pure and absolute pleasure; he writhed on the bed, arching his back.

“Please, my lord,” he groaned, “please fuck me.”

Unable to retrain myself any longer, I pushed deep inside of him, desperate to feel our bodies unite.

At first, he was so tight and warm that I thought I would come too soon, but whether the boy did indeed have some power from his time in the Courts of Love or whether my body just began to grow accustomed to these new sensations, I soon found myself slipping into a powerful rhythm, the immediacy of my climax receding.

We settled into a powerful rhythm, me driving deep into him with slow, purposeful strokes, coaxing out each and every moan and whimper of pleasure. I had never imagined that feeling myself inside another man could be so intoxicatingly pleasurable, but as our bodies moved together, I felt the last bits of my old self draining away.

But as that happened, a small knot of anger—of rage, even—began to take shape in the back of my mind.

I pulled my cock out and moved to lie on my back.

“Ride it,” I commanded, more than a little surprised by the tone of power in my voice. Who am I? I wondered. And who am I becoming?

But Stefan climbed up, grabbed my cock, and sat down on it in one smooth motion, his warm tightness stretching out and causing a new wave of sensation to sweep up through my cock and through the rest of my body.

I was in awe of the look of absolute pleasure that passed across his face. I knew how much I had enjoyed the experience of being fucked by Alric, but it had honestly never occurred to me that another man would find it so pleasurable. Seeing those beautiful, warm brown eyes of his close and his pink tongue poke out from between those pouting lips, however, I realized that it wasn’t just the physical sensations that he was enjoying, but also the simple fact of submission to my needs, my desires, my wants.

I reached out and began stroking his cock, relishing the silken feel of his flesh.

He leaned down and kissed me, and for the first time since Alric and I had come together, I felt an extraordinary connection with another human, one that seemed to be as much about the spirit as of the flesh.

I don’t know how long we moved together. We had entered into a place unlike any I had ever known, one almost of pure feeling. For those precious few moments, I lost myself, and I knew, perhaps for the first time in my life, absolute happiness.

Suddenly, however, I remembered my father, and the rules of the Order, and I felt anger bubbling up within me. I saw Father’s stern face and a frown crease his forehead as he took in what he was seeing. I saw Mother Henriette’s frown of disappointment. Suddenly a fierce, vicious anger swept through me.

How dare this impudent youth use my body so? He was no better than Alric, for all that he was the submissive one and this time I was the one perpetrating the deed. I pushed him off of me and roughly positioned him so that he was on all fours on the bed. As if he anticipated my  want, he arched his back, and the sight of that beautiful smooth flesh posed so perfectly nearly drove me mad with longing, and this in turn made me even angrier.

When I entered him again it was with such force that I was sure it would cause him pain. He managed to surprise me again, however, as his moans of pleasure reached new levels of intensity.

“Oh, my lord,” he groaned, “no one has ever fucked me like this before. Harder, oh please, harder!”

I reached out for his hair and, as Alric had done with me, I pulled his head back so that he was bent almost double. I leaned in close to his ear. “I’m going to fill you up like the dirty little whore that you are.”

I kissed him roughly and then pushed his head back into the pillow. He continued to moan, writhing beneath me as if my angry words had merely driven him even further into the arms of desire.

The more the boy moaned the angrier—and the more aroused—I became. I thrust harder and harder, not sure whether I was hurting Stefan or not and frankly not caring. I was caught up in something larger than myself, some vast untapped reservoir of desire and rage that threatened to undo me completely unless it found release.

I felt my climax building through all of my body, until I heard him moan, “Oh please lord, fill me with your seed. I need it.

His pleading pushed me over the edge, and with one more powerful thrust I came. I reached around him and feverishly stroked his cock, until I felt his own warm load splattering my hand. Despite the fact that we had both found release, I found that I wanted to continue, and based on the sound of Stefan’s moans I thought that he did too. And so I continued to thrust, his insides now coated with my seed. Stefan writhed and whimpered, his fingers clawing desperately at the bed.

My second climax came upon me almost before I knew it. At the same time, beneath me I felt every muscle in Stefan’s body also go rigid, and knew that he was coming as well. I let my climax sweep all thought away for a few precious moments, but as soon as it was gone I felt all of the jumbled emotions come crashing down on me. Worse than all of them, however, was the feeling of emptiness that came behind them.  

I lay on my back, Stefan beside me, his body an unpleasant reminder of everything that had just happened. When he tried to kiss me, I pushed him roughly out of the bed. “Get out,” I said.

If I had thought that my roughness would hurt him, I was mistaken. He smiled, lazy and lascivious.

“My lord’s wish is my command.” He winked at me and left.

After he had left…I wasn’t sure how I felt. Dirty, possibly, stained by the same act of canal desire that had led me to abandon myself with Alric. But there was something else, too. Now I knew what it felt like to have sexual power over someone, and I wasn’t at all sure that I liked it. Still, I couldn’t quite shake the image of that lithe young stable boy, with his back perfectly arched as I fucked him. The imagine in my head made my cock come to life, and I stroked it lazily until I shot another load.

Even then, it took me far too long to get to sleep.


The next morning, I prepared to set off for the next stage of my trip. I knew that the quickest way to get to Yvelian was to pass through the Greenwood, but when I mentioned my route to the innkeeper, he gave me a look of horror.

“It’s very unwise to go there, young master,” he said, as he served me a rich breakfast of eggs, sausage, and crusty bread. “There are all sorts of creatures said to dwell there, and there have been reports that folk have seen things in the edges of it that haven’t been seen in the world in living memory. Satyrs and spirits and the like. If you were here on market day you’d hear the stories the farm people bring in with them about it. You’d not hear them all if you were here for a month of markets.

He lowered his voice even further. “They say there are still other remnants of magic and darkness left there, shadows of some old time. We worship the God and the Goddess both here, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, and we know to respect their ancient powers. There have been far too many who’ve gone into that forest and never come out again, and if they do come back they don’t seem to have all of their wits. If my lord will forgive my saying so, I don’t think that you should go in there.”

I stifled my impatience with the tales and superstitions smallfolk spread around. “I understand and appreciate your concerns, Guiot,” I said, “but it’s the path I must take. Urgent business calls me to Yvelian, and I can’t afford the time it would take to ride around the forest, and even if I could those lands aren’t particularly safe themselves. If I want to get there, I must go through the Greenwood.”

Guiot looked as if wanted to argue further, but instead he shrugged. “I’m sure that my lord knows best in these matters. But please, keep your wits about you while you’re in there.”

I smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. “You don’t need to worry on that count,” I said heartily. “I know what I’m about.”

You’re such a liar, I said to myself.  Still, there was nothing more to be gained from standing here arguing, and so I took my leave of Guiot and went to the stables.

I called into the shadows at the back of the stables for someone to saddle my horse, and Stefan emerged a moment later with my tack over his shoulder. He gave me several knowing looks as he began to get my horse ready, and though I tried to ignore him, there was that same sort of irresistible sexual energy about him that had been about Alric.

His hand gently brushed my thigh as he moved past me in the close confines of the stall. “Please,” I said, and though I meant it to come out authoritative, it came out much to breathy to be convincing. “Don’t do this. You’ve already led me astray once. I…I can’t do it again. I won’t do it again.”

He flashed a smile at me and moved closer. The smell of him—a mixture of horse and leather and musk—filled my nose, and it was all I could do to not grab him right then. His hand strayed down to my cock, which was already slowly growing harder and harder.

“Why should you go away without a little bit of a present?” he asked, his voice oozing lust. “You certainly seemed to enjoy yourself last night. Why shouldn’t we have a little encore performance?”

Before I could keep him from doing it he dropped to his knees, his hand unlacing my trousers. My cock, eager and yearning for release sprang out immediately. Without thought, my hands went through his delicious curls as he took me into his mouth.

He looked up at me, and I could see joy in those warm brown eyes. This was a man who felt that his true calling was serving other men.

Would I be happy in such a role? I wondered.

“Ooooooh, fuck,” I groaned as he continued to bob up and down my length, his tongue flicking all over my shaft. “Oooooh fuuuuuck.”

I knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to take me long to come. Part of it was Stefan’s obvious skills, but there was something else as well, something about the sexual energy that seemed to crackle between us. Perhaps it was the power of the Goddess—as frightening as that was to contemplate—or perhaps it was just the fact that I was beginning to discover and accept that I liked the pleasures of the body.

Whatever it was, with one last groan, I felt my cock erupt into his mouth. Stefan took a moment to savor and milk every last drop, then got to his feet and kissed me, the taste of my cum still salty on his lips. “I do hope that my lord will pay us a visit again soon,” he said, his eyes glinting mischievously. “I would love to feel that again.” He gave me a squeeze.

“You’re a demon,” I said, but even I knew that I didn’t really mean it.

Without another word, I mounted my horse and rode away.

I didn’t look back.