Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Sealed in Stone #34

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.

I’m continuing with Sealed in Stone, M/M science fiction about Torrey and Willem, two human youths who love each other but must fight to stay together when Torrey becomes the Chosen of the alien Queen who rules over his people.

In this chapter, the assassination plot unravels and Torrey and Willem learn what lies in wait.

This week I chose “I’m running out of time.” Come to think of it, that’s what this story is doing. We’re nearing the end. 
   

Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #34


Torrey watched how Cyrrhi’s gaze caressed Hari, tenderness bound up with pain. Hari’s beauty had always shone brightly and it did so still, the planes and curves of his flawless body promising the joys of sex, his lovely lips the sweetest submission and service. Even filled with fear, as now, the slave’s eyes overflowed with declarations of love.

“My Queen,” Hari spoke.

Willem swiveled, wide-eyed, to look, but wisely said nothing. Torrey prayed Willem stayed silent. Cyrrhi’s willingness to let Hari speak was not a pardon.

“You have things to say?” Cyrrhi’s voice sounded on the verge of relenting. A human male and a younger queen knelt on the floor before her dais, their knees red from the blood that stained the floor of this great chamber, waiting to see if their blood was to be added to the price.

“My love for you is strong, has always been strong—”

“As was my passion for you. I was foolish in my pleasure, allowing you to think it meant so much.” Cyrrhi’s cough brought blood to her lips. She gestured to the warriors guarding Urdhva, and they lowered their spears, and then stepped away. “Look long at this one, daughter. His coloring draws us, does it not? He could be a mature male of our own kind, so bright is his hair, so golden his skin, though his eyes are the color of rare jewels. And when his kram is hard, it is of such length and girth it would serve to pleasure the Goddess herself.”

“Full of power.” Urdhva flicked her gaze to Hari, whose shallow breaths barely moved the elegant cage of his ribs. A faint sheen of perspiration shimmered on his skin.

“Full of lust. This one… is lust. If controlled, lust is beautiful, powerful. If uncontrolled, it consumes and destroys. Svadhu slew Yavnath. Her beloved, his brother, the Life Giver. That is the lesson we must learn anew in each generation.” Cyrrhi’s lips tensed. “The highest jewel of dominance is the pure and perfect male in whom we can invest our power without fear. I had that. Artur was Yavnath to me. He filled my loins, he filled my heart, and to him I spoke freely of all my thoughts. The nom prospered and so did the kumbhs and the land. But I heard whispers of a beautiful slave, one destined for a queen’s bed, and in my pride and desire for dominance over all my daughters, I procured him for my own.” Again her hungry gaze devoured Hari. “And he was delicious. Consumed by his bright flame, I burned upon love’s altar. His body stole all my hours, so sweet were those I spent with him.”

It seemed to Torrey Urdhva was imagining those delights. Her gaze upon Hari blazed with dreams.

“It was a trick.” Cyrrhi’s words snapped all of them to attend her again. Her color had bled away and even her lips now were pale. “Perhaps this one knew from the start, perhaps his consent with the plot came later, but consent he did. Artur tried to warn me but I did not listen. I believed I had found my youth again.”

Torrey ducked his head. He was his mother’s last child—Artur had been her first. Twenty years between them. A man nearing forty could seem an old man, and one like Hari become the joy of a Queen’s fading years.

“I would never betray you, my Queen. My heart.” Hari had nothing to lose by speaking. Words flowed from his lips. “Had those women come to me I would have slain them with my own hands.”

“The women did not come to you.” To her warriors, Cyrrhi gestured crisply. “Seize her.”

Sovesa’s scream of protest rang from the vaulted ceiling as two warriors wrenched the spear from her hands and four seized her by the limbs. The warriors dragged her up the dais and flung her to her belly, whereupon one pulled up her head, bending her spine sharply until Sovesa could gaze upon her Queen.

“It was not me! It was their kumbh!” Fear bubbled on Sovesa’s breath. From his place at Cyrrhi’s side, Torrey could smell the wildness. Below them, Urdhva lifted her head, knowledge dawning across her controlled expression.

“Only one kumbh stood to gain by my death.” Cyrrhi’s breathing was labored. Torrey knelt so she need not look up at him.

“How can I help you?” he asked, keeping his voice low.

“I’m running out of time. Help me finish.”

“Anything, My Queen.” When she indicated she wished him to help her stand, he did so. She was not steady.

“Daughter,” Cyrrhi addressed Urdhva again. “Removing Artur was Sovesa’s first blow against me. She removed his voice and hoped to force me toward the Goldworkers, and when that did not work she allied them to Bekkati. She needed a younger Queen for her ambitions.” Her fingers tightened on Torrey’s arm. “Claim your own Chosen wisely, as I did, and guard him better. There are jewels to be had among these ri’im males.”

“And this one?” Urdhva gestured to Hari, though she did not glance at him.

“Soon you will kill me. Then he will be yours.” Cyrrhi inclined her head toward the next Queen. “I have one claim to make upon your honor as Queen.”

Urdhva tipped her head to acknowledge the request. “If I can, I will honor it.”

“I know you will not dishonor my Chosen. You are too dominant to lower yourself in so low an act. However, I wish you to also honor this other male, who he loves. If you choose him for yourself, keep them together—or return them together to their kumbh, as you determine best.”

The younger queen bowed low. “They served their Queen loyally. I agree.”

Torrey managed to smile at Willem’s surprised, hopeful stare when the warriors holding him stepped away. Though their fate remained uncertain, they were not to die.


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Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction use the links below to visit the blogs of the other Wednesday Briefers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Sealed in Stone #33

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.

I’m continuing with Sealed in Stone, M/M science fiction about Torrey and Willem, two human youths who love each other but must fight to stay together when Torrey becomes the Chosen of the alien Queen who rules over his people.

In this chapter, Cyrrhi reveals the terrible consequences of the assassination attempt.

This week I chose “Even in death, my life sucks”, though I tweaked that somewhat into what is possibly the cheesiest line of dialogue ever.   


Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #33


Cyrrhi removed the knife from Torrey’s throat, but continued to hold him by the arm. He noted how her arm shook ever so slightly and wondered if fatigue worked against her. Was she weakened by loss of blood? The smell of it soaked the room. Her gaze flashed regally over the gathering, bright despite the greenish hue tainting the whites of her eyes.

“Sovesa, stay, and these ri’im males also, all of them. And I wish Urdhva to stay too.”

The other queens cast looks at the one chosen to remain behind, but they filed out without words. Cyrrhi’s warriors stayed, of course, more than a thousand in counter to Urdhva’s two dozen or so. The younger queen looked nervous, as well she should.

Torrey met Willem’s terrified eyes. His friend still knelt on the polished, blood stained floor with spear blades poised to impale him. Stay strong, Torrey willed him. Stay strong so I can.

Golden haired with narrow golden eyes, a bold nose and the lithe, toned body of a commander of warriors in the field, Urdhva approached the dais and knelt. She appeared to pay no attention to Willem or the warrior holding him. Her attention fixed on the Queen.

“Daughter, Bekatti was ambitious, but so are you. You are as dominant as she was and had she succeeded, you would have died next. But she failed to kill me quickly enough and so she died by my warriors’ blades. Now you have no rivals. But you do have enemies.”

Torrey’s heart sank. Cyrrhi’s speech held notes of concession no Queen would ever use, unless…

“My Queen,” he interrupted, knowing in his heart he could.

“Silence for now, Chosen. All will be explained.” Cyrrhi kept her attention on Urdhva, who watched and listened intently. “Daughter, I will give you a great gift. Wisdom is priceless and difficult to obtain. You have, I notice, wisely kept yourself free of kumbh alliances.”

“Yes, great Queen. My command at the border with Ghautmarga made a kumbh alliance less imperative. Slave males serve me as well.”

“So you might think, and in bed that is true. But a slave male has no investment in you save as it furthers his safety or well-being, and he has none in the nom at all. All his cunning will be directed at advancing his own position.” Cyrrhi gestured and warriors seized Hari, dragging him forward. Now three knelt at the foot of the dais. “This one, for example, is beautiful, is he not?”

Fear tightened Hari’s features. His flawless skin, delicately kissed by the sun and pampered, turned pale. His fair hair glinted with gold as it fell forward across his cheeks, obscuring eyes blue as sapphires.

Urdhva’s face stayed carefully free of expression. To admire a ruling Queen’s favorite was perilous if doing so ignited Her jealousy. “He is famous for his beauty.”

“As famous as Rayyas?”

Torrey’s mind raced. Cyrrhi referred to history. The Tyranny of Rayyas the Beautiful, a gorgeous slave male who had so enthralled two Queens of Nirgantha he had all but ruled that nom through them. Finding his first Queen wanting, he had orchestrated her overthrow and replaced her with a younger queen he desired. That had not worked a third time, however, and the nomari had never forgotten the lesson.

“All beauties are as famous as Rayyas,” said Urdhva.

“Which is why a wise Queen takes precautions. We isolate the pleasures of our loins as surely as we do the drones of our innermost desire. Our males meet few other queens. This is by design. Have you seen Hari before this day?”

“No, great Queen.”

“Truth. Because I know this to be so.” Cyrrhi reached to Torrey and touched his hand, which he gave so she could twine it in his. “This is my Chosen, a son of the Kumbh’Pattaim. You have seen him, have you not?”

“Yes, my Queen. At an audience.”

“Truth again.” Cyrrhi pulled Torrey near and kissed him. Their lips met and he yielded to the caress, trying to discern its meaning. All he sensed was possession and a sweet approval that surprised him. “I chose well, I think. His brother, Artur, was my truest love, and his kumbh a strong ally that had nothing to gain from Artur’s death. You see, I am certain Artur was poisoned.”

Willem gasped, but Torrey only looked at Cyrrhi in surprise. Though his kumbh had suspected the reason for his brother’s death, she had never allowed talk of it.

“After his death I was advised to choose from a different kumbh for my Chosen.”

“It would have been wise, my Queen,” said Sovesa, her face pinched and sour. “See what has happened because you did not!”

Cyrrhi sank weakly back into her throne. “Indeed.”

He still held her hand. Torrey knelt at her side. “You’re frightening me. Is your wound so grave?”

“Even in death, my life sucks at the honey of love.”

“You are not dying!”

Her lips stretched in pain. “The kumbh women’s poison made sure of that. Even if I survive, I shall never bear young again. My time is done.” She looked to Urdhva. “There is truth still to be discovered. But consider these things: my Chosen and this youth he loves were betrayed just as the two dead kumbh women were. There is a connection somewhere between these assassins and another kumbh.”

“Ridiculous!” Sovesa stepped forward. “Their kumbh sought to advance itself with Bekatti.”

“Did they? How, when Bekatti was betrothed to a son of the Kumbh’Kasarim?”

The gold workers? The alliance made terrible sense. Torrey stared at Sovesa. She was Cyrrhi’s right hand. How could she not have known this? And if Bekatti was already betrothed to a son of a kumbh, what reason would Torrey or any member of his kumbh have to assist her in overthrowing Cyrrhi? Someone else stood to gain.

Torrey slid his gaze to Hari, who looked like he was about to collapse to the floor.


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Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction use the links below to visit the blogs of the other Wednesday Briefers.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Sealed in Stone #32

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.

I’m continuing with Sealed in Stone, M/M science fiction about Torrey and Willem, two human youths who love each other but must fight to stay together when Torrey becomes the Chosen of the alien Queen who rules over his people.

In this chapter, Cyrrhi becomes even less predictable and singles Torrey out for answers as to who attempted the assassination.

This week I chose the prompt “Do you know what you’re doing?”  


Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #32


“My Queen, this creature is all lies! Both of them are false!” Sovesa’s snarl twisted her face as much as her voice. Torrey watched her yellow eyes flick from him to Willem.

Willem had been strong so far, his answers to the Queen’s questions honest and more revealing than he knew, but he was showing signs of exhaustion and post-nuptial depletion. Fine tremors had appeared in his limbs and even a strong will could not surmount a body drained of nutrients and sleep. Torrey felt the effects in his own limbs and the gulf between the thoughts in his head and his ability to shape them into words. But he could still try, if only Cyrrhi would listen.

Cyrrhi didn’t speak. Red soaked the long bandage on her arm but the wound did not look mortal. Had the attacker—Shel or Lena—used poison? Torrey’s fear flared anew.

“My Queen, may I speak?”

“Do not listen to him.” Sovesa’s warning sounded sharp.

Torrey yearned to say something in his defense, but Cyrrhi had not extended permission. Tears gathered along the lower lid of his eyes. If she did not want to hear him….

“Strip them.” Cyrrhi’s command was crisp and chill. She murmured something to Sovesa.

Oh no. He tried to think of why she would wish them unclothed. The clothes perhaps offended her, but that would not be reason enough. The warriors removed the human garments roughly, cutting away what did not come off easily. Torrey heard a few murmurs. There were other queens in the chamber, Cyrrhi’s allies and senior queens, along with many of the nom’s junior queens, including ambassadors from some of the other noms. The sight of unclothed males drew all eyes. Her dominance re-established, she had little to fear from them. Only Cyrrhi’s warriors filled the room.

Cyrrhi’s mouth tugged to one side while she watched Sovesa check first Torrey and then Willem for threats. The older queen roughly examined their fingers and toes and the nails of each one, opened their mouths to pry inside, looked into their noses and smelled their breaths. When Sovesa thrust her fingers into Torrey’s mouth, she whispered into Torrey’s ear. “She is already dead.”

Torrey gasped when Sovesa removed her foul fingers from his mouth and stepped away.

“Are they clean?” Cyrrhi asked.

“Yes, my Queen. They have only words with which to wound you.”

“Then words it will be. Come here, my Chosen.”

It took all his will not to look at Willem, to give his friend a glance that would tell him to be strong, that they were together and he would fight for them both. He had heard Willem’s breathing and that it verged on sobs. Of course Willem was afraid. Fear seeped off his naked body in traces the nomari surely noticed. Fear had a smell, a look. Both of them wore it. Torrey knew Willem would be looking at him, blue eyes sick and filled with questions he could not answer. But he could not afford to see it. To take his gaze from Cyrrhi’s at this moment could well mean Willem’s execution. His friend was artless… but he was not.

Torrey rose and climbed the dais. When he moved to kneel at Cyrrhi’s feet, her hand snaked out and grasped his arm, pulling him directly to her. A new murmur swept the hall.

“We shall decide this now.” Her fingers dug deep into his flesh. Bruises no longer mattered. A knife flashed in her other hand.

Torrey fought his reflex to flinch away. Courage mattered more. Still looking her in the eyes, he bared his throat to the blade. The deadly wormtooth honed to a razor edge touched the skin where his pulse surely beat for all to see.

“Your lover is in danger as well, look to see.”

Torrey swiveled his eyes and was just able to see Willem, still kneeling below, but with a warrior holding him by the hair, his throat extended to a second warrior’s spear. “Yes, My Queen. I see.”

“They cannot hear us.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “The other was honest. Will you be?”

“Yes.” He did not need to move his lips to say it.

Loudly again, so all could hear, she asked, “I will kill only one of you. The choice is yours. You? Or him?” And then, softly again to him, “Who did let Bekatti into my chamber? It was not you, or him… or them.” He was staring straight at Shel and Lena, their dead faces twisted with agony.

“It could not have been your warriors. Who else was inside?”

He knew the answers. So did she. Sovesa. Hari. Nak. Aktu.

“Answer my question for them,” Cyrrhi directed. The blade remained at his throat.

“Me. Kill me, My Queen.”

The murmurs grew. Willem lurched forward and shouted “No!” before the warrior holding him by the hair wrestled him back. A line of red appeared on Willem’s throat, trickling blood.

“My Queen, please—”

“He will learn how to behave with the nomari as you have done—or he will die.”

Torrey drew a breath. He couldn’t control the situation. Only Cyrrhi could do that. I am Her Chosen—he reminded himself—trained to face the best and the worst. His task was to prevent Her vengeance from falling on the kumbhs. Not just his kumbh, but all of them. Willem knew what it would take to survive. He had to trust him to do it.

Cyrrhi’s gaze no longer fell on him, or on Willem. It slid to a point beyond his left shoulder to fix upon those who did not yet know suspicion had fallen upon them. Torrey did not turn his head. The wormtooth blade would have cut into his neck if he had. The only one he looked at, the only one who mattered, was Willem, whose blue eyes locked on his with an unspoken question.

Do you know what you’re doing?


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Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more fun, free fiction use the links below to visit the blogs of the other Wednesday Briefers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Yes, He's My Ex: Julie Hayes Talks About Screwball Comedy

Today welcome Julie Lynn Hayes, who is here to talk about her newest book, Yes, He’s My Ex, and something she and I love, love, love... COMEDY.

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They don’t make comedies like they used to.

Nowadays, you don’t see comedians like the Marx Brothers, or WC Fields, or the Keystone Cops. Groucho Marx could elicit belly laughs just by the way he rolled his eyes or waggled his thick painted-on eyebrows. The Keystone Cop films were famous for their chase scenes—just good old-fashioned fun—while Harold Lloyd swung perilously off the end of a clock hand.

As a kid, I watched the Marx Brothers and WC Fields, Joe E Brown and Mae West. One of my favorite scenes in the Marx Brothers many hilarious films comes from A Night at the Opera. The boys are in their stateroom on the ocean liner, and it’s one of the most famous comedy sequences ever in which any number of people end up inside this tiny stateroom, and you sit in the audience wondering who else can possibly fit.

There were also romantic comedies too, films like Jimmy Cagney in Boy Meets Girl, in which he presents the formula for every love story ever told: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. Of course, it’s fun to turn that trope around and change it to: boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy. Because two men in love? You can never go wrong, right?

I loved Doris Day as I was growing up, and she made some very funny romantic comedies. In one, she was dragged out of bed by an irate Rock Hudson and carried through the streets in her pajames to the scene of the crime—the bachelor pad she had so viciously “decorated” for him, thinking he was nothing more than a playboy on the  make. In another film, The Glass Bottom Boat, Doris got a job with the Space Agency and met a handsome astrophysicist, played by Rod Taylor, who took a liking to her, but the suspicious people at NASA thought Doris was a Russian spy, and things just went crazy from there... Of course, all’s well that ends well. You can’t very well have a romantic comedy that ends badly, that makes it a tragedy, doesn’t it?

That’s what I’ve tried to do with Yes, He’s My Ex. It started out as a flash fiction on  my blog, a simple story about an ex-boyfriend who couldn’t seem to get it through his thick head that they were over. But then things began to happen. A cry for help leads Tim into a race to save Sonny. Goofy gangster, a dumb ex-boyfriend, and the FBI... what else can happen to Sonny and Tim? Read Yes, He’s My Ex and find out!

Thanks for having me here today, it’s been fun!

Blurb: 

Sometimes Sonny Scrignoli forgets he’s Tim Mansfield’s ex. He waltzes in and out of Tim’s apartment like he still lives there, driving Tim crazy. Is it really so hard to remember they’ve broken up? Then again, maybe Tim should quit having sex with him.

When Sonny disappears for two weeks, Tim can’t help but be concerned. A strange phone call and a mysterious cry for help leads Tim on a desperate search for his ex.

Sonny’s in big trouble, and it’s Tim to the rescue! He’s the only one who can save his ex from a fate worse than death. Bumbling gangsters, a thick-headed former boyfriend, and secretive FBI agents lead Tim and Sonny on a merry chase full of laughs and quirks.


Excerpt:
Sonny’s real name is Mario, but he’s been called Sonny since he was a small bambino, as his mother puts it, so Sonny it is. Sonny stands almost six foot tall in his bare feet, which are surprisingly small for a man, almost dainty. He has chocolate brown hair that grows thick but not long, and generally looks tousled; blue eyes so dark that sometimes they look purple in the proper light, framed behind silver wire spectacles; a generous nose and wide sweet lips which have been known to give the most amazing head this side of anywhere. Put that with the body of an Adonis, and you have Sonny.
I had Sonny, but not anymore. He seems not to realize that, though. At least not most of the time. Hence the part where I see him more often than should be considered normal for someone who’s my ex. Which is where I began.
Sometimes I think he forgets that he has indeed attained that past participle ex-boyfriend status. Granted, it’s only been six months. His mother tells me he just needs time to adjust, please don’t be too hard on her boy. Yes, I still see her too. On a rather regular basis, in fact. Hard not to, when she’s my mother’s best friend. Lucky me. Lia’s a nice lady, I love her to death. But she has this deep-seated belief that Sonny and I are going to get back together again, a belief he seems to share. Along with my mother. And most of our friends.
No one seems to listen to me when I say snowballs rolling along the floor of Hell have a better chance of survival than our relationship. Least of all Sonny. I guess that’s why he keeps coming over here, because in some strange deranged na├»ve corner of his mind, there’s still an us, and he isn’t an ex. So he wanders over whenever he wants. Sometimes he calls, sometimes he doesn’t. Today he called.
Sometimes I just get tired of telling him no. Some days I don’t even get that far. Today, I didn’t want to waste my breath, so I just said, “Fine. As long as you promise to behave.”
By behave, I mean quit assuming we’re going to have sex. Even if sometimes we do. I know, I know, he’s my ex, right?
Sometimes I just don’t know where to draw that fine line, I think. No wonder the boy’s confused.

Meet the author:

Julie Lynn Hayes was reading at the age of two and writing by the age of nine and always wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Two marriages, five children, and more than forty years later, that is still her dream. She blames her younger daughters for introducing her to yaoi and the world of M/M love, a world which has captured her imagination and her heart and fueled her writing in ways she'd never dreamed of before. She especially loves stories of two men finding true love and happiness in one another's arms and is a great believer in the happily ever after. She lives in St. Louis with her daughter Sarah and two cats, loves books and movies, and hopes to be a world traveler some day. She enjoys crafts, such as crocheting and cross stitch, knitting and needlepoint and loves to cook. While working a temporary day job, she continues to write her books and stories and reviews, which she posts in various places on the internet. Her family thinks she is a bit off, but she doesn't mind. Marching to the beat of one's own drummer is a good thing, after all.  Her published works can be found at Dreamspinner Press, Amber Quill Press, MuseitUp Publishing, Torquere Press, and eXtasy Books, and coming soon to Wayward Ink Publishing and Prizm Publishing. She has also begun to self-publish and is an editor at MuseitUp.  

You can find her on her blog at http://julielynnhayes.blogspot.com, and you can contact her at tothemax.wolf@gmail.com.

My links:
Twitter @Shelley_runyon
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julie.l.hayes.7?ref=tn_tnmn


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Sealed in Stone #31

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs, where authors post free fiction of 1000 words or less each week.

I’m continuing with Sealed in Stone, M/M science fiction about Torrey and Willem, two human youths who love each other but must fight to stay together when Torrey becomes the Chosen of the alien Queen who rules over his people.
In this chapter, Willem is singled out for questioning.

This week I chose a picture prompt.   


Enjoy!

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Sealed in Stone #31


Willem watched the corpse roll awkwardly on the steps, its progress halted by spears wedged into the body. Armor of coppery chitin, reddened by thick blood, hung in broken plates from the young queen’s torso. Blond hair wet with blood plastered her face and neck. She’d been pierced in the belly and ribs. When Willem looked up again, he saw Cyrrhi’s gaze fastened upon him.

“Unwise of you to speak, young human, but I will answer. You look upon Bekatti, my daughter and rival.”

Daughter. If nomari queens died by violence, it was at the hands of their blood kin. Willem wanted to look to Torrey, to ask him what he should do, even though he knew Torrey would not be allowed to tell him. He had to rely on his own instincts now. He closed his eyes in relief when he heard Torrey speak up beside him.

“My Queen—”

“No, I do not want your thoughts on this, my silk-tongued Chosen. Not this time.” Cyrrhi’s voice carried the sinister hum swarming bees within its dulcet tones. “I want this male you cherish to tell me what he knows.”

Oh fuck. It was on him now to save them? Willem swallowed fear. He opened his eyes again to those of the furious Queen and waited for her inquiry to land upon him.

“You are the only one I trust.” To Willem’s immense surprise, Cyrrhi spoke to him using the language of the kumbhs, not the slave form used by the nomari when speaking to humans. “I asked for you to be brought to my chamber, as a companion—and gift—to my Chosen. He concealed much of his longing, and he did not press for me to bring you. That was my idea alone. Neither he nor his kumbh could have foreseen I would ask for you.”

“I never foresaw it either.”

“But the Kumbharana Prim took you into her house.”

Her gaze was so damn unnerving, but Willem was too afraid of her to look away. “She knew Torrey would write to me. He was angry at her, but not me and”—he flushed—“I’m a laborer and my education was in that, not in words diplomats use.”

“Diplomats—and nomari mates?”

“I don’t know anything at all about either of those things. Only what Torrey tells me.”

“Did he tell you to fear me?”

“No, great Queen. The opposite.”

“Truly?” The reply apparently pleased her, because her tone warmed to him somewhat. “And what did the Kumbharana want of you?”

“To show her the letters Torrey wrote. She”—he hesitated, but decided he might as well crack that block. Maybe Cyrrhi needed to see what was inside—“she was proud, all of the kumbharani are, that you chose him. She thought him being yours”—he cursed his language did not possess the strong nomari honorific, because it was perfect for this thought—“made the kumbhs, all the kumbhs, not just ours, safer.”

“And you were a conduit?”

He nodded. “To him, yes. And from him. She wanted to know if you were unhappy, or angry, or going to change your policies toward the kumbhs—things like that.”

“Which is the function of a Chosen, to be an intermediary.”

“Yes, great Queen.” Willem sensed he was doing well. Beside him, Torrey knelt, still tense but no longer as taut as a drawn bow. His hands rested flat upon his bended knees.

“These females”—Cyrrhi pointed to the horrifically mutilated, displayed bodies of Shel and Lena—“when did they join you?”

She asked more questions, many more. Willem answered honestly, at least the ones he could answer. Lots of times he had to say he did not know. At one point a younger queen arrived with two warriors, who poured gold coins on the dais at the Queen’s feet before speaking to her. Cyrrhi pointed to the gold. “The other two females you mentioned have been found. They were butchered. And these coins were found hidden in the floor.”

The chill returned to Willem’s gut. Memories of Rue and Marda’s faces, the pools of blood, lingered just behind his eyes. “We never saw the gold and wouldn’t have wanted it if we did. We found the women dead and… we drank some water and ate some food. And put on these clothes because it was cold.”

“Why did you flee my chamber to that one?”

“We were drained, naked, without weapons. The warriors were flashing blades. Torrey said”—he stopped, but a command was born in Cyrrhi’s eyes, and he knew he must continue—“he said it wasn’t normal, for the warriors to run out like that, unless you were in danger. Hari had already attacked us and… we were scared, Torrey and me, and… Hari ran after the warriors, but we ran the other way. Torrey knew how to get to the secret chamber.”

Cyrrhi settled back in her throne, pondering his answers. Perhaps she was thinking of new questions.

Ri’im are treacherous,” Sovesa said.

“Yes. But I do not think this one is. If there is treachery in this pair, it is that one.” Cyrrhi’s gaze moved to Torrey.

“His kumbh gambled on him and lost.”

“If so, he was a sacrifice. They did not know he, or this other one, would survive it. Kumbhs do not usually risk their pretty, highly trained sons in hopeless situations. Unless they had Bekatti’s promise to take him as hers.”

“Which is why he fled to what he thought was safety with the ri’im females.”

Willem’s mouth turned dry as hot stone. A quiet voice spoke up beside him.

“But who let Bekatti in?” Torrey no longer looked at the floor subserviently. Willem drew a ragged breath and hoped Cyrrhi would let him continue. “We fled. Two are dead in the secret chamber and these two”—he waved his hand at Shel and Lena—“were killed in your presence. So who let Bekatti into your chamber?”


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