Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saturday's Series Spotlight: The Knife of Narcissus by Carolyne Chand

The Knife of Narcissus Part 1 & 2
Lucius Sentius, along with most people in the city of Rome, assumes that the debauched and chaotic days of Nero are behind them now that Rome has settled down under a sober new ruler, Vespasian. Lucius may be only the son of a merchant, but his newly arranged marriage to an older widow will bring powerful connections and an enviable life. If he keeps himself on a respectable path.

That seems impossible when he discovers that his heart lies somewhere not at all respectable: his lifelong friend Trio, the reserved and serious son of one of the most reserved and pious families in the city.

As Lucius is pushed along the course of duty to family, to his promised spouse, and to Rome itself, he begins to see under the surface of his city, into a net of intrigues, manipulation, and corruption that can carry him upward in status and and bring him what he most wants...or destroy both him and the people he loves.

The Knife of Narcissus Part 3
Lucius Sentius had always assumed the debauched and corrupt days of Nero were over. He was wrong. Being celibate and sober may be good for the reputation, but it’s a dead-end path for an ambitious Roman looking to rise to wealth and power in the city.

His friendship with the man he loves has been broken by the flare of passion between them, his wife has a better command of his household than he does, and gossip around the city about his hedonistic lifestyle is growing faster than any actual attempt to be wanton. When his new brother-in-law hires him to take on a mysterious task for a powerful, unidentified patron that requires someone willing to set aside all scruples, Lucius throws himself into a chance to prove his worth.

It’s enough to make a man turn to the gods for help. In Lucius’s case, the one goddess who seems to listen—to the right sort of worship—is Venus....

The Knife of Narcissus Part 4
Lucius Sentius, son of a prominent merchant, ambitious young Roman himself, and exemplar of the new generation in a newly strengthened Empire, is building a reputation. Mostly a terrible one, and mostly thanks to a possibly insane poet who has taken an interest in elegizing his allegedly wild ways in graffiti on toilet-house walls.

Notoriety will only keep the man Lucius loves away from him. Trio has fled the city, leaving a tangle of half-truths between them, sending baffling missives. The answers the gods seem to be making to Lucius’s prayers are only more knots to unravel.

Lucius is determined to set at least one part of his life and reputation right—his marriage bed. A few rehearsals first with appropriate teachers seems to be the obvious solution to get past his hesitation. But life and love are never as simple as he would hope. And his wife, Velleia, has plans and secrets of her own.

The Knife of Narcissus Part 5
The quest to find his wife’s lover has embroiled Lucius Sentius in corruption and debauchery at a high level. The men he must confront are tied to the emperor, and the price of their help involves a strange game of humiliation. The corruption of a city that shrugged off mad emperor Nero, and replaced him with a new brand of decadence, fits Lucius like a well-draped toga. If he’s willing to wear his new guise.

Velleia has been carrying a secret not so different than Lucius’s own: love lost to distance and circumstance. To help the wife he now respects, he will have to take the risk of becoming the man his reputation claims him to be.

His brother-in-law Aulus’s secrets are just business: a shipment of smuggled goods that is drawing Lucius ever more deeply into dangerous intrigues. And looming over it all, Trio is due to return to the city of Rome.

Whatever secrets Trio is carrying have built a wall of thorns between him and Lucius, a wall Lucius is no longer sure he has the means to tear down. Lucius may already be what Trio feared he would become. Revealing the truth of their lives could be too painful for both of them.

The Knife of Narcissus Part 6
The cargo Lucius has smuggled into Rome for his brother-in-law Aulus is enough wealth to power an army, bringing them both to the attention of the imperial family. Now Lucius stands in a precarious position between two dangerous princes, poised to be either a favored courtier or an inconvenience marked for disposal—and forced to navigate his way through the same sexual intrigues Aulus has hinted that Trio, the man Lucius loves, has joined.

Trio is still a Gordian Knot Lucius intends to cut open. Knowing now that Trio is caught in more than an unmanly, un-Roman love for a friend, Lucius sets out with him and their two attendants on the search to find Velleia’s missing slave.

In the remoteness of the Campanian countryside, under looming, smoke-shrouded Mount Vesuvius that commands the skyline, Lucius intends to devote himself to refueling the flame he knows still burns between him and Trio. Nothing will stand in the way...except perhaps Arpalycus, the handsome and tempting slave who has become for Lucius much more than servant, far more than confidante.

The Knife of Narcissus Part 7
Lucius Sentius, along with most people in the city of Rome, assumed that the debauched days of Nero were long behind them. He was wrong.

Swept into the sexual games of powerful men, he has had to navigate intrigues, lies, and rumour on his path to status and respectability. Torn between reputation and love, ambition and obligation, his heart still lies somewhere not at all respectable: a very un-Roman love for his very Roman friend Trio, the sort of relationship that only the most powerful—or the most ignored—may have.

In the course of a summer Lucius has gone from curious innocent to devoted worshipper of Venus, following both his heart and other instincts. But his dedication to the goddess stands between him and what he truly hopes to win. In the remoteness of the Campanian countryside, Lucius tries to refuel the flame between Trio and himself.

He is no longer the person who fell in love. But neither is Trio...

The Knife of Narcissus Omnibus
The knot of friendship tying Lucius and Trio together has been an unbreakable bond—but it might not withstand all that Rome can throw against them....

Lucius Sentius assumes—along with most ordinary people in the city of Rome—that the debauched days of Nero are behind them. Rome has settled down under a sober new ruler, and old-fashioned values rule with him. Lucius may be only the son of a merchant, but his newly arranged marriage to an older widow will bring powerful connections if he keeps himself on a respectable path.

That seems impossible when he discovers that his heart lies somewhere not at all respectable: his lifelong friend Trio, the reserved and serious son of one of the most reserved and pious families in the city.

As Lucius is pushed along the course of duty to family, to his promised spouse, and to Rome itself, he begins to see under the surface of his city, into a net of intrigues and manipulation, of seduction and corruption, that can carry him upward in status and bring him what he most wants...or destroy both him and the people he loves.

The Knife of Narcissus was originally published as a 7 part serial but I read the complete Omnibus edition.  I loved the quality of detail the author used to put the reader right there in Ancient Rome experiencing Lucius & Trio's journey along with a very interesting cast of secondary characters that at times add so much more than secondary plotlines.  I will admit that there seemed to be a lot of moments of repetition in regard to Lucius' inner monologue, but this is my first serial so perhaps that is more common with the writing style of serials as a nod to the "previously on . . ." beginnings of the serials out of Old Hollywood.  Definitely a great addition to my Ancient Rome library.


The Knife of Narcissus Part 1 & 2
It was late night and they were drunk—drunk from top to shit, by Lucius's precise assessment—when Pollux the sober secretary once again made little noises, coughing and clearing his throat, to give Lucius the hint, once again, that it was time to leave. Instead, Lucius and Trio proceeded to navigate their way through some of the best wines in a house that specialized in good wines. At some point they had decided that the normal course of mixing the wine with water was a waste of effort.

Now the evening was well into full dark, and Lucius and Pollux would need an escort, preferably secretly armed, to walk home safely. The streets of Rome at night were nothing to take lightly, especially if one was nicely dressed in one's fancy blue tunic and clearly head-over-ass inebriated.

"We should stay the night," Lucius suggested, having found his way to the conclusion that the streets were far too dangerous for him to traverse at all. Trio nodded magnanimously.

"Your father requested you be home by—" Pollux began.

Lucius grumbled wordlessly. Pollux quieted again.

Trio rolled over on the dining couch, perilously close to rolling right off it. "We can get you home before Bassus has fits. Scrape up some of the bigger servants," he ordered the nearest slave, waving a hand in a general indication of size. "Rufo and...that other one, that Father's always using at the warehouse, with the lopsided nose." The slave nodded crisply and went off to comply.

"I need a piss," Lucius decided. He sat up then tried to bend over to look under couch, but his head spun so badly all he could see were swaying shadows. "Where's the pot?"

Trio waggled a finger. "You can make it to the toilet."

"That's what toilets are for," Lucius replied, and found himself laughing uncontrollably.

Trio sighed. "I'll go with you."

Lucius leaned on his friend, who held him up with strong arms, even though he was wobbling too. They were a match in size and build—if he were being honest with himself, Lucius had to admit he had more weight on him, maybe was a little too soft in places, whereas Trio had been spending time on the exercise field and getting hands-on with his father's business by hauling heavy wine jars and whatever else he had been up to for the past month. Lucius looped an arm around Trio's waist. All muscle, hard and statue perfect. Lucius frowned. He supposed he could start exercising by weight-lifting imported antique lamps.

He gripped the waist more tightly, enjoying the solidness. He leaned against the pillar of muscle and Trio gave him a nudge to tilt him back the other way.

"There's a thing I needed to tell you," Trio began.

"Tell me anything," Lucius graciously commanded him.

Trio began and started a few words before settling on a full sentence. "A rich wife is good for lots of things," he finally said reassuringly, as they walked through the dark hallway and he kept Lucius more or less upright. "Country villa in Campania. I'd like a country villa in Campania to escape to."

"You can visit."

"Velleia Aeliana. Pretty name. What's she look like?"

"Two eyes, two legs, two breasts, who knows?"

"Two, that's good. Better than one big breast in the middle."

"Does that happen?"

"I've seen it. In a drawing in a travel book. Wild southern tribes with their faces on their stomachs. Two breasts would get in the way of seeing."

They caromed off one side of the hallway then the other, but eventually made it to their destination. The indoor toilet was barely more than an alcove, fitted with a door so no one passing by had to watch. Nothing like the grand public toilets with a whole row of seats, where everyone watched, gossiped, recited the latest verses from the walls.

They made use of the single toilet shoulder to shoulder. Lucius turned to smile at Trio. "...Is a two-breasted wife gonna carry me to a pissing hole, I think not..."

Trio took hold of his chin and turned him back to face the polished marble seat.

It really was a nice piece of marble, Lucius mused, with a smoothly carved indentation around the hole for comfortable buttocks at those times when one needed to sit.

"Am I going to have to aim you so you don't piss on the walls?" Trio asked. "We just had them replastered."

"You need some Priapuses in here," Lucius suggested, leaning forward to study the geometric shapes painted on the walls. Yes, he decided—the Lucretius family should add a painting of the god, weighing his gigantically huge member on a scale for good luck in the business of selling and the pastime of pissing. "He could look like you." He could have Trio's perfect nose. Priapus was not usually depicted as young and handsome. It would be artistically daring to give him the face of a Narcissus.

He mused more about art as they emptied their bladders.

Trio, done, leaned against the wall, sighing, while Lucius finished. "Lucius..." he began slowly. "I do wish for the gods to give you what my parents have. The way the two of them have always..." His words trailed away. Now the only sound was the soft gurgling flow of water through the trough beneath the toilet hole.

Trio suddenly reached out. His hand wrapped around Lucius where he still held himself pointed more or less toward the marble hole.

Lucius's head swirled. His first thought—is he trying to aim me in the right direction? I'm already done—slowly dissolved as the warmth of Trio's hand began to feel comfortable, feel right, and as even more warmth began to flow to the spot. He struggled with the confusion. He said, carefully watching his friend's light brown eyes, "We're too old to play little boy games."

Trio pulled his hand back, pure mortification on his face. If the most talented of artists wanted to portray a god stumbling into embarrassment, he could not have made it more movingly sympathetic. Do gods ever get embarrassed? Lucius fuzzily wondered. Whether they did or not, this was his fault. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he hurriedly said. His tongue felt ten times too thick, but—

What was there to stop them?

—he grabbed Trio and pulled him into a kiss. Kissing, that was one thing Lucius felt capable of figuring out, sober or drunk. At least, he thought he was capable. His mouth seemed to have trouble finding another one. It should have been easy—he knew he knew how to do this—but he aimed too high, then too far to one side, and he banged the back of his legs against the marble seat when he tried to pull Trio closer. They thudded against a wall, then the other; it was hard to maneuver in the narrow room.

Lips collided, warm, wine-tinged. Before Lucius had completely figured out the kiss or why he was even doing it other than that he could, Trio's mouth was moving, speaking, against his. "Stop, wait," ordered Trio sharply. He pressed both palms against Lucius's chest, holding him off. "Grown men don't do...things together. It's obscene."

Lucius tried to catch his breath. He considered the very likely possibility that he was too drunk to be obscene anyway. He always had trouble holding his wine, and now...

Before he could stop it, he was bent over the toilet, vomiting into the elegant marble. Beyond the sound of his own coughing and heaving into the burbling water, he could hear Trio behind him—muttering a strained "Oh, gods"—then the sound of him running out of the room.

Stomach completely purged, Lucius dropped down to the floor and sat with his back to the cool stone toilet bench. He drew his knees up and buried his face in his hands. Oh gods indeed. What had he just done? Made a spectacular mess. Oddly, his mind now felt clearer, clear enough to feel a horrible regret and embarrassment swiftly pulling him down again into chaos.

He kept up an act of being too drunk to speak to anyone at all, when the burly servants who had been roused to be his escorts came to lift him to his feet and help him shamble home.

The Knife of Narcissus Part 3
Lucius sat in the carved ivory chair in the office, numbers and words swimming senselessly on the lists spread across his folding-desk. He was supposed to head to an auction soon. For all he cared, the entire lot could catch fire.

Father said, tartly, "Should I leave you?"

Lucius did not even bother to look up.

"Then I'll leave you," Bassus grumbled. "I'll go to the auction. Collect yourself. Drink less." A sweep of expensive fabric passed through the edge of Lucius's vision on the way to the door.

"I'm not drunk today," Lucius tried to say in his defense, but the door was already closing.

A noise scuffled at his side, below his desk. Arpalycus looked up at him and then away quickly, head lowered to study his writing lessons. He was crouched on a cushioned footstool with scrolls and note tablets in his lap. The satyr stylus tilted back and forth in his hand as he made corrections, as if the little figure was having its way with an invisible nymph. Arpalycus sat low with his knees up, his pale yellow tunic sliding back to reveal bare skin all the way up a smooth, unblemished thigh. Up into the invitation of unseen treasure shadowed by the drape of fabric and stack of tablets. Lucius felt the breath quicken in his chest.

What difference does it make now? he thought.

If he was to be blamed for being the one who took pleasures elsewhere, if he was the one who had ruined himself, than he would act like it, and act on what he wanted. His slave was handsome, and he wanted him. He felt himself pull forward, growing hard.


The slave looked up at him again, quizzically, waiting for a command. Before Lucius's self-imposed celibacy, his servant would have done what was needed at barely a glance from his master. Lucius flushed hot—with embarrassment for having to make it plain . . . with anger for having resisted it even for so short a time, for any time at all, for the sake of someone who had lied to him.

Lied, and made him the sole villain.

The Knife of Narcissus Part 4
"Today's the day you see that whore," the dark-eyed slave dutifully reminded his master. The master stretched, scratched, rubbed his face, and otherwise attempted to start himself moving.

Lucius pushed his chair back from the big marble desk of the townhouse's workroom. He rotated his shoulder, testing it for regimen-related soreness. It seemed up to the task of visiting a prostitute. He wondered if his stomach was any flatter and tighter and more discus-thrower like. He looked through to the garden and mentally compared himself to the statue of a half life-size Discus Thrower that he had had erected in the center of a patch of fragrant flowering herbs. Not that he needed to impress a prostitute. But it would be nice to look more impressive in general. Plus, strong stomach muscles helped with this sort of task.

He was sure he would wake up more fully at some point during the day. Maybe after working through the stacks of account ledgers he had hauled home from his father's office. There were so many other visits he should schedule—that was another task he should be working through. He should make the rounds of the family patrons. He hoped they would be impressed by his new physique once he had one.

"She must be very busy," Arpalycus speculated. "Whoring."

"And dancing acrobatically," Lucius reminded him. "Don't forget that."

"And whoring acrobatically," Arpalycus added. "I'm guessing."

At his first dinner banquet as the master of his own home, Lucius had seen her twist herself into some amazing positions, parts facing forward that should be backward, folding a body made of flesh and bone in ways only a bolt of cloth had any right to achieve and then only with the help of an excellent seamstress. Some of which ways made certain body parts accessible from unusual directions and in unusual combinations. As a curiosity, it would be interesting to see how those combinations worked while copulating, but it would be of little practical use toward his goal of becoming comfortable enough to achieve ordinary, simple marriage-bed intercourse with his wife.

The acrobatic woman had made him wait for days. He supposed her physical juxtapositions made her very popular.

"And there's this," Arpalycus said slowly, his voice cautious. "It arrived just before you came downstairs." He held up a sealed letter.

The precise hand of the address on the outside made it clear at once who had sent the missive. Lucius snatched it roughly out of his servant's hand. "Why didn't you show me this first?"

Arpalycus began giving him some reason, but it hardly mattered. Lucius hushed him. "Sit down, wait, quiet." Lucius settled back behind the slab of desk. Arpalycus settled on the footstool beside him, examining his fingernails.

Lucius opened the sealed letter. Just as before, it was a dry business communication. Trio had discovered a stock of wine purported to be Caecuban, a vintage that had been rare even in the time of the previous emperor. The bidding for it would be madness, if Cnaeus Senior could make a positive identification, and the Lucretii would want the security and experience of Bassus's auctioneers to handle it. Lucius read carefully—as dry as it was, there was important news in there related to both his and Trio's family businesses. He would have to report on all of that to his father.

The letter continued for a while about his host's extended family, a complicated web of female cousins and their husbands and their husbands' siblings, all visiting at once in what sounded like a vast villa. The family's imperial ties sent a nervous shiver through Lucius. Would there be sleeping with one another for favor? For wine contracts? For amusement?

Then there was the second letter, sealed inside the first.

The Knife of Narcissus Part 5
"You have to make use of the girls in your house if you want offspring of your own blood," Bassus went on. "And I know I gave you my best boy. But..."

Lucius waited uneasily through the pause.

"Might you be overdoing it?" his father finished. "Overexerting yourself?" Lucius frowned. His father had encouraged him from the start to exert himself, whether in his marital duties or otherwise. Bassus seemed hardly the sort to look down on another man's activities when he exerted so much himself. "Around the city I've heard—"

"What?" Lucius demanded, sitting up straight. This was a different thing "Rumors?"

His father held up his hands. "No no no. Yes, I have." He dropped his hands and shook his head.

Bassus drew in a deep breath, and Lucius braced himself for any criticism, accusation, or disappointment that might come next. Would it be the rumors he had paid the poet for about the acrobat? Or would it be about seeking out the best-equipped men in brothels, the ex-gladiator, or about using his father's best boy and his house steward in unusual combinations? Or even his recent garden escapade? The list was becoming long.

"If you're reckless with your reputation . . ." Bassus gouged at the fine inlay of his desk with a thumbnail, his face constricted. "I was asked today to make certain it's the father, not the son, who oversees the sale on a certain property."

"Someone said that?" He felt ill, his stomach clenching.

"Maybe it's your lack of experience..."

"Who?" Lucius demanded, running through the roster of their recent acquisitions.

Bassus waved it off. "It's our good fortune that there are much louder rumors about how much you overspend yourself and your wife's fortune on expensive whores."

The churning panic in his stomach settled a bit, but only a bit. "My coins, my property, my choice," he muttered.

"I've heard," said Bassus, with grave seriousness, "that doing too much of that is bad for the voice."

"Sir?" Lucius blinked in surprise a few times.

"Makes your voice thin and weak from overproduction of...of the fluid that results. Frothing it up uses all the heat in your body that you should be conserving to—" Bassus rubbed at his throat uncertainly "—warm your throat, I assume."

"That can't be true," Lucius protested.

"It's a medical fact." His father sat back and took a deep breath. "Listen to me," he boomed in a voice to shake the shelves. "I am steady but moderate in my activities—"

"Are you?" Lucius dared ask, with annoyance. "Does Cook appreciate moderation?"

"I am," Bassus boomed.

Lucius slouched in his chair. "If I can't have what I want, what does it matter what I do?" Now remind me of my duty to the family, to our ancestors, he thought, and all the usual pack of obligations.

Instead Bassus said, "It's my fault."

Lucius shook his head. "How could it be your fault?"

"You want children," his father went on, "not heirs off whoever can breed for you. Children with your wife. I forced you to marry a barren woman. And now you're taking up with anything and anyone because you won't get what you really want from her."

"That's not what I really want," Lucius said.

"Then why, son?" Bassus insisted. "What are you doing?"

"Enjoying the world," he tried to explain. "Rejoicing with what the gods give us."

It was his father's turn to shake his head. "High time my own son spent more time listening to Mercury than Venus."

Venus would not like being tossed out of bed for Mercury, Lucius thought. It was never a good idea to upset a goddess. Wars started when goddesses were irritated.

"Indulge less," Bassus told him. "Conserve yourself. That's an order."

The Knife of Narcissus Part 6
Arpalycus and Velleia's girls sorted through Lucius's clothing, sending various items to be washed, setting aside others to be packed in his travel bags with pouches of lavender. Lucius busied himself with making certain he had the documents he would need in Campania. The document of sale making Ciso his possession was foremost. The scrolls with the Ganymede story and his own version of Narcissus would have a different sort of use. He added one more scroll. Since he was going travelling, it only made sense to take a travel guide. Of sorts. He would give it to Trio to read along the way.

He unrolled it to the part about the routes taken by Alexander, a hero whose accomplishments as a warrior were as unquestioned as those of Achilles. See Where Alexander’s Sword Pierced the Gordian Knot. The illustration was supposed to be of a random modern traveler, but it was a fairly good likeness of Alexander in the pose from his portraits on horseback, riding a eunuch in Persian clothing with patterned trousers pooled around his ankles.

It was meant to be humorous, but it made a point. You can't talk a knot open. Lucius agreed. You have to slice it through. With the right sort of scythe.

The Knife of Narcissus Part 7
At the side of the path, vines and trees and brush sagged back around a collapsed stone structure and the remains of a few thin, smooth columns—a round clearing with an old, moss-stained rectangular slab of stone set on a slight rise of earth in the center. They had walked right past it before, too focused on the vineyard. Or maybe it had not been there before, or maybe the vines had only now chosen to curl back and reveal it to mortal eyes.

He could hear Venus at his side, murmuring in his ear. Priapus stroking at him, blowing hotly along the length of his shaft. Eros, who had pierced him with love in the first place when he and Trio were both so young, jabbing at his back with a sharp-tipped arrow, prodding him along.

He climbed over the fencing of grape vines and pine branches and myrtle bushes, into the ring of broken columns and slanting heaps of rocks in tall grass. "It’s a temple."

Trio climbed over the branches too and stared around him in wonder, mouth agape, standing just inside the clearing. What must once have been a temple sanctuary not ten paces wide was worn to fragments, sunken so deeply into the ground that the stones of its floor could only be seen here and there hoisted crookedly from the soil. He whispered, "You said we would climb a mountain and find a vine-covered shrine, miles away from everyone else."

Had he? Lucius cast around in his memory to recall what he had said, and when, and the words he had used. Gods of rutting, he thought. He had said that. It had been so long ago. "I said . . . you could do whatever you please to me there, and no one would know."

And he had been heard.

The Knife of Narcissus Omnibus
“Stop, wait,” warned Trio. “Before you do something insane.” Lucius drew back. He had not been about to do something insane. Probably. The obscene illustrations from the scroll he had read lurked at the back of his mind, making suggestions, until he felt feverish. Until he did feel like he was about to do something insane. Trio’s regretful sigh cut through his thoughts. “If we had done more before, when we were younger and it was acceptable...I would have loved for you to be the one who...” Trio looked him up and down, and Lucius would have sworn he could feel the sweep of those pale eyes like hands across his body. “But we didn’t. And now you’re just running away.”

“Running? From what?” If anyone was running, it was Trio. Lucius felt a sudden painful jealousy that a boy like Trio’s red-haired slave was free to play at anything he wanted. A grown man could play as he pleased with a boy servant, even have his way with a grown male servant if a man was discreet.

But people said the emperor liked his up-and-comers to be spotless. That he ran a clean least, a city less perverse than his predecessors. Gone were the days of incestuous emperors and senators’ wives sold in brothels and city officials corrupting well-bred boys, of orgies in gardens and flagrant affairs with well-muscled gladiators, or so people said. Emperor Vespasian ran his empire as he had run his army—efficient and sober. It was not so easy to play as it had been in the previous regime.

So why, when Lucius looked at Trio, did he find himself caring about nothing except the sun on Trio’s hair, the way his tunic stretched across his shoulders, the light wisps of hair on his cheek? Drunk as they had been the evening before, something had been lit in him like a lamp. He wanted to see what more it would illuminate.

Something twisted in his chest, as if his entire insides had turned over.

He tried a careful appeal, as much to himself as to Trio. “We were too timid as boys to do more than play.” Trio shifted uncomfortably. “We’re braver than that now. Aren’t we?” He hoped so. He could never be brave enough to lead the both of them. “We can...” He touched Trio’s face. It felt like such a strange thing to do. He caressed the high cheekbone, the curve of jaw. It felt like the most natural thing to do. “We can have more than games.”

“You don’t even know what you’re doing.” Trio laughed ruefully.

“I know.” No, he did not, not really. He did know what two people might do together. He was lacking in practical knowledge of how. He only knew he wanted to touch and be touched. He held Trio’s face between both his hands. Their eyes met and held each other.

Eye to eye, he saw it—he was sure—the same fire.

Author Bio:
Against everyone's better judgement, Carolyne Chand spends a lot of time writing about swords and sandals. Sometimes she writes about Revolutionary War vampires, cross-dressing girl pirates, and elves in spaceships too.


The Knife of Narcissus Part 1 & 2

The Knife of Narcissus Part 3

The Knife of Narcissus Part 4

The Knife of Narcissus Part 5

The Knife of Narcissus Part 6

The Knife of Narcissus Part 7

The Knife of Narcissus Omnibus

The Founders by Holly Barbo

Title: The Founders
Author: Holly Barbo
Series: Sage Seed Chronicles #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: March 17, 2016
Cover Design: JC Clarke of The Graphics Shed
There are no monsters on Ose. People can be monstrous enough.

Disaster strikes the beautiful world of Ose. Marisily is one of the Sages who can help heal the planet when nuclear winter pushes the civilization back to the brink of destruction. Only she doesn’t know her own powers yet.

It is survival of the fittest as vicious outlaws destroy all that remains, kidnapping, enslaving and killing those weaker than themselves.

With a bounty on her head, alone and betrayed by her own father, can a young woman find the strength and wisdom necessary to rally the good people of Ose and rebuild their culture?

Sari worsened as the day wore on. She was too weak to fight off the effects of the abuse and the fever at the same time. Marisily was at her mother’s side when she died. She closed her mother’s eyes and wrapped her in a clean sheet. Then she sat at her mother’s side and rocked back and forth as the tears rolled down her cheeks. Eventually, her sobbing breaths quieted and she wiped her cheeks.

Dazed, Marisily resumed her duties. She had made a stew in the afternoon with the thought that the broth would be nourishing for her mother. Now she served it to her father for dinner. Jed came in from his workroom and started eating when Marisily quietly said, “Mother’s dead. I have prepared her for burial.”

Jed gave his daughter a long look before he answered. Marisily sensed he was considering saying something that she wouldn’t like and she steeled herself for it, but when he spoke all he said was, “I am sorry to hear that. She was a good wife. The only thing she didn’t do was give me a son. I’ll move her body to the workshop before I go out tonight.” He scooped another piece of meat from the stew and chewed thoughtfully. “Daughter, I don’t think I can continue to support you. I will give you a choice. Rory, the herder, needs a wife. He’s a friend of mine. I don’t believe he has ever cleaned his place and though he is eight years older than me, he is lusty enough to keep you busy. I think he could take you to wife tomorrow. Or you could leave. It makes no difference to me. As your father, I don’t need to give you a choice, but since I’m grieving the loss of your mother, I will be generous. If you are still here tomorrow morning, I’ll know your decision is to wed.” He finished his meal and pushed back from the table. “I am going into Morraton to meet with friends. I’ll bring my new wife home after I bury Sari tomorrow.” Jed put on his heavy coat and smiled to himself as the door closed behind him. He didn’t believe his daughter had enough warm clothing to survive. She would either set out tonight and freeze to death or would stay and leave with Rory tomorrow. It didn’t make any difference to him. She would be gone either way.

Marisily cleared the table, giving her father time to go down the trail to town, keeping an eye on the window until he disappeared from sight. There was no way she was going to remain. Angry at her father’s offhand comments, total insensitivity and arrogance, she was also fully aware of her danger. Marisily had been very lucky that her father had given her a choice. She had been thinking about where she would go. There was a place that she had seen several years before. At the time, Jed had been gone on a journey to obtain yarns spun in Osily. Sari and Marisily had ranged miles from the cabin picking berries. They had separated, to cover more area. Marisily thought hard about where that place was. They had meandered through the foothills during that gathering trip.

She brought out her coat, and put on all of her warmest clothes as well as a few things of her mother’s. Her father would never allow her to leave with anything he deemed his property and that included everything in the home. Marisily knelt by her bed and, rolling back the rug, she removed the floorboard. She pulled out a heavy, knitted hat, scarf and gloves that she had made for her mother’s upcoming birthday and donned them. Her mother would be happy that she was using the gift to survive. Quickly, Marisily emptied her secret cubbyhole of her journal and other small treasures. Gathering what she could carry that she felt her father wouldn’t miss, Marisily stepped outside and disappeared from her childhood home. She had no intention of ever coming back.

Author Bio:
Holly's world is shaped by her love of family, the beauty of the natural world and an irrepressible creative drive. She has always been curious and sees life through questions. These four characteristics color her writing voice. Holly's stories are mostly in non-urban settings and usually have some focus on nature, building discordant themes inside a seemingly peaceful refrain.

My motto: Weaving Alternative Worlds with Threads From Today.



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