Farewell from the Bookshelf!
Please note that GLBT Bookshelf -- the community wiki which was the parent to this fiction blog -- went offline on May 31, 2016, after seven years' service to members.
All Gay Romance will remain online till the end of 2016 in order to give contributors every opportunity to recover materials uploaded here.
Many thanks to all who contributed over the years, and good luck to everyone in your future works!
"'I agreed to become a Seeker because I believe you're right that if I find an acceptable outlet for my violent desires – ordering punishments only when it would be in the best interests of the prisoner to receive pain – that will stop me from losing control of myself again. But I'll never enjoy other people's sufferings. You mustn't think I'm a monster like that.'"
As a torturer learns the art of questioning prisoners, he discovers that the word "love" can have a darker meaning than he had supposed.
Idolizing a mentor who teaches him to place first the best interests of his prisoners, young Elsdon Taylor gradually realizes that the High Seeker of the Eternal Dungeon is hiding a secret. Now Elsdon must confront the man whose work determines the future of the dungeon's prisoners.
In doing so, Elsdon must also confront a demon from his past.
This novella can be read on its own or as the second story in the "Rebirth" volume of The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning historical fantasy series set in a land where the psychologists wield whips.
The High Seeker was not in his sitting room when Elsdon let himself into the cell with his key. He found Layle seated upon his bed, looking down at a book in his lap, which was titled upwards. So absorbed was the High Seeker in his reading that a minute passed before he noticed Elsdon. Then his startled look was accompanied by a fumbling motion in his hidden lap.
Elsdon had arrived hot with anger, but now, envisioning what he had interrupted, he grinned. "What's that?" he asked, pointing toward the book and speaking in an overly innocent manner. "A book of love poems?"
"Something like that." Layle's voice was as cool as though he were on duty, but he leaned over and pushed the book rapidly under the bed, before Elsdon could see its title. "My apologies for not awaiting you. I'd decided you weren't coming." He swung his legs over the side of the bed and prepared to rise.
Elsdon, who had come forward in the meantime, dropped Garrett's records to the ground and sat down beside Layle. Layle's breath hissed inward in apparent protest; then his eyes narrowed. "What are you holding behind your back?" he asked.
Elsdon showed him, and the High Seeker's face softened. He reached out to touch the satiny object in Elsdon's hand. "Sweet blood," he said quietly. "I haven't seen one of these since – well, since I arrived at this dungeon seventeen years ago. Where did you get it?"
"From Garrett's love-mate, Chloris," Elsdon said, passing the delicate object into Layle's hand. "It turned up in a shipment of herbs that was delivered to the dungeon kitchens, where she works. She gave it to Garrett and— Well, he's not much of a man for flowers. He gave it to me to do with as I wished."
Layle drew back his hand from the flower. Where he had been stroking the cream-colored petal, there was now a blue mark. "Thank you," he said. "It's lovely." Taking the flower, he leaned over and placed it upon the table next to the bed.
Watching him, Elsdon said, "You ought to put the flower in water at once, or it will die."
"We have a different way of caring for cut flowers where I come from."
Layle began to rise from the bed again, but was arrested as Elsdon abruptly asked, "What's this nonsense about you wanting to transfer my training to Mr. Chapman?"
Despite the firmness of his wording, Elsdon kept his voice quiet and tentative – it was an instinct for him by now, a survival technique he had learned long ago when faced with danger. He wondered, with sudden curiosity, how Layle would react if he acted toward the High Seeker as he had toward the bullies at his school.
Layle was silent a moment, then said, in the same cool voice as before, "It seems appropriate, under the circumstances. I am in danger of losing my reason when around you, as our last meeting showed, and that could easily lead to me violating the Code when I am in your presence. Mr. Chapman is a well-trained Seeker and has been in the Eternal Dungeon nearly as long as I—"
"No!" cried Elsdon. "Layle, you're the best person in our profession in the world – everyone says that. I don't want to be taught by anyone of lesser skill. I want you as my trainer, and I want you as my love-mate."
Layle went utterly still; his fingers, where they had touched the flower, were wet from its juice. Then he absentmindedly rubbed the juice between his fingers as he said stiffly, "Did you consult Mr. Chapman and read the records I directed you to?"
"I read enough to know that you're the right person for me."
Layle let out his breath heavily. "Then you didn't read enough. Elsdon, we should continue this conversation in the next room—"
"I'm tired of talking," Elsdon said, and reached for Layle's lap.
His hand did not reach its goal. Less than a single drop fell from the water-clock in the corner of the room before Elsdon gasped from the grip of Layle's hand upon his wrist. The High Seeker released his wrist quickly. Layle's eyes had grown as dark as though his face were covered with his hood.
Elsdon's memory of the grasp sent waves of pain through him. He said breathlessly, "When you look like that, I remember you're the High Seeker."
The darkness in Layle's eyes disappeared. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, "but you very nearly made me lose control of myself. You don't want to do that."
¶ Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub), with an online sample: Love and Betrayal.