Illustration by H. Rose Melenche for Debt Price
"He kept his gaze cast below the belt. In the chill cell, sweat was beginning to form now on his neck, running down his back and between his bound wrists. 'Lord,' he said softly, 'I would be glad to pay to you my debt in any way I can.'"
No one would pay his debt price to gain him release from prison. So he sought to pay it himself by offering the only thing he could, his body. But one man would require more.
Convicted of helping to wage a campaign of terror against the lords who oppressed the commoners, the prisoner comes to realize the full implications of what he has done. All of his attempts to mend what he has broken will fail until he meets a young lord whose own struggles have just begun.
Set in an imaginary world based on Renaissance Europe, "Debt Price" takes the reader from the gritty punishments of prison life to the delicately balanced world of a farming estate, showing the slow healing of a prisoner who knows both what it means to be abused, and what it means to be the abuser.
This is an announcement of an older story.
He still could not hear any sound from the streets outside the prison; he must be in some part of the prison that faced the back. The terrible possibility that he was trapped in an inner courtyard clenched his heart for a moment; he swallowed and continued sliding forward. The grass was warm and soft under his feet; he had forgotten the sandals within the crystal chamber, but he dared not return for them. He was very close now to the gate, and already his mind was seeking alternatives if the gate should prove to be locked. Could he climb through the close-leaved hedge, or climb over the gate? And how much time did he have before somebody would learn that he was missing and send out the search for him? With his chest heaving once more, he darted across the dangerous gap between the infirmary and the gate.
The gate had a light wooden bar holding it closed; he did not bother with his hands this time but pushed the bar up with his elbow. He stepped back to let the gate swing open, then stepped through to freedom.
And stood motionless, the wind taken from his body as effectively as the first time a guard had punched him in the stomach.
He was no longer in the city. He was in the countryside: under his feet lay an enormous marble pavement that extended up to the point where it turned into a gravel driveway; beyond that were crop-fields – circles of level earth dotting the landscape. In the distance, trees shaded a huddle of houses; to the left of him, many yards away, stood another hedge, which appeared to lead to a body of water, for he could hear the quacking of ducks. Behind him – he turned slowly to look – were not the grim, dark walls of the prison, but the neat stone walls of an estate house, glinting with dozens of windows and capped with a bell tower.
To the right of him, sitting in a chair with his back to the youth, was a man. Slowly, like a shy beast creeping forward into danger, the youth walked toward the man. His heart was pounding so hard now that it was difficult to breathe. He could not see the man's face, but he could see the man's hand lying upon the arm of the wooden chair, and on that hand was a crystal ring.
He reached the chair finally, hesitated for a moment, then swiftly made his way round to the front and knelt before the man. After a moment he dared to look up.
The lord with the light hand was as he had been a fortnight ago: young and stern of face. He had over his lap a writing board and paper, and his left hand held a lead stylus. He was silent, looking down upon the youth.
"Lord master," the youth said softly, "I will do my best to repay to you my debt in any way I can." He placed his hand softly upon the inner part of the lord's thigh.
The lord recoiled as though a dung-beetle had run across his privates. He stood up, causing the chair to scream across the marble; the stylus broke in his hand and fell to the ground. His hand upon the writing board had turned white.
¶ Available as an e-book (HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub): Debt Price.