Cry Melusine

Monday, July 02, 2007

Cry Melusine
Book 2 in the River of Time series (book 1 – Lord Carabas)
by James Buchanan
July 2, 2007Work Safe

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Jules LaRousse’s adventures continue in this sequel to Lord Carabas. Every child wants to believe their family can be salvaged. Family secrets, adulterous liaisons and long born grudges threaten to destroy them all. Jules has to use his wits and burgeoning abilities to save himself and his son when he follows Keiko to the seat of her Scottish Clan.


"Come, Père, come." Jean-Paul was leading me by the hand through one of the myriad of passages. My son had insisted upon showing me a secret place this morning. Secret places to children his age could be anything, a recess behind a curtain, an empty cabinet, a hollow at the base of a tree. I loved his secret places. I loved that he wanted to share them with me. We would discuss all sorts of things of import while we hid; why dog's noses were cold, whether angels cried rain drops, and if bees liked the taste of honey as much as he.

I was entertaining him this day as his nurse was otherwise occupied. Really it was an excuse for the other adults who thought it odd I attended my son so much. He'd had a small mishap during the night. Not that it was unusual for a child his age, but still the bed had to be righted. Given everything that had happened recently I couldn't believe it hadn't been happening more often. And I felt for him. I had suffered the embarrassment of that problem long after I should have grown out of it. That may have been due to the fathers' supposed cure for my lack of control. They beat me each and every time it happened.

So we'd taken breakfast together. After a game of hide and seek, in which we'd managed to distress practically every servant in the manse, the floor of my room had become a battle ground for an army of chess men. We must have captured the high ground of the bed half a dozen times before Jean-Paul had wearied of that game. Once we quitted the war he had taken me into his confidence about the secret place. Confederates, you understand, share things like that.

Stopping before a large wooden door, he giggled. What wondrous things his giggles were. Bright, eager eyes looked up at me. With both hands he beckoned and I leaned down close. Conspiring with me he whispered, "It's in there."

I knelt beside him and put my arm around his shoulder, drawing him into my body. "What is in there?" I whispered back as I tickled his belly through his vented doublet. We were conspiring after all.

He brushed my hand away. Tickles were not meant for Chevaliers on such important business as secret places. "A maze." Awe dripped in his voice. I was not sure he knew what a maze was, but he was certainly impressed by the thought of it.

"Really? Shall we see it?" He nodded. "Okay then." I stood and grasped the latch. It was one of those heavy iron pieces, the type that took keys the size of a normal man's cock to lock them. Old and cranky as it was, I had to put most of my weight on the lever before it gave.

A few seconds were wasted while I determined that the door opened outwards instead of into the room. Had I but looked at the hinges…thankfully only my son was there to see that. He'd forgive me most any idiocy. Odd, there were brackets for a bar on this side of the door. Why would someone need to bar an interior door in that manner? My palm itched and I rubbed it against my leg. Iron always affects me so. No matter, old buildings such as this were not built to any plan.

A cavernous, empty, circular hall greeted us. It was a dim place of dancing shadows. Indistinct shapes flitted around the darker recesses. A mosaic of red stone tiles wound in and out of the debris littering the floor. A shame the Laird let a room like this go to waste. I supposed it would be hard to heat. It was chill enough now in the midst of summer. With such little windows, up so high, the only light would have to be brought in by torch or candle. I'd become accustomed to the brighter, airier spaces of La Florida.

"Père," Jean-Paul pulled at my sleeve, "Where is it, where is the maze?"

I went down on one knee and swept away some of the dirt and grime. There'd been a floor like this in the Abbaye where I was raised. "See here, on the floor. The labyrinth should start somewhere here, by the door." I pointed to the paving at our feet. "You follow the pattern. When you are all the way through you should be back where you started."

Only a four-year-old could look that disappointed. There was precious little for him to do in this dismal keep. The rain kept him indoors most days. There were no children of his age to play with. The Tacksmen's sons were all young men and his mother claimed it was unseemly to mingle with the crofters' broods, even when they had time away from their chores. At home he often ran wild with Temecuas boys. Adults just weren't much company.

"No, truly, it is fun." I tried to put some enthusiasm in my voice. Taking him by the hand, "Now don't step off the line," I began to walk the pattern, then I turned and caught him by the waist, "don't fall!" He screeched in delight.

We were halfway across the room when I caught the whiff of something not right. Something evil and wrong slid its unseen hands up the back of my legs. A sickly sweet, charnel house smell rose from the tessellate pavement. The room turned bitterly cold.

Jean-Paul whimpered. He'd caught it, too, the sense that we were where we shouldn't have been. A whisper rose in my mind. Disembodied voices engaged in an indecipherable conversation surrounded me. I swept my son into my arms, crushing him against my chest. No words to understand, but the whispers were hateful. They did not want us here. Frozen in fear I could move neither forward nor back. A movement at the limits of my vision caught my attention.

In the fringes of the grey light the shadow of a skeleton slunk up the wall. The outlines of bony fingers and toes sought holds in the stone. Like a bloated spider crawling along its web it crept out onto the ceiling, clinging to the beams radiating from the center. Jean-Paul hissed, "Père?" and I shushed him. Maybe if we didn't move it wouldn't notice we were here.

When it reached the center of the room the foul thing whitened, solidified. I could see the bones and count its ribs. Hours of moments went by as it dangled by its hands and feet above us. With a hideous shriek, echoed in the screams of Jean-Paul and I, it burst into pieces. First the skull, then the other bits of bones rained down upon us. The ossified downpour vanished as it touched the stone.

Stillness, absolute stillness reigned. My son was too scared to cry. His breath came in dry little hiccups. Putain, I was too scared to cry. Speaking more for my own comfort than his, "Shhh, Jean-Paul, it just wanted to frighten us." I began to back towards the door. My boot heels echoed in the empty hall.

And then something else echoed. The heavy sound of the door as it shut behind us. I swung around. A grinding crunch as a key turned the lock. We were locked in. Someone had locked us in. Mon Dieu! Why?

Two breaths and then a low groaning answered me. The whimpers and whines of starving children echoed unseen. Whispered prayers floated about the room. Moans and coughs and vows of revenge, the last solace of the condemned, slipped about me as eager and as deadly as any viper. The invisible dying host pressed against us, robbing the breath from our lungs. Ailpein's ghost story, it wasn't a story. Mère Marie, it wasn't a story.

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Fantasies Vol III

Phaze Fantasies III
with Mask
by James Buchanan
July 2, 2007
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Can we have an "a-MEN", times six? Volume Three of our popular Fantasies series is all about the guys, with six hot stories of manlove from Phaze favorites and a few new faces. Whether tracking down criminals or training each other on the finer points of submission, engaged in a fashionable charade or conflicted by their feelings, you will fall in love with these hunky men who love men.

In James’ Mask, Don Hecto Luz Aritza and his mayordomo y compañero Martín have been lovers since they were boys. Now that the Don is to wed a Frenchwoman, Martín must use magic and love to fight of the woman who wants to tear the lovers apart. Set in Colonial Mexico, Mask weaves the mysticism, suppression and magic of legends of the old southwest into a tale of two men who must fight to be together.


Horses always ran faster when headed towards their manger, and Fiel was no exception. A wild ride through the bosque brought them to the edge of town where Hector reined him back to fast walk. Not more than a single lane, bordered by loose rock paths, drifted through the pueblo. Whitewashed adobes faced a zocalo filled with scraggly trees and beaten dirt. Holding tight to Hector's waist, they bounced through at a decent clip. When they hit the edge of the small cluster of buildings, Hector spurred the bay into a gallop, heading for home.

Stands of knife leafed agaves wove among saguaro and prickly-pear. Cactus ringed the perimeter of the hacienda, its red clay roof visible as the horse made a rise in the road. It kept all but the most determined marauder out. That, and the thick adobe wall with its broad grease wood gate and broken glass set into the top. Normally, the gates would be shut tight, only a little inset door left open for callers. Today, however, the entry stood open.

Rocks dropped one by one into Martín's stomach. That could only mean one thing. Even Fiel sensed it and, snorting, broke the pace himself. Slowing to a walk, they entered the hacienda courtyard.

As Hector reined their mount to a stop, Martín slid from the back of the animal, adjusting his vest and stamping tight-legged trousers back over his boot tops. He stepped aside as Hector swung out of the saddle and jumped to the ground. When standing together people joked they could hardly tell the men apart, although Hector's fair skin had not been browned by working in the sun, and he cropped his hair short as was the style among important men. Martín carried a few years that the Don did not. But their smiles and the light in their eyes hinted at an unspoken shared lineage.

A young boy, his loose white pants and open shirt billowing, ran to grab the bridle and led Fiel off to the stable. Martín tousled the boy's black hair as he passed, heading toward the crowd that had gathered around the perimeter of the courtyard. Under the eves of the outdoor kitchen, women in Indian blanket skirts, calico tops, and shawls thrown over their heads whispered to each other as they shushed their babies with bounces. Their husbands stood off in tight knots, trying not to look interested. At the center of their attention a carriage rested, its sides covered in tan dust, and a team of horses stood lathered from their pull. In front of that a woman they'd all been waiting months to catch a glimpse of paced. In her wake trailed a dowdy, older matron, fussing and fretting like a mother hen.

Fine, embroidered linen covered the young woman's head and draped about her shoulders. A fringe of ginger curls framed her high forehead. The traveling dress she wore was a demure dark brown, with a high collar for modesty and a cinched waist. Her face could have been beautiful if her expression had not been half so haughty. Lolita Moreau, the soon to be mistress of the hacienda, surveyed her tiny fiefdom as though the peasants might crawl forth and bite her. She snapped a command and her attendant jerked as though whipped.

Off to one side another woman watched. Doña Aritza, Hector's mother, pursed her lips and seemed to be almost in prayer. When she caught sight of Hector and Martín an honest smile broke over her face. Señora Aritza gathered her skirts and headed across the small court toward her son.

"Hector," Martín hissed out of the side of his mouth, "that's your bride?" It was both a question and a show of sympathy. They could only hope the long trip soured her and that it was not her normal disposition.

Hector swallowed. "The painting made her prettier."

"Artists will do that." He nodded, fussing with the scarf at his neck. "If she didn't seem like such a shrew she might fit the image."

With a sigh, Hector held out his hands for his mother, cupping her frail fingers into his palms. "I see the Señorita arrived safely." His tone indicated he rather wished she hadn't.

"Sí, mi'jo, she is here." Señora Aritza's voice echoed agreement with her son's. After a heavy pause, she continued. "Come, let me introduce you." Turning, she led them across the yard, her arm laced through Hector's, Martín following a respectful distance behind.

At their approach, Doña Lolita looked up and smiled. Martín shook off a vision of too many teeth, and reminded himself that Hector was liable to incite smiles in almost anyone. However, when the lady caught sight of Martín standing behind Hector, her dark eyes narrowed and her lips went tight. Apparently, she was not overly fond of the common Mexican. With a final glare in his general direction, Doña Lolita gave her attention back to Señora Aritza.

"My dear," the Señora began, pushing her son slightly forward, "my son, Hector Luz Aritza."

Hector dropped his eyes and stared at his boots. "Muy amable, Señorita. Welcome, I trust your journey was pleasant?"

"Is that any way for a groom to greet his future bride?" The words poured forth like rancid honey. "Staring at the dirt and unwilling to look her in the eye?"

Hector snorted and looked up. "No, you are correct." Turning slightly to catch Martín's eye, Hector raised his eyebrows in question. Martín shrugged. He did not like this woman. It went beyond her demeanor. It went beyond the irrational resentment he had for her…no woman could take Hector from him. Still, something cold slithered down his spine each time she breathed. For a moment the men held each other's gazes: Martín tried to cover his unease and Hector seemed to offer reassurance. Both broke the link at near the same time. Hector's smile tightened as he returned his attention to his bride-to-be. "Welcome to your new home. I hope you will be happy here."

Ignoring the pleasantry, Lolita called, "Tante!" Fingers curled, almost pulling the older woman towards her as with strings, "bring me the gift."

"Gift?" Startled, Hector shifted. His mother patted his arm. Martín stood, suspicion gnawing at his insides.

The wedding gifts had been exchanged months before between the families. Again he shrugged the unquiet off. It was not out of the ordinary for small presents to be exchanged between betrothed. He should have thought to have one prepared in this event. Such things went with his duties as Hector's mayordomo y compañero. Fingering the small, etched coin hung about his neck on a cord, Martín's brain scrambled for an answer. Hector gave him the trinket years ago as a token of his love. Absently, Martín's fingers traced the pattern of a hand holding a heart carved into the surface of the metal.

Ah, well, they hadn't known exactly when the Señorita would arrive. Martín would insure they procured something appropriate before dinner; maybe the crucifix which had belonged to Hector's great-grandmother might be proper.

A soft snick jerked Martín's attention back. The Señorita held the lapel of Hector's jacket with one thin hand. In the other she held a broach, with the pin back sprung. Two open witches' hearts, their tails turned to the left, were crowned in gold. Garnets glittered red. Lolita smiled and leaned in to pin the charm.

"Aye!" Hector jumped back, hand on his chest. Martín stepped to his side, glaring at the woman.

Fox-like eyes narrowed, Lolita stood and watched as a single drop of blood fell from the tip of the pin. Her gaze tracked it as it tumbled to the earth. Then she looked up. "How clumsy of me," she purred, "to stick my husband like that. I must be tired." She folded her hand over the broach. "Perhaps someone could show me to my room."


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