Here’s something a little different for the zine, but no less delightful. I’ll leave K. L. to explain all!
“Hello, all! This is something perhaps a bit different—it’s the opening scene of a work in progress, in fact! I’ve been poking at this one, on and off, for a while now; it’ll be a full-length novel eventually, high fantasy m/m romance, stand-alone, beginning in a library, with the theft of a book…and also a kiss.
I’ve been very much enjoying the writing of it so far, so I wanted to share the opening scene—I think it works fairly well as a first-meeting story, and obviously there’s more to come, but it’s a good (I hope!) intro to King’s librarian Ember and his book-thief, whose name, by the way, is Serenity…which is somewhat ironic, considering how much he’s about to, er, disrupt Ember’s peaceful night…”
Emberly Lyon, reshelving the third volume of Gruyere’s History of Empire, startled a book-thief in the back room of the King’s library at half-past three in the morning.
Ember, one hand still clutching leatherbound pages, blinked at the intruder in lantern-light. The book-thief recovered from surprise first, and demanded, “What are you even doing here?”
“I was—” Instinctive guilt—he’d always been capable of losing time in a book, about which Chance teased him mercilessly, in the way of younger brothers—lost out to baffled anger. “I’m the King’s librarian! What are you doing?”
“I don’t suppose you’d believe I wanted to borrow a novel of seafaring navigation, shipwreck, and improbable feats of adventure?” The book-thief had a voice that laughed: wind over water, copper chimes in arched doorways, melody in sunshine. Ember couldn’t see much of him in library shadow, only the glance of a single dark-lantern’s rays across slender build, petite height, dark hair.
And that laughter. Beckoning.
He glared. “No one’s allowed in here after hours. No one’s allowed in here without my permission. And you’re stealing that!” Book-walls spiraled upward around them, a supportive tower sketched in silken grey, gilt-lettered spines, curious hollow spaces. He and Chance had been filling in those gaps as best they could for the past three years; the late King Brassen hadn’t cared much for reading. Every volume, and not only those in the more valuable back room, was his friend. “Put it back.”
“I’m afraid I can’t. A commission, you see.” Light as chatter across a ballroom, casual as a rowing-party on the Sweetwater; but this river glinted with robbery and danger. The book-thief had quite sensibly worn dark grey and green, fitted and shadowy under a hood; he wasn’t tall, and his voice sounded cheerful and irritatingly blithe, caught red-handed. Literature-handed. Mid-narrative. “Did you say you were the King’s librarian? The King’s librarian is—” He stopped.
“Yes,” Ember agreed, “you were saying?” and shifted weight, ever so slightly.
He and Chance did, in some ways, look alike—the tilt of eyes, that straight Lyon nose, the expressions on his half-brother’s face that Ember had glimpsed on his own in a mirror—but most people never saw that. Never saw past the height, the shoulders, and his skin, midway between King Brassen’s aged tawny gold and the shimmering onyx of the Araly dancer who’d caught the lion’s eye. Chance had the late Queen’s fairness and got sunburnt under rainclouds. Ember had waited in his chambers with aloe creams for years, after Brassen ordered his only legitimate son to keep up on all-day hunts.
His book-thief must be new to Lyonheart. Any person in the city’s market would’ve known. The King’s librarian was the King’s bastard older brother, and at a glance they did not resemble each other.
Ember tended to get stares in that market less because of his coloring specifically—though that was a part of it; traders came by from the Southern Continent often enough to be unusual but not singularly so—but because he loomed. Couldn’t help it. Their father’s muscles.
“The King’s librarian is someone who spends his days indoors with books, I was going to say.” Pale eyes flickered over him. Up and down. Lingering, Ember realized with a shock of thrilled outrage, on his shoulders, waist, below his waist. He couldn’t tell what color those eyes were under the hood, only that they danced in a ray of lamplight. “You, on the other hand, should be rescuing virgins and valiantly slaying monsters in perilous forests. Have you seen your arms, lately?”
That tone was either genuinely honest admiration or outrageous flattery; Ember choked on unexpected absurd laughter. “I’m preventing a crime, aren’t I? Put it back, please.”
“Do you know how difficult it was to break in here? You’ve actually got decent wards up. How’d you manage that?”
“Valiant monster-slayer secrets. Learned in a perilous forest. How did you—stop that!” His thief had begun inching toward the rear—and open, he noticed—window. Lyonheart sprawled sleepily outside, dreaming with the restlessness of an island city-state in the hours before dawn. Morning marketers and broadsheet-vendors and primrose-sellers would be stirring soon, bakeries opening, the drifting scents of strong tea and hot pies and fish-hauls and the clatter of early voices like a hundred melodies at once. Beyond darkened windows the sea lapped at shore, purring, wine-hued.
A few streets down from the palace, etched in black-on-night along the harbor’s curve, he could make out the shabby old spires of the dilapidated Magicians’ College next to the taller newer symmetry of the University. He thought, as he always thought, home; and memories of creaky voices and dusty spellbooks and patched-up robes warmed his bones.
“Sorry. I thought you said I could go. I’m certain I heard that.”
His thief was having fun. Teasing. That laughter again. Ember narrowed eyes at him, stalked closer, and demanded, “How’d you get in?”
“Through the window. And I’d quite like to get out again, so if you’d not mind, I’m trying to borrow a book from your library, which I believe you’ve opened to all visitors—”
“Borrow implies that you’ll bring it back. Visitors come in during open hours.” He put a hand on the book in question; his thief had been attempting to tuck it into a bag. An antique volume. One of Flint’s histories of magic in Lyonheart, volume one, all the way back to the Crossing and the First Kings. The copy itself was fairly old, but they had older; it did not have a jeweled cover, though it did have real gold leaf in illuminated capitals. “Visitors check in at the front gate. So I know who’s in the house.”
“You enjoy knowing who’s here?” His book-thief had dark hair, black or brown; he’d tied it up, but stray waves were escaping. “You enjoy knowing who gets to…come…into your library?”
Young, Ember thought; not a boy, but youthful enough to be reckless, to dare consequences, to twirl on a tightrope. To laugh.
Despite the book between them, they were close enough to touch. Close enough for heat in the night.
And that night crackled: awake and conscious of every sense in a way he was not sure he remembered ever having been. The closest might’ve been the time Chance had come down with summer fever and almost died and not died, opening exhausted eyes and finally seeing him; this was not that emotion but nearly so, a kind of stunned relieved recognition, a quickening to life, the leap of joy in his veins.
His book-thief’s lips had parted, soundless now, gazing up. He’d had to tip his head back to do so; and they stood framed by fourteenth-century political discourses for a moment, caught out of time.
The young man went up on tiptoes, sudden and sweet, and kissed him. A thief’s kiss, a bandit’s kiss, dazzling as sunrise and as audacious.
The young man tasted like cherries, and possessed bones as light as a bird’s, no weight at all against him, and had soft bouncy hair; Ember knew this because apparently his hands had slid into it, pushing back that hood. The book was trapped between them. It held heartbeats and pressed edges into his chest.
The young man drew back, laughed briefly—wondering, as if surprised—and kissed him again, deeper this time, tongue sneaking out to explore, to lick, to drink him in. Ember made a noise, or one of them did, and pulled him closer and met playfulness with strength; his thief outright moaned, shameless, and actually leaned into him, eyes closing.
Warmth flooded through the library, and hummed in his blood, in that welcoming response where their bodies met.
Chilly air rampaged in. Emptiness. No more lips on his. Ember blinked, panted, fought for equilibrium. One hand on the bookshelf.
“I’m really very sorry,” his thief said from the window, perched on the sill like the nightingale he might’ve been, lightweight and song-voiced, “that was—that was—well, you’re not anything I expected. From the King’s librarian. Good night, my valiant monster-slayer.”
He vanished. Out of sight. Doubtless with a rope, a ladder, a daring swing across kitchen-gardens and courtyards. Ember hadn’t recovered enough to go after him.
The young man had taken the book, too. Of course he had. A book, a kiss, Ember’s ability to think about anything other than that kiss. Neatly stolen.
The palace—Lyon House to everyone besides the most particular; it’d been Brassen’s great-grandfather who’d called it a palace, and it wore the name rather sheepishly—opened onto the public square. That laughter, that quickness, would be long gone.
Ember stared at the night. He caught himself lifting a hand to his lips; and then he laughed a little, too, astonished.
Oh that was fun! Can’t wait to see more!
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There will definitely be more! I’ve got about 25k written so far. Things with deadlines get priority, but this one very much wants to be written… :p
A tiny bit more?
He locked up the library, and checked the rest of the windows just in case, and went back to his room.
He’d moved into the main house after the state funeral three years ago, after they’d put King Brassen to rest at sea and dedicated the newest monument in the royal Memorial Garden. He’d wanted to come earlier—Chance had been looking pale and overwhelmed under the weight of the Crown—but they’d reasoned that there’d be bigger fights ahead. No need to stir up emotions by inviting the half-foreign bastard older brother into the palace before their father’d been given due ceremony. No need to remind the Court just how little Chance resembled their father—and how much Ember did, in build and shape if not coloring. That valiant build.
Chance and Giulia occupied the connecting King’s and Queen’s suites at the far end of the second floor. They’d be in bed, hopefully asleep, possibly trying for the heir who hadn’t arrived yet; no candlelight showed, though. Ember balanced his own candle and key and got into his door. It creaked at him reproachfully. He winced.
He’d taken over two of the connecting rooms down the hall, rooms that’d once belonged to ambassadors and magician-advisors and later to their father’s favored mistresses. He’d had blood-red satin draperies and ceiling-mirrors removed and sold or stored in the attic, and had redecorated, mostly with books. Chance had bought him a gorgeous Friesian cartographer’s world map; it painted stories of faraway lands over the fireplace.
He took a deep breath, and held out a hand to cold logs. He pictured fire, in his head; he imagined fire, became for a moment the essence of fire, incandescent, curling, consuming, giving back, in scarlet and gold, orange and sunlight. He held it in his palm, and thought very gently about small fires, cozy domestic fires, fires leaping comfortably contained in a hearth.
His logs obligingly whooshed to life.
Ember tossed an appreciative salute at them, and kicked off shoes and curled up in a heap of pillows on the floor by heat-flushed stone. He only had one not terribly friendly chair; they’d prioritized the ability to pay palace staff over nonessential refurnishing. Chance had ruthlessly mined even the sapphire-studded collars of Brassen’s hunting-dogs to settle inherited debts.
As ever, magic left him mildly weary, and euphoric, and triumphant. Like the moment after fireworks, he’d said to his brother once. The moment when the world lights up and you can do anything, and then it fizzles out and you’re left in the dark again. But you know you did it. Right then.
As far as he knew no one else in Lyonheart could do magic.
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Oh, that’s nice!
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And we haven’t even met Ember’s family yet! And they are a delight. 😀
In the morning awareness arrived sneakily and insistently as a palace cat. Ember had for as long as he could recall possessed the trick of waking himself when he needed to, which did not mean that he did not swear under his breath and scrub hands across scratchy eyes. He stuck his head into the frigid water-basin in his bathing-room, shook wet hair out of his face, banged a shoulder on the doorway—the bathing-room hadn’t been designed for someone of his proportions—and threw on a clean shirt and went to have breakfast with Chance and Giulia, in the upstairs morning parlor with the new blue-and-white wallpaper, across which swallows swooped mid-flight. They’d replaced rather shockingly obscene murals, and served one room’s worth of notice to visitors that the Crown was working toward being able to restore itself.
The King waved a butter-knife his direction as he came in. “What would you think about providing free bread and cheese in the morning to all our grammar-school children?”
“I think,” Ember said, lifting antique silver trays, uncovering poached eggs, smoked salmon, sliced ham, “that I can think about this better after I’ve had food. Which of course proves your argument. Can we afford it?” He found his own plate—they’d never bothered with ceremony at breakfast and couldn’t pay a footman if they’d wanted to—and collected fried potatoes. “Don’t say it’ll come out of your personal allowance; we dipped into that to fund the school in the first place.”
“We can afford it. We finally had a good harvest from the estate.” Chance pointed the knife at him. “Why do you look tired?”
“This year we did. What about next year? Or the year after that?” He supported his brother’s social reform programs out of both familial loyalty and general principle, but Chance frequently needed someone to play devil’s advocate; he consumed a forkful of eggs to underscore the point, and ignored the second question.
“You let me worry about that.” As Queen Consort—the title’d been a placating compromise—Giulia Luna was not technically in the line of succession, but then according to convention anyone less than nobility ought not to’ve been Queen at all. She possessed a delicate pointed chin, pale topaz-blue eyes, and cornsilk hair; that deceptively fragile prettiness plus her dowry’d had half the men and women in the city writing bad sonnets in her honor. She’d grown up the only daughter of the richest banking house in three kingdoms; and she certainly knew to the penny, Ember reflected, the daily international prices for wool and saffron and the tea in his cup. “I’ve got plans.”
Chance had needed to marry money; the Crown had been teetering on the brink of outright ruin after Brassen Lyon’s extravagant reign. He and Ember had come up with a list of candidates. Had rocked the world, or at least Court—which amounted to the same thing—by declaring that royal rank was not a prerequisite. Had been honest about the circumstances, in ballrooms, at picnics.
The banker’s daughter and the young king hadn’t fallen in love at immediate first sight. But it hadn’t taken long, either. Maybe one of those picnics. Two.
Nearly three years after that first meeting, Chance looked at his wife as if she’d hung every last incandescent star in the sky. She smiled at him the same way.
“Jewel,” Chance said, picking up another piece of toast, “did you have something specific in mind?”
“I did. There’s the farmer in North Karry whose new mechanical harvester has gone into mass production, I told you about that one, it’s showing excellent returns, and there’s that young man here in the Street of Artisans who believes he’s figured out something to do with steam power and valves, and he’s suggesting it’ll be useful for deep mining and production and possibly even transportation. Papa thinks it’s ridiculous, mind you, but I think he’s being overly conservative and I’d like to at least have a look.” Giulia nibbled a fairy-light piece of golden crumpet and pineapple jam, and licked a fingertip. “We won’t be dependent on the harvests for our income, at any rate. Emberly, you do look tired. Why is that?”
“Up late reading,” Ember said promptly. They wouldn’t think this was a lie.
“Are you sure?” Chance tilted an eyebrow at him. Ember had never been able to raise only one, and found this excessively annoying, which his little brother knew. “I have the strangest feeling that you’re lying to me. Your King. Your only sibling. I’m wounded.”
“You’ll live,” Ember told him heartlessly, and poured tea. No one needed to hear about book-thieves with tempting soft hair. Certainly no one needed to hear about kisses, stolen as well, glinting as rubies in the night. He found himself oddly breathless. The tea provided a shield.
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What a delightful tease! I want it now.
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Soon, I hope! I have deadlines for a couple other things, but this is one of those stories that wants to be written… 🙂
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I’m so ready for more! That was delightful!
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Yay! I was hoping people wouldn’t mind a sort of WIP post over here – I think it’s a fun first meeting story on its own, but of course you know there’s more…Ember needs to get his book back, and, well, he does have some magic…and more kisses might have to happen… 😀 😀
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Oh yes, definitely more kisses… 😉
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…well, if you would like… ❤
“This isn’t a game! I’m not flirting with you!”
“Aren’t you?” Serenity twisted that captive wrist: less attempting escape, more proving a point. Ember’s body, traitor that it was, noticed the way that slenderness felt under his hands. The way that light body fit between his thighs. The way that glance found humor in the situation—everything backwards, a theft and a rescue and desire and not even a decent introduction—and cheerfully mocked him for it, unrelentingly bold. “I don’t mind bruises in a good cause, perhaps being bent over your desk, and it seems as if you would—”
“I,” Ember said levelly, “am the King’s librarian, and the King’s older brother, and I can do magic. And you are a threat to the King.” He wanted his glare to be more convincing than it was. He kept getting distracted. By acrobat’s muscles. By the memory of the softness of that hair. The library doors remained closed. People no doubt waiting outside. They could wait.
Serenity scowled at him. Did not bother trying to pull away. “I’m a thief, not an assassin. It was a book. One book. And anyway you owe me.”
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.” Ember got the impression that he wanted to cross both arms and couldn’t, with one wrist imprisoned. One eyebrow tilted at him instead. Ember grumbled internally. His thief could do that too. Like Chance. Like everyone except himself, evidently. “I am good at what I do. He—my client—had no reason to try to kill me. I completed that commission. Unless you, my librarian hero, did something to un-complete it. I haven’t offended anyone else in Lyonheart that I know of. So it is clearly your fault I ended up nearly bleeding to death in an alley behind a marketplace on an island rock. And therefore you owe me.”
Ember utterly failed to think of a response to this effrontery, opened his mouth, closed it, tried again. “I owe you.”
“You took my book back, didn’t you? My life’s in danger because of you.”
“That—that—I saved your life! Just now!”
“So now aren’t you responsible for me?” Big eyes. Limpid. Vulnerable: in his hands, so literally, with a tear in that silky shirt and fair skin and tumbling hair, standing before him…
He only noticed his grip’d slackened when Serenity finally managed to cross his arms and take a step back. “And I’d appreciate protection. And passage on a ship headed back to Alba. Decent accommodations, if you would.”
This time Ember caught up faster, shoved him up against the nearest bookshelf, pinned those glorious wrists over his head, and demanded, “You’re not from Alba.” Not originally, not with that accent.
“Serenity Blakely, son of Alistair Blakely, the twelfth Duke of Kenton—which is in Alba, thank you—and Marina Colonna, Countess Bellini, of Verezia. Where I grew up. For the most part. In and out.” Serenity, unbothered by their respective positions, gave him an up-and-down inspection that would’ve been not out of place in an Alban ballroom: a beautiful wealthy boy considering dance partners, with the weight of two titles at his back. And then he grinned. And the world leapt to attention, ready to waltz. “At your service.”
“The twelfth Duke of Kenton doesn’t have a male heir. All girls. Famous for it.” One or two of them’d hoped to marry Chance. “And you’re a thief.”
“I never said legitimate son, did I? Perhaps you ought to listen better; is it a hero trait, not hearing past the muscles? It’s hardly my fault my father’s country doesn’t acknowledge my parentage. And I’m not simply any thief. I trained under William Cloudisle, and I’m better than he was at my age. I’m the third-best in the—”
“In the world, yes.” He leaned closer. Their lips nearly met. Enough for mingled breath, quickened heartbeats. The scents of dry paper and old leather bindings. The drum of adrenaline like thunder through veins. The distant crash and roll of waves outside, pounding the shore. “We’ve been warned. You seduce princes. And steal from them. Who paid you?”
“Ah, you’ve heard the Lydia Velvet story, did you like the bit about the lacy undergarments—”
Ember kissed him. Waves roared. Sunlight flooded the room: open windows at his back, glass brimming over with golden heat. His own magic, the dwindling headache, the fairness of now-healed aristocratic skin revealed under that torn shirt, Serenity’s rippling accent. Spun into a dizzying whirlwind.
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You are giving us such lovely teases!