As the release date for Konstantin’s Gifts draws ever nearer, it seems appropriate to put up some excerpts from the novel. The back cover blurb and the first two chapters are now live! You can either download them as a pdf or read them online. Enjoy!
(p.s. They’re also available from the drop down menu at the top of the page, under “My Writing: Speculative Fiction”)
Imprisoned and tortured by her sadistic owner, Vasya soon discovers that the daily “medicine” she has been ingesting has changed her in strange and profound ways. She has become abnormally strong, and cuts heal within hours, rather than days. Most disturbingly of all, she finds that during the three nights of the full moon, her face can inspire a deep and abiding obsession in any man who glimpses it. Dare she use her newfound power to rescue her brother and escape from the shackles of serfdom?
In a land where aristocrats count their fortunes by the number of souls they own, and the creatures of folklore and nightmare are as real as the village up the road, Vasya and her brother Pyotr must evade Konstantin, their obsessed owner, while coming to terms with the ways in which he has transformed them into an altogether new race of creatures.
Each time she passed the door, with its locks and bars, Vasilisa paused in her pacing, and stood listening, her body poised and still.
Nothing new. Just the sounds of the quiet house beyond.
It felt like her life, these past few days, had consisted entirely of closed, endless circles. Since discovering her body could heal itself within short hours of being injured, she had been unable to concentrate on reading, unable to settle on any pastime or distraction.
Instead, she had walked ceaseless circuits about the room. Her mind, too, whirled through a closed circuit of thoughts, beginning and ending with the unthinkable, for a serf: escape, for herself and her brother, Pyotr. They would flee, away from this place, from this master, and into the most far flung regions of the empire. Syabera, perhaps. Somewhere safely remote, where Prince Konstantin would never find them.
But how? She kept running up against the impasse of its impossibility. How to bend the bars stronger than adamantine that covered the windows? How to break impenetrable doors?
Alternating with those thoughts was the far more insidious, frightening question of what her master had done to her, and possibly to Pyotr, for she had not seen her brother in weeks. She didn’t know whether he was exhibiting the same symptoms or not.
She had tested her newfound ability to heal swiftly several days earlier, by breaking off the leg of a chair that was evidently far flimsier than it looked, since she had barely needed to exert any force at all to splinter the wood. Prying off a sharp sliver, she had used it to slice her forearm, her leg, the back of her hand. Sure enough, they had all healed within the hour.
And so, here she was: trapped and changed, in some profound way that she didn’t pretend to understand.
Still no sound from the other side of the locked and barred doors. She resumed her circuit around the perimeter of the vast, elegantly-appointed room.
Damask draperies, thick-pile carpets and a canopied bed, piled high with mattresses, all served as markers of a luxurious lifestyle that her childhood self, growing up with her extended family in a cramped cottage, would have had difficulty comprehending. And yet, this dull ache of fear, which underlay every moment of her day and night, was more insidious, more wearing, than anything she could remember having experienced as a child. This elegant, luxurious room kept her captive and vulnerable, helpless to do anything except wait for the return of her jailer, a man as elegant, handsome and charming as the room itself. Her handsome prince.
A bitter thought. She had been fooled. Against her better judgment, she had been fooled. When he had penetrated the anonymity of her serfdom, when he had exerted his considerable charm–abetted by his exquisitely golden good looks–she had begun to believe that he was different from his sister, and to accept the fairy-tale he had woven for her.
But like this room, whose charm and elegance drew attention away from its true nature as a prison, she had eventually come to understand the true scope of his mendacity. And it wasn’t just she who had paid the price for her credulity; Pyotr had also suffered for it.
Vasya drew in a slow breath against the suffocating pressure of her own guilt, as she approached the window, with its heavy, inflexible metal bars, installed in front of the leaded panes. The sight of the luminous, indigo sky outside gave her pause. Over the past week, the days had grown noticeably longer, and Vasya chafed at the change. If ever she contrived to find where that monster had imprisoned her brother, and to get him away from this place, the longer days and ever-shortening nights would have to be factored into her plans, making them that much less likely to succeed.
But now, after a long day: twilight. She couldn’t see the sunset from her window, but she could just make out the pale glow of the moon, peeking out between the dark silhouettes of budding branches. Forest ringed the estate.
She lingered briefly, frowning at the luminous, rounded shape as it rose, a slender fingernail away from being full.
It promised to be a bright, clear night. Perfect for running away–except that even leaving aside the bars that covered the doors and windows, her room was over four stories above the sloping gardens, still ragged from winter’s ravages. And she had yet to learn of her brother’s whereabouts–or indeed, whether he still lived at all.
If he didn’t–well then, there wasn’t much point in any of it. If not for her brother’s involvement in this, she would have kept her head down and accepted her fate. She was a serf. Servitude was her lot in life, and growing up as she had, she knew that abuse often came along with it. Her owner had the right to treat her as he would, and she had little choice but to accept it. The prince had taken the abuse to a new level, but it was more of the same kind of thing she had endured, working for his sister through the years.
And yet, though the same rationale applied to her brother, who was no less a serf than she, Vasya wanted better for him. She knew it was wrong. She had no right to expect any such thing for anyone enserfed in the Empire of Rynska. But she did.
And so for her brother, she would break the law, become a fugitive and do whatever she had to, to provide him with a chance at a better life. Surely a life of stealth and hiding–and the possibility of freedom–was better than this? Though she had no inkling of his ultimate plans, Vasya had grown convinced that Konstantin had no intention of allowing them to return to their former lives.
Vasilisa resumed her pacing.
When she completed the latest circuit, she paused by the door once again, listening. This time, her ears pricked to the sound of shuffling footsteps, far in the distance, but drawing nearer as she waited. She relaxed slightly. The prince wore boots, and walked with a smooth, confident stride. His footsteps echoed off the marble floors as a series of hard, staccato clicks, not easily confused with the soft-soled shuffle of house serf feet.
The shuffling steps drew closer. Vasya crouched down, watching the outline of the removable panel, cut into the bottom of the door. The footsteps stopped in front of her room, and she heard the familiar sound of someone fumbling with the latch that held the panel shut.
“Hello?” Vasilisa pitched her voice carefully: thin, sweet, vulnerable. Helpless. Which she was. “Please. Help me.”
The fumbling with the latch stopped. Vasilisa swallowed, trying to keep the tiny thread of hope from expanding into something bigger–something out of all proportion with that one, brief pause.
“Please,” she said again, struggling to maintain the sad, piteous tone, when she could feel the tremor of that hope creeping into her throat. Never, in all this past week, had the mysterious attendant–or attendants?–paused in their unwavering routine. Three times a day, the panel opened and a tray slid through, containing food, and a syringe loaded with a viscous serum. In the morning and the evening, the tray was followed by a clean, empty chamber pot. She’d slide the previous, used chamber pot out, followed by the previous meal’s food tray. The panel would close.
Four days ago, she had reached out through the open panel, in an attempt to connect with the person on the other side of the door. She had gotten a nasty slice on her forearm for her troubles–a cut that had been the first indication of her accelerated healing abilities. That attendant had whispered, “Don’t be tryin’ that again, or you’ll be lucky to keep your hands at all.”
And still the prince didn’t come–hadn’t come for well over a week. Heavenly father be praised.
“Help me. I’m begging you,” she said now.
The person on the other side resumed fumbling with the latch, but this time, it sounded hurried. The panel opened, the tray slid through. The panel closed. The footsteps started moving away.
Vasilisa straightened, her eyes widening. “No! Just news–that’s all I want.” The footsteps paused. In her desperation, the words came tumbling out, falling over themselves in their eagerness to persuade. “My brother. He’s locked up somewhere else. In the other wing. I’m desperate. He’s just a boy–fourteen years old. He was sick too–” that was the story the prince had fed them, the story that persuaded Vasya to consent to being separated from her brother. The story that had persuaded her to go into the captivity of this room. It was for her own safety, and for the safety of the others on the estate. The illness could sometimes result in violent outbursts that needed to be contained, he said, by way of explaining the bars on the doors and windows.
“I don’t know if he’s alive or dead. Some information, anything at all, would help me.”
Silence. Then, the shuffle of feet, slowly coming back and stopping in front of the door. Silence once more.
“Please,” she repeated. The desperation was not feigned. Given what that monster had done to her… She closed her eyes, trying not to imagine what kinds of horrors the prince might have visited upon her gentle, silken-haired little brother.
Vasya swallowed. She should have hidden him better, should have protected him.
“The lad in the east wing?”
The gruff question startled her. It had been days since she had heard a voice other than her own.