Tag Archive | seventh sanctum

Gift, a Yuletide story of TirNaCali #weblit

TirNaCali is an alternate-history setting of mine, set in a world where the West Coast of the United States is its own nation, a matriarchal nation of magic-using lovelies who are both slave-owning and kidnap people from America to serve as slaves. It’s an entirely self-indulgent setting, but fun to write in.

This story is from a Seventh Sanctum prompt.


Life in Duchess Lemaria’s harem was not, as far as such things went, a bad life. The work, while sometimes painful and often degrading, was never onerous; the Ladies they serviced were, as a matter of course, beautiful, and rarely too rough with them; and the chances for upward mobility were certainly greater than they were in the kitchens or the fields.

The slaves of the harem were still, however, slaves, locked in their barracks at night, serving entirely at the whim of a compound full of impatient and sometimes demanding royal women, with no say in who or when they would serve. They craved the promotion, the day when one Lady would requisition them into exclusive service.

Lady Ursula had been calling for Efran’s service on a weekly basis since the vernal equinox, when he’d impressed her with a bit of linguistic talent; as they neared Yule, she’d started calling for him twice a week, and now three and four times a week. He had not only a nimble tongue but a good bloodline, and he had done his best to impress her with his abilities outside of the bedroom, in what little time she gave him to do so.

She had, as of the last few weeks, been giving him more opportunities to show off such, taking him to charity balls, a wedding, a few small business affairs. That she had been calling for another harem boy for her bed time bothered Efran not at all: Stephan was an import, a rough American. He was never going to be any sort of real competition. That position in personal service to the Lady was already in the bag.

That didn’t stop Efran from watching the boy when he came back from serving the Lady. He never looked happy about it, which was confusing – she had a light touch, a pleasant manner, and a way of speaking that made one feel, for a few minutes, almost free. Compared to some of the other Ladies they’d both served under, she was kindness itself.

Unless, Efran thought with some glee, she was only like that with him. Unless he was special, dear to her in a way some cheap ill-mannered kidnapped slave never would be; unless she was gentle with him and rough like her temperamental older sister with Stephan. The new slave was still rebellious, after all; maybe he needed heavy discipline.

If Stephan noticed the attention, he hid it well. He ignored Efran the way he ignored all of the born-Californian harem slaves, especially those with the slight stature and grey eyes that meant their blood was, however tainted, royal. The Americans didn’t like them, didn’t feel comfortable around them, and generally treated them like some sort of obnoxious yipping dog, an attitude Efran thought was funny from a bunch of badly-trained shaggy monster dogs.

Efran didn’t mind being ignored by the likes of them, though. It meant he and Flores and Wensleydale could watch the usurpers, gauge their weaknesses, and plot how to undermine them without ever being suspected of anything other than a little illicit interest in someone’s ass. (Stephan had a nice ass, but then, for overgrown hairy brutes, the American harem slaves were still universally good-looking).

What they saw, in their spying, assured them that none of the brutes were any risk to their career plans, as it were. They were angry, they were disobedient, they tried to escape, they had no poise. Sure, a Lady might like that, the way she might like a white water rafting ride or a bucking bronco, for a bit of a thrill now and then, but none of the Duchess’s daughters or granddaughters or nieces would want that sort of hassle full-time, not when they could have a well-trained Californian stud. Content in his supremacy, he went on not minding the time Stephan spent under Lady Ursula and enjoying his time on the town.

It was a tradition in the Duchess’s expansive household that all of the slaves were given a holiday around Yuletime. For the harem slaves, this was two days before Yule, a time when they could spend some pocket money on gifts they wanted to give, and were, in return, given gifs by the Ladies they served. Sometimes, they were given promotions out of the harems as part of their gift.

Efran liked Yule best of the four seasonal holidays. Shopping itself wasn’t thrilling, but wandering the mall as a group, loosely escorted by guards as intent on a holiday as they were, was luxury enough to be relaxing. Even the American slaves, he noticed, were laid back, behaving themselves. No-one wanted to ruin the day.

And, as if by magic, when they returned, there were the gifts, sitting on their beds, wrapped in colorful paper and tied with bows. “Like Christmas,” one of the American slaves commented, just like someone did every year, sounding surprised and a little resentful. Efran always thought that was the weirdest, like they’d like it better if nothing good ever happened.

Regardless of the strange faces, they all dug in to their packages like kids getting their first presents, Efran as much as any of them. He was hoping for something special from Lady Ursula, since she’d been monopolizing so much of his time for so long.

Slippers from Lady Tansy. She gave him slippers every year, the same pair. She gave them all slippers every year.

Bracelets from Lady Andrea. The chain bracelets circled his wrists like shackles, and were exactly the right size to cover rope marks. The Lady Andrea was practical in a totally different (and often more pleasant) manner than her Aunt Tansy.

Cookies from Lady Jessica, who had suggested more than once that he was too skinny, that the harem mistress ought to feed him better. A grooming kit from Lady Taima – did she think he needed to take better care of himself? He frowned at the gift and wondered if he could regift it to a shaggy American without being found out. And was there a shaggy American he felt like gifting something to? He tucked it in his sock drawer quickly, just in case.

It was followed quickly by Lady Nagida’s present, something she’d been threatening for a while, but as a Yule gift seemed doubly unfair. Maybe there’d be a key in one of the remaining boxes, and he wouldn’t have to suffer through her using it on him. There were harem slaves who liked that sort of thing; let them have the pleasure of her!

Earrings from Her Grace herself, a little more delicate than he liked, but expensive and attractive enough. They’d go with the shirt & cufflinks from last year that she loved to take off of him. And in the last package…

It was a small chest, five by five by maybe fifteen, nice wood, brass clasp. A strange size for a gift of any sort, and Efran found his heart pumping as he opened the lid.

“What the fuck is this?” He looked up – realized everyone in the harem was looking up – at Stephen, who was staring into a small box, a much smaller box than Efran’s.

“Let me see,” Flores suggested, stepping aside from his own generous pile of gifts to look at the American’s offending present. “Gods below, already?”

“What is it?” Wensleydale demanded, looking up from his own box of slippers. Efran’s pounding heart seemed to stutter, as he glanced down at his gift from Lady Ursula.

Not a key. Not a ring. A bottle of a very nice wine, and a note.

“It’s a key,” Stephen said, his voice full of frustrated disgust. “What is this, some sort of game?”

“Who’s it from?” Flore’s scarred spine was tense, and he wouldn’t turn to look at Efran.

“Lady Ursula, the bi…” Some ounce of self-preservation stopped the brute from finishing the sentence.

“It’s the key to the companion’s room,” Wensleydale explained. “It means she wants you to be in personal service to her, though the Goddess alone knows why.”

Efran barely heard. He was staring at the polite note in Lady Ursula’s precise hand.

Efran, I’ve had a wonderful year with you. But Yule is, as always, a time for renewal and change…


From a Seventh Sanctum generator prompt:
“The theme of the story: dramatic romance. The main character: social astrologer. The start of the story: surrender. The end of the story: Alienation.”

This is in the same world as Holding the Ways and The Deep Inks; Spring is the youngest sister of Autumn and Winter.


“I give up.”

“Canapé, sir?”

“I said, I give up. I surrender.” He set his wine glass down with a thump.

“A refill? The Chardonnay?” She lifted the bottle, looking up to his face for the first time for a response.

“No, thank you. I’m working. You don’t accept capitulation very well, do you?” His face was movie-screen perfect, save for an off-center scar in his chin like a misplaced dimple; the flaw was more notable than the perfection, in this town.

“I’m sorry, sir?” It finally occurred to Spring that he was the only one at the serving station, and that he must be talking to her. “What did you want me to give in to?”

He shook his head in a show of amused exasperation. His suit was expensive, this season’s style. His jewelry was classic: bracelet, cufflinks, one rakish diamond earring, left ear. He certainly wasn’t catering staff, she’d have known him, and the butlers and other service staff didn’t dress that nicely. Gigolo? Parties like this attracted their share of that sort.

“I didn’t want you to give in to anything, miss…?” He talked over her assessment of him like he didn’t notice she was doing it. He was intent on a point, that was for sure.

“Oh?” She cleared some used toothpicks and tried to look just disinterested enough.

“I was trying to surrender. But you are ignoring my white flag quite diligently.”

“I didn’t know we were at war. Are the canapés that bad?”

He laughed, a little too loudly. “I acquiesce. I can’t even surrender to you. You are truly a maddening woman.”

“Thank you, sir.” She couldn’t help a small, wicked smile. “You should see me when I’m trying.”

“I imagine you are sight to behold, more so even than when you’re serving drinks at a tedious cocktail party.”

As compliments went, it was a bit weak. She smiled her professional go-away smile and dropped his glass into the dirties tray.

“No, really. What do I have to say to you, miss…?”

“‘The hors d’oeuvres are delicious, can I have another one of the asparagus spikes’ always works for me.”

“I’d rather have one of those brie and bacon things, if you don’t mind. But they are delicious.”

“Thank you, sir.” She wished she could believably fake a British accent. They always sounded cooler, more reserved and stay-away.

“There, I complimented your delicious food. Now will you talk to me?”

“If I talk to you, sir, will you let me do my job?” Impossible to not sound a little exasperated. Amusing how much that seemed to make him nervous.

“Yes, yes, it’s just, I’m trying to do my job here, and you’re throwing me for a real loop. I can map out every interaction in this party, down to the tightest nuance. I can see where and who and why everyone is. It’s what I do, and I’m good at it.”

“Ah, star mapper.” She didn’t bother trying to hide her disdain.

“Social astrologist, thank you. And three clients paid me a great deal of money to be here and map their charts.”

“So map their charts.” Her smile was starting to show, though. Star mappers were a fun sort to play with.

“That’s the thing. I can lay out every chart in this room – except where it touches you. Anywhere near these damn canapés – delicious though they are – everything goes to havoc. And I have to know why.”

Tempting to say “get used to being disappointed.” Far more fun to tell him the truth.

Her caterer’s uniform covered the tattoo, but one button undone and she folded the crisp white button-down aside to show him her breastbone. He hissed softly.

“A tangler.”

She buttoned the shirt up again, covering the mark, arrows pointing helter-skelter from the center twist. “A monkey-wrencher, a jammer, a line-crosser. Yes sir.” She smirked at the expression twisting his handsome face.

“Catering doesn’t seem to be the sort of profession for a tangler.” He looked a little doubtful at his bacon hors d’oeuvre.


“I never thought of your sort as into the service professions.”

“I never thought of your sort as rich and handsome,” she countered, wondering when she’d decided to flirt with him. “Besides, there’s something to be said for defying expectations. After all, that didn’t taste quite like you expected it to, did it?”

“You have me there,” he admitted. “I don’t suppose I could talk you in to tangling, say, a little less while I’m working this party? I have a paycheck to earn.”

“You can’t tell me an experienced,” there was an art to making that sound like an insult, or a flirtation. There was more fun and more skill in making it sound like both at once. “An experienced star mapper like you can’t work around one little monkey-wrencher?”

He flushed a little, looking wistfully at the bottle of wine by her hand. “I can work around most things. But you’re either a very strong tangler, or you’re working your hardest at making your corner of the world a chaotic mess.”

“Or both, of course, or neither and you’re just having an off day. As much as I would love it, the whole world doesn’t revolve around me.” She poured a glass of wine and sipped slowly at it, loving the way his Adam’s Apple bobbed under his exactly-appropriate silk tie. “Of course, if it did…”

“You’d have to move so it was confused as to where to revolve. It must make your life endlessly complicated.” He took the bottle from her and poured his own glass.

“Not any more so than anyone else who works with the threads. Isn’t your life complicated, dancing the dance they expect, being the person they need you to be, buying all the right clothes and saying all the right things?”

“I’d never thought of it that way. It’s part of being an astrologer; I know where the paths are going and I walk the way I need to amongst them.” He sipped slowly at the wine. “This . Is not a Chardonnay.”

“Port,” she smiled lightly. “But it’s a very good port, from a tiny little vineyard.”


“Of course not.”

“So you’re saying it’s no harder for you to throw a wrench in every work you encounter – it is, indeed, a very good port – than it is for me to follow the chi of a situation and translate it into probabilities?”

“Shh, if people know what you’re doing is that easy, they’ll stop paying you the big money to do it, and then how will you afford your pretty jewelry?”

“Pretty!” He managed an affronted expression for a few moments, before it faded away into amusement. “You’re good at that, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” Anything else would be lying or bragging, and while she wasn’t above either, it didn’t seem the time.

“What will it take to get you to leave the lines alone for an evening? The pretty jewelry, as you’ve pointed out, doesn’t pay for itself.”

She smiled at him, and sipped her port, giving him a minute to sweat. Giving herself a moment to consider. There was nothing in her art against occasionally letting people have their way. Her art being what it was, there were no rules, such as they were, that were not honored more in the breech than the observance, anyway. And, while it could be the port, she was becoming very fond of the nick in his chin.

“Look, I can work around you if I have to. If I tell one of my clients to buy when they should have sold, well, I can always chalk it up to an error of interpretation on their part. A third of the art is bullshit, after all. Another thing I should never let my clients hear me say, of course. But you’re unlikely to ever be a client of mine…”

“A date.” Client reminded her what she’d originally pegged him as, and she wondered how he’d take to that assessment. To buying her quiet with his time, maybe with his ass. She wondered if it was a nice ass; it would almost have to be, given the front of him, though it would be entertaining if it was flat, or fat, or lopsided.

“Excuse me?”

“I won’t twist another strand tonight, if you’ll agree to take me on a date. Wednesday coming; I’ve got the day off.”

“Seriously? You want to go on a date with a star-mapper?” He imitated her disdain in his twist of the word.

“Nope,” she grinned, finishing her port in one swallow as punctuation. “I want you, mister, to take me… Spring, by the way… on a date.”

“This can only end badly.” He reached his left hand into the air between them, the sparkle of his cufflinks highlighting the gesture in a way that had to be purposeful. She wondered what he could catch, in the twisted strands that surrounded her, but he smiled triumphantly anyway. “Done. I’ll pick you up at seven.”

Wondering if she had just been tangled, Spring couldn’t help but smile. “Deal.”