Well, it’s time for a new novel for Novel Monday and I decided that I’d go with the second novel I published: Artifacts of Awareness. This one is a epic Fantasy. There is some sex, a fair amount of violence and lots of swearing in this one, just so you know. The main character Kennet is not one for keeping his opinions to himself. Hope you enjoy the new book!
Being enslaved was better than dying but only barely. Kennet did what he had to in order to survive as a slave with the knowledge that freedom would risk being found by the people who drove him into slavery. Kennet saw no reason to do anything extra for the men who bought him. They didn’t care about him and he didn’t care about them.
That was true until the royal family of Penhale purchased Kennet guard Prince Didymos. Protecting Prince Didymos from the assassins seeking to kill him dragged Kennet into the world of national politics and onwards to face an enemy that threatened to destroy not just Kennet but the whole world.
Kennet didn’t want to deal with any of it, the assassins or the magic that lurked around him but if he wanted to survive, Kennet would have to not just face down the threats surrounding them but also track the assassins back to their shadowy leader.
What he found at the source of the chaos changed Kennet in ways he could never have anticipated, taking him in all new directions. Hopefully Kennet’s new skills would be enough to let him save the world, his lovers and himself.
Artifacts of Awareness
By Meyari McFarland
Heat sweltered in the dimness of the tent, intensified by the dozen or so naked bodies pressed entirely too close. Kennet ignored the heat. Ignored the two slaves on either side of them with their sun-browned skin slowly sweating rivers down their sides; his sweat couldn’t cool him when they were all pressed so close together.
Outside he heard the rapid patter of the slave merchant as he talked up the current slave on the block. Midday was a terrible time for selling slaves but the lot was so large that the sale had been going on since the predawn dew evaporated away.
Two years. Two years, nine masters and three continents later Kennet knew better than to fight being sold, no matter how much he resented the loss of his freedom.
Kennet refused to growl as he knelt in the slave’s tent for his turn on the auction block. Why waste the energy? He wouldn’t accomplish anything other than a beating and probably would end up being sold to a worse, more abusive, master. No one but a fool fought on the auction block. Well, a fool and Kennet.
The first time he’d been sold he’d fought so hard that it had taken hours for him to wake up from the damage the Alliance guards had inflicted. Finding himself in chains with a slave collar had resulted in an explosion of violence that had sent him to Inina’s sheltering arms for another long period of unconsciousness and an even longer recuperation.
Every sale since then had resulted in less violence, if no less resentment. Alliance slave training designed to destroy his sense of self and ability to act independently hadn’t been enough to grind down Kennet’s desire for freedom. It had only made him hide his anger and use it as fuel for his will to resist.
Of course, if Juraj hadn’t been obviously destined to be Elder Danek’s favorite blood slave pet Kennet might still be free.
Not that it was Juraj’s fault, really. Kennet had to admit that Juraj had done everything in his power to stay out of Danek’s sight. He licked his lip free of sweat, tasting the thin broth they’d been given last night along with the dirt he’d slept on. No, Juraj wasn’t to blame, not with his gentle words and hesitant touches that had always made Kennet want to protect him against the world.
Crumbling Hells, the kid used to damn near disappear inside himself whenever Danek’s power moved through the people around them. They’d see the people around them stiffen and stop in place like puppets whose strings had been tangled. When Kennet had turned Juraj’s face was as blank as everyone else’s. Kennet still had no idea how Juraj had made himself appear like one of Danek’s pawns who populated their home town. Had to be magic of some sort but it didn’t match the magic that he’d seen proper mages do since leaving home.
“You wouldn’t be able to do it,” Juraj had laughed one night as they hid together in the barn after a round of breathless, silent sex under the rafters. “You’re smart, Kennet, but you’ve got as much magic in you as a rock. In Inina’s name, the rocks around here have more magic than you do!”
“Rude,” Kennet had laughed before sucking a mark on Juraj’s chest that made him fight back a moan. “Not my fault you live in the ruins of an ancient building.”
“Still true,” Juraj had chuckled as the barn cats meowed and hissed around them, hunting mice in the hay surrounding them. “The only way you could feel Elder Danek’s power was if your soul was ripped out and replaced by someone else’s.”
That was a joke, Kennet thought as the slave in front of him was brought out for his round at auction. Juraj’s soul probably had been ripped out of him only to be replaced by Elder Danek’s mind and soul. He shifted his legs again, glaring at the ground between his knees so that he wouldn’t glare at the guards quietly complaining about the heat or the auctioneer and his constant jabber outside the tent.
Kennet hadn’t left home. He’d run away in a panic, just barely ahead of Danek’s damned blood slaves and the Empire’s Guards. It was his own damned fault, frankly. Spring Festival had come around again and he’d seen the way Danek was eyeing Juraj. Fourteen, lean and pretty with shining brown hair and those perfect brown eyes; Juraj had been enough to tempt a saint, not that either Kennet or Danek were saints.
All it had taken was Juraj skittering away from Danek’s hand with that covertly panicked expression for Kennet to slam a fist into Danek’s face before grabbing Juraj and running for the hills. It was a minor thing anywhere else in the world but Danek had taken it insanely seriously. Kennet had hidden in the forest around Spider Mountain, dodging giant spiders and acidic borjaz, until Juraj had found him somehow.
“You’ve been declared an exile,” Juraj had panted, face pale and clammy, spider webs caught on his hair and shirt. Terror all but radiated off him. “They’re already hunting for you.”
“Fuck,” was all Kennet had said before kissing Juraj one last time and running for the border. Kennet knew perfectly well that Danek had wanted him dead, not exiled. No one who challenged Danek survived. Most of them ended up sacrificed at the secret rites that Kennet had carefully kept from Juraj or torn apart in various creative ways. Frankly, Juraj’s gasped words of warning were probably the only reason he was still alive.
Kennet still wasn’t sure if he should ask Inina to bless Juraj for that or Haraldr to strike him down for sending Kennet into a fate worse than death.
He shook off the past. Kennet dismissed his frequent daydreams of getting his freedom and going off somewhere to raise rabbits. That wasn’t going to happen so he paid attention to his environment as the last slave in front of him was pulled up onto the block. The auctioneer was one of the ones who tried to pump the crowd up with chatter about the slave on the block.
Kennet raised an eyebrow when the auctioneer described the boy trembling on the block as ‘untouched’ and ‘obedient’. The kid was young, sure, but it was obvious from where Kennet knelt that he was anything but untouched and the scars on his back spoke of someone who’d been punished many times in his short lifetime.
Once the bidding started it didn’t make much difference. Rich people, presumably they were rich given the prices being offered on other slaves before, bid on the boy. The price started low and didn’t go much higher despite the auctioneer’s efforts to entice more bids. Kennet wiggled his toes to get circulation back to his feet as money changed hands and the boy was led away. He smiled grimly at the way the boy jerked against his new master’s leash. Not bright but he could have predicted it from the marks on the boy’s back. When the auctioneer came back for Kennet he stood, waiting with a calm exterior that didn’t match the frustrated rage inside.
“Skills, skills, what skills does this one have?” the auctioneer muttered. He didn’t bother to look in Kennet’s eyes, instead scanning a little card that his former master had filled out.
“Fighting, cooking, farming, fucking and I can read Old Vorenic,” Kennet said because who knew what the hell the auctioneer would come up with. His former master sure as hell wouldn’t have given an accurate account of his abilities. He’d sold Kennet to get money to cover his gambling debts.
“Huh, reading, that’s unusual,” the auctioneer said. This time he actually looked Kennet over as he nodded at the scars covering Kennet’s body. “Might even believe the fighting. You’ve got the build for it. Right, come along.”
He led Kennet out onto the auction block, already putting on his strut and bluster. Outside the tent the sun was a hell of a lot hotter than it’d been inside but at least there was a breeze to help the sweat chill his skin. Kennet still wasn’t used to the heat this far south. The sun seemed twice the size it was back home and at least three times as hot. His paler skin stuck out amidst the dark elm-brown colors of everyone else’s faces.
The crowd of rich bidders looking up at the auction block was pretty standard. Most looked like they were ready to be anywhere else, eyes shielded by a hand held up against the sun’s rays. Quite a few were dressed in the rough canvas and leather that military types used in Penhale though most of them were talking off to one side instead of looking at Kennet.
Way in the back there was what looked like a noble in fine silk clothes. He was surrounded by guards who looked like they’d kill anyone who got too close. Given the assassination attempts that Kennet had heard about against the king’s family, he could understand any noble being nervous about going out in public right now. It wasn’t very likely that Kennet would be chosen by nobles. He had no skills that a noble would need, outside of breeding stock.
“This one is the prize of the lot,” the auctioneer said as proudly as if he hadn’t said it nine times already today and that was just when Kennet had been listening. “Strong, well trained in fighting and very obedient, this one. Not only that but he’s intelligent as well. He’s learned to read Old Vorenic and cook. If that’s not to your taste, he’s from good farming stock and can work on your farm with no complaints or training. What am I bid?”
Kennet helped the pitch a little bit by discretely tensing his arms and legs to emphasize the muscles there. He made sure to keep his face calm and as close to Juraj’s blank nothingness as Kennet had ever been able to get. The bidding started four times as high as the previous slave and went up dramatically when the auctioneer had Kennet turn around slowly so that he could describe what good breeding stock Kennet was. A couple of quick hip thrusts as he turned around made the bidding go much faster. By the time the price was up to twenty-three gold Kennet was wryly amused because the auctioneer kept adding to Kennet’s ‘skills’ every time the bidding went up.
“One hundred fifty gold.”
Silence echoed across the auction block. The bid came from the back of the crowd from the older noble surrounded by guards. Kennet stared at him along with half the crowd, unsure what to make of the bid. It was more than what he’d been sold for totaling all his sales up over his last nine masters. Even his guards turned to stare at the old noble though they only did it for a moment. It took a moment for the auctioneer to splutter to a stop as he finally realized that the bid was real. As soon as he did, he lit up with delight.
“One hundred fifty gold is offered!” the auctioneer exclaimed. “Do I have one fifty-five? Anyone? Anyone?”
Only shuffling feet and awkward coughs answered him. Kennet shut his mouth and blanked his face again. A price that high wasn’t going to get any counter offers, especially with a crowd that had already bought a small army of slaves. The auctioneer clapped his hands once while grinning at the size of his commission.
Kennet moved off the block without being tugged, going off to the side where one of the noble’s guards came forward with a little bag full of money. He didn’t resist as a leash was attached to his collar. There wasn’t much point to resisting. After spending that much money on Kennet, he’d probably be kept on a very short leash until his new master was sure that Kennet wasn’t going to try to run.
Honestly, after this long, Kennet knew he was always going to be a slave, no matter how much that made the anger burn and snarl inside of him. At least as a slave he had someone to protect him. Danek wasn’t likely to take on a master just to get at him. He might try and buy Kennet specifically so that he could be killed or, worse, have his mind ripped out by becoming a blood slave, but being a slave might (might) be safer than being free.
The old noble looked Kennet over with eyes that seemed just as threatening as Elder Danek’s but without that shimmer of power that always made Kennet’s hair stand on end and his common sense run away. After a studying him for long enough that the auctioneer came out with the next slave on the block, the noble nodded once as he turned to lead Kennet and his guards away from the slave market.
His guards surrounded them, one keeping a tight grip on Kennet’s arm despite his lack of resistance. Away from the slave market it seemed even hotter. The buildings bracketing the streets seemed to reflect the heat of the sun down on Kennet’s naked body. It didn’t appear to bother the old noble or his guards but they’d been born to this sort of thing. Kennet hoped idly, and then dismissed the thought as ridiculous, that somewhere he might get something to drink.
Eight blocks later, they ended up in a closed carriage that sweltered even worse than the tent under the afternoon sun. Kennet wheezed at the heat filling the carriage as he climbed in. The noble raised one eyebrow as he didn’t seem to be affected by the heat at all. He settled in on his cushions with a contented little wiggle of his shoulders, gesturing for Kennet to sit on the opposite bench along with his guards.
Asking questions of someone that stern didn’t seem like a good idea, not when bracketed on either side by burly guards who were as big as Kennet or a little bigger. Their grips on Kennet’s wrists were tight enough that he could feel the bones shift. Kennet deliberately kept his arms as loose as possible to encourage the belief that he actually was obedient.
The old man didn’t seem like most of the nobles Kennet had encountered since his exile. Sure, he was dressed in rich silks with very discreet and somber embroidery but he didn’t say anything harsh or smack Kennet around. There were no snide comments about Kennet’s very distinct stench or preemptive displays of authority. To his relief, the noble also didn’t decide that Kennet should immediately suck his cock.
“I find myself relieved,” the old man said after a few minutes of sweltering but relatively peaceful quiet as the carriage jolted along the rutted streets. “You are far more quiet and circumspect than I expected.”
Kennet didn’t think that a response was required but one of the guards elbowed him so he shifted a little and bowed at the waist towards the old man, doing his best not to move his arms. “Thank you, Master.”
“Oh, I am not your Master, young man,” the old man said with a little sniff accompanied by a wrinkled nose of distaste. “You will meet him soon enough. I must caution you to be on your best behavior when we arrive. Despite the sum spent to acquire you, any inappropriate actions on your part will result in your immediate termination.”
That was a clear enough ‘don’t fuck this up’ that Kennet bowed a little more deeply and nodded. “Yes, Sir. I understand, Sir.”
The old man turned to look out the one partially open window of the carriage as if the other occupants no longer existed. Kennet sat back against the cushions between his two keepers to wait for their journey to end. Asking questions really didn’t seem like a good idea. Of course, asking questions rarely was a good idea for a slave no matter who had bought him.
It took a bit over an hour for the carriage to wind its way through the streets. They went from rutted dirt roads that jerked them side to side onto cobblestones that tried to rattle the teeth out of Kennet’s head. At one point they crossed a bridge that was surprisingly smooth. The water in the air was a brief blessing of coolness that was immediately swallowed by heat on the other side. Thankfully, the road on that side was much smoother, as if they’d used stone blocks instead of cobbles for paving the road.
He’d heard one of Pensri’s Temple bells ring shortly after they started out. A second one rang just as they rolled to a gentle stop wherever they’d been going. Kennet let the old man go first, following second when the guards not too gently nudged him towards the door. It seemed like a bad idea to tread on the old man’s heels but pissing off the guards would be stupid at this point. If he was lucky he might have gotten a good master, for once.
“Whoa,” Kennet breathed once he slipped out of the carriage and stood next to the old man.
The bulk of the Penhale Royal Palace loomed over him, white marble carved in extravagant depictions of flowers and trees. Kennet’s empty stomach sank as he remembered the quiet murmurs of assassination attempts and betrayals at the highest levels.
No, this wasn’t better, Kennet thought. He might have just stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
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