QSFer August Li has a new Fantasy book out:
Kitchen servant Yoli is one of only three men who know a carefully guarded secret about High Commander Koehen, the brilliant general who united their lands against a common invader. The enemy wants that secret, and they are willing to use either kindness or cruelty to obtain it.
Yoli must decide if his loyalties lie with the commander, who has shown him more affection than anyone in Yoli’s life, or with his own best interests. High Commander Koehen’s attention is capricious at best—he summons Yoli only when it is convenient for him, and Yoli knows there’s little hope of a future together. Is a glimmer of a hope for love worth sacrificing a chance for prosperity beyond his wildest dreams?
YOLI JOGGED to keep up with the long, brisk strides of the wizard, Vaald. As he followed the taller, thinner man through the torch-lit corridors, Yoli curled his hands around the fabric of his tattered tunic. Palms sweating, he prayed to any god who might be willing to hear a person as lowly as himself. Let it just be the headache, he chanted over and over again in his mind. The headache he might be able to relieve, but if it was the fit—
“Quickly, Yoli,” Vaald said in his crisp voice. Yoli supposed he could just ask the sorcerer, but he chose to stay silent and follow a few feet behind him. Vaald had always treated Yoli well enough; he was one of the few men who’d bothered to learn Yoli’s name in the twelve years he’d been at the fortress of Vyon. Even so, Vaald intimidated Yoli. Yoli hated to be alone with him and spoke to him as little as possible as they hurried through badly lit, narrow passageways and ascended stone stairs. With every step the anxiety coursing through Yoli’s veins increased.
The first time, he’d had no idea what was happening when Vaald dragged High Commander Koehen, the Uniter of Freilund, out of the dining hall and into the kitchen.
Yoli, barefoot, shirtless, and on his hands and knees, looked up from the grease he was scrubbing from the floor as the wizard supported the commander between himself and another man.
“Kitchen boy,” Vaald said, not unkindly, as he lowered the commander’s head into Yoli’s lap. “Keep an eye on him whilst I fetch my potions. Never speak of this.” He met Yoli’s gaze with his amber eyes before sweeping his hood up over his white-blond hair. Both of the men hurried away, leaving Yoli to wonder what they expected of him.
Little gasps and whimpers came from the man resting against Yoli’s thighs. When he looked down, Yoli saw more pain than he’d ever imagined a single face could express. High Commander Koehen’s lips stretched taut, pale and trembling amongst his close-cropped whiskers, and deep furrows gathered at the corners of his eyes and across his forehead. Tears escaped from between the commander’s golden-brown eyelashes and ran down his tanned cheeks into his beard. As Yoli watched him suffer, his intimidation at being in the presence of the great man melted away as compassion pushed it aside. Gingerly, unsure of what was proper, he laid his hand across the commander’s forehead. The gesture earned a grateful groan from Lord Koehen, so Yoli dared move his fingers in tight circles against the commander’s temple. The stress on the man’s face dissolved a little, the lines around his eyes and mouth softening, so Yoli continued, moving his hands through Lord Koehen’s hair and down to the curls at the base of his skull. He found the muscles there taut and tried to knead the tension out of them. With his other hand, Yoli rubbed the man’s clenched jaw.
Yoli, without realizing it, began to sing: a single verse from a lullaby he thought he remembered his mother singing over his bed. He repeated it over and over. High Commander Koehen’s eyes opened slowly, the orbs bloodshot and glossy, and he met Yoli’s gaze.
“Please sing on, kitchen boy,” he said in a harsh whisper broken by misery. “Please—”
Yoli, so lost in reminiscence, didn’t realize he and Vaald had reached the High Commander’s door. Lord Koehen’s room sat on the top floor of the tower overlooking the unbroken plain to the north. Vaald stopped, and Yoli nearly crashed into his back. The sorcerer didn’t bother knocking before entering; he never did. Vaald simply pushed the heavy wooden door open and stepped into the chamber with Yoli following sheepishly.
“Yoli, my lord,” Vaald said with an insincere bow.
“Thank you, my friend,” said a rich, velvety voice from within. It raised gooseflesh over Yoli’s limbs that had nothing to do with the early spring chill.
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August (Gus) Li is a creator of fantasy worlds. When not writing, he enjoys drawing, illustration, costuming and cosplay, and making things in general. He lives near Philadelphia with two cats and too many ball-jointed dolls. He loves to travel and is trying to see as much of the world as possible. Other hobbies include reading (of course), tattoos, and playing video games.