QSFer Steven D. Brewer has a new queer YA steampunk fantasy book out (bi, gay, trans FTM), Revin’s Heart book 4 – Crossing the Streams.
Revin and the Professor must go undercover to investigate a mysterious device that has the power to generate storms and may threaten their very existence.
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In the morning, Revin tried to hook up the horses to the coach and discovered he had absolutely no idea what he was doing. He had never worked with horses before. There had been some ponies in the mines in his town growing up, but he had never done more than ride on one, once, as a child, at a fair.
He tried to fake his way through it and managed to get the tacking on. The horses weren’t happy, though. Moreover, they seemed to be able to tell he was nervous and one gave him a painful nip. They also evidently had particular places they wanted to be in the team and were quite nasty about Revin getting it wrong.
As Revin brought the next horse to the coach, it tried to kick him. He partially dodged, but a glancing blow still caught him in the solar plexus and knocked the wind out of him.
He sat on the ground, gasping. He was coming to despise horses.
“Are you alright?” the Professor asked from inside the coach.
“No,” Revin growled. “These horses are going to be the death of me.”
The Professor chuckled as Revin got back to his feet, brushed himself off, and got back to getting the team hooked up.
Eventually, after they were all in their traces, Revin tied up the other two horses to the rear of the coach. Then he climbed onto the box, released the brake, shook the reins, and clicked his tongue as he’d heard the coachman do. The horses shuffled a bit, but did nothing. Revin growled and picked up the coach‑whip and only then did the horses begin to walk and, with a bit more encouragement by snapping the reins, he got them to trot.
After perhaps an hour, Revin noticed that the horses were not in sync and kept shying to the right. He slowed down near a farm, trying to figure out what the problem was. A young woman, pulling weeds in the garden, looked up as they went by. Revin tried to guess her age, but she was skinny — almost malnourished, Revin thought — which made her age hard to ascertain. She was barefoot, wearing a grubby shift, and wore a leather collar around her neck like a dog.
“You have the harness hooked up wrong, mister,” she said.
“Here, now, missy,” the foreman said. “What have I told you about talking to passers‑by.”
“No, boss,” she said, with a terrified expression. “Please don’t!”
The foreman pulled out the switch he had tucked in his belt and started to thrash the girl, who lay in the dirt sobbing.
Revin set the brake, checked that he had his sword, and jumped down from the box.
“Hold on,” he said.
“Mind your own business, mister,” the foreman said. “Unless you want to buy this worthless thing.”
“Buy?” Revin asked, aghast.
“She owes 2 reggies,” he said. “And until she pays it off, she works for me.”
Revin reached into his pocket and pulled out the 2 reggies he had gotten the night before.
“Here,” he said.
“What?” the man said, stunned.
“Here. Take the money. She’s mine now.”
“Now, wait just a minute,” the foreman said, beginning to recover his aplomb.
Revin fixed the man with a glare, started to reach for his sword, then realized he still had the coachwhip hanging from his wrist on its cord. He grasped it and menaced the foreman with one hand while still holding out the coins in the other.
“Here’s your money!” he snapped. “Let her go.”
“Fine!” he snarled, snatching the coins. “Good riddance. She’s your problem now.”
Revin crouched next to the girl and extended a hand. She cautiously accepted it and Revin helped her to her feet.
“My name is Revin,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Lidja, Milord,” she replied. “Are you my boss now? Are you going to use that on me?”
“What? No!” Revin said, releasing the whip so it hung again from the cord around his wrist. “No. That was for these stupid horses.”
“Horses aren’t stupid,” she said. “You just have to know how to talk to them.”
“Well, would you talk to them for us?” Revin asked simply.
She looked at him uncomprehendingly at first, then her eyes got bigger as she started to dare to hope.
“Really?” she asked.
“Really,” Revin said. “Now let’s get that collar off.”
“But I have to wear the collar until my indenture is done,” she said.
Revin loosened the collar and removed it from her neck.
“There,” he said. “Done. Complete. Finished. Over.”
She stood motionless, speechless. Then tears started to fall. Revin wished he had a handkerchief or something to give her.
“You’re free now,” Revin said. “That means, you don’t have to come with us. And I will understand if you choose not to: You don’t know us at all. But if you’re willing to take care of our horses and drive the coach, I’ll pay you the same as we were paying our previous coachman.”
She nodded and walked over to the horses, still crying freely. She went up to each horse, rubbed its nose, and whispered to it too quietly for Revin to hear. Then, when she had recovered her composure, she adjusted and reconnected the harnesses and joined Revin on the box.
She lifted the reins lightly and shook them once. The horses immediately started trotting and fell into a comfortable rhythm. Revin leaned back with a smile, looked up at the sky, and then closed his eyes. Things were looking up.
Steven D. Brewer teaches scientific writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His fantasy story “Revin’s Heart” has been serialized by Water Dragon Publishing. As an author, Brewer identifies diverse obsessions that underlie his writing: deep interests in natural history, life science, and environmentalism; an abiding passion for languages; a fascination with Japanese culture; and a mania for information technology and the Internet. Brewer lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his extended family.