fantasy fiction novelette Tales from the Subcontinent

further news from the subcontinent

Actually news from Aveng, a small country on the far tropical southeastern coast of the great continent from Fejz—birthplace of the mother of “Two Dead Men”’s narrator and the site of his decade’s exile.

Last evening I wrote the last line of a draft of “The Oily Man.” My third subcontinental tale turned out somewhat longer and quite a bit stranger than I had envisioned when I set out in response to an invitation: stories of incubi for a forthcoming themed anthology. That was in May, when I began. Four months. Four months.

At any rate, I completed the draft and e-mailed it off with grave misgivings to the editor who had said he wanted it by early July. I expected him to say the first two thirds were bloated, the conclusion unexpected, unjustified, inconclusive, ambiguous, and odd, the whole probably salvageable with a good deal of work.

Next thing I knew I was downloading a contract.

Ha-hrrm. Well. Shows how well I judge my own work. A few little bits he wants expanded—he objects to late-Regency/early-Victorian euphemisms (he’s correct, too; if the story’s a period piece the period is at least two centuries earlier)—wouldn’t bleach be anachronistic? (yes)—if I can get it up from 9,100 words to an even 10,000 he’ll be just as pleased. But I’m meant to understand “The Oily Man” will appear in a volume working-titled Handsome Devil due from Prime Books late next year. Steve tells me Handsome Devil will also include a fine tale by Tanith Lee, who gave You Will Meet a Stranger Far from Home such a spectacular blurb.

The narrator of “The Oily Man” is the disappointing youngest son of a merchant family of Trebt. In the latter years of that world’s Age of Discovery, Trebt is one of the subcontinental states to have established trade concessions with the queen on the Jade Stool of Aveng. After a scandal, the narrator is packed off on a seven-month voyage to the Avengi port of Folau. An elder sister he hasn’t seen for a decade is already established in Folau, married into a local family.

Within a month of arrival, the young man finds himself surrounded by incomprehensible political maneuvering. The merchant-adventurers resident in the subcontinental enclave at Folau are friendly rivals but rivals nonetheless. Offshore in quarantine are representatives of subcontinental superpower Sjolussa, late to the southeastern sea trade and jealous of the smaller nations’ privileges. (It’s not a spoiler to note that Sjolussa will annex Aveng and its neighbor states about a century later.) The queen in the capital three weeks’ trip away bestows her favors capriciously. Adherents of the throne-sponsored religion quarrel with followers of enigmatic philosopher-saint the Kandadal.

Then our narrator is surprised in his bed by an amorous demon, who may have been set upon him by an enemy. Or a friend.

Also there’s a duel. A courtesan of ambiguous gender who knows things. A shipwreck.

The theme song of “The Oily Man” is this track from Ivri Lider’s Mishehu Paam, a song that gives me the shivers.

Now back to work on the fourth tale from the subcontinent…. Oh. Wait. A collection of stories to lay out and two novel MSs to copyedit. Dammit.

No. Wait. Time for bed.

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