Originally presented in serial form by Serial Box Publishing, Tremontaine is brought to you by Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, Paul Witcover, Tessa Gratton, and Mary Anne Mohanraj.
About the Author
Tessa Gratton has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. Alas, she turned out too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for a someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in Gender Studies, then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog. She now spends her days staring at the sky and telling lots of stories about magic. tessagratton.com. @tessagratton.
Mary Anne Mohanraj received her Ph.D. from the University of Utah, specializing in post-colonial literature and creative writing. She is the author of several books, including her dissertation novel, Bodies in Motion, an exploration of sexuality, marriage, and Sri Lankan/American immigrant concerns. Her academic research includes an exploration of black masculinity in the work of horror writer Tananarive Due. Mohanraj has recently received an Illinois Arts Council fellowship, a Neff fellowship in English, a Steffenson-Canon fellowship in the Humanities, and the Scowcroft Prize for Fiction. She lives in Chicago. maryannemohanraj.com. @mamohanraj
Joel Derfner is the author of Gay Haiku, Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever and What Ended Up Happening Instead, and Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family. (Are you sensing a theme?) Musicals to which he has composed the score have played in New York, London, and various cities in between (going counterclockwise). He lives, alas, in Brooklyn, along with his husband and their small, fluffy dog. joelderfner.com. @JoelDerfner.
Racheline Maltese is a performer and storyteller focused on themes of loss, desire, and fame. With Erin McRae she co-writes the Love in Los Angeles LGBTQ+ contemporary romance series from Torquere Press and the Love's Labours contemporary gay romance series from Dreamspinner Press. From tentacle monsters that rule the New York City subways to lesbian werewolf bodyguards in 19th century Rome, her short fiction is about the practical problems caused by fantastical events. Racheline also writes plays and poetry, and her non-fiction on all things pop-culture has been widely published. @Racheline_M.
Paul Witcover is the Nebula and World Fantasy nominated author of, most recently, The Emperor of All Things and its sequel, The Watchman of Eternity. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and takes his chocolate hot and spicy, hold the cream. @PaulWitcover
Read an Excerpt
Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, went to the Crescent Chancellor's annual Convocation for the Opening of the Council of Lords to do three things: to select a new lover, to seek out a new swordsman, and to show the ambassador from Chartil her shawl.
The nobles of the city had already begun to gather in the formal reception chamber of the Council Hall. The high-ceilinged room swirled with the colors of their flamboyant dress and jackdaw chatter as they exchanged greetings and gossip after a summer away from the city at their country estates.
Nicholas, Lord Galing, the elected Crescent Chancellor of the Council of Lords, stood on a dais at one end of the hall to greet the arrivals. Galing's lady wife, Clara, had finally died of her lingering illness over the summer, and many took the opportunity to press his hand and murmur their condolences.
The Crescent Chancellor was flanked by his colleagues of the Inner Council: Lord Ranulph Lassiter, the Raven Chancellor, secretary to the Council; Gregory, Lord Davenant, who held the post of Dragon and oversaw finance, and the Dukes of Karleigh and Hartsholt, members by tradition of the Inner Council that presided over the whole. The chancellors were resplendent in their robes of office: sumptuous blue velvet, with the insignia of each one embroidered on the chest in gold thread: the Crescent, the Raven, the Dragon.
Only the Serpent Chancellor was not present; but everyone knew that Arlen always came late.
Behind Lord Galing, his latest lover, Lord Asper Lindley, stood smiling and nodding, looking for all the world, as Lord Nevilleson put it to his friends, like a debutante receiving guests at her first ball—"Which I suppose, in a way, is just what he is," Nevilleson said acidly. "Heaven only knows what this Council season will be, without Lady Galing's moderating influence."
"Did Lady Galing have a moderating influence?" Lord Adrian Berowne asked. Like the other men who stood with him in the hall below the dais, he was an enthusiastic member of the Council of Lords, socializing as well as voting with his peers at every opportunity. "I thought her primary interests were music and throwing parties. I shall miss the one, but not the other."
"Her chocolate was always excellent," Nevilleson conceded. "But my point is that, however Galing felt about poor Clara, he always knew that she was watching him. As did dear Lindley. With that restraint lifted—"
"Surely Galing will marry again."
"Heavens, why?" Lord Martin Condell drawled, licking his lips like a cat after cream. "I can assure you, Asper Lindley is enough to keep any man busy."
Nevilleson raised carefully groomed eyebrows, and Condell took a sudden interest in his fingernails. "Nonetheless, Nicholas Galing will be wanting an heir. Otherwise, it all goes to the nephew, young Vernay." Nevilleson twirled a tassel on his tight-fitting brocade jacket. "I think we shall see dear old Nicholas out on the Young Ladies' Racetrack this season, looking for a winner among the second-years."
"Not the first-years?"
"If Galing ever knew what to do with a sixteen-year-old girl, he has long forgotten."
"Hmmm," said Berowne. "Why not a widow, then? Young, proven fertile, and with a bit of property?"
Condell said boldly, "Why not a duchess?"
Nevilleson turned his head carefully to one side and the other, making sure the lady in question was nowhere near. "Diane de Tremontaine? The most exquisite creature ever to grace a chamber? What would Galing do with so much verve and style?"
"But more to the point, Condell, unless your information is more current than ours, Diane is not a widow. The duke her husband is still alive, after all."
Condell shook his head. "Poor William. I suppose he is, in a manner of speaking."
A somber mood took over the small cluster. "He was a beautiful man," Berowne said wistfully. "One of the stainless ones: devoted to his wife, for one thing, and then, I gather, to his books."
"Maybe that's what drove him mad. Books are all very well and good when you're young—history, and all"—Condell indicated the frieze on the wall above his head, depicting the triumph of the noble Councilors over the corrupt ancient monarchy—"but after that, one must have better things to do."
"One must indeed." Lord Martin's wife bore down upon the group like a stiff breeze, and like leaves on the wind they scattered before her. Her piquant little face turned up to her husband's. "You know, Martin, as this is the first time you have brought me to the Convocation, I have a great desire to see all the famous friezes. I understand they were painted by Bellerocque . . ."
She slipped her arm into her husband's, and he gave a wink and a shrug to his old friends before dutifully escorting her on a tour of the chamber's historical friezes that rehearsed the land's glories, making it perfectly clear that everything they depicted, from the royal marriage uniting the North and South kingdoms to the overthrowing of the Last King, conduced to today's perfect state, ruled by the noble Council of Lords here assembled.
Murmurs flowing through the room indicated a significant new arrival. Condell and Berowne turned to see the Duchess Tremontaine entering the reception chamber in a blaze of rubies, to be immediately seized and greeted by Lord Asper Lindley.
"Remarkable," muttered Berowne. "That's the first time he's left Galing's side all evening. You don't suppose he's looking for a bride, now?"
Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, had timed her entrance perfectly. The city's merchants and councilors had not yet arrived, but all the nobles were there, having exchanged the summer's news, and now looking for something else to talk about.
For a moment, she stood outside the heavy doors of the reception hall, where she had been many times before with her husband, William, Duke Tremontaine. This time, she would enter alone. The duchess nodded at the footmen, and the doors opened on a blaze of light and chatter, the flash of jewels and the smells of powder and expensive scent. Diane stepped through them.
The first to greet her was Lord Asper Lindley—and it mattered that he stepped down from the dais where he'd hovered (most inappropriately) beside his lover the Crescent Chancellor, to do so. If her mere appearance could bring him down from there, Diane thought, her will could bring him even farther. She had a score or two to settle with Lindley, in good time.
"Diane, my dear, how splendid you look!"
Asper Lindley was drawn to riches, power, and beauty, and this evening the duchess proclaimed them all. Her fair hair was piled high and studded with brilliants, and she wore the Tremontaine rubies around her throat—great jewels from the house's disbanded ducal coronet, set in gold—with more of the rubies depending from her ears and glowing on her fingers. It was the first time she had worn them in public without Duke William at her side. It was a statement, for those who knew fully how to read it.
Gregory, Lord Davenant, knew how. From the dais where he stood with his fellow councilors, he admired the way Diane claimed the jewels of her husband's house for her own, as she had already claimed the running of his estates when William had become too ill to manage them. Under her guidance, Tremontaine was growing rich again. Davenant was the Dragon Chancellor, Master of the Exchequer. But his interest in her went beyond the economic. Diane felt his eyes, but kept her gaze on Asper Lindley.
"A new gown!" Lindley cried delightedly. The Duchess Tremontaine wore pale rose, billows of satin that caught the light with a rustle when she moved. A year ago, she could not have afforded one, and Lindley knew it; but if it was a dig, it was a reflexive one, for he went on, "You should have your portrait painted in it."
Diane kissed his cheeks. "Oh, Asper, I intend to. And you must come to me at Tremontaine House when it is finished, and see if it improves upon the original."
"There's not a painter in the land could do you justice."
"You must let me go, now, Asper, or the other ladies will be jealous."
He inclined his fair head toward the dais where the Councilors presided, sweating in their robes. "Or one other lord . . ."
"No, no!" Diane trilled a laugh, wondering how much Lindley knew. "Lord Galing and I are old friends. He knows that I am harmless."
Lindley did not argue, which meant that he had no idea Lord Davenant had been her lover last spring. All he worried about was Galing, poor fool.
And so Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, who was anything but harmless, eased herself into the throng of nobles eager to admire her and to ask after poor dear William, and let herself be swept from Lindley's view, not giving him another thought tonight.