I had a picture of a man very clearly in my head. He was being held in a stone cell where he could hear the sound of crashing waves. He was a good man, but an evil wizard had trapped him in a magic web as punishment for some crime. His name was Miner. Poor guy, he suffered there in my head for a long time, sort of twitching and trying to scream, until I took pity on him and sent him a rescuer.
Miner’s savior was a little unlikely. Ennek was the younger son of a despot, sort of spoiled and aimless, and about to discover that he possessed strong magic powers.
And then I spent some time in one of my favorite cities, San Francisco. As I clambered around the Balclutha, a 19th century sailing ship anchored at Hyde Street Pier, Miner and Ennek’s story finally came together. National Novel Writing Month started soon afterward and I began to type.
In the end I had a trilogy, three books that followed Miner and Ennek in their home city, across the ocean to foreign lands, and eventually back home. Miner and Ennek encountered more wizards and pirates and magic creatures, they discovered friends old and new, and they fell deeply in love with one another along the way, each man finding in the other the strength he needed.
The first book in the trilogy is Stasis, the second is Flux, and the third is Equipoise. Equipoise was published in January 2012, and I have an admission to make. Along the way I fell in love with Miner and Ennek. Sometimes I was angry at them. Ennek can be so stubborn! Miner is so hesitant to see his own worth! But I admire them too, and I’m going to miss them.
I’ve always liked books in which the characters encounter magic, but I also think it’s important for the heroes to have ordinary problems too. And ordinary joys.
Fundamentally, these books are about a pair of lovers discovering each other and working out a relationship against all odds. But I also had things to say about power and justice, about the roles of family and friends, about freedom and responsibility. And, well, I hope I said those things in an interesting and exciting way. I hope I’ve written books people hate to put down, the kind where readers are sorry when they reach the final page. I hope my readers fall in love with Miner and Ennek as well.
Ennek, the son of the Chief, and Miner, a former slave, have escaped the totalitarian city-state of Praesidium and remain fugitives. Having defeated two mighty wizards, they begin to realize that complete freedom can be as dangerous as absolute power. In this final book in the trilogy that began with Stasis and continued with Flux, Ennek and Miner face battles, corruption, and further journeys through lands both new and familiar. As they grow more secure in their relationship with one other, they're also learning that the greatest challenges sometimes come from very close to the heart and that everything of value has a price. With the help of a few allies, they seek equipoise—a balance for themselves and for their world.
Miner loomed over Ennek’s supine body, mouth stretched into a merry smile. “How’s your head, En?”
Ennek put a hand to his head as if to make sure it was still attached, then groaned slightly. “Someone’s racing horses inside my skull.”
“One of those horses escaped into your mouth and died, I think. You need to clean your breath.”
Ennek glowered at his lover’s distinct lack of sympathy. “You shouldn’t have let me drink so much wine last night.”
“You said I should stop bloody ordering you about all the time.”
Ennek glared and then waved an arm around until Ennek took pity on him and grasped his hand to help him stand. “Fancy some breakfast?” Miner asked cheerfully.
“Luli made you some of her tea. The kind that tastes awful.” Miner produced a steaming cup from a low table and held it out to Ennek. “Drink up.”
Miner clucked at him like a disappointed mother. “You know you’ll feel better if you do. And the sun is out today and I’d really like to pay a visit to the bathing pool.”
Despite his sore head, Ennek couldn’t help but smile over the novelty of Miner being excited at the concept of submerging himself in water. Not so long ago the very thought would have sent Miner into terrified fits of shaking. But this Miner hardly resembled the man whom Ennek had cut out of the suffocating web of Stasis, the man who had spent three hundred years drowning because he raised a wizard’s ire. This Miner stood tall and straight and smiled easily—even made small jokes, now and then—and teased Ennek good-naturedly. He bossed Ennek about too, and Ennek minded that less than he pretended. There was still a hesitancy to many of Miner’s actions, especially when he was around other people, but his self-confidence was beginning to shine through—as though he were a treasure, long covered by grime, slowly being polished back to an inherent state of beauty.
Ennek gulped the horrible tea all in one go and then spent several moments standing very still, trying not to vomit it back up. When his stomach had settled a little he nodded at Miner, who solicitously took his arm and led him out of the house. The rest of the household was in the courtyard, engaged in various chores, and the adults shot him amused grins. Yuening’s children shrieked and began running in his direction, but to his enormous relief Hai-Shui scooped the children up—one under each arm—and carried their laughing, wriggling selves away.
A toilet was located in a small building behind the main house. Miner hovered outside while Ennek used it, then helped Ennek wash up a little using the pitcher of water and soft cloth that had been placed beside the toilet. By the time Ennek chewed on a sweet-tasting little stick and rinsed his mouth, the tea had begun to take effect and the boulders that had been crashing about inside his head began to settle down.
“You mentioned something about a bath?” he said to Miner.
Less than thirty minutes later, the two men were naked and submerged in the natural stone pool that lay a short walk from Luli’s house. The pool was fed by a little stream, and the water was warmed by the sun. It wasn’t quite the same as a hot bath in the oversized marble tub he had back in Praesidium, but there was much to be said for floating comfortably under a blue sky, watching fluffy clouds meander by while your lover worked long fingers through your tangled curls.
“We could stay here forever,” Ennek said, moaning a little as Miner massaged his scalp. “We could protect the people here from bandits or soldiers or whatever evil I’ve sent their way.”
“We could,” Miner replied noncommittally. “They’re good people. I’m sure they’d be happy to have you.”
“Happy to have us, you mean. I can see you now, star god, spending the rest of your life with a parade of children trailing after you.”
Miner leaned forward to kiss Ennek’s wet neck. “I can think of far worse fates.”
They were silent a few minutes, listening to the chirp of insects, and then Ennek sighed. “But we can’t, can we? I would just keep thinking of home—of Praesidium—and the Chief, and the bond-slaves, and....”
“And you still love Praesidium and want to see it made a better place.”
Ennek closed his eyes and groaned again as Miner’s hands moved to his shoulders, kneading the muscles deeply. “But I’ve made a mess of things here.”
“You haven’t. You freed them from Akilina. You heard them last night—they’re hugely grateful to you.”
“How could you tell? You can’t understand a word.”
“I can see their faces, En. You’re their hero.”
Ennek snorted. “Some hero. Yes, the wizard’s gone, but now the entire region is going to be fought over like dogs fight for a bone. I know freedom is important—gods, do I know it!—but so is safety, isn’t it?”
“Can’t you have both?”
“I don’t know.”
Miner finished his massage with a quick grope of Ennek’s buttocks, then splashed some water at him. “My turn. The shampoo’s within easy reach.” He turned around and waited.
With a slight chuckle, Ennek opened his eyes and reached for the small pot holding citrus-scented soap. He ran the little cake of the stuff over Miner’s head until the pale hair had a slight greenish tinge, and then he began to work the suds in. “Will you grow your hair long, Mine?” His lover’s hair was smooth as silk, and Ennek was picturing being able to run his hand over lengths of it, to push curtains of it away from Miner’s face and feel the strands run across his fingertips.
“If you fancy it.”
“Hmm,” Ennek said. It still gave him a strange little thrill to know that he could ask these small things of another person, and that person would comply just to please him. He was just as happy to know that he could do the same: that he could bring pleasure to someone else just by helping that person bathe or by bringing small gifts like a favorite food.
His time with Miner had been teaching him that often the greatest pleasures did indeed come from small things. Those rare occasions when Miner broke into a huge smile, his slightly crooked white teeth glinting and his sea-colored eyes glittering—Ennek would trade any amount of gold for just one of those smiles. It was a lesson Shi Zhimao should have learned from the beginning: small things were as valuable as great ones. Sometimes more so.
Ennek pushed gently on Miner’s shoulders until he was entirely submerged. Willing the water to allow Miner to breathe—just as he had done when Miner jumped into the harbor in Donghe—Ennek rinsed the shampoo from the floating strands. Miner tilted his head back and looked up at him through the water, and sure enough, there was that smile he had been hoping for.
But Ennek’s answering grin faded when Miner emerged a few moments later, the brand he’d received in the slave market still vivid across his back. Ennek traced the characters with his fingertip. The marks had several meanings in the complicated writing they used in this place—they might have been the name of the man who had bought Miner, but one of them also stood for star or the name of the star god, while the other signified water or magician. Together, they meant freedom. All of which was far too coincidental, and Hai-Shui had told them it was a sign, although nobody knew of what. Perhaps more importantly, though, the brand marks were a symbol of Ennek’s failures, of his inability to keep his lover from being captured and—albeit briefly—thrust into slavery again.
“Are you trying to rub it away?” Miner asked.
“Wish I could.”
“It stopped hurting quite a while ago, and it isn’t any worse than the marks Thelius and Akilina gave you.”
Ennek frowned at the tattooed symbol on his bicep and then at the feather shape cut into his chest. Both marks had been put there by wizards who had wanted very much the same thing as Shi Zhimao: to increase their power. “Greedy sons of bitches,” he mumbled.
And then an idea hit him—an idea that seemed at once both radical and obvious. He went very still, allowing the concept to bloom in his brain, and it wasn’t until several minutes had passed that he realized that Miner was staring at him with concern. “What is it?” Miner asked when Ennek blinked at him.
“I think...I think I know how to protect Luli’s village.”
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