Schemers is the latest genre-crossing anthology of new short fiction from Stone Skin Press. From the classic myths to the pages of the Bible, from Shakespeare’s stage to the yellowed pulps of yesteryear, literature runs red with tales of plotting and betrayal. Today we picture betrayals occurring not at feasts for kings or out in the gothic woods, but in CFC-lit cubicles, to the tap-tap-tap-tapping of desktop keyboards.
When it comes to classic treachery, you don’t come closer to the roots of the tradition than an assassin in a royal court. What distinguishes Ekaterina Sedia’s “Protector of Ascheli” is not only the smoky evocation of its fantasy setting, but its focus on the emotional consequences of betrayal.
The day of the funeral was a haze for me; not because of the feverish activities of the manor house inhabitants and Gesur’s anguish, but because I had to put the steel net over my head. It was the custom of the Protectors: on occasions such as this, we cease our eavesdropping on the thoughts of others, and become as blind as the rest, wrapped in the same grief as they, our senses extinguished by steel. Not that anyone would dare to plan treason on such a day, but the family showed their mourning by waiving protection, as if earthly cares did not exist for them anymore.
The main hall was prepared, and the body of the old lord, Gesur’s father, lay on the dais in the center of it, amidst the bowls of fruit and fragrant spices. The laity and the clergy, the merchants and the peasants, came through to pay their respects. I stood with the rest of the family, my face hidden by a black veil on Isera’s insistence. Gesur’s wife thought that the sight of me would be too unsettling for the unaccustomed. I let it slide, and peered at the crowd, only my own thoughts in my head for a change. I wondered if Taine would make an appearance.
I stole a glance at Gesur. He bore his devastation well, his young face expressing no weakness but only appropriate sorrow. His hands, stained black, hung by his sides: the family members were not supposed to touch anything the day of the burial, and the ground charcoal revealed any violation of this tradition.
For the rest, get Schemers from Stone Skin Press.
Ekaterina Sedia resides in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Her critically acclaimed novels, The Secret History of Moscow, The Alchemy of Stone, The House of Discarded Dreams and Heart of Iron were published by Prime Books. Her short stories have sold to Analog, Baen’s Universe, Subterranean and Clarkesworld, as well as numerous anthologies, including Haunted Legends and Magic in the Mirrorstone. She is also the editor of Paper Cities (World Fantasy Award winner), Running with the Pack, Bewere the Night, and Bloody Fabulous, as well as the forthcoming Mammoth Book of Victorian Romance . Visit her at www.ekaterinasedia.com.