For those of you who may be wondering just what I've been up to all this time, well here's a brief sample of what Center Game (Heir of Drachma, Book Two) contains. This is from Chapter One:
Heir of Drachma
Even to the alchemist, the underground enclosure reeked – of all the years of foul things, done in the name of captivity. It was almost too much, with the stench and nausea increasing the stress of his own captivity. He was down here, as was the lass. He couldn’t even imagine why the men brought her down here. The only light that reached them came from a torch which was close to the entrance to the underground cavern. Gently, he spoke to her.
“Lassie,” he said, “What is your name?”
The girl turned her head toward the tall man who was sitting down on the lone piece of furniture, an old wine cask.
“Me name’s Lisa,” she uttered, her voice hoarse from crying.
“Now Lisa, can ye tell me who your parents be?”
“Me Mum’s named Sylvie, an’ we’re stayin’ at the big house up by the castle.”
“And yer Papa…?”
“Don’ know me Papa.”
“Then who be the man you’re staying with at the mansion?”
“Name’s Patronis… Emile Patronis.”
That name stung him. And he had no way of conveying that information to Craycroft.
“Now I’m not goin’ to be in trouble, am I? Me Mum said I was not to tell…”
“Ah, nay, m’lass. You’re not going to get into trouble – not any more trouble than we’re both in right now. My name’s Melchior. And I’m an alchemist… do you know what an alchemist is?”
Melchior could tell that Lisa was relaxing her guard.
“Nay, I know not. What is an al… alche…?”
“An alchemist. What I do is to mix potions – ye know, if ye’re sick and such. These potions help ye heal.”
“D’ye make magic?”
“Nay, lassie, not magic”
“Well, I shall try to keep you safe, even though I have no magic.”
Over the next hour, Melchior found out that Lisa and her mother had been in the village of Armaugh, and had tried to find work. Ever since the inn burned down, and they were left destitute, they had been trying anything and everything, and then along came this Patronis fellow, with a plan. If they would pretend to be his wife and daughter, he could find work for them, and they agreed.
She could tell that he was an educated man, by the way he talked, but he pretended to be a simpleton, from the country, and the work they found was at the mansion. There were two men, a Master Guarneri, and a Master LeGace who set them up in their work, and were their employers. It all seemed to go along just fine, until those men just burst into the house, and took her away from her Mum. And then she discovered that it was Master LeGace who was in charge, and brought her over here. She just couldn’t understand what Master LeGace would want with her.
Anyway, here they were, at least for now. With the possibility of escape highly unlikely, they seemed to be at the mercy of their captors. They were on Dunnigan’s Isle – that much Melchior knew - but more than that he could not tell. This underground place had obviously been used over the years to ply the trades of trappers, hunters, and obviously tanners. There were some things from which the smells never seemed to disappear, and tanning hides was one of them.
Lisa and Melchior had been brought to the island, just as dawn was breaking, and then they were marched through the forest to this place. The house looked no more than a small, unkempt cottage. And there were but a handful of men guarding the premises. But they were taken into the back of the house, where there was a small entryway, which led down into the earth. They were each given a small, stale roll, and a bowl of porridge, and then the doorway was sealed. It seemed hours ago, but who could tell, as there was no light, beyond the torch.
Melchior could do nothing, except talk to the girl, to keep her safe, but he was not at all certain if he could even do that. This was so like the Antoine LeGace he remembered, a man evil to the core, who thought nothing of treating his subjects with utter disdain. If there were anything at all he could do, but there seemed to be nothing. The time dragged on and on.
Eventually, the door opened, and a couple of burly men came down the walkway, and brought with them a fairly large container of water, with a single metal cup. They set the vessel down in their midst. While one of the men replaced the sputtering torch, the other informed them of the rules the two of them were to obey.
“Now ye’ll be here as our prisoners as long as Master LeGace wants. And, as prisoners, ye’ll have no access to the outside, for any reason. We’ll be feedin’ ye twice a day. And any attempt at escape, shall be met with death. Is that understood?”
“Oh, aye,” answered Melchior. But he was thinking of what he could do. For the boredom alone would be a sentence as stiff as any other he could think about.
“Very well,” said their captor, as he turned to leave. The doorway shut again with a reverberating thud.
For a while afterward, Melchior and Lisa just sat, and eventually Melchior got up, and went over to the water vessel, and got a cup full of water, and took it over to Lisa, who was crying again, and said, “Here, Lisa. Take some of the water. I know that you must ache from thirst.”
She took the cup of water, and between sobs, drank it down.
And Melchior silently prayed. He prayed for the safety of Lisa, and he prayed for his own wife and child. And also for himself, that he be granted some semblance of grace to withstand what appeared to be this mind-numbing imprisonment.