Two more stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, both on the longer side (as usual). There isn't really a link between the two that I can make very easily, but both are worth reading and thinking about. Again, as usual for BCS. Onwards!
"Madonna" by Bruce McAllister (13164 words)
Ah, historical fantasies. They hold a special place in my heart, because there's just something rather charming about them. Especially ones like this, which reminds me a bit of Silk Roads and Shadows by Susan Schwartz. Horse racing and miraculous powers and dark creatures abound in this tale that is also something of a buddy story with an emissary of God and a boy-pope. Their relationship is fun and friendly and it was great to see a pope pout. More of that. Man, I really would probably read this entire story. It's a nice piece with some a good taste of the time mixed in with the feeling of this adventure with vampire-like creatures having taken over the Catholic Church and these boys (and a girl) on a quest to set things right. Really this should be a novel, but it works as a short story, teasing elements that have happened previously and elements that are yet to come. There is the feeling that this is only a chapter, only a part, though an important one, for the larger plot. Here the two boys meet the girl who will complete their group, the girl who is necessary for their success but who they didn't expect to meet. It's an effective story, though one that made me yearn for the group to actually meet and defeat some of these blood drinkers. Still, good stuff.
"Y Brenin" by C. Allegra Hawksmoor (7843 words)
The story about a knight sent to kill the brother of his king (and love), I felt more on the fence about this story than I wanted to. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the story, but perhaps I'm a bit more picky about my M/M stories because I want to like them so much. An M/M relationship with a more fantasy twist is normally my cup of tea. But I couldn't quite figure out what was going on with Mercher and either his king or the Red King. Well, more that I couldn't figure out how much Mercher actually had a relationship with his king and how much he was attracted to the Red King. The story moves nicely enough, with Mercher capturing the Red King during a battle and wanting to bring him back to his king so that they could figure everything out. Mercher is idealistic and naive and I enjoyed reading about him. But something is strange with the Red King and Mercher's king doesn't really seem the chillest of dudes. It's a neat setting, and a rather interesting dynamic between Mercher and the Red King, with the Red King being more teasing Mercher about his lifestyle and dedication. Not that I really understood where they end, especially when they start fighting for real, but I felt the ending was trying to make a point about forgiveness and doing the right thing. I just don't know if it completely worked for me. I wanted to know a bit more. I wanted to know more about what was going on with the Red King and wanted to have some idea that things could get better in the setting. As it was I couldn't see whatever they were trying to do working out. And I didn't know where Mercher stood with either his king or the Red King. I just wanted a little more clarity. The prose is solid, the descriptions of the journey gripping, and the feeling of a slightly gritty fantasy setting well done. And perhaps I just need to read this a few more times for it to click for me. It's worth a read, in an event.