Autumn Harvest: Maiden is a sensual and socially conscious tale of irrepressible longing in a court full of intrigue and inequality. Yelen is a long-lived witch of the Order sent to the patriarchal kingdom of Thrycae, where witchcraft is punishable by death. Kaye is the young prince of that kingdom, and becomes attached to Yelen after she saves his life (but not the use of his legs) from a deadly childhood disease. As the years pass, Kaye grows into a handsome and thoughtful adult, and Yelen finds herself drawn to him despite the mortal peril inherent in such an affair.
Eighteen short stories from the world of Autumn Harvest are included in the book, from a jilted young man’s life-changing encounter with an emerald-eyed dwarf, to the inner monologue of a lady’s maid in need of a helping hand, the frustrations of a dominant dryad, and a series of tales about a polyamorous trio.
"Summer is the only time of year that the climate in Thrycae is even remotely similar to that of Maragoya, and I relished the heat. But soon, summer was over. The weather cooled and the leaves began to change color. Though I understand the process well enough, every year the turning of the leaves caught me by surprise, and made my breath catch in my throat. It is strange that such vivid color and beauty should emerge out of a process that seems so much like dying.
On one such day, Kaye was falconing on his own, Geoff having declared that he had nothing more to teach him. We were discussing the epic of R'salynda, and the elaborate court manners that are described in intricate detail therein. Kaye asked me if it was true that, in other kingdoms, they greeted men and women alike with kisses, on the cheek or hand.
“In some. Raline, for example, where a kiss on each cheek is the normal greeting between friends, and in the court of Tir Hanoch, where it is considered an insult for a lord to greet a lady without kissing her hand. Senior clergy of the Unmoved God wear rings of station, and for a clergyman of lesser rank to kiss the ring of his superior is a demonstration of loyalty, like affirming an oath of fealty, though they don't call it that, as they only swear oaths to their God...”
“Yelen, if I were being presented at the court of Tir Hanoch, how would I greet you?”
I straightened. “By your name and title, then you wait for my response.”
Kaye stepped to face me, lifted his chin, and said, “Milady, I am Prince Karamon Lycius of Thrycae.”
I looked at him, his open expression one of graceful formality, though something—perhaps mirth—quirked his full, red lips. He bore himself well. At some point Kaye had acquired poise as well as strength. His easy smile riveted my gaze. Looking at him I saw not a crippled boy but a well-mannered and handsome young man. Kaye was wearing a stylish burgundy-and-cream doublet over matching silk hose, one leg in each color, and wore no gaudy ornament save for his all-too-brilliant hazel eyes.
I shook my head. “Sorry...ah...I greet the Lord Lycius. I am but Maiden Yelena of the Order of Sisters.” I lifted my hand and, distractedly, removed my glove. I presented my bare hand to Kaye, who clamped his crutch firmly under his right arm before reaching out to take my hand in his.
“Where do I kiss it?” he asked, his voice suddenly husky.
“The knuckle or the top of the hand,” I said, realizing my error a moment too late.
I felt as if I were watching myself from a distance as he lifted my hand to his lips and brushed his lips against each of my knuckles before kissing the back of my hand more firmly. He lifted his gaze slowly to meet mine, his face flushed. My cheekbones and ears suddenly felt hot, and a vague fuzziness settled over me.
“Yelen, I...” he paused, and I remember thinking I should say something, but when I opened my mouth all that came out was a soft sigh. His fingers were so warm, I was so warm, I'd missed his touch.
Wresting control back from my traitorously weak-kneed body, I jerked my hand out of his and pulled away. I fumbled with my glove as I walked, somehow having trouble getting it back on.
“Wait!” Kaye cried after me, his voice intense, but soft. Swinging along at a pace nearly equal to a run, he passed me, then spun around and stopped. He wobbled and I thought he was going to topple over, but he caught his balance and said something that started with “what” or “wait” and trailed off incomprehensibly.
I looked at him, and no words came to me. Something hot and prickly stirred in my gut and my heart pounded as my mouth became suddenly dry. As I watched, a teardrop arced down over his cheek. I looked down, trying to blink back tears of my own. With my gaze lowered, I couldn't help noticing that his doublet was pushed up and away from his groin like a tent-flap. Again the heat rose in my cheeks.
He took one large swinging step toward me and I looked up. I had intended to apologize, but as he closed the distance, I found that all I wanted to do was stroke his face and kiss his trembling lower lip, so I turned away and ran.
I heard him croak, “Yelen,” as I passed him, and start to thump along after me, but I sprinted and outpaced him. I did not look back."
About the Author:
Tof Eklund is queer: genderqueer, to be precise, but also strange. A non-binary “bearded lady” with a Ph.D. in comic books and an affinity for cephalopods and medusae, Tof lives in Orlando with their awesome spouse, crazy-cute children and geriatric cat. A Professor of creative writing by day and author of convention-defying fantasy and feminist smut at night, they are a lover of monsters and friend to small gods.