by G.S. Kenney
Published by: Soul Mate Publishing
Publication date: May 29th 2019
Genres: New Adult, Romance, Science Fiction
A unique take on the eternal quandary of “good” versus “evil.”
— Joan D. Vinge, Hugo Award-winning author of The Snow Queen
All trader Zara wanted was to help Kell, a clone, retrieve his maker’s memories and discover who he really is. The conflict-torn planet Eden was supposed to be just a stop en route, but Kell begins recalling fragments of memories from Swifthammer, Eden’s now-deceased resistance leader. Despite Zara’s misgivings, Kell assumes Swifthammer’s role, opposing the planet’s foreign warlord Reuel.
But Reuel’s schemes take a dangerous turn when it becomes clear he has tampered with Kell’s programming. Could the memories Kell now begins to experience be . . . Reuel’s?
Kell struggles to bring peace to Eden by uniting his maker’s heritage with that of the planet’s oppressor, but Zara fears she may be losing her heart to the man who is poised to become Eden’s next and most terrible warlord. Can she help Kell find an identity all his own–and a future they can share together?
No door was locked on Eden, but Avram knocked at the door of a house that seemed a bit larger than most. A small girl perhaps eight years old opened the door, her blond hair in long braids that hung down her back. Like so many of the children Kell had seen, she was painfully thin. Her clothes were old and faded and patched, but they were clean and neat. Her eyes widened when she saw the strangers at the door, but she spoke politely. “Please wait here a moment. I’ll get my father.”
The father was tall and strongly built, with a long, thick black beard and dark brown eyes. He examined the three strangers and must have deemed them acceptable, for he opened the door wide and said simply, “Come in. There is plenty here for a few more. My name is Seth. You are welcome.”
Avram spoke for the group. “My name is Avram, and these are Kell and Zara. Zara is a trader bringing seed. We need only a place to sleep in your barn, if you are willing.”
Seth smiled warmly. “That, and dinner, I expect. Well, you are welcome to both, and there are rooms in the house, too. We will need seed in this village next spring.”
The family had already sat down for dinner, but the children crowded more closely together and places were set for the three newcomers. An older woman with white hair rolled neatly into a bun at the nape of her neck glanced vaguely at the visitors as they took seats. She looked away, seemingly uninterested, and then she looked back at Kell, watching him as a cat might a mouse. Her eyes glittered in the flickering lamplight as she stared at him. She was tiny and bent. Her face was a map of wrinkles, more pronounced when she squinted to keep him in focus.
Kell couldn’t face the recognition in her eyes. His heart beat faster. He looked at the family around the table: his host, black-bearded and large-boned Seth, the three young children, and the weary housewife Annie, who placed a serving bowl on the table and sat down. He studied the age-worn wood of the table, the empty plates still waiting to be served, the yellowed and peeling paper on the walls.
He’d seen that look of recognition several times since he and Zara landed on Eden, and each time it was harder to face than the last. When he first became conscious back on Zara’s ship, he’d briefly wanted to remember his maker. But now, after a month of being no one but himself, he didn’t want to know more about the man. He was afraid of his maker’s memories.
He glanced at Avram. The old man’s white hair and beard were unkempt as always. When they’d first met, Avram too had stared at him with that I-didn’t-expect-to-meet-you-out-here look, but Avram didn’t meet his eyes now.
“Will you be leading us again, Swifthammer? Like before?” The grandmother asked the question as casually as she might have asked whether he thought it would rain. Silence fell around the table. Though the smell of a hot root-vegetable stew still in its serving bowl beckoned enticingly, no one moved.
Kell’s breath caught. He glanced at Zara, who sat perfectly still on the other side of Avram, her lips rounded in what could have been a silent “No.”
He wrapped his arms around himself and with difficulty returned the grandmother’s gaze. He shook his head slightly, apologetically. “My name is Kell.” His voice sounded hollow in his own ears. His heart was pounding. “Not—” He couldn’t make himself speak the syllables of the strange name. “Just Kell. I’m sorry.”
“It’s we who apologize, Kell.” Seth spoke quietly, but his basso voice reverberated off the walls. He frowned reprovingly at his mother. “But you do look a bit like him. My mother is old. Sometimes she gets confused.”
Around the table, people began serving the stew and eating. “Many of us resemble one another,” Avram said. He patted Kell’s arm and smiled encouragingly. “Too many shared bloodlines. Everyone is someone’s third cousin.”
Kell let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and returned Avram’s smile. He took the serving bowl as it came around and ladled some stew onto his plate. It smelled delicious. Garden thyme, Kell thought. Hardy oregano. Sage. The recognition was sudden and certain. He had no idea where it came from.
This brought him back to the problem the old woman had raised. He had to face it. With his stomach in a knot and his dinner forgotten, he braced himself. He held the spoon tightly in white-knuckled hands that might have bent a more delicate implement. “I’d like to hear about this Sw—” His throat constricted, as if the name had to be kept down. “It’s a strange name.”
Seth laughed. The sound filled the room much like his large-framed body filled his chair, and his amusement overflowed into his words. “It’s a nickname, actually, because he was so good at striking quick, hard blows against our oppressors. Proof, if you need it, that we are a people more comfortable with tools than with weapons. His real name was Yakob. I don’t know his surname. But everyone called him Swifthammer.”
“Kell.” Zara leaned forward to talk past Avram, who sat between them. “You don’t have to do this.” She spoke in Trade, though whether because she didn’t want the others to understand her comment or because of her difficulty with Edenian, Kell didn’t know.
“I can’t keep avoiding it,” he replied in the same language. To Seth, he said, “Yakob.” Yakob . . . —what? “You’ve met him?” The blood pounding in his temples made his voice echo inside his head. He felt dizzy.
“Oh, yes,” the old woman said, a ripple of laughter punctuating the two words into seven or eight happy syllables. “You came by this way when Seth and Annie here were just married and none of their children born. I may forget some things, but I wouldn’t forget you.”
“Come, now, Mother, can’t you see he’s not Swifthammer but a stranger?” Seth chided her as he would a small child. To Kell, he said, “I am truly sorry. She’s mistaken you for him.”
“Mistake?” The old woman laughed again, and her eyes glittered with excitement. “Look at you! Look at him, Seth. Is it not young Swifthammer returned to us?”
“Yes, he looks a lot like him,” Seth said, “but that was years ago.” He frowned impatiently. “Swifthammer wouldn’t be young any more. His beard would be gray now, like mine.”
Kell spoke to the old woman. “Please tell me. What was he like?”
“But surely you remember!”
“No. No, I don’t.” Kell looked away, shuffling through his meager store of memories, but as usual he found nothing. “Can you tell me the story?”
The old woman put down her spoon and sat back in her chair, her eyes unfocused as she remembered. “When you came here last, my children were about the age you are now, and you . . . you looked exactly like you do today. Not one whit different. You rode into the village on a white stallion with that blue cape you favored—”
Kell shivered. A memory surfaced . . . or a dream. “Emblazoned with something . . . silver lightning bolts?”
“Yes. Lightning bolts.”
“It was . . . a vanity. A gift, maybe, from . . .” He almost had it, a memory of a face, but it eluded him. “. . . someone . . .” A group of people, faces vague, wearing worn homespun, working together on a hillside somewhere, prying loose boulders to block the way below. Laughing. “I was trying to get people to resist, wasn’t I?” Kell’s hands felt cold and he was lightheaded, as if his heart had stopped beating in order to pay closer attention to this memory fragment, his and yet not his.
“Yes.” The old woman spoke with the assurance of a schoolteacher whose lesson has been well taught. “You see, you do remember. Before, we faced a terrible choice. Some of us defied the warlords and risked terrible punishment, but most of us did as the warlords wished and planted the drug, though it was evil. But you taught us to plant what should be planted and to hide our crops and harvests. To take to the hills when the armies came through and to hinder the armies when we could.”
“Hinder them?” Kell asked. “How? Surely not by fighting.”
“No,” Seth said. “We wouldn’t do violence, not even to violent people. But sometimes we can alter or hide the ways.”
“And then there was that time we managed to divert the army’s supply wagons,” Annie added, smiling at the memory.
“And do you remember that one year,” the old woman added, “when the apple harvest was so good, and we all baked apple pies for the soldiers, and that poor commander paced back and forth, and finally ordered them onward without bothering us further?” She laughed. “That really confused them. And it was fun. We have never forgotten those lessons, Swifthammer.”
Kell remembered none of these incidents, but he did recall the burnt farmhouse they’d seen riding into this village. It wasn’t the first evidence of the Black Lord’s retribution they’d seen on Eden. He swallowed past a lump in his throat. “They’ve gained you so little in all these years.”
“No! Not little!” Seth slammed his empty palm down on the table, rattling both the dishes and his wife, whose spoon dropped from her hand to clang on the wooden floor. He glared around the table as if to defy anyone to contradict him. No one did. “They have helped us gain self-respect and integrity before God and the community of men! And for that, we would sacrifice the same all over again!”
“As you have too, Swifthammer,” his mother said sadly, “to die as they say you did and to come back to us as you promised.”
Kell shivered as if a ghost’s wings had lightly brushed his cheek in passing. His maker’s ghost. For an instant, he doubted his own substantiality. “How did I . . . did he die?”
“We heard only rumors,” Seth said.
The fragile world Kell had constructed in the last month seemed about to break apart like thin ice under his weight. He looked at Zara, hoping for help. Zara had made no move to eat, nor to brush aside a dark curl that fell across her face. She sat intensely watching her plate as if to make sure that it wouldn’t come to life and walk away. She was breathing shallowly.
Seth’s wife Annie took pity on Kell. “We have been told that the Black Lord killed Swifthammer. But of course, the rumor might be false. For all we know, it might have been the Black Lord’s soldiers that spread this tale.”
“Or it might have happened,” Seth said with a scowl as grim as his voice.
No one spoke. A burning log collapsed in the fireplace. Silently, Seth stood, took a poker, and rearranged the burning wood. The fire blazed brighter.
After a while, Kell asked, “The resistance . . . continues?”
“In its way,” Seth said. “But not like in Swifthammer’s day.”
“Now, Seth,” said his wife. “They try, the ones up in Keephold.”
“Perhaps.” Seth’s jaw tightened, and a scar across his cheek gleamed almost white in the firelight as he frowned. “But if they are doing anything useful, we don’t hear of it out this way.” He jabbed viciously at a log, which fell from where he had just neatly arranged it. He jabbed at it again, then turned to glare at anyone who might be about to say anything further. As if anyone would dare.
Giveaway ends November 28th.
The grand prize is:
- 3x t-shirts (3 winners)
Author G. S. Kenney started reading early, and never stopped. In kindergarten, drawn in by an interesting book with a picture of three witches at a cauldron, she learned to read by starting with Macbeth. Now she writes speculative fiction. Her science-fiction romance novel Freeing Eden, published by Soul Mate Publishing, was a 2018 finalist in the Golden Heart® contest of the Romance Writers of America. The Last Lord of Eden, the second novel in the Ascent of Eden series, will be published by Soul Mate soon.