"He was the flame, and his love-mate was the kindling. To say they were mismatched was an understatement. He knew that it was only a matter of time before their relationship was tested. . . . Layle had simply not expected the test to be a pile of dirty dishes."
They are two of the most talented prison-workers in the world. It's a pity their skills don't extend to dishwashing.
When the kitchen laborers of the queendom's royal prison refuse to clean dishes until their demands are met, the High Seeker and his love-mate must figure out how to accomplish simple housework that elite men such as themselves never condescend to do. It seems an easy enough task. But hidden between the two men lie memories and secrets that will turn a simple task into something much more.
This romantic short story can be read on its own or as a side story in The Eternal Dungeon, an award-winning speculative fiction series set in a nineteenth-century prison.
The Eternal Dungeon series is part of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, a cycle of alternate history series (Young Toughs, Waterman, Life Prison, Commando, Michael's House, The Eternal Dungeon, and Dark Light) about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.
Elsdon picked up the piece of paper from the rough work counter that served as a table for their meals. He frowned as he perused the petition. "'Modern fixtures in the dungeon's kitchen—' That seems a reasonable request."
To Elsdon, perhaps; Layle had already gathered that Elsdon had a boyish interest in inventions. Layle explained patiently, "There is a reason that the workers in this dungeon use older tools, such as daggers rather than revolvers. It serves to keep us rooted in the traditions of the past, so that we do not forget the time when the 'Code of Seeking' was first created."
Elsdon glanced toward the slim volume that regulated their lives as Seekers. "But the 'Code of Seeking' was revolutionary for its time, wasn't it? It required the dungeon's workers to put the best interests of their prisoners first; that departed from centuries of tradition in prison practice. Even your revision of it broke away from past versions of the Code. I would have thought you would welcome modern inventions into the dungeon."
"First we have to deal with these dishes," Layle pointed out.
Elsdon sighed and stared again at the plates, saucers, cups, glasses, and silverware. "It can't be so very hard. All we need is water, surely."
They both looked toward their bedroom. Sitting upon the night-stand next to the bed was a pitcher of water, fresh from being refilled by a maid while they were at work. Under the pitcher lay a small basin. The living cells of the Seekers contained no wash-stands, much less pumps or faucets.
"We could use the water in the pitcher," Elsdon suggested.
"And pour it where?" asked Layle, looking around as though he expected a sink to pop up at any moment. "That basin is too small for the plates."
"There's our washtub. . . ."
Layle snorted. "I am not going to clean dishes in a tub where we bathe weekly. The kitchen must have some sort of container in which we can wash dishes. We simply need a maid to fetch it for us."
There was a pointed pause. Even Elsdon, who did not know the details of Layle's fraught past, was aware by now of Layle's nervousness around women.
Finally Elsdon said, "I'll find the maid."
This was ridiculous. Layle was a Seeker. He dealt daily with prisoners accused of heinous murder and rape. For the Queen's love, he ought to be able to deal with a giggling girl.
"I'll do it," he said grimly in the same manner that he might announce he was about to venture into hell.