Gifted (Book 1 of The Gilded Shackle Series)

By C.T. Griffith

Fantasy, Action & adventure, Young adult

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15 mins


The S.S. Henrietta Lacks was the sole vessel that bore humanity to their new home system. The Human colonists christened their star Eos, meaning “dawn,” and their new planet Ersa.
Ersa was a stunningly, improbably Earth-like planet, with a single moon they called Theia. Ersa had slightly heavier gravity than Earth, abundant surface water, and a flourishing ecosystem including several unique species of pre-industrial, sentient humanoids. Their new home also held another surprise. The beautiful, rugged planet was located on a convergence—a fault line, or rift—in the framework of the multiverse.
The first wave of rift energy presented as powerful electrical storms, with a secondary effect of spawning strange and improbable events. The baffled colonists had to deal with wildly malfunctioning technology, strange mutations of both native and Terran lifeforms, and a full complement of phenomena that could only be described as supernatural. On top of those difficulties, conflict with the native sentients was an ongoing possibility. Although not technologically advanced, many of the native races had the ability to manipulate and wield these eldritch forces, often to disastrous effect.
In these dark times, people prayed to the old gods of Earth for guidance and aid. And, for the first time, they got answers. Shortly after the rift phenomenon began, the devout began manifesting “divine” abilities, including precognitive visions and healing powers. And, as if in answer to their prayers, another starship crash-landed on Ersa. Although most of the travelers died in the crash, the survivors found Ersa to be too harsh an environment for permanent survival as well. Immortal on their homeworld, the Sidthe knew they were doomed from the moment they first drew breath on Ersa. But in the decades before they died, they befriended the Human settlers and shared freely of all that they were. The Sidthe travelers had naturally-occurring psi abilities that gave them an affinity for working with arcane energies, and with this trait, they helped the Humans understand and harness what could only be called “magic.”
In the few short decades they had before extinction, the Sidthe left a profound legacy. Their partnership with the Humans changed the world. Together, they bred Terran animals to be more resilient, altered native Ersan animals to be useful, and changed the planet’s ecosystem in subtle ways to make it more habitable for future generations.
As the Sidthe died out, the Aoife took their place. A long-lived race, they stepped naturally into the cooperative role held by their predecessors. Their joint studies, be they magic or technology, were usually successful. Later generations improved upon their work. As time passed, magic dominated. The energy was abundant and easily harnessed by anyone with the will and ability to shape it. For a long golden era, Ersa’s population, native and colonial alike, co-existed in a harmony of abundance and balance.
Although this equilibrium lasted for centuries, nothing is forever. Eventually, the ambitions of a few people with power led to political strife over the usual flashpoints—religion, resources, imagined slights, and influence.
The convergence bathed Ersa in ready energy for magic, but there had always been periodic lulls. During one of the more serious energy droughts, the most powerful made wild accusations of hoarding, and in their greed attempted to force the trickle of convergence energy to resume flow. In time, a magic-fueled war of epic proportions nearly swept the world clean. No one remembers exactly what happened because in the aftermath, there were no victors to write history. In the end, the battered survivors picked themselves up and began again. They started counting their years once more, beginning at zero to mark the birth of the new era.
In the fertile lands originally colonized by Humans, a new nation was born. The Empyrean, a joint venture between the remaining Humans and their faithful Aoife advisors, was determined to be a nation of learning, justice, and prosperity. With the Aoife talent for long-term planning, and the raw vigor and ambition of the Humans, they built a strong wall around the borders of their infant nation, and it began to flourish.
The young Human and Aoife society grew and the Empyrean became both wealthy and powerful. But as time passed, the Aoife began to take advantage of their longer lifespans and greater ability to create change. What began as a true and equitable partnership slowly morphed into something else...

Chapter 1: Making the Cut

Chapter 1: Making the Cut

April 9th, 3131. Spring Equinox, Eaoster

The main hospital ward at the Solmurry Demesne had many windows facing the site of most of the Eaoster Day festivities, but Teine was in no position to enjoy the view. Instead, the Human boy listened to the fabal game playing on the radio, and the cheers and catcalls of the other boys from his cohort while he lay in his hospital bed, eyes tightly closed. Trying hard to postpone the time that he’d be officially “awake” as long as he could, Teine could feel the bag of ice melting on his groin and the slight nausea from what Clinician Nocdoramis had called “general anesthesia.” Whatever it was, it had kept him blissfully unaware during the Cut. Although Teine wasn’t in any real pain, he was acutely aware that the moment he opened his eyes his life would change forever.

Not that I’m not ready, he told himself. After all, I’m not a baby.

It sounded to Teine like most of the other boys were awake and alert. Having met their Cut in alphabetical order meant most of them had been finished for hours. “T” for Teine had always left him toward the end, but he didn’t mind—especially today. He hadn’t been in any hurry to have his privates carved on, anesthesia or not.

Teine could hear the voices of the other boys in his cohort and in his mind’s eye he could picture them clearly. Seymour would be plastered to the window, eagerly watching everything he could see. The others—sixteen in all—either slept, lounged in their beds, or were grouped around the solitary radio listening to the fabal match with breathless enthusiasm. The reception popped, hissed, and then cleared up in time for a batch of commercials.

“I can’t believe we’re having a storm during the last game of the season!” one of the boys grumbled. “Just our luck.”

From the window, Seymour interrupted him, “Hey, everyone, look at this!” There were several groans as boys got up out of bed or off their seats. They sounded like they were all moving slowly towards the bank of windows to get a better view, and Teine could hear the amused chuckles and catcalls as the others saw what Seymour had pointed out. Teine debated getting up to see for himself, but successfully thwarted his own curiosity and lay still to listen to what the others had to say.

“Look! Even the master is going to get some. Look at him close in on those pretty Aoife ladies,” Seymour observed. “I’m telling you boys, we could be scoring big out there if we hadn’t just gotten Cut!”

“Why couldn’t they have done it a month ago? Then we’d be healed up, and ready for action!”


The general murmurs of assent continued, until the announcements were over and the game was back on.

To quiet the fluttering in his stomach, Teine continued to feign unconsciousness, and turned his attention back to Seymour’s whining about the inequities of their situation. “If we’d been out, this weather would have been our best friend,” Seymour was ranting. “Almost every one of those prissy masters’ wives has a hot Human handmaiden or two. We could have been giving them all a big welcome to Solmurry!”

Raucous laughter filled the room, and even with his eyes shut tight, Teine couldn’t help but join in. Seymour had always been the cohort clown. Teine could practically see the gesture that must have come along with the “big welcome.” Having grown up on one of the most famous Human stud farms, Teine thought he would have gotten over the jokes at their reputation, but he hadn’t. They were always funny.

“Hey, Teine’s up! I just saw him laughing!” one of the boys yelled.

Teine steeled himself and opened his eyes. Before he greeted any of the others, or even moved to a more comfortable position, he looked at the back of his left hand. It was clean, unblemished. No tattoo. So, circumcision only, he thought. Between the ice pack and the numbing agent, he was profoundly grateful he couldn’t feel much down there.

“Congratulations, Teine!” howled Seymour from his vantage point by the window. He pointed jovially to the green diamond on the back of his own left hand. “You’re going to be a stud!” There were more hoots and cheers and ribald commentary from the rest of the boys as Seymour danced around, shaking his pelvis.

“Bully for me,” Teine grumbled, not sure if he was happy to have been selected for such an honor or annoyed that his eventual sex life would be dictated by duty and not pleasure. The others who had received vasectomies and the green diamond tattoos that proclaimed their sterility—they were the ones who had it easy.

Down at the other end of the room, one of the other boys was waking up from his anesthesia as well. Teine could hear him retching into the basin provided. The very sound made him a bit queasy, and he grabbed his own basin as a precautionary measure.

Once the nausea passed, Teine pulled himself into an upright position and reached for a pen and the journal he shared with his favorite sibling, Leis. The pair of them had entertained themselves for a couple of years by passing a notebook back and forth, working jointly to tell each other whatever story captured their imagination at the moment. Leis had given the journal back to him that morning before his surgery, and made him promise to save it until he was recovering.

The other boys in the room cheered as their favorite team placed the fabal egg for a two-point goal. Although the radio reception was dreadful, it didn’t seem to dim their enthusiasm. After all, it was the bowl game!

Teine tuned them all out and eagerly began reading the story where he’d left off and Leis had begun.

“Miriam knew better than to venture into a cave by herself…” Leis had written in her neat, feminine hand. It began a response to Teine’s cliffhanger about Miriam finding the cave while she was running away from a party of evil foreign horsemen that were terrorizing her village. Miriam was a half-breed, born to be the personal guard of her Aoife sire when she grew up. She was bright and resourceful, even though she was a girl and half Human. Usually her best friend Davy was with her, but since he was an Aoife and rather bookish, he’d been captured by the raiders earlier. It was up to Miriam to either find help, or save him herself.

Teine turned the page just as Seymour clambered unceremoniously onto the foot of his bed. “What in the world are you reading, man?” Seymour demanded. “It can’t be schoolwork.”
With a sigh, Teine closed the book reluctantly. Any of the other boys would leave him alone if he asked, but not Seymour.

“I thought you had money on this game, man?” Seymour prodded, trying to get a response out of the bigger, auburn-haired boy. “For someone who claims to like fabal as much as you do, you sure seem disinterested.” In the room full of tanned blondes and freckled redheads, Seymour stood out like a raven in a flock of pigeons. The dark-haired youth, with his fair complexion and blue eyes, had a level of tenacity and fire that Teine admired but didn’t emulate.

It was common knowledge that Seymour had been purchased from Cartierscross as a potential stud prospect. His stock was said to possess incredible concentration and ambition. But his health certificate never arrived, and by the time they got the child back to Solmurry, it was evident why. Seymour suffered from hemophilia, a rare blood disorder that made him bleed profusely with the slightest scratch and also made him more prone to internal injuries. Due to his condition, Seymour not only ended up with a green diamond tattooed on his left hand, signifying his status as an AM, or “altered male,” but he’d also required having a healer from the Church come and oversee the surgery that effectively removed him from the gene pool and marked him as an adult. The sweet nun had even held Seymour’s other hand while he was receiving his green diamond tattoo, healing him with divine magics. Then, in an act of compassion and mercy, she’d stayed to heal the other boys, as well.

“I love playing fabal,” Teine reminded his friend, for perhaps the thousandth time. “Listening to it isn’t nearly as interesting. Especially when you can’t hear what’s going on!” Realizing the futility of trying to read with Seymour latched on, Teine tossed his journal aside to save for a time when he could enjoy it in peace and quiet. Instead, he pulled out his sketch book and had Seymour trade out his pen for a charcoal pencil and a blending stub out of his book bag. He’d be able to draw and still keep Seymour entertained. He considered it a community service, because if Seymour wasn’t entertained, he’d flit from bed to bed, engaging anyone who seemed conscious in exhausting, rapid-fire conversation. Teine supposed that Seymour was feeling so chipper because he’d had the benefit of magical healing. As an “intact male,” Teine’s own procedure had been very minor—circumcision only—and the affected area was nowhere near as painful as he’d feared it would be. He and the other IM’s in his cohort—Marcus, Victor and Robin—would only be kept in the infirmary for a short time, for observation.

It seemed to Teine that the newest batch of AM’s were moving far more slowly and gingerly than their comrades who’d remained reproductively intact. Perhaps, because they’d expected to be?

“What are you going to draw?” asked Seymour. The dark-haired boy scooted up closer to Teine so he could see. “A still life? Some fabal players? A landscape?”

Teine opened his sketchbook, moving past some of his finished pieces with a deliberate and somewhat grand slowness, taking a secret delight in his friend’s fascination. Ever since the spring before, when Teine’s best friend Vosh had been taken to Capital City to play fabal for the Solmurry team in the minor leagues, Seymour had instantly stepped up and attempted to fill the role. While Seymour was a poor substitute for Vosh in the roughhousing and sports, and had no artistic or poetic talent himself, he was capable of discerning good work. Teine had come to appreciate his active mind and was finding him to be an excellent sounding board for some of his creative attempts.

Although Seymour could drive him completely insane, Teine showed his appreciation of their friendship whenever the opportunity presented itself. “What would you like me to draw?” Teine asked. “You can pick, and I’ll draw whatever you want.”

“Naked women!” Teine and Seymour looked at the three cheering boys a few beds over who had suddenly responded. After a moment of blank stares, the entire room erupted in hysterical laughter.

Once Seymour stopped giggling, he gave the matter some serious thought. “Can I see the rest of your sketches before I decide?” As the game had been interrupted again by a commercial break, a couple of the other boys had wandered over to have a look, as well.

Teine nodded, handing over the book with what he hoped was a show of confident nonchalance. In actuality, his heart was suddenly pounding and his mouth felt like it had been stuffed with cotton. He’d actually be less nervous if he were showing his works to a teacher or some other professional critic.

Seymour held the book and flipped the pages while the others boys looked on. Teine flushed pink with both embarrassment and pride as Seymour paged slowly through the book, giving himself and the others time to truly study the work. Then they got to the section from the figure drawing class he’d gotten to take. Usually Human students were excluded from figure works classes unless they were sixteen or more years old, on mere principle. But Teine had been an exception, as he’d managed to wrangle a note from the instructor, and was backed up by his excellent marks in two other artistic disciplines. When he’d gotten word he’d been accepted into the class, Teine had hoped for naked women as models.

He’d really been disappointed when the whole class spent the first month drawing some strange, Outland Human contortionist with a bald head and a beard down to his belly. Of course, he was naked—and in a wide variety of impossible and downright horrifying poses.
The boys all laughed when they turned the page to the start of his figure studies. “Hey, Teine,” Seymour said, elbowing him playfully. “I was so jealous you were getting to take figure drawing! Looks like the joke was on me!”

“Believe me,” Teine said, extracting his sketchbook from his friend’s hands. His ears burned as if they’d been held to the steam radiator. “The joke was on both of us.” Fortunately the announcements had just ended, and the knot of art critics broke up and drifted back toward the radio to hear the last of the game.

On the other end of the room, Clinician Nocdoramis entered the infirmary and began making her rounds with the patients nearest the door. Her musical Aoife voice was soft and feminine in the background of all the rowdy boys and their cheering. To Teine’s way of thinking, the delicate Aoife woman in the infirmary with a bunch of Human boys was as out of place as a beautiful flower growing in the middle of a vegetable garden. Her eyes were larger, proportionately, than those of a Human woman, set wide and slanted slightly upward at the corners. The planes of her face, like all of her kind, were drawn more sharply, with visible cheekbones and jawline under ageless, creamy skin. Her hair was a deep, rich gold, a shade Human blondes never seemed to match, and it waved gently as she tucked it behind her delicately pointed ears. He’d always longed to draw some of the Aoife, to catalog and sketch out the myriad differences between them and the Human models he’d seen, but the opportunity had never materialized. Teine hoped he’d eventually be brave enough to ask the Clinician if she’d mind if he took a couple of quick sketches. But any day which included an ice bag on his privates was not a day that inspired courage.

Teine sighed, lamenting his cowardice. He was about to tuck his artist’s journal away when he realized that Seymour hadn’t left yet. Good old tenacious Seymour. “What, you still want a picture?”

Seymour nodded eagerly, reaching out for Teine’s book. He turned the page to a hunting scene that Teine was particularly proud of: Horses and hounds, leaping across the countryside on a cold winter’s morning. The fields were turned under and snow lay thick as the horses’ delicate legs churned it up beneath their hooves. Teine hadn’t been completely satisfied with the horses, but overall, he thought it was one of his better pieces.

“I want one kind of like this,” Seymour gestured to the sketch. “But can you show what they’re hunting? I’d like to have one where they are hunting a dragon!”

Teine thought about it, mentally blocking out the scene in his mind. “What kind of dragon?” he asked.

“Just a brown. I want it to be believable.”

Flipping the book open to a blank page, Teine started by sketching out the roughs where the main elements would be.

“Is that going to be the dragon?” Seymour asked, pointing at one of the shapes Teine had blocked out.

Teine nodded wordlessly. His charcoal pencil danced over the thick, creamy sketch paper, while Seymour got comfortable, tucking his legs under him and resting his elbows on his knees. With a wicked playful grin, Teine flipped the page and started sketching in a quick doodle of a silly looking, brooding gargoyle, sitting in the same position as Seymour.
It took the other boy a second to figure out what Teine was doing. Then Seymour groaned at the parody and cheerfully socked Teine with one of his own pillows. “Stop playing around! I want my picture!”

Chuckling to himself, Teine obediently flipped the page and went back to work on his commission.

Time seemed to have no meaning as Teine began filling in the details of the landscape. He wondered if God felt that way as She created. This time, he vowed he’d do a better job with the hunter’s ponars. That breed of horse was difficult to draw, even for an experienced artist. They were long bodied, leggy and elegant, yet somehow managed to look sinewy and strong instead of fragile.

As Teine sketched, he found himself smiling as he considered the horses. Horses had been at the very beginning of his art career, though he’d come at it backwards and tried being a critic first. It all started with a ride on a merry-go-round. He’d chosen to ride an elephant, which gave him a fine view of four carved horses directly in front of him. He thought the sculptures were exquisite, with their arched necks, fancy barding, and perpetually flowing wooden manes. But something about them didn’t seem right to his unpracticed eye. It had bothered him the whole ride, and he’d sat silently on his wooden elephant as the other children from his cohort had laughed and played. Finally, he’d decided. The sculptures, while excellently rendered and colorfully painted, lacked substance and realism. They weren’t accurate, but were instead caricatures of what horses really were.
Later that day, when the Aoife teacher asked him how he’d liked the merry-go-round, he’d shared his feelings on the horses. She’d marched him right to the superintendent as soon as they’d gotten off the train. Teine was terrified, thinking he’d be in trouble. As it turned out, the teacher only wanted to be sure he was signed up for an art credit the next semester. As Teine had never drawn anything before then, he was very grateful for that tutor’s watchful eye. Over the years as she’d returned to teach other classes, Teine had made a point of staying in touch and showing her his work. After all, she was the reason behind it.

As his mind wandered, his hands worked by themselves, and by the time he really looked back down at what he was doing, Teine’s sketch for Seymour had begun filling out nicely.
Clinician Nocdoramus was standing over him with a fresh ice bag, a pitcher of tea with real ice in it, and some funny-looking liquid in a vessel resembling a shot glass. “Good afternoon, Teine,” she said, moving his possessions from the table to a chair. She then set her tray down to check his chart.

Teine reluctantly closed his sketchpad and waited for instructions. He liked Solmurry’s resident Clinician a lot, but he didn’t know what to expect and was a little bit worried. “And a pleasant afternoon to you, Clinician,” he replied.

She gave Seymour a stern look, and the other boy decided that he’d better find something else to do. With a smile, Nocdoramus wrapped a strange device around Teine’s arm and began inflating it using a rubber bulb attached with a hose. “Are you feeling any pain?”

“Not really, no,” Teine replied, a bit distracted by the strange thing on his arm. It pinched slightly, and pulled the hairs on his skin. When it had taken all the air it possibly could, she slid her stethoscope into the crook of his elbow and held up a finger for him to be quiet. As he watched, Nocdoramus turned the valve to let the air slowly escape while staring at the attached dial.

Then, she nodded to herself. Apparently whatever that was, the result was satisfactory. Without explaining, she took the shot glass off the tray and handed it to Teine. “Drink up. It tastes awful but it will keep you comfortable and prevent infection. How is your Amagorra? “
“She’s doing quite well, thank you,” Teine answered, then threw back the shot. Immediately, he made a face. “‘Awful’ is a bit of an understatement, don’t you think?” he remarked, holding up the empty glass. “Rather like vanilla-flavored paint thinner.”

Pouring and handing him a glass of sweet tea, she nudged him playfully in the shoulder with her elbow. “If I told you it tasted like dragon piss, would you drink it so quickly?” she chided. “Come now, do you need a lollipop like a nursling?”

“Yes,” Teine said solemnly, making sure his eyes betrayed none of his mischief. “Yes, I do. And my comrades need some, too. We’ve all had a rough day.”

Leaning forward to pinch his cheek, the Clinician laughed. “Now, there’s the sweet talker I remember. I’ll make you a deal, how about that?”

“What’s the deal, oh Mistress of the Medicines?” Teine countered.

“The deal is, you go down there...” she tossed her head, indicating the other side of the room where one of their number lay in bed with his back to the group. “...and have a go at cheering up Marcus. He really took this hard.”

Teine was momentarily alarmed, doing his best not to think about the kind of accidents that could happen during the surgeries like they’d all had. “What happened?”

“Oh, nothing so drastic as you’re imagining, I’m sure,” Nocdoramus replied airily. “He wanted to be an AM and was disappointed to not have gotten his green diamond.”

Nodding sagely, Teine glanced around her at the figure lying in bed. “He’s got a girl, you know. If he’d been Cut, they could have...”

“Yes, yes,” she scolded him. “I understand how it works, and really I do sympathize. I know you IMs lead a much more disciplined life, but it’s not without rewards. He needs a little help in seeing the silver lining of this particular cloud.”

“Speaking of clouds?” Teine interjected. “Will we all be out of here tonight, before this light show rolls in?” He gestured to the window, where storm clouds loomed ominous and threatening. Teine could see the coachmen hurrying to ready several carriages. “I bet it’s going to be quite a howler, since it’s already disrupting the radio broadcasts.”

Nocdoramus turned to look and froze in place, completely transfixed by the incoming weather. Teine wasn’t surprised. He’d noticed long ago that the Aoife reacted differently to these magic storms than the Humans did. It awed and stilled them, and made them flush with… what? Energy? Passion? He didn’t know, but he was sure there was an amazing poem or song in it somewhere. Teine spent a good two years pondering that mystery, before bringing it up to Vosh to ask his opinion. “It’s just a storm.” Vosh had replied. “Who knows why the Aoife do what they do.” Teine hadn’t brought it up to anyone since.

“Clinician?” he asked politely, trying to break into her reverie in the least intrusive way possible. “Can I stay and watch it from here? Or will you be discharging us?”

Shaking herself to break her concentration, she pulled her attention away from the window and turned to face Teine. It was a second before the faraway look in her eyes was replaced with her usual genteel amusement. “If the Church provides healers from now on out, we may reconsider this policy. But for now we’ll be keeping all the AMs overnight as a precaution. Yes, you too, Seymour,” she added, waving the other boy away as one might shoo a pesky fly. “You IMs are on a case by case basis.” She gestured to Teine’s pajamas. “Drop those trousers, young man, and let’s have a look.”

Front Matter, Copyright, Dedication

The Gilded Shackle
Book 1: Gifted

C.T. Griffith

Kindle Edition
Copyright 2015, C.T. Griffith
License Notes: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this ebook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Edited by Elaine Roughton and Sylvia Griffith
Cover Art by Karyn Lewis Bonfiglio
Cover Design by Angelique Mroczka
Typeset by Angelique Mroczka

For my mom, Sylvia.



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