Exclusive Excerpt: Serial Box’s Tremontaine

Ah, serialized stories. Dickens did it, and now we can experience that weekly rush too, thanks to the creators of Serial Box. On SerialBox.com, stories are told in installments, enabling readers to enjoy one episode a week for a ten-to-16 week season. Each installment is about a 40-minute read (or listen). Think of it as TV you can read!

To give you just a taste, today we’ve got an exclusive excerpt of Serial Box’s upcoming project, Tremontaine, which will be available October 28. It’s an intriguing tale about a cunning duchess, a duke’s affair, a mathematical genius  — and so much more! The prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, the portions are written by Kushner as well as Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner​ and more. Let’s take a peek …

In the highest room of their splendid family townhouse on the highest part of the Hill, Diane, Duchess Tremontaine, sat in a window seat and surveyed her city.

Below the sweeping lawns of Tremontaine House the river roiled under the dull grey skies of a windy, rainy day. Across the river, prosperous houses sent up trails of smoke from their many chimneys. But beyond them, in the older part of the city, only some of the ancient buildings of the University bore these flags of prosperity. Many students went cold for their learning.  But for a clever man not born to land or riches, what else was there?

Diane smiled. Her husband the duke loved the University. He believed in clever men, and he had some pretensions to learning, as his extensive library testified. He served on the University’s Board of Governors, and was happier there than in the halls of the Council of Lords. She didn’t object. It gave him something to occupy his mind, while she occupied hers with weightier matters.

She clutched the sheaf of papers in her hand and craned her slender neck, looking down the river past the Council buildings to the docks, where every day she hoped for her salvation.

The docks were impossible to see from the Hill, of course. The river bent through the city like a bow, crossed by bridges connecting the older side of the city to the new.  And the Everfair was lost; the papers told her that, leaving no room for hope any more. But there was a Kinwiinik Trader ship due in soon. There always was, this time of year, daring the first of the spring storms, bringing things exotic and delightful to the city’s inhabitants: bright feathers, exotic spices, colorful cloth . . . and chocolate. These things were always welcome. But this time, the duchess had a particularly urgent use for them.

There were footsteps on the stairs. She shoved the papers under the generous folds of her skirts.

“Diane?”

Her husband knew she loved it up here. The servants had instructions not to trouble her when she was in her retreat—her “bower,” William romantically called it; or, sometimes, her “gentle falcon’s nest.”  But he could visit when he liked.

The little door opened. She did not turn her head. Let him find her lost in thought, gazing dreamily out the window.

William Alexander Tielman, Duke Tremontaine, bent his long body to her. When his lips touched her neck, she arched it and smiled lazily, leaned into the warmth of his chest, then turned her lips up to his.

“I thought I’d find you here,” he said. For a moment, they looked out over the city together. William rubbed her satin-clad arm. “It’s gotten cold,” he said gently. “Your fire is low, and you haven’t even noticed.”

“No,” the duchess said;  “I hadn’t. What a good thing you came.” She snuggled into his coat again. “So why are you here? Surely you can’t be missing me already!” They had spent the better part of the morning sporting in bed for so long that their morning chocolate had grown cold, and they had to ring for new.

“Why should I not?” he said gallantly. “But I wouldn’t disturb you for that. I just wanted you to look over my speech for tomorrow’s Council. My man Tolliver’s drafted it according to your notes, and I’ve tweaked it here and there  . . . but I’m not quite certain yet. Will you . . . ?”

“With pleasure.” She sat up briskly, folding her hands on her lap. “Read it to me, why don’t you?”

But he made no move to produce notes from his pockets. “And there’s something else,” he said.

“Really?” She had to struggle to make it sound like a question. She’d known he wanted something else from the moment he’d entered.

“It’s Honora.” The duchess waited, expressing just the right mix of politeness and disinterest. “She’s had another child.”

“Already? It must be the country air.”

On the subject of their married daughter, the duchess was intractable. But the duke pressed on: “It’s a boy, this time. They’ve named him David—for the old duke, of course, the King Killer. The family hero.” He risked a smile, inviting her to join him. “He’s David Alexander Tielman.”

“. . . Campion,” the duchess finished sharply. “Don’t forget the Campion.”

Duke William sighed. “You haven’t forgiven her, have you?”

The duchess bit her lip, and turned to look out the window. “No,” she said,  “I haven’t.”

“But Diane . . .” He stroked her shoulder. “Honora does seem happy in her new life. If you could find your way to—”

“I am very glad that she is happy, William. Truly.” She did not try very hard to keep the rancor out of her voice. “In time, I am sure I will get over what she did to us.”

“I’m sure you will,” he said softly. His charm was in seeing the best in her, even when it wasn’t there.

 “Oh, William!” She threw her arms around him, allowing herself the luxury of tears. “I had such hopes! The years I spent, preparing to bring her out to make a good—a fine, an excellent—marriage! The alliances, the parties, the dresses we could ill afford—”

He stroked her carefully arranged curls, and she let him.

“And then, to fling it all in my face! To ruin every plan I had for repairing our fortunes! To run off with that ridiculous country nobleman, not even halfway through her first season!”

“Raymond Campion seems a decent man. His estates, though small, are in order.”

“I’m sure they are, my dear. As far as they go.”  She lifted her head, wiped her nose, and patted her hair back into place. “It could have been worse, I suppose; she could be begging us to support her and some impecunious nobody.” She looked at her husband with sudden suspicion. “She hasn’t been asking you for money, has she?”

“What? Oh, no, no. Not money.”

“What, then?” the duchess asked, more sharply than she had intended.

He sat by her side and took her hand. “Don’t you think . . . a little visit . . . just to see the children . . .”

She did not pull away, but every part of her stiffened. “No. Absolutely not. Honora made her choice, and she must stand by it. She knew her marriage was critical to the future of Tremontaine.”

“But surely—”

“She did not consider us; why should we consider her? I’ve no wish to see her, or to see what Raymond Campion begot on her.”

 That was not entirely true. If he lived, this baby boy would most likely be Duke William’s heir, given Diane’s and her husband’s unsuccessful attempts to produce a   male themselves. But Honora’s and that Campion fellow’s boy was bound to be a disaster.  She might have to take him in hand someday.

Diane stroked her husband’s brocade sleeve. “I’m sorry, William. Of course they must be acknowledged. People have had a glorious time gossiping about the runaway Tremontaine daughter; it wouldn’t do to have them talking about the babies, now, poor mites. Go ahead and send them something; silver, perhaps, with our swan on it. Something from the cabinets; we can’t afford new, and anyway, it will seem more important if it’s family silver, crested.”

“Goblets?” He smiled. “Or rattles?”

“Whatever you like,” she said warmly. “I trust to your selection.”

Her husband squeezed her arm. “We’ll come through, my love. It wasn’t all on our daughter’s shoulders.” The duchess wisely held her tongue. He did not know about the wreck of the Everfair. Nor did he know what she had mortgaged to fund that expedition.

“Tremontaine’s been leaking cash for years,” the duke went on blithely. “But no tradesman in this city will refuse credit to us, or to any other noble for that matter. Why, some of our friends—”

The duchess shuddered. “You know how I feel about credit, William. I do not like to owe anyone anything. And it does not become the House.”

“Another loan, then . . . ?”

“And I know how you feel about loans!” She put her fine hand over his big one, gave it a squeeze. “When we put the Catullan vineyards up for security against that loan for the improvements at Highcombe, you didn’t sleep a wink until they were completed, repaid, and the vineyards out of danger.”

He looked down at both their hands. “Not a bit!” he said softly. “I knew we’d made the right decision. Couldn’t let my father’s house go to ruin. I spent some happy years there . . .” He smiled at something she couldn’t see. “And then we got that phenomenal Catullan harvest, as you predicted—and what a laugh, to pay them back with profits from the very vineyards they were hoping to get their paws on if we failed!” He grinned at her, a boy’s grin. “I’m only sorry I couldn’t share the joke with everyone I know.”

The duchess squeezed his hand harder. “But you know you mustn’t, don’t you? Not ever. For anyone to know we were taking out loans, much less putting up Tremontaine land for them . . .” He nodded. But she pressed on. “We can enjoy the joke together, the two of us, my darling—but that’s as far as it goes.”

He lifted her hand and kissed it. “You keep a most careful house.”

“Because I must, William!” The duchess smiled ruefully. “The cook and the staff all hate me, because I make them do so very much with so very little. To their credit, they always come through. But the ball for Honora’s presentation was a triumph of ingenuity over penury. And how I’m going to manage our Tremontaine Ball this year, I do not know. I’ve got the musicians all hired at reasonable rates, but there’s the invitations all to be handwritten and . . .”

“Why not have them printed? There are some fine engravers.”

“William.” She looked at him with her clear grey eyes, a tiny frown between them. “Tremontaine does not print invitations. To anything.”

Her husband smiled. “Sometimes I think that you are more Tremontaine than I am.”

His duchess chuckled. “You were born to it. You didn’t care.”

“I cared. But my father was such a dreamer. He wasn’t at all practical. I think he spent his time longing for the old kings, and the lost glories of Tremontaine.”

His hand wandered up from her shoulder to stroke the exposed white stem of her neck. “But that was in my favor, in the end. If the old duke hadn’t been so set on the family’s glorious past, he would never have insisted that I marry the only remaining daughter of a dying branch: a very young girl, with very little fortune beyond her wit”—he kissed her ear—“her grace”—kissed her brow—“and her beauty.”

Duke William tweaked one curl of his wife’s perfectly coiffed head, careful not to disarrange anything. “I’m sure my mother objected to that match every bit as much as you do to Honora’s. So you see? It’s a fine old family tradition.”

“Thank you, William.” His duchess rested her head against his brocade-clad chest, despite what it did to her curls. “I am sure I do not deserve you.”

Her husband kissed her nose. “And I am sure you deserve far more.”

“Now,” the duchess said briskly, “let us go downstairs. I shall get my maid to tidy me up, while you read me your lovely speech.”

It was not difficult to slip the papers in her petticoat pocket, nor—when she got to her rooms—to close them in a cabinet drawer before her maid could find them.

The first episode of Tremontaine will be available digitally on October 28. You can preorder episode one on Amazon. You can also subscribe on SerialBox.com to get each episode. For more great stories, be sure to visit our Everything Romance page.

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