Solstice Night Coda Featuring Drake and Adam from the Sea of Stars Series

The Gift of the Stag King

A Sea of Stars Holiday Coda

By Nicole Kimberling

Ever since Lord Adam Wexley had become a married man, figuring out how to spend Solstice Night proved had to be a problem.

During the seven-year interval that he’d been single, before reuniting with his former lover, Grand Magician Zachary Drake, Adam had devoted himself to work at the Integrity Foundation during the lonely holiday season. The Foundation specialized in working for the rights of inhabited animals and the protection of the soulless. He and his counterparts worked to end the separation of bodies from souls for commercial gain and to outlaw appropriating animal bodies to house human souls.

As one of two litigators, Adam always had his schedule full at this time of year. Apart from his usual court appearances, Adam made the rounds of noble parties, lobbying relentlessly for charitable donations.

And of course, the Foundation hosted its own fundraising gala. But the biggest event for Adam was organizing a completely unique Solstice Night gathering called the Procession of the Stag King.

Originally a minor Solstice story, the Gift of the Stag King held special importance for the inhabited animal community. The story went like this: One cruel winter long ago snow fell for one hundred days. Stores of grain ran out and no game could be found in the terrible snow. The king looked out over the land and saw that his people were starving. So he wished upon the Sea of Stars that he could feed them. Unfortunately, a tricky spirit heard his wish first and changed him into a stag.

Unable to speak or explain who he was the hungry people set upon him immediately. At first the king ran into the woods and hid but as the days went by he realized that he could feed at least some people after all. So he walked bravely from the forest and lay down his life.

When the Spirits of Guardian Star saw this act of bravery they were so moved that they used their magic to make the king’s body last long enough to feed all of the people until the winter finally turned to spring.

While he’d been a troubadour-courtier, Adam had sung the mournful Ballad of the Stag King more times than he could count. He’d thought the song’s minor key made him seen deep. But until he’d come to work for Integrity, he’d never thought about how the lyrics might resonate with the inhabited animal community.

To them the Stag King represented the sacrifice that they’d all made—to sublet their human bodies and live as animals in the Courts of the Four Directions.

Integrity Foundation’s Procession of the Stag King Feast took place in the community center gymnasium where Adam had been since before dawn—the only free public space with doors big enough to accommodate the variety of animals who would be in attendance. Lions, tigers, bears—even one small elephant would be walking through the big entrance when they were released from their duties at sundown.

Already, family members gathered. One set of parents, whose daughter lived inside of a chair-friendly chimpanzee set up a small folding table. Another woman, whose husband inhabited a snow-leopard, laid a blanket out on the floor. She carried a picnic basket that contained alphabet blocks that her husband would paw at to spell out words. This would be their last year here, if Adam’s efforts to void the fellow’s exploitative contract proved victorious.

Across the room he caught sight of his friend, and former chauffeur, Karl. Karl was busy helping an elderly woman lay out dishes and cushions for her sons—three wolves—who would be joining her. The wolves would use a special matt printed with the alphabet to communicate with their mother, whereas the many simians would all be signing. Some inhabited birds, such as cockatoos would be squawking actual words.

Karl had, himself, spent seven years inside an orangutan so was especially sensitive to the needs of families trying to include differently-shaped relatives in their holiday meal.

For years, Adam had donned the Stag King costume and led the procession of waiters bearing foods of all description, including venison, both raw and cooked, to the buffet, where it would be ferried to the menagerie of assembled animals. But lately he’d been yearning to spend at least one Solstice Night alone with his husband, Grand Magician Zachary Drake.

The first year they’d been married, Adam had assumed that being a magician, Drake would have some sort of important star-gazing to do on Solstice Night so he’d kept to his usual plan of leading the procession, followed by a private party for major charitable donors at his own house. After the party, he’d noticed Drake looking down and had been shocked to discover that all his new husband had wanted was to sip champagne, eat star-shaped cookies and make fun of courtly fashion on the King’s Annual Solstice Night Pageant.

“I hear the new trend is transparent. It should be a fantastic disaster,” Drake had said. He’d smiled and run his fingers through his immaculately-tousled black hair. Drake had always been a keen observer of high fashion, preferring to wear only black, mostly custom-made garments. And as a former courtier, Adam maintained the frivolous delight of seeing his noble peers wearing ridiculous traditional garb.

Drake continued, “Last year the Under-Minister of the East Court stepped on the minister’s six foot train and ripped it right off. They cut to commercial, but not before we all got a glimpse of what shame lay beneath. I cannot wait to see who’s clumsy this year.”

So plans were made for Adam’s co-worker, Lord Hamilton, to assume the role of the Stag King so that Adam could leave early.

And Adam had promised to be home in time. All day he had dreaded the idea that something would happen to prevent him from keeping his word. Not that he feared Drake’s wrath—Drake had never responded to Adam’s frequent work-related delays with anything other than a calm, “Thank you for letting me know,” or “I’ll see you when you get here.”

And that was the problem. Drake so rarely asked for anything from him that this simple request to watch television together had become magnified in importance so that Adam broke out into a sweat each time an obstacle to punctuality occurred.

Up to this point the day tried hard to stop him from keeping this promise. The doors jammed, the heat wouldn’t come on, the purveyor providing the big cat meals got lost. Twice. But finally all the catering was in order, the guests were arriving and Adam prepared to make his exit.

He had just put on his camel-colored great coat when Karl jogged up to him. Karl stood about his same height but where Adam got his muscles toned by a systematic, symmetry-obsessed trainer at a gym, Karl worked as a professional sea serpent wrangler and thus possessed the body of a natural athlete.

Karl’s disposition was that of an athlete as well. He’d once seen Karl drink an entire quart of milk without seeming to need to breathe. Karl also saw nothing wrong with walking around with his hand in his boyfriend’s back pocket, which Adam found refreshing after having spent so much time minding the antiquated protocols of court life.

Drake, on the other hand, found Karl’s lack of decorum sleazy and had once threatened to put a curse on him if he couldn’t keep his hands in his own pockets. (Though Adam suspected that Karl’s boyfriend being Drake’s ward contributed to his annoyance in no small part.)

The expression on Karl’s face did not fill Adam with hope for a bright future. In fact he felt his brow prickle with sweat immediately.

“You’re not gonna like this, boss.” Karl still called him boss, even though he hadn’t worked for him for two years.

“What’s happened?”

“Hamilton’s been delayed. He won’t be here for the procession. He says you’ll have to wear the costume.”

“There’s no way I can get in that thing now. We had it altered to fit him,” Adam said, exasperated. “He’s six inches shorter than me.”

Karl shrugged. “You can call him back if you want, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to come. Actually he said he might need you to go to him.”


“He’s been detained by the Royal Guard. He thinks it’s just his aunt’s way of harassing him into participating in the East Court Solstice Night Pageant. But it’s hard to be sure,” Karl said.

Adam squeezed his eyes shut to avoid giving Karl, and everyone in the surrounding vicinity a glare of scorching malevolence. It wasn’t their fault.

“All right, I can go to the palace and see if I can spring Hamilton. Do you think you can find someone to fit underneath the antlers?”

“Sure, boss. I’m on it.”

“And,” Adam hated to ask this, but he felt he must, “could you call Drake for me and tell him I’ll be late?”

Karl balked. “It’s like you want me to be cursed with limp dick or something.”

“Please? I just need to focus on getting Hamilton here.” Adam looked at his watch. “We still have an hour. It’s possible this thing can be solved.”

“Okay fine, but if he curses me you’ve got to talk him into reversing it.”



Exactly one hour and one minute later, Adam returned to the community center, an annoyed Hamilton in tow.

Adam felt low.

He should have just kicked Hamilton out at the curb and driven immediately to his home to catch the second half of the pageant with Drake, but his own conscientiousness forced him to walk inside to see if Karl had managed to find a replacement.

And he’d already wrecked Drake’s Solstice Night plans. He might as well take the extra five minutes to make sure he hadn’t ruined Stag King dinner as well.

As Hamilton edged the door to the gymnasium open, Adam saw the room had been plunged into hushed darkness. Guests waited in anticipation for the procession to begin. At the far side of the room, he could see a set of pure white antlers approaching through the gloom.

All faces were turned toward the approaching figure. Little children squirmed and craned their necks to see better while an elderly lion sitting a few feet from Adam pricked up its ears.

So Karl had found someone to wear the Stag King costume after all.

“That’s a relief,” Hamilton whispered, also watching the approaching figure—a graceful outline moving slowly through the still-dark room. A group of singers took up the Ballad of the Stag King. Some of the guests joined them. Others waited quietly watching.

Adam nodded. The replacement stag wore the costume well. The sparkling white robes of the king fell at just the right height and trailed majestically behind him. He had jet-black hair that was longish and tousled around the base of the crown-like antlers.

Hamilton nudged him and leaned closer, “Adam, isn’t that Drake?”

“It can’t be,” Adam whispered. “He’s wearing white.”

The Stag King lifted his arms and Adam saw a glint of red on one finger—blood red… much like the color of Drake’s blood diamond.

“I really think that’s Drake,” came Hamilton’s insistent whisper.

Then the one flash of red became a flash of white, then another and another. Each pinprick of light rose from the Stag King’s upturned palms toward the ceiling. Soon the entire darkened ceiling glittered as the sparks became the constellations of the Sea of Stars. Hundreds of them twinkled and shimmered then, at the song’s last verse, began to fall like snowflakes.

As they did, Adam saw that while everyone had been looking up the servers had come forward to fill the table with food.

The song ended in raucous applause with the room in total darkness again. Then as the sound of clapping died down, the lights came back on with a loud, industrial clunk.

The Stag King could be none other than Drake. He stood at the head of the table. He took a plate, plunked a canapé on it and started to make his way down the line. Others followed. Eventually he glanced up saw Adam and made his way over.

“I’m glad to see you made it out of the palace lock-up Hamilton,” he said, by way of greeting. “Would you like your costume back or can I just carry on being an entirely superior Stag King?”

“I wouldn’t dream of interrupting your glory,” Hamilton said with a tight smile. He then excused himself and left without a backward glance.

Being completely immune to Drake’s caustic sense of humor—and profound rudeness—Adam leaned forward and landed a kiss on his cheek.

“That was brilliant,” he said. “I had no idea you could do illusions like that.”

Drake finished chewing his canapé and said, “That? It’s just stage-magician stuff. I learned it in my first week of academy.”

“It looked amazing anyway.”

“I know, it did, didn’t it?” Drake pulled a smug smile, then, glancing down at Adam’s empty hands said, “Aren’t you going to get anything to eat?”

“I thought we could go. If we leave now we can watch the second half of the pageant.”

“There’s no need to rush,” Drake said. “I have used my other powers to record the pageant for later tonight.”

“How is that?”

“By pushing the television’s record button, of course,” Drake said, smiling. “I can’t believe you walked into that. You must be exhausted.”

Adam considered attempting a comeback, then decided it would be best to kiss the smile off Drake’s face.




Written in the Stars: A Sea of Stars anniversary coda

For the first anniversary of It's About the Book, I contributed an anniversary coda featuring Drake and Adam from my Sea of Stars series. I love these characters so I decided to repost it here.

Written in the Stars

A Sea of Stars Coda

Grand Magician Drake could not be called a superstitious man, but he did know when the Sea of Stars was trying to tell him something.

Every night this week his husband Adam had phoned to say that he’d be working late and each phone call seemed to precipitate a shower of meteors zinging across the sky.

“It’s an omen,” Drake muttered. It didn’t matter that the same meteor shower visited them every year at this time. Every magician understood the very presence of “falling stars” had no specific meaning since they were not stars. But the constellations they traveled across?

There! One spark sliced through the Scales—injustice would be done. And another dire spark came cutting through the Lovers. Drake bent further toward the eyepiece of his telescope. He trained the lenses on the Gallows, expecting to see the next brief light flick across the doomed and terrible constellation.

But no meteor crossed it. He abandoned the telescope and merely looked up into the night sky, The Gallows remained clear from mark—in fact the meteors actually seemed to be deliberately avoiding it.

What did that mean?

He supposed, grudgingly that he had to admit that this shower of falling stars did not indicate the incipient disintegration of his year-old marriage.

And that meant that he would have to think of something to do to celebrate it.

Drake slumped back into his patio chair and turned an unlit cigarette through his fingers. As he did so, moonlight glinted off his rings. The blood diamond he wore on his index finger far outshone his plain wedding band, but each remained equally magical. The former focused his personal power while the latter literally held a shred of his soul entwined with that of Lord Adam Wexley, lawyer and general do-gooder.

In the velvet darkness of the balmy summer night, Drake contemplated his options. He could take a stab at creating special dinner, but how successful would that be? He loathed all domestic labor—but was especially bad at cooking, preferring to leave that in the capable hands of their cook.

Recently he’d gone, in disguise, to a newsstand to leaf through relationship-based magazines in search of better ideas. After being briefly delayed by an article claiming to know Twenty Best-Kept Secrets of the World’s Best Blow Job (he’d already known twelve and the other eight were irrelevant, as he was not a woman) he’d hit upon another list of detailing gifts men might like to receive in general. The article had insinuated that impromptu dirty dancing would be not only appropriate, but a fully adequate expression of devotion. After this Drake had laughed so hard his wig had swung askew and temporarily blinded him.

He’d fled the newsstand and discarded the cheap, drugstore headgear and returned home, still empty of ideas.

The problem was, Drake thought, as he finally lit his cigarette, that he didn’t know if they were the sort of men who celebrated anniversaries at all. During their first stint of living together they’d vaguely celebrated the day Adam had moved into Drake’s penthouse. Then they’d separated, moldered in misery (or at least Drake had), then reunited and married in an unplanned rush. They’d never staged a ceremony or held a reception or even sent out announcements.

Upon learning of their union, one prominent gossip columnist had quipped, “While we wouldn’t call Lord Wexley’s rash decision social suicide, the necessity of including Grand Magician Drake’s name on formal invitations might leave Wexley with the societal mobility of a double amputee.”

So not much to celebrate there—at least not for Adam.

Yet, despite this Drake did know his husband—there! He said it, if only in his mind. He had a husband named Adam to whom he would be married to for one year as of tomorrow. A husband whom he wished so intensely to remain beside that it embarrassed him. He knew Adam to be a sentimentalist who would appreciate some perfect gesture of commemoration if only Drake could divine it.

Drake glanced at the patio table, which held his cigarette packet, an ashtray and a glass of whiskey. Should he choose, he could draw the edge of his blood diamond around the rim of the glass and command Adam’s image to appear in the liquid.

He knew what he’d see: Adam toiling away at his desk banging out impervious legal language for some good cause or other. He wondered if the man had paused to eat yet. He also wondered if that slinky paralegal Raymond was there at Adam’s office, hovering, poised to strike when Adam was at his weakest and most tired.

Often, when Adam wanted to concentrate, he’d remove his hearing aids in order to eliminate distraction. This, Drake reasoned, would the moment Raymond would try it on, creeping up behind Adam full of hot coffee and sympathetic solidarity.

Drake drew his blood diamond around the edge of the glass immediately and willed Adam’s image to appear. He didn’t seem to be at his office at all.

Rather, Adam stood in darkness, unshaven, collar open, blond hair spiky from being scratched and rubbed through long hours of writing. Drake squinted and leaned closer to his lowball glass. The conservative brickwork behind Adam seemed familiar to him, as did the ornamental exterior window sashes. With sudden chagrin, Drake realized that the widows belonged to their own house, which meant that Adam must be standing directly behind him on the patio.

A slight turn of his head confirmed this suspicion.

“Do you want me to turn the lights on?” Adam asked. Drake startled slightly as his voice penetrated the perfect quiet of the night.

“I’m still observing the stars,” Drake replied. “Would you like to sit with me?”

“Sure.” Adam strolled over and lowered himself into the patio chair opposite Drake.

“Would you like a drink?” Drake asked. “I can get another glass.”

“No need to get up,” Adam replied. He reached across to take Drake’s.

Drake watched with proprietary delight as Adam drained the alcohol left in the glass, then poured another two fingers. How like him to shed his veneer of perfectly mannered chivalry when they were alone in the dark.

“So,” Adam said, putting the glass down. “What do the stars say?”

“Their messages are uncertain tonight, I—” Drake’s words were cut short by a blaze of thirteen meteors that chose that moment to zigzag through the Lovers. The brightness of the streaks of light almost outshone the stars of the constellations themselves.

Drake turned to Adam, who regarded him with a wry smile.

“Would you describe that as an astrological money shot?” Adam asked.

“More like an astrological imperative,” Drake answered. “I suppose we need to celebrate our anniversary after all.”

“I’m glad it’s decided then.” Adam leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs out. “Because I’ve taken tomorrow off.”

“Oh?” Drake felt his nervousness rising. Now his gift-delinquency would come to light. “Any plans?”

“Only to use all my strength and vigor keep you separated from your clothes,” Adam replied.

Drake felt a rush of blood color his cheeks and felt partly sad that his reaction would be hidden by the night.

How wonderful he is, Drake thought, how miraculous that the stars should gift me with him.

Aloud he said, “I would be delighted to return the favor.”






Brand New Blog for a Brand New Day!

And what makes this day so special and new, you might ask? Well, it's because today I was actually able to make my own website and I'm completely stoked. So apart from announcing that bit of interesting-only-to-me news I'll also say that I'll be appearing in Portland on July 12 as part of the Guardians of the Gaylaxy reading hosted by Another Read Through. Special thanks to Tracy Timmons-Gray and Elisa Saphier

(More info is available on their events page.)