*This is the Fantasy novel I’m posting here for free, one chapter every Friday. If your conscience troubles you getting something for free, do hit the donate button on the right side. Anyone donating more than $6 will get a non-drm electronic copy of Witchfinder in its final version, when it’s published.
There is a compilation of previous chapters here all in one big lump, which makes it easier to read and I will compile each new chapter there, a week after I post. When the novel is completed and about to be edited the compilation page will probably be deleted.
Oh, this is in pre-arc format, meaning you’ll find the occasional spelling mistake and sentence that makes no sense. It’s not exactly first draft, but it’s not at the level I’d send to a publisher, yet. *
“Wait,” Marlon said, as Gabriel headed out the door, after Seraphim and Nell.
Gabriel wanted nothing more than to continue heading out the door, to continue out and away, but he turned. “Yes?”
“I can’t go upstairs,” Marlon said.
“No. I shall ask her Highness if we can procure you a blanket and maybe soap and… other necessities you might wish for the night. Anything else?”
Marlon’s face animated with something near to a manic rictus. “Stay. It can’t be any more comfortable upstairs for you than it is for me. You too are half-elf.”
Gabriel frowned. It wasn’t comfortable… Not exactly. But he hadn’t felt like his entire power was disintegrating, dissolving in Earth’s odd anti-magic field. “I wonder why,” he said, then to Marlon’s look. “It is not comfortable, exactly, Marlon, but it is not – either – the lethal effect it seems to have on you. I can go upstairs, and I can sleep, and I intend to do so.”
Marlon opened his mouth, closed it. “I had hoped–” he started, though something, perhaps his preservation instinct, prevented his finishing that sentence. “That is, I though you still had feelings for me and I–” He took a deep breath. “We’re in a strange world, one that is hostile to what both of s are, and I thought both of us could… that we could find solace or… or help each other.”
And then something in Gabriel snapped. He would never be able to explain quite what it was, or quite what did it. He’d been a very young fool when he’d gone to Cambridge. Despite his early, rough life at mama’s hands, he’d been almost indecently sheltered when living with the Darkwaters, and accorded all the comforts of nobility with none of the responsibilities or liabilities. The position, as a child, somewhere between a servant and a member of the family, had been easier to support, since he’d really not been expected to do more work than Seraphim – and it had been the same kind of work, as they’d shared a tutor and learned the same lessons. But no one cared if Gabriel failed them, while Seraphim had been expected to excel. Not that Gabriel had failed them, but he’d felt no pressure to do well.
And servants had treated him with deference, but not the distance that isolated Seraphim. And… And he’d been an altogether pampered little fool when he’d come to Cambridge.
The matter of what the cook at their house called “luvering” had never come up. Unlike the footmen and maids, and the anxiously fretting stable boys, no one seemed very sure for what sphere of life Gabriel should aim, when it came to a wife. He, himself, had thought – when he thought about it at all – that he would study for the law, and once he’d established himself he’d find a suitable daughter of a lawyer or solicitor or merchant.
He knew that wouldn’t be easy. After all, no sane family would want to ally their name to someone who was half-elf. On the other hand, he was also half-noble, and the connection, semi-acknowledged as it was, linked him indelibly to one of the oldest, noblest, and certainly most magical houses in Avalon. So the search for a wife would also not be impossible. Enough merchants would be willing to give a daughter to a man who the byblow of Satan himself for the chance to say “My son in law’s brother, the Duke of Darkwater.”
When Gabriel had thought of the future, before Cambridge, if he thought of it at all, it was into a vague vista of a comfortable home, a tidy wife, and maybe a couple of children. An ordered existence, quite different from what he’d endured while in mama’s custody.
The reason that, even though many servants his age were thinking of future marriage, his isolation didn’t bother him was that after what he’d done to survive as a child, the idea of being touched, the idea of coupling with anyone at all – the idea of nakedness and intimate embraces – repulsed him with near physical nausea.
And then there had been Marlon. It had been– Gabriel could still not explain it. It had been partly the friendship and the matter of like calling to like, so that when Gabriel had become aware that what he felt was more than friendship and that his interest had a physical edge, it was too late to draw back.
Then had come the horror of their parting, and for a long while Gabriel had thought that it was just Marlon – that Gabriel’s wishes might otherwise be perfectly normal, or perhaps non-existent. But, through the years of separation he’d come to know better. Not that he’d risked such involvements again, but he knew what he thought about and where his eyes were drawn.
So much for that. On the other hand, he also knew that as far as the heart went he still loved Marlon Elfborn. And that to involve himself with anyone else, of either gender, would be duplicitous, as well as – he felt instinctively – not far above his connections for pay in his very young days.
From his mythical picture of his future, he’d erased the comely wife who kept a tidy house, and, perforce, the two children. But that was just as well since, having failed at studying for the law, Gabriel was unlikely to ever leave the employ of the Darkwaters. At best, he could look forward to a future in which he became land manager, or, if Seraphim wanted him closer, butler. No position he wished to offer a wife. And thank all the fates, he did not need to have children. If ever the Darkwater family became desperate enough to count on his progeny, it wasn’t a future in which he wanted to have children, in any way.
And thus things had been, until he’d gone back to ask Marlon’s help. Only since then, since that moment, things had been shifting with him – slowly. Almost imperceptibly. First there had been Marlon putting of a bind on him – as good as enslaving him body and soul and magic. And then there had been an accretion of thoughts, of actions.
Suddenly, looking at Marlon, he felt as if something had changed irrevocably. The long, slow slide of a few grains of snow on a slope had become an avalanche that had changed the landscape completely, leaving in its awake nothing but scoured land and flattened buildings.
He drew himself up straighter, and he heard the frost in his voice, when he said, “Marlon Elfborn, are you suggesting I spend the night here?”
Marlon looked surprised, surely not at the words but at the tone of them. “I thought,” he said. “Since I could not come upstairs… I thought you and I… We have a lot to talk about, a lot to … to understand about each other.”
Gabriel took a deep breath. Even yesterday, if Marlon had received him that way… “We have nothing to talk about, sir,” he said, very calmly.
“But– But you said– And when you… I mean, you said our very first… I mean, you put a compulsion on me!”
“Are you going to bring charges?”
“How can I? I am proscribed in Avalon.”
“Very well then.”
“But…” Marlon frowned, and as Gabriel turned to leave, surged out of his seat and grabbed at Gabriel’s sleeve. “At least tell me why.”
Gabriel pulled his arm out of Marlon’s grasp. “I think you know why. Keeping Gypson in the attics and never letting me know what you’d done, regardless of your guilt over it, created your own situation. And mine too.”
“But how could I known you wouldn’t be repulsed and run screaming?”
“As opposed to what happened. You couldn’t have known. But we were friends before we were anything else, and you should have suspected. You should have respected me as an adult and your friend. But you didn’t. You still don’t.”
“How can you say–”
“You put a compulsion on me, when I came to ask your help. You set one of the most infernal conditions you can set on a human on me. If you demand it, I have to obey you. How is that a relationship of equals or anything approaching friendship, let alone love?”
Marlon’s eyes were oddly small, contracted with something that was fear and perhaps pain too. “But– I had to,” the last was a wail, emerging with the force of a two year old’s self-justification. “Otherwise you’d have run! I couldn’t stand to have you run again.”
“Oh? I’d have run when I came to you of my own free will? Hunted and cornered I was, but I could have gone to any other world, anywhere else. I came to you. I trusted you. And what did you do? You put a compulsion bind on me. And you never even told me that you knew where the princess was, or… anything!”
Marlon’s eyes now looked dark. He looked like… In the gallery at Darkwater there was a painting of a duelist, taken on the eve of a duel – or at least the eyes had been done then. The man, a very young seventeen year old, was one of the past heirs of the Darkwater title. Only he’d never inherited because he was killed in the duel. Family legend said that he’d known that would happen – and the portrait confirmed it, with those bleak eyes that seemed to gaze out at never ending darkness.
The same look was in Marlon’s eyes. “How could I have known?” he asked.
“You couldn’t. Human beings – and even creatures like us who are just somewhat human-like – can’t know how others will react.” And now Gabriel felt he had hit the crux of his anger, the center of what he’d come to realize. “People realize that other people too have the right to think and act of their own accord and that, should others not do what they wish them to do it is something they have to accept. People aren’t puppets or toys.” He narrowed his eyes at Marlon. “I was too young, I didn’t realize it, but there’s too much of them in you – to much of fairyland. They are the ones who cast illusions and spells to force mortals to dance to their tune.” He opened his hands in front of him. “Well, Elfborn. You have a spell on me, and you can call it, and make me your mindless slave if you wish – but that is all you’re going to get. Do you wish to call the spell?” He waited. Marlon opened and closed his mouth. Gabriel crossed his arms. “Well?”
Marlon shook his head. His expression had gone unreadable, blank, like a statue or a wax figure.
“Is that no? Am I to assume you won’t call the compulsion, then?”
Marlon took a deep breath. His mouth was raspy and grinding as it came out. “No,” he said. And then, pulling on the threads of his own magic, which he’d set on Gabriel and snapping them with a broad gesture of his right hand. “You are free.”
Gabriel took a deep breath and felt oddly cold, but also collected and perhaps more himself than he’d ever felt. “Very well then,” he said. “Is there something I may bring you for your present comfort? Beyond a blanket and some soap and sundries?”
“No,” Still the raspy voice. “No. Not… I don’t need a blanket. I’ll do well.”
Gabriel felt disposed to argue, but the truth was he didn’t want to come back anyway. Some tectonic shift had taken place within himself, and he wanted time and solitude to think about it before he talked to anyone, even Marlon.
“Very well,” he said, and opened the door and closed it behind him. Outside, he took a deep breath of cool, clean night air.
Which was when the explosion hit, the force of it catching him and flinging him forward, away from the house, bodily, like a child flinging a lead soldier full force into soft soil.