*don’t get excited. These are awfully short chapters, partly because they’re setup and cuing, partly because the author has an awfully short attention span today. I’m trying desperately not to get the death-flu again. I THINK I’m just tired from yesterday (it really was an inordinate amount of cleaning and disinfecting) I think I’ll take a nap before I look at rewrites. Meanwhile, these are short, but should set up the coming action nicely.*
*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. *
A Ghost Of A Chance
Not al her equestrian lessons and prowess – and she was accounted a very good horsewoman by all her teachers – could have prepared Caroline for this moment.
Akakios had insisted she ride side-saddle upon his back. Only there was no saddle, just her sitting on the horse back of this creature who was – strangely – a young man in the front. In fact, he encouraged her – and blushed while doing so – to put her arms around his waist as she rode. “If we had a saddle,” he’d said, with a smile. “It would not be necessary to hold onto me. Of course, if we had a saddle and I consented to be saddled, my father would disown me.” He’d made light of it, and chuckled at the end an embarrassed chuckle, like one of the young men she met in drawing rooms who did not quite know how to address a lady.
After Caroline had arranged herself, as properly as it was possible on the back of a horse who was also a young man, he started walking at a pace, and they were quiet for a long while.
He spoke when she was just thinking that centaurs were very strange creatures and not at all as she expected because while he smelled of warm horse – impossible not to when he had a horse’s body and was moving – he also smelled of herbs and soap. His mane of dark hair, tied back, kept touching her face. They rode through a fairyland glade strewn all over with little yellow flowers. The only path through them was a rocky, uphill way and Caroline wondered whether the grass and flowers wouldn’t feel better on Akakios hooves. Then she noticed how careful he was not to step off the path and shivered. One thing she’d learned, in fairyland, was that what things looked was not what things were.
And then he said, “You must not resent my father, Lady. You see, he lost my older brother, his heir, in this mission. Athanasius left more than a year ago, and we have felt his death. So I have become my father’s heir and now my father fears losing me.”
“I do not resent your father. In fact, I don’t know why I should. But what is this mission? Helping me through fairyland? Surely your brother could not have been doing this a year ago?”
Akakios shook his head, “No. The real mission. Saving fairyland and the worlds with it.”
“How can you save the worlds? Save them from what?” she asked, but – before he could answer – something appeared on the path in front of them.
Akakios reared, like a horse. She held on around his waist and screamed. She could feel his body tense as he tried to suppress what had clearly been an instinctive movement – the way the body felt and the reactions built into it. He put his front paws down with an appearance of deliberate force. He stammered. “Forgive lady– Forgive–”
But Caroline couldn’t think of what he wanted her to forgive, nor did she say anything, because on the path, in front of her, looking translucent and yet somehow very real was her Papa, and her papa had been dead for more than a year.
She wanted to say “Papa,” but as in certain dreams it seemed as though her voice was gone and she could not speak at all. It didn’t matter at any rate, because Papa walked around Akakios towards her. Though “walked” might not be the most appropriate word, since he seemed not to move his legs at all. As he got close, Papa stretched a hand for her, but Akakios did something – Caroline wasn’t sure what, but there was a hand lifted, and the singing of magic. What she could see of Akakios face was very pale, like strained moonlight, and his lips looked almost gray and open as though he didn’t have the strength to close them. He too said nothing.
And Papa’s ghost spoke, “Caroline. You must go and save your brother. He has fallen in the most absurd trap.”
“Michael?” Caroline asked, managing to speak though her voice came out tinny and too high and sounding not at all like herself. “I know, that’s why I– ”
Papa made an impatient gesture. “Yes, yes, that’s why you and your mama came to fairyland, a ridiculous endeavor if I ever heard of one, but it is not Michael I speak of. Oh, he’s in danger enough, but it will not kill him, or not immediately. He’s too valuable to the king for what he can get from Michael. No, it is your brother Gabriel who has just stepped into a great danger, and he’ll be torn limb from limb in no time, if you do not intervene.”
“Gabriel!” Caroline said, because her mind had been nowhere near her half-brother, whom she thought safe somewhere else altogether. “Why would Gabriel be in danger?” Somewhere at the back of her mind was the thought that, after all, Gabriel was half-elf, and who else could better cope with the perils of this place.
“Do not try to get past my defenses,” Akakios said, loudly, and put his hand up again, in between Papa and Caroline. “I do not know who or what you are, but you cannot get to the lady past me.”
“I am the lady’s father,” Papa said, sounding amused. “As for what I am, I am the Duke of Darkwater – or I was. I suppose Seraphim has ascended, and I’m sure he’s a better duke than I ever was.”
“You are not,” Akakios said, “corporeal.” His body braced like Caroline’s pony when it was nervous, and Caroline, without thinking, ran her hand down his arm, seeking to calm him.
“No,” Papa said, a glint of amusement in his eye. “I too fell in to a trap, much like Michael’s. But fortunately they don’t know everything I know and it left me freedom of movement… as long as I don’t move my body. But Gabriel won’t be allowed that. He won’t be allowed to stay alive. You will find him where you hear the hell hounds bay.”
A Friend In Odd Places
Seraphim looked in horror at Jonathan, and Jonathan looked back at him, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. “I thought you were exiled? I’m sure I heard something. Not that I didn’t understand. I’d prefer to be exiled than to marry Honoria, and I don’t say that just because she is my sister. Damn rum family we would be if I married my own sister, I mean, but all the same, even if she weren’t my sister, I don’t think I’d like to marry her, because she is– Because she is–” he hiccupped loudly and said, in an ominous tone, “Damme if I don’t think I’m going to shoot the cat.”
For all Seraphim could imagine, it was quite possible Jonathan had come into the alley just for that purpose. After all, it made perfect sense to choose a secluded spot to throw up. But after a while the honorable Jonathan Blythe, the back of his hand pressed to his lips, seemed to steady himself. “No,” he said, meditatively. “Perhaps not.”
Meanwhile Seraphim was thinking furiously. He’d known Jonathan since school, off and on. They’d attended Eton together and often found themselves thrust in the same circles. In such circumstances, it was impossible not to know a man’s vices, such as whether he was prone to being sodden drunk in public. And that was not something he’d ever expected of Jonathan Blythe. “Jonathan,” he said. “Why are you drunk? How have you got in this state?”
He turned around and looked at Seraphim and his eyes, so much like Honoria’s, yet had an animated expression to them that Honoria had never managed. Jonathan’s eyes showed shock, surprise, and an underlying, “Tempting hell and the devil” sort of amusement. “Why, I got in this state because I would much rather be drunk than think about where the old gentleman and m’sister are going to get themselves. They think that they’re using Sydell, but Darkwater, I tell you, no one uses someone who is half-dragon-spawn.”
“Who is what?”
“Sydell. Half dragon. Raised in foundling home, till he was reclaimed on his father’s death. Faith, didn’t you know?”
“I begin to think, Jonathan, that I don’t know nearly as much as I should. Can we go to your rooms in town? I believe we should have a good, long talk.”