*Once more proving the writing thing is like a cat and once you give up on it, it comes full force, I woke with this chapter finally clear in my head. I beg you to be patience as I’m aware that minor inconsistencies are accumulating. This is normal first draft, and will get fixed in the end. It should still be enough to get the story.*
*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. *
Akakios said, “I can hear them. The hell hounds. Lady, hold fast.”
Caroline could not hold anywhere but to Akakios’ middle, and she had to press her head close between his shoulders, feeling the horse body and the human move in unisson, as they ran through… She would never be able to say more about the landscape they crossed than that it was dark, with rocks and trees.
In her confusion a fear assailed her that Akakios would set his hoof wrong and break it. She noted her Papa had disappeared, somewhere far behind. And then she realized that in this magical landscape, Akakios was better suited to run than she was. Nor would she be able to find her footing.
Akakios must have felt her fear, because he whispered, “Never mind, Lady, I was born and raised in fairyland and these glades are like daylight to me. I judge the baying is coming from out the walls of the royal palace.”
It didn’t calm her, except for her feeling it was kind of him to matter. She closed her eyes tight and tried to trust him, and didn’t open them again till he stopped abruptly, in a way that in a normal horse, and had she not had her arms entwined around his all too human upper body, would have sent her flying over the animal’s head.
She heard a fearful barking and snarling, and a voice crying, “Miss Ainsling!” and opened her eyes. She’d known Gabriel’s voice before she opened her eyes, of course, and she felt torn between anger and fear. The fear because she could see Gabriel, up against a white, glimmering wall, surrounded by fearful creatures the size of bears, who might be dogs, if dogs had teeth like daggers and eyes like burning coals.
And because as Akakios stopped, some of the dogs turned towards them. Anger because Gabriel would call her Miss Ainsling if they were in public at all, and she would guess he thought a centaur constituted being in public. Or perhaps he was trying to spare the sensibilities of the dogs.
“Gabriel,” she said, forcefully. “Come to us. We’ll take you out of here.”
It was only as the words left her lips she realized she’d spoken two impossibilities. First how was Gabriel to come to them past twenty snarling, encircling hell hounds. And second, how would they take Gabriel out of here, when Akakios could barely carry her. And on perceiving her idiocy, she said, loud enough to be heard over the dogs, “Oh, I am an idiot.”
This surprised a laugh out of Gabriel, which went to prove, if anyone doubted it, that he was her brother, since her brothers always laughed at her.
And now she saw that he was holding a sword in both hands, a sword that appeared to be made of light. “Back up you little fool,” he shouted apparently forgetting he was supposed to act like a servant. “I’ll keep them too busy to follow you.”
As he spoke, he charged with his strange weapon, and the dogs that had turned towards her now turned to him, growling and snarling.
Akakios had already started edging them both away, and presently, with no seeming transition, the whole scene looked at though it were very far away and he had brought her to what looked and smelled like the middle of an orange orchard. The scent of flower was heavy in the air, the trees gave an impression of cozy protection, and it felt like a warm summer night.
“Oh,” Caroline said. “How came we here?”
Akakios was looking over his shoulder at her, and looked surprised, for a moment. “We’ve not gone anywhere,” he said. “Well, far enough for the creatures to see it. I invoked a place, in my father’s lands, where I often go to think. It is not–” he paused in exasperation. “Physical. And yet it is. It’s a place of the mind, a place of safety. We are also a little there, or at least our souls are, which means we won’t be overheard by magical means, because the orchard is my place and casts its protection over me. Lady, that is your brother?”
“My half brother,” she said. “Gabriel. His mother is of the fairy. His father was my father.”
Akakios nodded. “He is a valiant fighter,” he said. “And we’ve heard the prophecy, of course, but Lady, where he is, and all alone, he will surely die.”
She swallowed hard. She’d guessed as much since she’d seen him with his back to that wall, his sword of light barely keeping at bay the monstrous mongrels.
She knew the sword enough. It was called Sword of Power and men got to taught how to create them in their elementary magic education. Women weren’t, of course, because it was assumed there would always be a man by, ready to champion a lady with magical power.
Which was all very well and good, but being an untrusting sort, Caroline had made Michael show her how to do it.
She had even practiced with it, a summer, long ago. However, she had never made great use of it for two reasons: first, she hadn’t been very good at it. Keeping up the sword shape required concentration and at eight she was more likely to turn her head to follow a butterfly than to concentrate on keeping her fiery blade burning. Second, it took an enormous amount of power. An hour or two of holding that magical blade was like days at work and without food or sleep.
Granted that Gabriel was far more powerful than she was, how much effort did the sword take him? How long could he keep it going? Even if he was a powerful magician?
She imagined now that she saw in her minds eye signs of fatigue. She hadn’t been able to see his face, but she fancied that he glowed with sweat and that he hadn’t swung the sword about with the vigor than he should have.
“Akakios,” she whispered. “Can you command the sword of power?”
He seemed puzzled for a moment, then he said, “Aye. But, Lady, listen– ”
“No, if you do it, and I do it, we can fight our way to him, can we not?”
And now Akakios laughed at her. “Lady, have you ever seen a horse harried and brought down by wild dogs? Never mind. We’d not make it. Before we got near my belly would be ripped open and us, both, devoured.”
“Oh, you can’t tell me we can’t do anything,” she said. “He is my brother and Papa – whatever remains of poor Papa – insisted that I should free him. And indeed I should, Akakios, for without him I would have been brought to fairyland when I was just a babe, and I– ”
“No, Lady, listen. I can command the sword of power, and indeed, it will help us, but your mind must busy itself with something else. Remember how you got to me in that iron cage?”
“I don’t have the horrid sword.”
“No, I mean, the power of your mind, commanding the beasts.”
“The unicorns? But that’s because I am a virgin.”
He made a sound that might have been a laugh of a sneeze, or rather, she suspected, a laugh hastily turned to a sneeze. His high cheekbones tinted a dusky red. “If that were the virtue, Lady, I warrant you I’d never have been taken prisoner. They should have told you then, and if not, I’ll tell you, it is purity of another kind that counts: purity of mind, purity of intent and purity of magic. My people came to you to rescue me, because you have those having been taken through the flames of dragon magic and having all impurities withered away. You must now, Lady, use your mind to control those beasts.”
“But…” She paused. She could remember in her minds eye, the horrid creatures and it seemed to her that she could remember their smell too, thick and gagging upon the air. “But they are… Not unicorns.”
“No,” he said, a tinge of amusement behind his words. “Not half as smart as unicorns. But both of them are controlled by the mind of the king of fairyland. and you defeated him once.”
“Who else would you think? Yes, the king. Listen, I shall open a very small fissure in our protections. Extend, as it were, our minds beyond the orchard just a little. And you can see if you can command the brutes. If you can, I shall charge, holding the sword of power myself, leap over the heads of the brutes, and then we’ll be by your brother and able to aid him.”
She nodded and felt more than saw as he ripped, with his hand, in a quick pass, a gaping tear in the perfumed summer night onto that other place: with the indistinct rocks and terrain underfoot, the white wall at Gabriel’s back, and the snarling dogs.
Caroline reached out tentatively, trying to believe in her own power. Encountering the dog’s minds was not at all like the unicorn’s. One thing was to find a vacant mind edged all about with blood lust and the thought of violence. Another and quite different to step full body into a midden. The minds of the dogs were not like animal minds at all, but they reminded her rather of certain men she’d met – fortunately not many of them, though she suspected there would be more once she were presented to society – who stripped one with a single look and who seemed to be thinking the lowest, most revolting things to do to one.
Only of course, in this case there was no “seem” involved. She was in the dogs’ minds and the images assailing her made her gag. But she wrapped herself in the certainty that they could not touch her. Had not Akakios said that her power and her intent had both been burned pure? They could only make her feel impure and besmi rched, and she would not let them.
It was easier said than done, but she thought of Gabriel dying because she went missish and let herself be scared away by lewd minds. And then she had it. She quieted the dogs, as one would quiet unruly animals. She thought strongly at them to be quiet and sit. She could feel in her mind as they obeyed.
She could also feel it would not last long. There was another mind controlling them, a far more powerful mind, and it was wrestling with hers and would soon overcome.
And should Gabriel try to get out of his position, the other mind would surely overcome. And then Gabriel, without the wall at his back, must fall and be devoured.
She and Akakios must act fast before he were tempted to escape.
Before she could tell Akakios to do so, he was running. Words he shouted, which sounded Greek, brought the sword of power to his hands. He waved it frantically, disppelling any dogs’ intention to attack them. And then he lept.
Before they landed on the other side – it was a very long leap – he lost height. And as he lost height the other mind gathered control of the dogs. Caroline saw them leap up, snarling, and saw Akakio’s sword cut down.
She screamed, sure they were lost, but Akakios kept his leap and landed, safe, on the other side, falling, however, on his knees on his front legs almost instantly.
His human body was panting and making a keening sound, but he was still brandishing the sword.
She judged, justly, he didn’t need her weight and rolled off, and said her own words to invoke a sword of power, and turned to stand by Gabriel’s side, sword in hand
She had been right – Gabriel looked tired, and smelled of sweat and fear. As soon as she was off Akakios’ back, the centaur raised on all his legs, his sword in hand, and lay about, covering the points she and Gabriel couldn’t reach.
“Miss Ainsling, this is madness. What possessed you to get yourself trapped with me.”
“Only that you have yourself a fine defensive position, and that with tree of us, perhaps we can fight free of this trap as you alone couldn’t. And give over with the Miss Ainsling, do. Akakios knows you’re my brother, and I suspect centaurs are not so nice about classes.”
Gabriel laughed. “Very well, Caroline, then, but you are wrong. Centaurs are particularly nice about classes. Well met prince, but this is a sad endeavor. How did you let yourself be lured into this by my scapegrace sister.”
Akakios, still sounding tired said, “Not entirely by her, my lord. You see, we centaurs believe in prophecy.”
“More the fool you,” Gabriel said, fighting. “I neither want my uncle’s throne nor will I seek it. And I see you are cut about the legs.”
“Not badly enough to warrant worry. One of the brutes got his teeth in, and another his claws.”
“But prince,” Gabriel said. “I understand my sister has windmills in her head, but what do you mean us to do to get out of here alive? Have you any ideas?”
“At the moment, not a one, save faith something will happen.” Akakios said.
And into that moment of calm a voice boomed, loud as the trumpet on judgement day, cloying with honey and rife with evil: “So my darling nephew has come back!”