*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. *
Seraphim didn’t know precisely what he expected from a Necromancer’s hideout. If there had been an image in his mind, it must have come from the dark illustrations in some children’s book – supposing his mother would have let something that insalubrious near her children. Which she wouldn’t have.
His mind insisted there should have been less light, cobwebs, and perhaps a smell of rot to go with the army of undead servants coming to bow to their master and tend his every desire. There shouldn’t have been, he was sure of it, shelves lined with books he would have liked to read, a pleasantly untidy desk, covered in papers and notebooks that gave the impression of someone furiously working on something he enjoyed, and there certainly shouldn’t have been comfortable sofas in faded, cheerful floral print. But most of all, he thought, there shouldn’t have been, on one of the bookshelves next to the desk, at eye level, a misshapen porcelain dog, with a lopsided grin and mismatched eyes. There particularly shouldn’t be that, because Seraphim knew where it had come from.
Fearing at any minute to come face to face with what remained of the unfortunate Gypson, not sure how to react to such a thing, and fairly sure that – in the end – he was being a moral if not a physical accomplice to necromancy, he concentrated on that dog, on that shelf. “That,” he said, in the terrible voice one might use to impart news of dread catastrophe. “Is Gabriel’s.”
As he turned to look at Marlon, he’d swear that, for just a moment, unholy amusement danced in the man’s eyes. And for just that moment, Seraphim’s hand started to curl into a fist, but then dismay succeeded amusement on Marlon’s gaze, and he nodded, once. “Yes. He gave it to me, years ago. He said he’d had it from a child. It’s all… I expect to keep of him. Won’t you sit down? I’ll fetch tea.”
Jonathan looked dismayed at this. “Tea? Have you no brandy.”
Saying in one voice, “If you’ll pardon me, I believe you’ve had enough brandy,” Seraphim and Marlon looked startled and grimaced at each other. Then Marlon left the room, and Seraphim was left with the enviable task of trying to lead Jonathan to one of the cheerful sofas. This was easier said than done, because Jonathan had reached that point of his intoxication or the recovery from it, where every detail of a room or landscape is riveting and must be narrated as loudly as possible for the edification of oneself, as well as that of those around us.
Which was how, having pulled away from Seraphim, and towards a dark corner of the room, Jonathan said, “Good God. Is that him? His…” and probably under the impression that he had lowered his voice, “lover? The one he keeps as an undead catamite?”
And suddenly it all surged at Seraphim. The first thing that happened too fast is that Seraphim realized that in the corner he’d ignored, what he’d taken for unidentifiable clutter was, in fact a human being, or what remained of one.
Aiden Gypson didn’t look like a corpse, exactly. But neither did he look like a living human. More like someone had taken a human and replaced his skin and flesh with dried clay. Taking a deep breath, Seraphim could smell no decay, but all the same, it wasn’t even a good necromancy job.
In proper necromancy, from what Seraphim had read, the corpse was preserved to look exactly as it had at the moment of death. Aiden’s eyes were dry and lusterless, and his lips had receded, exposing teeth. He didn’t react to their presence either. He was shuffling in place, little more than a flutter, which – Seraphim thought – was a permanent thing, and again a result of bad necromancy. Good necromancy could command the corpse so that it was at repose or moved in the same way as a human.
All this was instant, as was the realization that Aiden Gypson’s soul – whatever remained of his individual spark – was pinned somewhere behind the body, and could feel what happened to the body. And then Seraphim felt ill. He had to swallow fast, so as not to be sick. Not good necromancy at all and how could Marlon?
All the sympathy he’d felt for the man when he’d unwillingly realized how much he cared for Gabriel dissipated. All the fellow feeling of realizing he was, perhaps, not a monster, vanished. Instead, there was leaden dread and nausea.
Realizing that Aiden Gypson looked like Gabriel Penn – or at least that they were both the same type – only added to the dread.
The thought “Good God, had he meant to do this to Gabriel too?” crossed his mind at the same time that he realized that all this had been very fast and Jonathan was just now drawing breath to continue his narration.
It came at the same time that a flutter of silver and china, like someone trembling while holding a tea set on a tray, and he turned to look towards the door to the interior of the house, where Marlon stood, holding the tea tray. And at that moment, Seraphim felt his anger evaporate, and the dread with it, and, against his own will, sympathy rush in. Marlon had washed his face and changed, and should have looked more presentable. Instead, he looked as white and dead as his dead lover. Perhaps more so. His mouth moved, though no words emerged, and the lips seemed to Seraphim to form, “Not catamite.”
Jonathan looked towards Marlon too, and chuckled, a chuckle of high amusement and said, “Far be it from me to say it is a terrible thing, if I’ve never tried it. It is illegal of course, but tell me–”
In that flash, Seraphim felt as though the real division in this room was not between himself and Marlon, though their tastes in bed companions might be very different, and though Seraphim could not possibly imagine taking a lover and making him a living-dead object.
But he understood the way Marlon both wanted to defend himself against the charge of keeping what remained of his lover for sexual purposes, and his dreadful horror of speaking of his private life to near-strangers. In an insane world in which Seraphim’s life was more like Marlon’s, he could imagine feeling that dread, that conflict of pressing needs.
On the other hand, Jonathan was something quite, quite different. He was, unlike Marlon or Seraphim, an uncomplicated man, who enjoyed carnal pleasures and took the world with hedonistic innocence. If he’d done something like what Marlon had done – or was accused of doing – he’d have done it for the simplest of all motives: to see what it felt like. And he might be pursued by the law, but he would not feel guilty.
Seraphim found that he had clamped his hand over the honorable Jonathan Blythe’s mouth. “Not another word,” he hissed at the brother of his earstwhile – was she earstwhile? – fiancé, in defense of his the man he didn’t even like, the man whom he, for years, had suspected of corrupting Gabriel. “Not another word, Jon, or so help me, you’ll have to do with me.”
“Why? I only want to know how it feels to–” Jonathan said, as Seraphim’s hand lifted. The hand clamped down again.
“You’re disguised, Jonathan. What’s more, you’re taking liberties. We are in Mr. Elfborne’s home and it’s not for us to do him the gross injustice of accusing him of the worst.”
“For heaven’s sake,” the irrepressible Jonathan said as soon as Seraphim let go, knowing it was impossible to cover Jonathan’s mouth forever and, faith, wringing his neck was probably one step too far. And besides Seraphim liked him, even though he disapproved of him.
“For heaven’s sake,” Jonathan repeated. “How can I accuse him of anything worse than necromancy?”
“Just so,” Marlon’s voice said, from the sitting area. “How could you? So let’s establish that I’m a necromancer. I don’t think that is a great insult, since I was proven to be so on a court of law, which is why there is a price on my head. Will you sit down gentlemen?”
Feeling his back prickle, as he turned away from the corpse, Seraphim did so, as did Jonathan following him. They sat, side by side, with Marlon sitting on a chair facing them. Marlon poured, asking civil questions about cream and sugar with the equanimity of any gentleman receiving friends.
“All very well,” Jonathan said, as he held the cup of tea in both hands. “But I only wanted to know what it is like to tup–”
“Jon,” Seraphim said. “Do you want to face me with pistols?”
Something like a suppressed cackle escaped Marlon, and Jonathan stared at Seraphim dismayed. “What? No. Good God man. I’m no match for you.”
“Good. Then please let’s keep our talk to matters of the coil I and my family find ourselves in. And let’s try to be civil to our host.”
Jonathan looked baffled, but Marlon was giving Seraphim a long, appraising look. “Pardon me, your Grace,” he said, at long last. “I think I’ve misjudged you all these years. I never realized you were kind.” He was still pale, and his face had a sort of rigid immobility that signaled, to Seraphim at least, that he was pushing himself beyond the boundaries of his comfort as he said. “And, for what it’s worth Mr. Blythe, I could not answer you in any way. I know as much about, how did you put it? Ah, tupping the undead as you do.” His eyes crinkled at the corners, as though amusement crept through despite everything. “Perhaps less.”
Jonathan looked astonished. He shook his head. “They said–” he started, then shook his head. “Well, then, it’s very strange, when you’re already under sentence for necromancy, what else could they do to you.”
Despairing of explaining to Jonathan that there could be restraints on a man other than external, Seraphim looked at Marlon and said, “Pardon Jonathan. He’s one of nature’s own pagans.”
“I see that,” Marlon said, and something to his eyes told Seraphim that he did. He wasn’t horrified or reproving of Jonathan. He was worried about where Jonathan’s careening mind might lead, and also vaguely amused by such disregard for conventions and society, and perhaps a little jealous.
Marlon took a sip of his tea, set the cup down still mostly filled and said, “Now, for the matter at hand. We knew you and Gabriel – your whole family – were in a serious coil of trouble.”
“You can say that again,” Jonathan said.
“And you said…” Marlon hesitated. “That my fa– That Sydell is half dragon? How do you mean that?”
Jonathan blinked at him. “Why, I suppose in the usual why. His father slept with a dragon. Not that I blame him. It is said dragons are–”
“Eminently tuppable, yes,” Seraphim said, antecipating what Jonathan would say, and feeling like he’d fallen into a mad dream. He didn’t say these things. He didn’t discuss these things with other people. But then partly that was because dukes didn’t do that. And if he was no longer a duke, then he need no longer exercise restraint. But he was called to reality, as Elfborn said, “I didn’t know that,” in a strained, sober voice. “How could I not know that? I didn’t know he was raised in a foundling home, and how could I not, when I was raised in one?”
Jonathan made a dismissive gesture, drank down all his tea, noisily and then extended his cup for more. Marlon poured, without looking, as though he did it automatically.
“Why should you? Unless you made a study of Sydell. And even then, you might not know it. He’s taken great care to cover his tracks. I only know it, because my father has known him from the time–” a hiccup broke Jonathan’s talk, and he put the back of his hand against his mouth. “Pardon me.” He took a sip of his new cup of tea. “Has known him from when Sydell was claimed by his grandparents, on his father’s death, and so he remembers the scandal. M’ father is maybe three years older than Sydell, but enough to remember, because Sydell was twelve or thirteen or some such when his father hanged himself.”
Marlon’s cup rattled in the saucer. His eyes were huge. Seraphim remembered, or thought he remembered, hearing that Sydell was Marlon Elfborne’s father. It seemed an impossible thing, for one because Sydell was a perpetual bachelor, and it was rumored that he shared Marlon’s – and Gabriel’s – interests. But there had been that half started, “My fa–” and looking at him, now, Seraphim detected some resemblances to the king’s left hand.
“Hanged–?” Marlon said.
“Oh, yes.” Jonathan drank his tea, quite oblivious to the discomfort he was causing. “It’s all the grand tragedy, you know. Worthy of an opera. My father says that old Marcus Sydell found out that his son was… That is, that he had, somehow, commandeered a dragon maiden out of fairyland and that they were–” He hiccuped again. “That they were involved, and he was furious, because he was trying to arrange his son’s marriage, so he arranged for a banishing spell, restricting the creature to fairyland. Costing the Earth, of course, but it worked.” He frowned. “Or at least, Sydell had already been born, and his grandfather hushed it up and put him in a foundling home for magic children. Saint Patrick’s, I believe, because they handle–”
“Half dragons, yes. And then,” Marlon took a deep breath. “Sydell’s father?”
“They don’t handle half dragons well,” Jonathan said, frowning. “Damme, what I mean is, no one but dragons handles them well. The discipline needed–”
“Yes? Trust me, well aware. But what happened to my– To Sydell’s father?”
“What? Andrew Sydell? The father of the current Lord? He hanged himself.”
Marlon blinked. “How?”
“In the usual way, I imagine. No, wait, I heard of it. With his belt from the entrance chandelier. Devilish thing, and his father was hard put to hush the scandal because, of course, all the servants saw it, what? But it can’t be denied that all who… who get involved with fairyland in that way lose their mind a little, and there it is.”
“There what is?” This was Seraphim.
“Though he married his heiress he was not happy, never had children, was taken with melancholy, and then hanged himself. I don’t see what you want me to explain more.”
Marlon was rubbing his upper lip with his index finger as though lost in a world of his own. At Jonathan’s explosion, he looked up. “Nothing. You’ve explained things I’ve longed to understand my whole life.” Then he looked towards the corner where Gypson stood. “And why some disasters… But that’s neither here nor there. Tell us,” he leaned forward. “Tell us in detail what my dear papa has been doing in this whole coil, for it’s a knot we must uncoil.”
“Your… papa?” Jonathan frowned.
He managed to stop Jonathan’s mouth. He looked at Elfborn in shock. “Sydell? You are…”
“The result of a spell gone horribly wrong? Yes, I believe so. But let’s move to relevant matters.”
“It is a relevant matter,” Jonathan said, aghast. “If you are… Then what… Then that was how he got access to–”
Seraphim’s mind had put together things that he wasn’t even aware of knowing. “That was how he got access to fairyland magic, and managed to send the royal princess to another world, as well as use that magic, behind the king’s back to… what? What does he aspire to, Jonathan? The throne of fairyland or of Avalon?”
Jonathan frowned. “Why,” he said. “Both, I imagine.”