*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. *
Very Unlikely Heroes
“But why are your family involved in it?” Seraphim asked Jonathan Blythe, frowning a little. “I can understand that Sydell…” Seraphim looked towards Marlon and managed, apologetically, “You’ll pardon me, Elfborne, but true must be told in some manner, and my own half-brother comes from similar background, and I understand that a lot of people raised in foundling homes, particularly those of noble origin might resent the rest of the world that excludes them, no offense meant.”
Marlon gave an odd hollow cackle. “None taken, I’m sure. I could attest to some of that effect in myself, compounded by others…”
“Anyway, I could understand Sydell, ascended to power and pride, to need … more than mere mortal honors. But why your family, Blythe? They have all the honor of being one of the oldest magical families in the world. And they – unlike our family – aren’t all to pieces, but have a handsome patrimony preserved through generations and augmented by a lucrative magical trade. They have nothing to gain from being involved in this.”
Jonathan looked up at Seraphim. Seraphim was sure that his friend was still drunk, and also that he was still the same Jonathan he’d known since they were both children: a devil may care sensualist, more concerned with his pleasures and his experiences than with anything else. But Jonathan’s eyes had gone very sober, very serious and there was something uncommonly like shrewdness in their blue depths, something that made Seraphim uncomfortable. He’d always known that Jonathan wasn’t stupid. But he’d also have sworn that Jonathan would rather endure any kind of hell than actually use his mind. Now, suddenly, he wasn’t so sure. It was one more shift in his world, one more change from things he’d always known to things he perhaps should have thought more carefully about. Did he really know Jon Blythe? Did he really know anyone in what he’d thought his safe and familiar world?
“You’d think that, wouldn’t you, Ainsling?” Jonathan said. He pulled at his lower lip, as though deep in some calculation. “The thing is Seraphim, that in some ways you are a very naive man. I always thought that when we were at school, and you’d sit through the holy service, rapt, as though– Never mind. I think you tend to believe the best of people.”
“Oh, that’s not true at all. I’ve rescued magic users from–”
Jonathan dismissed Seraphim’s protest with a wave of the hand. “Yes, yes. Other worlds, foreign atrocities and all that. That’s not what I mean. I daresay that you know people do all sorts of horrible things, as who wouldn’t who has read history? Even Richard the First, what he did to his brother, that Magical invisibility spell–” Jonathan shuddered. “I daresay you understand cruelty and meanness and even perhaps a very exaggerated sort of pride that requires more than its share of reverence. But that, Seraphim, are because those are the vices you can sort of see from your own position. Oh, I’m not saying you have them. I always thought you a rather good sort of man and, until the recent rumors, a dull dog.” He dismissed any protest Seraphim might make with an airy wave of the hand. “I know, I know. Your father wasn’t properly looking after the domains and all that. Understandable, but it made you a dull dog, anyway. I combined your penchant for looking after everyone and sticking your nose where it don’t concern you and your excessive care of your name and family. Which means you never understood, never, for a moment, how most other people’s minds work. No, don’t interrupt me.
“I will confess that, like you, I never much cared for power and control over other people. You’re not interested because you already had responsibility over other people at too early an age, and I’m not interested because I don’t want to have responsibility and it has always seemed to me the two are inseparable. But I am at least close enough to it to understand other people want power and wealth, not because they need it, but because they can have it. M’father wants more power and wealth because Sydell wanted a partner in his dealings, and he contacted my father. And telling my father there were hundreds of worlds ready for the exploiting, devoid of magical defenses, and that someone – someone – could help pluck them of their wealth is sort of like telling me you have a cellar full of prime French brandy–” A bright look, as if something had just occurred to him, and he turned to Elfborne, “You don’t by any chance, do you?” And to Marlon’s shaking his head. “Pity. But as I said, it’s like telling me that and expecting me to say that no, I don’t want to partake, because I’ve drunk enough.”
Seraphim nodded. He didn’t fully believe it. He wanted to tell Jonathan that there was a risk involved in this, that it wasn’t as easy as sharing a cellar of brandy. But then … Perhaps Jonathan was right. And besides, there was something scarier here. “But–” he said, as the full horror of it hit him. “But if they’ve been exploiting these non magic worlds for decades, gaming their games of chance and their financial markets–” The idea was almost too monstrous to fit into words: the idea of all those non magical humans blithely exploited, with no chance of defending themselves. “They must own several worlds by now.”
“Very likely,” Jonathan said, drily. He turned to Elfborne, “Sydell, I don’t suppose there would be more tea in this house? If I can’t have brandy… You must know that I have a powerful thirst.”
Seraphim noted that Elfborne didn’t protest the name, though his eyes widened slightly at being called by it. He also didn’t get up. Instead, he made a gesture and Seraphim felt the invisible threads of a spell do SOMETHING to the tea pot, which returned to the table almost immediately filled with tea.
He frowned. Using magic for household tasks was normally disapproved of, but not because, as could be imagined, it weakened character or was gauche. It was disapproved of because any man who used his magic in normal household tasks every day would both shorten his life and keep his magic at a very low ebb and magic after all was held to have a higher purpose. However, Seraphim noted, Elfborne had done it with almost no effort. The magic expended must be large enough to weaken a normal magician at least a little, particularly since he’d clearly bent space and time to bring tea back instantly instead of the more normal levitating of the tea things to the kitchen and making tea by normal, magic-aided means. He narrowed his eyes. If Elfborne’s power signature was smaller there was no way of seeing it. Of course, his power signature was a confusing mess, a convoluted swirling of colors and places where odd power joined odd power.
Part dragon, part elf, part human – what WAS Elfborne? And could he be trusted at all? Seraphim didn’t say anything of this, but instead helped himself to tea, and said, “But still… I can see wishing to own other worlds, wishing to exploit their wealth, wishing to have power over their inhabitants, though I’d think that even then, once it’s more than a world it can’t be a matter of great–” He shrugged. “Never mind. Don’t tell me again how naive I am, Jon. But what I don’t understand is why kidnap the princess, why make an attack on my family. I can see that Sydell means to conquer both thrones, and I heard it from you that this is true – but I can’t see how he gets there from where he is.”
Which is when Elfborne’s hand trembled. He said “Oh, my God,” and the teacup fell from it, shattering on the table, in a shower of shards and golden liquid. From his lips came horrible liquid-fire syllables that seemed to twist the ear and the mind upon which they fell. Seraphim knew it was elven language, because he’d heard it from Gabriel before, but this one, this one must be old and long encoded into a powerful form.
The effect on Jonathan was even more interesting. He put his cup down very carefully then leapt across the small table at Elfborne, clamping his hand on the other man’s mouth. “Not one more word. Not one more. Yes, you are right. That is it entire. But do not say it. What possessed you? Words of power! And those words. You might as well shine a beacon on us and call fairyland’s armies to us.” He took a deep breath. “I am now going to remove my hand from your mouth. You will not say another word in elven. Do you understand me?”
Elfborne looked up at Jonathan and seemed to be having trouble believing this was the amiable drunk of moments before. At length, he nodded. Jonathan removed his hand and sat back again. Elfborne made a gesture and the shards of cup and the spilled tea vanished.
Seraphim looked at Jonathan, “You understand elven?”
“No. Well, not so much. There was this half elf who–” he stopped.
It was Marlon who broke in, with almost maniac cheerfulness. “Tuppable?”
“Very. She was… Ah never mind. She went back. But any rate, that I know that particular set of elven words has nothing to do with that. It’s all part of Sydell’s mad plan, and I’ve heard him quote it often enough.” He glared at Marlon. “Though never without the proper protections.”
“I beg pardon,” Marlon said. “I didn’t think.”
“That,” Jonathan said. “Is blindingly obvious.”
“I don’t have the pleasure of understanding either of you,” Seraphim said.
“It’s a prophecy,” Marlon said. “I learned parts of it when I studied Intended History – that is history that–”
“I know what intended history is,” Seraphim protested. I’m not illiterate.”
“No. Very well. As you know there are prophecies about almost every land, and the intent… it’s like a spell that will almost for sure force it to eventually come true, unless a lot of mages take great care to avert it, and even then – if the prophecy persists for millennia and lots of people believe it and repeat it, it will gain force and will eventually… You must know the king has mages working around the clock to stave off the prophecy about how “From Albion’s shores the lion’s seed shall die” I suspect that’s what he thought was breaking through when his daughter vanished.” He shrugged. “This prophecy is unusual because it applies not to a land or a race, but to fairyland and… and all the universes.” He seemed to run the lines in his mind. “I don’t know how to say it, prettily in English, much less in a way that you’ll understand its magical force. Even in translation, the words have power, and speaking them–”
“Rather you didn’t speak them, if it’s all the same to you Sydell,” Jonathan interposed.
“No. Well, the prophecy is of a man, half elf, raised in human lands, who will come back and win the throne of fairyland in a fair fight and take it unwilling and rule it… But it’s an odd prophecy. The line is “and in a day the might of fairyland will be upended, the worlds stopped in their spinning.” Lots of people think that this… tyrant king of fairyland will destroy all the worlds. Others think it just means that magic will be changed in fairyland. Others still– There’s many opinions.” He frowned. “I suspect my dear papa thinks though that he can cannibalize fairyland to feed his power here, and rule here as a never dying king.” He frowned. “It would fit his pattern.”
“Something like that,” Jonathan said.
Marlon raised his eyebrows. “I see. Worse still. Very well. Now – what do we do about it? I suppose getting proof of this and taking it before the king’s council would do nothing.”
Jonathan shook his head. “They’ve had the king enthralled for years. From something I heard, Sydell raped and eventually sacrificed a dri– Your mother, Sydell?”
Marlon nodded. “That I’ve known since a highly illegal spell and a lot of prodding revealed to me who I was.”
“Devilish,” Jon said. “But the thing is, that gave them an open vein of power to fairyland. They have half the court and definitely the king spelled. That’s how they stripped you of your honors, Ainsling. If we showed them proof nothing would happen. Or rather, we’d die very quickly.”
“No,” Seraphim said. He was seeing the horrible bind they were in. “Nothing short of killing Sydell will stop it, and if Sydell has that much power, I can’t imagine– Besides being against the law.”
Marlon laughed. A startling, uncontrolled laugh, all elf. He grinned, and his teeth looked suddenly very sharp. “I’m not,” he said. “Within the law. And I’m not afraid of papa’s power. You want him killed? God – I didn’t even realize it. I’ve wanted to kill him for years. Even if I have to die for it, it will be worth it. What have I to live for, anyway? I’ve lost–” a minuscule pause. “Everything in the world worth living for.”
“Wait,” Seraphim said. “Merely killing him will do nothing, unless we have the proof we need of the conspiracy – and are in a position to present it to the king.”
Jonathan slammed the cup down on the saucer making a sound like a bell. “Damme. M’father has the records of his world-works under magical key and I might not be able to get them, but I’m of his blood and I’ll try.”
“What?” Seraphim said, shocked. “You can’t mean that. If you expose him–”
“Yes, I do mean that,” Jonathan said, and once more Seraphim had the impression he’d gone to sobriety through drunkenness and through madness to sanity. “You see, I was drinking because I thought somehow all this will explode in our faces. Sydell, once he seizes power will let no witness live. And if he doesn’t seize power, if it goes wrong, my family will be stripped out, root and branch. But the only guilty ones are m’father and m’sister. If I can prove it… If I’m one of the ones who saves the throne of Avalon, we can save my mother, my house, and the young ones, who had no part of this.” He let out a sudden cackle. “Damme, Seraphim, I’m becoming like you.”
Seraphim took a deep breath. The casual attitude didn’t disguise the risk the young man would be taking. He found himself in awe of Jonathan and a little out of step. Perhaps he really had never known Jon at all.
“Very well,” he said. “I will then go to the palace – undercover, of course. Don’t protest. Other than Marlon Elf– other than him, I’m the only one who might have the power to do it. I will collect the witness of spells from when the princess vanished.”
“You can’t do that,” Jon said. “To do so, you’d need a connection to her. Damme, don’t you think–”
Seraphim remembered her kiss on his lips, and took a deep breath. “I have a connection to her. No. Don’t ask. I don’t have time to explain.”
Elfborne smiled as though seeing a design finally completed. “Very well, gentlemen. While you do that, I shall find my dear, dear papa and lay a trap.”