*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 Fine Catch
Nell was scared.
She’d thought she’d been scared before, but she’d known nothing about what fear was. Yes, she’d left her home with Antoine when she was barely adult. She’d come to Avalon. But all of it was understandable, if strange, to a girl who’d grown up with a grandmother who practiced some arcane arts and who read more than her share of fantasy books. Nell had cut her teeth on Tolkien – literally. Her mother’s copies of the books still bore the mark of Nell’s teeth and gums along the edges – and then progressed to every kind of fantasy she could find by the time she was in high school. That into that mix there had also fallen a levening of Regency Romances from the local library had given her the map she needed to navigate Avalon.
Some things it hadn’t prepared her for. Nothing in her upbringing had prepared her, for instance, for the sheer material poverty of a world just starting into its equivalent of the industrial revolution. It had brought back to her that common use objects: plates, cups, glasses, silverwear, or even pins and needles had once had to be carefully crafted and made by hand and were therefore expensive and their quality varied greatly. In the same way, she’d come to see that while the industrial revolution in Avalon was cleaner than on Earth, the machines being run by magic, not steam, it was still brutal and painful in many ways. But on Earth, when they told you about the children who worked twelve hours on looms and who had their little bodies twisted by having to get under and between machines, they didn’t tell you about the system the machines displaced. They didn’t tell you about rural poverty and squalor and of five year olds going out with sheep and goats in the cold and damp and staying out all day, or performing tasks that people on Earth would blench to have even teenagers do without supervision. They didn’t tell you of the accidents, the deaths. But most of all they didn’t tell you of famines.
The new machines and the newfangled magical ways to improve the land meant fewer people working there, but fewer famines too, and the people came to the cities willingly, to work their punishing industrial jobs that were, nonetheless, better than the farm jobs they left behind.
All that – the new society, the strange way of seeing things, even the way that, the moment they’d come to Avalon Antoine had been captured and held hostage by Sydell – should have scared her, and it had, as had her servitude to Sydell while trying to earn Antoine’s redemption. But she had never been this scared.
At first she thought that she would have earned Antoine’s way out. By the time she realized that wasn’t possible… She swallowed hard at the memory of Antoine’s animated corpse. By the time she’d realized she couldn’t save him, things had gone too far out of control for her to feel fear as such. She’d been too busy saving Seraphim and… and a fine muddle she’d made of that. Maybe that was why in the fairytales they never had the princess rescue the handsome hero.
But no, truth be told, the handsome hero had also made a muddle of it. At least, he wasn’t here, she thought, in this net into which the rest of them were caught, spinning over what appeared to be an endless void, punctured with pinpoints of star light.
She closed her eyes and told herself – hard – that there was no net, no pinpoints. That she was free and near the throne room. But nothing changed. She could feel the threads of the net – thick, and made of what fishing line would be if it were as thick as mooring ropes – digging into her back. She could feel Akakios’ bare feet digging into her side. And she could smell them all: sweat and fear and various grooming products.
Her eyes came open again. There was absolutely no point closing your eyes and pretending, if you couldn’t, in any way, make it true. People had pulled away from the center, by their weight creating niches in the net which allowed them to spread out. Michael – she assumed he was Michael, since he looked like the changelling she’d first seen in Michael’s workshop – sat sprawled, his back propped on the side of the net, his arms akimbo. His eyes had lost their vacant, shiny look, and his brows were now knit, over his nose, in a puzzled frown so reminiscent of Seraphim it made something within her ache.
Caroline and Akakios had backed away together. Nell noted they were holding hands, and cringed a little inwardly, wondering what Seraphim would think of that. A lady in Avalon had limited say on who she wished to marry, and Nell would be willing to bet even a Centaur Prince would not be considered a eligible match.
A quick look at the remaining person, Gabriel Penn, lying still at the bottom of the net, looking up at the top where the net was gathered and held. It was nebulous up there, and Nell could not see how or what held it. “It will not disappear, no matter how much I think about it being gone,” she told Gabriel.
He turned to look at her, and she scuttled back, alarmed. He looked… wild – she thought. His hair had now come completely undone, and there was an odd shine to his eyes: not like Michael’s but more as though he were laughing wildly at some joke only he knew. In their situation, she couldn’t imagine what that would be.
There was wild humor in his voice, a hint of suppressed laughter, “No, you wouldn’t be able to,” he said. Worse, his voice echoed in odd harmonics that she couldn’t quite place.
Michael spoke before she could ask Penn what was so funny – not that she meant to.
“I was dreaming,” he said. His voice sounded small and very young, as if he’d been a little boy, instead of a teenager. “I was dreaming about…” He made a face of deep thought. “There were machines, but… he… he– The King– He said that… He told me I’d have power, and I– ” He burst into tears and like that, the mad, laughing light went out of Gabriel’s eyes. He seized hold of the threads of the net, dragged himself to where Michael was, put his hand on Michael’s head. “Never mind. Never mind. It was all a bad dream. It is always best if you don’t think of fairyland as more than a mad dream. When they– ” he took a deep breath. “When we get in your mind it splits it. We’re not the same you are. We’re not– ”
Akakios said one word that Nell, without understanding it, knew meant King, or Sire, and then in English, “You know now that you must take your place. You have come to the prophecy.”
The mad light was back. Penn, matter of factly wiped his younger brother’s face with a handkerchief pulled from his sleeve, and managed to look tired, even as the mad light came back into his eyes. “I see the design,” he said. “And the intent pulling me in, damn it.”
“Intent?” Nell said.
“The prophecy,” Akakios said. “It said a man born of elf and human and raised on Earth would come back and become king of fairyland, and– ” an elven sound. “Is the man.”
“Yes, that is my other name. It translates loosely as Night Arrow. I haven’t used it since… Never mind. The prophecy. I grew up with it. I think it intended me for the role. Stories that old, particularly in fairyland, acquire a power. It pushed me. I did not want it but…” He made a face. “Never mind. It might have to be.” He looked at Akakios. “I’m not sure I appreciate centaur interference though.”
Akakios’ face went stern. “My father sacrificed his first born and risks me for– ”
“Oh, very well,” Gabriel said, a king dismissing a pointless complaint.
“But how do we get out of here?” Nell asked. “And where are we?”
“I fancy we are between worlds,” Gabriel said. “Not that way. There is air here, of course, but we’re not quite in any world, anyway. Even if we got free, there would be nowhere to fall.”
“I’ll have to borrow power,” he said. “I’ll have to use the power of one not confined in this trap.”
“What do you mean?”
“The king of fairyland,” he said. “Can reach the magic of any of his subjects. I’ll have to reach for one of them. But since I’m not yet the real king, it will have to be someone I know well. I’ll use that magic to transport us out of here. And then, I think, curse it, I’ll have to fulfill my destiny. But you and the others… Take them, Princess, and see them safe.”