*I might have invented a new form of self-torture with this chapter a week thing. I’m sorry this is late and short, as I am in the middle of trying to get Noah’s Boy all together (easier said than done, when one is threading in a whole new plot that ends up being the climax of the book) and am now at the point I’m all IN that book, but had to drag myself out do this chapter. I probably am making Seraphim dumber than heck, and might be having him have a repeat revelation. Never mind that. I’ll fix in rewrite. By now the clever reader (and all my readers are clever) should be able to see what the climax dilemma will entail.*
*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 matter of power
“One doesn’t,” the honorable Jonathan Blythe said. “Simply walk into the Royal palace. Particularly not–” he gave Seraphim Ainsling, lately the Duke of Darkwater a derisive look, and Marlon Elfborne, or perhaps Sydell, a puzzled one. “Particularly not, I say, when one has a price on one’s head.”
Seraphim raised his eyes at Jon, who seemed to suddenly have become all too sober, even if he retained his easy going mannerisms. “Is there a price on my head, Jon,” he asked softly. “You said my title was removed, my property impounded – I presume – and I presume, as well, that I am under suspicion of murder, for I gather that’s the excuse for all this, that unfortunate man who died on my estate? That I’m under suspicion of using illegal magic to kill him. But I’ve I’ve not violated one of those laws that put you under an immediate death sentence.” Seraphim tried very hard to keep from sliding his gaze sideways at Marlon. “And even if I had, surely it would be a matter for the courts first? I am a peer of the realm. I might be tried in absentia, but surely I must be tried before I am condemned.”
“Who said anything about laws or the realm?” Jon said. “Who said anything about trials, either? Or the death of the man on your estate. Sure, that’s what they used to impound all you own and to discredit you in the eyes of the world, but if you believe that is what you’re in real danger from, then you have no more hair than wit, and I wash my hands of you.” He looked up, and must have read the plain incomprehension in Seraphim’s eyes. “Ask instead why you were ever in danger – why there was a man on your estate. He was dead before he ever came to you, by the way. He has been dead for at least a year. And he was not, at that, exactly a man, but never you mind that.”
“I am not sure what you mean,” Seraphim said, and he meant it. He had no idea where this Jon Blythe had come from, who could spin plots and ideas that of course Seraphim had thought of, but only in the privacy of his own mind, and then quickly dismissed as too preposterous. It was impossible that a vast shadowy network had been conspiring to ensnare him. Surely what had happened to him was a series of spectacular bad luck, or else… His mind stopped, because he knew for a fact that a royal princess had been whisked out of the realm, and Jon said it had been Sydell’s and the Blythe’s doing all along, but if it were so– “But why me?” he said. “Oh, surely, I was … involved in many worlds, and they could have brought me to trial on that, since it violates the royal decree about dealings with other Earths, but what can that have to do with—”
“No,” Jonathan said. “They couldn’t have brought you to trial, because you know too much, and had they brought you in the examining magicians would learn of it, and some of those are incorruptible old soots, as you well know.”
“I?” Seraphim leaned back. He noted without thinking that Marlon had cleaned up spilled tea and broken porcelain and also that Marlon had poured Seraphim a new cup of tea and, having whisked from somewhere a glass decanter, was pouring an amber drop in it.
“Oh, brandy,” the Honorable Jonathan said. “I say, can you—”
“No,” Marlon said, drily. Then to Seraphim. “I think you should have what I’ve poured for you. It will help you.”
“I—” Seraphim said, and obeyed automatically, though objecting, “I am not so much shocked as puzzled. I’m trying to think what I know that would give any examining magicians anything upon which to unravel a conspiracy. I know I have rescued… This would be in the last month, I presume, since before that they might know what I was doing but no one did anything about it.”
Jonathan inclined his head. “They weren’t sure what you were doing, until my dearest sister accepted your offer last month. They suspected you might have taken over the role of witchfinder, which was your father’s before it was abolished, of course. But they didn’t know, and surely they couldn’t prove it.”
“The role of-_”
“I see. Your father never told you?”
Before Seraphim could answer, Marlon intervened. “That part I know, though I didn’t know you’d taken it over, have you, Seraphim?”
“I took over my father’s work.” The brandy might have been a bad idea, as Seraphim’s head ached fit to split. “If that is what you mean. I never heard of an official roll, but when my father… After the funeral, Gabriel, who was cleaning my father’s room and disposing of his effects, before I moved into it, brought me some very odd artifacts, and also a diary he found concealed in a cunning place only a person of my father’s blood could open. Through it I found that though my father had many failings – and his failings were as real as his virtues – I found that his career hadn’t been as deliberately ruinous as one would think. I mean, he still gambled. I think he was addicted to the rush of gambling, to be truthful. And he…” Seraphim smiled a little. “One can’t deny that he left more byblows throughout the district than any but the noblest of royal lines have ever managed to leave, which considering he wasn’t working on a kingdom scale, must be, I suppose, counted to his credit. But—” He paused. “But the truth is that most of the time he was away from us, most of his months of seeming neglect of his family, he was in fact occupied in rescuing unfortunates from worlds where magic is illegal. Gabriel and I… resumed his work.”
“The work of the witchfinder,” Marlon said. “Of which your father was the last official one. And before you excoriate him for not living within his means, do keep in mind that he used to get a stipend for this work, and was used to a vast royal largesse.”
“Oh,” Seraphim said. Now his head was spinning and he knew this was naught but a mad dream. “But no one told me! Not even mama.”
“No, of course not. If she suspected what he was doing, better to keep it secret,” Jon said. “But they would suspect you, particularly as your personality changed overnight after your father’s death. So… when my sister accepted your so very kind offer,” he grinned. “Remember she asked you for a lock of your hair?”
Seraphim remembered, because it had seemed such an odd sentimentality in Honoria.
“You didn’t give her a lock of your hair, Ainsling?” Marlon asked, shock and amusement mingling. “Of all the crack brained—”
“I thought nothing of it. One doesn’t think—”
“No, of course not,” Jon said. “You did an awful lot of not thinking, Seraphim. But that is why you can’t walk into the palace. If you do, they will know you, no matter how you disguise your magical power or your physical body. They have a lock of your hair, Seraphim. They have a part of you and can trace your magic. They’ve already used it to send you on a tour of the worlds, I suspect, and try to get you killed. And I think the only reason we’re safe here is that Marlon has made this proof against all but his own odd brand of magic.”
“Of course,” Marlon said, drily, but yet managing to convey the impression of having arrived at a momentous conclusion. “That is it precisely. My brand of magic. Neither human nor elven, nor dragon, but with hints of all of it. It is what has allowed me to survive in hiding this long.” He looked up at Seraphim and grinned. “And it will now allow me to use it to disguise you. Because most of it doesn’t come from Earth, they cannot trace it. Because I’ve long ago cut off the sovereign of fairyland, he can’t trace it. We shall disguise you, milord duke, and you shall go, while we go about our several missions. And at the end of this you’ll be a duke again in fact, and everything restored to its proper place.” Something to his wry smile said there were things that could not be restored. So. My magical power it shall be.”