*Better late than never, right, guys?*
*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. *
The Princess And The Power
“Honoria?” Seraphim said. “No! I was– I suppose I still am– engaged to marry her.”
Something in his reaction, possibly his genuine shock seemed to reassure Valerie. She looked at him a long time, as though examining his expression, but her features relaxed. “I see,” she said, at last. “There is a conspiracy, but it is not yours. I thought—” she ran a hand over her face. “But then I thought perhaps it was because my magic is not of this world.”
Seraphim had in turn managed to back against and old rocking horse and half-sit on it. He should feel, he thought, scared or outraged, or perhaps confused, but he felt nothing. Absolutely nothing. “Is that what we’re accused of?” he said. “I thought it was murder…”
Valerie frowned. “It was murder at first, I think. It’s very hard to think about it, but it was undefined, they said, and then…” She shook her head. “And then things changed.” Her frown indicated deep concentration, deep thought. “Until you said that, I didn’t remember it, and now it’s hard for me to think about it. I think they first said you were accused of murder, and I think they couldn’t… I think they couldn’t locate the corpse. And then they said that you, and your father, and your whole family were guilty of conspiracy to kidnap the royal princess and, by magical means, make it seem like she belonged to another family.”
“But why would we make her seem to belong to another family?” Seraphim said. “Would it not make more sense to keep her to ourselves?”
“No! Much was made of your offering to marry her, because, you know, if you married her… you’d someday be king. You could not marry her if you were her brother.”
“No,” Seraphim said. “But we have, or at least we had, friends and dependents and surely any of them would be more reliable as marriage prospects than our rivals, the Blythes.”
“Yes, but—” Valerie was visibly fighting something. “I think they did something – something magical. I’m not sure what, and even saying it makes me feel as though I might be going insane, because the amount of magic it would take… and for it to be undetected… but I think they did something to make us believe it. Because, despite all the changing stories, everyone has believed. And the king has recognized the lady Honoria Blythe as the princess Helen.”
Seraphim groaned deep in his throat. Urgency came now. Not because Honoria had usurped the place of the princess, not because she would be the heir to the throne of Avalon if this went unchallenged, but because she had taken Nell’s place. The idea of Honoria in Nell’s place was unbearable and near-paralyzing. When he could think again he said, “You must take me to the nursery, Valerie, you must. Trust me, that’s where the spell was first set, and if I can reach the center of the web, I can stop it.”
She stared at him for a moment then sighed. “It is only, Your Grace might not know it, but you are—”
“Wanted? I do know it. But I have a spell on me which makes me unrecognizable unless… Unless I wish them to see me clearly.”
She looked at him and frowned a little again. “I wondered why it made my eyes want to unfocus, but I’d guess I’m not getting the full effect, since you do wish me to recognize you.” A little thought and she nodded. “Can you pretend to be here to measure the nursery. It is of course being completely remodeled since the Prin– Is she the princess?”
Seraphim shook his head.
“I was afraid of that. In any case, she is engaged to be married and therefore the nursery must be remodeled, in the hop—”
“Honoria is engaged to be married? To me?”
Valerie looked down. “No, Milord, to Lord Sydell. It was of course thought odd, his being old enough to be her father, and not exactly high enough in nobility… but he was the one who rescued her and the king could not deny him her hand, their being sincerely attached.”
Seraphim opened his mouth to say from what he had heard and things he’d glimpsed at certain clubs he found it hard enough to believe Sydell was Marlon’s father, and the idea of his being sincerely attached to any woman was so unlikely as to border on the impossible. Then he realized he couldn’t shock Valerie with any such implication, and felt a strong pang of missing Nell. Nell wouldn’t at all be shocked. In fact, if Nell had any hint of it, she might blurt out what he was thinking without checking her tongue.
It would be, he thought, great fun to have Nell as a Princess Royale, even if it made any union between them impossible. Her solecisms and that irrepressible humor would set the palace on end.
But of course, he might as well wish for the moon. As far as Avalon was concerned, Honoria was now the princess royale, and his family the villains who had stolen her. It made no sense to anyone who knew anything of the tracings done at the time of her disappearance, but very few people remained clear on that, and a lot would never have been reported at the time. Just a strong spell over the people in the palace, and it would carry.
And the spell had to be in the room from which the infant Nell had been taken. Any further spell layered on the one that had hid the identity of her captors, any spell designed to make it seem like Honoria was Nell would need to be twisted into the original. He would go and he would pull it apart, if it was the last thing he did.
“Will you have the power to do anything,” Valerie asked. “If you are spending it to keep the illusion over your features? And the illusion that there is no spell there?”
He smiled at her, though it felt like his face would crack. “It is not my power being used for that, and I suspect that the one spinning the illusion doesn’t even notice the expending.”
Valerie inclined her head. “Very well then. I shall take you through back stairs,” she said. “Begging your pardon.”
“I’d expect nothing else, and remember I’m no longer a duke.”
She looked like she would say something, then shook her head, compressed her lips and said, “Please to follow me, Your Grace.”