Yes, I do indeed realize I need to have Jonathan as a POV character before, but there’s a lot of that sort of cleanup to do in revision. “I’ll fix it in post.” For now, it is what it is.
*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. *
*An additional note — the last several chapters haven’t been compiled into the er… compilation. The last couple of months have been odd. So you might have to do some hunting for them as you go.*
An Irregular Man
The Honorable Jonathan Blythe had gone straight home. He found the house dark and cold, which it had been much too much of late, partly, he judged, because of his Father’s great ploy. The supposed princess having been raised with them, but exonerating them of all guilt in her kidnapping was in fact a great social boon for his family. Mama and papa, and even some of the younger girls had been invited to parties every night.
What surprised him, though,was that there was no one waiting in the little room off the entrance hall, which usually had at least mama’s maid or papa’s valet sitting in wait for the Lord and Lady to come home. He walked in and his steps seemed to resonate loudly in the empty house. He frowned. It couldn’t be empty, damme. After all, the children would be in the nursery, perforce. They didn’t go to parties. Little James was all of three years old. And the servants and nurses would be here too, would they not?
He walked in, slowly, into the completely dark house. Rays of moonlight that shone through the magnificently tall windows in the wall of the entrance hall gave him his light as he found the marble stairs and walked up. Because his footsteps seemed lonely, he supplemented with the tap of his cane.
Up and up and up, on a whim, all the way up to the third floor, and there, in the nursery, all was empty, all calm – the beds made, the children’s toys neatly arranged. But his sweeping of the wall hooks that normally held the children’s coats made him frown. They were, every one of them empty. He quirked his brow and moved down the stairs.
And down there it was obvious that this too was deserted. More importantly, he couldn’t hear any noise, not even from the kitchen, and it wasn’t so late that the cook would have gone to bed. She usually stayed up late preparing the baking for the next day. Jonathan knew this, because he was known to go in via the kitchen entrance and get a tot of cooking brandy and a slice of day-old cake. The cook had never lost her fondness for the little boy whom she used to give currants and biscuits to. Now Jonathan thought about it, Mrs. Whimple, the cook, might be the only reason he bothered to come home most nights. He frowned at this, but didn’t dwell on it, beyond being sure that if he stopped coming, the cook would worry.
He wondered if anyone else would. But he thought – yes, he very much thought – that he was worried about them no. Something had happened to render the town house this empty, and in the middle of the season.
He traced his steps back down the stairs, and felt at the door. Someone had removed the knocker, as they did at the end of the season, to signal the whole family was from town.
They’d left without telling Jonathan? Well, that was hardly surprising. What was surprising was leaving so early, so… but now. The house was not totally empty. He could feel it wasn’t.
He went upstairs, step by step, all the way up to the floor where his parents rooms and offices were, and he stood there, and sensed. He wanted to be sure, for one, that what he was seeing was not an illusion, that he was in the right house, at the right time.
From papa’s office came the sense of someone living, and Jonathan headed there, tapping his cane along with his steps. He hesitated before the door, training and thought telling him he should knock or scratch, while everything else told him he should just open the door. It was probably papa in there, or his secretary. And in there were probably the papers, the magic, the trace of the conspiracy that Jonathan had been seeking.
Jonathan opened the door, and went in.
There was a magelight burning on the desk, and papa sat behind it, with a pile of papers. A blazing fire in the fireplace was almost too warm.
Papa – who looked like an older and male version of Honoria – looked up, managing, perhaps for the first time since Jonathan had known him, to appear startled. “Jon!” he said.
“Papa,” Jonathan said. A narrow-eyed sweep of the fireplace with his mage sight showed him that a lot of paper was burning there, and that the paper on the desk, which papa was sorting, was overlaid with some sort of magic. It wouldn’t show the wrong thing to the wrong eyes. “I see you’re destroying evidence,” Jonathan said, amicably, and went over to the corner cabinet where his father kept the liquor. He opened it, got a decanter, poured himself a glass. He was aware of his father’s exclamation behind him, but didn’t turn around until he had a full glass of brandy and his cane and gloves firmly in one hand. He sat on the chair across from his father’s desk and crossed his legs, resting gloves and cane on his lap. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “But after I had shot the cat in an alley downtown, I lost most of the alcohol I need to think clearly. And all Darkwater and his friend would offer me was a damnable pot of tea. What?”
The What was at papa’s look.
“Darkwater is in town?” Papa said. “I thought he might be. I could feel the situation turning and—”
“Suppose you tell me about the situation?” Jonathan said, equably, as he took a sip of the brandy.
His father raised his eyebrows. He shot a quick look at the fireplace. “How much… what do you think the situation is?”
“I think that you and Honoria are somehow in business with Sidell. This is bad, Father, very bad. Inexcusably foolish to let yourself be snared into the plots of dragons.”
“Ah. So you know that, but do you know what the plot is?”
“I know that you’re doing business in other universes,” Jon said, and drank his brandy.
His father raised his eyebrows. “So, you know that far.”
“And I know that Honoria isn’t the princess. Not half of it. There is no way the princess could look so much like you, papa.”
“Ah. Well, I never expected you to swallow that rasper. Though I trusted you to stay quiet.”
It occurred to Jonathan that his father was a very dangerous man. Maybe as dangerous as Sidell. But somehow, Jonathan didn’t feel at risk. “I’ve known you were running a smokey rig, papa, for the last month. Why do you think I’ve been drinking so much.”
“How should I know? You’ve always drank—”
Jonathan waved his hand. “How did it start. And why, papa?”
“How did it start?” His father gave a hollow chuckle. “It started with your grandfather. He ran through the fortune like — Your mama says you resemble him, and I’ve often thought that was true, though now…” He narrowed his eyes and shrugged. “There might be a lot in of me in you Jonathan. Though I’d never noticed it before. But if there is, you’ll understand.
“When I inherited, the family was well-nigh destitute. Oh, we had the business, and the magic, and I could have built it back in time. But I was married and I… I didn’t want to spend my entire life laboring just so my heir could have a fortune to waste. So I started going to the forbidden worlds. The ones without magic. It’s so easy to make a fortune there, Jonathan. It’s not that magic doesn’t work – though in one or two it won’t – it’s that they don’t have magic there. Which means they can’t detect it. Their financial markets are wide open. Their politicians will pay extraordinary sums for simple persuasion spells…”
“And?” Jonathan said. He could see the basic dishonesty of what his father was done but not enough to trouble him. “You made our fortune?”
“More than it had ever been, yes.”
“And then Sidell approached me. He’d noticed what we were doing, and he gave me an ultimatum. I could stop – at that point it was very hard to prove what I’d done – or I could ally myself with him.”
“I couldn’t stop.”
“Why not? You’d made your fortune.”
“But the power, Jonathan. Then power. You have no idea what it’s like to be able to dictate the fate of entire worlds when no one knows about what you’re doing. It’s better than being king.”
Jonathan felt sick for the first time and for a moment was afraid the brandy would come back up. He stared at his father, his eyes impassive. Of all the things he’d never understood, the lust for power was the worse. His sins were pleasing ones: sleeping with this or that person or creature, drinking, eating. He could never understand the boys at school who enjoyed ordering others about. He could see they did, and he could see his father did too, but it was incomprehensible to him and also vaguely nauseating. He remembered all the times at school when a bully had tried to force him to behave in a manner he didn’t wish to.
“I see,” he said at last. “So you dealt with the dragon.”
“He wanted to replace the king. He wanted Avalon and fairyland. I thought… I thought his madness was just that, and I thought…”
“And m’sister? How did she come into it?”
This got him a completely baffled look. “Your mama says your sister and I are alike. You know it is said the founder of our house was elfborne, and your mama says both your sister and I have ice in our veins. I think… she’s wrong. Your sister fell in love with Sidell. After that…” He shrugged. “Not that I understand it. The man is my age, and if rumors are true, he’s never been interested in a woman, except the nymph he raped to get her imprisoned in the spell, years ago, the one who gave him his bastard. I thought… I’ve been used to thinking that like his son, his interests lay in another direction. At least for a while it was said that he kept various young men…” He shrugged. “I told your sister and she accused me of lying. She fell in love with him head over heels, and… and he encouraged her. I think what attracted her was his power.”
“His magical power?”
“That too, but his… power and his wish for power.”
Jonathan gave a click of his tongue. “They do say girls fall in love with men who resemble their fathers.”
His father looked startled but said nothing.
“So,” Jonathan said. “Right now, you should be getting ready to be the foster father of the new queen. But you’re burning papers. What happened that I don’t know about?”
His father’s eyes looked dull and odd. “She called the land.”
“M’sister? Has she gone mad?”
“No, not your sister. How could she. The real princess.”
“The re– She’s in Avalon?”
“Yes. She came back some while back. A centaur brought her. Fortunately Sidell neutralized her and kept her where he could keep her power damped and she under his thumb. He tried to involve her with Darkwater so both could be condemned at the same time, before anyone looked too closely at her, but then…”
“It all went wrong,” his father said flatly. “And she’s called the land.”
“Well, it gives her power, if she survives the challenges, to destroy all our spells, all our obfuscations. To prove who she is. Even now, the king has felt the call and knows his daughter is near and that she’s not your sister.”
“I intended to say it was your sister’s plan, and Sidell’s, which is true, and try to brazen out. If only evidence…” He looked up at Jonathan. “I intended to… I had caught this afternoon, odd disturbances, and Sidell wouldn’t answer my questions, so I sent the whole family to the country seat, and I—”
“Too late papa. Other people know. And Darkwater is in the world, and he knows, and…”
“I see,” his father said. “Yes, I think you are like me. Underneath the bon vivant, you have ice in your veins.”
Jonathan laughed. He set his empty glass on the side of the desk, and slipped his gloves on. “Perhaps that’s why I drink so much. It won’t fadge papa. You know that even if there were no witnesses, dearest Honoria will talk. Yes, we could kill her, but papa, I think there is another problem. If you survive this, you’ll have to keep your nose clean, very clean. And I’ll be watching, to make sure you don’t do this again. Even if the thing with dealing in other worlds is lifted – since I think that was Sidell’s idea – yet the king will monitor it, and what you’ve been doing will not be permitted. Would you be able to do that, papa? To give up the power?”
He read the answer in his father’s eyes, even as his father said, “And you? Would you be able to take a house with a shadow on it and do any better for your brothers and sisters? And Jonathan, would you be able to resist exploiting those without magical power. You are like me!”
“Not entirely, papa. You see, my wish has never been to rule others but to be left alone.” He got up. “I’ll bid you farewell. I trust you know what to do. I believe you have the necessary in your second drawer.”
“Why don’t you do it yourself.”
“Tut tut papa. Judicial magicians.”
Jonathan got up and walked out of his father’s study. He presumed he’d have to sleep at his club, if all servants were gone.
He was on the second step of the stairs when the shot rang out from the studio and Jonathan was, suddenly, the only living person in the house.
Jonathan Blythe, Earl of Timfarr stood transfixed for a moment. He’d like to say he felt nothing, but that was not strictly true. He felt no grief for his father, who’d never given him reason to feel anything.
But he felt a sure, unreasoning fury. If his father hadn’t wanted to get rich in a hurry. If he’d not been addicted to power. If– Then Jonathan could have done what he planned since the age of twelve at least, and disappeared into a place where he was not known and had no responsibilities, and left his younger brother to inherit.
It wasn’t possible now, and Peter would not have to shoulder the responsibility. Jonathan would spend the rest of his life living so impeccably, so above-board that he restored the family name.
He muttered a curse under his breath and left for his club.
But he’d gone no more than two steps outside, when he realized this night was not a normal night for anyone.