*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 Duke’s Trial
There was blood on the floor, and Seraphim was dimly aware it was his blood, come from wounds suffered in combat with the dragon. In the same dim, distant way, he was aware that his body hurt. There was a claw through the shoulder, and the dragon’s teeth had grazed his thigh. There were other wounds too. Seraphim didn’t remember them all, and didn’t think he had the strength to tally them.
It was enough that every part of him hurt, and hurt more when it moved. The hand he lifted, holding the fragment of the dryad’s cage might have been held down by weights. The legs that supported his body might have lost all strength. And pain screamed along his every nerve ending. It was enough that he felt more tired than he’d ever felt, so tired it took all his will power to stay standing and awake.
Blood soaked his clothes, ran to the floor, and became slippery underfoot. He was cold. It seemed to him the cave had grown dimmer. He knew it couldn’t be true, and assumed this meant he was dying.
For some reason the thought didn’t disturb him as much as it should. Perhaps because he lacked the strength to be disturbed. He wanted to close his eyes and to be done with all this.
And through it all there remained the dim but certain awareness that not only had he barely injured his foe, but that his foe was enjoying this.
If the dragon wanted, Seraphim knew, he could have ended Seraphim’s life long ago. Instead, he chose to prolong it, like a cat playing with an injured mouse.
Seraphim could understand the behavior in cats. Instinct dictated it. Perhaps it dictated it in dragons too. They knew so little about the creatures of fairyland.
Those that strayed into the ordered world of Avalon, they chose rather to immure and to make behave by human rules. Gabriel—
The thought of Gabriel brought a sharp pain in his mind, joining the physical ones. Perhaps it was true what Sidell said, that Gabriel had been the cause of Seraphim’s magical strength and most of his ability. Perhaps it was true that without Gabriel, Seraphim would never have been able to evade the prohibition spells and go to other worlds, and rescue people. Perhaps – as Sidell now said, his voice echoing funny in Seraphim’s ears, while the dragon sprawled, smiling like a cat, across his pile of treasure – “You know, milord, it really was always your unacknowledged half brother doing all the work, and allowing you to preen and strut like the useless peacock you are.”
But it wasn’t that which upset Seraphim and caused the deep-ache in his – for lack of a better word – soul. It didn’t matter if he’d appeared ridiculous to Gabriel, or, indeed, to the world at large. What mattered was that he could not slay the dragon. And without slaying the dragon, he couldn’t leave here. And without leaving here, he couldn’t help Gabriel.
He’d been aware from a very early age that his father – hero to others, as he’d later been revealed – was not a responsible head of the family, and not capable of protecting them.
And so, Seraphim had joined with his mother in protecting both the family and their reputation: the ill fated duel on Gabriel’s behalf had been part of that. As had been the paying of fees and removing of entanglements from his father’s name, and making sure that whatever else he or the family went without there was money for the younger ones’ school fees.
But now – he remembered – Marlon had told him that Gabriel was fighting for his life, and if Seraphim knew the stakes involved, it was a terrifying enough fight – but Seraphim could not help him. Seraphim would die here, alone, and, more importantly, forsworn. His brother would die, alone, thinking Seraphim had left him to die. Thinking he was indeed unacknowledged and unaccepted.
The dragon head came in for a bite, and as it opened, Seraphim reached into the half open mouth and cut it across the tongue. The teeth closed around his arm so hard that Seraphim screamed.
From the shadows came the scurry he’d heard before. Seraphim dismissed it. It might very well be nothing more than the illusion of his dying ears.
The pain in his wrist was such that it was all he could do not to scream, and there was blood dripping between the dragon’s jaws. Mine or his? Seraphim thought, but it didn’t seem to matter. There was blood dripping down his forehead, across his eyebrows. He didn’t remember getting cut there, but obviously he had. The dropplets of blood that managed to make it into his eyes left a red curtain before his vision.
The dragon smiled across the arm he had captured, and let go. For some reason, seeing that his arm was still attached, with deep puncture marks across his forearm, but attached, seemed to make the wound hurt more.
“There is nothing you can do, duke. There was nothing you could ever do.”
Seraphim tried, though he barely had strength left, to throw a spell-net at the dragon, but nothing came of it. Some sort of shield stopped it, before Seraphim could even see what it was, and with it went the last of Seraphim’s magical strength.
“Your magic is now gone,” the dragon said. “And you were never a physical match for me. Say you surrender and I might let you live… a while longer.”
Seraphim gritted his teeth. He thought, yes, if he lived longer he might have a chance, but he remembered the bodies, the skeletons around him, naked, eaten. No. There would be no hope. Besides, he would live with the knowledge he’d let his family be destroyed.
“No,” he said between his teeth, and lurched forward. And tripped on something that made a horrible metallic clatter.
He noticed, without much thought, that the dragon looked alarmed, then he looked down and saw a glimmer, a—a sword. It was gold and had cabalistic symbols on the handle, and Seraphim had a feeling someone – was someone alive in this horrible place, besides him and his foe ? – had taken it from the pile of treasure and slid it across the ground at him.
All of this took a moment, and then he was – despite the screams of his body – grabbing the sword, and running – running, though he was sure he’d die of the effort – at the dragon, and plunging the sword to the hilt in the dragon’s chest.
Of course, given the relative size, a sword was more like a dagger, and the plunging of it into the dragon’s chest brought only a scream of rage, but then…
But then Seraphim realized that the magical shield of the dragon seemed to be down, that the dragon was scrabbling ineffectively at the sword hilt with his claws, as though he couldn’t quite grasp it.
Of course, it’s spelled, Seraphim thought. It is a magical sword.
At the same moment in his mind was the magical tutor his mother had hired when he was very young saying, “If you ever have to strike at a dragon, plunge the dagger into his eye.”
So he grabbed at the sword hilt, pulled it out and, feeling as though he was using strength he didn’t in fact have, plunged it into the dragon’s eye.
There was a scream – horrible and loud, and the huge body trashed around. In a spasm, a claw caught Seraphim across the middle, tearing his clothes and sending him flying, to hit his head against the wall, after which merciful darkness fell.
He woke with Gabriel looming over him, saying, “Wake up, milord. Wake up. We must out of here.”
Gabriel must have run mad to call him milord in these circumstances, Seraphim thought, but what he said was the first words on his mind, “You are alive then. Good.”
A hollow laughter escaped the man, and suddenly Seraphim realized it couldn’t be Gabriel, because the accent was quite wrong, and while Gabriel might be mad enough to call Seraphim milord, he would not fake an accent in these circumstances. Particularly an accent that sounded remarkably like Nell’s.
“You could say I’m alive, milord. Though many times I wished I weren’t. Come milord, we must get out of here.”
Seraphim was suddenly aware that the ground was shaking and that pieces of rock seemed to be raining on them from above. Looking up, he saw that the ceiling had cracks and fissures and the rocks falling on them were pieces of it.
“It’s caving in,” he said.
“Yes, milord. Up. Come.” The man was reaching for Seraphim, trying to make him stand, but Seraphim felt he couldn’t.
“You go,” he said. “Save yourself. I am done for.”