*Once more I must ask your forgiveness for a short chapter. I’m battling something odd and we have a fully committed family weekend just made more involved by the fact that my younger son got hold of the wrong shoes — no, you TRULY don’t want to know. Trust me. So, today this will have to suffice. There might be a bonus post later in the week or a double post next weekend.*
*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. *
For previous chapters, look here: https://accordingtohoyt.com/witchfinder/
Out Of Time
When Nell had been much younger and read everything she could get her hands on, she’d gone through an old suitcase full of time travel romances from the eighties, stored in one of the farm’s outbuildings.
She now knew they were completely wrong. Forget the big things, such as the fact in one of those the woman gets to take her tape player and tapes back to the middle ages, and since her music is the only thing she missed, lives there happilly ever after – which had left Nell, even at eleven, scratching her head and wondering what they planned to use for electricity. No, what she hadn’t realized before was wrong was how a person from the past would adapt to the present day.
In the books there were one or two funny incidents and then the dislocated person started behaving exactly like a modern day man – it was usually a man – save for one or two run-ins with tech, which were more amusing than scary.
She knew from living in his time that His Grace, the Duke of Darkwater was not a stupid man. In fact, she’d judged both him and his half brother to be damnably acute. And she knew, because it had taken her forever to figure out how to navigate it, even though she had the advantage of having read books set in a similar time period, that his social etiquette was far more difficult than anything she’d ever learned. However, she’d never have known it by the way he behaved in this time period.
It wasn’t even the puzzlers – like the existence of toilet paper, compounded by his archaic manners which made him almost incapable of speaking of that sort of thing – or the fact that, in trying to be independent, he’d in fact managed to melt grandmother’s plastic mixing bowl all over the stove, when he’d thought to boil water in it – it was the fact that he kept tripping over things so basic and fundamnetal that Nell had learned them before she was conscious of learning anything.
The result was that over the next few days, she ended up being as much a nanny to him as though he were a two year old infant stumbling from peril to disaster. The worst of it, of course, being when he thought he was adroit enough to do for himself, or perhaps even help. She’d barely stopped him using clothes detergent on his hair, and shuddered at the thought of what the people in his world would think if he had to shave his head after turning his hair into a hay pile.
But that had brought her around, after four days, to thoughts she didn’t want to have. She knew the royal symbol of the Royal family of Albion – the local name for the British isles – in Avalon. And she knew it was the same as the symbol on her medallion. She’d just never thought about it. And besides, she thought, surely there were many such royal families in that many worlds. It didn’t mean it was that one.
That in turn had brought her to what a coincidence it was that she should end up in Avalon. And then with a sick lurch in her stomach, she knew it was no coincidence. It strained the limits of credulity that she’d both end up in the world where she’d originated and be involved in what was clearly an attempt to get rid of the Darkwaters. And the Darkwaters had been involved in something, too.
She looked over at Seraphim, looking startlingly modern and startlingly archaic, both, in a pair of Jeans grandma had procured from town, sitting at the kitchen table, sketching the automatic shaver on a cheap note pad and making notes on how it worked. She didn’t know yet, whether the fact that his tongue protruded from the corner of his mouth, as he sketched made her like him more or less. It was such a terribly undignified for a Duke to have.
And despite the Jeans he managed to look like the cover of a romance novel, with his obviously well-muscled torso doing violence to one of her white t-shirts, and his dark hair severely tied back.
Instead of dwelling on how he looked, she cleared her throat. “Do you really think your brother will be able to reproduce a shaver with magic? I mean, one that works automatically?”
“It might looking quite different,” Seraphim said. “When he’s done. But if he sees the principle of how it works, he’ll probably have an idea for how to do it. And it would be no end of relief for Gabriel not to have to shave me.”
She was briefly scandalized. “Mr. Penn shaves you?”
Seraphim looked as surprised as he had when the plastic had melted, then started burning with a merry flame all over the gas burner. “He is my valet,” he said. “And besides… I don’t know that I’d feel really confident with anyone else using a blade that close to my neck.”
“But who shaves him?”
There was a moment of almost shocked hesitation. “Himself, I presume,” Seraphim said at last and, once more proving to her that he was very far from stupid, he smiled, disarmingly. “I can shave myself too, Miss Felix, and I take your meaning, but he does it better than I can do it, and in my world there is the expectation that a person of rank–” A shadow passed over his face. They hadn’t talked about her origins, not since he’d discovered them. Instead they’d skirted around them like a burned cat walking around fire. In a way they’d both tried to pretend it had never happened, and more often than not he called her Miss Felix, even if there was sometimes, an almost palpable hesitation before the word. Grandma too had not mentioned it, but there was that look she gave Nell sometimes that made Nell wonder what she felt. Was she afraid of losing Nell forever? Nell was her only descendant and it had always been assumed, on grandma’s side at least, that Nell would inherit the farm particularly since mom and dad had died.
But now Seraphim looked at her and sighed. “As you’ll doubtless learn, once we reclaim your position.”
“Are we going to reclaim my position?” she said, softly, sitting across from him.
He looked at her a long moment. “You are very wise, you know?”
“You are. You’re neither overjoyed at the idea of being a princess, nor foolish enough to tell me you don’t need to go back, or you don’t want to go back, and that you’d rather live your life out here, as it’s been.”
She sighed. “I’m not sure,” she said, deciding confession was good for the soul. “That I am so much wise as cowardly. I’ve avoided discussing it, because I didn’t want to think about it. It goes without saying that I don’t wish to claim my inheritance in your world.”
“Why does it go without saying? And it is your world too.”
“Because… It’s not my world. Not really. I was not brought up there. It feels uncomfortable, and odd, and I know enough, thank you so much, your grace, to know that at the higher levels in society there is even less freedom than in the other classes. I know that if I were to become your princess, I’d find myself married off to someone I don’t love. I’d probably be bundled off to some country where I don’t even speak the language, because the family I don’t even know needs a treaty or something.”
He looked at her a long time, his bewildering green eyes very intent. “Did you ever see the king, your… Miss Felix?”
She shook her head. “There was,” she said. “Some sort of ceremony once, and you could say… I mean, I saw him from a distance. Tall man. Grey hair.”
“In family… Even the extended family, which we are, and in private, not in his capacity as king, he goes by Richard, though I believe my mother might call him something absurd like Ricky. They… My father and he were playfellows and when my father married my mother, she learned to address the king the way my father did.”
“In family. You really are related.”
He gave her the bewildering smile again. He seemed to have forgotten what he was sketching and instead, his pencil moving as if of its own accord, had started sketching a face on the side of he paper, shading it in. “Not really. No more than all nobility in the isles is at some level. If we didn’t often import brides we’d all have two heads.” He shrugged. “But we are distant cousins, and because my family is one of two important magical families–” He frowned a little and she wondered if he was remembering that the other family was that of his earstwhile fiancé. Or were they technically still engaged? That particular bit of etiquette was bewildering beyond belief. “But because my father and Richard were friends, my father being one of a select group of youths allowed to play with the prince heir, they remained close. And given the status of my family, we were often invited over to … for family dinners, of a sort.” An amused smile again. “It would still all seem unbearably formal to you, but to the royal family it is our version of winding down. I don’t see how I didn’t realize it before,” he said, looking at her. “Except of course, one doesn’t expect lost princesses to drop into one’s lake… or on top of one. But you look a lot like your mother, Queen Cecily.”
“Cecily,” Helen said. Useless to say she didn’t want to know her mother or hadn’t nurtured questions about her parents. “I… I never knew that was the Queen’s name.”
“No. Most people just refer to her as her majesty the Queen. But she looks like you, though in smaller point. you inherited some of your father’s more substantial look. She is… was… A princess of Italy and married your father when she was barely a teenager. Or at least married him by treaty and came over to learn our ways and our magic. They married officially in their twenties, and had a long string of still born infants, before they managed to produce you. Their magic, you see, is somewhat incompatible, which is a danger when marrying far from home.” He was now carefully shading the features. A woman’s face, Nell decided. “But the advantage of course is that any infant who survives will be very magically powerful. As you are.” He looked up. “Understand, they are a very happy couple. You are correct. At our level of society normally marriages are made for reasons other than mutual affection, but Richard and Cecily love each other. Lucky for them, of course. They’re both of a quiet, bookish disposition, and on winter evenings they’ll both sit in his office. She reads while he works. They could be any middle aged couple. And of course, they wanted to have children.” She realized with a shock that the face he’d drawn was her own and, having shaded it in, he as now busily giving her a crown. “They wanted to have children for the crown, but most of all they wanted to have children for themselves. I don’t actually remember the princ– your disappearance, not as such. I was very young myself. But I do remember your baptism because there was a procession, and I was one of a few children allowed to carry your train… the… the edge of the cape attached to your christening gown.” He sighed. “At any rate, I have heard from my parents, how overjoyed Richard and Cecily were, then how distraught at her– Your disappearance. How they tried to follow all leads in vain, only to find you were carried out of the world. And then, the king asked permission of parliament for an exemption from the prohibition of traveling to other worlds, so that he might send investigators to find you.
“It was denied, because it was felt it might upset the delicate magical balance of the universe and… And my mother says that your parents aged ten years in a week. I don’t know if it’s true, but I know that–”
“Yes?” She said.
“That the two of them, though they’re not actively unhappy, always look to me as though a part of them is missing. It’s as though… As though they should be living a completely different life, one in which they have children and the hope of grandchildren, and instead, that part of them was taken away. It’s as though… they are shadows of themselves.”
“Damn you,” she heard herself say, before she knew what she was going to utter. “Damn you. You know very well I could have refused the claims of the kingdom, but I can’t refuse the love of my parents.”
He didn’t say anything. His pencil had given her an elaborate crown, and was now sketching a body in royal robes, a hand holding a scepter. After a while, he breathed deeply. “Understand, Your Highness, you do have a claim to the kingdom too. Someone kidnaped you and sent you to a world where our scrying didn’t work. Someone too – maybe the same person – made sure to find you later, as an adult and bring you to Avalon for some time. And someone again, who knows how or why, sent you away, with me, to a world where you were likely to get killed quickly, had we not taken extraordinary measures.
“Unless the person doing all this is mentally ill, it can’t be the same person. So the question is, who are the two forces warring over you? How and why was I pulled into this strife? What do these people have to do with my family? And how can we uncoil this confusion?”
Nell looked at him a long time. She wanted to scream and tell him his kingdom’s problems were no issue of hers, or that she didn’t care, or that she’d stay here and he could go back.
But in her mind was the image of the royal couple – her parents – who had mourned her loss for more than twenty years and yet had adhered inflexibly to their duty and the laws of their land, even when their position allowed them to impose their will. She thought of how Seraphim described them, as if a part of them were missing. She thought of Seraphim himself and his family, that bond she’d seen between the members of his family, even the illegitimate one.
She was close to grandma, perhaps that close, but it was just them and had been since mom and dad died. But if she had more family, family who missed her…
“What if I go back? With you? We just transport into the palace and… find my parents…”
He tilted his head sideways, and looked at her through narrowed eyes, the way she’d learned he did when appraising magic. “You might have enough power to do it,” he said. “And the commotion might even be worth it. But there might very well be traps set for you, should you return, and besides…” He sighed.
“I’m fairly sure I’m wanted, and that a blade might slipped into my back before you’re even established… Face it, we have a powerful enemy.”
“Yes,” she said, slowly. Then bit her lip. “How can we figure out… at least some of what is going on there? Sooner or later, you’ll want to go back. You’re almost well.”
He pushed the notepad away. “I want to go back very soon. I’ve been having dreams about Gabriel and I think he’s in trouble. Bad trouble. But you are right. To go back blind might be death.” He paused. “I could try scrying.”
But she had a feeling that he couldn’t scry very well, not from a world with so much iron and so little magic as Earth. She sighed. “No. I’ll do it,” She said. “I’m used to the magic here.”
That got her the odd tilted look again. “Crystal ball?” he asked, as though this were somehow amusing.
“No,” she said. “I’m self taught, remember?” She got up leaving him to ponder, and went into the dining room. On the drawer was the pack of cards her grandmother used for her occasional bridge nights. She came back and set it on the table. It amused her that his eyes widened. Playing card scrying, in Avalon, seemed to be a parlor trick type of thing, almost a joke. “You cut or will I?” she asked. She was about to show him what she could do.