*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/
“I came to rescue Michael,” the Duchess said. “Nothing else could have enticed me to come back here, to come back into this place that…”
“No,” the ghost of Arden Ainsling, late Duke of Darkwater said. Or at least it wasn’t his ghost. Not exactly. She’d found he had physical existence of a sort. She could touch him and feel his hand, not quite as substantial as it should be, and softer and less warm than it should be, but there, nonetheless.
Somehow they’d ended holding each other’s hands as they walked along the foggy landscape. “Was it like this, Barbara,” he asked. “When you were a captive before?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Or at least I don’t think I know. Not clearly. It was like a bad dream, and I was very young. I remember things happening that made no sense to me. I remember…” She was quiet a moment. “I remember not liking it. For years, after my return, I dreamed of being lost in fairyland, never finding my way back. And I’d wake up screaming.”
“Yes,” Arden said, and there was more in that syllable than he could pronounce. She looked at him, and his eyes looked very intensely green and were shadowed, as though he’d spent several nights without sleeping.
It was a look she knew well for him. In the past, she’d thought that it meant that he’d spent nights away climbing balconies, or whatever it was he did to get to his ladies of easy virtue. But surely that wouldn’t apply in fairyland and besides, she thought, he couldn’t – he couldn’t possibly – have just spent his nights climbing balconies. Not if his suicide had been staged by fairyland. Not if Seraphim’s taking up of Arden’s work had thrown the entire house into turmoil and ruin.
She squeezed his not-quite-there hand and said, “What was your work? You say that Seraphim has got your papers, and you say it as though it were a dangerous thing. What does that mean? I’d always thought that when you went out for days on end you were philandering, and when you came in wounded it meant that you’d fought a duel or… or that someone had accused you of cheating at cards. But I’m starting to perceive that couldn’t be it. So I’m going to ask you, Arden, what does it all mean? What was your work? If you had a work, beyond the pursuit of pleasure.”
He sighed, and it seemed to her strange that someone not qutie there could sigh. It seemed to her he exhaled not just air but particles of light which danced around him for a moment. “Fairyland is never a safe place,” he said. “But I’ve learned some things, and while you are with me, it is safe to talk of this. So I’ll tell you. I was a witchfinder– ”
She frowned at him. “A witch–?” Memories of childhood rose in her, from studying the dark ages, when all magic had been forbidden and men who could detect witches moved around, identifying them that they could be killed. She remembered her nursery, a small snug room up in the attics of the Hartwitt residence. She remembered the fire, and the little table before the fire, and her pencils and paper and Miss Heron, the nanny, telling her all about witchfinders outwitted, and witches escaping to learn more about magic and eventually codify the rules of scientific magic that prevailed in the world today.
She remembered stories about how witchfinders still existed in other worlds, condemning young people with magic, and shifters as they came into their powers, to ignominous deaths. She looked at Arden, sidelong.
Arden laughed. She had forgotten that laughter. Seraphim and Gabriel might have inherited echoes of his looks, but neither laughed like him. When Arden laughed, no matter how bleak the situation, it was as though the sun had come through the clouds, warming her through. Sometimes she thought it was his laughter – and the way he made her laugh, as well – that had made her fal in love with Arden Ainsling. “Oh, Barbara, what a goose you can be. No, of course I was never a witchfinder in the old style, destroying magic users. You could say I was the reverse of that, an honorable mission willed to me by my grandfather. You see, in our family for as long as there’s memory – certainly as long as magic has been legal in Avalon, there’s been a particular pocket watch–”
“The one you left Seraphim.”
“The very same. That pocket watch will chime in a particular way when some witch in another world needs rescuing. And we … rescue them.”
She started so violently that she stopped on the path. “But Arden, traveling to other worlds! And interfering in them!”
“Has only been forbidden for the last fifty years, Barbara. Our mission went on long before that. When I inherited I had the choice of continuing with it, or letting it drop.” His hand squeezed hers back. “I couldn’t sleep at night thinking of people getting killed. That they were in other worlds made no difference. I had to save them if I could.”
“Oh,” she said. “So… you’ve… brought magic users to our world?”
“Most of them children, yes.”
“While I understand… I mean, the king’s edict is to stop our much stronger magic from interfering with–” Arden’s chuckle stopped her. “It… is not?” she asked.
“Well, it might be, or it might have been. But the thing I’ve found, Barbara, is that not everyone from our world stopped interfering in other worlds’ magic. It might occur to you to wonder how the house of Blaine, for instance–”
“Blaine? Blaine’s Blessings?”
“Of course. Has it ever occurred to you to wonder how they prospered so magnificently while we didn’t, even though we were always more inventive and better at the magic part?”
“Well, my dear, what I found is that old Gerard Blaine and a conspiracy of like minds had their fingers deep into worlds where magic doesn’t even exist. That was when– That was when I had to be out of the way.”
“But you… they said it was suicide. And you say you’re not dead.”
“No. I was brought to fairyland and something was done to simulate suicide in the eyes of the world.”
“Can you… can you be saved?”
A curt laugh. “There might be an outside chance, my dear. Remember the story of Tam Lin. It would be easier, though, if I had the watch.”
“Seraphim has the watch,” she said. “He never lets go of it.”
“Oh, then. They’ll find a way to bring Seraphim to fairyland…”