I apologize in advance to anyone this chapter might shock. My only excuse is that I didn’t even know half of this. (And no, don’t even bother to ask how I could not have known. I just didn’t.)
*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/
The Coil Winds
“I helped find you,” Marlon Elfborn said.
Nell had got coffee, because she knew – both because Antoine had told her, and because Seraphim had confirmed it – that coffee was good for restoring damaged magic. Some people believed the only way magicians could survive on Earth was through vast infusions of coffee and coffee shops were always a good place to find magicians porting between dimmensions, stopping on Earth for a few hours or a few days.
Elfborn was holding his cup between both hands, with the sort of clenched-fist grip normally reserved for the proverbial straw and the drowning man. He took it black, and he’d drained almost the whole cup, which was fine, since she’d brought the pot down. What was interesting, as far as she was concerned, was that Gabriel Penn had gone to sit gingerly next to him, and was – as far as it was possible to tell from the outside – monitoring Elfborn’s magical power. There was that odd, analytical look as he stared at Marlon’s magic through half closed eyes.
It seemed for a moment, staring at Penn, that Nell discerned something else in those eyes, but … In Avalon? Besides, what she’d heard from Seraphim about Elfborn’s character… It seemed hardly likely, though she’d come to believe that people did the most stupid and out of character things when it came to their private lives.
Gabriel Penn glared at her, as though he could read her thoughts, and she cleared her throat and looked back at Marlon, who was looking at her, with the sort of unfocused look of one not fully attuned to his surroundings.
“You… helped find me? What does that mean?”
Marlon shifted the cup, so the fingers of his right hand curled around the handle. The left went up and raked at his hair. He darted a furtive look at Gabriel Penn, then looked at his coffee. “When Gab– When Mr. Penn… That is… He should not have–” He paused and seemed to collect himself. “When Mr. Penn discovered the reanimated corpse of my friend in my attic and… and was alarmed enough to… to… to let his– That is… When he let his Grace know–”
Seraphim snorted. He mumbled something that sounded like “if coming to my door in abject terror didn’t let me know, nothing would.”
But Gabriel put a hand out and grabbed Seraphim’s arm and Elfborn seemed to ignore the interruption and went on, “And his Grace laid information against me on two capital crimes, I had to disappear. I had to disappear fast. Contrary to popular belief, magic professors that Cambridge… No. Magic professors whose whole background is a foundling home, aren’t paid princely salaries. We are- I was given a place to live and fifty pounds a year. It was not held against me if I tutored on the side to make ends meet, which I did.”
Again Seraphim snorted, and Nell had the impression that Gabriel glared at him and squeezed his arm harder, but she didn’t look at them. Instead she was looking at Elfborn in near horror. While house servants made considerably less than fifty pounds a year, they got not only a place to live, but also food and clothing and often used clothing or other side benefits that could be sold. But a governess might make a hundred pounds a year, and she too got not just a place to live but food and at least some furnishings and other benefits including – as she had found in Avalon – the not inconsiderable one of – in most decent households – coal for heating.
To live on fifty pounds a year, even with lodgings paid for, support the state of a gentleman which would be expected of a professor, and buy the necessaries of his profession, including the extremely expensive tomes on magic research would have… Been well nigh impossible, even with tutoring on the side. She knew what tutoring paid – she’d known people who had done it. It was near to nothing. The thought that Cambridge, whose “regular” professors got paid quite decently, tood advantage of people whose tainted blood made them less than equal in society made her stomach clench. “Yes?” she said, trying to keep her voice indifferent. “I fail to see why you’d need money to escape. Magic yes, but–”
“Oh, magic too,” Marlon said. “The police are not completely stupid, you know, no matter what popular fiction shows, and they do have some very competent magicians on staff. They would have found me if all I’d done was throw a veil over my magic. I needed to… I needed to go between-times,” he said, as if braving himself. “Between places. The sort of thing you read about in fairytales, where the door is only there if you’re looking for it. As for money,” he shrugged. “A magician in hiding still has to eat. I suppose if I’d grown up anywhere where one lays snares or hunts I could have done that, though I hear one can’t live on rabbit without starving. Or I could maybe have kept chickens, or something. But I grew up in a foundling home, in London. And I never learned to hunt. I needed large enough money that I could… buy food. For years. For however long… for as long as need.”
“But,” Nell said. “Surely necromancy pays well?” She’d heard rumors of fortunes paid for such illegal magic. “If you’re a necromancer–”
“He is not. It was accidental. He raised Gypson Haiden through a resurrection spell applied too late. Stop glaring Seraphim, I believe him.”
“Of course you do, you’re very eager to believe–”
“Shut up, both of you,” Nell said, reflecting only later that she’d ordered a duke around as though he were an unruly school boy. And he hadn’t complained. Oh, very well, then. She might grow to like this princessing thing. “Mr. Elfborne, I still don’t understand it. Oh, I understand your needing money, but you say until as though it would have an end.”
He shrugged, “Oh, it would. But it might be ten or twenty years in the future. You see, they put an embargo on my leaving the world. I couldn’t port out. I had to wait–” He paused and his eyes almost crossed. “I’m out of the world. They can’t have removed the embargo. The minimum time is ten years. They can’t have done it.”
“No,” it was Gabriel, assuredly.
“So… When we were ported out violently, it must be … someone with the keys…”
“That much has been obvious for a while,” Seraphim said. “Now, if you would answer Her Royal Highness’s implied question about whom you found her for, perhaps we can find out who ported us here.”
Marlon’s hand went up and made a worse mess of his hair, and he took a sip of his cup, only to find it was empty. Nell held his wrist to keep the cup in place, and poured coffee for him. He took a sip, then sighed. “It might be them. I always thought it was them. I don’t know how they found I was in distress, but of course, I suppose they keep track of those of us like Gabriel and myself in your world, and from one or the other of us, they must have picked up my bind.” He looked up at their blank looks. “Fairyland, of course. They sent envoys to my house, in between the time Gabriel left and before … And before the law arrived, while I was hoping… While I was convincing myself Gabriel would come back and I could expl–”
“You set a compulsion on him, did you not, you filthy bastard?” Seraphim asked. “It only activated now. I should–”
“Enough, Duke, he–”
“Compulsion?” Elfborn blinked at Seraphim as though he’d said a foreign word. “No. I just hoped he would come back. I thought if he car– I thought he’d come to his senses and come back and I could explain.”
“An animated corpse in your closet, really? You could explain?”
Elfborn gave a short, hollow crack that might have been an attempt at laugh. “I could try. But I never got the chance, as the next person at my door was your Grace, challenging me for a duel and informing me you’d set the law on me. But before you came, there were envoys from fairyland. They offered me a place already turned in the magical way that made it hard to find and ten thousand pounds– As I said, I didn’t know how they found I needed help, but my need was desperate enough that I took it.”
“I went to my mother before I went to Seraphim,” Gabriel said, not looking at Elfborne.
“Penny!” from Seraphim echoed, in tones of great shock. “Your mother?”
Strangely this made Elfborne smile at Gabriel and shake his head, his eyes amused. “You really were past thinking, were you not?”
“Well–” Gabriel said. “If you’d told me– If you’d explained– As it was I thought everything… Everything I’d thought you to be was a lie, and possibly that you intended to kill me and keep me… I thought…” A red tide swept upwards through his skin giving him the appearance of glowing red from within. “One reads of such things. Of people who… of people who are only… Interested when someone is… that is, reanimated. It’s one of the reasons it’s illegal, and yet there are rings of them that they catch sometimes.”
“You thought I’d kill you and reanimate you for sexual purposes?” Elborne asked, and his voice sounded shocked but as though he were on the verge of laughing.
Which didn’t last long, as Seraphim grabbed him by the front of his shirt and half-lifted him from the sofa. “You will not speak of such things in front of her Highness. You will remember your company and you will–”
“Let him go,” Nell said, and was shocked to see herself obeyed instantly. She could really grow to like this princessing. Unfortunately, she was almost sure there were drawbacks. She sighed and turned to Seraphim who managed to look both embarrassed and vaguely confused about why he should be embarrassed. “Your Grace. I grew up on Earth. You have seen, and read enough of our entertainment since you’ve been here to know I will not swoon at the mention of sexual practices no matter how vile. I hadn’t thought of it, but of course, in a world where necromancy is possible there will be a sex trade for reanimated corpses – and yes, I consider that absolutely vile. But it won’t make me swoon.” Something had formed in her mind. It wasn’t a suspicion, but more like a sudden falling of a jigsaw puzzle into place. It was as though a hundred half-seen looks, a hundred glimpses of expressions, a hundred half seen gestures had come together in that moment. She took a deep breath, aware she was going to poke her nose into a can of worms. But it had to be done, she thought, or the three of them were going to continue talking around things, and Seraphim would keep erupting at the worst times, trying to protect her, and making it impossible for her to piece together what Elfborn knew.
“You said two capital crimes,” she said, and looked at Elfborn. “I am not fully aware of your laws, but I know that in our time, when society was close to yours homosexuality was a capital crime, though rarely enforced and never for people of high birth.”
“I’m not of high birth,” Elfborn said.
“So you and…” she glanced at Gabriel Penn who was looking like he’d lost the power of speech. Also, like he wold presently have a heart attack. She hoped Elfborn would be quicker with a resurrection spell if that happened. “And Mr. Penn were lovers?”
The room went wild. She’d half expected it would. The thing she didn’t expect is that it would be all caused by Seraphim, because the other two were completely speechless. Elfborn managed something that might have been a nod; Gabriel Penn had covered his face. BUT the duke made up for it in triplicate, by jumping up and yelling at her, at the two other men, at – possibly – the walls of the room. She couldn’t make much sense of his yelling, but the gist of it, as far as she could tell, was that Gabriel didn’t know what he was doing; that at nineteen he’d been underage; that Elfborn had used compulsion and magical tricks; that he was a more powerful magician than anyone else on Avalon, just about, and that he had no morals, as he’d proven by reanimating his dead lover and keeping him around; and that Seraphim would put a bullet in his head and soon. At which point Nell screamed for Seraphim to shut up. And it was absolutely ineffective, showing that there were limits to the princessing powers.
And then Gabriel spoke, very quietly, and Seraphim stopped, suddenly, and looked at Gabriel as though he’d grown a second head. “He didn’t use compulsion, Seraphim. I know, because I did.”
There was a long silence, and the Duke of Darkwater swayed slightly on his feet. “You what?”
“I used compulsion, Seraphim. It was a stupid thing to do but I was very young and I knew nothing of life outside Darkwater… Not really, not as an adult. But I knew THAT. How do you think I survived after my mother kicked me out and our father found us?”
“I found gentlemen of certain tastes were willing to pay for a comely half-elf child. Yes, I know what is wrong with them. Yes, I agree with you that those gentlemen deserve death – or at least … No one should have to do that when they’re only a child and can’t understand any of it. On the other hand, without it, I’d have died of starvation. Crossing sweeping doesn’t pay that much.”
“But–” Seraphim dropped back onto the chair by the table, next to Nell’s. “But… you never told me.”
“You were younger than I. And besides, there are things one doesn’t talk about. I was… just glad to be at Darkwater, and to have enough food, and not to have to… not to have to do that.”
“Oh. Did father–”
“Of course. When he found me he knew. It was rumors that led him to me, and he knew how I’d been living. He was shocked and… it overcame his reluctance to bring his half-elf child into the house.”
“Did he tell you not to speak of it?”
“No. He… He let me speak of it to him, for a while. I had to. You don’t understand, I think. If it’s possible to have scars on one’s mind or perhaps one’s soul–” He shrugged. “I had to talk to someone, but it was hard to. It was easier to Father, because he already knew. I think that’s when I came to love him as a father. Before that, he was just… A vague figure. And of course my mother said horrible things of him.”
“But after that…” Seraphim looked from Gabriel to Elfborn. “How could you–”
“For a long time, I thought I’d never want to do that – with anyone. When I got old enough that the scullery maid tried to show–” He coughed. “That is, when girls our age started showing an interest, despite my elf blood, I thought I’d been too wounded to ever feel that for anyone. I didn’t even really like to be touched. I tolerated it from you and Father, but I didn’t like it. But then…” He cast a look from beneath lowered lashes towards Marlon Elfborne. “We became friends. Both of us had elf blood, and…” He shrugged again. “We had a similar sense of humor. And around him I didn’t feel like he was cringing, afraid of what my magic might do at any minute. I–” The blush came again, dark red, and Nell wondered if the duke also blushed like that. She must find an occasion to test it. “I fell in love. But he was… He didn’t seem to care. So… I used a compulsion.”
“It wasn’t that,” Marlon said. “It was just… Haiden was the one person I could trust. After he died…” He shrugged. “And since I didn’t have the courage to destroy his corpse, I felt like I was too tainted to–” He paused as though something registered. “You used compulsion?”
“Only the first time,” Gabriel put his hands up. “Only the first time, I swear.”
“You DO know that’s legal rape, right?” Elfborn’s eyes danced with amusement. “Three capital crimes. Only one is yours, princeling.”
“He was underage!” Seraphim said, in the sulky tone of someone who has a feeling he’s losing an argument.
“Right,” Nell said. “Now that this is out in the open, and that the duke of Darkwater doesn’t have to protect my ears from sullying–”
“You’re very jaded, Madame,” he said, disapprovingly.
“Rather,” she answered drily. “But let me ask the important question – who came to your door? And why did they want to find me? You said people from fairyland?”
“The centaurs,” Elfborn said. “And they wanted to bring you back to Avalon. I didn’t see any harm in that.”