*This is really very short. In my defense, I’ve been sick this week. No, nothing serious, just whatsgoingaround which is viral and comes back until it gets so weak it stops coming back. Unfortunately enough to stop work for two days and as we’re having a get-together this weekend, I MUST clean today, so I can’t continue writing. I don’t think this is the natural chapter break, and I’ll try to add to to it tonight. But it should be enough to get you puzzling some things out. 😉 *
*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. *
A Pure Mind
Caroline reeled at the sight of the caged centaur, the bloodied unicorns. A couple of unicorns, at the edge of the clearing made passes at her with her bloodied horns, and she stepped back.
She thought she would be safe, and that’s why the centaurs had called her. After all, virgins were supposed to be safe from unicorns, weren’t they? And a virgin she was. But there was something else operating here, something that didn’t seem to fit in with that idea.
For one, while she was willing to believe perhaps the caged centaur, Akakios, despite his name, was no more than her age – perhaps younger, it was hard to tell – he might very well not be a virgin. She had an idea that centaurs were more sensuous creatures than humans, and she was very willing to doubt that he was a virgin. But all the same. She bit her lip. All the same it wasn’t possible that among all the centaurs – and where were their females? – there wouldn’t be at least one who retained his or her virginity. Why would they have let Akakios go anywhere near the unicorns, if he weren’t safe? And if the trap had been laid for Akakios unaware and he didn’t know there were centaurs about, surely they would have another member of their tribe who could free him?
So why Caroline? Other than that she was a stranger and they didn’t care if she lived or died? But no, that couldn’t be it either. She could see the boy centaur was bleeding. They might not care for her, but they cared for their friend. If Caroline didn’t succeed, she wouldn’t save him.
She turned rounding on the male centaur who had spoken to her. “You said he is your son. But who are you?”
The centaur, still kneeling, threw back his head, “I am Nomiki, King of Centaurs.” He somehow managed to look besieging and regal all in one. “And I ask you as a boon to my whole tribe that you save my son.”
Caroline took a deep breath. Then she disciplined her face, as she had learned in preparation for her season, when in truth the stakes would have been much smaller, even if not according to the lady her mother. She showed no doubt, no emotion, and conveyed the impression of being somehow above all these creatures, as she said, “Not until you tell me why you chose me and what you want.”
She expected anger, or perhaps surprise. She didn’t get it. Instead the man – the centaur, got up from his knees, and tossed his head in a way that made her think of a horse. “It is fair and proper,” he said. “That we tell the champion what her weapons are before she goes into battle.”
Had Caroline been less trained in the social graces, she would have asked him what he meant and if he were mocking her. But her understanding of social etiquette stayed her tongue and what she said, when she’d had time to take a breath and recover her composure, was, “I presume it is not just for my virginity you sought me. Surely some of your people have that virtue too.”
He made a sound. It might have been a chuckle, but it sounded like the sound a horse makes to clear its nostrils. “Akakios has that virtue,” he said. “And you see how much good it has been to him.”
Caroline looked at the boy centaur in his cage out the corner of her eye. “Yes,” she said. “I see. So, what makes you think I can avoid the like fate.”
The king of centaurs shuffled his hooves on the ground, and Caroline had to exert all restraint to keep herself from rummaging in her pockets for a sugar cube, as she did when her pony was impatient or restless. She had a feeling it would not be well received.
“It is like this, you see, we’ve heard tell, as you have, and as everyone has, from time immemorial, that the virtue of the virgin can stop the murderous unicorn. So when we needed… That is… When we wanted to rescue the–” He paused.
“When you wanted to rescue the?” Caroline said, implacably.
“The duke your father.”
“My what?” Caroline said, and on that, her composure broke, and her appearance of calm.
“Your father, Lady,” Nomiki said, and frowned slightly.
“But my father is dead!”
Nomiki looked puzzled and opened his mouth, then shrugged. “It is not that simple, and I do not have time to explain it, though I promise to, once Akakios is safe and his wounds bound. But the unicorns guard your father, to whom we owe a debt of honor, and Akakios, brave and pure, made a vow to free him…”
“It did not go according to his intent,” Caroline said, her composure returning.
Nomiki shook his head. “No. And we cast leaves into the fire and asked of the Pythoness–”
“It matters not. We asked of the oracle and received an answer for our confusion. Akakios is pure enough in his body and mind but not in his magic. His mother, you see, she is a stranger, and from her he gets another type of magic. He lacks the strength and the intent to… It is not the purity of body that counts…. Though that does too, with the uncounted possibilities of a future unset, but it is the purity of the mind, forged and ready, steel and fire. The way to keep the unicorn from tearing you to pieces is to keep him from piercing you by controlling his mind. And he’ll take only the most clear, bright directions. Among our band, we have many who are pure in body, but none so pure in spirit.”
“And you think I am?” Caroline asked.
“We know you are. It was the clear fiery precision of your mind that attracted us.” The King started to kneel again. “Lady, daughter of the duke, save my son.”
It was crazy, foolhardy, full of unwarranted pride on her part. In her mind she could hear both Seraphim and Gabriel screaming at her that she couldn’t risk her life in this way. The trouble of having older brothers is that after a while they started living in your back brain. But Caroline also knew what her duty was, and beyond all that, she’d come to fairyland to save Michael and she had to help three other people on the way. Even if the people were dragons and centaurs.
She reached out. She held the centaurs shoulders, pulling him up. “I will, but get me a sword.”
The king of centaurs hesitated. Caroline sighed. “If I’m going in there, I will not go unarmed. The sword might be pitiful, but at least it will make me feel safer. Your son has hooves and is stronger than I and look at him. I must have something besides my supposedly strong mind.”
Nomiki shouted something that sounded Greek, and a galloping centaur with a roan body brought forth a sword on his extended arms. It was iron, and almost as long as Caroline. She thought to herself that if all else failed, she could whirl around while holding it, because surely she couldn’t wield it in any meaningful fashion. One more question, she had, as she lifted the heavy sword. “Why are the unicorns there, in that clearing, and do not attack us here?”
“That is their sacred territory. They cannot survive outside it.”
“So if I get hold of their minds and send them to you…” she said, thinking of a plan.
But Nomiki was shaking his head. “No. You must not hurt them or kill them. Their force is part of what keeps elfland in balance. If you destroy them, it will unravel and all the magical worlds with it. He knew that who set them as guards. We dare not kill them with our magical arrows, or we kill ourselves and all the worlds with us.”
“He who set them as guards?”
“The king of fairy.”