*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. *
There might have been more embarrassing things than finding himself being attired by the Honorable Jonathan and the publicly known to be non-honorable Marlon Elfborn, but if there were, Seraphim Ainsling would rather not experience them.
It wasn’t so much the attiring him, as Seraphim had dispensed with valeting too many times to need that material kind of attention, but the procuring of an old suit of Marlon’s, a detailed discussion of whether or not the suit was too good and would call attention and finally – but not least – that Marlon had re-sized it by frowning at it, with no visible magic expended, and no passes or magic ritual employed.
This was starting to worry Seraphim as much as anything else about this whole affair, and he’d ventured to ask Marlon, “How much magical power do you have – precisely?”
He got back a weirdly unfocused look, and a shrug. “It’s not how much power,” he said. “It’s which power. If I access my elf power, I have normal power for a half breed. That is what I normally allow to be seen. In the home—” He stopped and shrugged. “But there’s also dragon power, I suppose. I used to have no idea what it was, but I suppose that IS what it is. And there is human power, since my ancestors were noblemen and therefore magical. And I can draw from all of them… Often do. I just learned early not to let it be seen, and to operate like anyone else. Part of the reason I felt– That is, I didn’t have to disguise my power around Gabriel. Being of the royal blood of fairyland, his is a match for mine.” He gave a pallid smile. “But we’ll not speak of it.”
And with that, and a few comments from Jonathan, they’d let Seraphim go, attired in his borrowed suit, an unexceptionable suit of black wool with a white shirt, but not at all something that Seraphim would normally have worn. Whatever Marlon had done to dim Seraphim’s obvious power signature, he’d done other things also. Looking at himself in the mirror, Seraphim found he looked… blurry.
“I made it difficult for anyone to focus on your features,” Marlon had said. “Unless you wish them to.” He’d hesitated. “While it’s possible no one would associate you with the Duke of Darkwater, dressed as you are, they might and you can’t risk it.”
“Features like mine are no great distinction,” Seraphim had said curtly. “My father made sure there were plenty of them about.”
“Not exactly like yours,” Marlon said. “Gabriel’s comes the closest to that. And both of you are distinctive looking enough, and both of you fugitives. But he told me, yes, that there were plenty of other bastards on your line” He’d hesitated. “Will you tell me, perhaps, why your father chose to shelter Gabriel, while ignoring the others?”
“I don’t think he ignored the others exactly.” Through Seraphim’s head had paraded a number of tenants, farmers, servants, all of whom bore a distinct resemblance to him and all of whom had been in some measure supported by his parents. “I think he left it to mother to… to provide. Most of the time. He wasn’t exactly heartless, just the least… That is, he didn’t seem to think about his former paramours or … or their children, once he’d left them. But my—I think Gabriel’s circumstances were what made him bring Gabriel home. That or perhaps the fact that he did resemble me so much.”
“Why did you wonder?”
“I thought perhaps it was the fear of that untrained talent and what it might do. Or that perhaps Gabriel—but no, it will not be thought of.”
Now, walking around to one of the innumerable entrances in the palace, Seraphim thought that he couldn’t stop thinking of whatever might be driving Marlon’s doubts. From the sound of it, he suspected Gabriel of something, or perhaps was afraid Gabriel had done something. For the life of him, Seraphim couldn’t think what it might be, but he felt as though the last few weeks had pummeled his ability for disbelief. If someone had told him that Gabriel had committed some horrendous crime, perhaps including murder, Seraphim would merely ask whom his half-brother had killed and why.
But even in his present state, he couldn’t imagine Gabriel doing anything heinous without dire need or without its being for a materially necessary purpose, and one that involved saving someone or something else at that. He was, in fact, unable to imagine Gabriel being evil on his own and without need. He was, if truth be told, missing his brother horribly.
It turned out that Seraphim, who was used to thinking of himself as the pinnacle of society and free, might have been more limited by his position than Mr. Penn, who, as a gentleman’s gentleman could very well go high or low in society, provided he didn’t presume to mix with the ton on equal terms.
For instance, he had no idea how to penetrate the royal palace and find his way to the princess’ chambers. He might have been disguised so no one would recognize him, but surely not every bourgeois or clerk could enter the royal palace?
Turned out they could, to an extent. Marlon had indicated to him the service entrance at the back, and primed him with the name of a resident and told him to say he was delivering a message. So far so good. Seraphim had managed to go up a flight of stairs, into a large salon.
And from there, he’d not managed to move, since each of the doors to the interior seemed to be guarded. What happened, perforce, was that each person in turn asked for the person he was supposed to see, and then when the person came out or sent word he’d see the visitor, the visitor was allowed in.
Here Seraphim stopped, because he had a feeling if he asked for the man Marlon had named, the man might expect to receive a real message. And if there was a person in the royal palace for whom it was an habit to receive messages from a wanted necromancer, it was more than Seraphim wished to know. And the person, certainly, was more than Seraphim wanted to meet. Besides, from Marlon’s expression, the name had been a throwaway one, used only as a means of passage…
That Marlon hadn’t thought further than that had upset Seraphim momentarily, but then he’d shaken his head. No, he, himself, hadn’t thought further than that. And it was his adventure. He had in the past gone into strange worlds and—
And there on the tip of his tongue was the name he could use to gain access. There was a young maid in the palace, someone he’d rescued from a world where even her small amount of magic was enough to get her killed. He’d brought her to Avalon where, after some adaptation and a lot of training by the housekeeper of the Darkwaters, she’d found a post in the royal palace.
Seraphim – feeling some trepidation at the act, even though Marlon had assured him that Marlon’s power, continuously spun, would keep him disguised – approached the superior, uniformed footman at one of the entrances and asked if perhaps he could see Miss Valerie Arthur, whom he believed to be in charge of the East receiving rooms.
From the look the footman gave him, Seraphim deduced that Miss Arthur was far too superior a personage to involve herself with the likes of him. And then—
And then he was asked to give a name. If he gave his own, Valerie would see him on the instant, but even just his unusual first name was enough to get him arrested. So, shaking a little, he gave the name of his housekeeper as someone from whom he’d brought a message.
As soon as he spoke it, he was afraid that his housekeeper too was on the wanted list. She would have been, had it been widely known she’d turned a blind eye and helped place all these people coming from other worlds. But the footman asked Seraphim to wait, then called over a runner.
What seemed like an eternity later, Valerie appeared. She came out into the room, looked at Seraphim, and obviously wasn’t taken in by the disguise or the magical blurring. The later probably because Seraphim, after all, wanted her to recognize him.
She was a slip of a woman, smaller than Nell, with light brown hair severely confined under a lace cape, and completely unremarkable countenance that, nonetheless, suffused with pink at the sight of him. She went to drop a curtsy, but stopped it in time, running her eyes over his suit, and seeming to understand that he couldn’t be here as himself. She opened her mouth in a silent O.
And Seraphim did the only thing he could do. He stepped forward, both hands extended, and took her little, cold hands in his and said, “Valerie! Do you not remember me? It is I, Joseph. My mother said I was to call on you and see how you were faring.”
To her credit she rallied. She blushed further, looked at her hands as though she couldn’t believe his, holding them, and then said, “Your… mother, to be sure. How kind of her. I have… a small… that is, there is a parlor where we’re allowed to receive visitors, if we take care to keep the door open, but I– Well. It is a good thing I am taking a few hours– Please come, Joseph.” In all confusion, she led him past the door, into a shabby corridor. Seraphim could not correlate these worn hallways in need of a painting with the sumptuous parts of the royal palace he’d seen when he visited.
It also appeared to him, after a moment, that if Valerie were taking him to a receiving parlor, she was taking a very odd route, because they abandoned the plain and somewhat shabby hallway for even shabbier stairs, and all the way up those to what appeared to be a level of servant rooms, then through a door almost hidden in a corner of the hallway, and up a set of distinctly old and uncared for stairs, into an attic which was filled with objects, swathed in dusty grey cobwebs, looming in the darkening gloom.
On the way he tried to question, “Valerie, where—”
But she’d taken her finger to her lips and shaken her head.
Now she closed the door to the attic and turned around. “I wouldn’t have done this,” she said. “If I didn’t owe you my life, but… What are you doing here when you have a price on your head? What are you doing here obviously magically disguised? What can have possessed you to risk that.”
“I must,” Seraphim said. “See the nursery from which the princess disappeared.”
Her eyes went very wide, then, and she stepped backward, as though looking for a place to sit. She balanced herself with a hand on a long discarded table and turned around. “Is it true, then? Was it your family who kidnapped it and who magically confused things so she was raised as the honorable Honoria Blythe?”