*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. *
The Weight Of The Crown
They’d no more hit the ground, running, than Nell realized she couldn’t run on home. Even if she wanted to. She had no idea where “home” was, or for that matter which home she should go to: Earth, which she still thought of as home, or Avalon, where, supposedly, she’d first come from?
The place where they landed – running – seemed to be made of black shiny stuff, like really polished glass, and they were running along a corridor made of the stuff. It was hard not to slip, even in running shoes, and she worried that the less well designed footware of Avalon wouldn’t be up to it at all.
The air that pumped into her lungs felt so cold it singed them. It was like walking in a snowstorm back in Colorado, the air icy and dry, and feeling like it burned its way down your nasal passages and made your chest hurt.
Nell tried to think – hard to do while running and hurting. She remembered again that most things in fairyland were illusory and could be changed by the mind. She tried to think of running elsewhere – on a meadowland path towards an open portal to Earth, for instance – but nothing happened. She tried again, throwing her magic at it, and still nothing happened.
If she couldn’t dent this “reality” imposing itself on her and her friends, then she must be in the type of trap like the net. And that meant… that meant they needed extraordinary magic to get out of it. She wasn’t even sure that their running was taking them anywhere, or whether they were just running in place on a slippery, never-ending black-glass trap.
“I’m tired,” a voice said behind her, and she recognized Caroline’s voice.
“You shouldn’t be,” the voice of the young man with her. “You shouldn’t be. We gave you the magic potion that–.”
“I’m tired,” she said again. “And I’m thirsty.”
And now Michael’s voice came, sounding exactly like Seraphim’s only younger, at that age when male voices haven’t fully acquired the depth of adulthood, “Lady, Miss, I don’t think my sister can go much further.”
Nell stopped and turned. Behind her, she heard her companions stop. She turned around to face them. There was Caroline, and a young man holding her hand, and she looked like she was going to faint, while he looked full of concern.
Michael, on the other hand, just looked pale, and was panting a little as if from the long run.
For a moment, something in the young man to whom Caroline clung called Nell’s attention. He looked like someone… The resemblance formed in her mind, fixed in disbelief, and, finally horror. Antoine. He looked like Antoine. But he … He couldn’t be…. And yet why not? Had not Antoine come from Avalon? Or from some other world that had connection to Avalon.
“Madam,” the young man said, and his voice too echoed the memory of Antoine in her mind. “Milady, you see, my people gave Miss Ainsling a potion that should have prevented her feeling hunger, thirst or tiredness. If she’s feeling that, wherever we are, then something is leeching the magic and virtue of the potion she took. And nothing should be able to. I think, lady, that this is a trap.”
“Your people?” Nell said, more perturbed than she wanted to admit by the young man’s resemblance to Antoine, even as she scanned the walls of the tunnel. She could now see it was not a tunnel but a box. There was more black glass at either end. Had it always been there, or had they appeared when the little group had stopped growing? And if it had always been there, how had they been kept running in place?
“My… My name… The Lord—” Something that sounded like an elf name. “Whom you know as Gabriel Penn called you princess… are you?”
“I am told I am the princess of Avalon,” Nell said, miserably. She didn’t want to be. More than ever, now, she didn’t want to be. Back on Earth, as a young woman, fantasy adventures had seemed so romantic and exciting, but now all she wanted was to go back to Earth, go back to her job as a code monkey, and live a life of complete and ordinary lack of adventure.
His eyes widened. “My people,” he said. “Have long been in search of you and… and of the real king of fairyland. We’ve worked long and hard to bring it about. My brother—” he stopped for a moment, his voice gone watery, and Nell thought he had stopped to get his emotion under control before dissolving in tears. “My brother died in that quest. The prophecy said he would. I will too probably. The prophecy said if my father wanted to rescue both worlds he could do so, but it would cost him all his descendants. No more would those of his blood run in the woodland glades of fairyland.” The young man set his chin, all jutting angles, beneath a face still endowed with childhood softness and dark eyes swimming in tears. “He still did it. He still did what was right.”
And now the hair at the back of Nell’s head was trying to rise, and there was a feeling of dread, but she had to know, “Your brother’s name was… Antoine?”
The young man blinked at her. “No, but he used that name when he went among men and didn’t want to be known for what he was. His name was Anargyros.”
“But… he used Antoine?” There was a distinct buzz in Nell’s ears. Were the walls moving closer? “When he went among… men? What…”
“My sister, lady, do you have water? Your highness?” Michael asked.
She got her backpack down and without thinking passed a bottle of water and crackers to Caroline, then one to Michael. She continued staring at the Greek looking young man. “Who are you? What are you? What was your brother?”
“My name is Akakios,” he said. “And I’m a prince of centaurs, only heir to my father, now my brother is gone.”
She looked down at his very human, bare feet, on the floor, “Centaurs?”
“We can change shapes.” He sounded tired. “All centaurs are male. All our mothers are human. We don’t become centaurs till we’re five or six. And we can change back, though it takes some effort. Lady, the walls are closing in on us.”
“Yes, I think so too,” Nell thought, as in her mind the idea that Antoine had come to find her on Earth in service of some fairyland prophecy, that he’d, in fact, sacrificed his life to bring her back to Avalon put a whole other perspective on their involvement. He might have lied to her, and he might have had things in mind he wouldn’t share, but he’d done what he’d done in service of an ideal and not because he wanted to seduce her. And he might have even loved her for all she knew.
“It’s a magical box,” Michael said. “We must get out of it.”
“Yes,” Akakios said.
“It will take your power, you know,” Michael said. “Because it can’t be fully controlled, since your father didn’t swear fealty.”
“And hers,” Akakios said. He looked at Nell. “Yours, your highness. You must use the power of your ancestors. Your connection of Avalon. You must be the one who forms the connection. The… the true king told you to run along home.”
She didn’t have time to instruct them to do anything. Their hands linked, and on one side Caroline’s cold hand, on the other Michael’s sweaty one to hold of hers.
In the middle, Nell fell all their powers given to her – trustingly given. Michael’s power, and Caroline’s brilliant and dazzling power, and Akakios’ all odd shapes and yet reminiscent of Antoine’s.
“Now, lady, now.”
And Nell who’d been brought up to think that kings and queens and princesses were quaint things of the past, now tried to reach for what should be in her blood. For kings and queens and princess’s long dead.
She felt as though a great weight rest on her. People thought that power over people was… power. That you could tell people what to do and they would. True, a lot of politicians thought so too, but those weren’t the good politicians.
Public power wasn’t glamour and glitz, ball gowns and being worshipped. Real kings, she felt, and yeah, princesses too, served. They shouldered the burden because someone had to, and they used it to make sure the unthinkable didn’t happen to those who trusted in them.
She felt the imaginary crown like a band around her head, but she knew what she had to do. Gathering all their magic, she thought about the palace in Avalon. It was by rights her home. They couldn’t keep it out.
The glass box shattered with a sound like a note of music so high it hurt the ears. They were falling, hands still linked, from somewhere near the ceiling of a large room. A large room with a tree growing in the middle of it, two dragons, and a confusion of people.
The splinters of the cage, falling ahead of them, managed to hit the floor where they stuck, vibrating, without actually hitting anyone.
And Nell fell in the middle of them, and just beside Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater.