*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. *
This Unwanted Crown
Nell advanced. It seemed to her that it got unbearably hot, but she didn’t feel it as heat, so much as unbearable confinement, touching the skin at all points. She got sweaty, too, instantly, and uncomfortable in ways she didn’t even know people could be uncomfortable. It seemed to her she could feel every inch of her skin, and she realized, startled that this was not normal, that in fact, most of the time, people forgot about most of their body. Just let it run on its own. Perhaps that was necessary to stay sane. You couldn’t always be thinking of your left eyeball.
Then she thought these were very odd thoughts, and then that she must be dreaming. Yet she continued walking towards the glow ahead. There was a sense that if she were to get out of here and return to the world as she knew it – one of the worlds that made sense, at least, be they Earth or Avalon – she needed to go forward.
Only as she got closer, the light seemed to grow dimmer. No. Not dimmer, just more concentrated into strands, which seemed to drape all over, from ceiling to floor, like immaterial cobwebs. They gathered in three glowing cocoons at the end of the corridor in a sort of domed cave-chamber. It seemed to Nell that the walls of the chamber glowed gold and also that inside the cocoons were three people – tall people with broad shoulders, though it was impossible to say whether they were men or women.
When they spoke, the voice that resonated didn’t give her any idea, either, since it was a vibration, more than a voice. It gave the impression of a boom in the ears, but there was no sound.
“Daughter of the isles,” it or they said. It was hard to tell if it was one person or all three speaking. “You come to claim your crown.”
Nell spoke before she could stop herself. “No,” she said.
“No. I want no part of the crown.”
There was a low thrumming. She couldn’t tell if it was a thrum of disapproval or not. Then there was a question that almost managed to sound surprised and taken off expectations, “Why not?”
Nell had to think, because her words had come out before thinking. But as she looked into her heart, she saw that it was indeed true. She wanted no part of the crown. “I am not of this world,” she said, and as the thrumming resumed, she said, “what I mean is, I believe I was born in Avalon. Someone… someone I trust said I was. But I am not of this world. I was taken while still very young to another world, to a world we call Earth, a world without magic, and that is my world and what I think of as home.”
No thrumming, but the words came again, “And yet, that person you trust – perhaps love? – is in Avalon, is he not?”
Trust and perhaps love. Nell didn’t have much experience with men. There had been Antoine, but apparently he hadn’t been a man as such, just a lost centaur, carrying out some ancient prophecy. Then there was Seraphim. She had enjoyed her days with him. And perhaps it was love – maybe. She could imagine his moving back to the farm and living there, while they took some of the work from grandma and did their best to make the place profitable and—
And it was totally impossible. He was a duke. Yes, he had brothers, and yes, perhaps he could leave and leave the inheritance to his younger brothers, but she was not stupid. While other dukes in the same position might do it, Seraphim would not. His family and his responsibilities were at least part of his being.
She shied away from what this might mean for her and for her family and for her responsibilities. “I… I am not for him. We’re not of the same worlds. Our positions are so different.” That was a justification, her unforgiving mind told her for dereliction of duty. But why should she have this duty? She hadn’t chosen to be born of this world, this kingdom or this family. She hadn’t been raised to them. She didn’t want them. “I want to go back home and live there.”
Another low thrumming, this one with a note of … yes, she was almost sure of it now. There were words in there. This low thrumming was a conversation between the people in those cocoons. “But you came to Avalon willing,” a voice said, and it seemed to her this voice had what she would call an Irish accent, even though there was no sound as such, just a feeling. “You embraced magic willing. This is not normal on Earth.”
“I was curious,” she said. And then felt herself blush, fiery red. She knew she was blushing because her cheeks were even hotter than the chamber she found herself in, so hot she expected to smell burning flesh. “And there was a man. Or rather, he was a centaur. It is perhaps not known in Avalon, but women with… Women who work in professions of the mind, on Earth, often have trouble… That is, men are not very interested in most of them. Or only some men. Most men who had been interested in me didn’t interest me, and then there was… The centaur. He was interesting, and he took me traveling the worlds.”
She waited. The thrumming resumed. “The centaur fetched you obeying a prophecy and gave his life for it. Does that not move you?”
“No. It is not my prophecy and I did not want him to give his life.”
“In fact,” another voice said, one that sounded somehow older. “You have known or suspected for some time, perhaps from before the centaur fetched you who you were and what your responsibilities were, have you not?”
“No,” Nell said, in a little cry, then stopped. “Perhaps,but…”
“It is crazy to imagine you’re the princess of a lost world, and besides… and besides, I did not want it. Not after I saw the real Avalon, the responsibilities, the needs. Even with my fath– Even with the king in power, the heir would need to take up her share of magic. I’ve heard old people say the land suffers from lack of an heir. I– the heir would need to take up any future planning that involves magic and carry a burden that… I do not want it.”
The thrumming picked up again, this time sounding like a furious swarm of bees who were running rather hoarse. “In fact, you’d prefer to desert?” another voice said.
“Not desert. Not that,” Nell said. “I wasn’t raised to it. There are better people than I.”
A long silence fell and for a moment, for just a moment, Nell thought they’d now let her go, probably transport her all the way to Eath and then she…
“Well then,” the voices said altogether. “Look what will happen if you’ll not take this unwanted crown.”
In front of the cocoons of light, a mist formed, thick and glossy, like reflective fog. And upon the fog scenes formed and moved. People she knew, people she– Yes, she was sure she recognized Seraphim, and her heart leapt. Why on Earth was he in an underground chamber, trying to fight a dragon with what appeared to be a flint knife.
And then the scene shifted. And Nell screamed.