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NOTICE: For those unsure about copyright law and because there was a particularly weird case, just because I’m making the pre-first draft of my novel available to blog readers, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t copyrighted to me. Rogue Magic as all the contents of this blog is © Sarah A. Hoyt 2013. Do not copy, alter, distribute or resell without permission. Exceptions made for ATTRIBUTED quotes as critique or linking to this blog. Credit for the cover image is © Ateliersommerland | Dreamstime.com
The Right Honorable Jonathan Blythe, The Earl of Savage,
I was not nearly drunk enough. That was my first thought, followed quickly by the thought that perhaps I was too drunk.
What had possessed me to, once returned from fairy land, stop at the first tavern to drink? And what had possessed me not to continue until I lost consciousness in a puddle of my own vomit and – with any luck – drowned.
What had I been thinking to agree to this mad plan?
Not much, of course. That’s the thing of fairyland. You don’t really think while you’re in it, particularly not with the King of Elves staring at you and telling you that you’re the only hope for both worlds maybe for all the worlds.
Just thinking about it made my hand itch for a bottle of gin and it was not even because I believed what he’d said. I wasn’t sure I believed what he said. I wasn’t sure he believed what he said. “Curse all elves,’ I said in a low growl and for a moment it seemed to me that there was an elf, lying on the ground of the alley, near the wall ahead, staring at me. Same slitty-green eyes. Same suspicious expression. But as I got near, the eyes jumped, and it hissed and ran.
Cats and elves all the same, I thought, and then apologized mentally to cats. They were like elves very pretty and very self-serving, but at least they caught mice. And then I mentally apologized to Gabriel Penn, which tells you how far gone I was, because I reasoned he was probably as decent a fellow as an elf could be, and it was no fault of his own that wasn’t far enough or much at all.
He’d outlined his plan for me. First I needed to find this emissary from the mythworld. As he’d explained it to me, to free the women my father had captured I must find the force that had been sent to our world to discover and free them. And what could papa have done with women of great power and magical prowess? I’d almost bet he’d not done it alone. For that it would take fairy power and dragon power, and the late unlamented Lord Sydell.
These women, I told myself, bringing myself forcibly on track… or perhaps not women, but creatures, were kept somewhere, and their magic gave the myth world a chance to reach in and to corrupt all our magic and feed on it. Papa must have used some containment system that broke when he died. Or when Sydell died.
I hated this ridiculous idea that novels and even fairytales had that once you’d killed the villain all evil was arighted and there would never be anything to worry about again. In my experience it was better to tolerate a middling evil than to destroy it. It was in great part why I’d endured Papa’s low-level, disreputable self-serving lawlessness. Because to stop it meant to step into his shoes. Well, and I’d endure it because truth be told, I knew myself to be equally disreputable and lawless and only not so self serving because I never had much interest in either wealth nor power. Had I been born with a craving for it, I’d doubtless have been poor Papa to the life.
But even when Papa had grown too dangerous to endure, his death had left me tangled in his webs and might have left the world at danger. Though that part might have been Sydell’s fault. The more I thought about that the more I was sure that were it not for Sydell papa would have neither the magical force nor the ambition to have contrived such a complex plan. And that was if he knew about the mythworld, which I would doubt. No, it would be Sydell, with his dragon-senses, who would know about that world and its maidens of power and contrive to use it.
I took a deep breath. I didn’t know if it was the liquor making my mind race, or the gibbering fear of the task I’d been given. And what kind of hero lets himself be given a task by the king of elves? I must be out of my mind.
But then again the king of elves, himself, had told me I was no hero, was I? I was just Jonathan, the irregular, Jonathan who stood outside the norms. In Eton and at Cambridge it had got me punished often enough – though doubtless nowhere as often as I deserved.
And now it had got me this – Gabriel Penn laying out his plan then extending both hands to me as to a dear friend or a family member – and saying “You will do it, will you not, Jon? I can count on you, can I not?”
“But your Majesty,” I’d tried, my use of his title perhaps serving to put him on his guard. “Your Majesty, surely you see that it’s not so easy or so clear?”
He’d laughed. “Of course it’s not, Jon, or I’d have no need of you.” His hands felt perfectly normal too, warm and human. “Look, Jon, if it were something normal, something that people would understand, something that human senses could see was right and just, I’d ask my brother. I wouldn’t send you behind his back.”
And I’d let myself be talked into it. I’d let myself be sent back in the black carriage with the fairy horses, all the way to my world, where the coachman had stopped in an alley, and opened the door and bowed to me.
The fact that the coachman, like coachmen in all dread legends ever, seemed to be just a scrap of denser shadow in the night, had not made me feel any more reassured by this. And the fact that he had bowed to me and said, “Good luck milord,” in a voice that seemed composed of gravel dragging on a river bottom also didn’t reassure me.
Nor did the fact it was night. I had been supposed to meet with Seraphim at noon, blast it all, and I imagined from the darkness in this alley that I’d come back in the darkest of the night.
Or not. After all the lantern was still lit over the nearest tavern, and a quick survey within showed me that it was the normal after-dinner rush of locals. Of course, having gone in to make a survey, I’d consumed my share of blue ruin, to the extent of coin found in my pockets. I resolved then and there that I would in future do my level best to make sure that I had enough money to drink enough to ensure never wakening, no matter what I meant to do, or who was likely to arrest me, or mock arrest me at my own house.
As it was, I’d drunk just enough to be befuddled, and not nearly enough not to know it.
I pulled from my pocket the stone Gabriel Penn had given me. Green, it glowed like that cat’s eyes, and he said “It will know where the person you seek is. Once you find where she’s held, all you have to do is get near her, and this stone will help you find the means to get inside and free her.”
“It is then,” I asked. “Some king of lock pick?”
Gabriel looked confused. “No. Our devices are not that simple. You’ll know when you have need of it what you can do.”
Which reassured me about as much as the surgeon telling you that once he applied a magical salve your privates would not wither and fall off, or at least he was almost sure of it. That was a damned Frenchman, off the coast, after this time when Ferdie and I had gone to visit this place that claimed to have real mermaids.
I remembered the problem, which seemed to be magical, and I remembered feeling I could not be in worst straits ever. But now I wish I was back there, even with the open sores.
On the other hand the salve had worked, despite the surgeon’s dubious comments on it, and perhaps this would too.
My panicked back brain informed me that this was unlikely, and at least the surgeon had not been an elf, but I decided that it was just being difficult.
Then I took a deep breath, pulled the stone out again, and, closing my fingers around it, felt it tremble in my hand. It is hard to explain, but it felt like being pulled by an eater child towards an object. I walked where it was pulling.
Did this do anything at all? Anything that would allow me to free this would-be rescuer of warrior maidens. “She’s half of one, herself,” Penn had said. “In fact I think her mother is one of captives. My brother thinks containing her will contain the magical rot but it is no such thing. But you know Seraphim. You’ll never be able to explain to him. You’ll just have to free her, and then contrive to show him he was wrong.”
Which pitted me, Jonathan Blythe, the despair of his masters and the shame of his house, against Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, one of the premier gentleman magicians of the world, married to the princess royale, and to make things worse, the king’s own witchfinder.
This was not going to end well.