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Exiled to the Couch
Fic Draft: Suffer Not a Witch
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Fic Draft: Suffer Not a Witch
I'm afraid that this one doesn't even have a proper
yet, though I've written a few chapters on paper. So, not unlike my Nanoha fics, I'll share draft chapters here for you folks to read, comment, and if necessary critique.
...but, man, 5000 character limit per discussion post is harsh!
Kendall Jackson muttered under his breath as he stumped along the path leading out of Jacob's Creek's village center. He could walk this path in the dark while blind drunk, and he had several times in the past—but not that night! No, that night he had no more than two ales in him and no liquor at all, before being sent home from the Green Man, and thus the muttering, the scowl, and the ill-temper.
Jackson had always been a God-fearing man, he thought. He went to services every Sunday and read Scripture. All right, yes, he indulged in a bit of profanity now and again and drank more than the proverbs recommended, but he considered himself a good man, and he trusted Father Dubbel well enough to lend an ear when he had troubles, and to talk good sense to him, too—but there were some things a man couldn't be expected to take.
Blast it, Jacob's Creek wasn't some backwater hill-town, was it? It wasn't that he didn't believe in the powers of darkness, but he was a simple man who didn't see sorcery under every bush. Piety was piety, but if one were to ask him, the kind of folk who went about looking for witches weren't so much inspired by faith as they were inspired by lunacy.
Especially when they took to closing down taverns!
"Shame be on you!" the witch-hunter had bellowed into the taproom. "Shame be on you all! The forces of Hell stalk the land with all the Devil's cruelty and cunning, and you sit here, bibbing at your wine like sheep readying yourself to be sheared!"
Some of the patrons had protested. Others had cringed away from Sterling Gervase's forceful personality. Protests were shouted down with a booming voice—or stifled by the cold looks and practiced movements of the witch-hunter's retainers, hard-eyed men who were clearly well-versed in the use of their weapons. Amid cries of "'Wine is a mocker; strong drink is raging!'" and "Why, just look at the tavern's name! The 'Green Man'—a title meaning nothing but pagan superstition. What other influence than the powers of darkness could you take away from a place so called?" the taproom was cleared and the drinkers sent home.
It hadn't been a particularly convivial night anyway—another gift of Gervase's presence in the village—but a man needed his few pleasures, Jackson thought. What would he find at home but a shrill harpy of a wife he wasn't even drunk enough to ignore?
Though, he admitted, maybe it wasn't such a good thing to be drunk on a night like that one. The moon up above was little more than a sliver reluctantly peering out from behind a veil of clouds that went scudding across the night sky. The further Jackson got away from the village, the darker it got. It'd be all too easy for a man whose mind was clouded by ale to take a wrong turn off the path and end up in the stream that gave the village its name, or in the boggy mucklands on the far side of the bridge. Hadn't old Mark West ended up drowned just that way a couple of years past?
He was even out past the lantern Sexton Ommegang kept lit at the church-gate and it made a difference, like that light marked the border between civilization and the wild.
he thought sharply, then "Bah!" again—out loud, this time. "I'm growing as daft as that witch-hunter." Edge of civilization, indeed! Why, he wasn't even to the bridge, which made a better edge-marker in any case, and even beyond it were half-a-dozen or so farmsteads including his own.
No, he was being ridiculous, caught up by Gervase's speech-making, by his wild words and the hard, cruel faces of his henchmen—men who looked as if they'd seen things, fought things spawned by that darkness the witch-finder talked of.
were the ones responsible, riling up the town and the villagers, filling the air with mists and shadows. Shaking his head to clear it, Jackson stumped on.
The covered bridge was up ahead, just past the mill; he could see its weathered shape just there. The interior, Jackson realized, was pitch dark, with only a slightly lighter shade of gray at the far end to show the exit.
Prologue, Part 2
"Not like I can put a foot wrong here, though," Jackson muttered, and stepped out onto the bridge. As the faint light was swallowed up, it seemed as if sounds were magnified; the rushing of the stream water below, the creak of the timbers as they cooled in the night air, the heavy clunk of Jackson's boots on the planking. Despite himself, he felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle, and he gave a genuine sigh of relief when he emerged into the night air again on the other side. There had been something grim and cloying about even the air itself within the bridge, like he'd been walking through the belly of some great beast.
The struggle to see in the pitch-dark, though, made him all the more sensitive to what little light there was, and Jackson easily followed the track where farm-carts traveled to and from the village. It wasn't really a proper road, one of the reasons why people were liable to stumble off it, but at least he wasn't adding to his problems in that way. Even the moon seemed to have decided to cooperate; it emerged from between the clouds and cast what wan light the crescent had to offer, brightening things even more.
Jackson just wished it had waited until he was past the Gallows Tree.
He wasn't sure why it had that name. He wasn't even sure it had ever been used for that purpose. Certainly the village had always had a proper hanging-post at the courthouse for as long as he'd been alive, but even so, with a name like 'Gallows Tree' on a night like this one, he could almost see the shape of a corpse dangling from one of the spreading limbs. It was just another shade in his mind, like the feeling on the bridge, and all because of Gervase stirring things up with his tales, Jackson was sure.
If only that damned witch-hunter would leave!
He'd been in town for a week, already. Wasn't that enough time for him to root out any dabblers in black magic and devil-worship? If only Gervase would leave, then Jacob's Creek could return to normal, without shadows in the night and decent folk being harassed.
He was on past the Gallows Tree now. Just two farms to pass by and he'd be home. It wouldn't be early enough to save him the rough edge of his wife's tongue, but he'd still feel good when he got there, good to be out of the night and behind closed doors.
That was when he heard the growl.
, he thought, or at least it sounded that way. Vaguely canine but with a harsh, feral edge to it. A shiver ran through him as he turned his head. With dogs, a growl was a lot more frightening sound than a bark was. Barking was a warning, but growling was a threat.
Lambent yellow-green eyes shone out of the darkness.
It wasn't a wolf.
The screams went on for a long while before anyone dared to investigate. Kendall Jackson's last coherent thought was that he'd been far too quick to dismiss, like a man whistling in the dark, Sterling Gervase's claims that darkness had a foothold in Jacob's Creek.
My initial thought: It's the Witch-Hunter.
My second thought: This sounds like a job for a SURPRISE!
Good setup of setting and someone to dislike (the Witch-Hunter and goons). Hoping very badly I know who the protagonist is.
No, the protagonist of this one is Lillet (this is the story that I asked you about back in October or November about whether the plot was too close to
). Ironically, though, Margarita
the protagonist of the other two GG fics I'm working on. (And, of course, this fic and the long Margarita ones probably won't go anywhere serious until I finish up "The Empty House" and get that giant gorilla off my back!
But, with two Margarita fics coming, I guess I'll be okay.
Regarding the similarities b/t this and Tempus, your idea actually had me add a pair of characters, though minor, to the plot to fill a hole, and further develop the most important OC.
Antagonist established. Check. (Or is Gervase a red herring? ;D )
Nobody should deny pub-goers their pub-goodness!! Especially on some self righteous yet undisclosed authority. I'm already hoping to see Lillet topple Gervase from his moral high horse.
Fuyu no Sora
Ooh, I like that! Then again, Gervase might have a point when he talks about there being evil lurking around, since Sorcery is most definitely "evil" in that it handles devils. But yes, Lillet giving him a good smackdown would be most awesome.~
Chapter 1, Part 1
The contemplation gardens at the Grand Cathedral were located behind the sanctuary, between the long wings of the administrative offices to the left and the dormitory facilities to the right, and were almost large enough to be a small park. They were elaborate, with banks of flowering plants and a variety of trees including both deciduous and conifers. Carefully crafted hedges divided the gardens into a number of walks and grottoes, and religious artwork helped to emphasize the theme of calm meditation.
The gardens were open to the general public, like the sanctuary, yet Mage Consul Lillet Blan had never visited them during her eight years in the capital. That was all the more surprising because the young woman liked gardens—those of her own house were among the most elaborate of the estates on Argentine Way—and because her office brought her to the Grand Cathedral on a regular basis.
The sound of a choir singing the office of Sext drifted from the overarching windows, the voices sweet and solemn all at the same time, and the warmth of a noon sun was pleasant, dispelling some of the autumn chill. Lillet followed the secretary-priest who was her escort down one of the paths, then along another to a fountain in the image of the Archangel Michael pinning a serpentine devil with a lance. Arcs of water sparkled in the light, haloing the saint's figure and helping Lillet's imagination paint the archangel's wings in a golden radiance.
It was a relatively easy task for the magician, who had seen that heavenly glow on multiple occasions, both good and ill.
"Your Grace," the priest said, "Mage Consul Blan is here."
The white-robed figure who stood by the fountain turned at his secretary's voice.
"Thank you, Father Sutter; you may go."
The priest nodded and withdrew.
"Thank you for coming, Lillet," Archbishop Simon Beringer said. The kingdom's highest religious authority looked the part; he was a tall man with a long, patrician face and close-cut white hair that resembled a tonsure without actually being one. His voice and manner emphasized the part; one would assume that Archbishop Beringer had been one of the many younger sons of the nobility who went into the Church. In fact, he'd begun as curate to a country vicar, son of a cabinet-maker in the village, and had ascended the ranks strictly upon his own merits. Lillet wondered if that was one reason why she tended to get on well with him; she herself was the daughter of farmers, who'd chosen to try her luck with her magical potential in hopes of making a career that would pay for her two younger brothers to have an education.
She had to admit that she'd definitely succeeded at that.
"Simon," she replied, bowing her head in greeting. "I'm intrigued. We've dealt together in our offices for three years now, and I don't ever recall you asking me for a favor."
"I admit, it is somewhat unusual, but I think necessary."
"Tell me more."
"I've received a message by special courier from Martin Dubbel, the priest for the village of Jacob's Creek."
Lillet searched her memory, but couldn't recall ever having heard of the man or the village.
"Where is that?"
"Caithshire, about two days' travel from the border."
"But Father Dubbel wrote to you, not to Bishop Woodbridge? Is he an old friend of yours?"
Beringer caught the meaning behind Lillet's question.
"I'm afraid not."
"Church politics, then. And obviously magic is somehow involved, or else you wouldn't have come to me."
Caithshire was the most conservative province in the kingdom, an attitude which its bishop encouraged. The Low Church movement, with its emphasis on an almost puritanical simplicity in lifestyle, was strong there as well, the attitudes running hand in glove. Lillet's friend Margarita had grown up in a village there, where her magical abilities would have had her more than likely burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft.
"So your local priest is aware of this problem, and skipped straight to the top because if he follows the chain of authority he'll end up wasting time that could be spent helping people while he convinces the Bishop to put up with a magician?"
"To a certain extent. Lillet, a person is dead, slaughtered horribly according to Father Dubbel's description, and not by human weapons. 'Ripped apart like a maddened animal' was, I believe, the phrase used. In short, he was killed by a monster, perhaps a creature of the Devil, certainly a magical one."
Chapter 1, Part 2
"And Bishop Woodbridge thinks
magic is deviltry, an attitude that both reflects and influences the local population, so there aren't any magically-trained investigators available." She didn't make it a question because it was her job to know; her Mage Consul title meant that she was responsible for overseeing magical matters in the kingdom in the same way that the Archbishop dealt with religious areas. More so, actually, as Lillet's authority was closer to absolute within her purview.
In this case, she knew very well that any magician who didn't have his or her official licensing papers up to date would be subject to arrest and execution regardless of what they may or may not might have done—the mere practice of magic was enough by itself under local law. Very few magicians had the courage to live in a region where they were the constant object of bigotry, harassment, and where bloodthirsty officers of the law were always waiting for them to put a foot wrong. Lillet rather admired the ones who did.
"It's actually worse than that. The Bishop's investigator was already in Jacob's Creek before the killing."
"By investigator, you mean witch-hunter, don't you?"
Beringer inclined his patrician head gravely.
"And Father Dubbel doubts his or her ability to do the job?"
"Hysteria and prejudice rarely make for a rational reaction to a crisis," he muttered sourly.
Lillet sighed. She herself had been lucky enough to escape the majority of the "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" bigotry that had plagued her profession since the first conjuror had spoken to an elf, but that didn't mean that she didn't understand it.
"So what do you want me to do, Simon? Send someone there to look into matters?"
"I was hoping that you would go yourself."
"It's a question of skill as well as authority. Obviously, you're the best one to bring expert knowledge to bear on the problem, so far as magic goes."
"Moreover, you have ministerial rank. A Royal Magician is an officer of the Crown but still subject to law. As a Grand Council member, you can only be tried for any crime before the Queen herself; local courts have no authority over you."
Lillet's violet eyes met Beringer's brown ones.
"You mean, you're afraid that this witch-finder might have the local magistrate burn my investigator out of sheer panic and trumped-up evidence, then excuse it later with a shrug since technically a Royal Magician is as liable for the practice of genuinely unhallowed arcana as anyone."
The Archbishop nodded again.
"Exactly. Which would be a tragedy for the individual involved, but a disaster for the Church."
Lillet was fairly sure she knew what he meant by that, but she let him explain himself anyway.
"The Church is supposed to be the moral anchor of society," he went on without prompting. "We are the keepers of fundamental truths that do not change. Just as God created the natural laws by which the physical world operates, and the supernatural laws that you magician deal with, so to did He create a moral law governing the conduct of human souls. And yet all too often our flawed human minds conflate God's law with our own cultural practices or personal prejudices. The Church has a solemn duty to fight this urge, to teach God's law rather than man's editing of it."
He smiled thinly at her.
"We have to be conservative, you know. Right and wrong are objective reality; they do not change just because society does or because human ingenuity discovers something new. Yet too often the knowledge that God's law does not change gets expanded into a fear of
change—which is twice foolish, because the world is by no means perfect and some change is therefore necessary."
"You hardly need to tell me that, Simon."
"Do not mistake me; there is much that is evil in magic and much that, if only a venial sin, is still a temptation to greater corruption. Glamour and alchemy may be no different than common science, where intent and use determine the right or wrong of an act, but necromancy deals with the mysteries of the soul and no good can come of treating with devils, no matter how tightly they are leashed."
Lillet arched an eyebrow at the Archbishop. He sighed.
"My apologies; I didn't mean to get sidetracked."
"I do understand, you know."
Chapter 1, Part 3
"Understand, but not necessarily agree, at least concerning magic—I recall our previous discussions. Nonetheless, you're right; that is neither here nor there. The point that I am trying to make is that if the Church is to be a guide for people in the future it must not marginalize itself as the voice of fanatics only."
"So if the arch-conservatives of Jacob's Creek execute a Royal Magician, it serves to further divide the political factions within secular and religious authority both. Whereas if they execute
, Her Majesty will come down like a hammer on the regional barons and you'll have the excuse you need to purge the reactionaries from their power base by painting them as heretics preaching treason."
"That is hardly a subject for jesting," the Archbishop chided her.
"I wasn't actually joking."
"Lillet...Ah, well, I suppose I deserved that for going off into a lecture. I spent over twenty years preaching sermons, after all; it does become a habit."
"Dr. Chartreuse, my alchemy professor from the Silver Star Tower, does the same thing."
"Even so! My point was that if respect for the law does not restrain the witch-hunter, the fear of the consequences might do a better job. And, of course, you are not without resources with which to defend yourself."
"There is that."
"Most importantly of all, Lillet...there is genuine deviltry afoot in Jacob's Creek, the kind that takes innocent lives. It shames the Church when our ideological agendas can be used as grounds to stand by when even one person's life is unjustly taken. The political implications of the case are just window dressing at the end of the day."
Beringer's voice was earnest in urging his plea.
"All right, Simon," Lillet told him. "I'll look into this for you."
~X X X~
Lillet wrote a short note to her secretary at the Royal House of Magic, explaining that she was leaving on business and that full details would follow, then borrowed one of the Archbishop's messengers to send the missive. She then went directly home to her estate. It was rather surprising, she thought as the driver took the carriage off to the stables and she walked through a door held open by a footman, that over the course of a few short years this stately mansion had somehow become "home" to her. It had been odd enough to live in the palace when she'd been a Royal Magician, but at least that had just been a room to herself—the fourth scullery-maid, after all, had quarters at the palace, too, and while a Royal Magician was considerably higher up the ranks the principle was the same.
But this fairy-tale castle of a home (and it was one, to the point of having gabled wings and a turret in one corner, to say nothing of the elf-kept gardens) was
. She owned it, purchased it with money she'd earned honestly by her own efforts. She had a life that had seemed like a fantasy when she'd been a little girl listening to her mother's fairy tales.
Of course, in those days, she'd imagined herself as the
in her castle rather than the
, but that was really more of a flaw in the source material. The point was that she walked across the threshold of the townhouse with its tiled floors and paneled walls and polished fittings and she felt the same as when she'd crossed into the rustic homeyness of her mother's kitchen.
She passed what looked like a child in a green tunic and pants under a white apron, carrying a feather duster.
"Mika, do you know where Amoretta is?"
"In the nursery I think, ma'am." She wasn't a child at all, but an adult elf working as a parlormaid. nearly half the staff was made up of elves, in fact, starting with the majordomo Gaff, who'd been with her since the Silver Star Tower. Apparently it was quite the cachet in elven society to be the servant of a powerful magician, regardless of the specific duties. Then again, from the occasional comment she'd picked up, Lillet suspected her human staff was as smug about their service in the Mage Consul's home as the elves were. It wasn't every stablehand who could share tavern gossip starting, "While I was feeding the dragons this morning, Ralf told me..."
Lillet went upstairs, her long purple skirts swirling on the risers. In the nursery, she found two ash-blondes, the two females who were at the center of her life, seated on the soft, thick carpet playing patty-cake. Both of them looked up when the sound of the door opening interrupted their game, and their faces lit up with nearly identical expressions of joy.
Chapter 1, Part 4
Amoretta Virgine stood up smoothly, taking the toddler's hand and helping the child stand up as well. Smiling radiantly, she let their daughter wobble over towards her other mother.
"Mama!" the little girl repeated, opening her arms wide. Lillet scooped her up and hugged her as soon as she got close enough.
"And were you having fun with your other mommy, Cress?" Lillet cooed. Cressidor Marie Blan-Virgine nodded eagerly and giggled, her wide blue eyes shining. Lillet stayed and played with her two favorite ladies until Cressidor was thoroughly tired; the mothers laid her down for a nap, then left the nursery.
"You're home very early today. Did something happen?" Amoretta asked once the door was closed behind them. Lillet suspected she hadn't said it before for the same reason Lillet hadn't raised it herself; they didn't want to interrupt their time with their daughter with serious, adult matters.
"I may have to go out of town for an investigation," she said.
"Do you really mean 'may'?"
"Only as an idiom. Although, it isn't a requirement." Lillet walked down the hall towards the master bedroom suite. "Archbishop Beringer asked me as a personal favor to look into a case of a killing by some magical creature. Ordinarily, the investigation into a sudden death is the local magistrate's affair, though if it's a magical matter my office has the right to intervene." She smiled at Amoretta. "I think the lawyers call in 'concurrent jurisdiction.'"
She opened the door to the bedroom and they walked inside.
"Is it just because he asked that you want to go?" There was a trace of a pout in Amoretta's question, a clear implication that she didn't want Lillet to go. That was no surprise; she never wanted to be apart from Lillet if she could help it. The plain truth was, Amoretta would have been perfectly happy to spend twenty-four hours a day at Lillet's side; they only separated when some practical necessity made them do so.
In ordinary human relationships, that kind of devotion would have been strange, even frightening, and not a healthy way to live, but Amoretta was not ordinary. Nor was she human. She was a homunculus, an artificial life created by alchemy. Dr. Chartreuse Grande had built her around the core of an angel's spirit, making her an independent being with vastly more advanced development than an ordinary homunculus, but she was still something created by human hands, not by God, and so her current existence was not part of God's all-encompassing love. She felt that lack acutely; in a very real way it was Lillet's love for her that allowed her to survive.
So Amoretta's reluctance to be separated did not bother Lillet the way it would had she been a human being that clung in the same way. Truthfully, the Mage Consul even appreciated it, because it was a regular reminder of where her priorities stood in life. An ordinary couple might find themselves drifting apart, particularly given that both had quite consuming careers, but Amoretta's keen awareness of her own needs was a cue for Lillet to not get caught up in minutiae and find that she'd lost what really mattered.
"That's part of it, but not all. Not even most, honestly." She gave Amoretta the details as the Archbishop had told them to her; the homunculus understood the ramifications quickly, reaching several of the same conclusions that Lillet had.
"I see. You really are needed, then," Amoretta concluded. "I was going to ask if I could come with you, but under the circumstances I believe arriving with your non-human, female partner would do a great deal of potential harm."
"Not to mention putting you in danger! If there really is a devil there, then given how they react to you it wouldn't only be the villagers you'd have to worry about."
She nodded at Lillet.
"I know. And there is Cressidor to think of; your investigation might take several days." While they did have a capable and caring nanny since Lillet's ministerial post and Amoretta's position as the lead soprano at the City Theater were both time-consuming, there was a big difference between that and leaving their daughter in someone else's care for perhaps a whole week. She smiled wanly. "I will miss you very much."
"And I you, little love."
Chapter 1, Part 5
She took Amoretta's hands between her own, comforted by the touch of the other woman's flesh. The homunculus did not build body heat in the same way as the natural-born, nor did she perspire, so her touch was always soft and cool and unique to Amoretta, a sensation that always soothed Lillet's heart to feel. She bent and kissed her beloved softly.
It wasn't, after all, only Amoretta who would regret their temporary parting.
She lifted a hand, tracing the line of Amoretta's jaw with her fingertips. The homunculus nuzzled into the caress with a purr almost like a cat's, and Lillet knew that the two of them shared the same thought.
"I'll need to change before I go. A dress suited for the palace isn't appropriate for mucking about a village."
"I'll help you change, if you like."
Hooks and laces gave way under Amoretta's agile fingers. The purple dress whispered against Lillet's body as it slid down to pool at her feet, and the two women sank to the bed in each other's embrace.
A/N: The 5000-character limit on social group discussion thread posts officially sucks!
Yeah; it's too bad that we can't just make a subforum >_<
I really like this opening, and this confirms that what you're doing is a very different story than
, so we can rest easy on that count.
I like the undertone of the Archbishop (the Cardinal? The effective Pope?)'s relationship with Lillet, like there's a lot of ground that they've already covered between the two of them and there's a lot of ground that they have yet to cover. It's a great atmosphere there.
I feel like secretary-priest is a really dumb title
. But all of the titles I'm thinking of are actually more important (like the Canon of the Ordinary, who's the Chief of Staff in a Diocese). Maybe use a Deacon? Most people know that title means that they're not all that high on the totem pole.
Awww, there won't be lots of Amoretta in this fic
....but yay, both she and Cressidor appeared! I have a soft spot for Cressidor, for some reason
. It's nice to see a continuation of that storyline from the previous "Family" story.
It's interesting that the Archbishop is requesting this as a favour from Lillet, since he could easily attempt to wrangle the situation politically so that it becomes
problem whether or not a Royal Magician gets killed, etc. But he's taking responsibility for his own sector and is taking the steps to prevent things from blowing up out of control, so I have lots of respect for him.
The attitudes of the Church are something I'm starting to play with in this fic. Since we're working with a Judeo-Christian model of the universe, with literal devils and angels and so on, the Church ought to be a fundamentally good organization since it stands for the very real powers of divine goodness (you'll also note that there are occasional allusions to that, such as Advocat's line, "when devils fight, the priests win"). Yet, we also have witch-burnings and such going on in a series when the protagonists are magicians, so it's not all pretty hymns and happiness. So I wanted to add some complexity to the whole concept instead of taking the easy way of making the Church a classic corrupt medieval organization (and in the 16th-17th centuries, where I take the cultural level cues from, it tended to do a lot more harm than good IRL...).
You know I'm wondering, thanks to magic we know that there is a hell and a heaven, at least a hell and angels, so the church should at least tolerate somewhat magic, but why do witch burnings still exists? I mean, most of the burnings were because the church was anti-magic so since magic is helping to create more faith (We were right all along see?) and more fear (devils exist too) so people seek religion for protection too. Unless it is because of sorcery and necromancy but then they should not be burned them since every mage should be burned then.
Unless of course the burnings are organizated by the village without the help of the church. which does make sense because it is different~ and not natural~ and etc~
Or I am overthinking the wrong things like always.
Fuyu no Sora
Aww, the last line of the chapter was sweet!
Hm. Lillet going to a village of ignorant, prejudiced, small-minded townspeople... this smells like trouble. I do wonder what is behind the Jacob's Creek's murder. A crazed magician, an escaped Devil? Either way it sounds like it'll be another interesting story by our Most Distinguished Governor Dezo.
Burnings exist because people are small-minded and ignorant. The prologue has Jackson state that Jacob's Creek is a backwater hill-town, so this is only to be expected.
Chapter 2, Part 1
Afterwards, Lillet would have liked to doze in Amoretta's arms, savoring the sweetness of her closeness as she had the spice of their passion, but there was no time for such intimacies. Regretfully, she rose from the bed and dressed, this time in more utilitarian garb: black leggings, a violet dress with a skirt that fell, loose for freedom of movement, to just above the knee, sturdy high boots, and a cloak of dark gray wool.
"I'd like to look up Jacob's Creek to see what sort of a place I'll be going to. Can you see to having a bag packed for me?"
"Of course. Only one?"
"Yes; I'll be going on foot instead of riding. Descending into a conservative village on dragonback wouldn't be the best way to make a good first impression."
Amoretta smiled, just a little, at the joke.
"You'll want your traveling grimoire, then?"
"Yes, thank you."
There was more to drawing a Rune than merely sketching out a pattern with a magic wand. One had to understand the proper application of mana, the way it flowed through the pattern, the intent the magician had to put into each step. Just copying a Rune out of a book wouldn't work, not unless one was very lucky indeed. There was a reason why the more advanced Runes often took years of study to master, and why a massive volume would be required for learning only four or five variations on a single Rune.
Lillet, of course, had mastered dozens of Runes, even created many. But she didn't know every single stroke of every one of the Runes she'd mastered. Hence the traveling grimoire, which was nothing but a collection of Rune imagery so that on those she
know by heart she wouldn't forget a symbol here or a line there. It was worthless as a resource to someone trying to learn the Runes, but it was very handy for when Lillet had to cast something more complex than a Fairy Ring, Laboratory, or Chaos Nest. Most magicians owned something of the sort—after all, one could hardly carry a library into battle!
"I'll also need a couple of the messenger-fairy rings, and a pouch of phantom coins. Brutal murder usually implies sorcery, and I want to be ready for an emergency."
"All right, I'll see to it."
"You know that I'm happy to help," Amoretta said matter-of-factly. She meant it literally—it gave her a feeling of happiness to do things that were useful for Lillet.
"I know," Lillet agreed, "but it's still polite to say thank you anyway." She bent over and gave Amoretta a peck on the cheek. "It's about the appreciation I feel, not whether you consider yourself inconvenienced by it."
The homunculus smiled at her.
"Human social codes are so strange; I don't know if I'll ever figure them out entirely." She pursed her lips. "It would be so much easier if people would just say what they mean."
"You're probably right, but I think we'd have to all be much better people for that to work."
"Maybe, but I don't think that you have to be so cynical. Really, it's not that people are selfish or dishonest, just that everybody
a certain amount of courteous word choice and so if they don't get it, they feel much worse about hearing the plain truth than the facts or opinions alone would cause."
"That's true. I remember a few times early on in our relationship when that got us into trouble." Specifically, when Amoretta had said something that had hurt Lillet and hadn't had any idea why since she'd just been being honest rather than intending a cutting remark. Lillet smiled and added, "Somehow, though, I don't think I'll have any trouble saying exactly what I mean to the Bishop of Caithwood's witch-hunter."
~X X X~
Chapter 2, Part 2
Lillet slid the volume of Vendange's Gazetteer back into its place on the shelf and turned to head up along the flying gallery that made up the library's second story. Jacob's Creek, it seemed, was a more interesting place than it might have looked to an outsider, though of course a country girl like Lillet didn't tend to think that way generally.
On paper, it looked to be a fairly standard village, with a population around three hundred, largely self-sufficient through farming and peat-cutting. It was a bit off the beaten path, one of a number of settlements in that area of the kingdom founded when Caithwood was being opened up to logging a couple of hundred years ago and the edge of the district was being pushed forward. Other routes had proven more efficient for trade and travel, so that although the village thrived it had not grown substantially; there was a coaching inn but Lillet suspected that it received infrequent use but for the post.
More interesting was the origin of the town's name and that of the stream it came from. "Jacob" in this case was the Venerable Jacob Blackstone, a well-respected holy man from the period. He'd been a wandering preacher, sort of a Low Church equivalent of a friar. Back in the days the village was first being settled as little more than a waystation, Reverend Blackstone had driven out a witch's curse on the town, which had been much in line with the rest of his career according to the hagiography Lillet had looked up about him. The thankful settlers had named the creek as well as their budding village after their rescuer.
If Lillet recalled correctly, "Venerable" was the lowest rank of those individuals whose cause had been taken up towards sainthood, with "Blessed" being next and full approval as a saint the final step, once the Church had verified the miraculous intercession of the candidate. For a Low Church reverend to have his cause taken up was relatively unusual; the movement tended to emphasize a direct relationship between worshipper and God, in part because of the desire to return religion to its roots of "purity and simplicity" and in part because disgust with some of the pardoner-scandals, traveling salesmen hawking relics or monasteries and shrines dueling over pilgrims' coin like coastal resorts, were what had given the movement so much popular support in the first place.
Curious, that. It would be interesting to look into how that had come about, Lillet thought—but
the job was finished, as it likely had no bearing on the case.
More likely to be relevant was the fact that Reverend Blackstone had once defeated witchcraft in the area. That could encompass a lot of things, from a simple delusion to some natural monster to an innocent magician to a genuine, malevolent sorcerer. The recorded accounts were annoyingly non-specific, but if there had been genuine magical activity in the past, then there might be a reason why modern sorcerers might seek it out now, explaining the death and why the witch-finder had gone to the village in the first place. Lillet would have to look into that further; very likely stories of Reverend Blackstone's exploits survived in the area and might contain a clue towards their original cause.
She hadn't found any small-scale maps of the region and doubted there were any, but had committed the general details to memory as best she could to better orient herself. It would have been nice to have found more information, but Lillet at least felt satisfied that she'd been able to lay hands on all the relevant details that were available remotely. To get the job done, she'd have to investigate at the scene.
To that end, she descended from the gallery by one of the wrought-iron spiral staircases, then went over to a shelf near to the laboratory door and plucked down a volume bound in green leather. This was a grimoire called Robin Goodfellow, a rare book of Glamour. An adulterated edition of the book (called Puck by some wag with a taste for fairy legends) was relatively well-known as the source of the pixie summon, but only the original grimoire had the Rune Lillet needed.
She met Amoretta on the terrace overlooking the garden. Her lover was carrying a sturdy leather pack with a shoulder strap. She handed Lillet two plain silver rings etched with a bow and arrow which Lillet slipped onto her index fingers, then a small blue cloth drawstring pouch that jingled, which Lillet tucked into one of her dress's pockets. The rings and coins were talismans that Lillet had enchanted to link to a previously summoned familiar so she could call it instantly without the need to cast a Rune.
"The traveling grimoire is in the bag," Amoretta told her.
Chapter 2, Part 3
Lillet called for four of the elven gardeners, and she and Amoretta descended into the garden to meet them. It was a true magician's garden; in addition to the cultivation of rare herbs and plants, the elves nurtured the trees and flowers to gather and concentrate mana into pre-established Glamour-aspected sanctuaries. There was a good reason why one didn't generally challenge a powerful magician on her home ground.
Lillet took out her wand and flipped open the grimoire, then began to sketch out the Rune on the ground before her, seeding every stroke with mana. In a little under a minute she was done, a bell-like tone chiming in her mind signifying it taking shape. The intricate pattern glowed with soft green light in front of her.
"All right, Lysander, Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, please fetch mana while I'm working on this," she instructed the elves.
"Yes, milady!" they chorused, and dashed off towards the nearest sanctuary. Their efforts would replenish her resources, replacing the mana she spent on the Rune so she wouldn't be drained when she got to Jacob's Creek. Somehow, she didn't think she'd make a good first impression on the witch-finder by immediately casting Runes and drawing mana upon her arrival in Jacob's Creek—and then again, who knew what resources would be available?
Focusing, she began to enhance the basic Rune with additional mana, building its potential. This was difficult work, and sweat dotted her brow by the time she was through, and she turned to Amoretta.
"I'll miss you," she said softly.
"And I you, my love." Amoretta passed Lillet the bag; she slung it over her own shoulder and they shared a quick, tight hug and a goodbye kiss. "Be careful."
"I promise. I love you."
"I love you, too."
Lillet waited for the elves to finish their work, then stepped across the border of the Rune. The light flared up around her.
"Open now for me, pathways of the wood and wild. Let me walk the hidden roads and wind through secret ways, past fairy ring and barrow mound to wither I would go," she incanted. The verdant light swirled even more brightly around Lillet as she firmly fixed her destination in her mind. It was better, of course, if she'd actually been there herself, but the Rune would work so long as she could fix a definitive and unique concept of what a place was in her mind, something that maps—and just as importantly, the ability to conceptualize what a representation on a map truly meant—were invaluable in establishing.
She took a last step forward into the precise center of the Rune.
Then she vanished.
~X X X~
The magic of Glamour was different than other fields of magic. While sorcery and necromancy peered beyond the veil of mortality to bind and compel service from spirits, and alchemy built new creations from the raw materials of life, glamour dealt with living creatures, natural spirits and entities that inhabited Faerie, a magical existence that shadowed and ran parallel to the normal one. The Runes of glamour were in the main magical contracts by which the summoned familiars willingly entered into the magician's service rather than fetters chaining a hostile will.
The interaction between humans and the creatures of Faerie were the subject of many legends and superstitions. Religious conservatives preached that their highly magical existence went hand-in-glove with the diabolic. Especially in rural areas, traditions abounded, from tales of kindly elves who would assist with household chores in exchange for suitable respect to more frightening legends of fairy-folk who would steal human children, leaving changelings in their place, or of people carried off to Faerie who returned—if they returned—years later, having scarcely aged a day, or more shockingly the reverse.
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