Monday, 27 September 2010

Chapter 4

Chapter Four

Hours later, we arrived in Gulltown.

Few people wandered the streets. Out here, protected by the Iron Wall and yet so close to the Woods, no alchemycal marvels could light the way. A few oil lamps hung from the eaves of the larger houses, carving the streets into shadows of black and grey.

Gulltown had grown from a tiny village into Caerlyons’ chief link to the mainland, expanded by those unlucky few barred from the city. Stuck here, they built houses of what stone they could find and tried to recapture some semblance of normality.

Magic pulsed through the soil. Breathed in the stone. I passed a house, skeletal towers beseeching the heavens like the arms of the damned. They were all alike – alive. Twisted and alive. Twisting those that lived in them as well.

I turned left, off the street, and headed towards the harbour. The presence of water kept the magic at bay. The houses here seemed almost normal.

I guided Ancel out into the thoroughfare, forcing a way through the crowds. Players rubbed shoulders with farmers. Sailors vied with the local merchants for custom. Hands reached out to grab at me; I slapped them away, trying to keep a tight hold on my money bag. I felt as if I rode through a crowd of pigeons, cooing for bread.

I headed for the first barge I saw, only to be told that a storm was coming in and they weren’t heading out to Caerlyons until morning. Three more told me the same thing. By the tenth, I was beginning to get the message. I wasn’t going to be able to answer the summons tonight. I could feel it eating away at me now, like an itch I couldn’t reach. Sighing, I headed for an inn I knew.

The painted image of a prancing goat, green hair and three eyes not-withstanding, swung above the door. The Three-Eyed Goat. Gulltown humour. I didn’t get the joke myself.

I dismounted, handing Ancel over to a stable boy. I patted him on the side and pushed through into the inn.

Pausing, I blinked as my eyes accustomed to the dim lighting. Tables and chairs peppered the common room floor. The smell of sawdust, burning logs and spent ale clung to the dry walls. A roaring fire spat sparks from the hearth, around which a group of men had gathered, talking and laughing loudly.

The innkeeper – Langwin – bustled up, wiping his hands on a dusty cloth he had used to clean the shelves. A scarf tied around his forehead hid the third eye he had developed as a child.

“Daniel! Welcome back.”

“Thank you.”

He sensed the tone and frowned. “Trouble?”

“No more than usual. I’m back from Wanechester.”

“What were you doing in that flea pit?”

“A job. I was hoping to reach Caerlyons tonight, but no one is going out. I thought you might have a room.”

He opened his mouth to answer when a rolling wave of laughter drew my attention to the crowd of men over by the fire. I picked out the elaborate jackets, long moustaches and swords. Players.

“Whose Men?” I asked.

“The Earl of Pemberley’s. Or was.”


“He’s dead. The plague.”

That sparked my interest. The Earl was a renowned Panthionist, a key member of the Loyalty faction. He had spoken out numerous times about the need for the Isles to return to the worship of the Many-Gods. A fool and a zealot.

“Returned from a tour of the north, from what they’ve been saying,” Langwin offered.

I began to turn back when I noticed two men, sitting just outside the circle of the group. One of them wore a grey cloak that obscured his face, but the other, long steely hair tumbling down his back, was very familiar. I smiled

“You know them?”

I nodded. “Not them. The older one. An old friend.”

I asked Langwin for a mug of ale, then wandered over. The older man looked up as I approached, his angry expression fading to a look of shock when he recognised me.

“Daniel? Daniel, is that you?”

“Hello Kit.”

Christopher “Kit” Luclowe stood up and grabbed me in a bear hug. “Goddess, it’s good to see you. How long has it been?”

I stepped out of his embrace, keeping my hands on his shoulders. “Five years? Six? Ever since you left the Guild.”

“Has it been that long? Goddess. You look well.”

“Liar. I look like shit. And I feel worse.”

He laughed. “It is good to see you. Here, come on have a seat.”

The other Men had turned to watch, but now they turned back to their drinks. As Kit and I sat down, the other man stood. I put out a hand to shake his, but he didn’t reciprocate, turning away from me. I caught a glimpse of blue eyes reflecting the firelight, then the cloak’s hood fell back.

“I’ll be upstairs,” he said to Kit, his voice a ragged growl.

Kit opened his mouth as if to protest, then thought better of it. Wincing, he nodded. “Alright.”

The man hurried away. I watched him go, then turned to Kit, raising an eyebrow.

“Another acquaintance. Hoping I could give him a job.”


“Unfortunately, I don’t have an opening.”

I sat down and turned to catch Langwin’s eye. He nodded to me, then handed a glass of ale to one of his maids, a buxom young thing with hair as red as a dying sun. She hurried over and I ordered another for Kit. The alcohol might just help fend off the summoning fever for a time.

“So, what brings you to Gullstown?”

“On my way home. I just finished a job in Wanechester.”


“No choice. Need the money to renew my licence.” I took a swig of the ale, enjoying the thick, burned taste as it rolled down my throat.

“They’re still running the licence system?”

“Gielding loves it.”

Kit snorted. “And how is the Lord Justice?”

“I wouldn’t know, he keeps away from me as much as possible. Doesn’t trust my connections to Tess.”

“He can’t enjoy having a man on his books who consorts with a known criminal.”

“Especially one that he put in the Tower.”

We sat in silence for a moment, both thinking of Gielding and the Guild. Kit Luclowe had been one of the greatest thieftakers of his generation, a man with a keen sense of the criminal mind, willing to cross the line between the two when he needed to. He had taken me under his wing when I first joined the Guild, then walked away when Gielding had taken over. I had stayed behind. No choice. It had been thieftaker or prison.

“So what are you doing here?” I didn’t add with them.

“I’ve been working as their fixer for the past two years.”

“Fixer?” I had heard the term, hired men responsible for anything from booking berths in inns and theatres to getting rid of bodies and evidence when a duel got out of hand.

“Care for them better than their own mothers. It’s a far cry from hunting murderers in the Dregs, but it’s work. Good work. Safe. And it pays bloody well. You should try it.”

“I could certainly use the money.”

He looked at me with a frown. I sighed and told him about the seizure in the forest and my hurried departure from Wanechester, glossing over my little adventure in the Woods. He listened, then went quiet for a few moments, his eyes staring off into the distance.

“I may be able to help you.”

“Oh really?”

“Well, more like we could help one another.”

“Go on.”

“We’ve been having some trouble in the past few weeks. Accidents during rehearsals, clothes, props and scripts going missing, a higher number of injuries than usual. We’ve even had one of our journeymen vanish. I would brush it off as the risks of business except…”

He bent down, rummaging around in the sack at his side. He pulled out a sheaf of papers and pushed them over to me.

I unfolded them, peering at the first one. Written in a shaky hand, in blood red ink, were the words:

Do not investigate the girl’s disappearance. The Ghost is watching.

“They’re all like that,” Kit said as I began to leaf through the papers. “Cryptic warnings, all involving this Ghost. I think someone has it in for us.”


Kit shrugged. “A rival troop? A jealous lover? Someone who has it in for the Earl?”

“You think his death is linked in some way?”

“Who knows? I just… I’ve tried to look into it all, quietly, but I’m too well known. Too closely connected. I know I’m not going to get anywhere.”

“So you want me to do some quiet digging?”

Kit nodded. “I’ll pay you of course. Maybe not the whole amount you need for your licence, but at least it will set you on the way.”

I pretended to think about it, but I had no choice. If I didn’t get my licence renewed before the end of the year, they would revoke my passe-porte. The idea of spending even a single night out in the Dregs, away from the protective magic of the Seawall… I shuddered.

“Looks like you’ve got yourself a deal,” I said, forcing a smile and reaching out a hand.

“Excellent. Come on, let’s drink on it.”

As he called Langwin over, I decided that I was going to get stonking drunk.


I woke up in darkness.

My head pounded. How much had we had to drink? Goddess, we must have drunk the tap room dry! I could barely remember stumbling up the stairs. Had Kit got me into bed?

Groaning, I rolled over onto my back, stretching my arms out to either side. My left hand fell on a wet patch.

I pulled my hand away, cursing. Had I been sick in bed again? It wouldn’t be the first time. As I moved, though, my fingers brushed against something cold, wet and clammy.

My heart skipped a beat. Scrambling away, I reached out with my other hand for the matches Langwin always left on the table. Striking one, I lifted my hand, casting flickering shadows on the bed.

My line of work had brought me to a hundred such scenes. In the midst of the tangled sheets, stained crimson red by all the blood, lay an old man. His eyes gazed at me, still full of terror. His body had been hacked and lacerated – he looked as if he had been drained of blood. His skin was white, so white…

His skin. His cooling skin against my bare hand. I looked down. The blood barely showed up against the angry red of my fae hand. I must have taken my gloves off before I got into bed. I had touched him.

I looked back up, terrified of what I would see. As I feared, his jaw fell open and a soft yellow light pearled on his lips. I scrambled away, but I knew it was too late. The magic had begun.

Whether I wanted to or not, I was going to steal this man’s soul.

Chapter 3

Chapter Three

A warm wind blew through the trees around me, rustling the dead leaves with a sound like crumpled parchment. My whole attention remained fixed on the open arms of the fae before me. Ancel whinnied suddenly. The sound broke the spell and I blinked. What is wrong with me? I lurched backwards, quick as a spooked cat.

I stumbled on the stones beneath my feet. Catching at a low hanging branch, I felt the bark against my naked palm. Somehow, I managed to keep my feet. I stood there, staring at the two fae, my chest pumping up and down.

“Don’t… Don’t touch me.”

The fae – her specific species were known as moirae or Reapers – opened her arms wider.

“Brother.” She drew the word out, turning it into a moan.

“Don’t call me that!” My voice rose to a roar, panic colouring every inflection.

The moirae dropped her arms and turned her head, sharing a knowing glance with her sister – as if they were older siblings humouring me so as to better bring me round to their way of thinking. I felt my hackles rise. The look lasted a moment, then they turned and looked at me.

“What else should we call you, Brother?”

“Perhaps he doesn’t remember us.”

“It has been a long time.”

I looked from one to the other. Of course I remembered them. Aisa and Decima, the King’s two pet reapers. I especially remembered how that habit of sharing a sentence each used to drive me to distraction.

“What… What are you doing here?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

Aisa, the one who had tried to embrace me earlier on, sighed. “The Conclave has been called.”

“The King demands it.”

“Blood has been spilled.”

“And must be avenged.”

I frowned. A Conclave? I wracked my mind, casting back to the little time I had spent amongst the fae. A Conclave was…

“A… An assembly of fae? Here?”

The two looked at one another again, then turned back to me. “Assembly is an… adequate term.”

“We must gather to avenge the spilled blood.”

“So I gather. But why here?” From what I had learned in my time amongst them, most blood cases were tried by the King in the court at Fryr Ael Caerl. Of course, I had only witnessed one such case, and had been too busy pleading for my life at the time to note the details. “Why is the blood not being avenged in the Court?”

“The culprit fled.”

“He must be found.”

“He will be tracked.”

“And judged.”

I felt disorientated following the back and forth between the two fae. It took me a moment to make sense of what they had said. Why would a fae flee to Caerlyons? I opened my mouth to ask the question, when the truth hit me. I almost choked.

“The culprit is mortal?”

Aisa bowed her head to me. “He is of the Wilting Kind.”

I was too shocked to react to the derogatory term. The implications were staggering. A mortal who had been left alive long enough to reach the Court of the Twinights was amazing enough. A mortal who had been able to get close enough to a fae to kill one was even more so. A mortal who had not only gotten away with murder, but had been able to flee the King’s wrath and get all the way back to Caerlyons was a miracle.

“He is an echo of a whisper,” Decima added, closing her eyes and smiling.

“We gather the whispers.”

“You gather the whispers.”

“You must come with us to the court.”

Like a cold bucket of water after a night of drinking, the words brought me crashing back to earth. How the hell had this conversation gotten so far off track? I looked up and as I had feared, both of the Reapers were looking at me expectantly. I shook my head.

“I can’t come with you. I told you back then. I won’t.”

“The whispers… They must be gathered.” The passion, the pain in her voice brought me up short.

“They must be returned.”

“Returned?” I asked. “Where?”

Again, Aisa stepped forward. She opened her mouth as if to explain, but before she could a haunting sound echoed through the trees, bouncing off branch and bark and trunk and stone. The deep lowing of a hunting horn, I could feel the sound in my very blood, stirring something in my core. I had heard the sound before, a hundred times, a thousand, echoing in the forests I had wandered so many years before. The call of the Wild Hunt was tempting.

Both Reapers turned away, faces raised as if soaking up the rays of the invisible sun, their eyes closed and smiles on their faces. The tone rose higher, the sound grew louder, then faded away. Both Reapers stayed that way for a few moments more, then they dropped their heads.

“The Hunt.”


I spoke up, seeing an opportunity. “You should go.”

Aisa looked at me again. This time, though, she did not smile. Urgency soaked her words. “As long as you keep the whispers, you will be in danger.”

“They must be returned.”

She opened her arms, her hands clasping at the air. “Come with us, Brother.”

Decima followed her sister’s example, opening her arms and stepping towards me. “Join the Hunt.”

I took a step back, shaking my head. “I… No. Not now. I can’t.”

They had made this same offer so many times when I lived among them, begging me to join with them, to be taught by them. I couldn’t blame them – the two hands I kept hidden beneath my leather gloves had once belonged to their third sister, Nona.

Both of them allowed their arms to fall back. They shared that familiar smile again, tinged with a little sadness this time. They looked back at me, that smile still playing on their cracked lips even as their bodies began to fade.

“One day, Brother.”

“One day.”

Their forms faded into mist that wavered for a few moments, then vanished completely, leaving the echo of their whispers hanging in the heavy, afternoon air. I stood there for a moment, my eyes fixed on the spot where they had stood.

What had they meant? Why was I in danger? I shook my head, banishing the thoughts. I had been here too long already. Berating myself for a fool, I turned and scurried back to the safety of the Road. Moments later, I jumped astride Ancel and began riding for the end of the Woods.

Chapter 4 ->

Chapter 2

Chapter Two

I woke up.

The sun beat down on my face. I felt around – I was on the bed, still dressed as I had been that morning. Someone was sitting by the bed, pressing a cloth dripping with cold water on my cheeks and forehead.

The Juniper Branch. The inn where I had been staying in Wanechester. How the hell did I get back here?

Trying to move set off waves of nausea and dizziness. I felt exhausted. If it were up to me, I would lie back down and sleep for a few more days. The remains of the summons still echoed through my mind, though, that urgent need to be in Caerlyons pulling on me like a boarhound at a cat's guts.

"What… happened?" I managed to stammer.

The figure by the bed moved into the light. Mistress Joclyn, the innkeeper.

"They carried you in an hour past," she said, pressing the cloth against my cheek. "You were running a fever, mumbling something about Caerlyons and a mistress." She looked at me, as if she had no doubts what kind of mistress I had been talking about. "I made them bring you up here straight sharp and got some cold water from the well put in a bucket. You looked half the ghost."

I tried to struggle up. "I… I have to go."

"None of that now," she said, her voice hardening. "This is no time to be playing the man. What you need is to have a good night's rest and a proper breakfast in the morning. That'll be more than enough time to- -"

"Where are my gloves?" Sheer panic slipped into my voice. Seeing my hands, red raw and skin flaking, bare against the white sheets, though… My heart was beating so hard, I was surprised that Mistress Joclyn couldn't hear it.

"Your gloves? They're over there by the window."

"I need them." I forced my voice to calm. "Please."

Mistress Joclyn looked at me again, as if wondering what kind of strange things I was hiding in those gloves. She peered inside each one before picking them up and bringing them over to me. I let her drop them on the bed before picking them up.

By the Goddess’ blood, what if she had taken my hand while I was out? I shuddered to think what people would have thought if they found me unconscious and her body dead and cold by my side.

"You see?" she said, mistaking my shiver. "You've still got some kind of fever. Never mind the state of your hands. Now, you lie back and…"

"No!" I growled. She jumped, her eyes widening. I softened my voice. "I need to leave, ma’am. I got some… bad news from home. My mother she’s…” My voice broke. “I have to be back in Caerlyons by night fall."

I felt a whoreson for playing on her mother’s instincts, but if I didn't get on the road soon that summons would start to have some… unfortunate side effects.

It worked. She frowned at me a number of times, but she also let me sit up and then helped me to stand. I waved off her offers for help dressing and asked her to have one of the boys prepare my horse to leave. I travel light,so I was ready to go in a matter of minutes. I hobbled downstairs in time to see Ancel being led out by the reins.

The moment my money bag appeared Mistress Joclyn was all business, calculating time and food and water so that I left with my bag a good five silver coins lighter.

Ancel had not liked my reaction to the summons – he danced away the first time I tried to mount him. Setting a firm hand to his bridle, I whispered a few fae words in his ear. He calmed down. Waving a hand to Mistress Joclyn, I pushed my hat down on my head and we left.

The sun beat down, leaving me covered in sweat within moments. Ancel lumbered along, listless. The sounds of the city were overwhelming, hiding even the sound of his shoes on the cobbles.

We passed over Kings Bridge, the towers of Our Lady's Cathedral and the rose-thorn flags flying above Wanechester Castle visible off to the side. As the walls drew closer, farmers, clerks, lawyers and apprentices surrounded us. A few minutes more and we were at the Iron Gate, framed on either side by the statues of the two ancient kings, Ban and Bors. A quick show of my papers and we were out on the Road.

As soon as we were out of the bustle that surrounds any city, I gave Ancel his head. He sprang forward like a pitbull in a bear pit, and by the time we reached the clearing where the farmer had been left that morning, we were going too fast to hear his screams.

By late afternoon, we were a few miles from Caerlyons. For a moment, we left the woods, cresting the Crelterns. I could see down to the Slate Sea and the dancing lights of the city out on the water. Caerlyons. Capital of the Kingdom of Isles. One of the Seven Cities that survived the Great Change.


I guided Ancel back into the Woods. Goddess, it had felt good to be out of those cursed trees. Riding back into them felt like riding into a furnace. Still, a small sea breeze managed to force its way beneath the canopy. I enjoyed the brush of it on my face until a stray gust caught up my hat.

I reached out to catch it, my fingers brushing the felt, then the wind had it. It tumbled through the air and landed a few steps away. Just on the other side of the iron posts.

I bought Ancel to a stop. He whinied, reluctant. I patted him on the side, then slid off. A few steps brought me to the edge of the Road. I stopped, thinking back to the farmer's screams that morning.

Twilight reigned in the dominion of the trees. Trunks rose like columns in some ancient temple, bark the colour of rich earth. Moss covered the branches that twisted and turned into semblances of limbs, joints giving way to smaller and smaller tributaries, like the Tinian estuary. Rocks littered the forest floor, otherwise barren and devoid of life. A quiet world, silent as the grave.

- Now why would you want to go in there?

"ss'Blood, Lucan," I hissed.

- It is only a friendly warning, Daniel.

- Next time, warn me before you sneak up on me like that, I responded, in my head this time. 

I sensed more than heard his amusement.

- Perhaps you would prefer I announce myself with drums and trumpets.

I scowled.

- Next time, keep your comments to yourself until…

- Until you make a big mistake.

- Leave me alone, Lucan.

He did.

Shaking my head, I turned my attention back to my hat. The wind had caught it up again, rolling it a few steps further into the Woods. Ss'lud, I loved that hat. Telling myself that only a fool would risk leaving the Iron Road for a hat, I stepped off the road and into the Woods.

A sudden stillness marked my passage into the fae world, as if the trees had held their breath the moment I set foot on the earth. The only sound was a faint whispering that buzzed in my ear. Then came the indefinable sense of power running in the soil. Magic lived here. Powerful magic.

I knew what waited if I stayed here long enough. I would begin to feel the magic more clearly, I would begin to hear the whispers properly. I shouldn't linger.

I scrambled over to my hat, bent down to pick it up and set it firmly on my head, screwing it down until the felt almost touched my ears. I straightened, ready to return to the Road. And I saw her.

A little girl stood barely ten feet away from me. She wore a green dress that shimmered and shifted like water. Sucking her thumb and holding a ragged old doll loosely in her arms, she stared at me with big eyes, green as her dress. And she smiled.

I just stood there for a moment, looking at her. A little mortal girl, alone in the Woods.

I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing would come out. Her smile widened. I realised suddenly that I couldn't move. This tiny little girl had cast some kind of spell on me! I struggled, managing little more than a grunt.

Then, as quickly as it had come over me, the binding vanished, leaving me free. I stumbled and fell. Catching myself with my hands, I scraped my knees and felt the fabric of my gloves rip on the rocks. I cursed. By the time I looked up, the girl had disappeared.

In her place were two fae. They were naked and obviously female, their breasts dropping ponderously. Red mottled skin clashed with their yellow eyes. Sharp orange teeth showed through cracked lips as they smiled at me.

One of them opened her mouth.

"Brother," she hissed and opened her arms to embrace me.

Chapter 3 ->

Chapter 1

Chapter One

The Iron Road
Near Waenchester
9th Bell of the Afternoon
30th of September, 1541 

The merchant's son screamed in my head, making my hangover that much worse.

Thirteen of us rode out from Waenchester's protective walls. The sun rose above the trees, rays piercing my eyes and eliciting a groan. I pulled my floppy hat further down, wishing I was back in bed. The Duke's ale was potent stuff, but I had yet to find a better remedy for the voices that screamed in my head.

After a good few miles, the reeve hailed us to a stop. Murmured curses filled the air.

The lines of iron posts branched out in a circle before narrowing again as the Road vanished into the woods on the far side. A single stone post, carved with arrows and distances, rose in the middle.

Hard to imagine this place had once been the biggest crossroads in the South, where the old King's Road met the new High Way. Before the Change. Before the Woods.

While the guards spread out, I dismounted, took off my hat and began to wave it in front of my face to create some air.

Darkness and magic haunted the world beneath the trees. Most of my companions could not help but cast anxious glances into the shadows.

A commotion. Two guards forcing the criminal to his knees before the reeve, who stared down at the man as one of his guards read out the charge.

"Hawold Kepstowe, farmer from the Blue Hills, you are accused of the murder of Master Kelwin Killingsthorne, only son and heir of Benjamin Killingsthorne, free merchant of the city of Wanechester. Will you plead?"

Hawold stared past the reeve and the soldiers. Right at me. A thousand curses sprang from those burning eyes. I rubbed a shaking hand over the back of my neck – out here, so close to the Woods, curses had meaning. I could feel a headache coming on.

One of the guards surged forward, kicking the farmer to the dust of the clearing. "You were asked a question, dog."

"I'll no plead," Hawold said.

Only the reeve’s voice saved him from another slap.

"Let him be."

Frowning, the guard did.

The reeve turned to me. "Who accuses this man?"

With a bitten off curse, I stepped forward. "I do."

"On what basis?"

"On the basis of my solemn word."

"Whose word?"

"The word of Daniel Therwood, member of the Thieftaker's Guild."

The reeve nodded, turning away from me. I wished I could turn and ride away, but I had to see this through to the bitter end.

I had been given the contract three days before. Someone had stabbed a merchant’s son in Wanechester, left him to bleed out in a pig’s pen. When the reeve’s men failed to find the culprit, the merchant turned to the Guild. Someone had seen a lost cause so they sent me, not expecting me to solve the case. I had accepted, hoping I could find the truth...

- Truth? Faw!

I bit back a sigh as the familiar voice in my head cut through the screams.

- I wondered when you would wake up , I thought back.

- Well, what time of the morning do you call this? The sun is barely up.

- The Queen's Justice doesn’t wait for breakfast, I replied wryly.

- The Queen's Justice can suckle on my…

- What do you want, Lucan?

- Want? I was sleeping comfortably until you started thinking so loud. Besides, what truth did you think you would find? A conspiracy? A threat to Queen and kingdom? You’re not working for Tess anymore, boy. And you should know by now the reason for all crimes is either money or sex.

I scowled.

Lucan was right, though. Once I had reaped fragments of the merchant’s son’s soul, a few days of wandering his father’s land, haunting his usual haunts and speaking to his friends, lovers and enemies brought me a soul-vision of him tumbling this farmer's two daughters. Not hard to envision the rest.

- Go away, Lucan.

He chuckled, then vanished into some distant part of my head. Lord Lawrens Lucan. The only soul I had ever reaped who had held on to his sanity.

After more questions and answers, the reeve barked a command. Two of the guards came forward, lifted Hawold to his feet and used their knives to cut away his clothes.

Once he was naked, they marched him to the edge of the clearing. Both of them paused, one of them casting a last hopeful glance back at the reeve. He stared at them, impassible. With visible sighs, both men stepped over the edge of the clearing and into the Woods.

They had to carry Hawold to the tree. They pushed him back against the trunk, lifting his hands above his head. One of them began to run a rope around and around, binding him to the bark. He wept and pissed himself, liquid splatter soaked up by the bone dry earth. I felt sick.

One of the guards pulled a hammer and nail from his pocket. I winced. I had heard about these 'sacrifices' as executions, but never witnessed one. I forced myself not to turn away as the guard lifted the rusty old hammer high above his head. A swish of metal through air preceded a hollow thump and a scream.

Blood burst forth from the man's palm, dark as old wine. It began to drip down his forearm, his chest, his legs. Blood and tears mingled with the man's piss at his feet, the parched soil drinking it eagerly.

With the ropes tied off, both men walked away, not looking back. As soon as they had crossed the iron line, the reeve guided his horse forward.

"In the name of our Queen Guinueth Thorne, and by the power invested in me by the Lord Mawthew Brandenstock, Duke of Wanechester and Warden of the South, I do sentence you to a day and a night spent in the Wyrding Wood. May the fae sound your soul and decide your guilt. And if they should find you guilty, may the Lady have mercy on your soul." The reeve lifted his hand and made the sign of the Tree.

Hawold began to scream.

The heat was unbearable as we rode back, Hawold’s screams pursuing us. Something was building in the back of my head, the unmistakeable taste of magic in the back of my throat. I tried to hurry along, but now the reeve had no further need for me I was forced to the back of the group. The wind had died, leaving us riding through air thick as treacle.

The drumming in my head built and built, so intense I could hardly see the road in front of me. Just when I thought it could not get any worse, the summons washed over me.

There were no pictures, no words. Just an absolute necessity to be with the summoner. A distinct identity marker accompanied the urge, a flurry of impressions as clear and unmistakeable as blood on fresh snow.

Tess needed me in Caerlyons. Soon.

Summoning spells take a lot of effort, blood and energy. For the person being summoned, it is like being hit by three bolts of lightning while holding an alchemycal collecting rod and standing in a pool of freezing water.

I yelled, once. Darkness swamped me and dragged me down.

Chapter 2 ->

Book One: Thieftaker

The British Isles, the 16th century.  

Decades ago, the fae returned to the mortal world. Released by a coven of magicians after centuries of imprisonment, they swept across the British Isles, covering the land with a tangled forest of enchanted trees. Cities fell. Thousands died. Only a handful of cities were saved.

Years later, the people of the Isles have grown used to this new way of life. Many have been Touched by the magic, transformed into creatures half-mortal, half-fae.

Daniel Therwood is one of those. Cursed with the hands of a reaper, he gained the ability to steal the souls of anyone he touched. After years working as an assassin, he now works as a thieftaker, tracking murderers through the Seven Cities that survived. He is convinced that his old life is behind him.

Until one night he wakes up to find a body in his bed…

Going from the shifting decks of the Dregs to the heights of the royal court, Daniel finds himself caught up in an ever more complicated web of deceit, treachery and death.

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