Sample Chapter from The Crow King's Wfie,
The choking sweet smell of rot filled the darkened room with a pungency
that made him want to vomit. Shade
would have complained, but he knew he was the source of the stench.
It didn’t seem right to complain about something he was causing.
The right side of his face felt like an overripe melon, and he couldn’t
even bring himself to look down at his leg.
If not for the chains binding his wrists and holding him tight against
the rafter he knew he wouldn’t be on his feet.
Even if the Blights had released him and waved
him toward the door he didn’t have the strength to escape.
That didn’t seem likely in any case however.
He had been hanging from the rafter for what seemed like days without so
much as a word from the Blights. He
wasn’t really sure exactly how long it had been, and he no longer cared to put
thought into it. Everything beyond
his personal misery seemed trivial, even the passing of time.
At first he had been energetic in his demands
to speak with someone about his mission, now he simply didn’t care.
All he really wanted now was sleep. The
deep restful kind of sleep that couldn’t be achieved while hanging from a
rafter and slowly rotting in the dark.
“Look at what you have done to
us. Of all of the arrogant idiotic
things. What did you imagine would
happen when you lit that campfire? Did
you think the Blights would simply announce themselves and offer a parlay?” The
voice echoed through his skull like thunder and Shade flinched in response.
pounding of his pulse was agony enough, but to actually hear a voice was
excruciating. Licking his cracked
lips Shade lifted his head just enough to stare at the darkness around him.
The room was empty as far as he could tell through the blurry vision of
his remaining eye. His head slumped
back to his chest and his eye closed once more.
It was too much effort to bother answering the voice, and his throat was
too dry for words at any rate. If he
wasted the energy for words it would be to plea for water from his captors.
Not that that would do any good, he had already tried begging for water
days ago or maybe hours, it didn’t matter which.
He certainly wasn’t going to waste his strength answering whoever had
chosen to taunt him with the same point he had been kicking himself over since
think you can simply ignore me and I’ll go away?” The voice grew louder with a note of anger
etched in its tones. “You brought us to
this point with your choices and brilliant planning and you will not ignore me
on the matter. I had things
perfectly in control and we were safe under my guard.”
Confusion welled in Shade’s mind as a choking
sob escaped his lips. The voice was
a familiar one, but his mind refused to give it a name.
By rights the only one that should have been able to make such
accusations was the poor pitiful goblin he had drug into this mess, and he knew
it wasn’t the creature’s thoughts tearing through his mind.
Had the creature been able to communicate mentally it would have done so
in its requests for food.
Does this help you understand?” There
was a long pause and for a moment Shade thought his tormentor had finally tired
of the game. “Open your eye fool.” The
quiet demand was impossible to ignore and once again Shade forced his eye open.
The shadows blurred before him then sharpened just enough for him to make
out a pair of black polished boots in the dirty straw.
Forcing his head up slowly Shade let his gaze trail along the knee high
boots to the fine linen trousers and waistcoat. Swallowing
heavily Shade paused and stared hard at the dark blue and silver of the fine
clothes, the colors of house Morcaillo.
Bracing himself Shade forced himself to
continue until his vision rested on the man’s face, his face.
In every detail right down to the blue etched glasses it was his own face
he was staring at. His confusion
doubled as he tried to force his mind to sort through what he was seeing.
It made no sense at all to be faced with his double, unless of course the
Blights intended to use this duplicate to trick Jala.
She would see though it though, Shade was certain of that.
This image of him was too outdated. He hadn’t dressed like that in
nearly a year, not since the Academy.
not a Blight you twice damned idiot. I
suppose you could call me your voice of reason.
You know the little nagging voice that you have been ignoring for so
long? Can’t quite ignore me now
can you?” The
image of him leaned closer and stared hard at his face as the words filled
Shade croaked. The effort of
speaking and holding his head upright grew unbearable and he allowed his head to
slump to his chest. His gaze locked
on the shiny black boots once more, but his confusion was already fading.
It took too much effort to think, and it didn’t matter regardless.
If this was a trick Jala would sort through it.
He didn’t have the will or the energy to worry about it himself.
you can simply allow us to rot away without even attempting to escape?
I don’t think so.” The
voice was harsh and filled with disgust.
“Nothing else to do but rot.” Shade
muttered in a voice that was barely audible.
“I can’t believe you are still alive
Morcaillo.” The black boots
vanished instantly at the sound of the new voice leaving nothing but empty
shadows in the place of his double. It
was as if the man’s quiet words alone had been enough to banish the demon that
had been tormenting him.
Shade struggled to raise his head once more,
but his strength was too far gone. The
room had seemed empty, but apparently he had been wrong.
The faint scuff of shifting straw rose from the shadows behind him.
He tried to twist in his chains enough to glance back, but his body
refused to move. “Barely.” Shade
whispered to his unseen savior. He
didn’t know if it was a Blight or another captive, but it hardly mattered.
Whoever it was had saved him from further torment and he was grateful.
“I can tell.
By the smell your wounds have gone putrid, and you’ve been mumbling for
hours. I can only imagine the fever
that must be gripping you right now.” The
voice was soft and cultured with faint hints of an Arovan accent.
“Fever.” Shade murmured and almost smiled
at the word. It explained the voice
and his double so well. He had heard
of fever dreams before, but had never believed he would be subject to them.
It was so rare that anyone with Elder Blood was ever reduced to the
pathetic state that he was in now that most never even considered the
possibility. Typically if you
didn’t kill an Elder Blood swiftly, you didn’t kill them.
Circumstances such as his own current predicament were few and very far
between. Most Elder Blood weren’t
stupid enough to allow themselves to be captured as easily as he had been, and
most would have fought to the death before being hung like a slab of meat and
“I told them you needed healing, but of
course they didn’t listen.” The man sighed and there was more movement
behind him. “I’d help you myself
if my own bonds would allow it. I’m
not much of a healer as far as magic, but I know a bit about binding wounds.
I’m afraid you are well beyond that being enough to help though.
If you don’t get a healer soon I’m afraid you are…” his words
trailed off leaving the last word unspoken.
It hardly needed to be said though. Shade
knew well enough how close he was to death.
“Who?” Shade asked as loudly as he could,
which wasn’t much more than a harsh whisper.
His voice sounded like a croaking frog to his own ears, and he could only
hope his fellow prisoner could understand him.
“I’m not sure if you are asking who I am or
who I told you needed healing so I’ll answer both.
My name is Caleb Faulklin of Lord Micah’s Honor guard, or at least I
was. I remember you from the
Academy, but I doubt you remember me. I
was graduating when you were arriving, and we only met once.
As to whom I asked, well the Blights of course.
They are our current hosts in this lovely place.”
Caleb explained quietly.
The image of a young man with pale grey eyes
flashed in Shade’s mind at the name. Caleb
had been soft spoken, but memorable with short dark hair that frosted to white
at the tips and a quiet charm that seemed to hold women captivated.
Shade could remember the meeting quite well. It had been in a tavern near
the Arena. He had started out
drinking alone and had ended the night in quiet conversation with Micah Arovan
of all people. They had discussed
everything from politics to current laws and had parted on good terms despite
the differences of their houses. Caleb
and Honor Hai’dia had been silent shadows behind the heir of Arovan in the
beginning. They had guarded over
their young lord as if they expected Shade to poison him, but by the end of the
night they had been relaxed and even offered their own thoughts on the various
“Always liked Micah.
Respected him.” Shade murmured softly.
He wanted to say more, to offer condolences for Micah’s death, to voice
outrage over his murder, but he was fading and he knew it.
“Any words for him? I’ll see him soon.” He chuckled weakly at his
macabre words, but it was the truth and there was no use denying it.
“Tell him I found her and she is safe.
Tell him that she doesn’t need my protection like he feared she would,
and that she misses him, but she will be fine.”
Caleb’s voice cracked with the words and he was silent for a long
moment. “Don’t tell him where
you saw me. I want him to pass onto
his next life without the full truth. I want his spirit to rest peacefully. He
deserved that much. Micah loved her
and this would break his heart were he still living.
It nearly broke mine when I arrived and I wish he had never sent me after
the bitch. I would have much rather
died in blissful ignorance beside him in Arovan.”
“Who?” Shade asked again.
It wasn’t his business, but the pain in the man’s voice had stirred
even his lethargic mind to curiosity.
“Onvalla, Micah’s wife.
Though I promise you he didn’t know what she was when he married her.
I spent months around the woman and never realized she was Blight, and
now she leads them. With luck the
knowledge will die with us. I
don’t want my Lord’s reputation tarnished by his choice in love, and it
would be. After all, we set out to
extinguish the Blights, not bed them.” Caleb’s voice grew bitter and he fell
silent once more.
Shade digested the news in silence.
It explained perfectly why Caleb was still alive and sounded in better
health than he was. Onvalla had
known him personally, and it was doubtful that Caleb had offered any more of a
fight than he had when captured. The
bitter irony of the entire situation made him want to vomit.
Both of them had been sent to help the Blights in one form or another,
and both of them were rotting in the dark because of it.
Of course Caleb hadn’t actually known he was charged with helping a
Blight, which made his story even more depressing.
Both of them had walked blindly into their situation, and both of them
would likely die from it.
“Fate you cruel fickle bitch.” Shade
muttered as his eye closed once more. His
mind slowly released its last attempts at thought and everything began to fade
to an empty fog. The pain was
finally fading away as well. The
agonizing pounding of his pulse was becoming a faint echo that was gradually
slowing. Rationally he knew he was
dying, but it was blissful none the less.
damn you fight! Don’t surrender!” The
voice broke through his thoughts once more and Shade smiled faintly in response.
Once again as he had done so often lately Shade quietly ignored the voice
of reason. He was too far gone to
argue or fight and he knew it, there was nothing else to do but ignore it.
Pain tore through his body like daggers and a
sob broke from his throat. The dead
are not supposed to hurt Shade’s mind screamed as another wave of agony washed
“Easy I’ve got you.” Caleb’s voice
whispered somewhere near his ear. “You
are a tough little bastard Morcaillo.” He added in a strained voice.
“He looks dead to me, not tough.” A woman
observed dryly from somewhere to his left.
“After what you have put him through he
should be. He is Morcaillo, Onvalla.
A Delvay or Shifter could live through this kind of treatment, even a
Firym might be able to pull through, but not one of the more fragile houses.
Their strengths do not lie in endurance.”
Caleb scolded in a cold voice.
“He is Morcaillo as you say. So why should I
care if he dies?” Onvalla snapped back in a tone that held very little
“Because this particular Morcaillo was
Micah’s friend and he isn’t like the rest.
This is Christian the Shade. I know you heard Micah speak of him before.
I know you remember that name, Onvalla.”
“The one Micah said could change House
Morcaillo if he led it?” Onvalla replied in a quieter tone.
“Why didn’t you tell me before now?
It’s too late now. He is practically dead.” Her voice held a note of
regret and Shade wanted to slap her for it.
It was taking everything he had to focus on their words rather than the
jostling pain of his body, and every moment of suffering he had endured was her
“I tried to tell you Onvalla.
I tried several times to tell you or get him a healer, but your lackeys
ignore my words.” Caleb explained
in frustration. “They would have continued to ignore me if I hadn’t thrown
such a bloody fit this time.” He added in clipped tones.
“Be grateful they fetched me rather than
killing you for that.” Onvalla
replied in a harsher voice. “I
fail to see what we can do for him regardless.
He is too far gone now and I have no healers.
Blights have no need of healers.” Her words echoed with superiority and
Shade could hear the smile in her voice.
her for that.” Shade mumbled hoping Caleb could decipher his words despite the
weakness of his voice.
Caleb snorted back laughter as he gently
lowered Shade to the dirty straw covered floor. “I doubt that would help
either of us at this point.” He murmured quietly.
“He wouldn’t need a healer either if your people hadn’t been
feeding him Tevrae daily to keep him in this state.
Give him the antidote and his regeneration will do the rest of the work.
I doubt he will get his eye back or much of his strength, but he will
live.” Caleb said in a louder voice.
“Antidote?” Onvalla echoed in confusion.
Did you not happen to glean that particular detail when you were scanning
minds? Nearly every poison has an
antidote and the one for Tevrae is fairly simple.
Let me out of this hole and I’ll be happy to show it to you.” Caleb
spoke in a carefully measured voice, but Shade could still hear the seething
anger in the man’s words.
“So you can escape? I don’t think so Caleb.
I can’t have you running back to your people with the knowledge you
have. It’s only for Micah’s
memory that I have let you live this long. I
know he loved you like a little brother, but don’t make the mistake of
believing I share Micah’s sentiments. You
were the one that tracked my people down. If
not for you hundreds of Blights would still be alive. No one else can track us
like you do, and until I find out how you tracked us you are my prisoner.”
Onvalla’s voice grew colder with each word.
“And once you find out how I am what?
Dinner?” Caleb snapped back.
“If you don’t get him the antidote he will die and he could very well
be the answer to your problems with the Morcaillo.
If he takes control of his house he can call back his people and end
their demands on your kind.”
Shade had to suppress a smile at the words.
There was of course no way that was the truth. He
had about as much chance of gaining control of House Morcaillo as Caleb had of
convincing Onvalla to save his life. Now
didn’t seem the prudent time to speak however. So he contented himself with
staring up at the shadowed ceiling and silently wishing someone would cut his
mangled leg off. With the pain
coursing through it right now there was no way an amputation could hurt any
“And why would he?
Why would he relinquish power over the Blights?” Onvalla demanded.
There was a trace of hope in her voice though, it was barely perceptible
but it was there. She wanted Caleb
to answer her with something she could believe.
Shade wanted him too as well. He hadn’t
actually expected the Blight to be persuaded, but from the sounds of it she was.
If Caleb could spin a good enough tale there was a chance he could get
both of them out of this mess.
“Because unlike most of us in this wretched
world Shade Morcaillo is a good man. I’ve
heard his views on the world and they mirrored Micah’s.
He isn’t like the rest of the Morcaillo and Micah respected him for it.
You heard Micah talking about what needed to change in Sanctuary and I
know you heard him say Shade Morcaillo was one of the changes.
Put your prejudice aside and think with an open mind, Onvalla.
Your savior is dying before your eyes and you are doing nothing.”
Caleb’s voice rose with emotion as he spoke.
The room fell silent for several breaths and
Shade wished fervently that he could see the look on either of their faces.
His body wouldn’t respond though and he knew it without even trying, he
was simply too weak. He wanted to
know if Onvalla was truly considering what Caleb had said, but most of all he
wanted to know if Caleb had truly meant his words.
Shade had spent his entire life being judged by the name Morcaillo, and
now finally when he was a breath from dying someone was judging him by his own
merits, and comparing him with a hero. Micah
Arovan had been a good man; no one could deny that, not even his enemies.
To be considered his equal in anything was more compliment than Shade had
ever received from anyone aside from Jala.
“Tell me what you need to save his wretched
life and I’ll have my people gather it. I
promise you though Caleb, if this is a trick you will both suffer for it and I
will see you dead for wasting my time.” Onvalla
spoke the words grudgingly with suspicion lacing every word.
“Doing the right thing is never a waste of
time. You were Micah’s wife,
Onvalla. I would have thought you would have learned that.
If the rest of Sanctuary would just learn that lesson we wouldn’t be in
the mess we are in right now.” Caleb
“Jala’s road.” Shade whispered as he
allowed his eye to close once more with a faint smile on his lips.
He had only met Caleb once before and yet the knight had saved his life.
There was hope for Sanctuary yet. If
they could find more people like Caleb Faulklin Jala would have all of the
support she needed to finish her quest.
“I doubt you will ever walk without a limp
again, and I think running is completely out of the question.”
Caleb observed as he leaned back from examining the scars on Shade’s
leg. The knight had a gaunt look to
him from his time in captivity, but still appeared to be in fighting shape.
His clothes were tattered and his hair was tangled and matted with filth,
but despite it all he still had the bearing of nobility about him.
Most would have given up by now, but Shade saw no signs of surrender in
Caleb’s dark eyes.
“It is what it is.” Shade murmured, but
couldn’t bring himself to look down at the leg.
He knew it was mangled just by the tightness of what remained of his
muscles. He didn’t actually need
to see it to confirm that fact. “A
leg I can live without. The eye I
will sorely miss, but my life is what counts and I owe you for that.
Thank you Caleb.”
“I have no doubts you would have done the
same.” Caleb replied casually as he stood and paced away from the small pallet
he had fashioned for Shade. The
thick chain around his ankle rattled across the straw covered floor as he moved
and Caleb sighed as he reached the end of the tether.
Onvalla had allowed Caleb room to move so that
he could tend to Shade, but she hadn’t trusted him enough to leave him
unshackled. She hadn’t bothered
chaining Shade. It had been clear that she hadn’t thought he would live
through the night, yet three days had passed and he still clung to life though
he was too weak to stand.
“Do you think she will talk to me?” Shade
asked quietly. By the expression on
Caleb’s face the man needed the distraction conversation would offer.
Caleb sighed and the troubled expression on his
face faded. He shrugged at Shade and
shook his head slowly. “If she
were the woman I knew before I would say yes without hesitation.
Onvalla was different with Micah and you couldn’t have asked for a
sweeter girl. She isn’t though so
I can’t say for certain. The
Onvalla I’ve seen here is harder and less predictable.
I think volatile might actually be the word I want.”
“Volatile. That doesn’t bode well for peace
negotiations.” Shade sighed. It
had been three weeks since he had left Merro on his mission by his best guess,
and he had spent nearly a week in Merro before he had even left.
That gave him perhaps two more days maybe three at most before Jala
released the borders and allowed Arovan and Glis to attack.
He didn’t have time for volatile. He had to act soon or it was all for
nothing, and he would be damned if he lost a leg and an eye for nothing.
“I have to talk to her Caleb. I’m running out of time for this.”
Shade let his desperation show in his voice in hopes that the knight would
realize how serious it was.
“Before what?” Caleb asked quietly.
His pale eyes had settled on Shade once more and he had a pensive look
“Before the High Lady Merrodin allows Arovan
and Glis to wipe the Blights out of existence.
She gave me thirty days to do this, and I botched the entire mission with
my stupidity. In my arrogance I
believed I could reason with the Blights if I could just find them.
When they found me I realized my mistake very quickly.”
Shade explained in a quieter voice.
“Things must have changed a great deal more
than I realized if Lady Merrodin is determining what Arovan or Glis can do.”
Caleb mused and nodded his head slowly. “Rest
for now Shade and I’ll see what I can do to arrange a meeting.
You will need full strength to deal with Onvalla so sleep as much as you
“When you talk to them will you ask if they
ate my goblin please? I don’t want
to ask Onvalla directly when I see her, but I would really like to know the
answer to that.” Shade added
“Your goblin?” Caleb asked with a raised
eyebrow. By the concern on the
knight’s face Shade could tell he was about to check him for a fever again.
“My goblin.” Shade repeated with a nod and
smiled faintly at the knight’s bewildered expression.
“It’s not like the rest of its kind Caleb.
I suppose it’s from the same sort of broken mold I am.
I’m not like a Morcaillo either, so it was easier for me to give the
goblin a chance. I know what it’s
like to be different.”
Caleb nodded slowly and a faint smile creased
his lips. “A goblin then.
Yes I will ask if I get the chance. Don’t
hold your breath for it to be safe and sound though.
They ate my horse the day I arrived.
Meat is scarce here and it’s a wonder we haven’t been added to the
“Pray for the best and expect the worst.
That is the motto for life I think.”
Shade murmured as he settled into the pallet once more.
Caleb was right he would need all of his strength to speak with Onvalla.
Just the short conversation with Caleb had worn him out.
He had expected to recover faster than he was, but it seemed even
Changelings had limits on what they could endure and he was well past his own.
By rights he should have died and it still amazed him that he hadn’t.
Fate apparently wasn’t done toying with him yet.