Sample Chapter from The Crow King's Wfie, 

Prologue

            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.

 The 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 his capture.

“You 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.

“Idiot.  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.

“I’m 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’s mind. 

“Go away.”  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.

“So 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 forgotten.

“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 topics. 

“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. 

“God 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.

 

ëôéôé

 

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 over him.

“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 patience.

“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.”  Caleb growled.

“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 fault.    

“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.

 “Slap 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.

“Yes Antidote.  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 worse.

“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 sighed.

“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. 

 

ëôéôé

 

“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 about him.

“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 can.” 

“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 hesitantly.

“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 menu yet.”

“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.

 

 

 

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