Authors: Steve McHugh
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Dark Fantasy, #Occult, #Two Hours or More (65-100 Pages), #Science Fiction & Fantasy
A Hellequin Novella
By Steve McHugh
Crimes Against Magic
Born of Hatred
A Hellequin Novella
By Steve McHugh
Hidden Realms Publishing
This ebook first published in 2013 by Hidden Realms Publishing
Copyright © 2013 by Steve McHugh
Kindle Edition. All Rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever without prior written permission by the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Kindle Edition, License Notes
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Edited by Jennifer Gaynor
And Bridget A. Connors
Cover design by Eamon O’Donoghue
For everyone who supported me when I was an unknown self-published writer,
and for everyone who continues to do so.
September 1483, Tower of London.
It's surprisingly easy to gain access to a king when many of his most trusted servants and advisers also work for you.
The king's guard all moved aside, most ensuring they didn’t make eye contact. Those who knew who I was also had a pretty good idea of why I was there, and so avoided me for that reason. Those who didn’t know me must have sensed my dark mood and decided that pissing me off further than I already seemed to be wouldn’t have enhanced their chances for a quiet life.
Thus unencumbered, I made my way through the courtyard of the royal palace toward the Grand Hall, where the king was holding court. I reached the doors and opened them, stepping through into a room that lived up to its name.
The hall was both massive and opulent, with the king's banners showing the House of York's white rose, alongside the usual imagery of fleur-de-lis and inaccurate looking griffins draped next to stunning stained glass windows, some of which depicted the king’s personal badge, a white boar.
Several dozen men and women, of all ages and ranks, stood before King Richard III of England as he sat on his throne. Each subject was given the opportunity, in turn, to ask or beg the king for whatever favor he or she wished. Some wishes were granted, some were not, it was wholly dependent on the king's mood of the day and how much he either liked or needed the petitioner. The king's judgment was final, too. Sometimes you got a good king, a just king, a king who would help his people. And sometimes you got a blood-thirsty savage. Either way, so long as Merlin and Avalon were happy, we didn't intervene in human politics. Unfortunately, on this day, Merlin was far from happy. Which led to the reason why I was here.
I resisted the temptation to make a point by removing anyone but the king from the room. He was finishing up a proclamation that permitted one of his subjects to marry someone else, and I allowed the moment to continue. It wasn’t them I was angry with.
When the king finished, he noticed me for the first time, and all color drained from his face. If you're the ruler of a country and I’m standing before you, it's usually not because you’re doing a good job. The first time it happens is just after a coronation. I, or someone just like me, arrives and tells you exactly where you stand in the world and explains that you either behave, which means doing the things we ask, or you’ll receive another, less pleasant, visit.
The king before me knew exactly why I was there. Two princes, Edward and Richard, had vanished after being placed in his custody. He was either personally involved in something very bad, or he knew who was. It had been left for me to either fix it or to ensure that it was King Richard III’s final error.
King Richard signaled to one of his aides who then told everyone that court was over and would reconvene on the morrow. I stood still as the confused masses were ushered from the hall, until only the king and I were left.
"I know why you're here," he said.
"That should make this go a lot quicker then," I snapped and walked toward him. "Your majesty." I didn't bow or even nod in his direction. That wasn't a judgment against the man; there wasn't a human king or queen alive that I would have done it for. None of them were
"Hellequin, you have to understand." Fear broke through his voice.
I stopped walking and ignited a ball of fire in the palm of my hand, making it turn slowly. "Make me understand, Richard," I said softly. "Make me realize why you disobeyed an order from Merlin."
King Richard III of England was not a small man. In fact in many quarters he would have been described as formidable, both in stature and presence, but he appeared visibly uncomfortable at the sight of the flames moving over my palm.
"I've done nothing to make Merlin unhappy," he told me firmly.
I walked over to the nearest window and looked out at the courtyard. Several lords and ladies of court were chatting amongst themselves, while a large grey canine leaned up against a nearby wall, in the shade. He glanced my way briefly, as if aware that I was looking down on him.
I turned back to look at the King. He wasn't a young man by human standards, having nearly turned thirty, but he still had several decades ahead of him, barring illness or war. Unfortunately, crossing Avalon was going to shorten his lifespan.
"I have done nothing to upset Merlin," Richard repeated, a slight desperation in his voice. "He has no reason to send you here."
"I gave you those boys to look after," I said softly, struggling to control the anger that bubbled inside.
"I don't understand."
"The princes are important. I removed them from the Woodville's, who would only have used them for their own ends, and I gave them to you—a man I thought I could trust to take care of the young king and his brother. I instructed you to keep them safe, to have them cast as illegitimate children, after which I would return to collect them. I remember telling you this using only small words, so you'd understand its importance."
"I did as you asked. I had them renounced, and I took over as King. What more did you want from me?"
"Where are they?" my voice was cold and hard.
Richard's eyes avoided my gaze.
"Do I need to repeat myself?"
"I do not know where they are," he whispered.
"You don't know?" I shouted, slamming my hand onto the nearby table, making Richard recoil slightly. "How do you fucking-well lose two princes?"
A fire of defiance lit in his eyes. "You will do well to remember that
am king here,
A blast of air magic threw Richard from his feet and pinned him against the far wall as I stalked toward him.
"And you would do well to watch your tongue, lest I remove it along with your head."
I released the magic, and he crashed to the ground, yelling out in pain. I'd forgotten about his twisted back, a well-hidden deformity hardly anyone knew. But the constant pain occasionally made its way through the mask of normality. A twinge of guilt went through me. I pushed the thought aside. I had a job to do. It was more important that the kings of the land understand their place, than it was that I felt good about my actions.
I offered the king my hand. He refused and pushed himself off the floor, anger in his eyes.
"Do you know why you're king?" I asked.
"Because you needed someone to take over," he snapped. "Someone you could threaten and use."
I shook my head. "Merlin could have picked anyone for that.
picked you because I like you. You're a good man; ruthless, smart and above all, capable of being a good king. Someone your subjects can look up to and admire. But right now, you're the king who murders children in a tower." The fact that Richard had been my choice for king was another reason I was so angry. Merlin had declared the issue to be my problem to deal with above all others. I didn’t like to be made to look stupid.
"They're not dead."
"Does that matter? The story is out there, and it will build and gain momentum until the only thing people remember about Richard the Third is you had to murder children to become king."
“I told you, I didn’t murder them. I haven’t harmed them in any way. I don’t understand why are they so important to you."
"That isn't your concern. Now, you have no idea of the trouble it causes me to come to London. So, for the final time, you
tell me where they are."
"Those boys are my blood and therefore my concern—no matter what you or anyone else from Avalon wishes to believe. I had them removed from the tower. I told trusted men to take them north of here, away from London. They're not safe in the city, not even in the tower."
"Really? Then please do tell me what you thought was going to happen here."
"There has been talk of people who wish to kill them and use their murders against me. This country doesn't need more war. We need stability."
"So they were removed from the city because that's what was safe for you?"
Despite the fact that Richard was clearly outmatched, he still exuded confidence. He was certain that his decision to remove the princes from the tower was the best choice available to him.
"Whom did you send them with?"
"The Duke of Buckingham, he's taken the boys to Wales."
"And may I ask why you didn't think it important to inform Avalon of your plans?"
"Buckingham sent a messenger to you."
If nothing else, I had to admire the conviction of his belief in those who worked for him. Even if it was misplaced. "I think we can safely say that didn't happen. Or that the messenger was intercepted."
Panic crossed his face. "They left only a few days ago, but I had the boys confined to their quarters for the past month before then. Something is happening and I don't wish for them to be involved."
I sighed, disappointed that Richard had done nothing to get Avalon’s help, making a bad situation worse. "I'll go after them. In the future, when Avalon tells you to do something, you do it. Because, I assure you that I will be far and away the least of your worries if anything has happened to those princes."
"And Hellequin, you should remember, that they are my nephews. And if Avalon's plans for them fall into anything that harms them, I will seek retribution for it."
I couldn't help but respect the fact that even though Richard knew Avalon could remove him from power at Merlin's whim, he still stood up for what he believed in. "Merlin's plans will keep them safe, I promise."
"Merlin is not here."
keep them safe, Richard. But first I have to find them. In the meantime, you'd best pray that when I reach them, they're still in one piece." I truly hoped that the power of his kingship wouldn't change Richard, as it had so many before him. I didn't want to make a third, much less pleasant, nighttime visit.
The courtyard had gotten busier and busier since my arrival. With the king having ended his court so abruptly, many of those who had wished to see him, were still milling around hoping their liege would change his mind.
The large canine I'd spotted earlier had vanished, so I made my way toward the stables where I found a young man leaning against a tree trunk. He was roughly the same height as I, but even more broad across the shoulders. When we'd first met, he'd been an English archer and the only survivor of an attack on the city of Soissons by a pack of vicious werewolves. They’d managed to replace his humanity with the beast that resided inside him, but did not break him as they’d hoped. Despite the lack of the middle and fourth fingers on his right hand, Thomas still practiced with a war bow every day. For a while he’d tried to teach me the subtle uses of the deadly weapon. But, while I was strong enough to pull the bow, and accurate enough to hit my target, Thomas’s mastery made me look like a child with a new toy. He was fluid and graceful, and his new werewolf speed and strength had made him even more dangerous.