Seer of Souls

By Susan Faw

Fantasy, Young adult, Action & adventure, Hybrid & other, Magical realism

Paperback, eBook

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476
4 mins

Prologue


THE BABY GAVE a feeble, barely discernable kick. Its twin had ceased movement but not with the natural stillness of slumber. Poison moved through their premature bodies, oozing along their tiny veins, a burning acid in their blood.


Mordecai lifted his hand from the woman’s sweaty forehead. Gwen’s panicked eyes locked onto his sad grey ones. She clutched her distended belly as another wave of pain ripped through her.


“It must be poison! This is more than simple birthing pangs.” She coughed and the motion made bile rise in her throat. Gwen clutched at Mordecai’s left hand, gripping it so tight the knuckles of her hand whitened. “It’s reaching the babies! Mordecai, what do we do?”


Straightening his lanky frame, he released her hand and wandered over to the tall mullioned window of the bartizan room. His sweeping brows pinched together in a frown as he gazed unseeingly at the silent courtyard below him. Purple wisteria climbed the ashlar walls of the castle, revealing their stark outlines. A fresh breeze stirred the heavy tapestry curtains as lightning flashed, highlighting the roiling clouds, puffing in eager anticipation of the storm breaking over the castle.


Her seclusion was for her protection. Gwen’s grief over Prince Alexander’s failure to return from his most recent patrol with the Kingsmen twisted in her gut, accentuating the pain of the poison. The prince and all of the Kingsmen in his unit had been slaughtered by Primordials in a sudden vicious attack. This sorrowful news had arrived on the heels of the king’s death from a heart attack a week prior. The kingdom was reeling from the double disaster. And now it’s my turn. I am the target, she thought.


Gwen coughed and froth formed in her mouth, drowning her thoughts. Her lungs attempted to fill but failed. Intense pressure gripped her chest as though a large man with a booted foot stood on it compressing it. She pushed aside her discomfort and staggered over to join the wizard at the window. She clutched a handful of his grey robe sleeve, partly to gain his attention and partly to keep from sinking to the floor.


“Please, Mordecai, I must save my babies! What can I do? There has to be a way to help them. Between your magic and my heritage, there must be a way.”


Mordecai’s mouth drooped beneath his long white beard. “I can only think of one solution, Gwen” he said gently. “You must pass the mother bond to me.” Tears sparked in her almond-shaped eyes as he locked his to hers. “I think we both know that you cannot survive this poison.” He squeezed her hands. “We need to convince Alcina the babes have died with you.”


Gwen’s liquid green eyes searched and found steely resolve reflected in his grey ones. She nodded once and unconsciously rubbed one hand across her protruding belly, where the foot of the lone stirring child pushed against the thin protection of her skin.


“We need to do this quickly, Gwen. The birth will take most of your remaining strength, and they must be born alive in order to pass the bond.”


She groaned again as a hard contraction took her. The twisting pain of a poison-filled cramp left her gasping for air as she sank to her knees beside the wizard. She raised her head, panting. “I do not think that is a problem, Mordecai.”


Mordecai gently eased her onto her back, on the cold stone floor. Reaching inside his pocket, he took out a clear crystal stone and placed it between her cold hands, clasping them with in his own. Together, they began to chant.


***


The late-day sun streamed through the garden-view windows of the bartizan room. Dust motes stirred in a breeze heavy with the smell of damp earth and wisteria. A few trailing clouds scuttled across the sky in an attempt to catch the storm moving off to the east, low rumbles fading softly into the distance.


With a groan, Mordecai sank back to his knees on the polished floor beside the princess. Gwen's sweat-soaked brown hair curled damply over her curiously shaped ears. Dark circles shadowed her eyes; eyes that stared back at him from a deathly pale face.


She lay on the floor, her bloodstained gown bunched to one side. Beside her, wrapped in cotton swaddling, were two newborn infants, a boy and a girl.


Both children were dead.


A tiny red birthmark, resembling the shape of an oak leaf, adorned the right side of each smooth cheek. The tattoos faded away before his eyes. Mordecai smiled a grim smile and trailed a thin finger down the soft cheeks where the tattoos had appeared so briefly, sensing the residue of magic under the skin.


Gwen lifted her hand and caressed the cheeks of her two babes. A hot tear trickled out of the corner of her eye. She would never know them, nor they her.


Mordecai lifted the children and placed them in her arms. She hugged them and wept silently, tears streaming down onto the cherubic face of the closest child.


Gwen’s mournful eyes lifted to the man standing beside her.


“Are they truly safe now, Mordecai?” Her weak voice shook with suppressed emotion.


“They are as safe as we can make them, Gwen.”


She touched his sleeve. “Thank you,” she murmured weakly. “You have been a true friend.” She stiffened, sucking in a hard breath that ended abruptly. Her eyes widened as the soul in their emerald depths faded away. Her hand slipped from his sleeve and thudded to the floor.


Mordecai gently closed her eyes, squeezing his own shut to dam the tears sliding down his whiskered face.


“Sleep well, Gwen, and welcome the peaceful embrace of the Mother.”


He staggered to a chair by the open window. Leaning out over the stone ledge, he saw a dead eagle on the stones below. He dropped back into the chair beside the window and gazed out at the setting sun. The last of the storm clouds faded into the distance. Little did they know that they carried the hopes and dreams of the world in their midst.


Pain stabbed into Mordecai’s chest and he sucked in a deep breath. If his calculations were correct, he had little more than a half hour left. The poison was completing its job.


Well, his task was finished. What would be would be. Eyes opened wide, he watched the sun creep toward the horizon. The rays of the setting sun blazed through the retreating clouds, glowing pink and orange. His lips curved with satisfaction. It was done.


***

The tall, regal woman burst into the room, cruel eyes sweeping the creeping shadows. Her contingent of guards with lanterns held aloft quickly encircled her and then spread out along the sides of the room.


She gazed around at the scene before her. “Search the room for others. Check to see that no one is alive,” she snapped at the guards.


She marched up to the woman lying on the floor cuddling her two babes. Frowning, she stepped around the bodies and moved over to the man in the chair.


He sat staring glassy-eyed out the window. She felt for a pulse in his neck and located a faint pulse under the curve of his chin. “The wizard still lives!” she screamed. “Find the mage. Hurry!”


She snapped her fingers, calling the two guards standing closest. “Pick him up, and move him to the lower dungeon. Secure him with two guards on the door at all times. His head is to be shaven before he awakes and it must remain shaven or his powers will return.”


She grabbed Mordecai’s whiskered jaw in her long-nailed hand and shook his slack face. “Poor bald wizard,” she murmured to him. “You hoped to be dead before I arrived, didn’t you? Soon, you will tell me all your secrets, starting with this room. I will know the truth of this before you die.” She released his face. “Take him away!”


Whirling around, she barked to the other guards crowding the room. “Burn the bodies—immediately! There will be no Remembrance Eulogy for them. They are unworthy of the honour. It is reserved for true royalty”—she nudged Gwen’s body with her toe—“and she is not royalty! Filthy heathen!”


Furious, she stormed from the room, her black silk skirts snapping in her wake.



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