Farewell from the Bookshelf!
Please note that GLBT Bookshelf -- the community wiki which was the parent to this fiction blog -- went offline on May 31, 2016, after seven years' service to members.
All Gay Romance will remain online till the end of 2016 in order to give contributors every opportunity to recover materials uploaded here.
Many thanks to all who contributed over the years, and good luck to everyone in your future works!
GLBT spec fiction romance
Cover Artist: Croco Designs
Fed up with his desk duty in the Imperial Arcane Library, book hunter Colin Bliss accepts a private commission to find The Sword’s Shadow, a legendary and dangerous witches’ grimoire. But to find the book, Colin must travel to the remote Western Isles and solve a centuries’ old murder.
It should be nothing more than an academic exercise, so why is dour -- and unreasonably sexy -- Magister Septimus Marx doing his best to keep Colin from accepting this mission -- even going so far as to seduce Colin on their train journey north?
Septimus is not the only problem. Who is the strange fairy woman that keeps appearing at inconvenient times? And who is working behind the scenes with the sinister adventuress Irania Briggs? And why do Colin’s employers at the Museum of the Literary Occult keep accusing Colin of betraying them?
As Colin digs deeper and deeper into the Long Island’s mysterious past, he begins to understand why Septimus is willing to stop him at any price -- but by then, it’s too late to turn back.
I set off for the scene of the ambush, slowly driving along the old coast road, keeping an eye out for the stone shaped like a druid or a chess piece. The wind was blowing so hard, the old coupe shook as though we would be knocked into the sea. Electricity crackled in the air.
The land was mostly flat along here. It seemed to me that Mago would have had plenty of time to realize a detail had been sent from the castle. Would he have recognized them as a danger? If he had had time to realize what was happening, would he have tried to prevent the grimoire from falling into the wrong hands?
The coupe crested the small hill, and I saw the stone. It was indeed shaped like a bent and hooded man -- very like one of the chess pieces that Mrs. Morrison had set out for Septimus and me two nights ago.
I pulled to the side of the road, got out, and walked the rest of the way. I could see no place along here that Mago might have hidden a book. Unless he had thrown it into the bog nearby. Had he determined that the book was better destroyed than falling into the wrong hands? If so, he had had a lot in common with Septimus and the Vox Pessimires.
I stood for a moment, visualizing it -- visualizing Mago as he realized he was being pursued: the distant thunder of horse’s hooves, then the scrape and whisper of footsteps on sand, climbing closer, ever closer, the whip of torches in the wind, a smear of yellow in the blackness.
He would know almost at once he was trapped. What would he do? I looked around and spotted a track leading down to the beach.
I followed it until I came to a graveyard in the machair.
Here, there were no fancy, sculpted tombstones or markers as had been in the churchyard on the cliffs. These were plain granite markers. The graves of poor people. Fisherfolk and crofters. I walked among them, studying the inscriptions that had been protected from the relentless Leodhas wind and elements by Old Magick.
The majority of the dates were from around the same era -- and no date of death was noted later than 1388.
I stood still, trying to absorb this.
Very well. So the graveyard had fallen out of use after 1388. Not so odd, was it? The girl in the tobacconist shop had said it herself. Young people moved away, and old people died. Villages were abandoned. So, then, would be their graveyards, correct?
I began to examine the gravestones more closely. As the evidence accumulated, the hair rose on the back of my neck. Whole families had died the same year. Man, woman, child. Grandparents and babies. Seventy people all dead the same year.
Was it a plague? A massacre?
The final grave I found was set some distance from the others. There was no name, no inscription. It was a simple stone carved with a crude seven-point star.
I stared at it for some time, suspecting that I was viewing the grave of Ivan Mago.
Or whatever had been left of him after the eagles had finished.
At last I turned and walked back to the sandy track. I followed it down the wildflower-covered hillside to the beach, until I came to what looked to be an abandoned village.
The lost village of Marbost?
I gazed at the crumble of white crofts and broken seawall. A broken chimney rose from the grass and wildflowers.
The graveyard would likely belong to this village -- this village that had apparently died in 1388. The same year as Swanhild Somerhairle.
It seemed too great a coincidence.
What connection could this village have to Swanhild? Had the people here tried to offer aid to Ivan Mago? Had they been punished for it? That was the sheerest speculation. Why had Mago come this way, though? Why not the road from Steering Bay? That was the direct route.
I stared out at the little harbor. Mago could have landed here, could have chosen this roundabout way to approach Urquhart’s castle, but the only reason for it that I could see would be to conceal his presence on the island.
To conceal his presence from Agro Urquhart.
Success would require the complicity of this village. Why should he have expected that?
But what could have wiped out this entire village if not violent retaliation of some kind? Punishment for a betrayal? Who was better positioned on the island to bring death and destruction to a lot of people at once than the chieftain himself?
I climbed over a broken, blackened wall and dropped down to the spongy ground below, crunching my way over gravel and shell.
Slowly I wandered among the ruins of the lost village. My uneasy suspicion was confirmed. No natural disaster had broken and blackened these stone walls.
I continued down the road until I came to what had clearly been a place of worship. It looked like the ruins of any chapel, but chiseled into the stone threshold was the seven-point star.
So the village of Marbost, like Swanhild, had followed the old religion. Not so surprising. In the fourteenth century, it was Christianity that had been the anomaly. The conversion in Scotland, as in most of the European Alliance states, had been mostly peaceful.
I circled the building, looking for access. I discovered a break in the wall and climbed awkwardly through. The roof was gone, and sunlight shifted across the sand and seaweed-strewn stone floor.
Otherwise the building seemed empty. I was put in mind of the castle chapel. Two places of worship picked clean to the bones of their faith -- though the faiths were very different. At least as far as any faith differed one from the other.
Traversing the long room, I heard a whisper behind me -- a sound like the scrape of a shoe on a sandy floor. Remembering the alarm of the muniment room the day before, I whirled and saw a shadow standing outlined against the wall. Someone was watching me from just inside the fissure in the wall -- someone had climbed in after me.
“Who’s there?” I called sharply.
The silhouette moved into the sunlight.
I hadn’t realized how alarmed I’d been till I felt the rush of relief.
“You startled me.”
“Did I?” Half his face was still in shadow. He seemed unnaturally still.
“Mrs. Morrison said you’d gone back to the mainland.”
“I returned this morning.”
“Are you following me?” I didn’t think he was, so his silence threw me. “Are you following me?”
“Yes,” he said at last.
“Because I think you’re going to find the Faileas a’ Chlaidheimh.”
Well, that made one of us. I wasn’t nearly as hopeful. “I thought you didn’t want me to find it.”
“It doesn’t matter what I want. It’s too late now.”
He sounded grim. I walked toward him, saying, “Look, Septimus, I don’t think I’m as close as you believe, but if I was…do you really think I’m so irresponsible that I’d let it go to the highest bidder? If I do find it, I’ll take it to the Societas Magicke first. I know the Arcane Services would have to have a say in the disposition of such a powerful grimoire.”
He shook his head.
There was something at work here I didn’t understand. Something that turned his eyes black with an emotion alarmingly like grief. I put my hand out to him, resting it on his sleeve. “What’s wrong?”
He pulled me into his arms, half crushing me, and his mouth found mine. Shockingly I could taste tears on his lips.
I pushed away, staring at him. He was crying. His face was wet, though he made no sound. “What is it? Septimus? What in the name of All is wrong?”
His hands grasped my shoulders hard, then seemed to gentle, sliding down my arms to hold my hands. He gazed gravely into my eyes. His tears had stopped.
“I have to kill you,” he said.