Saturday, May 31, 2008

Through the Dark by Mychael Black and Shayne Carmichael

As Jeremy entered the tavern, the feral wildness in his eyes caused quite a few of the customers to abruptly look away from him. Dressed rich enough in a long-waisted black jacket, his clothing fit him yet the overall look seemed at odds with his features. He hadn't even bothered to tie back the golden, untamed mane of hair.

Only the barkeep dared to even look at him. "What can I be getting for ya?"

Several others around the bar scurried away, tankards in hand. Huddling together, they sipped at their drinks, taking great care not to look too long at him.

"Ale." Tossing a coin to the scratched wooden counter, Jeremy ignored the others.

As the tender poured him a tankard, he asked, "So what's your business in these parts, stranger?"

With a short bark of laughter, Jeremy answered, "God's business."

When the mug was pushed toward him, he lifted it and drank it quickly down.

"God is not welcome here." The growled proclamation was accentuated by a tankard slamming down on one of the wooden tables. Half the tavern crowd moved to the other side of the room, and several left altogether.

"Watch that one," the barkeep whispered, nodding toward the back table. "He's got a mean temper, he does. Don't like that word."

"Another ale." With a smirk of amusement, Jeremy turned toward the potential troublemaker. "And this should concern me how?"



The man stood, knocking his chair backward onto the floor. Judging by the way he glared and swayed slightly, it was clear he was well into his cups. "You're here on…God's business," the man snarled, stepping around the table. "I'll give you to the count of three to get out of my sight." His hand went to the pistol shoved into his belt.

"Master Grey…" the bartender pleaded.

With a sharp warning glare from Grey, the barkeeper snapped his mouth shut.

Setting his mug on the counter, Jeremy stood and walked toward Grey. His gaze steadily held the slightly unfocused stormy one. "So quick to pull a pistol and ask no questions." Not at all afraid, he continued, "If you can shoot and actually hit me, I will be most impressed."

"I own this land!" Grey drew his pistol and, in the blink of an eye, he shot.

It didn't require any great feat of speed or skill to avoid getting hit by the bullet, as it flew wildly off the mark. Before his aggressor could even react, Jeremy was on him. With no more than a hard yank of his hand on Grey's, the gun dropped. The next moment, Jeremy spun Grey around and imprisoned him in an implacable grip.

"Whatever you own, you desperately need a bath and a good sleep, sir."

"I order you to release me!" Grey struggled and kicked, though the fight was slowly going out of him.

The barkeep gave Jeremy a grateful look and a nod. "He's the lord of the keep up the hill, but you'll be hard pressed to get him there. He's not been up there since Lord Rhys' passing 'bout a week ago."

Addressing the bartender, Jeremy asked, "And where has he been staying? The gutter?"



"Here mostly," the barkeep replied. He tilted his head, motioning toward the staircase leading up. "He has a room, but most of his time's been here, drinkin' a fortune in ale."

"Let. Me. Go." Grey renewed his struggle, jabbing an elbow back into Jeremy's ribs.

Jeremy whispered in his captive's ear, "Are you finished shooting complete strangers?"

Too drunk to control it, Grey shivered. "Unhand me or I will rip you to shreds with my bare hands."

Smiling knowingly, Jeremy loosened his grip enough to turn Grey around. Jeremy lowered his voice, keeping what he said between him and Grey. "And what would you do if I enjoyed it?"

For a moment, those stormy eyes stared into Jeremy's, his challenge answered without a word. To the side, the barkeep backed away, discreetly crossing himself.

"Beautiful amongst your own kind." Jeremy never looked away, showing not an ounce of fear but only an understanding of what he held in his arms. "So angry."

Slowly releasing him, Jeremy bent down to pick up the discarded gun and handed it back to Grey. "Know who your enemy truly is before you attack."

Grey took the pistol, his arm hanging limply at his side. The fight had gone out of him. "Who are you?"

After bowing with an elegant flair, Jeremy answered, "The name is Jeremy Waters. And yours?"

"Grey Constantine." Grey glanced over at the barkeep, then tossed a small bag onto the bar. "To pay for the damages." Looking back to Jeremy, he studied the man in silence for a moment. "What are you doing here?"

"I am here to retrieve a friend of mine." Jeremy returned to the bar and picked up his mug of ale.

"Who? I know everyone."

"It is doubtful you know him since he isn't from this village, and he doesn't belong here, either." Settling back on his stool, Jeremy drank his ale before he turned to the barkeep. "I'll need a room if you have one to spare."

"Give him mine," Grey told the barkeep. "I'll be returning to the keep."

"That isn't necessary, Constantine. I won't be here that long."

"Suit yourself." Grey turned and started for the door. Just before walking out, he gave Jeremy a lingering look.

When the door shut, the barkeep let out a long sigh of relief. "He's a mean one. Never was that bad before Lord Rhys' death."

"They were close then? You seem to know quite a bit about him."

"Lovers, some said," the barkeep whispered, looking around, though the other patrons were long gone. "No one knows the truth, but many s'pect that was the case."

"So what sets him off about God?"

"Lord Rhys was a man of God," the barkeep explained. "They grew up together, but then he left, wantin' to join the men of the cloth. Lord Grey, he was ragin' mad. Well, Lord Rhys, he came back, said it wasn't for him. That was five years ago. 'Bout a month ago, Lord Rhys went on a boat to Spain then returned. The ship wrecked and washed up on the shore. We could hear Lord Grey's screams down here in the village, cursing God for taking Rhys from him."

"A man with a mistaken notion of how God uses his power." Drawing a few gold coins from his waistcoat pocket, Jeremy placed them on the counter, smiling. "For the room and the information."

"Yessir. Third door, up the stairs." The barkeep pocketed the coins and handed Jeremy a rusty key. "Lord Grey will be up in the keep, sober if yer lucky. I s'pect you'll be wantin' to pay him a visit at some point."

"Not likely since I will only be here for one day." Pushing from the counter, Jeremy made his way up the narrow stairs to his room. Freeing his cousin from the clutches of the Church shouldn't prove to be hard. Yet Jeremy wanted to be prepared for all contingencies. Unlocking the door to his room, he glanced quickly down the hall before stepping inside.

Thankfully, it was clean, though the rickety furniture had seen better days. The bed was freshly made with clean linen, and the small desk had writing materials laid out. As he sat on the edge of the bed, pulling off his boots, the image of the angry man who had attacked him plagued Jeremy. Eyes the color of storm-tossed seas were hard to forget, as was the surge of anger he'd felt from Grey. Lord Constantine was a man haunted by his own ghosts, but Jeremy needed to focus on getting his cousin to safety. Perhaps once he'd achieved that, he could return to this place.

Never one to question his own intuition on anything, Jeremy knew he would come back to this town. He'd never been able to deny a soul in distress, and Grey was indeed in dire need. Stretching out on the bed, Jeremy contemplated what he needed to do. It would be a few hours before he could free his cousin, so there was no hurry at this point.

The layout of the monastery had been described to him by Atrius, one of the tribe's elders, who had scouted the area in preparation for Jeremy's arrival. There were no guards and the Church's men wouldn't arrive until the following day. He planned to enter the monastery by a little-used gateway and be free and clear before dawn. It was common knowledge where the prisoners of the Church were kept. One of the smaller wings, separated from the living quarters of the monks, housed the inmates being held for transport to London.

Staring up at the ceiling, Jeremy watched the play of firelight from the fireplace as he folded his hands behind his head. The plan to rescue his cousin had fallen to him because he had once been Alex's mentor. Though Jeremy wasn't a member of the tribe, all of them were aware of his reputation and power. Normally his refusal to affiliate himself with any tribe would have branded him an outcast, but he'd proven too useful in training the younger members. So all turned a blind eye to Jeremy's deviation from their customs.

He thought he would encounter relatively few problems getting his cousin out of the monastery and back to his tribe, yet instinct had him planning for all possibilities. Before he headed to the monastery, he planned on doing a little exploring of his own to find more than one escape route from the town.

Once the inn settled in silence and Jeremy could detect no sounds of movements, he sat back up and slipped on his boots. Careful to make no noise, he opened the door and paused, listening intently. Satisfied, he made his way to the back stairs and outside to the stables. Shadow whinnied softly in recognition as he slipped into the stable. Jeremy quickly saddled his horse and led him from the stall out to the dirt section in back. In the distance, he could see the dark outline of Constantine's keep. The enormous building sprawled across the top of one of the hills surrounding the town, and not too far from it, the smaller, squat building of the monastery. Its grim, forbidding lines were nowhere near as welcoming.

Two roads led from town. One went to the monastery, then continued further down the road to Lord Constantine's. Between the two, another road veered off in a south-eastern direction. The last road in town led north and south to numerous other villages dotting the landscape. Jeremy knew another village lay just over the second rise to the south, and to the north, it was five miles to the next town.

The moon had already risen well past its peak and now dipped low toward the trees lining one of the roads. Even without the light of the full moon, Jeremy had no problem finding his way. Once outside the earshot of any in the small village, he mounted Shadow and headed down the lane toward the monastery. The woods flanking the path were alive with the sounds of the nocturnal creatures inhabiting them. He passed by the monastery and continued a short distance down the road until he gained a clearer view of Constantine's home. The old castle was surrounded by an enormous gray wall lined with guard turrets. Beyond that, the forest continued unbroken toward the rise and the second wall closer to the castle.

Man and horse became equally still and with no effort, Jeremy sensed the spirits that lived within the land. Sadly, they were as fractured as their master. Nonetheless, he felt the distinct tug of the man who had earlier attacked him. Lost, alone, and afraid.

"I will return for you. I promise," Jeremy whispered into the night.

A small tug on the reins turned the horse back in the direction of the monastery. First, he had to take care of his cousin.