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Lady Shade

Lady Shade


Book excerpt

Chapter One

Byron Portsman – The Innkeeper

The White Hart Inn was a quiet little thing owned by a large man who only loved his hotel, his daughter, and his dearly departed wife. So even though the White Hart Inn stood on the edge of the small town square and only lodged pilgrims who came to visit the old monastery in the forest, he took care with all things.

The sunlight, which had to angle through the windows past the high rooftops and great spire of the church opposite, gleamed off of pristine furnishings. The bar and dining area was perfectly kept with a warm fire. The logs to fuel it were slick oak from the Bronzeglade forest. Every tanker and glass was immaculate and filled with only the best.

The Inn only had a few guests. It was autumn which meant it was full harvest, so the men and women of the rural lands were hard at work. But Mr. Portsman, the innkeeper, had one guest who was unlike any he’d seen. Out here, it was unimaginable that a woman would be in riding leathers and roll into town on a black stallion, but there she was. Her fiery hair draped around her face, which was covered in makeup that accentuated her cheekbones and made her blue eyes shine brighter. She had an intelligent glint in her eye, and her boots were up on the chair beside her as she drank a tankard of ale.

Mr. Portsman could tell she was a city type, and from what little she had said to him, he learned that she was part of London’s aristocracy, here to see the local lord. She had a weapon strapped to her side that was far too complex and for Mr. Portsman to recognize, but she’d explained that it was called a wheel-lock pistol and that it worked similar to a crossbow. Her last name, Shade, was apparently the name of a great line of generals who’d fought in many wars. And her father had named her Milla, after a lady he’d met while fighting over in France. It seemed fitting. A wayward heart in two ways.

His only other guest was a pagan man who spent most of his time out in the forest. The pilgrims at the old monastery said they often saw him wandering the barren halls, reading the old books which had survived the fire that scorched half the monastery. He was said to be a shaman, and inquisitors had come looking for him a couple times, but the man never stayed in town very long. He wore a black shroud, bone-charms, and rings with strange gems in them. His black hair mostly covered his face.

 The man said his name was Solace, but no one in the town or any nearby knew where he’d come from. It was even suggested that he could be some kind of spirit. But Solace appeared entirely human to Mr. Portsman as he sat there drinking an ale of his own, uninterested in the striking lady beside him.

Mr. Portsman finished cleaning the table and nodded to Solace. “How long you staying?”

“Not too long, I hope.” Solace set down his tankard. “I just need to ask Father Blossom for some help with my research.”

Milla put down her tanker.

“What are you researching? And do either of you want more ale?”

Milla shook her head and took another sip. Solace gestured with the empty cup and Mr. Portsman took it, then strolled over to the bar. He turned the tap and looked at Solace.

“A bit of history,” he said. “Do you remember when I left for a year?”

“I do.” Mr. Portsman nodded. “They came looking for you twice.”

“Well, amusingly, I went to Rome. Turns out, the monastery here wasn’t built by the Catholic Church. A miracle of God, they say. I’m interested in learning where it came from.”

“That is interesting.” Mr. Portsman handed Solace a full cup. “But there are more serious matters. What about the murder in the forest?”

“What about it?” Solace asked. “The Bronzeglade is massive. You townspeople sometimes forget it extends far beyond the reaches of known lands. Doesn’t surprise me a pack of wolves would venture out every now and then.”

“Not from what I’ve heard,” Mr. Portsman said. “It would’ve needed to be a big wolf.”

“Perhaps it was,” Milla said.

Both men gave her a curious glance. She sat the cup at the end of the table

“More ale?” Mr. Portsman refilled her tanker.

“You know,” Solace said, “there’ve been tales for about a hundred years of beasts possessed by demons. Whether by the denizens of the shadows or from what you call Satan, there are stories of men whose minds become that of a wolf. That we know is true. And from what I’ve heard, the body can follow.”

There was silence.

“Superstitious nonsense.” Milla smirked as Mr. Portsman returned her cup to her.

“Pardon?” Solace said.

“I’ve heard a great many tales, and none of them are true,” Milla said. “Vampires and werewolves and witches—please. Nothing could hope to challenge the Father above.”

“I didn’t take you for a believer,” Solace said. “Wearing—”

“Times are changing, and so is the Faith,” Milla said. “Here up north, you’re still Catholic. In London, it swings this way and that, and the madness of it all has killed thousands. No, I won’t subject myself to such nonsense.”

“So which are you?” Mr. Portsman asked.

“I’m a follower of the Lord.” Milla gulped from the tankard. “It’s interesting about the monastery, though. You know, the early Romans built some primitive monasteries. They could’ve built it, monks moved in, fixed it up, built more. Makes the most sense to me.”

Solace grinned. “Don’t think you’re the only educated one here, Miss Shade.”

“How do you know my last name?” Milla asked.

“I must be on my way.” Solace stood. “It’s always wonderful, Mr. Portsman. And I think you’ll be the woman Eratta needs. Someone to fire up his soul, which became cinders when his leg began to wither. Good day.”

Milla drew her pistol on Solace. “Don’t walk away. How do you know my last name?”

“Come find me and I’ll tell you more. But this is a place of light.” Solace gestured to the windows. “And of ears. Certainly not a place to talk about dark things.”

“You’re doing it again,” Mr. Portsman said.

“Oh, I’m not doing that!” Solace laughed, slapping the innkeeper on the shoulder. “I’ll perform rituals of good health for you and your daughter, and put flowers of comfort by your wife’s resting place. Miss Shade, take good care of yourself. And if you’re ever in need of silver, ask Nathaniel. His family owns the silver mine up in the grey hills.”

Solace skipped out the front and headed to the market. Milla watched him exchange a few friendly words, buy a fresh baked pie and some fruit, and go on his way. She put the pistol back in its holster and groaned, slumping back onto her seat, then guzzled down her ale.

“Excuse him,” Mr. Portsman said. “They say he’s got a demon in his head.”

“We’ve all got demons in our head, because that’s what the snake of Eden made us, is it not?”

“You’re as bad as him!” Mr. Portsman laughed, slapping his hand on his bar. “Have you met Sir Winters yet?”

“No. And we’re not arranged—he’s just a suitor. I must admit, I am rather… rebellious for a lady. I need a man who doesn’t bore me.”

“You’re lucky you’re from such a well-off family, but I think Eratta is far from boring.”

“No one thinks their local lord is boring.” Milla shrugged. “Trust me, they can be incredibly boring.”

“Well, luck to you.” Mr. Portsman gave a firm nod. “I’ve got to make sure my daughter is doing her reading.”

“Teaching her to read and write? Smart man. The printing press—”

“What?”

“They’ve found a way to make machines write. Well, write what’s already been written. So reading and writing will be incredibly valuable one day soon. I’ll take myself to bed.”

“I haven’t given you the key yet. I’ll sort the room to ensure all the bedding is in place, and take your bags up for you. Father Blossom should be returning from his duties by now, if you still want to talk with him.”

“Oh, thank you.” Milla smiled and gave a skirtless curtsey, then strolled out the front door, toward the church.

Mr. Portsman finished off the rest of her half-empty cup, then cleaned it. He was smiling, with an arched brow. Solace had known far too much about that lady, and that talk of wolves seemed more like a threat than proper conversation. He’d have to talk with Nathaniel in the morning.

Mr. Portsman climbed the staircase and peered into his daughter’s bedroom to see that she was reading. He beamed, then closed the door and went about making sure Lady Shade’s room was in order. He carried up her bags, sorted the bedding, cleaned the mirror, and dusted the ornate wooden floor, walls, and rafters. He opened the windows at the right angle to give the perfect view over town. Checked to make sure the drawers of the bedside table, dresser, and wardrobe were empty, and ensured that the wooden plank walls were firm by knocking twice on each, before finally setting her bags on the bed and then heading downstairs.

“Just the keys and the horse now.” He found the keys enough in his bedside drawer, and strolled into his yard.

The moonlight gleamed in the night sky.

He went to the stable, checked the hay and the water, then admired Milla’s stallion. A massive, beautiful creature, well-bred and well-trained.

“All right,” Mr. Portsman stepped out into the courtyard and looked across.

He saw something familiar in the shadows. Green-Eyes—an enormous beast covered in white fur, with a body like that of a goliath. His back arched above the tall wooden fencing of the yard. Claws were long and he stood like an ape, his knuckles grazing the grass.

“I had to send her on her way,” Mr. Portsman shrugged, “because I knew you’d come.”

It didn’t respond.

“I got no clue where he’s staying. I’d say try the monastery again.”

The lycanthrope rose its chest and crouched its legs, arched its neck toward the star-filled sky, then leaped for the rooftop. It charged over several buildings and out of sight. Mr. Portsman returned home. All this talk of wolves, but Green-Eyes had never killed anyone, so Mr. Portsman wondered, if not him, who had killed that poor woman?

Chapter Two

Tubiel Hass – The Exiled Inquisitor

The town of Bronzeglade would’ve made a great painting. From the church, rolled the town and its fields of golden wheat.

Tubiel had found his favorite spot on the hillside, on top of a giant rock where the church spire cut between the two grey hills behind it. The chill autumn wind blew through his hair and ran over his face, and he couldn’t help but smile. He looked to the open sky and saw white clouds coming over the mountains, but he could still see the sun.

“Thank you, Lord for such a beautiful place.”

Tubiel jerked his head to the source of a spout of noise. Eight militiamen were marching up the road, toward him. He remembered that one had wound up to Heron’s Mound, a pagan burial site, so he jumped off the rock and closed his purple robes.

“Sirs, what’s happened?” he yelled.

The captain paused to look at him before proceeding without a word. Captain Daniel had fought in the king’s army, against rebellious Scots just north of the border. He was tall and lean now, rather than the hulking warrior he had been.

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