Book One of the Dragon's Eye Cycle. A mercenary ex-Sheriff and a girl outcast from her tribe investigate serial kidnappings and murders. Is it evidence of magick, or is some other darkness bringing such evil into their land?
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Michael J Scott Books
“Dark magicks,” the Witch muttered. “So much blood. Then again, there are other darknesses in this world besides magick.”
Smoke that does not rise. Hens that do not lay eggs. Cows that give sour milk. And a little girl abducted from her bed in the middle of the night. For the girl's father, it's clear evidence the Fey have breached the geas that bound them beyond the veil between worlds. For Lucas Veritatus, ex-Sheriff of the North Country, it is just enough to draw him out of retirement to investigate. For Avenyë of the Ronami, a lawless tribe beyond the reach of the king, it is evidence that whoever is abducting Ronami children, her sister included, has now struck the realm as well.
First to the Witch of the Great Wood, and then across the Dragon's Ridge mountains into the territory of the lawless, Lucas and Avenyë must join forces in an unlikely pairing to solve the mystery. Who is stealing the children, murdering their parents, and leaving the mysterious Eye of Darkness marks throughout the land? Have the Fey found a way to cross the veil? Or is some other darkness at work? And will Lucas and Avenyë’s own dark secrets drive them into each other’s arms, or thrust them forever apart?
Bill Dugharrow burst through the door of the Drunken Dwarf. Raucous laughter from a table in the back and the muted conversations wafting on smoky air confronted him, disorienting him. A blazing fire roared in the hearth, warming the room. The smoke mingled with the aromas of dark ale and sweat. He stepped back as a bar-wench slid by in her long skirt and ample corset, expertly holding aloft a tray of steins as she wove through the crowd.
After she passed, he saw the back table of revelers held four men in the king’s colors, the steel armor they wore glistening amber in the firelight. He grimaced and went to the bar first, ordering a shot of whiskey and an ale chaser before turning to face the men in the back. They didn’t see him, or if they did, chose not to acknowledge his presence.
This was not going to be easy.
He asked for another shot and downed it quickly, and then crossed the room, jostled as a satiated customer stumbled past. Coming to stand at the table, he waited until a break in the conversation before clearing his throat to speak. The man with his back to him spoke first.
“What is it, Dungharrow?” he drawled. “I recognized your stench as soon as you stepped in. The distinct odor of manure.”
The others snickered, stifling their laughter in their ale.
Bill swallowed and studied the man’s reflection in the mirror behind the table. “My Lord Sheriff,” he began, “you must come at once, I beg you.”
“Not more tales of faeries trampling your potatoes.”
“Or cutting holes in your mistress’ bed sheets? Or crafting faerie rings out of your carrot patch? Carving designs in your barley?”
The men were laughing openly at him now. The Sheriff turned and sized him up. “Then what could it possibly be? We’ve answered alarms at your farm five times now, and honestly I am at a loss why the fey seem so driven to assail you.”
Bill opened his mouth to speak, but the Sheriff put a gloved hand out. “No wait. They didn’t mate with your cow, did they?”
“Quite right.” He gave his men a raised eyebrow. “I must’ve been thinking of someone else.” The drunken deputies burst out in a fresh round of laughter.
“Sir, it’s my daughter.”
The Sheriff raised a doubtful eyebrow. “Your daughter? And the cow?”
The deputies howled, earning disapproving glares from the other patrons and the barman, Gregor. Bill wilted under the abuse, but continued. “Sir, you misunderstood me.”
“How relieving. That stretched even my imagination.”
One deputy gave him a quizzical look. Another leaned over to explain the joke. The Sheriff continued unabated. “Your daughter, you say? And how often have they mated her?”
He slammed his fist on the table and leveled with the Sheriff’s eyes. Surely the man could see he was desperate!
The laughter died with his outburst. His voice breaking, he said, “Whether or how often she may have been violated thus, I know not. I pray not. But I know this: My Annabelle is missing.”
The Sheriff eyed him sidelong. “And Annabelle is…?”
“Your daughter. Not the cow.” He took a draught of ale. “One never knows.”
Lucas Veritatus’ ears perked up at the mention of Annabelle. He the far end of the bar, and as Bill struggled to coax the Sheriff into action, he listened intently. The three deputies behind the Sheriff were making that difficult with their renewed laughter. They reminded him of the scavenger dogs of Kresh, wandering the fields of battle and barking maniacally over the fallen, eating the corpses of soldiers and enemies alike—making no distinction between the good or the bad.
It grated on him. He poured another shot of whiskey from the bottle Gregor had lent him and tossed it back, hoping to obliterate the memory. Soon, Gregor would want his gold. Not that Lucas had any.
Gregor could wait for his gold. He owed him that much.
He didn’t have to glance around the room to know that in one way or another, every man and woman in the tavern owed him at least something. Twenty years he’d served as their Sheriff, protecting them from brigands, Kreshan raiders, Outlanders from beyond the Dragon’s Ridge—and the fey by whom Bill was so enthralled. He studied the confrontation between the farmer and the new Sheriff, Bram Loric. Bill had been one of the few to speak out against Loric’s ascent to Sheriff when he returned, bearing his charter with the king’s seal in his hand. It had won him no friendship with the man. Demanding his help now was a fool’s errand—something Bill should have known.
And it wasn’t going very well.
Bill grabbed the Sheriff’s shoulder, making him spill his drink down his front. “My lord, you may mock me all you wish. Call me ‘Dungharrow’ instead of ‘Dugharrow’ if you must, but you have sworn an oath to protect and defend us. I must have your assistance.”
The Sheriff glared coolly at Bill’s hand on his shoulder. Bill let go. “I know well my oath, Farmer Dugharrow. It extends to the whole of North Dhoriland, from the boundaries of the Great Wood to the foothills of the Dragon’s Ridge. I cannot be always running to a single farm to investigate the wild claims of a mad plowman.”
“And yet you find time to warm a table at the Drunken Dwarf?”
The Sheriff paused, and gave a short laugh before setting down his ale. “You should learn to speak with more caution. These men have just returned from a three day patrol of the ridge. They’ve had their fill of investigating unsubstantiated reports and are entitled to a little refreshment, as am I.”
“Unsubstantiated?” said Bill. “You know as well as I the Daoine Sidhe may come and go at will—”
A gloved hand gripped his throat, cutting him off.
“Do not name them thus!” the Sheriff barked. “Are you mad? Uttered twice more you’d call them on our heads. Would you so foolishly violate the compact that holds them in abeyance?”
One of the deputies across the table said, “The rumors we pursued in the Dragon’s Ridge were of an Outlander, not the fey.”
Lucas heard this, too. Another interesting bit of information. He wondered how long the Outlanders had been encroaching upon their borders, and how long Bram meant to let it continue before informing his cousin, the king. Lucas knew for a fact no dispatch had been sent. No doubt Bram thought it wise to look into the matter himself before bothering his sovereign.
Not that he’d find anything. Lucas himself would be hard-pressed to find an Outlander if he did not wish to be found, but Bram was incompetent. The Outlanders would’ve spied his coming leagues before he got there. In fact, if Outlanders had been in the Dragon’s Ridge and meant any real harm, it was doubtful Bram would’ve made it back at all. Still, there'd been peace between their peoples for nigh on a generation. It was unlikely they'd risk open war again. The kingdom was in more danger from Kresh than from the Outlanders in their colored wagons. So where were these rumors coming from?
Bram glared at his deputy, but released Bill.
“Forgive me.” Bill sank to his knees. “I assumed—”
“You assumed much. How do you know your daughter has not simply wandered off? I can think of one or two reasons why a young girl might do that.”
“Please, sir. She is only ten.”
“Go home, Bill. I’m sure your daughter will turn up.”
“She’s been gone three days!”
Lucas closed his eye at this utterance. Three days? He fingered the bottle. Annabelle had blond hair woven with blue ribbons, last time he’d seen her. It had been a few years’ now, but she was a delicate child—at that time, too innocent and pure to know that asking Lucas Veritatus why he only had one eye was impolite at best.
Three days meant it was highly unlikely she still inhabited this world. No wonder Bill was so frantic.
Bill’s impatience was growing, his desperation loosening his tongue even more than the ale and whiskey. If this continued much longer, Lucas would have to intervene.
And that could be unpleasant for at least one person this night, and probably for four.
The men had quieted. The Sheriff heaved a breath. “Three days. Then it is unlikely we will find her. She may have been torn by wolves, or died of exposure, or met some other unfortunate fate. You have my sorrow.” This last was said into his stein, which he raised to his face until the ale sloshed down his matted beard. He belched in satisfaction.
“Nay.” Bill recoiled from him. “It cannot be. It is not true!”
“Misfortune comes to us all. My men are weary. I cannot aid you.” He set the stein heavily on the table and motioned for the bar-wench to bring him another.
“And what of justice? For her? Will you not at least make the attempt?”
“I cannot aid you! Go on now. Drown your sorrows.” He tossed a gold coin on the floor beside the farmer. Bill stared at it a moment then spat at it.
“Lucas would’ve aided me. He’d have come no matter how weary he was.”
The Sheriff pushed himself from the table and rose to his full height, towering over the smaller farmer still on his knees. “Lucas Veritatus is no longer Sheriff.”
“And a pity he’s not!”
The room fell to a sudden hush. The Sheriff slipped the hitch off his scabbard, loosening his blade with one hand. He took a menacing forward, his spurs ringing like tiny bells as his boot came down. “You’ve insulted me the last time. I received my charter at the hand of the king himself. I speak in his name. It takes two eyes to keep order in this land, and Lucas Veritatus has but one.”
Bill slipped backward on his hands, scrambling toward the bar.
Lucas rose, standing behind Bill as he backpedaled until the farmer literally lay at his feet. He swept his cloak to one side as he reached down to lift Bill upright, leaving room for his sword in the same motion.
“You are so quick to point that out.” Lucas eyeballed the Sheriff.
The Sheriff greeted him coolly. “Lucas.”
“Bram. I see you’re still serving the finest way you know how. So glad we have you keeping the peace.”
“You’re not Sheriff any longer. I do not answer to you.”
“Quite right,” Lucas answered evenly. “Come, Bill, my friend. You obviously had enough. You should be getting home.”
“A man is judged by the company he keeps,” said the Sheriff to Lucas’s back. “You should choose better friends.”
“As should yours,” Lucas muttered under his breath. He propelled Bill forward and out of the bar. Hopefully, they’d make it before Bram realized what he’d said and decided to pursue the matter.