Elianor Paine is a Magistrate of the Peace in the Kingdom of Trist and a republican secret agent. She has 6 days to subvert her investigation, supplant war-hero Lord Vile, then coerce his adult children to start a revolution, before her masters discover the truth and have her killed. Just how far is she willing to go? And can she change the world without changing herself?
“We won’t make it to Shadowgate Castle.”
A howl had startled the cart driver, a haunting shriek from some animal that stalked the mountain trails above, provoking the first words the young man had spoken in the four-hour ride from Durançon. Elianor shifted her hand to the flintlock pistol at her side. She was a Magistrate of the Peace, empowered to uphold the laws of the Kingdom of Trist as she saw fit: fearful silence was normal, disobedience was not.
“My father’s tavern is closer,” the driver continued. “We can try again at first light.”
He had the deep-set brown eyes and wide chin of a peasant. He was also clean-shaven, and shouldn’t a cart driver be plain-spoken? Elianor was wedged in the back of the cart, between her chest of belongings, her rapier, and her precious rifle. Firearms were forbidden to the general populace: her rifle and pistol marked her as special as much as her Truthsense. From here the mountainside was lines of white on white, boulders mounted with snow, shadows between scattered spruces. Her view of the driver was restricted.
The howling could be anything. This could be a trap. Even a more experienced Magistrate needed time and conversation to establish Truthsense, and a sophisticated opponent knew that.
“What is your name, boy?”
He was a couple of years older than she: anger might reveal truth.
“Derec. My father is Gwyion Garn.”
He said it as though she should know the name. What had he seen when he’d offered her a ride from town? A small girl in a large coat? He should have paid more attention.
“Citizen Garn, I have urgent business with Senator Vile. Lives depend on you getting me to Shadowgate.”
The second howl came before he could answer. They both jumped. Was it a wolf? Did wolves scream that way?
“My lady, these mountains are the last barrier between the Kingdom and the Kindred.” Derec pointed towards the right-hand path, the one that led to Shadowgate Castle. “There is a monster on the mountain. We call it the Black Dog, and it does not care who you think you are or how brave you might be.
We must find shelter before dark.”
A Black Dog? Seven local women reported missing in the last twelve months, no bodies found, no signs of struggle, no possessions lost. Elianor’s master had sent her to investigate, a pretence that legitimised her presence in Shadowgate while she achieved her true mission. He had been very clear that he couldn’t give a damn about lost peasants, but it seemed obvious to Elianor 12
that a Magistrate who failed to uphold the law lost the moral authority to judge other citizens. How could she sustain the Truthsense if she acted upon a lie?
“This is not my first investigation, Citizen. When women go missing, you talk to the father, you talk to the husband, you look for lovers and male friends. Not mythical monsters.”
It was her first solo investigation, but no need to tell Garn. She had seen a flicker in his eyes when she had said ‘lovers and male friends.’ He was a suspect.
“If we don’t turn away now, we will both die,” Derec said.
It would explain everything if Derec were implicated in the disappearances. Magistrate Grime had warned she might be expected.
Elianor drew the flintlock pistol and pointed it at Derec’s head.
“You will die faster if you do.”
There was a tremble in his voice when he next spoke.
“Please, my lady. We will be safer at my father’s.”
“My pistol shall determine the direction we take.”
A third howl wailed from between the rocks and behind the shadows. It felt closer. Sweat gathered on Derec Garn’s forehead and Elianor saw she had miscalculated. Something out there frightened him more than her pistol.
Thank you, Keith Crawford and Love Books Group
About the author
I am a retired Royal Navy Officer, a disabled veteran, a barrister, and a Doctor of Law & Economics.
In 2014 I was lecturing at Sciences Po in Paris and negotiating a contract to write a book on banking regulation, when we discovered to my delight that my wife had fallen pregnant. I decided that rather than spending all my wages on somebody else looking after my children, and writing books that only a handful of scholars and my poor students would read, I would quit my job, support my wife’s career, and try to write something interesting that people would actually want to read.
I did try to write interesting things about banking and insolvency, but it was frowned upon. Science Fiction and Fantasy let me explore the sort of philosophical and intellectual ideas that excite me whilst wrapping then up in swordfights, sex and explosions!
Since becoming a stay-at-home Dad I’ve written more than a dozen staged plays, been listen in short story and flash fiction competitions, started a radio play contest that, with the help of the BBC, has helped us develop hundreds of aspiring radio writers, and, most importantly, written the first of what I hope to be many novels.
It has been an incredibly challenging few years, but when I’m sat with my laptop on and one of now three children curled up on my lap, it all feels worthwhile.