It’s Sneak Peek Week! I'm under the weather this week so I'm recycling a Sneak Peek from last year.
A Sea Like Glass is one of my current works in progress. It is a flintlock fantasy set in a new world with a combination of Industrial Revolution technology and magic. It explores the idea of freedom and the cost to obtain it. The planned release date will be later in 2018.
Demons are real and they are hunting for Ris. A talented healer and the last of the Lady’s descendants, Ris carries a secret that could lead to her losing more than her life. She could lose her very soul. As the last of the Lady’s vessels, Ris goes on the run from demons sent by the forces of Darkness with a paladin whose past is shrouded in controversy and the former thief who had a hand in raising her. She must discover the truth about the Lady’s fall from the Light in order to heal the demon corruption that is spreading across the land. Can she discover the truth before the Darkness steals her soul?
“Mistress Marissa LaRoche, you have been found guilty of the crime of witchery and are hereby sentenced to death. May you find mercy in the Void.” The gavel thundered like a gunshot through the silence of the packed courtroom.
Light help me, the Inquisitor won.
Whispers interrupted the silence following my verdict. They buzzed like flies on a corpse as they rolled their way from the back of the courtroom toward me. I stared at a spot on the wall, willing myself not to flinch or glare at the people who’d known me since I was a babe.
I wanted to be anywhere else, but here I sat in the accused’s box, facing Judge Allendale. The townsfolk packed the benches to watch the spectacle, and the stuffy room reeked of stale sweat and overly sweet perfume. Mayor Harrison could have sold tickets and made a hundred ara.
“Can you believe it?” Master Colburn whispered loudly to his wife. “Our sweet Ris convicted of witchery? What is the world coming too?”
Twenty-seven years of living beside them and they believed the lies. Anger bubbled beneath the surface of my detached facade, and I ground my teeth together to stop from screaming at them. It wasn’t fair. How could they believe the lies?
“A waste. She’s food for the fishes now.” This from Master Grimsby, who had begged me for a fertility charm to help his wife conceive.
I was no witch, dealing in death magic and curses. I was a healer and my repayment for helping the good folk of Greendale was a death sentence. There had to be a way out of this.
“This is wrong,” Mistress Thornton said, brushing the front of her blue silk skirts. “Master d’Idris will be furious when he finds out. Shame he’s not here.”
“Aye,” Mistress Lancaster replied, her feather covered hat perched precariously on her head. “He might’ve stopped this nonsense.”
The murmurs washed over me until they were nothing but a dull hiss in the background. My defiance lodged in my throat. I wanted to fling my anger at the people of Greendale; they were so easily misled by the Inquisitor and his lies. Not that the truth would save me. My secret would condemn me faster than the Inquisitor and his false words.
How had Bran let it go this far? Where was he? Where was Aeron? My Cloak and Shield had been called away leaving me vulnerable. I swallowed the bitter taste of betrayal, holding tight to the hope that they would still come for me, but feared they would arrive too late.
The Inquisitor’s chilling black eyes met mine from across the courtroom, and his charming smile made me shiver. He tipped his head slightly, an acknowledgment of his victory. Fear swallowed the anger whole and left me cold. I wished I could kill him for what he’d done to me.
A throat cleared, and I looked up into the scowling face of Guardsman Prachett. His broad shoulders looked broader in the formal black wool great coat. I stared at the polished brass buttons that ran in twin lines from collar to waist. I didn’t want to see the pity in his eyes. It’s all I’d seen for the last eight weeks. I couldn’t face it. Not today. Not now.
Guardsman Prachett held out a set of manacles, and I offered my wrists. His gentle touch provided little comfort as he closed the metal bracelets with a click. His eyes avoided my hands. No surprise. I avoided looking at the swollen, gnarled digits as well. Greendale Guardsmen were not familiar with torture. That was solely the province of the Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor had broken my fingers one by one the first night of my arrest. To prevent me from hexing another poor soul, or so he claimed. I didn’t believe him since it happened after my escape attempt.
Weeks later, and I still couldn’t use my partially-healed hands. The silver collar that circled my throat prevented me from accessing my magic. All part of the Inquisitor’s attempt to break me. It had nearly worked. It still might if I couldn’t find a way to escape this mess.
“Are you ready, Mistress LaRoche?” Guardsman Prachett held the swinging gate to my box open and offered a hand as I stepped off the raised platform onto the parquet floor.
Guardsman Prachett offered his arm, a gentlemanly gesture that touched me. He had no cause to treat me like a lady after the sentencing. He had a good heart.
He led me through the crowded courtroom past the townsfolk. I kept my eyes locked on the face of the Lady carved above the exit. My secrets were linked to her, and I refused to go to my death cowering in fear. I would find a way out of this.
The crowd pushed toward me, but a handful of Guardsmen kept them at bay, and the frustrated growl of their whispers died as the door swung shut.
My boot heels clicked on the marble floor. “Where is everyone?”
“Inside the courtroom. Inquisitor's orders.”
“Ah, no timely escape into the crowd then.” I offered him a weak smile, trying to keep the bitter edge out of my voice.
“No, Mistress, I’m sorry.”
“Have no fear, Guardsman, this isn’t your fault.”
“Maybe not, but I did nothing to prevent him …” His throat bobbed as he swallowed. “You’re no witch, Mistress. No matter what the judge says.”
I stared at the heavy wooden doors that led outside. His words touched me, but they couldn’t stop what was coming. “Thank you, Guardsman.”
Two Guardsmen pushed the outside doors open as we approached, and the courtroom doors flew open when I was three steps from the exit.
“Ris!” My father’s voice bounced off the vaulted ceiling and threatened to cut my knees out from underneath me.
My stomach lurched. I couldn’t speak with him. Not now. I couldn’t handle the pain I would see in his eyes.
He hurried to me and pulled me into a tight embrace. “Oh, my sweet little girl. I didn’t protect you well enough. I am so sorry.”
A lump formed in my throat. I clung to my father’s lean frame and buried my face in the soft silk of his waistcoat, wishing I could stay there forever.
“It’s all right, Papa.” I tried to tug at one side of his grey mustache, but my mangled fingers refused to behave.
He carefully took my fingers in his. “It’s not all right. This will never be all right.”
Guardsman Prachett cleared his throat. “Mistress, we must go before the—”
The doors to the courtroom opened, and the townsfolk spilled out.
“Ris,” my father said, loud enough that people quieted to hear his words. “The Inquisitor bribed the judge. I have proof. I’m going to the Bastion to appeal.”
The hope on my father’s face brought my tears dangerously close to the surface. He didn’t understand. He was going to get himself killed. My kind-hearted father would never be able to stand up to the Inquisitor, and the Inquisitor would never allow an appeal.
“Oh, Papa, you shouldn’t have done that. The Inquisitor—”
“Hush, my girl. I’ve taken care of it. Help is on the way.”
“Please, Papa. Don’t do this. He’ll—”
“It’s too late, Ris. I will not let this stand.”
“Did you hear? She’s innocent,” someone cried out.
“The Inquisitor bribed the judge,” blunt-faced Mistress Walker yelled.
The words froze my blood as they spread like fire amongst summer-dried woods. Mistress Walker caught my eye and gave me a nod. She knew that I was innocent. My knees trembled. Had I misjudged the townspeople? Did they know this was all a lie?
“Bran will set things right,” my fathered whispered in my ear. He kissed my forehead and disappeared into the outraged townsfolk.
Light keep them all safe! I closed my eyes and whispered the prayer, my stomach twisting in knots. The Inquisitor would burn Greendale from the map. No one would survive his wrath.
Guardsman Prachett hurried me out the doors and down the steps into a beautiful spring afternoon where cherry blossoms covered the street in pink snow.
The bell at the station platform chimed the arrival of a train. A bright sound in the oppressive silence of the town. The prison wagon, parked in front of the courthouse, waited like a fine steam carriage to take me back to to the jail.
“Let me help you, Mistress,” he said. “It’s best we go before it gets ugly.”
It was already ugly. Guardsman Prachett just didn’t realize it, yet.
He boosted me into the back of the wagon, careful not to touch my hands and slammed the door shut. The lock clicked into place with a ring of finality that made my heart lurch.
A scream built in my chest. It had been building since the day the Inquisitor made his accusation. But seeing my father, hearing the hope in his voice, drew the scream up into my throat. I pressed my hands over my mouth, trying to hold it back. A soft whimper squeezed its way past my fingers as tears leaked from my eyes. Time slowed to the rhythmic chug and hiss of the steam engine. How was I going to get out of this mess?