This short serial takes place about 500 years before the start of Glamourhai.
Falthro examined the kneeling human the guards had brought before him. He detected no sign of the evil lurking in the man’s soul, but evil always conceals itself well. Two of his victims were missing. Two children whose mutilated bodies hadn’t been found and who might still be alive. Their families had petitioned for Falthro’s help. Another fae could have used his glamour to compel truth. Unfortunately, Falthro had…limitations…most fae didn’t. He would need to resort to other methods.
He seized the man’s chin, forcing his head up. The human was passive in his hands, but fire lurked in his eyes.
“Take him into the play room and prepare him for me.” His collared servants grabbed the prisoner and dragged him away. Falthro turned to the guards. “My page will show you to the kitchen. I will get the information you need as quickly as I can.”
Falthro entered the glamourhame a few minutes later. The prisoner had been stripped, and hung from the ceiling by his wrists. His legs shackled to the floor, stretching his body painfully. Left there long enough, his own weight would suffocate him, and even a short stint could cripple him. Falthro wasn’t interested in coddling a child killer.
They would start slowly. “Do you know why you are here?”
“No.” Falthro tasted the lie in the curt answer. His whip flashed out, laying a searing line on the man’s face that stopped a half inch from his eye. Falthro smiled as the man jerked in the restraints and bit back a cry.
“That was one lie. For the next lie I will take your eye.” Falthro’s lip curled and he fought down his desire to spill blood. “Four children disappeared from Elm Grove. The guard found two bodies. You are a dead man for what you have done, but your death will be easier if you tell me where the others are.”
The prisoner said nothing, staring through Falthro as he struggled to breath. The lash this time wrapped itself around his neck. His eyes bulged out of his head as Falthro yanked the whip taut, cutting off his airflow. Falthro allowed him to jerk and struggle until his eyes began to glaze, than pulled the whip off of him. The man gasped and choked, tears streaming down his face. Falthro waited until he was quiet. “Where are they?”
The man sagged in the chains, chin dropping to his chest. To Falthro’s surprise he reeked of hopelessness and despair. The strength of the emotions seared Falthro’s glamour so badly that when the human spoke, Falthro couldn’t understand him. The fae lord placed the handle of his whip under the prisoner’s chin and lifted his head. “Repeat yourself.”
The fire in the prisoner’s eyes was gone, his gaze vacant. “You won’t believe me.”
Falthro stared at him. Something in the man’s emotions, his demeanor, made Falthro’s stomach twist. “Tell me. I will know if you speak the truth.”
“I can’t tell you where the kids are. I didn’t take them. Didn’t even know they were missing until the guards dragged me from my home.”
The strength of the man’s belief was a spike hammered into Falthro’s mind. Long experience allowed Falthro to block out the pain, but nothing could help face the horror filling him. He heard only his own silent scream. For the first time since childhood he came near to cursing Dannu. How had She allowed him to trap himself like this?
The man stared at Falthro. “You believe me?” the hope in his voice nearly broke Falthro.
Releasing the winch and lowing the man to the floor took only a moment. Falthro undid the shackles holding the man’s arms and one ankle, leaving the other ankle chained. “I will be back shortly.” Falthro grabbed a small chest with balms and bandages and shoved it at him. “Care for yourself.”
“You spoke the truth.” The flavor of it still lingered on Falthro’s tongue, taunting him with his own guilt. “You are innocent. I must deal with another matter, and then I will return.”
Nearly out the door Falthro stopped and turned back. “Do you know anything of what happened to those children?”
Falthro nodded and hurried down the hall.
The guards waited in the kitchen. Falthro ignored both the cook and her helper, approaching the guards with an expression schooled to regret. “The prisoner cannot tell us why all the bodies weren’t found together. I will speak with your town council and the presiding judge on this matter. They are to present themselves here as soon as possible.” He had questioned these two earlier—they believed the story they had told him. His answers would be found elsewhere.
He turned to leave and one of the guards said, “M’lord, we have orders to witness the prisoner’s execution.”
Falthro face them, as his expression hardened into a granite mask. “I swore to Dannu I would punish this man for the deaths of those children. You will go and leave the matter in my hands.”
Falthro allowed himself ten blessed minutes alone. Ten minutes where the emotions and thoughts surrounding him did not burn like fire through his mind, and he could just be. Ten minutes to grieve for the children he had failed. Ten torturous minutes to agonize over what he must now do. “Dannu, show me the way. Will you spare me the burden of more innocent blood? Will you release me of my oath?”
He hands trembled as he raised them to his face. The lack of Dannu’s presence was an empty ache. He gathered himself and left his sanctuary, returning to the glamourhame, and his victim.
When Falthro entered the room the man stood from a crouch. Falthro stopped and searched his memory for the human’s name—Dannel… Dannel’s face gleamed with a thin coating of one of the housekeeper’s creams, something to help the lash heal cleanly. He rattled the remaining ankle shackle, “If you believe I’m innocent, is this necessary?” He tried to sound relaxed, but Falthro tasted both hope and fear.
The fae shook his head, “Perhaps it is not, however I cannot permit you to leave.”
The flavor of fear grew stronger, and Dannel’s hands clenched. Still, the human managed a chuckle. “Well I’m definitely not returning to town any time soon.”
Falthro handed Dannel a loose robe and turned his back while the man shrugged the it on. “I was a fool, and I have done you great wrong. I am unable to make it right, or change what must happen. I can only tell you that I regret it. If it is with in my power both the true guilty party and those who wrongly brought you too this place will be punished.”
Dannel stared at him, wide eyed, “Lord Falthro, I won’t pretend this wasn’t one of the most horrific experiences of my life…expecting to be tortured to death for something I didn’t do…” He stopped, and when he spoke again his voice was a harsh whisper, “I was locked in my own mind, screaming in horror while my body carried me to my doom. You believe me.”
Falthro made himself face the plea in the man’s eye. “I am sorry. When the town first asked for my intervention, I swore to Dannu I would punish you for the deaths of those children. She accepted that oath.”
Life itself seemed to flow out of the young man’s face, a death of the spirit that was far worse than death of the body. “You can’t…you can’t, you know I am innocent. You know!”
“Yes.” Falthro forced himself to show no sign of his own pain as the man’s shock and horror ripped through his mind.
Frozen, Dannel stared about the shelves lining the glamourhame, at the many tools Falthro could use to tear him apart slowly. Killing by inches. “What kind of monster are you…”
“Not quite as much of one as you think.” Falthro allowed himself a small sigh. “I have prayed to Dannu to release me of my pledge, but she does not answer. I do no know why. I do not know why she accepted such an oath. I do have some discretion in how I fulfill it.”
“Discretion? Earlier you offered me an ‘easy death’ if I gave you information. Is that your ‘discretion’!”
Falthro took a deep breath. “Dannel, formerly of Elm Grove, falsely accused and falsely condemned. Your punishment may take three forms, I offer you a choice. You may be given an easy death, to fall asleep and not wake up. No pain, no suffering. If you prefer, I can castrate you, brand you and exile you from these lands. You will live, and you will have your freedom.”
“And the third choice?” The question tried to be a challenge, but the anger and despair behind it were all too clear.
“You may choose to become one of my slaves, bound to obey me by sigil. Once a week you will come to this room, and I will torture you to feed my glamour; no permanent harm will be done to you, but you will suffer greatly. The rest of the week you will have duties throughout my manor. Your needs will be supplied, and you will be able to witness what punishment I can craft for those who falsely accused and condemned you.”
Dannel was silent for a long moment, then asked. “And what is your punishment, Lord Falthro? What of my executioner?”
Falthro’s grim smile showed no hint of pain as the strength and rapid shifts in the human’s emotions made stars explode behind his eyes. “If you become my slave, your presence will be my punishment. If you stay, and only if you stay, you will learn why. Suffice to say I do not speak of anything so ephemeral as guilt or shame.”
Dannel looked skeptical, but allowed the question to drop. Taring at his hands, he asked,“Must I choose now?” ***give some emotional context here***
“No.” Falthro pulled a bell rope. “Rest the night. Sleep, as best you can.”
The door opened and one of Falthro’s servants entered. “My lord?”
“Escort Dannel to one of the guest rooms. Bring him anything he wishes.”
She bent and undid the shackle then gestured for Dannel to precede her from the room.
“I offer no apologies, for they are meaningless. You may speak with any of my people and explore the manor as you wish.” He summoned his glamour, imposing his will on the other’s mind. “You will not leave this building, nor seek to escape.” Dannel rocked on his heels as the force of the order went home. Falthro turned away. When the door closed, the ripping pain of using his glamour added to the agony of enduring Dannel’s emotions brought him to his knees.
Falthro stayed up through the night, praying. Dannu ignored him, responding to neither his pleas for absolution nor demands for an explanation. Finally, as dawn broke the east, he braced himself for the day to come.
Breakfast was an ordeal, but he was used to choking down food—both physical and spiritual—no matter how much he suffered. He was grimly certain that on this morning, Dannel’s suffering was far worse than his.
Almost as if the thought summoned him, Falthro’s personal servant escorted Dannel into the room. Before either could say anything Falthro asked, “Have you eaten?”
“No, Lord Falthro.” Dannel swallowed, hard.
His servant…was this one Beattie? No, Beattie had been the last one. Regardless, she knew his ways. She set a second plate on the table and filled it. Falthro pointed at it. “Eat. No matter how badly you feel, no matter what you face each day, unless you wish to die, you eat. Food is life, and not eating makes it that much more likely you will die.”
Dannel glared at him, but Falthro didn’t notice. The man’s emotions had lit a fire behind his eyes, a fire only partly eased by his servant’s soothing presence. He chose his people for that quality.
One bite at a time he forced himself to finish his pastry. When the last crumb was gone, he shoved his plate away. Across the table, Dannel half swallowed, half choked on, a mouthful of eggs. After a few more bites he set his fork down and met Falthro’s eyes.
“I can say nothing to sway you? No plea, no argument.”
Falthro looked away. “I cannot break my oath to Dannu. Not will not, cannot.” The last of Dannel’s hope died, but the man only nodded. “They say there is a special black stone fae are helpless against.”
Falthro sat back in his chair. The anger and hate pouring of Dannel told him where this was going. Something other emotion flickered behind them but subtleties were lost on the fae. “Starmetal. I have seen none since we came to this land.If you did manage to find any and use it against me, I would call it be justice.”
Dannel’s eyes widen. “Would you?”
“The crime you were accused of is so very heinous, no lesser punishment will fill the terms of my oath. And yet does that not make my crime against you just as heinous?” Falthro shrugged, “Note I do not say I would stand still while you plunged starmetal into my heart or any such dramatics. Only that if you managed to do so, I would call it justice.” Closing his eyes, Falthro saw the coming horror clearly. Dannel had choosen exile and to seek revenge, no matter what it cost him.
The taste of determination overwhelmed that of hate and anger. Determination and…respect? The slither of cloth broke the silence. He opened his eyes. Dannel knelt before him, hands fisted and face strangely calm.
“Lord Falthro, I doubt I will ever forgive what you do, but you have been honest with me. Of the choices you offer me…I will be your slave.”
Falthro gripped the table with trembling hands and whispered a prayer of thanks. The next several decades would be pain filled, but his hands would not bear more innocent blood. “So be it.”
For the first time in his long life, the fae lord bowed to a human.