Chapter One: An Introduction to Miss Warwick

On the road to Nottingham, a man dressed smartly in brown rode towards the Weaver manor on a large grey pony. He pulled the horse to a careful halt in front of the door, where a butler was waiting, mopping his brow with a grubby handkerchief.
‘Thank goodness you’re here doctor; the lady is in a fair deal of distress.’
The doctor took out a pair of spectacles from his greatcoat, before following the butler inside.
‘Forgive my impertinence, but I wasn’t aware that the lady of the house was expecting a child.’
The butler hesitated, before leaning in close to the doctor, which almost resulted in him head butting a vase as they walked.
‘It’s not Lady Weaver who’s …in distress sir.’
The doctor paused mid-step and motioned to speak.
‘But his Lordship specifically requested your assistance… it’s a… special case.’
‘I see.’

The two men made their way to the servant’s quarters, where they found the heavily pregnant Erica Warwick lying on the bed, screaming in agony. She was an attractive woman, her features sharp and elfin, but the pain had contorted her face and sent her dark locks into disarray. Lord Weaver was standing over her with several of the household staff; trying to keep her in as much comfort as possible. The Lord walked over to Doctor Emerson and embraced him.
‘Do the best you can for her Doctor.’
‘I will Daniel. Where is the child’s father?’
Weaver frowned, as the mother-to-be gave out a great scream.
‘Dead, and all the better for it. Please…’
The doctor immediately began preparing for Erica to give birth, while those assembled did the best they could to assist. Towels and hot water were brought in by the multitude, as well as an empty bucket for Lord Weaver, who had turned rather green as Miss Warwick’s screams got gradually louder and the activity around the bottom end of her bed became more frantic.

Erica Warwick had been maid to Lady Persephone Weaver ever since she was eighteen years old, just as her own mother had done a generation before. The Warwicks had served the Weavers for years, ever since moving over from Ireland to serve the first Lord a century before. Erica had always been a friend as well as a servant, and the Weavers had cared for her deeply.

But one night several months ago, Sidney Nueuse, a traveller from the American colonies, had arrived and had humbly requested shelter from the torrential rain. Lord Weaver agreed, giving him a guest bedroom, as well as sending Erica to his chambers with a sizeable supper. The traveller had forced himself upon the young maidservant before fleeing into the night, taking Lord Weaver’s own stallion with him. The Lord set out in pursuit, a great uncharacteristic fury driving him to hunt down Nueuse on the forest road before decapitating him, leaving his body for the carrion birds. However, back at Weaver Manor the damage had already been done, and Erica Warwick was soon heavy with child.

Eventually, the newborn girl emerged after a fair struggle. She was then washed and gently placed into the arms of an exhausted Erica Warwick, who managed a tired smile. Lord Weaver walked up to her and asked softly:
‘Erica… considering the circumstances of… well…we were wondering if you were going to…’
‘Going to keep it?’ The mother rasped, whilst softly stroking the girl’s head. ‘Of course, my Lord….’
‘Even after….’
Erica’s eyes flashed and she clutched the girl to her breast protectively.
‘It is not the child’s fault who her father is…or how…’ Erica hesitated. ‘How she was conceived. She’s still a child of God and… .’ Erica rasped again. ‘She’s still my daughter.’
‘Very well.’
Erica gently cradled her child, cooing her to sleep.
‘How could such a devil sire an angel like this?’
Weaver smiled warmly. The baby had stopped crying and had quickly drifted off to sleep. Dr. Emerson placed a reassuring hand on the mother’s shoulder as he readied to go.
‘Try to rest now Erica. It’s over now.’ He embraced his friend the Lord of the manor, gave his regards to the butler before departing, still in disarray after his night’s work.
‘I shall have to inform the notary of the birth … have you decided on a name yet?
‘Miranda. Her name is Miranda.’

That was 1846

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Prologue

A chill wind passed over the moors. A wide expanse of fields, completely silent and empty. Then, the horseman arrived. He was clad in a full suit of armour, clasping a finely decorated standard in his left hand. The man steadied his horse, dismounted, and removed his plumed helmet with a grunt. Behind the helm was a handsome man in his mid thirties with keen green eyes that surveyed the landscape with the precision of an automaton. ‘No sign.’ There was a stirring from his saddlebag and a small cat poked his head out, struggling against the blustering wind that had been raging for most of the day. He had a small bib of white fur under his neck and stomach, but other than that, he was completely black. ‘Would you mind telling me what we’re doing here? It sounded like the King could have used your valued assistance.’ ‘Something’s not right here Sam… there’s something here that shouldn’t be…’ Sam jumped onto Fortuno’s armoured shoulder and began to clean himself. ‘Oh spare me the clichés… I hardly think riding into the middle of nowhere just because you feel something’s wrong is a particularly wise idea. If I deserted you every time I felt unsettled then you’d never have me around to protect you.’ The cat paused to reach a particularly difficult spot. ‘You, protect me?’ Fortuno laughed heartily. ‘I seem to remember it was you who flew into the saddlebag the moment the enemy came over the hill.’ Sam did not reply, because at that moment, the wind abruptly stopped. The cat’s ears pricked up and he arched his back, before quickly returning to the saddlebag with a yowl. Fortuno drummed his fingers expectantly on the hilt of his sword. Suddenly, there was an almighty screeching noise as an enormous dust column appeared in the centre of the field. The dust appeared to settle after a few seconds, revealing another figure in the grass.

He was tall, with a face that might have been called handsome if it had been covered with a little more flesh. Instead, it was a frightfully thin, skull-like visage that sat upon a barely visible neck. He was wearing a suit of jet black armour and no helmet, with a sword in a leather scabbard. A gloved hand rested on a black baton that was looped through his belt and a raven perched on his shoulder, a raven with eyes that seemed too intelligent to belong to an animal. The man smiled coldly at Fortuno and gave a theatrical bow.

‘It’s good to see the avalanche didn’t rid you of your flamboyance Mr. Griffon.’ Fortuno remarked. ‘Merely a little theatricality Mr. Fortuno. You wouldn’t deny me that after all you’ve done would you?’ Griffon’s voice grew cold. Their last encounter had not been pleasant for him. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the two of them continued their conversation with a sort of mocking courtesy. ‘I missed you at the battle. I had to make do with fighting your King instead. Hardly a worthy substitute.’ The two men began to circle each other like hungry sharks, waiting for an opening. ‘I’d heard rumours… I thought you were gone for good.’ ‘Hah…What does not kill me simply makes me stronger, Mr. Fortuno. It will take more than the meagre craft of a lucky apprentice to defeat me this time.’ Griffon smiled confidently and pulled the baton from his belt, using it to salute his opponent. As he did so, it extended to the length of a staff. He simultaneously pulled his sword from its scabbard with his right hand. ‘How fortunate that I’ve managed to complete my training then Mr. Griffon.’ Griffon’s confident smile did not waver. ‘I cannot die Mr. Fortuno.’ ‘But you can long to.’ Fortuno followed his opponent’s actions and thrust his standard towards him, and, shouting an oath in some forgotten language, sent a bolt of lightning from the staff’s head towards Griffon’s chest, incinerating the flag in the process. Griffon span his staff in an arc, reflecting the lightning bolt at Fortuno, who merely stepped aside. ‘You’ll have to try harder than that my friend!’ Griffon taunted, knocking his foe to the floor with a bolt of his own. He swung his sword up, bringing it down with force towards his enemy’s neck. ‘Thank you for the advice!’ Fortuno tensed and fired a salvo of molten energy at Griffon, who dropped the sword, cursing as he was engulfed by its flames. Fortuno covered his eyes, and when he uncovered them, he let out a gasp of surprise. His opponent had vanished into thin air. ‘He’s…gone. Just like that…’ ‘Your powers of observation serve you well my friend.’ said Sam, emerging from the saddlebag. ‘Now maybe instead of spouting clichés you can utilise your powers of haste and get back to winning the battle.’ Fortuno swiftly mounted his horse and rode back to the field of battle, but it was far too late, the King was dead. That was 1485.

Foreword

Though it sounds clichéd, the idea for this book actually came to me in a dream I had one spring day of 2007. A tale of two sorcerers, one of whom is condemned for falling in love with a mortal woman and bringing her back to life after she is killed by his greatest enemy. Many years later, their son is captured by the same enemy and grows up in a training institution originally set up for the greater good. The elder sorcerers eventually conquer the villain and are reunited with their son.

Since then, I worked intermittently to bring this dream to the printed page. Along the way, characters were killed off, news ones were created and two whole new sections were written. I feel relieved to have finally finished this tremendous project, but at the same time, sad to say goodbye to all the characters who have been such a part of my life over the past few years. I hope you will enjoy the journey they take you on over the next few hundred pages.

At this point, I would just like to give some small thanks to my proof-readers, Margherita Stevens, Valerie Cardoni, Rita and Lawrence Hallett, and to Jake Leonard, who helped me in my quest to find a publisher.

To begin…

Well hello to anyone who stumbled across this, my little blog for sharing a project that has been some years in the making, the novel I once (literally) dreamt up way back in 2007. The story has undergone some changes since then and I hope you’ll like the results. As well as updates from the book I’ll also being posting character profiles, information on development and sketches I’ve been doing ever since I first came up with the tale.

Happy reading!

David Stevens