The Fey Man is my debut novel, an epic fantasy about a man desperate to return to Faerie and the war of dragons that gets in his way. Here’s the first chapter to give you a taste.
The Easterners were arriving that night but Thomas Rymour didn’t care. The castle had been abuzz, with everyone from maids to cooks to visiting dignitaries gossiping about the reason for the visit. The Privy Council had been no different. Tom had sat through countless hours while rich men extolled their theory and used it to push their own agenda. And when Duke Regent had heard them all, he would ask Tom what he thought.
It was moments like that when Tom wished he could lie.
But at the moment he had peace. He was sat in Cairnagan’s barest and least popular tower garden, where the plants wilted and the view was poor and he could relax with a bottle of mead and a friend. Of sorts.
“You should really go downstairs, Tom.” Glastyn stood at the wall, watching the sunset. Glastyn was tall, beautiful, with dark flowing locks and a charm that never slept. Only his long, pointed ears suggested he wasn’t human. “It will be diverting.”
Tom sipped his mead. Duke Regent had tasked his vintners with reproducing a hundred year old recipe to make Tom feel at home. It was a noble gesture and Tom was grateful for it. But the drink wasn’t quite right. It served only to remind Tom he was far from home. But he drank it anyway. It was better than the sickly sweet wines the court favoured. “Diverting for who?”
“Whom.” Glastyn grinned.
Tom ignored him. “If you want to chase daughters and wives, I’m not stopping you.”
“But you are our only friend here.” A reminder that the reverse was true as well. “Come, there hasn’t been anything so exciting since we arrived. A feast! It will be almost like Faerie.”
Tom shook his head. “Since you arrived.” Tom had been at Cairnagan a few months longer. “I’ve seen a feast here. They’re nothing like Faerie.”
“It will be more like Faerie than this,” the fay grumbled. As dashing as he looked watching the sunset, Glastyn looked bored. He seemed to live for the court; he relished the politics, the frippery, the danger.
Whereas Tom had no patience for it. “I’m not happy with second best,” he said.
“It’s all we have, Tom.”
“Don’t remind me.” He topped up his cup of mead. He wasn’t allowed a glass.
“What if we take that away? Hmm?” Glastyn marched across the garden and snatched at the bottle. Tom had to twist in his seat to keep hold of it.
The fay ignored him, getting a pale white hand around the bottle and tugging it.
“Come, Tom, tip this filth away. We give better to the dogs in Faerie.”
“Iron nails, stop it.” And then a foresight intruded on his senses. Like any other, it dissolved the world around him, like red wine mixing into water until it was all he could see and hear and smell. This time he saw red, sensual lips. There wasn’t often a lot of detail in his foresights.
“We are your beginning and your end, Thomas Rymour,” she said. Her voice was odd, as if both Maev and Mab were talking at the same time. But that was impossible.
The foresight began to fade away and his senses returned to the present. He blinked and looked down. He’d dropped the cup. That was why he wasn’t allowed glasses.
“Another foresight?” Glastyn was stood over him. The bottle was gone. Knowing Glastyn he’d probably tossed it over the wall.
Tom nodded and opened his mouth to speak when the world disappeared in an instant. An image of an old man stabbed at Tom’s eyes like knives, the sound of his whisper was like a bellow in Tom’s ears. “Quiet, Tom. Don’t tell him anything.”
It was gone as quickly as it arrived and Tom was on his back, his chair upended. The back of his head throbbed and his lungs burned. He gasped like a man drowning.
Glastyn looked almost concerned. “Rather dramatic.”
“You might help me,” Tom managed, pulling his legs free of the chair.
“We’ve been trying to.”
He clambered to his hands and knees. Was he going to vomit? No. No, it was just a shock. He’d never had a foresight like that before. Sudden. Almost painful. And the old man. It had felt like he was talking to him, a message for the here and now. That was new.
“Too much mead, Tom?”
He shook his head, clambered to his feet.
“What did you see?”
For some reason he felt he should do as the old man bid: don’t tell him anything.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. Which was true. To an extent.
Glastyn wasn’t convinced. “You must know something. Was it your future? Someone else’s?”
“I don’t know.”
“Were we there?”
“Will you stop pestering me?”
Glastyn grinned as if he’d won a prize. “If you go to the feast.”
He should just tell him. What did it matter if Glastyn knew?
And yet. “Fine.”
* * *
The hall was dark and smoky and full of the stench of perfumes over the stench of the people beneath them. In a way, it was like Faerie, with laughing and dancing and drinking. Some stood in shadows, discussing plots and schemes under the cover of the music that filled the air. Servants wove between all with trays of food and drink, both delicacies and heartier fare. But that smell was not like Faerie at all. In Faerie it smelt of strange and wonderful flowers and it was always a warm evening with a fresh breeze. That night was hot and close.
“Does it make you homesick, Glastyn?” Tom asked.
“Yes,” he replied. He hadn’t changed outfits. But he didn’t need to; only Tom had the Second Sight with which to see him. “But then, most things do.”
Tom, on the other hand, had changed into one of the outfits Regent had ordered made for him. Cut to be fashionable, not comfortable, they were as brightly coloured as everyone else at court. Rather than the simple browns and reds Tom preferred, he was in yellow and blue, Regent’s colours. Worse, these clothes pushed and pulled at him in unnatural places. He felt silly, even though everyone looked as he did.
Glastyn smirked. “You seem uncomfortable, Tom?”
“You know I am.” Like all fay, Glastyn’s sense of humour often seemed cruel or mocking. Tom knew in truth that they laughed more at mortal customs and rules.
“Yet you do not tell your new lord and master.”
“He’s not my lord and master,” he replied. “You of all people know that.”
“Ah yes.” Glastyn raised his cup. “To our lord and master. May she welcome us back to the fold one day.”
Tom lifted his glass too and drank. He tried not to think of her. “Do you think you’ll be allowed to return?” he said.
“Oh yes.” There was no hesitation. “One day our queen will let us return. We have no doubts about that.”
“I envy you that.”
Tom fought to keep his expression under control, forcing a gracious smile as he turned to the voice. “Good evening,” he said.
“Good evening, sir.” The man was a young knight, dressed in even more ridiculous clothes than Tom. Another knight and a few ladies followed in his wake. The knight sketched a bow and the others followed.
“Please,” Tom said. He couldn’t stand the scraping and bowing. “I am no knight. ”
They did not apologise. They were not showing him respect. They were showing everyone else that they were showing him respect. “Sir Rymour, you must know why the Easterners are here,” the knight said.
He swallowed a sigh. “I am as much in the dark as you.”
The man frowned. “But you see the things to come, do you not?”
“Then you must have seen something.”
Glastyn leant closer and whispered, “Yes, Tom, you must. Stands to reason.”
As tiring as the prospect of the conversation was, Tom had to smile. “Stands to reason,” he replied. “But I have seen nothing of the Easterners, young sir. I do not know why they are coming nor what they want.”
“And you still don’t care, do you?” Glastyn didn’t have to whisper; no-one else could hear him either.
“No, I don’t.”
His visitors were growing uncomfortable; no-one liked it when Tom spoke to people they couldn’t see or hear.
Glastyn sighed. “How uncurious of you, Tom.”
“I am curious about many things,” Tom countered. “A way to Faerie, for instance. And you could satisfy that curiosity, couldn’t you, Glastyn?”
“But you never do.”
“No.” Glastyn’s face softened into a sad smile. “We never do.”
Was that pity? Tom wasn’t in the mood for pity. “Then forgive me for my lack of curiosity.”
The knights and ladies were finding excuses to move away. They bowed and wished Tom a good evening, pledged their service should he need it and so forth. Tom watched them go.
“You are well-respected here,” said Glastyn.
“I’m a curiosity.”
“Aren’t we all?” Two ladies walked past, dressed in pinks and silvers. One smiled at Tom, the other ignored him. Glastyn watched both with a predator’s grin. “You do not have to stay, Tom. Tir is a very big place. You could leave.”
The thought had crossed his mind before. This court was no place for him. But where was? His place was in a Tir a hundred years dead. Now he was an antique in a modern world. Like the tapestries on the wall, he was out of place. “Here is as good as anywhere,” he said. He looked at the dancers. Their steps were precise and careful, for display rather than enjoyment. It wasn’t dancing. It was peacocking. “I have a bed, a roof and hot food. Leaving is likely to deprive me of those things and I’m too old to go without them.”
Glastyn snorted. “How many summers have you seen? Thirty?”
“Thirty-one,” Tom replied. “But it has been over a hundred since I was born. That’s what matters, Glastyn.” He stared up at the tapestries, supposedly from the time of King Emyr. They were frayed and tattered, though the images they depicted were energetic and vibrant. “Time decides how old we are.”
Glastyn drained his cup. It was not one he’d taken from a server, but one of his own, plain and old but always full of Faerie wine. A clever trick. “Speaking as an immortal, I can tell you that’s nonsense.”
“Speaking as a mortal, I can tell you it isn’t.”
The music stopped and the dancers bowed. In the quiet a murmur rippled across the hall and Tom saw Duke Regent step out onto the dais at the head of the hall. He was resplendent in blues and yellows, making them seem regal whereas on Tom they looked juvenile. He bowed with the rest of the courtiers.
Glastyn did not. “Oh look, he’s raided your wardrobe.”
Tom stifled a snigger. Perhaps the drink was affecting him more than he thought.
The hall was quiet as Regent crossed to the gold throne. Though not a tall man, he was imposing nonetheless. In his youth he had been strong and energetic, leading hunts, serving on the border, breaking many a heart. Now older, with the begin- nings of grey in his beard and wrinkles at his eyes, he still burned with morality and chivalry. Some of the courtiers muttered that Regent would rather the duchy fall into ruin than break a promise. But Tom admired that. There seemed too few people these days who believed in anything.
Regent rested a hand on the throne and faced the hall. “Play on,” he said. Then he pointed a finger at Tom.
“Duty calls.” Glastyn sounded amused. “Maybe I’ll seduce some pretty young thing while you wait on this duke.”
Tom ignored the jibe. “Don’t break her heart.”
“My dear Tom.” Glastyn grinned. “You of all people must know: we break our own hearts.”
He thought of soft, white skin in a wooded grove.
Moving through the throngs took longer than he’d expected. Many moved aside and avoided his eye, but some stopped him and asked him about his foresight. Had he seen what the Easterners wanted? Did he know what the harvest would be like? Would someone’s daughter recover from her summer sickness? He answered when he could, demurred when he could not. By the time he reached Regent’s side he was yearning for peace and solitude again.
But he bowed as best he could. “Your Grace.”
“Tom.” Regent was severe today. “I’ll have you at my side.”
“As you will.” There was no point in arguing.
“Would you sit?” Regent gestured to the second seat on the dais. This was Regent’s own seat, a wooden chair with intricate carvings inlaid with gold and richly furnished in soft cushions. Regent’s father had sat on Emyr’s throne whilst he’d ruled. But it was an unwritten rule in the family that the throne be preserved for Emyr exactly as it was. So, if the cushions were truly over nine hundred years old, it would make for a very hard seat. When Regent had assumed his father’s title, he had apparently said, ‘If I’m going to spend hours on my backside, it had better be in comfort’, before commissioning this chair.
“You will sit in the throne, Your Grace?” Tom asked.
Regent nodded. “It’s ghoulish, I know. But we must remind the elfs who they are dealing with. Whatever it is they want, they must remember they are speaking to the Keepers of the Throne.”
Tom said nothing. Even he knew that most people saw the people of the Heel not as caretakers, but as fanatics. But he could not say that. So he could say nothing. He just smiled. When you could not lie, silence was an ally.
“So, will you sit?”
Most courtiers would demur, say that they were fine and would be pleased to stand. But Tom’s back ached. And he could not lie. So he said, “Yes, please, Your Grace.”
Regent was not annoyed by the honesty. He nodded and hundreds of eyes watched Tom seat himself. He felt awkward, even more so when he saw Glastyn bow to him. The lady he was with giggled. He’d granted her the Second Sight; after all, he could not seduce her if she could not see him. Tom felt sorry for her, though he could not make out who she was. Knowing Glastyn, she already had a husband, someone important in the court.
Regent did not sit. “When will they be announced?” Tom asked.
“In a few minutes,” Regent replied. He stroked his beard, smoothing it. “I’m making them wait.”
That seemed petty. “Won’t that anger them?”
“Perhaps.” Regent smiled. He had the smile of a younger man, one who took pleasure in tugging the noses of others. “But that might give me the advantage.”
Tom nodded. Politics. He had no stomach for it. Even in Faerie he had been careful to be a neutral party, never picking one side over another. Unless you counted Maev. But that was different.
“What do you think they want, Tom?” Regent asked. “Any foresight of their intentions?”
He’d been asked that a dozen times. He shook his head yet again. “I’m sorry, Your Grace,” he said. “I still haven’t seen anything.”
Regent was disappointed and made no effort to hide it. “No matter,” he lied.
The duke was nervous, Tom realised. It made sense. Three generations of his family had waged war against the Eastern Angles, though in truth it was a war in name only. Fighting on the border was rare. Most of the troops spent their time glaring at each other over the border. But now the Easterners were knocking on Regent’s door and requesting audience. Most of the Heel had never even seen an Easterner. There was an air of excitement in the room. But Regent seemed uncertain.
“Perhaps they seek a truce,” Tom suggested. “Why else travel all this way?”
“Why else?” Regent stared at the great doors ahead. Tom’s words had only made his concern worse. He gave up. He’d forgotten how to talk to people a long time ago.
Glastyn and his prey were dancing. A few people were throwing her odd looks; to their eyes, she was dancing with herself. Courtiers muttered that the temporary madness that was striking the ladies of late was a sickness sent by the Western elfs. They gave her a wide berth.
“Who were you talking to?” Regent asked.
“A fay called Glastyn,” Tom replied.
“Ah.” Unlike many in the court, Regent believed the tales told about Tom. He had never questioned his foresight, his inability to lie, nor his Second Sight. “He is often here, is he not?”
A kingly trait, to remember so many names. “He is, Your Grace. He keeps me company.”
Regent nodded. He knew that Tom was often lonely. But Tom knew that, while the man did what he could, he put the needs of the Heel over the needs of Thomas Rymour. He would not send Tom back to that little hut on the hill while there were wolves at the Heel’s doors. Maybe he would never send him back.
“Let’s not wait any longer,” Regent said. He waved at a servant. “Send them in,” he roared, loud enough for all to hear.
The music stopped and the crowd parted, leaving a path from door to dais. Everyone leaned forward to get a look at the foreigners.
There was a collective gasp as the doors opened. Even Tom was impressed.
It was the dress he saw first. Four elfs, tall and all in black, robed from head to foot. These robes were decorated in white with images of bones, femurs and fibulas drawing borders whilst entire hands sat in corners. Ribs were stitched over some chests, others featured patterns of flowers done in bone or miniature battle scenes fought by skeletons. This was topped off by the masks, skulls that looked eerily real. They were at complete odds to the assembled court. No frivolity, no cheer. They were sombre and serious, the spirit of death itself.
They walked towards the dais. No, they glided, robes sweeping behind them and their movements full of a fluid grace. As if they were stalking Regent. Tom half-expected them to draw weapons and he was surprised how nervous he was by the time they stopped.
They knelt. No surprise assassination.
Silence filled the hall.
The herald had been so astonished by the elfs he had forgotten to announce them. He cleared his throat and stammered, “Lord Neirin Tarian, Shield of the Eastern Angles, Warden of the Faith, Fourth of His Name, Emperor of His Other Realms and Territories, Bearer of the Blood of Angau.” It would have been funny in any other circumstance. But no-one laughed. They were too awe-struck. “Lord Neirin, I present you to the Duke of the Realm, Regent for Emyr, Keeper of the Throne and Ruler in His Name.”
“Thank you, herald.” Regent spoke with an amused yet pointed tone; the man’s neglected duties had been noticed. The herald bowed, embarrassed.
Regent turned his attention to the elfs. “Greetings to you and yours, Lord Neirin. We are honoured by your presence here.”
“My thanks, Duke Regent.” The voice was muffled by the mask, but it spoke the human tongue flawlessly. “You have been most hospitable.” He rose without waiting for permission and his fellows rose with him.
Regent did not acknowledge the affront. “We have firm hopes that the animosities of the past can be finally laid to rest.”
“As have I.” Neirin was swift, blunt. “But I am here on a greater purpose, Your Grace.”
“Oh?” Regent’s eyes narrowed. “Indeed?”
“Yes, Your Grace.” The skull nodded. The eyes that looked out through the sockets were bright and eager. “I am here to save all of Tir.” It felt rehearsed. Planned. Neirin lifted an arm and pointed a finger at Tom. “And I need him to do it.”
Only Tom and a drunken lady of the court heard Glastyn say, “Are you curious now, Thomas Rymour?”
If you enjoyed the first chapter of The Fey Man, why not buy it now? It’s available in paperback or Kindle versions from Amazon, or in EPUB formats from Apple iBooks, Kobo, Nook or Smashwords.