Hello, all! So, last week I posted a draft of the first chapter of Knight of Avalon 2 that I started writing before Lady of the Veils came out. You may remember that an agent named Anita Kushner gave me the advice that I should join a writer’s group, and under their careful tutelage, I rewrote the first book. It was published in December of 2010. So this draft is actually the first one I started to write after Lady of the Veils was published.
I got about ten chapters into this one before it started to disintegrate. It was this draft that made me realize I needed to start the second book very soon after the events of the first one because I was badly predicting how the characters would grow over a period of months or years. Besides, the fans of the first book loved the insecurities of the young characters-they still weren’t interested in reading about people who had it all figured out. It took me a very long time to home in on the story I wanted to tell.
Even though the drafts are all very different, a few things remain the same. You might notice that this chapter is a mixture of fantasy and mystery, very much like the original draft. (The second, of course, was more firmly romance.) Karen’s partner, Sir Corali Misslo, is also present, though in a very different form-he is less charming and attractive, shorter and more cantankerous. I didn’t realize how integral a part of this book Sir Corali is, but he keeps cropping up, no matter how much I try to ignore him. I’m beginning to realize he’s very much a part of this book.
So, without further ado, here is the third draft of the first chapter of Knight of Avalon 2.
Karen MacGregor, Lady of the Veils and Knight of the Royal Guard, slogged through green mud. It weighed her legs down and speckled her with stink. The humid air stuck her clothes to her armpits and the backs of her knees. Hunched trees dangled vines of the spidery Spanish moss which occasionally crept down her collar. Karen shrugged curious foliage out of the way with resignation. She’d been fighting them off all day.
Her partner, Sir Corali Misslo, swiped at the vines with his slender court sword and swore under his breath in Sprite when they danced away from his blade. Misslo was short; the top of his head reached only to Karen’s chin, and his iridescent hair straggled out of what had been a neat braid this morning. His skin shifted in hue like the rainbow on the surface of an oil slick. A streak of mud disgraced one of his cheekbones.
Karen swatted at a buzzing something near her face and managed to hit her ear hard enough to make it ring. “Ow,” she murmured, feeling stupid. She hoped Misslo had not heard her. The senior knight did not turn around. Small favors, she told herself bitterly, rubbing at her ear until the noise faded. She had no desire to annoy him further. She knew his sensibilities would already be offended by the mud and bugs; he would not react well if he knew she was acting like a stooge.
Misslo left long gouges in the soupy mud as he fought through the swamp. Karen tried to stay in his trail to make walking easier, but it did her very little good. Water filled his footsteps the moment he stepped out of them. Karen told herself again she should be grateful to be on this mission, no matter how angry Misslo seemed to be about it. Even though this trek through the swamp was unpleasant, being allowed to investigate the first murders in Faerie’s history was a great honor. If this case turned out well, it would be a feather in each of their professional caps.
“Misslo?” Karen called, wanting to hear something besides the droning of mosquitoes, “Why did you agree to let me partner with you?”
Misslo shot her an irritated look over his shoulder. “You can fence and part the Veils. I was under the mistaken impression you would be useful.”
Karen grimaced. She didn’t know what answer she had expected from the surly knight. He was in a foul mood, even for him. If there was a thing Misslo hated in the world, it was dirt. Karen wondered if it was too much to hope for that the murderer they hunted would be lying unconscious next to his victims. Unlikely as that was a win would cheer Misslo up.
Ahead, an ugly shack crouched like a toad in the mud of the swamp. Karen loosened her sword in her scabbard. She had learned the hard way to prepare for violence at every turn. The Troll who had gone into Mishni a few days ago to report finding the bodies had given the sheriff’s department vague directions at best, and her phone’s navigation system had been of little help in the chaotic tangle of brush. There was no way to know if this was the right hut, or what might greet them if it wasn’t. Antisocial Fey infested Mishni swamp as thickly as the mosquitos.
Misslo stopped and attempted to wipe vegetation from his blade with a silken shirtsleeve, managing only to smear mud up the blade. He sighed with exasperation and tucked his hair, stringy with sweat and grime, behind his spade-shaped ears.
“Let me see the sword.” Karen stretched out her hand for it.
Misslo gave her a resentful look and handed the weapon over.
Karen exerted a small amount of effort toward the Veils between Earth and Faerie, creating a black hole in the fabric of reality just large enough to reach through. From this secure spot she pulled a cloth, mostly clean and smelling of sword oil. She scrubbed her partner’s sword to the best of her ability and tossed the cloth back through.
When Karen handed the bronze weapon back to her partner, Misslo looked chagrined.
“My temper is like a dragon’s,” he told her quietly. “You must forgive me for the things I say.”
Karen smiled at him. “Ah, it’s all good. You remind me of my first fencing master when you’re mean. It brings back fond memories.” She gave Shannon O’Grady a brief mental salute. He had been dead nearly a year now.
Misslo frowned, his smooth brow crinkling in confusion. Then he smiled sheepishly and asked, “What means this ‘all good’?”
Karen chuckled and shook her head. “It means I forgive you. It’s something humans say.”
They started to walk again. Misslo wondered aloud, “Have you ever considered trying a little harder to be Fey? It would not be very difficult. You could alter your speech patterns just a little and change your hair color. Save for your coloring you very much resemble a small Fey already.”
Karen swallowed her anger, sternly telling herself that in his own bigoted way, Misslo was trying to help her as she had helped him. He was unaware that she might not wish to lose her humanity. “Well, I tried Unseelie coloring once while I was a Knight of the Host, but everybody hated it.”
Misslo shrugged as if giving up on her. The shack loomed just a few steps from them now.
Karen had never interrogated a troll before, but she knew enough to be nervous. They were big and brutally strong. The door they approached was nearly nine feet tall, suggesting this particular troll was no small example of his species.
Misslo squared his narrow shoulders and rapped on the front door. “High Court! Open up!”
Inside, there was a rumble like a large stone moved across wooden floorboards. Karen shot Misslo a worried, wide-eyed look, which he ignored. The door swung open silently, and framed in it was a creature at least eight feet tall, with skin of a mottled yellow. Two white tusks curled down under his jaw. The Troll’s face was full of sharp angles, as if it had been carved of stone. A waist-length top knot grew from the troll’s head. He was the biggest, ugliest troll Karen had ever seen, and she had once ridden into Avalon with the Unseelie Host, so that was really saying something. He blinked down at them with surprise as Misslo produced his badge.
“I am Sir Corali Misslo, Knight of the Royal Guard, and this is my partner, Lady Karen MacGregor. We come on order of the High King. Are you Shrunk, the Troll?”
“I am,” the creature rumbled agreement. “Have you come about the bodies?”
“I have. Where are they?”
The Troll didn’t answer at first, instead studying Karen with vague curiosity. She imagined he had never seen a Sidhe/human half-breed before. Since there were only two recorded instances of such a pairing and the other was her brother, most people hadn’t. After a moment, the creature shrugged its large shoulders and started around the hut.
“I will show you,” Shrunk finally rumbled, gesturing for the knights to follow. With an exchange of glances, Karen and Misslo followed the troll around the side of his hut.
The troll’s side yard was beautifully landscaped. Orchids clung to the cypress trees in a colorful array, and Spanish moss dangled from willow branches like a woman’s long hair. Amazed, Karen wondered what kind of garden the troll could grow if he was given good soil and some rose bulbs.
“I found them while I was weeding,” Shrunk rumbled, wading into the swamp. “Follow me.”
Resigned to still more soupy mud, the two knights followed. Shrunk led them out of his yard, a few troll-sized strides past where the trees stopped looking cultivated. They approached a low, rolling hill blanketed with waving grass. On top of this rested the corpses.
“Here they are,” Shrunk announced.
There were four bodies. Flies buzzed around them in a noisy swarm. Each had a gaping hole in its chest, revealing a cavity that should have held organs. Their faces were bloated past the point of recognition, and some of their skin was raggedly torn as if by hungry animals. One showed yellow teeth through a large slash in a cheek, and on another a length of bone gleamed from the brown flesh of an arm. Their clothing was reduced to slimy tatters. Karen’s stomach turned and she looked away, feeling disrespectful for staring. These bodies would have to be identified by their dental records.
Misslo snapped, “Did you move these?”
“I did,” Shrunk agreed. “It did not seem right to let them molder in my yard. I thought it best if they came to rest in the sun.”
“Unseelie fool,” Misslo exclaimed. “Do you know how much evidence you have lost? Perhaps we shall never discover what has happened to them because of your idiocy.”
Shrunk glared at Misslo as if he would melt the knight with his gaze. Misslo scowled up at the hulking troll, chin cocked at an aggressive angle. Karen almost smiled as she thought, it would take a lot bigger Fey than Shrunk to stare down Misslo .
Finally, the creature lowered his eyes and admitted, “I have never encountered dead bodies before. I was most relieved to see you had brought the human girl.”
Karen grimaced, thinking my mortality hardly makes me the resident death expert. She decided she had better do something or the Fey would just keep looking at the corpses with stunned horror until they rotted away to nothing.
“We need to call the forensics team,” she muttered. She opened another Way and pulled her Blackberry out of the air. It had been her idea to call the humans in on this first homicide investigation and she desperately wanted this partnership to go smoothly. Karen stepped a little aside to dial, feeling disrespectful of the bodies again.
Lowenstein answered the phone in English, accent Midwestern. “Lowenstein,” the imported medical examiner announced. His voice was tinny and the connection crackled. The cell towers in Faerie were improving, but for the most part wireless coverage was less than stellar this far from the American border.
“This is MacGregor,” Karen said. “I’m texting you our coordinates. We found the bodies.”
“Thank God,” Dr. Lowenstein sighed. “I’m pretty sure the trees in this swamp are sentient. I would love to get out of this muddy hell before dark.”
“You’re preaching to the choir,” Karen told him. She hung up without saying goodbye and fired off a text message to the same number. She, Misslo, and Shrunk waited outside the troll’s oversized hut for the second search team to find them. They had split off from the local group earlier to cover more ground, sending the coroner and his assistants east with a swamp guide before heading west themselves. Two more groups were sent north and south. Karen and Misslo had circled the swamp for hours before they finally stumbled across the hut.
Karen shifted from foot to foot while she waited. She was tempted to sit down, but the only dry place was beside the bodies. Karen checked the time on her phone’s digital readout several times. Misslo did not speak to her, electing instead to stare down the troll and gaze into the trees intermittently. Insects buzzed in the silence. They had been waiting almost forty-five minutes before another group stumbled out of the brush.
The guide was a local Dryad, complete with supple limbs and hair the same color as the dangling moss. Lowenstein was a giant of a human, nearly seven feet tall and crowned with wild, dark curls that stood out as if he had once been electrocuted and decided he liked the look. His skin was dark as ground coffee. The borrowed medical examiner looked just as terrible as Karen felt. He wore a green jumpsuit marked FBI, now so thickly caked with mud he looked as if his bottom half was malformed. Agent Sherman, a stocky middle-aged man with graying hair and horn-rimmed glasses, was wearing a double-breasted suit that would probably never recover from the day’s travels. He was there to act as Lowenstein’s handler.
Dr. Lowenstein, in his hearty, booming voice, said. “Well hallelujah. Corpses at last.”
Karen blinked with surprise at his reaction and Misslo exchanged a puzzled look with Shrunk. Lowenstein started to bark orders almost immediately. In moments the American team was taking samples from the hill and Shrunk’s garden. They were soon joined by the other groups, and the clearing behind the hut was swarming with knights and the Mishni town Sherriff’s Department. The humans went about their work without much reaction to the crime scene, but the Fey were another story. The mostly kept their eyes averted from the corpses. One Drow actually stopped to look at the bodies on the hill, and then ran from the clearing as if he needed to escape, flinging vines away from himself in his haste. His partner stared after him with wide eyes and shifted her weight from foot to foot, obviously unsure what her next course of action should be. Karen said, “Go after him, Lady. Everyone needs to stay together. The thing that did this could still be close.” With a frightened backward glance, she obeyed.
Karen stayed near Lowenstein and Sherman, waiting for a verdict. Periodically, she translated if the Americans needed to address the other knights or deputies.
“Well, there’s cause of death,” Lowenstein joked, gesturing to the empty chest cavities. He knelt to get a closer look, handling the bodies with gloved hands. There was no awkwardness to his treatment of the dead. Karen briefly congratulated herself on her invitation to him. Because no other Fey had ever tried to solve a murder, it had not occurred to anyone else their investigation might need a medical examiner. The plan to borrow one from the U.S had been an inspired one. “Based on the stage of decomposition and the level of insect activity, I’d say they’ve been here for about a week. I’ll have to do an autopsy to be more specific.” He reached down with one gloved hand and lifted a rotted limb toward his face for a closer look. “Huh. That’s odd.”
“What?” Karen wondered.
“All of the fingers on this hand are the same length,” Lowenstein mused. “And look at this skull. It’s…well, I don’t think this is a human skull. It’s too narrow at the temporal bones. I don’t think these are human remains.”
Karen frowned with confusion. Misslo asked, “What is he saying?” He spoke just enough English to make it clear he didn’t speak English.
Karen made a dismissive gesture at her partner without looking at him. “What else would they be? Some kind of animal?”
Lowenstein looked up at Karen, studying her as if he wondered what her skull might look like if her face weren’t in the way. Karen felt her frown deepen as she endured his examination. Then Lowenstein looked back at the bodies and said, “Well, I suspect they might be Fey. Is that even possible? Aren’t the Fey immortal?”
Flabbergasted, Karen only blinked at him for a moment. Behind her, Misslo barked, “Lady MacGregor! Translate immediately!”
Karen stammered a quick paraphrase of the coroner’s words. Misslo’s skin faded to dull gray with shock.
Karen tried frantically to get her mind to quit reeling. She knew it was possible to kill a Fey. She had seen it done scores of times during the war, but there was only one way to do it. It took magic so strong a Fey could not use it without rendering himself mortal. The clearing fell silent as Fey stopped to listen.
Stammering uncharacteristically, Misslo said, “Ask him if he is certain. He must be completely certain before he makes such accusations.”
“Are you sure about this?” Karen demanded. “I mean, these bodies are Fey? They can’t just be, you know, deformed humans?”
Lowenstein looked into the faces of the Fey around him, suddenly realizing they studied him with varying degrees of horror. “Well, I’m pretty sure, yes. This one has a tail.”
“No!” Karen snarled, surprising herself. Panic surged through her, whispering, he thinks Beri did this. “Pretty sure is not going to fly. If you’re going to say something like that, you need to be a hundred percent sure those bodies are Fey. You need to be ready to swear before God himself.”
Agent Sherman stepped between them suddenly. Karen’s heart thudded against her ribcage and Lowenstein watched her with amazement and a little fear over his handler’s shoulder.
“Woah, woah,” Sherman said, holding his hands out in front of him to make Karen keep her distance. Karen firmly reminded herself to breathe through the black splotches in her vision. “What does it mean if the bodies are Fey, Lady MacGregor? We’re not from around here. We have no idea why everybody is getting so upset.”
Karen closed her eyes briefly, counted to five. “It means we have a really short suspect list.”
Sherman gave her an easy smile. “Well, where I come from that’s a good thing. Who’s on it?”
Karen glanced at Misslo. He looked back at her, eyes full of knowledge and fear. “Well, two people. One of them is an eight- year- old girl. I doubt she has the upper body strength to hollow out one chest, let alone four.”
“And the other?”
Karen breathed out and tried to remain calm. “The other is the High King of Faerie.”