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It was a still October night. On the cliff top the harvest was gathered in and sheaves of corn were stacked together to form peculiar straw houses. A bright silver moon shone down on a calm sea. In the distance the silhouette of the Friendship, a collier brig, could be seen picked out against the waves. The sails of the ship looked like the flags of a small army preparing for war.
The brilliance of the full moon penetrated the darkest depths of the wood that gripped the tops of the cliffs. A small, darkly clad figure in a frock coat and knee boots stumbled along, carrying a long black leather case, timidly following a tall, confident man with long flowing white hair.
Nearby, a fox lay hidden in the undergrowth, dreaming of fresh rabbit, when suddenly it was woken by the panic of a deer bolting from the cover of a holly bush and running deeper into the darkness of Wyke Woods.
"What was that?" The small man was startled and his voice jumped and quivered. He dropped the leather case in fright and clutched at the cloaked figure that he had followed so closely through the autumn night. "It's there," he squealed. "I can see it, it's in the trees."
His companion grabbed him by the ear. "Keep quiet, Beadle. The world doesn't need to hear your voice."
The small man pinched his eyelids together as he tried to peer into the darkness and hide in his companion's cloak at the same time. Beadle didn't like the darkness and he hated the night. Bravery was for other people, and the night was to be spent by the fire of the inn, listening to stories of faraway places, the news of war in other lands and of smuggling, while drinking warm, frothy beer.
Here in the wood on the top of the cliff was a different world for Beadle, a world where he did not belong. The wood was the place of boggles, hedge witches, hobs and thulak. Beadle feared the thulak more than anything. They were strange, invisible creatures of the dark. They could steal upon you at night, smother you in a dark mist and take from you the will to live. There were stories that they would creep through open windows and come into houses to cover an unsuspecting sleeping victim like a dark blanket. Once the victim was seized, he couldn't move. They would take his strength and fill his mind with horrifying, hideous thoughts. These were the thulakian dreams that would be with him for the rest of his life. They would leave their victims listless and heavy-limbed, with sunken eyes from the sleepless nights spent fearing their return.
Beadle grasped his companion's cloak even tighter as a gentle breeze rustled the brown, crisp leaves in the trees.
"Is it a man or is it...them?" He could hardly say the words; his right leg shook, his eyelids twitched, his mouth went dry and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.
"Them?" hissed his companion in his face. "Who are them? Can't you say the word? What are you frightened of?"
Beadle hunched his shoulders and buried his face in the musty black cloak of his tall, angry companion. "Thulak," he whispered feebly, trying to muffle his voice so they would not hear him.
His companion raised both his hands and cupped his mouth like the bell of a trumpet; he took in a deep breath and with a voice that came from the depths of his soul, he bellowed: "Thulak. Thulak. Thulak." The voice echoed around the woods; the fox scurried from the brush and ran deeper into the undergrowth.
A roost of the blackest rooks lifted from the trees above their heads and their caw-caw-caw filled the night sky as they circled above the branches, dancing in the moonlight.
"...No," whispered the now terrified Beadle. "Please, Parson Demurral, don't say that word, they will hear and they will come and get us, my mother said --"
He was hastily interrupted.
"Us, Beadle? Did you say us?" Demurral towered over the cowering, frightened form of his servant. "I fear nothing and no one, and they have every reason in the world to fear me. Tonight, my little friend, you will see who I really am and you will not say a word to anyone. I control creatures that are far more frightening than the thulak. One word of what you see tonight and you will never dare to close your eyes again, or want to see the sun go down on another day. Now, come on, we have work to do; a ship awaits its fate and I await mine."
Demurral took Beadle by the collar and lifted him to his feet, dragging him down the path towards the sea. Beadle could not refuse. He had been servant to the Vicar of Thorpe for twenty years. On his eleventh birthday he had been sent to work for a penny a week, a bed in the barn, fresh straw, and a Sabbath rest once a month. People said he was lucky-stunted, one leg withered, he was not much use to anybody. Demurral was a harsh master: He had a harsh tongue and an even harsher hand. Sometimes Beadle would creep into the back of the church and listen to his ranting from the pulpit. Hellfire, damnation, boiling cauldrons of molten blood, serpents and all things horrible that would await the unbeliever.
Beadle muttered to himself: "Blast, bother, boiling blood, this isn't a job; too dark, too cold, too many --"
Demurral butted in. "Stop your mumbling; there are things to be done. Drag that leg of yours a little faster. Maybe then we'll get to the stone before the ship passes." Beadle slipped in the mud as he tried to obey his master's command. "Be careful with the box, it took me a long time and a lot of my money to find what I've been looking for. Now be careful: We have to get down the waterfall before we find the stone."
Beadle knew that it had not been Demurral's money that had been used to buy the black box. Sunday by Sunday he had stolen from the villagers in rents and tithes.
He thought back to the night when the long black leather case had arrived at the Vicarage. Beadle had peered through the open crack of the study door, which hung very slightly ajar. For the first time in his life he had seen a man with a skin so black that it shone. Never before had such a trader been in these parts. The landlord of the Hart Inn had said that he had come from Whitby by carriage, the sole passenger on the brig Whitehall, which had docked the day before from Spain.
Beadle had watched carefully as the man opened the case and in the glimmering candlelight brought forth a long, shining pole as tall as Beadle himself. From the case the man then took a solid jet-black stone hand in the shape of a clenched fist. Into the grip of the fist he placed a silver dagger encrusted with two pieces of darkest jet.
It was then that Beadle saw something so beautiful that its image was impressed on his soul forever. The man brought out a black velvet bag from beneath his cloak and placed it gently on the desk. As the trader opened the bag, Beadle could make out two gold wings stretching back over a small statue. Before Beadle could see any more, Demurral quickly got up from the desk and slammed the door shut. He and his guest spoke in hushed tones. Beadle pressed his left ear to the door and listened.
The visitor spoke to Demurral in fluent English. "I have risked many things and come many miles to bring you this. It has powerful magic and they will stop at nothing to get it back. You are a brave man, Demurral. Either that or a rich fool."
Beadle heard his master laugh. "What I am, is what I am. Now take your money and go, and not a word to anyone. Fear not that which can destroy the body, but that which can destroy the soul." Demurral paused and then continued. "When does the other Keruvim arrive?"
Demurral's guest spoke softly. "It will not be long; they cannot be separated. The Keruvim will find you." Beadle heard footsteps coming to the door and hid himself behind the large curtain of the hall window.
Now, many nights later, Beadle and Demurral came out of the wood that covered the cliff path. The noise of the waterfall and the smell of the sea filled Beadle with a sense of excitement tinged with trepidation. Demurral lowered himself down the rope ladder at the side of the waterfall and then onto the shingle beach. Beadle tied a length of hemp cord onto the case and gently lowered it down to his master.
"Yes," cried Demurral. "It is almost time. Hurry, I can see her sails."
Beadle almost dropped the twenty feet to the shingle beach; he did not want to be left behind on the edge of the wood. A shudder ran up and through his spine and the hairs on his head stood on end. Thulak could be anywhere.
Demurral made his way to a large flat rock only a few feet away from the gently breaking waves. In the full light of the moon everything had a dark blue and silver glow; everything looked so cold.
He noticed that the rock was in the shape of an open palm, cupped to receive the sea. In the centre was a small carved hole. Three steps were cut into the side of the rock. The steps were too small for his feet, so he scrabbled up the stone on hands and knees.
"Come on, man!" shouted Demurral. "We have only minutes, then it will be too late." For the first time he allowed Beadle to see all that was in the case. "Stand back, Beadle, this is holy work...."
Demurral took out the golden staff and placed the shaft into the hole in the centre of the rock. It was a pole made from the finest acacia wood and wrapped in bands of beaten gold. He quickly screwed in the black stone hand and placed the silver dagger in it. He knelt down and opened a long, narrow, concealed lid within the case. From the baize he took out a solid gold winged figure. Beadle giggled with excitement. In the light of the full moon the figure glowed with a ghostly radiance.
Demurral looked at Beadle and lifted the gold statue from the box. "This is a Keruvim. There are only two in the whole world. Now I have one and tonight I will have the other."
Beadle gazed at the beautiful creature as Demurral held it in his hand. It was the size of a barn owl, and had golden wings folded back along the length of its body and the head of a beautiful child with eyes of purest pearl.
"Stand aside, Beadle. Our work begins," Demurral said. He took hold of the golden staff and placed his left hand on the stone fist. He raised the Keruvim with his right hand, pointing it towards the sailing ship that silently cut through the night in full sail. Beadle saw the red and green lanterns for port and starboard bobbing up and down as the ship dipped and peaked in the gently rolling sea.
Demurral shouted out into the night. "Waves and wind, fire and water. Thunder, lightning and hail, hearken to my desire, hearken to my words. Come forth from the north and from deep below. Tempest, storm and ravaging wind, crash this boat to this shore, bring the Keruvim to me."
A single flash of the brightest, whitest light appeared to shoot out of the mouth of the Keruvim. It hit the sea and then deflected upwards until it touched the sky, making a loud crack like a bolt of lightning crashing to Earth.
Beadle jumped back in fear, lost his footing and fell from the stone to the shingle beach, landing on his back with a thud and a crunch.
For a moment he lay motionless. "What are you doing, Beadle? There is no time for resting. Get up, get up," Demurral snapped angrily.
Beadle lay on the shingle and quietly moaned. He placed his hand in the pocket of his frock coat and felt the broken shards and soft mess of the cold boiled egg that he had been going to eat for his supper.
All was silent. At first there was nothing. No movement, just the same calm as before. The sailing ship moved majestically through the rolling waves, cutting further and further to the north.
Then it began. First quietly, then louder and louder, from the depths of the sea a shrill and piercing singing was heard. At first it was faint like a whisper and then it grew stronger and stronger, heard not through the ears, but through the soul. From the deep black sea came a choir of Seloth. Graceful, flowing, feminine creatures that sang and swirled around the ship, woken from their sleep by the call of the priest.
Through the rigging, the sails and ropes, they swept around and around, singing louder and louder. Their sea-green hair trailed out behind them, long and billowing; their sightless eyes stared into the darkening night.
From behind the stone Beadle could hear their voices as they chanted and sang over and over again in ever more frightening tones. Beadle was too scared to look out from the safety of his hiding place and covered his ears, trying to stop the singing of the Seloth from driving him mad.
"What are they singing? It's piercing my brain like a hot knife. Tell them to stop."
Beadle pushed his face into a pile of damp seaweed, hoping to hide himself in its depths.
"It is the song of the deep. They are calling the dead to come to the feast. The Seloth will not stop until the ship is broken on the rocks. They want a sacrifice, not mercy," Demurral shouted above the wind and the waves, his eyes devouring the spectacle set before him. As they sang, the sea whipped higher and higher. Waves washed back and forth against the cliffs of Baytown, three miles to the north. Thick black clouds grew in the night sky and lightning exploded into the swell.
As the storm grew, the fishing boats anchored in the bay were dashed against the rocks that jutted out of the surf below the high cliff. The slipway of the town was awash; high into the main street the waves beat against the doors of the houses like the fists of the press-gang searching for menfolk to drag off to sea.
As the sea smashed against the steep rock, the cliff suddenly gave way and tons of mud and rock fell into the raging water. With the pounding of the storm the houses and shops of King Street crumbled and tumbled into the sea. As the buildings slid and toppled into the maelstrom, men, women and children were thrown from their sleep. In the dark of the night they cried out to be saved, but their screams for mercy could not be heard over the terrible thundering of the German Ocean.
Wisps of grey and blue fire broke through the swelling surf. Ghostly figures like giant white horses leapt from the waves that began to crash upon the shore.
The sky grew darker and darker and the full moon was blotted out by thick black cloud as streaks of lightning flashed from sky to sea, exploding in the water. A lightning sword hit the ship. The mainsail cracked, then crashed to the deck, sending startled crewmen bolting from their hammocks.
As they rushed on deck, another sail crashed down, splitting the deck in half and sending shafts of splintered wood into the air. The ship lifted and dropped with each wave; a crewman was thrown through the air and into the cold sea, never to be seen again.
"A direct hit," shouted Demurral, laughing and rubbing his hands together in glee at the sight. "One more strike and the Keruvim will be mine."
He raised the statue into the air and chanted more magic. "Wind, hail, lightning, thunder and wave." The sea rose at his command, each surge growing higher and higher. Breakers like black fists smashed against the ship, almost engulfing the vessel.
On the ship, the captain shouted to the crew: "Tie on. Tie on. We'll run for the beach. It's the only chance we have." He spun the ship's wheel and the brig lurched towards the shore.
The first mate struggled through the waves breaking on the deck. He grappled with the broken rigging, pulled himself along the deck to the rear hatch and pushed it open. He looked down into the darkness. There, staring back at him was a young man with dark skin and bright white eyes.
"Take the empty barrels and tie yourself on, we're going down." He could just be heard over the roaring of the sea and the screaming of the Seloth.
As he spoke, a wave hit the stern of the ship, throwing the first mate crashing down into the hold. His head smashed against the floor. A large beam of wood slid the length of the hold and pressed him against a locker. As he lost consciousness, his face was submerged in the water. The youth took the barrels and with discarded rope from the sail-mender's locker tied them to the first mate. Thick salt water splashed against his feet as gallons of spray showered down through the open hatch.
"You all right down there?" the captain yelled into the hold. Then he turned to see a large wave looming above him. The sea was rising like a large mountain, higher and higher, coming closer and closer.
The biggest wave he had ever seen lifted the ship from the stern and tipped it over, end upon end, ripping out its very heart and spinning it through the spray towards the beach. It crashed the ship upon the rocks, splintering it like matchwood. The vessel cracked in two as the keel snapped. The sound of the breaking beam cut above the noise of the waves, echoing into the heart of the wood.
Seeing the ship in such distress, Demurral jumped up and down on the hand stone: "It's mine, all mine, I will have it tonight. Tonight, Beadle...tonight, I will have the Keruvim." Beadle looked up at Demurral and saw his face change. His eyes began to glow as wisps of green mist swirled around him.
"I will have both the Keruvim. They will be mine," Demurral repeated over and over. The black hand on the acacia pole began to glow brighter and brighter.
He thrust the pole towards Beadle. "See. The hand tells me the Keruvim is coming closer. When I have it in my grasp, then the power of God will be mine. No more begging for a favour, clucking like a chicken at his altar. When I have the Keruvim, then he will have to listen to me."
Demurral shouted into the sky and jumped down from the stone to the gravel beach. In his hand he held the acacia pole. "Come on, Beadle, let us await the arrival of the Keruvim!" With that he grabbed Beadle by the ear and pulled him along the beach. In the distance the Friendship lay broken on the rocks. The masts had snapped off. The sails and the rigging were torn from them, hanging like a gallows in the calming waters. The ship was broken open, exposing every deck to the torture of the sea.
The captain floated facedown in the water, gently buffeted by the waves. He was dead, like all the crew, including the first mate, although he had been kept afloat by the barrels. Their broken bodies bobbed in the ebbing tide as the Seloth gathered their souls, taking them back into the deep. The storm faded into the night, the dark clouds parted and the moon dulled as it set behind the hills to the west.
In the bay, pieces of the Friendship were washed ashore by the now gentle waves. Demurral walked up and down the beach, becoming ever angrier.
He screamed at the sea, "Come to me, my pretty, come to me." In his hands he held the acacia pole. The glow of the divining hand was beginning to fade.
Beadle followed his every step. "How do you know it was on the ship? How do you know it will be here?"
"It has to be here. It has to be tonight. There are only two Keruvim in the whole universe and they must be together. They will always find each other, that is the Law." Demurral looked out to the ship.
"What if it's gone down with the wreck? Gold doesn't float," Beadle asked.
"Then you, my friend, will have to learn to swim or you will go the same way as they have and the Seloth will feast on your soul as well." He pointed a long bony finger to the ship lying slaughtered on the rocks.
"Where are you? Come to me, come to me!" the priest shouted at the waves. The sea gave no reply. The wind was silent and the waves babbled over the shingle. Beadle followed Demurral along the beach, both men searching the tide for the Keruvim. It was nowhere to be found.
Excerpted from Shadowmancer by G. P. Taylor. Copyright © 2004 by G. P. Taylor. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.