The Beginning of Wisdom


The Beginning of Wisdom
Author:
Series: A Long-Forgotten Song, Book 3
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Year: 2016
ASIN: B01FJ3NAA4
When Edwin reveals his true colors, Colonel Grenidor realizes he has run out of options. The Fae prince Niall offers Grenidor a way out, but defection forces Grenidor to face the repercussions of his actions. Feichin's redemption has rocked the Fae, who struggle to understand El and their own place in creation. Lord Owen, still not recovered, turns to Dr. Bartok for answers. When new information sheds light on Edwin's terrifying plan, both the Fae and humans must decide what obedience and love really mean in a broken world.
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About the Book

Chapter 1

The steady cold drizzle of the winter night drenched the asphalt, washing bits of paper and trash toward the drain near the intersection. Streetlights glared muted yellow into the darkness reflecting off the glass storefronts and white concrete and marble of the historic buildings. Colonel Paul Grenidor hunched his shoulders further and kept walking, eyes on the pavement before him.

“You survived.”

Edwin’s sudden presence didn’t surprise him, and despite the tension in his shoulders, he found his heart didn’t pound as it had earlier. He was too tired, emotions too torn, to recoil in fear.

“Yes.”

“Yet you did not kill the vampire. Interesting.” Edwin’s voice was smooth and untroubled, and Grenidor finally glanced at him. Raindrops slipped down the sides of Edwin’s face, but he appeared not to notice, though he met Grenidor’s eyes for a tense heartbeat.

Grenidor looked back down.

Edwin’s quick steps betrayed his irritation, and finally, he said, “You seem to have lost the talisman I gave you. The bull figurine.”

“The idol.” Grenidor’s voice was flat.

“Call it whatever you like. Yes, idol is perhaps more descriptive. It is a symbol.” Edwin’s voice was tight with anger. “You thought you could rid yourself of your obligations, your commitments, by misplacing the symbol of our cooperation.” The water running off Edwin’s shoulders began to steam.

“I bought it.” The irrelevant protest came without thought.

Edwin chuckled, the sound like a razor cutting through silk. “When you did so, it was only a little wooden statue made by children in a far-away land. I gave it meaning.” His voice had changed, no longer reassuringly human, like that of a middle-aged man. Now it was deeper, reverberating off the brick of the surrounding buildings. Grenidor could feel the vibrations through the soles of his shoes.

“How it was lost is irrelevant. I have replaced it. There is a duplicate, indistinguishable from the original, in your apartment. Let it serve as a reminder of our partnership.” Edwin glanced sideways at Grenidor. “In itself, it is powerless, a mere piece of stained wood. But symbols, Colonel… symbols are important.” He smiled, the yellow lamplight glinting off his teeth. “I should also remind you that Feichin is still dangerous. Not as dangerous as I am, yet far more dangerous than you imagine. Do not be complacent about either of us.” Then he was gone.

Block after block, Grenidor wandered, hands stuffed in his pockets. The rain slid inside his collar, and he shivered, but he didn’t turn towards home. Not yet. He had too much to think about, and his apartment was hardly a warm, inviting place. Might as well do his thinking out in the street, where the weather matched his mood.

I left the transport cage behind. There is no way they won’t notice that. And that Feichin is missing. He couldn’t muster up the fear that discovery of his actions seemed to merit.

A shadow appeared at his side, and this time, he jumped. The boy. M8. Grenidor would have fled, but the boy reached out and caught his sleeve in one strong hand. He shook his head, then carefully let go of Grenidor, eyes cautious. Waiting for me to bolt like a frightened rabbit. Something stayed his steps. If the boy wanted to hurt him, he could have already.

The boy gestured toward a dark alley. Grenidor hesitated and then nodded. Whatever he does to me, I deserve. He took a deep breath and followed the Fae child into the alley and around a corner, well away from any prying eyes or surveillance. In the rain, Grenidor could barely see the faint pale oval of the boy’s face, and he stopped.

The boy reached out to pull him farther, his fingers cold and strangely gentle on Grenidor’s wrist. He stopped to open a door, ushered Grenidor inside, and closed it behind him.

Grenidor stood, tense and silent, in the pitch dark, until a light appeared, a gently glowing blue-green orb that settled near the ceiling.

“What is that?” he asked. This is it. He wants to be sure I remember him before he kills me. Killing me on the street, without knowing who did it or why, wouldn’t be the same.

The boy pulled out a notebook and scribbled in it. It is light since you cannot see in the darkness. Is it bright enough?

Grenidor swallowed. “Yes. Thank you. What do you want?”

Do you remember me? The boy looked up at him, blue eyes wide and serious.

“M8, yes.”

My name is Niall. Lord Owen is my uncle. The boy’s gaze held his, and Grenidor felt his face flush.

“Niall. I’m… I guess you know me.”

Yes. The boy took a deep breath and let it out slowly. There is a shadow over you. We call them the dark ones. Feichin said it spoke to him, too.

“A shadow?”

Dr. Bartok meant to speak with you about it. He has more wisdom than I do about how El relates to humans. But you… left. The boy looked up with a question in his eyes.

“I… yes.” Grenidor’s throat felt tight. He hadn’t fled because he was afraid of Feichin or Owen.

Edwin hadn’t been there, at least, not in any form that Grenidor could sense. Probably not at all, since he’d been so adamant about Grenidor killing Feichin before the meeting. But he’d been inside Grenidor’s head, a deep, secret whisper that played on Grenidor’s fear and his loathing of the vampires. It whispered, “Shoot! Shoot now!” while Owen was talking. It rose, frantic and furious, screaming in his mind until Grenidor could barely catch his breath from fear of what Feichin would do.

Another voice whispered inside, telling him to drop the gun and beg for mercy… for forgiveness.

Edwin had no power over him other than what Grenidor himself had given him. Owen would forgive him, had already forgiven him. And if Owen spoke the words of the Slavemaster… the other side might also forgive him.

Thoughts of his crimes, his deeds over the last year, rose in his mind. Torture of the Fae. Lies. Deception. The call to Fletcher about the Christians. The blood on the bullets; somehow he felt that was at least as bad, perhaps worse, than anything else.

Human sacrifice. I asked, and Edwin didn’t disagree with the phrase. I let it happen anyway.

Actually, I commanded it.

How could the other side forgive him, after all he’d done?

How could he forgive himself?

He was too far gone. Even Feichin was better than Grenidor. Feichin had been provoked beyond endurance while Grenidor had acted in cold calculation.

The hatred he felt for the vampires was nothing compared to the hatred he felt for himself.

Even so, he had not shot. Killing Feichin would be committing himself to Edwin’s side, and that, he’d realized, was not something he could live with. Not now, anyway. He’d thrown the gun away to remove the temptation, even as his finger tightened on the trigger. It relieved him for a moment, and then the weight of shame crushed him.

“…disgusting inside…” He realized he’d been mumbling aloud, trying to explain himself to Niall. To justify himself, as if there could be any justification for what he’d done. Some of it doubtless made no sense.

The boy reached out to touch his arm. If you are ashamed, that is good. It means you understand the weight of rebellion. The weight of justice. You cannot be saved until you acknowledge that you need to be saved. But, as Feichin has proven, shame does not have to be the end.

“Why are you here?” Grenidor’s voice felt raspy in his throat.

For you. Niall tilted his head. Feichin forgave you, and he was forgiven. Humans cannot sense it, though you could see the difference in his actions. We Fae can sense… the boy hesitated and glanced off into the darkness for a moment, his face thoughtful. Perhaps you would call it a state of grace. We exist under a covenant that is different than yours; we are given the means to be obedient, although we can choose rebellion. We had thought rebellion was final and absolute. Now we know it can be forgiven, the same way human sin is forgiven. We cannot sense sin in humans, but we can sense it in Fae. When Lord Owen spoke to Feichin, Feichin nodded. In that moment, he committed himself to El again, and in that moment, we could no longer sense his sin. It was as if it had never happened. He is as pure—no, purer—than any infant. You saw it only when he said, “I forgive you.” That was important, but the critical decision was made when he nodded to Lord Owen.

Dr. Bartok meant to tell you how to accept the grace that is offered to you, but you left too quickly. I came because… he paused again, and Grenidor realized the boy was trembling.

“Are you afraid of me?” Grenidor asked.

Niall looked up to meet his eyes. A little. But I am much more afraid of the shadow. I cannot see it, but I know it has a hold over you. It is powerful and dangerous. But it held Feichin, and Feichin is now free. You can also be free.

“It isn’t as simple as that.” Grenidor sighed heavily.

Are you afraid of me?

“A little.”

You don’t need to be. I wish to help you. I forgave you before, and I followed you because I wished to help you… but I was still angry with you. Now that I have heard you, I am no longer even angry. You need help.

“You’re not angry with me? You should hate me. Because…” Grenidor gestured helplessly. “You can’t even talk.” He wanted to look at the boy’s face, but his gaze kept sliding away, unwilling to meet those clear blue eyes.

Anger is permitted. Hatred is not. All the same, my anger has faded. Now I am only concerned for you. The boy’s hand shook, and he scribbled, I wish I had learned more from Dr. Bartok. I am not wise enough.

Grenidor’s heart twisted, but he said only, “I need to get home.

I will walk with you, if you permit me.

The light faded, and he led Grenidor out to the street. Niall was silent at his side, slipping through the shadowed streets. The wind gusted, driving the rain sideways for a moment, and Grenidor hunched further into his coat. Niall seemed oblivious to the cold, but he clutched the notebook under his shirt, trying to keep it from getting soaked.

The doorman held the door for him, and Grenidor stepped inside, half-expecting Niall to disappear. But he followed Grenidor all the way into the elevator, a wordless shadow by his elbow.

Grenidor pushed the button for his floor and the elevator began to rise. “Are you going to follow me to bed?” he asked.

Are you afraid of your dreams?

“That’s not any of your business.” Grenidor couldn’t muster any anger in his voice.

At this hour, the halls were deserted, and Grenidor saw no one as he led the way down the hall to his door and unlocked it. The boy hesitated, then asked, May I enter? There is something in your room. Something… wrong. May I come inside?

“I guess. I don’t have an extra bed.” As soon as he spoke, Grenidor recalled the legend that vampires could not enter without permission. Even Edwin had waited for an invitation. Maybe all these magical beings needed invitations or permission to enter dwellings or make themselves known. Too late now, though.

I will leave when you ask. The boy stepped inside, gaze flicking over the room to fix on the door to Grenidor’s bedroom. It is in that room. With your permission, I will go first.

“If you want to.” Grenidor followed him, hand dropping to his holster before he realized it was empty. “Yes. Please.”

Niall stopped in the doorway, then crept forward, tense and silent. He pointed to the little statue with one finger and raised his eyebrows at Grenidor.

“It’s just a token. A souvenir.”

It is evil. Burn it. Niall was trembling, breath coming fast. May I? Please. It should be destroyed.

“Um…” Grenidor hesitated. “I…”

Edwin spoke from the front door. “Is there some sort of problem, Colonel?”

Sudden terror flooded him, as much for Niall as for himself.

“No. I’m fine.” Grenidor looked back to see Edwin squinting at him. “Why are you here?” He was momentarily grateful for his drained emotional state. It kept his voice steady, not betraying the panic that fluttered within his belly.

“I felt… danger. Someone is here with you. One of the Slavemaster’s minions.”

Grenidor glanced at Niall, who only now looked back up at him.

Is something wrong? To whom are you speaking?

“Can you see him?” Grenidor gestured toward Edwin, who took a half step closer.

Niall glanced toward the door and around the room, then back to Grenidor. He shook his head, his face reflecting only innocent confusion. Do you see something?

“Yes.” Grenidor glanced between them. Then, “Do you see him?” he asked Edwin.

Edwin’s face was partially turned away, but he glanced toward Grenidor just long enough to meet his eyes. “I see a blank spot. I cannot see him. Move back. He’s dangerous. Don’t listen to him. Whatever he says, he lies. He twists truth into something unrecognizable. He is trying to trick you, as I warned you.”

Challenging Edwin hadn’t worked out well yet. His voice hissed with hatred… but it also held an undertone of caution, something held back as if he wasn’t quite sure who was in the room with Grenidor. Besides, if Edwin couldn’t see or hear Fae…

“How do you know?”

Niall’s pale lips were set in concentration, and he flicked his fingers at the wooden figure. Flames burst from the tabletop and surrounded the bull. Niall stared at it, watching the flames burn higher. The reflection danced in his eyes.

Grenidor stood transfixed, watching the wood turn to embers and then to ash in a matter of moments. The tabletop was unmarred, save the little pile of ash.

Edwin had not answered his question, and Grenidor didn’t repeat it.

Niall turned to him, eyes hard. That is better. But there is still a shadow in the room, both in you and…somewhere else. I cannot banish it for you. It is a decision you must make on your own.

Grenidor glanced at Edwin, who squinted toward them as if staring into the sun.

“He’s lying, Grenidor. The Slavemaster’s minions cannot be trusted. Don’t let him get too close to you.”

Be careful, Colonel Grenidor. No one can hope to manipulate the dark ones, nor defeat them alone. It is better to plead for El’s mercy. He will claim His own victory.

Grenidor hesitated, his gaze flicking between Edwin and Niall. Edwin seemed somehow less dangerous in Niall’s presence. Less arrogant, at least, perhaps even a little nervous. I’m more afraid of Edwin than Niall. If I were smart, I’d keep him here. I don’t think he plans to kill me in my sleep, and Edwin’s keeping his distance. But no; Edwin is dangerous, and Niall is a child. I’ve done enough to him, harmed him more than enough already. To keep him here, in danger, because I’m afraid to be alone with Edwin, is cowardly. I’m not ready to sink so low yet. Besides, it might just provoke Edwin. I don’t want to see him enraged.

“I’ll keep that in mind. I’m tired. Are you done?”

As you wish. Niall tucked his notebook under his arm, gave him a silent half-bow, and strode toward the door. Grenidor sucked in his breath. The boy’s movements were so quick, and Edwin so unprepared, that Edwin barely slipped out of his way as Niall brushed past his elbow. The boy appeared completely oblivious to Edwin’s presence, neither seeing nor hearing him. But Edwin hissed in pain as the boy’s shoulder passed close by him. He stumbled back a half-step, raising his hands over his face; then he straightened to smile at Grenidor. Niall closed the door behind himself with an almost inaudible click.

Grenidor tried to replay the movement in his mind. Edwin flinched back as if he’d been burned. But Niall didn’t do anything to him, didn’t even see him. What does that mean?

Edwin stared at him a moment, eyes narrowed, then glanced at the ashes on the top of the table as if seeing them for the first time. An image flickered behind Grenidor’s eyelids, a winged serpent raising its head to strike, vast and deadly, glittering scales and golden eyes narrowed in fury. Edwin checked himself and glanced around as if to reassure himself that Niall had left.

“You play a dangerous game, Grenidor.” Then he was gone.

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