Thomas Flarety # 1
By- Erik Buchanan
Published By- Dragon Moon Press
In a world where no one really believes in magic, one man is stealing all that's left... Erik Buchanan's first novel introduces Thomas Flarety, whose first visit home from school in four years brings him face to face with a juggler who can create a ball of light from air, a Bishop who can control men with his voice, and a plot to steal what magic is left in the world. Before long, Thomas is thrust into a nightmare of betrayal and murder, where all that he has is threatened by a power he does not understand, and where learning to master a power he did not know he had may be the only way he can survive.
Erik Buchanan started reading at age two and has been hooked ever since. He met the Hardy Boys when he was six, Bilbo Baggins when he was eight, and cried for an hour when he was ten because that really shouldn't have happened to Frodo toward the end of The Two Towers. It was also at age 10 that Erik thought, "maybe I could write a story."
Before he was 12 Erik had attempted a book, an epic poem in rhyming couplets and various bits of stories and poetry. In high school he kept writing, and managed to create an impressive portfolio of maudlin teen-age angst-filled poetry that has thankfully not survived.
It was in his last year of high school, in the creative writing class of Mr. Robert Currie, a great English teacher, writer and poet, where Erik where he had the first vague notions of "being a writer." He kept writing through university, even as the theatre sunk its teeth and claws into him. He came out of university with a B.F.A., a pair of black belts, and a desire to be on the stage.
Erik moved to Toronto and spent thirteen years pursuing (but never quite catching) a career as an actor and a fight director. He wrote his first novel in a small attic room in a downtown rooming house, sitting on a cushion on the floor with his laptop perched on a box in front of him. Shortly after, he wrote "Small Magics," then "Cold Magics."
Erik is has just finished writing "City of Phantoms," a young adult novel set in Victorian England. He is now writing the third book in the Magics series while he edits "the King Below" (another fantasy novel he has written) and "City of Phantoms," and still works on that zombie movie.
From Small Magics-
Everyone from the town was on the commons, readying themselves for Fire Night.
Thomas moved quietly through the crowd, giving polite greetings to those who recognized him, but doing his best to not draw attention. No one had been home at George’s house, but the door was unlocked as usual. The clothes Thomas had worn that day had been sitting, folded, on the mat he’d used as a bed. He’d changed into them as fast as he could and headed for the town commons.
The entire village was there, waiting for the fire to be kindled. Even the nuns, down in a flock from their nunnery, were there to share in the ceremony. The young men were crowded together, betting on who could jump the highest and furthest. On the other side of the fire, the girls were gathered and giggling.
Everyone over the age of twelve would go over the fire, believing, or pretending to believe, that their energy would go into the ashes which would be scattered on the fields in the morning. After that, many couples would disappear into the woods, to offer their strength in an entirely different way. Thomas wondered how much of a damper Bishop Malloy would manage to put on the second ritual. The answer, he suspected, would be none.
He found George at the back of the crowd, bragging with the other young men. George claimed that he would jump through the flames at their height and not return home until after the ash-spreading ceremony the next morning. There were several demanding to know who he would be spending the night with, but he refused to answer.
“A gentleman must keep his peace,” he was saying as Thomas approached. Someone called out that they only wanted to know which piece he was keeping, and Thomas took advantage of the ensuing laughter to grab George’s arm. The other turned, saw, and was delighted.
“Thomas! You made it! Does this mean everything is all right with your…” He stopped, looked his friend over. “Those clothes were at our house.”
“Something strange is happening, George.” Thomas scanned the crowd.
“Right behind you and shame on you for not noticing.”
Thomas turned. Eileen was indeed right behind him, but was covered head to foot with a long cloak. Thomas shook his head. “Not even your father could recognize you in that get up.”
“Well, let’s hope he doesn’t when he sees what I’m wearing to jump the fire.”
Thomas looked at George, who shook his head. “It’s my fault,” he said. “She bet me that she could jump the flames at their height, and foolish man I am, I took it.”
“Your dress will catch fire,” said Thomas.
“It would—”firelight and mischief danced in Eileen’s eyes, “if I was wearing it.”
She opened her cloak, showing off breeches and a shirt that Thomas recognized as soon as he stopped staring at the shape they revealed.
“Those are mine,” Thomas said.
“Fresh off the line. And right wet they were, too.”
Thomas looked at the clinging fabric. “Aye, I noticed.”
Eileen stuck out her tongue and closed the cloak. George shook his head, mournfully. “She’ll be the scandal of the evening,” he predicted. Thomas looked across the crowd to the small stage that had been erected on the far side of the fire-pit. His father and the bishop were stepping onto it, the Reeve and several others following behind. “I wouldn’t bet on that, if I were you.”
“Silence, please!” Bluster called. He had to repeat himself half a dozen times before the crowd stilled themselves. “We are honoured,” he said when the clamour had ceased, “to have Bishop Malloy here with us tonight. It has been a sad few months for this village, since Father Martin —” he indicated an old, white-haired priest who had come on the platform behind him, “— announced his desire to retire to the Cloisters for the remainder of his life. He served us well for many years, and shall be missed. Still, we asked that his wishes be granted, and the bishop here has done so. Your Grace?”
The bishop stepped up to the front of the small stage, a younger man in the robes of the Church of the High Father beside him. The bishop’s familiar, still wearing his sword, stood just behind them. The bishop gave a gracious nod to Bluster. “My thanks.”
“Thomas,” Eileen whispered as the bishop began his speech, “What happened at your house?”
“Nothing good,” Thomas whispered back, keeping his eyes on the bishop.
“Well, that answers it, doesn’t it?”
He turned to her. “Can I tell you after?”
She took a close look at his expression and nodded. “All right.”
“Eileen!” someone hissed.
Eileen looked in the direction of the voice. “Oh, no.”
Thomas looked. Two nuns were bearing down on them, looking very stern. One was gesturing at Eileen.
“Who are they?” asked Thomas.
“Sister Brigit,” Eileen whispered, ducking her head as if to hide herself, “and Sister Clare. I was hoping they wouldn’t recognize me. They’ll tell my father!”
“Eileen!” Sister Brigit had a loud whisper that carried clearly through the crowd. “What are you doing there, standing among these boys?”
The young men around them quickly backed away. Thomas started to do the same, but Eileen grabbed his arm.
“I was standing with my brother,” whispered Eileen back, holding the cloak tight around her. “I thought it would be the safest place.”
“I’m sure.” Sister Brigit was old, with deep lines in her face and a glare of steel. She applied the latter to Eileen. “Why are you wearing such a long cloak?”
“Have you met Thomas?” Eileen shoved him forward. “John Flarety’s youngest son.”
“Ah, yes. The Scholar.” She surveyed him. “You’re too thin, you know.”
Thomas bowed politely, hoping that the bishop didn’t notice the goings-on in the back of the crowd. “Yes, Sister.”
“…and so, I present to you Father Allen Ferguson,” Bishop Malloy said, drawing Sister Brigit’s attention away, “who will take up the burdens of Father Martin.”
The man who stepped forward was in his early twenties, and looked nice enough, though Thomas was ready to view anyone in the bishop’s company as suspicious. Father Ferguson bowed briefly to the audience, kissed the bishop’s ring, then began speaking. “I know that this night is of great importance to this village,” he said, “so I shall be brief.”
Sister Brigit snorted. “That will be a first.”
“The sisters aren’t pleased with the new priest,” Eileen whispered as Father Ferguson began his speech.
“It’s not that we’re not pleased,” said Sister Clare, whose hearing was obviously better than Eileen had credited. “It’s just that now we’ll have to train him. New priests never know how to deal with nuns.”
“Besides,” Brigit said, “This is not a ritual of the High Father. It’s a ritual of the Mother.”
“The Mother?” Thomas asked.
“The Mother,” repeated Clare, her tone icy, though she kept her voice quiet. “Before she was the Loyal Consort, she was the Mother of All, who brings us in to this world at the beginning and gathers us up at the end, and this ritual was hers.”
“It should be we who are giving the blessing,” said Brigit. “Not him.”
“…And though I know that I can never replace Father Martin,” the young priest continued, “I will do my best to follow in his footsteps.” He took a deep breath. “And now, it is time for the blessing of the fire. Father Martin asked me to do this tonight, but I have spoken with his Grace, and he has graciously agreed to give the prayer tonight.” He turned his attention to the bishop. “As you know, your Grace, tonight we each give an offering of our strength to the High Father that he may bless us and provide us with a bountiful harvest for next year.”
“Indeed I do know,” Malloy’s voice rumbled through the assembled crowd.
“Just as I know that it is the custom on this night for the people of this town to go into the fields and woods to couple together, with or without the blessing of the High Father on their union.”
The silence was as wide as the sky above the common.
“It is a shame,” continued the bishop, “that decent servants of the High Father should take so important a night—a night where all minds should be turned to the High Father, and to those gifts that He bestows—to take license with one another on the unseeded earth like animals.”
People shifted where they stood, but no one said a word. As Thomas had guessed, the bishop was not about to give an easy blessing to so pagan an event.
He sneaked a quick glance around him as the bishop continued. Both nuns were looking furious, and Sister Brigit looked to be working very hard at not speaking her mind directly to the bishop. George was slightly shamefaced, and many of the young men had become very interested in the ground at their feet. Thomas’s eyes went to Eileen, and found her looking right back at him. She bit her lip and turned away at once. Thomas looked away as well, telling himself it was to avoid making her uncomfortable, as his eyes wandered over the crowd.
Timothy wasn’t there.
The juggler had said he wouldn’t miss Fire Night for the world, but there was no sign of him. Thomas glanced back to the stage where Timothy had performed. It sat empty in the dark. He let his eyes wander over the edge of the forest, watching for anything out of the ordinary. A slight movement beside a tree caught his attention. He stared at it until a shadow resolved itself into the shape of a compact little man.
Timothy was standing just at the edge of the circle of torchlight, half-in, halfout of the woods. A torch flickered, casting a brief light onto Timothy’s face. He was staring, eyes narrowed, at the bishop, his head craning forward to catch the man’s words. Timothy had said that the bishop couldn’t possibly be interested in him. Apparently the reverse was not true. Thomas swung his eyes back to Bishop Malloy.
“Sin!” The bishop was obviously hitting the high point of his speech. “Sin is something from which we must defend ourselves. It is something from which each of us must ask the protection of the High Father, that he may bring us purity of heart. It is something from which each of you must protect yourselves tonight.” He stopped, and let the silence drag on for a long time. Everyone froze under his gaze, and all muttering stilled. The crowd seemed to hold its collective breath, as if wondering whether Fire Night would be blessed this year, Thomas eased himself behind George as the bishop’s gaze roved over the crowd.
“There is one young man,” continued the bishop, “the son of this fine merchant—” Thomas stuck his head out from behind George to see the bishop gesturing at John Flarety “—who has returned home with his soul in such a grievous state that he has chosen to remain home this night, in prayer, rather than imperil himself further with the temptations that may come to him after jumping the fire.”
You miserable son of a…
George, Eileen, and the two nuns had all turned to look at him, and for a moment Thomas wondered if he’d actually said the words out loud. Fortunately, the bishop began speaking again before Thomas had to start explaining himself.
“Therefore,” the bishop’s voice was louder now, his words carrying clearly over the crowd, “let us bow our heads in prayer. Pray to the High Father that He may grant each one of us the resolve of this young man. Pray that, as each of us jumps the fire, the High Father will grant each of us the will to resist sin, and grant all those who dwell here a bountiful harvest!”
He led the crowd in the ritual prayer. Eileen used the moment to sidle up beside Thomas. “So, what are you doing here?”
Thomas kept his eyes on the bishop. “Offering my strength.”
“But he said—”
“—And the High Father guide and protect us all!” finished the bishop. A
joyous cry went up from the audience, and a man and woman—Liam and Mary Flanders—stepped forward and thrust their torches into the pile of wood. Straw, dried since fall for just this purpose, caught at once, and the flames spread rapidly until the whole pile was burning brightly. Flames leapt into the air. The bishop waited for the roar of the crowd to die down then spoke again, his voice rising over the sound of the crowd. “I will jump with you, and offer my strength to the High Father!”
Those in the crowd roared their approval. The bishop smiled at them and waved down the noise. When they quieted he said, “I am too old to make it over the flames at their height. However, I am given to understand that it is considered a sign of good fortune if a stranger jumps first.”
His eyes rose up, past the crowd, to the woods. “Juggler!” the bishop called. “Lend the village your strength!”
Thomas and several hundred others followed the bishop’s gaze to edge of the forest. The bonfire’s light had not only filled the town common, but had lit the woods with a wavering, yellow glow that left Timothy in plain sight and made his shadow dance on the tree trunk behind him.
Timothy licked his lips, and Thomas could see sweat beading on his forehead despite the relative cool of the evening. He didn’t move. “I would be honoured,” he said, “but I don’t think I could make the leap.”
“Oh, come now,” said the bishop. “Master Flarety hired you on the strength of your tumbling. Will you not go first ?”
Thomas’s head snapped back to the bishop. The man’s voice had changed again. Thomas could feel—could practically see—the words sliding through the air, the seduction and the threat in them flowing across the clearing together like honey on the edge of a razor. Thomas looked back to Timothy. The man was sweating, his brow furrowed. One leg was twitching forward, as if moving of its own accord.
What is going on? Thomas watched in horror as the twitching leg jerked forward a bit, and Timothy’s expression became desperate.
“Jump, ” the bishop said. “And after the fire, you may join me at John Flarety’s house. ”
The bishop’s words still slid through the air, but the honey had vanished from them, leaving only the razor and the threat of something terrible. Even in the firelight, Thomas could see Timothy go pale.
The bishop will kill him. The thought rushed into Thomas’s head, unwelcome and absolute. Thomas had no doubt it was true. I have to help.
Thomas watched Timothy take another slow, twitching step forward. Thomas thought of jumping the flames himself, first, to distract the bishop, but the crowd was too thick around the fire, and wouldn’t let him before Timothy got his chance to give the village his strength. That and Thomas was sure his father would descend upon him the moment he stepped into the open.
Twenty-five years before, John Flarety had jumped the fire with Mary Findley, back when she had been Mary Lissell and the two had been courting, because village lore held that when a young man and woman together were the first to jump the fire, their strength would make the harvest bountiful beyond measure, and the village fortunate beyond all others.
It would certainly be a distraction.
Thomas grabbed Eileen’s hand. “Jump with me. Now.”
Eileen’s jaw dropped. “What?”
“It’s the best luck of all, isn’t it?” Thomas started pulling her through the crowd. “Better than if Timothy jumps.”
“What do you think you’re doing?” demanded Sister Brigit, hustling along beside them.
Thomas ignored her. “Well?”
“But—” Eileen looked to the fire. “—the flames are too high.”
“You wanted to jump them at their height,” countered Thomas. “Tie up your hair, you’ll be fine.”
“Don’t be silly, girl,” said Sister Brigit. “You’ll cook yourself!”
“Please,” Thomas took both Eileen’s hands and pulled her towards him. She stopped with her face only a foot away from his. “It’s important. Please.”
Eileen looked from him to the fire, to the nun glowering at her with a stern, disapproving frown. She pulled her hands out of Thomas’s, pushed back her hood, and started tying her hair into a knot.
Thomas could have kissed her. He stopped, looked across the common and the crowd to the bishop standing on the stage and shouted, “Wait!”
The entire village turned to look. On the stage, Thomas could see the bishop’s jaw nearly drop, then the man’s entire face become rigid as he hid his surprise. Beside him, John Flarety’s eyes were wide and his hands were clenched shut in what Thomas could only guess was rage. His ignored it and ploughed on. “I am Thomas, son of John Flarety, and I have come to offer my strength to the village.”
The bishop stepped forward to the edge of the stage. Thomas was impressed at how calm he sounded when he said, “Thomas. Why are you not at home praying?”
“Because the High Father has moved me to come here,” said Thomas, stunning himself with his own audacity. “As He moves all men throughout their lives and as He has moved this young lady to come with me.”
“Eileen?” Magda’s voice rang out above the sudden, excited buzz of the crowd. “What do you think you’re doing? You’ll be burned!”
“Clear the way!” Thomas shouted in a voice which would have made his fencing instructor, whose commanding barks could be heard the length and breadth of the Academy, very proud. “We will jump together, to ask the Four’s blessing on the harvest!”
The buzz grew to a roar and the crowd began to part, leaving a clear path across the common to the raging fire. The blaze was high, and for a moment Thomas wondered if he was going to be able to manage the jump. He forced the thought out of his mind and turned to Eileen. “Ready?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Go head first. Do a dive-roll, like we used to when we were little.” He took her by the shoulders. “Can you do it?”
Eileen looked at the fire again. She was pale, and Thomas could feel her trembling through the cloak. She bit her lip, and for a moment he was certain she would refuse.
She didn’t. “Yes. Yes I can.”
Thomas felt a wild grin break over his face. “Right.” He turned to the fire, holding her hand. “Run beside me. On three.”
“Eileen!” Sister Brigit’s face was red. “You will not jump with a boy!”
Eileen looked at the nun, then back at Thomas. From beneath the fear in her face a small, wicked smile rose to her lips. She let go of Thomas’s hand, swirled her cloak off her shoulders and threw it into Sister Brigit’s arms. Sister Brigit’s jaw dropped and the crowd’s roar changed to a cry of surprise and several catcalls when they saw what she was wearing. “That will show her,” Eileen whispered, taking his hand again. “Start counting.”
Thomas felt a heat rising in his face that had nothing to do with the fire.
Eileen added her voice to his for, “Two!”
They ran. Straight forward, hard and fast, hands still tightly clasped. Thomas’s boot pounded against the packed earth of the common. The fire grew larger with every step, as if it was racing forward to meet them. Faces flashed past. George was cheering. The nuns looked furious. Eileen’s parents looked stunned. Up on the stage, John Flarety and the bishop had identical, thunderous expressions.
The fire rushed towards them and their hands unclasped and they leapt!