Storytelling Time: Coven at Callington – Chapter 1 Part II
A bored earl. A blessed sword. Hellhounds on the prowl.
Not your typical day in a Regency neighborhood!
Genre: a Regency fantasy romance (c) Shereen Vedam
Chapter 1 – Part II
London, England, September 1815
Thomas Drake Saint-Clair, Earl of Braden, normally viewed all strangers with suspicion. Tonight, he’d succumbed to the temptation to trounce an unknown opponent, even if only with cards. Little wonder. At one and twenty, he had finished his formal training and been christened a Guard of the Green Cross. The guards were part of a secret limb of the Anglican Church ruled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, their sole purpose to vanquish dark creatures of the underworld set to lure, kill or defile humans.
After only a year of active duty, however, Braden’s assignments had recently dried up. For weeks now, no alarm bells clanged within the body of the Church. No urgent messages came from the archbishop that in some forgotten corner of the British Isles trouble blazed. The war with France was over, but had a truce been called by Hell?
Ahead of his carriage, an unusually bright street lamp highlighted an orderly row of narrow brick houses. Movement caught his eye and his instinct for trouble flared. He rapped on the carriage roof to signal a stop. Before the vehicle halted, he flung open the door and jumped out.
“Something wrong, milord?” his footman, Garth, called out from beside the driver.
“Shine the carriage lantern over there.” Then he saw it. A crouching dog. Braden’s pulse slowed. A dull life, indeed, if all he chased were shadows of pets. He waved to Garth. “Never mind. It’s merely a dog.”
The dog’s eyes shifted, glowing an eerie yellow, and Braden’s blood surged. Hellhound!
“My sword!” he called to Garth.
With a metallic hiss, Garth withdrew the weapon and tossed it to him.
Agamore was Braden’s broadsword. It settled with a familiar weight in his grip. The unearthly hound sprang for him and Braden smartly sidestepped, deflecting the hound with a powerful sweep of the back of his sword. The blow flung the hound against a nearby brick wall.
“More of ’em.” The carriage driver’s voice was pitched in panic. The horses shied in response.
Deep-throated growls from the alley affirmed his driver’s keen sight. Three, no, four more hellhounds slunk out of the dark mouth of an alley.
Fortunately, no pedestrians or vehicle traffic yet. The quiet was unlikely to last with White’s attracting customers around the corner. The noise of the frightened horses alone could awaken those sleeping in nearby rooming houses.
“Get the carriage away,” he called to Garth as he advanced with swift jabs and slashes, herding the snarling creatures back toward the narrow alley. He’d dispatched three before they realized just how skillful he was with his weapon.
A backward check showed Garth shoving a fallen beast into the alley entrance. Then a hot flare at Braden’s back warned him that Garth had erected one of his magical barriers so innocents would pass by oblivious.
Just the reason he allowed his intractable footman to remain in his employ, despite Garth’s unhealthy fondness for using magic at the least provocation. Magic was deemed a product of the Devil by the archbishop, just as the miraculous feats guards performed were considered gifts from God.
Since his acquaintance with Garth, however, Braden had been struggling with his Church’s definition of magic. For in no sense could he ever see Garth as evil. The man had too good a heart.
Vague memory of an ancient folk tale sparked recognition of the beast’s fluid shape. A barguest? Those shape-shifting goblins were reputed to be cunning and deadly.
The creature jumped across from wall to wall. Braden swung the broadsword in a high arc, aiming for the beast’s underside. The barguest leapt to safety and then swiftly attacked, pinning Braden.
Deadly claws skimmed past his arm, scraping the brick. Braden shifted and lunged before the barguest could recover. The wily fae sailed out of reach.
Braden released a pent-up stream of invectives about the creature’s lineage.
On their fourth skirmish, he almost had it. The barguest twisted midair, so only the flat of Braden’s sword connected with its leg. Though howling with satisfying agony, the barguest dodged out of reach. The beast was crafty. Its strategy of attacking, retreating to avoid Agamore’s bite and attacking again, physically drained Braden.
His muscles ached from swinging the sword, so he broke away. He panted and the air that poured into his lungs reeked of spilt blood and entrails. Salty sweat dripping down his face stung his lips.
Barguest and hound switched places, perhaps to conserve strength. Braden lunged with a fierce thrust, and made contact with the hound. Blade sliced flesh and the fae hound bellowed in pain. It jerked back, slammed into the opposite wall and then scrambled to escape.
“Kill it, guv’nor,” Garth shouted in encouragement.
Braden grunted. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do?” He dove at the fleeing hound, but it bounded away and his sword scraped brick, sending sparks flying.
He back tracked, kicking aside hound corpses. Their blood made the ground slippery, adding another obstacle to the mix.
Hackles raised, the barguest followed Braden, while its limping companion hung back.
Sweat beaded on Braden’s face and freely soaked his back. Despite his growing exhaustion, the fact that only two opponents remained and one was in no shape for another scuffle bolstered his spirits. He had enough vigor left to win this fight.
Time to finish this.
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