Seraphimby Michele Hauf
Winter, 1433--and Jeanne d'Arc's ashes still glow...
In the battle between Good and Evil, the Black Knight's sword fells enemies with silent grace. The Knight has sworn that fallen angel Lucifer de Morte and his cruel brotherhood will pay for their reign of terror over France--and over the d'Ange family, where nearly all have died a terrible death/p>/i>… See more details below
Winter, 1433--and Jeanne d'Arc's ashes still glow...
In the battle between Good and Evil, the Black Knight's sword fells enemies with silent grace. The Knight has sworn that fallen angel Lucifer de Morte and his cruel brotherhood will pay for their reign of terror over France--and over the d'Ange family, where nearly all have died a terrible death. All but one...
Yet the Knight's hard-won battles and dented armor hide a larger secret. For "he" is actually Seraphim d'Ange. She is traveling to de Morte's demesnes, executing his demon henchmen along the way. Now, aided by Baldwin, a family retainer, and San Juste, a mysterious stranger, Sera grows closer and closer to her final target.
Yet little does she know that there is one more aspect of power she herself holds....
Read an Excerpt
France -- 1433
The black knight's sword-tip drags a narrow gutter in fresh-fallen snow. The tunic of mail chinks against outer protective plate armor. Footsteps are slow. It is a struggle, the short walk from horse to a wool blanket laid upon the snow. There, a squire stands waiting to disassemble the heavy armor and remove it from the knight's weak and weary shoulders.
Thick white flakes have begun to blanket the muddy grounds surrounding the Castle Poissy, making foot battle difficult, slippery. Yet successful.
Mastema de Morte, Lord de Poissy, Demon of the West, has fallen, his head severed by the very sword that now draws a crooked line in the snow.
"You did well," the squire says, not so much encouraging, as merely words spoken to break the hard silence that follows the soul-shredding events of the evening.
The squire, lank and awkward in a twist of teenage limbs, takes to the removal of armor. Gauntlets are tugged off and deposited on the blanket with a cushioned clink. He unscrews the pauldrons starring the knight's shoulders, and lifts the heavy bascinct helmet off the mail coif. Working from shoulder to leg the squire carefully, noiselessly, sets aside the pieces of armor. Wouldn't do to draw attention to their dark hideaway a quarter league from the castle. Earlier, the squire had found the perfect spot tucked away inside a grove of white-paper birch limning the river's edge. The Seine flows in quiet grace, accepting with little protest the fallen soldiers who have given up the ghost in battle.
"Hold out your arms and I'll lift the tunic from your shoulders. Steady."
It is difficult not to sway. The knight's legs feel cumbersome, leaden. Arms are weak from swinging the heavy battle sword. Though forged and designed especially for the bearer, the weapon had become a burden after what seemed hours of blindly swinging and connecting with steel plate armor, chain mail, and human flesh and bone. Though it could have been no more than a quarter of an hour from the time of entering battle to the moment of success.
This act of participating in war, in bloodshed and mindless cruelty is new. But necessary. And not mindless. Not in any way.
The tunic, fashioned of finely meshed mail, is lifted from shoulders, lightening the weight on the knight's tired, burning muscles. Carefully the squire works the mail coif from a tangle of dark, sweaty hair that has slipped out from under the protective leather hood.
Suddenly granted reprieve from the heavy weight of steel and mail -- and revenge -- the knight's muscles wilt and limbs bend. The hard smack of check against ground feels good. Cool snowflakes kiss feverous flesh and melt tears of the new season over eyelids and nose and lips.
The squire, sensing the immense toll battle visits upon his master, allows the silent surrender to rest, a dark oblivion rimmed with promises of salvation that only angels can touch. He lifts the mail tunic and places it in the leather satchel spread across his horse's flanks. Necessary tools this heavy armor and meshed steel, as they travel the unseasonably frigid desolation of France from one village to the next in this insane quest for revenge.
Insane, but certainly warranted.
"You have felled both Satanas and Mastema de Morte," the squire offers, holding observance over his silent master. "But three to go."
"This one . . . was for Henri de Lisieux." It hurt to stretch a hand up to brush the snow from a bruised and aching face. The knight squinted against the sharp bite of cold. It is not natural, this heavy snowfall. But what since the coming of the New Year had been natural? "Have you caught wind of where the next de Morte plans to strike?"
"Nay," the squire responded. "But I wager word will be bouncing off the tavern walls in the next village. If you can find a de Morte foolish enough to venture out after the death of two brothers. I fear Abaddon de Morte will remain scaled behind a fortress of stone once word of another brother's death reaches his ears."
"He is the . . . Demon of the North," the knight managed through breathless gasps. Lying in a state of weary triumph, surrender to the bittersweet kiss of winter is effortless. "We shall be on to Creil and meet the man on his own domain."
"Is there any other way?"
The squire sighed, and kicked at the fresh-fallen layer of white flakes with a tattered boot he'd peeled off a dead man's foot less than a week ago. "There is another way, it is called retreat."
"Not an option, squire. Do you live in fear or faith?"
He wanted to simply mutter fear, for of the two 'twas that to which he clung most often. To him, faith was a whole new world, one he'd hoped the abbe Belloc could lead him toward, far away from the sins of his past.
"It is fear . . . for now."
"Then I shall have to keep the faith for both of us. We ride."
The squire had known that would be the command. As he had come to know every rational suggestion he made would be immediately discounted by this false knight of vengeance. But whom had he left in this world to listen to anything he should say? "Tomorrow then, we ride to Pontoise, it is six leagues from here. We shall keep our eyes wide and our cars open for any word of the North Demon's plans."
"We shall ride tonight."
Unhinged, the squire thought of the knight sprawled on the ground. Completely lunatic.
"It is what must be done" The tone of his master's spoken words had changed since the first morn of the New Year. Commands and utterances had become deep and alien, laced with an unwelcome evil.
"Very well." Resigned that he would get no sleep this night -- as he had not gotten for the last two nights they had ridden by moonlight -- the squire rubbed his itchy eyes. With resolute regard, he toed a mass of the black hair that swirled around his master's shoulder. "If you intend to continue this charade I wonder should you cut this off. These luxurious curls are a dead give- away that you are a woman, my lady."
"I've no intention of disguising myself as a man. It is unnecessary. Rumors run rampant of a black knight come to exterminate the de Morte clan. Who would suspect a woman?"
"True. But the road is a dangerous ride, my lady. You are a beautiful woman. Would not you prefer the safety of disguise over the possibility of further harm to your person?"
"There is not a brand of harm left in the tattered kingdom of France that can further wound this blackened heart."
"Really?" He hated to challenge her so, but the squire knew otherwise. This woman's heart glowed a brilliant silver.
A lightning swift hand lashed up and unfastened the dagger from the belt the squire wore at his ankle. Another dead man's gift.
Seraphim d'Ange handed Baldwin Ortolano the weapon, handle first. "Do it then."
Lucifer de Morte tightened his jaw and clamped his eyelids shut. The sheep tallow used to oil his saddle oozed between his leather-gloved fingers.
"Just last night," Mastema's emerald-liveried messenger said in a tone too soft and fearful to blossom from a whisper. "I rode all night, my lord. I beg thee forgiveness."
At a dismissing flick of Lucifer's fingers, the messenger bowed and backed from the private chamber positioned deep in the center of die fortified lair. Lucifer remained stiff, his hand fixed in a scrubbing position on the cantle of his saddle.
To his right, a blazing fire spat angry sparks across the tiled Istrian-marble floor. The hearth -- forged of iron -- resembled a demon's mouth, complete with curved fangs, and above the gaping jaws, carved recesses for eyes where the flames danced high, animating the macabre face in wicked design. Overhead, suspended from the pine-beamed ceiling, a stuffed eagle, preserved and mounted with its eight-foot wingspan regally spread, silently mocked Lucifer with its glistening ruby eyes.
The black knight, the messenger had said. Again.
In a rage of motion, Lucifer pushed away from the saddle stand and crossed the room, scattering tallow and steel saddle furnishings in his wake. His sword, propped by the hearth, flashed violently as he swung the jagged-edge espadon through the heat-festered air.
He spun once, his anger, the pure force of his loss, drawing the pain up through his arms and to the end of the espadon. With a grunt and, a thrust, he dashed his blade against the stone wall. Steel clanged dully. Limestone chips spattered the air. He thrust again. Clang. And again. He smashed his sword against the wall until his arms burned with exertion and foul sweat poured from his scalp.
Staggering to the wall, to which his back connected with a jaw-cracking thud, Lucifer finally dropped his sword with a clatter. A spark from the hearth leapt into the air and landed an amber jewel upon the deadly steel.
Lucifer raked his fingers through his tangled mass of dark hair. He squeezed his scalp until he saw crimson behind his closed eyelids. The color of blood.
The black knight's blood.
Some fool bastard had taken it upon himself to exterminate the de Morte clan. Why?
No! It mattered not the reason. Lucifer knew well there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of reasons; the bones and scarred flesh of those reasons buried copiously beneath the frozen French soil or floating down the murky waters of the Seine.
But why now? Why, after nearly two decades of de Morte reign, had some demented soul finally decided to exact revenge? And to succeed?
Mastema had been beheaded in the middle of the battlefield. He always surrounded himself with his own men. Always. After learning of their brother Satanas's death on the field but five days earlier, surely Rimmon, Mastema's Master of Arms, must have been at his side, his eyes peeled for oncoming danger?
With a guttural grunt, Lucifer kicked at the flaming ember that simmered on his sword blade. It sailed through the air, a sizzling missile launched by hatred, to land in the fire with a grand explosion of heat and blue-red flame.
Still panting from the toil of his anger, Lucifer stood before the blaze, fists clenched at his thighs. Heat blistered his face in delicious warmth. He could feel the sweat bubble upon his flesh like the surface of a witch's cauldron. So difficult at times, this sheath of mortality that he wore.
But obviously not a challenge for much longer, if this black knight would have his way.
Satanas had lived south of Paris in Corbeil; his nickname, the Demon of the South, as the villagers had taken to calling him. Hell, half of France used the monikers years of destruction and debauchery had attributed to the de Morte brothers. Mastema, the West Demon, had resided in Poissy. Sammael, the Demon of the East, resided in Meaux. The four brothers surrounded Lucifer, who lived in Paris.
But if the black knight was systematically attempting to crase the de Mortes from the planet, north would be his obvious next move.
Squeezing his fists so tight the tallow and sweat and his own blood mixed to a hideous ooze, Lucifer decided on his course of action. He would not leave his own fortress to aid his youngest brother. Abaddon was an ox in size and vigor; he did not require Lucifer's help to flick away an offensive gnat like the black knight.
But he would send out a scout -- no, a mercenary -- to track this vengeful knight, and stop him in his tracks before Abaddon even need worry about defending himself against die revenge the de Morte family surely deserved, but would never tolerate.
The road to Pontoise stretched a long white ribbon this chill January eve. Flakes as light yet massive in size as swan's down fell quietly through the night. Seraphim blew a breath through her nose. Ignoring the ice-fog that lingered in a pate cloud before her, she slipped the leather hood from her head. She scratched a hard over her newly shorn locks and eased her heels into Gryphon's flanks to pick up the pace.
Gryphon had been her brother Antoine's prized mount. A fine black Andalusian bred for battle stealth and stamina, it measured near to sixteen hands. The beast's coat glimmered a blue sheen under sun and moon. "Power," Antoine had always whispered, as he'd brush down Gryphon's coat -- a formidable partner to sword and shield.
Behind Sera, Baldwin dutifully followed on his borrowed roan, clad in borrowed clothes and borrowed life. He was a reluctant squire to Sera's bold, black knight. The man -- teen -- had been studying under the tutelage of the abbe Belloe, an ill attempt at penance against his former life, when Lucifer de Morte's raid upon the d'Ange castle the first morning of the New Year had taken down all but a handful of household servants and knights.
Much as Sera would rather shoulder the quest for revenge entirely herself, she took comfort in the young man's company. There was no favor for a lone woman riding the high roads by night. Even if the disguise of armor and distempered countenance did fool some, it certainly would not fool all. And as Baldwin had implied, she might be physically prepared to fight off attackers, but mentally, there were no promises.
Sera had endured much since her mother's illness had rendered the taciturn matron useless about the d'Ange castle a decade ago. But she had endured so much more in the short days since the New Year had begun.
The moment she allowed herself to stop, to think on what had occurred just weeks earlier, the nightmare would engulf her.
Never. I will not allow it.
"Oh my -- bloody saints!" Baldwin hitched a clicking sound at his horse and rode up alongside Sera. "I -- I'm so -- damn -- so sorry!"
She regarded him slyly, for to turn her head any more than a fraction of an arc pained fiercely. Exhaustion from this night's battle clung to her muscles. She needed rest. Even the chill air could not rouse her to any more than dull interest. "What be your concern, Bertram?"
"Your . . ." He gestured at her head with long, pale fingers that she'd always remember as clutching a bible. Or a toad. The makeshift squire stretched his mouth to speak, but after a few more gesticulations and wide-mouthed gasping, couldn't express his obvious dismay with any more than, "I'm just so sorry."
Sera rubbed a hand over her scalp, assuming his chagrin to be directed at her hair. "Twill grow back."
The sound of her own voice, abraded and sore, was an odd thing. She did not recognize the deep rasping tones. New, shiny scar-flesh had begun to appear beneath the scabbed wound on her neck. Little pain lingered. Save that which seeped from the tear in her soul.
"But . . . it's so -- oh -- Mother of Malice! Why did you command me do such a thing in the dark of night, my lady? It is hideous! You look a sheep shorn by a swillpot. It juts here and there and -- Heaven forgive me!"
Copyright © 2004 Michele Hauf
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >