When Sebastian of Hawkesmere returned from the Crusades he
became a recluse, locking himself away in an enchanted tower,
dabbling in alchemy and magic. When his brother captures a beautiful
woman with a satchel full of amazing instruments, Sebastian is enlisted
to help discern their purpose and discover where she came from.
Rhoswen of Halcyon is unlike anyone Sebastian has ever known, and
the answers he seeks will shatter his beliefs and force him to choose
between love and duty.
From an Oral History of Halcyon…
We were here long before you.
For thousands of years our civilization flourished. Our great island city grew rich on trade and shipping. We ruled the
world and thought our reign would never end.
But nothing lasts forever.
When the fire fell from the sky the first time, the ground shook and the ocean rose up in a terrible wave, killing
thousands… but our city survived. When it was over, we rebuilt and grew stronger than ever.
For fifty years more, we continued as though nothing had happened, but the great comet continued to circle above,
biding its time and waiting. A handful of our greatest minds — scientists, architects and philosophers — read the
portents and realized the end was near. We plotted and planned, determined our culture and knowledge would not die.
Over the next decade, we pillaged the great libraries of the world and recruited the best and brightest to our cause.
Darkness and destruction were coming, and it would take all of our combined skills to defeat it.
We left our island home for the safety of frigid northern climes, settling in a great, underground cavern. Deep in the
bowels of the earth, we learned to harness the power of our subterranean water supply and channeled it to light our
settlement. We found ways to grow crops in this false illumination then waited for the inevitable.
This time was much worse than before. The tail of the comet nicked the Earth’s atmosphere, bits and pieces exploding
across land and sea alike, causing untold death and destruction. As feared, our beautiful homeland sank beneath the
sea. The skies turned black, and the very air became a poisonous fume. The water was unsafe to drink, and crops and
We huddled in our cavern, never imagining how long the blight would last. Generations lived and died below the surface
while the Earth tried to recover from the mighty blow she’d been dealt. For nearly a hundred years, we taught our
children history and philosophy and made new scientific breakthroughs; safe, if not content, in our underground home.
By the time the sky cleared and the ground became green and fertile, we had advanced immeasurably. But when we
finally returned to the surface, we found the rest of humanity had not been so lucky. Millions had died, and those who
hadn’t were too busy with the business of survival to worry about preserving their knowledge or culture. The great
civilizations of Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia and Troy had fallen, leaving behind men who were so full of hysteria and
superstition they looked upon our lordly blond scholars with terror and suspicion.
At less than five hundred in number, we were forced to return to the cavern, venturing out less and less as we became
hunted and persecuted. And so we became myth, and then faded into legend.
We were called fey and spoken of in whispers until we knew we were not safe even beneath the ground. Fearing for our
lives, we left the green shores of Wales with much regret. Beneath the icy waves of the north Atlantic we built a crystal
city, completely self-contained and indestructible.
For two thousand years we have waited for those on the Surface to advance enough to accept us, so that we may walk
in sunlight once again. But some of us grow weary of the wait…
Off the coast of Wales – November, 1362
“Wake up, Rhoswen,” Trevelan coaxed. “We’re Surfacing.”
Rhoswen of Halcyon opened her eyes, then slammed them shut again, squinting against the bright glare of the sun.
Though she’d made the trip to the Surface six times, she never grew used to the pure, brilliant light.
Blinking, she peered through The Dolphin’s starboard porthole and glimpsed Britain’s jagged shoreline in the distance.
The white cliffs made a stark contrast to the frigid blue waves crashing upon the pebble strewn beach.
“Your father is a genius.” Trevelan maneuvered the small, submersible craft toward a rocky islet a couple hundred yards
off the Welsh coast, where it would remain anchored safely offshore while they completed their mission. “The Dolphin
handles like a dream, and we made the journey in nearly half the time.”
Oberon, who was both Halcyon’s leader and Rhoswen’s beloved father, had spent the last few years designing a vessel
to replace Halcyon’s aging fleet, and The Dolphin was his first prototype.
“He’ll be happy to hear that,” Rhoswen answered, her gaze still riveted on the spectacular scenery. The ocean stretched
before them like a frothing blanket of tiny diamonds. So beautiful. After a year in Halcyon’s sterile environment, the
sensory feast overwhelmed her.
“You love it up here, don’t you?” Obviously sensing her distraction, Trevelan leaned across the small space that
separated the pilot and copilot’s chairs and peered over her shoulder. “Too bad they’re ruining it. By the time they
advance enough to accept us, they’ll have destroyed the entire planet.”
She sank back in her chair and gave him a sympathetic glance. No matter how amazing she found the wind and the sky,
these trips to the Surface always disappointed her. She never grew accustomed to the filth, poverty and cruelty she and
Trevelan encountered whenever they ventured out into the world above. Religious fervor and superstition had replaced
hope long ago.
“Why do you suppose Oberon wants us to examine Old Halcyon?” he asked, giving voice to the question she knew had
been troubling him ever since her father had given them their mission. “It’s remained hidden for thousands of years.
Surely our time upon the Surface would be much better served in one of the cities. We’ll have little opportunity to report
upon the political situation if we spend the majority of our time below ground.”
“It may prove interesting,” she countered, wishing her father had given her leave to tell Trevelan the real reason behind
his unusual request. Halcyon’s ancient power grid was failing, and though Oberon had engineers working round the
clock on a solution, he wanted a complete inventory and assessment done of Old Halcyon. When they returned, she
would prepare a report upon the cavern’s viability as an emergency shelter, should they be forced to evacuate. “Just
think how much of our history must have been left behind in those caves. Besides, I know how much you hate the
crowds and stench of the cities.”
“The Surface is populated by barbarians.” Trevelan shook his head as they drew abreast of the islet. “I’m tired of
watching them squander what they’ve been given, tired of returning to Halcyon year after year with bad news. I want to
wake to the sunrise every morning. I want to feel the wind on my face more than once a year.”
She sighed. Those who remained in Halcyon their entire lives never knew the beauty of the sun and the trees or how
majestically the cliffs and mountains stretched toward the crystal blue sky. But for those chosen few, such as Trevelan
and herself, who routinely visited the Surface, returning to the city beneath the sea became more difficult with each
passing year. The Earth was big and bright and magnificent, and Halcyon, despite its technological wonders, sometimes
seemed like a prison.
For more than five hundred years, the people who dwelt upon the Surface had remained stagnant, making no significant
strides either socially or economically. They fought endless wars, persecuted each other for racial and religious
differences, and died by the hundreds of thousands from hunger and disease.
Still, they fascinated her. They loved and hated with equal passion, seeming to fit so much life into their short years.
Her own people had also become dormant, though not many of them seemed to realize it. For longer than anyone could
remember, they’d argued about when and where to reclaim their place on the Surface, splitting into two very distinct
factions. Half were content to remain in Halcyon, while others — mainly those who spent time on the Surface already,
engaged in the farming and mining operations that kept Halcyon supplied — wished to take their chances above.
Unfortunately, their numbers were so few neither side could survive on their own. The ancient city had begun to decay
and took constant maintenance. Halcyon’s complex society required that every single citizen do their part — a mass
exodus would prove disastrous.
Perhaps it would be for the best if the city failed, forcing a change whether Halcyon’s people were ready for it or not.
As he cut the craft’s motor, Trevelan gave her a look filled with pure anarchy. “We could introduce a virus that would
wipe them off the face of the earth.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say.” Rhoswen frowned, uncertain whether or not he spoke in jest. “Besides, they’re too
widespread. A virus, no matter how potent, is bound to die out before they do. There’s no way to infect them all at once.”
“What if there were? What if Marcus could develop one? Would it be wrong to use it?”
Marcus was their most brilliant geneticist. If anyone could invent such a thing, he could. The thought of so much death
was abhorrent, yet she couldn’t stop thinking about what it would mean to her people. To come out of hiding, after so
She cut off the dangerous thoughts. He didn’t mean it, after all. His frustration had simply gotten the best of him. “Of
course it would be wrong. Please tell me you’re just thinking out loud. You and Marcus haven’t actually discussed this,
His disgruntled look offered her little comfort. He wasn’t himself. Ever since they’d left the city he’d been quiet and
preoccupied. Now he spoke of utter anarchy, of genocide, with a calm detachment that chilled her soul.
He sprawled in the captain’s chair with indolent grace, his golden hair glinting in a shaft of sunlight, his fair, perfect
features so at odds with the pock-marked disfiguration common on the Surface. A wonder they hadn’t been burned at
the stake already.
“Rhoswen.” His soft, deep voice brought back memories of happier times. Once she had cared for Trevelan very deeply.
He’d been chosen as her mate and, when the time was right, they would be expected to have a child together. But
during the last few years she’d grown dissatisfied with their relationship, wishing for something she couldn’t even name.
“They don’t deserve it.”
“Neither do you,” she whispered, horrified. “Not if you’re willing to go to such lengths to take it.”
His expression grew cold and remote. “I’m sorry to hear that. Given our…association, I’d expected more from you. I
thought to have you at my side when we Surfaced for the last time.”
She shivered. The friend she’d always taken for granted had vanished, replaced by a stranger she no longer
Tension seethed between them as he docked the craft on the seaward side of the islet, leaving little visible above the
waterline. The Dolphin would remain hidden from anyone on the beach, but they had a long swim ahead of them.
“We’ll continue this conversation later,” she promised as she slid out of her seat and opened the hatch. The salty tang
of the sea filled the air, and she welcomed the sharp scent after so many months of the city’s processed, sanitized
ventilation. “Secure the vessel. I’m heading for shore.”
He glared at her but didn’t protest. Perhaps he needed some time to himself as well. Grabbing her waterproof pack, she
pushed through the hatch and leapt nimbly to the rocks a few feet away. She drew a deep breath into her lungs then
dove cleanly into the churning surf.
The swim exhausted her, as it always did. Swimming in Halcyon’s calm, temperature-controlled pool was far different
than battling her way through the icy waves of the Irish Sea. The briny seawater filled her nose and stung her eyes as
she sliced her way toward shore. If not for her thermal wetsuit, she’d have frozen to death before she made it halfway.
Once she reached dry land, she sank to her knees and struggled to catch her breath. Unfamiliar scents and sounds
assaulted her senses as she searched the water for Trevelan, wondering what was taking so long. He should have
finished securing the submersible by now, but she saw no sign of him.
She hoped he didn’t plan to be difficult because of their disagreement. Even though their intimate relationship had
ended years ago, she still considered him one of her very best friends. They’d never argued before.
Surely, his earlier comment had been a very poor jest. She refused to believe he meant to implement his plan. No matter
how much he hated the people who inhabited the Surface, he could never condone genocide.
“By Jesu, men! We’ve found ourselves a selkie!”
The deep, booming voice took her by surprise. She whirled toward the sound and found half a dozen armor-clad
barbarians on the beach behind her. Panic swept through her, and she cast another desperate glance toward the rocky
outcropping. Where was Trevelan?
“Look at her.” The nearest one’s eyes widened with a mixture of fear and curiosity. “She’s bewitched for certain.”
She backed away, her gaze darting from one hulking man to the next, trying to decide which one was their leader. How
had they gotten so close without her hearing them? She hadn’t yet changed from her wetsuit to something more
appropriate and knew no Surface woman would ever wear such skintight fabric. Worse, one of the men picked up her
pack and rifled through the contents.
What he found would be impossible to explain.
“Grab her,” ordered the man with the pack, making a quick warding sign in her direction. “Be she selkie or witch, Lord
Simon will want to see her.”
Fortunately, none of the men seemed eager to act upon his order. Instead they stared at her as though they feared her
nearly as much as she feared them. Knowing she’d never have a better chance, she took advantage of their momentary
lapse and dashed toward the water.
She wasn’t fast enough. One of the men tackled her from behind, his tremendous weight sending her sprawling face first
into the rocky sand. Pain and terror ricocheted through her. To her knowledge, no one from Halcyon had ever been
captured before. If they interrogated her, she might break and say something about her mission. If she told them about
Old Halcyon, it would put her entire civilization at risk.
Her only hope was Trevelan, but what help could he be against these uncivilized brutes? He was a scholar, not a warrior.
The man who’d caught her dragged her to her feet. “We’ll take her back to Hawkesmere,” he told the others. “Lord
Simon will know what to do with her.”
* * * * *
Five days later…
Hawkesmere Castle, a great fortress of stone rising out of the dense forest, perched upon a cliff overlooking the River
Clwyd. Six white towers gleamed against the azure sky; pale sentinels of safety and protection in a land that had seen
far too much of war.
The southeast tower, with its smooth, circular walls and vaulted roof, had stood upon this site for centuries, long before
the rest of the castle had been commissioned by Edward I in 1286. Some claimed the strange building to be of Druid
origin, some said Titania, Queen of the Fae, had once dwelt within.
The current earl, Lord Simon, had considered tearing the haunted place down. But when his younger brother, Sir
Sebastian, had returned from years of war and imprisonment to claim the tower for his own, Simon had offered no
protest. In fact, he’d ordered the priest to ignore the southeast corner of the castle, leaving Sebastian free to pursue his
interest in alchemy and other blasphemous pursuits. He’d hoped that given enough solitude and time, Sebastian’s
wounds, both physical and mental, would heal.
Today, however, Simon’s patience wore thin. He’d sent his page to fetch his brother hours ago — much to the lad’s
chagrin — only to find the boy cowering in the Hall, having been refused entrance. Simon could have sent someone
else, but acknowledged that the result would probably be the same. His resident ‘sorcerer’ retreated farther into his
world of potions and elixirs with each passing day.
So it was that he found himself standing upon the tower steps, begging entrance into a part of his own holdings.
“Sebastian!” he bellowed. “Open up, knave! I know you are within.”
On the second floor of the tower, Sebastian of Hawkesmere glanced up at his brother’s demanding bellow, then
returned his attention to his experiment. Transmutation. Alchemy in its purest form. Lead to gold. Water to wine. If only
he could transform the dark recesses of his soul—
“Sebastian! Open the door.”
With a sigh, Sebastian pushed away from his chemicals and powders, depressing the hidden latch in the floor that
allowed the ground level door to swing open. The simple trick—a door seeming to open on its own—usually managed to
scare the superstitious people of Hawkesmere away.
Unfortunately, Hawkesmere’s lord was not as feeble-minded as the rest. Simon had every right to demand entry into
Sebastian’s tower, yet he seldom did. In truth, Sebastian only saw his brother on those rare occasions when Simon
wished to impress some visiting noble with his wisdom and magic. The system worked satisfactorily for both of them.
Sebastian did not mind putting on an occasional show, as long as Simon left him alone the rest of the time.
Simon entered the tower, slamming the door behind him before he strode up the stairs and into Sebastian’s workspace.
A long sable cape swirled about his broad shoulders and obvious irritation flickered in his hazel eyes. “You ignored the
page I sent to fetch you. And now you reduce me to begging at your door?”
Sebastian said nothing to appease his brother, but he did not do anything to annoy him further, either. In truth, a flare of
guilt flickered deep inside him. During the last few months he had allowed his relationship with his brother to disintegrate
to an alarming degree. Shoving aside his latest failed attempt to unlock the secrets of the sorcerer’s stone, he rested his
hands on his worktable and tried to give Simon the attention he deserved.
After a long moment of expectant silence, Simon blew out an exasperated breath. “I need your help.”
Sebastian grinned. “I believe I can be of service. I have worked out an interesting little fire illusion—”
Simon waved an impatient hand, cutting him off. “I am not here about that. Some of my men were on their way back from
the coast when they found a girl on the beach. They are convinced she is a selkie.”
“A selkie?” Sebastian frowned and returned his attention to his work. “I do not have time for such nonsense.”
“There is something fey about the maiden, but ‘tis her strange manner of dress and the odd things in her pack that
concern me. I thought perhaps you might be able to discern the purpose of this.” Reaching beneath his cloak, Simon
withdrew a long, cylindrical object made of copper.
Sebastian shot to his feet, intrigued. “May I?”
Simon nodded. “Be wary. The ends are made of glass.”
The tube was heavier than Sebastian had expected and unlike anything he had ever seen before. He held it to the light,
then shook it gently. During the years he had spent at war in France, and later as the ‘guest’ of a Turkish sultan, he had
come across many amazing things. But this instrument awed him.
“There is more.” Simon raised a brow in obvious challenge. “I divested her of all manner of unusual objects.”
“What do you wish of me?” Sebastian vowed to do whatever his brother desired, as long as it meant he would be given
the chance to look over these items at his leisure.
“We need to know the purpose of these tools and discover from which country she was born.”
“You want me to question her?” Sebastian’s excitement faded. He had spent too much time as a prisoner to enjoy the
prospect of visiting Hawkesmere’s dungeon. And if Simon had resorted to asking for his help, it probably meant the poor
girl had already been tortured within an inch of her life.
“We questioned her, but she has not said a word. You know half a dozen tongues. Perhaps she does not understand
“Perhaps.” Sebastian waved Simon toward the door. Despite his distaste for his brother’s methods, he could not resist
this opportunity to increase his knowledge. “Lead the way.”
During the long trek from the tower across the bailey to the dungeon, Sebastian contemplated the copper tube, turning
it this way and that as he tried to discern its purpose. Bringing one end to his eye, he stumbled to a stop, stunned when
his brother’s head grew to ten times its normal size through the glass.
“It makes things appear closer!” he exclaimed as they began the descent to the dank prison cells beneath the armory.
Simon turned on the narrow steps and raised a brow. “Really? What would be the purpose of such a thing?”
Sebastian shrugged, but his mind raced with excitement. “I would use it to examine the heavens.”
“But why would a young lady need to look at the stars?” Simon mused. “And what was she doing all alone on that
As they descended deeper down the stone stairwell, the familiar scents of piss and fear permeating the walls further
sapped Sebastian’s enthusiasm. Though a thousand miles and half a dozen years separated him from his own
imprisonment, the smell of Hawkesmere’s dungeon brought back unsettling memories.
He squared his shoulders and followed his brother into the rank warren of cells, determined to make his visit as brief as
possible. He would speak with the girl, if he could, then convince Simon to let him take the rest of her treasures back to
his tower for further study.
Simon came to an abrupt halt and gestured inside a cell near the bottom of the stairs. “She is within.”
In the far corner of the barren room, bound to a straight-backed chair, sat a girl of uncommon beauty. Hair the color of a
full moon hung loose to her waist. Tears streaked her wan, perfect features, and her azure eyes brimmed with fear.
Ebon fabric, smooth and bright as a seal’s skin, hugged every curve of her comely body, but the strange garment was
torn in spots, showing ugly scrapes upon the white skin beneath. Her bare feet were bloody and battered, which led
Sebastian to think the bastards had made the girl walk all the way from the coast.
Anger rose within him, chasing away years of apathy. He hated what had been done to this poor, defenseless maiden.
Fury gave way to resignation as he realized his self-imposed exile had come to an end. Though he did not wish to get
involved, he could not stand by and do nothing. He could not allow her innocence to be crushed as his had been.
Somehow, he must find a way to help her.