Monday, June 15, 2015

The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker

Nicholas Perevil is a wizard and the leader of the Reformists, a group of wizards and non-wizards who support magic. Their aim is to have the Thirteenth Tablet, the one outlining the the laws against magic and the penalties for those caught practicing, abolished, thus ending the witch burnings. Magic was legal until the plague came. Perevil had the ear of the king and was one of his most trusted advisors. He was the most powerful wizard in all of Anglia. He started the plague in an attempt to kill his enemies and place himself on the throne. He didn’t count on the king’s son Malcolm or Blackwell, his Inquisitor, surviving. Now he is in hiding and King Malcolm and Blackwell are burning suspected witches on a weekly basis.

Elizabeth Grey is hiding a secret that no one, including her friend and partner Caleb, know. Both witch hunters, they live at Ravenscourt to blend in with the king’s servants so as not to become Reformist targets. She has made numerous mistakes over the past month, losing focus, because of her return to Ravenscourt. When the two go to arrest five necromancers, Elizabeth loses focus and one necromancer is killed. Caleb covers for her with the guards who haul the prisoners to Fleet, the prison. The guards leave and Elizabeth tries for some levity but Caleb wants to know what happened. She will have to tell anyone who asks the same story Caleb offered to the guards. If it gets back to Blackwell, he warns her that she knows what will happen. If she is questioned by Blackwell, he will wear her down during questioning and she will confess everything. No one, not even Caleb can learn her secrets. The two head towards The World’s End pub to meet some friends but pass by protests over that morning’s witch burnings. In the pub, Elizabeth is disheartened to realize that Caleb pulled out a chair for himself. When the talk turns to Christmas masque, her hopes are further dashed to hear that he has been seen in the company of Katherine Willoughby, one of Queen Margaret’s ladies-in-waiting. When the boys stand to leave, Elizabeth doesn’t initially notice, lost in her thoughts over Caleb. He is worried when she decides to stay behind, drinking the horrible ale, but she needs to be alone.

She orders lunch and moves to sit by the fireplace. Elizabeth is shocked to see when the door opens, that it is dark outside. She has spent the whole day there. Standing to leave, she finds that she is unsteady on her feet. A man catches her before she can fall and eventually introduces himself as Peter. He goes to lead her outside to get some fresh air and the two come across Peter’s friend, George. George tells Peter that she is the one he is looking for. Even though she is drunk, Peter questions whether or not she is able to talk. George thinks that they need to get her some place more private. The two men offer to take her back to the palace. She notices that they take less traveled paths on their way. Peter begins to question her. Even though she is drunk, Elizabeth is able to stick to her cover story about being a scullery maid. The two are disappointed when they realize that she is just “ordinary”. Peter comments that Veda must have wanted them to find someone else. They get to the palace gates and Peter tells Elizabeth  that George will help her get safely inside. The guard unlocks the gate and lets them inside. George announces that they are home. Looking puzzled, he laughs at Elizabeth and finally tells her that he is King Malcolm’s new fool.

Elizabeth takes George through a hidden passageway and tells him how to get back to his room. He keeps talking with her and she just wishes he would leave. She almost blows her cover when she asks him to the masque. Maids aren’t allowed to attend, but he could take her as his guest. She is able to recover and excuses herself to her room. Elizabeth is shocked to find Caleb waiting for her at the end of the hall outside of her room. He has been worried about her and wants to know where she has been. Still hurt over his unknown rejection earlier, she snaps at him. Caleb comments that she hasn’t seemed herself lately. He tells her that she can come to him for anything. Elizabeth allows him to help her to her room. The two are shocked to see Richard, one of King Malcolm's guards, waiting outside the door. Caleb thinks Richard is there for him but he uncomfortably states he is there to... you know. Caleb wheels on Elizabeth to ask what is going on. Elizabeth is too horrified to speak and Caleb gets agitated, demanding to know what is going on. She begs Caleb to stop, dizziness over taking her. Richard states that she needs to come with him but Caleb isn’t about to let that happen. There is a brief scuffle in the hallway. Caleb pulls a handful of herbs from Elizabeth’s pocket. Caleb realizes that they are witches’ herbs to prevent a woman from having a baby and wants to know why she has them. Caleb asks why she is going to see the king at midnight. Caleb tries to buy Richard’s silence but he will have nothing to do with. Caleb proclaims that Elizabeth isn’t a witch but Richard places her in handcuffs and reads her her rights. Instead of taking her to prison, he will take her to Blackwell immediately. Caleb says that he will be awaiting her return. This is all just a misunderstanding.  

Standing before Blackwell, Elizabeth finally tells him of how the king sends a guard to her room so that she can be escorted to his chambers. Elizabeth tried to avoid the king’s written messages as long as she could. She only had the herbs on her because she doesn’t want to become pregnant with the king’s child and sent away. He wants to know how long she has known that she was a witch. She vehemently denies his accusations. Her behavior is unexpected, especially since she surprised him by living past the first week of training at Ravenscourt. Now she is one of his best witch hunters. Blackwell informs her that she broke the law by possessing the herbs and another by killing the necromancer. He sees her as a liability and she needs to be punished. He hands her a sheet of parchment and asks if she knows what a Bill of Attainder is. Knowing that it isn’t a pardon, Elizabeth is shocked to learn that she is being accused of witchcraft and her punishment is death. She denies his claim and begs. Blackwell doesn’t hear her and has his guards escort her to Fleet to await the pyre.

Caleb finds Elizabeth at the Fleet. He promises to get her out and wishes he had known about the king. He confesses that he hadn’t noticed that she was no longer a scrawny little girl and believes that Blackwell hasn’t seen her for the woman she has become either. Caleb reluctantly leaves her behind to go plead her case to Blackwell. As the days pass and there is no word from Caleb, Elizabeth knows that time is running out. She realizes that she is ill and may actually die from sickness before she is burned. Exhausted, she falls asleep only to be awoken by footsteps. Thinking it is Caleb, she calls out but a man dressed in a robe stands at her cell door. She knows that he is not a guard but she doesn’t know who he is either. Elizabeth realizes that he is a wizard and she pleads for him to leave before Caleb arrives. He disintegrates the door and comes into her cell. He realizes that she is sick and tells Elizabeth that they must hurry. It is Saturday and the guards will be coming soon to take her to the pyre. He was told to find her.  They first thought it was a mistake but now knows that it’s not. He begs her to leave with him. She will be helping him as much as he will be helping her. Elizabeth tries to escape but he thwarts her efforts. She swings a punch but her fist passes through him and then one wizard becomes two. Another swing and two are now four. He begs her to stop and come with him. He can help her, keep her safe. Elizabeth makes another run for it but a coughing fit stops her. The wizard comes to her and pleads again. She sees him as a way to prove her innocence to Blackwell and agrees. Elizabeth ends up collapsing and the wizard picks her up. Walking by the other cells, she is mystified when the prisoners don’t shout for the guards but instead act reverent toward the wizard. She asks who he is. He apologizes for not telling her sooner and introduces himself as Nicholas Perevil. They reach an opening to the sewer and Elizabeth plots her attack to take him down. They hear the guards coming and Nicholas urges her on. She is barely able to follow him through. He carries her through the sewer tunnels until they come to an opening where a horse waits for them. Nicholas helps her on and sits behind her. He promises to take care of her. Elizabeth wonders if Caleb will miss her when she dies.

Is Elizabeth really a witch? What was Blackwell’s reasons for proclaiming Elizabeth a witch? Why did Nicholas Perevil rescue her from the Fleet? Who asked him to and why? Where is he taking her? Why was Blackwell so quick to find her guilty? Who are Peter and George? Who did they think Elizabeth is? Will Caleb come looking for her? What happens when Nicholas discovers that Elizabeth Grey is a witch hunter?

Elizabeth Grey’s story will be continue with book two in the series expected out in 2016.

Visit Virginia Boecker’s website.

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