The Lost Children of The Greenwood is a fantasy novel appearing on this blog. Read from the beginning with the prologue. This is the seventh chapter:
Chapter 7. Sergeant Buchanan Pierces the Veil
The weather cleared the next day and stayed brilliant but cold through the new year. The roads were clear although a foot of snow lay on The Greenwood, and the sky was a hard bright blue, and the wind rushed down the hills and through the trees, throwing swirls of dry powdered snow into the air. The town found itself relaxing during the holiday week and anxiety about Richard Malachi’s death eased. All the sunlight helped, perhaps. The snow-covered world was so bright that it drove away fears of the killer still at large, and there was a broad conviction that he could not be in the area, since no one had been found and the weather made it impossible to sleep rough in The Greenwood.
Sergeant Buchanan still searched there and found nothing except for strange groupings of tracks in the snow and the occasional scent that made his dogs wild and unmanageable. He didn’t like how the forest felt. The air was so transparent you could see for miles from the top of the mountains, and The Greenwood was silent and peaceful, and something was wrong.
Five weeks of constant investigation had yielded no clues and no leads. There was nothing in the computer systems; no news of another incident or crime in Pennsylvania or elsewhere that was similar; no tips from the usual cranks and busybodies; nothing. Nothing. He’d never investigated a crime for which no evidence could be found. Hard smart police work always yielded some vaguely suggestive story that was quickly explained or some scrap of physical evidence that he could not even be sure was evidence. Here, the lack of anything was quickly becoming the most conspicuous element of the case. All he had was Artemis White’s story of a boy in the woods, Richard Malachi’s unknown reason for entering The Greenwood, and a killing blow no mere man on his own could deliver.
Sometimes Buchanan sat in his office and stared at the wall, reviewing and re-reviewing the few facts the case had produced, and eating an apple because it was good for his digestion. Sometimes, he drove through the county, peering into The Greenwood or randomly stopping at houses to ask questions. But always he knew exactly what he was doing. Waiting.
When he first heard of the fight between me and Michael Malachi, Buchanan didn’t think much of it. He drove to the Malachi house to check on Michael and found him looking much worse than he’d expected. Sarah Malachi was livid with anger and demanded Buchanan take action, but the trooper could get nothing out of Michael. Luckily for the sergeant, I have a large family, most of whom love to talk, and a majority of these spend a great deal of time in Greenwood’s two bars; so a few inquiries yielded a mostly reliable and entirely inadmissible small-town-gossip version of the story.
Suddenly, Sergeant Buchanan was very interested and very unhappy. There was Artemis White, again. There was Michael Malachi, again. There was the tall boy with the bad eyes – he looked in his notebook for the name, Gwydion Taliesin Jones – again. Between the three of them was something about which he hadn’t been told. It might have been the usual overheated trifling adolescent love drama. In fact, it probably was the usual trifling love drama. None of us had the profile of the criminal-in-training that Billy Minster had, and Michael Malachi’s aggressive behavior was likely driven by his father’s death, the trooper felt. But whatever was going on, Buchanan didn’t like the idea that it had been kept from him or escaped his exacting notice.
Then too, the reports of Michael’s threats against Cate bothered him. He questioned teachers at the high school, who knew nothing, and then turned to the students. He quickly found that Cate’s only close friend was me, which didn’t help him. So he talked to some of Michael’s circle, representing himself as a family friend and using as a pretext some vaguely expressed concerns about Michael’s grief, among all of which Buchanan would casually drop Cate’s name. What he heard next astounded him. Buchanan had expected to discover some romantic tangle between Cate and Michael and myself, and this Michael’s friends confirmed with typical terms of abuse. But he had to hide his amazement when multiple children told him that Michael believed Cate had something to do with his father’s death, and he’d been vowing to avenge him. That these friends had told him this in all candor, and seemed to uncritically accept Michael’s assertions, amazed him much less. The Malachis were alpha dogs who could always make their packs bark on cue.
Sergeant Buchanan went back to his office, stared at his wall, and ate another apple. He concluded that he was likely to learn little from Cate even if Stella weren’t about. So he got into his cruiser and drove to my house. Both my parents were home and soon enough the four of us were sitting in the living room with mugs of freshly brewed coffee, staring at each other. My father’s expression was pleasant but utterly unreadable. My mother watched him and Buchanan with a mixture of exasperation and amusement.
“So, Gwydion and Michael Malachi got into a fight,” Sergeant Buchanan said.
The adults looked at me. Since I had a livid black eye, now turning a particularly putrid shade of yellow-green, a battered lip, and a large bandage across the knuckles of my dominant hand, these seemed like undeniable facts.
My father answered by making an offering gesture to Buchanan, which gave the appearance of agreeing without actually doing so.
“Gwydion was clearly in a fight.”
My father thought about this for a long time. “Yes.”
“And the person he fought was Michael Malachi. In this house.”
My father thought about this for an even longer time. Then he blinked and smiled.
“Owain, members of your family have already told half the town personally that Gwydion fought with Michael Malachi, and beat him.”
“Sure, sergeant,” my mother said, “if Gwydion ever were to fight Michael Malachi, he’d beat him.”
“I don’t know what my family said or who they said it to,” my father replied.
“With all due respect, Owain, you know both.”
“With all due respect, William, you know what I say can wind up in court.”
“The Malachis have not filed any charges.”
“Which don’t mean they won’t,” my father said.
Buchanan stared into his coffee cup. “I’m not interested in making a case against your son for fighting with Michael Malachi. What I want to know is why he did.”
“Because?” my mother asked.
Buchanan exhaled and decided to risk the truth. “Because the one thing I know about Billy Minster’s assault and Richard Malachi’s murder is that some combination of Gwydion, Michael, and Cate are the only people who seem to have any connection to them.”
Buchanan saw the expressions my parents and I exchanged.
He looked at me. “Do you know Michael Malachi’s been threatening Cate?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you know why?”
I shook my head. “Not exactly.”
“What did you say to him before you fought?”
What my father’s eyes said to me was unmistakable.
“I don’t remember,” I told Buchanan.
Buchanan stood up. “I need your help, Gwydion. I’d rather not compel you to help me.” He glanced at my father. “Or fight with your parents about it, who I’ve always liked and respected. Thank you for your time and the coffee.”
Buchanan was in a foul mood driving back to his office, and he was in a fouler mood still once he talked to the two people waiting for him in his office. It was George Wolf and Willa Jennings.
“Hello, pastor,” Buchanan said to Wolf. “I don’t know you, ma’am. Sergeant William Buchanan.”
“What can I do for you?”
“We’re friends of Michael Malachi and his family, and we’re concerned about him.”
“Considering recent events, I think you should be.”
Buchanan waited for Wolf or Jennings to talk, but they didn’t.
“I know about the fight,” he continued. “Everyone I spoke to says that Michael sought it out and provoked it.”
“He’s upset by his father’s death,” Willa Jennings said.
“I’m sure he is, and anything I can do to help Michael or talk to him about getting help, I’m happy to do.”
“He’s been saying he blames Artemis White for his father’s death.”
“I’ve heard that too,” Buchanan replied. “Doesn’t make any sense, of course.”
Wolf and Jennings glanced at each other. “We think maybe it does,” George Wolf said.
Buchanan sat up straighter and fixed his eyes on the pastor. “Why?”
“We think maybe Artemis White blamed Richard Malachi for her mother and grandmother’s disappearances. He tried terribly hard to find them.”
“And this led Artemis White to somehow be involved in what happened to him?”
He nodded reluctantly. “Yes.”
“How do you know this?” Buchanan asked.
“It’s complicated,” Willa Jennings told him.
Buchanan almost lost his temper. He was thoroughly sick of people playing games with his cases. But instead, he acted as if he were thinking it over.
“Okay,” he said. “I believe you. I’m going to take this information seriously and investigate it.”
He shook Wolf and Jennings hands, thanked them, and walked them to the door. He waved as his two new informants drove away. Then he muttered to himself, “Everyone in this town thinks I’m an idiot.”
Buchanan went home, ate dinner, pretended to listen to his wife talk by occasionally repeating back to her the words she’d just said in the form of a question, bathed his baby daughter, read the same story to his older son three times, and then disappeared to the basement with a ginger ale. He turned on the television to make it sound as if he weren’t sitting alone in the dark, which is what he was actually doing. Then he thought about the day’s interviews again.
They had both been remarkably helpful, although Buchanan had technically learned nothing. From my family’s artless non-response to his suggestion that Cate was associated with Richard Malachi’s death, he learned we thought his instinct was right. If we’d laughed at the idea, or offered an explanation somewhere on the scale of plausibility, he might have been left in doubt of our truthfulness. As it was, we’d told him with certainty there was something to know. In a different way, Wolf and Jennings had done the same thing. Buchanan was sure they were lying to him, and was a little offended they didn’t think it necessary to make more of an effort to do so. Why they were lying was the question. But for the moment, Buchanan was satisfied with knowing that their lie pointed toward the same mystery at which everything else was pointing.
Buchanan slept well that night and woke up the next morning clear in his mind what he would do. As soon as he arrived at the office, he called Stella and asked to speak to Cate that morning about the fight. Then he called my father and requested that we be there as well. We agreed reluctantly, my father because he didn’t understand how my presence worked to Buchanan’s advantage and me because I was fairly sure Cate was still angry.
That seemed certain when I arrived at their cabin because Cate looked at me but didn’t say hello. Stella tried to make up for this by greeting me twice and offering my father a very warm welcome. Stella had made green tea, rather than coffee, possibly because she thought Sergeant Buchanan wouldn’t like it. We declined cups, but Buchanan was sipping from his mug and remarking continuously that it was quite good and questioning Stella on where he could buy it.
“I didn’t think you liked tea, sergeant.”
“I am a teetotaler, as you know Stella. So why not?”
“You pun with your beverage, Bill.”
Stella was much more friendly with Buchanan than I’d ever seen her, but then she had been friendlier with everyone since her health improved. Stella had seated the sergeant at the head of the kitchen table, and she and Cate were sitting in the two chairs to his immediate right. My father and I took the ones on his left. Buchanan finished his drink, making two more positive remarks about it as he did, then fell silent and looked at me and Cate in turn. Eventually, he spoke.
“Artemis, Gwydion. I’d like you to tell me why I’m here.”
Cate and I looked at each other, deeply confused, and then glanced at my father and Stella. The adults weren’t any less puzzled.
“Sergeant,” Stella said. “That is an intriguing opening gambit. I grow increasingly impressed with your intellect, and hope that you’ll apply it to developing a more robust and accurate understanding of the constitutional rights of US citizens, legal residents, and other persons within your jurisdiction.”
I briefly wondered if Stella had been prescribed medical marijuana during her last treatment in Pittsburgh.
“Thank you for the almost compliment, Stella,” Buchanan replied. “But it isn’t a gambit. I think they know why I need to be here talking to them, while I don’t.”
This statement engendered a fresh exchange of glances around the table, but no information.
“Honestly, sergeant,” Cate said. “We can’t help you.”
“Let me lay out my case to you,” Buchanan said. “To Stella in particular. May I?”
“Sure Sergeant, go ahead,” Stella replied.
“I have two investigations going absolutely nowhere. The first is the assault on Billy Minster, a day after Artemis had a fight with him in school. The assailant is impossibly described as a cross between an animal and a man. While I was here last time, you, Gwydion” – here Buchanan pointed at me – “burst in and talked about a dream that was similar to the assault. The one report of a suspicious person in The Greenwood at the time of the attack is a young man only you’ve seen, Artemis. This person interested Richard Malachi to such an extent that he wanted to search the forest near the pond your mother favored, where we discovered an elk suspended between trees. For reasons unknown, Richard Malachi then returns to The Greenwood, where he is murdered by a person or persons – and frankly, considering the extent of his injuries – means unknown. There is a conspicuous absence of any clues or evidence relevant to either of these crimes. Now, Michael Malachi is threatening you, Artemis, because I hear, he believes you are somehow responsible for his father’s death.”
The look on Cate’s face was incredulous and appalled.
“A belief I can only attribute to a disturbance caused by deep grief. I am certain that Gwydion fought Michael because he threatened you. The Taliesin Jones are always fierce, loyal friends even if their judgment comes up short. All the ‘facts’ in these two crimes have some relation to Cate, Gwydion, and Michael Malachi. I have no idea what this relationship is, however. Which is why I need Cate and Gwydion to tell me.”
The sergeant examined each one of us in turn. “There, I am done, Stella. What do you think?”
“I think it’s perfection, sergeant. You have absolutely nothing.”
“I do have nothing. No understanding with which to solve the cases, and no understanding to help me protect you,” Buchanan said quietly. “And my gut tells me there is more danger.”
“I appreciate your concern,” Cate said.
At this moment, five members of The Order entered Stella’s cabin: two through the kitchen door, one of whom was George Wolf, and three through the front, led by Willa Jennings and including Thomas Bryson.
Stella shot to her feet. “What the hell are you doing in my home? Get out!”
Buchanan seemed almost as angry. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.
The five arranged themselves around the table. “We felt it was important we came,” Willa Jennings said.
“You are interfering with official business.”
“We’re afraid the heart of this business is outside what’s official, sergeant,” George Wolf replied.
“Who are they?” I asked my father. My dad named all five.
I leaned across the table. “They have Templar family names,” I whispered to Cate.
“Get out,” Stella repeated, “or I’ll have you arrested, charged, and convicted. And I know damn well just how to do it.”
Buchanan added his own threats to these.
“It is time,” Willa Jennings said, approaching the chair where Cate was sitting, “to tell the sergeant what you know about Richard Malachi’s murder.”
“I don’t know anything about his murder,” Cate said. I thought she looked angry when she saw me walk in the cabin, but that was nothing to the expression she fixed on Jennings.
“The lies of the White family are over.”
Cate rose from her chair and I was considering telling her not to fight, when I was interrupted.
“All Artemis knows about your friend’s death is what I told her,” Cern said, walking through the kitchen door.
To Buchanan’s credit, he stood and drew his gun without hesitation, but Cern bounded through the space separating them and stripped the pistol out of the sergeant’s hand while the barrel was still pointed at the floor.
“Hold or we won’t spare your lives!” Cern roared at the Templars in a deafening voice. The five men and women froze. Willa Jennings had thrown back her coat and laid her hand on the pommel of her weapon.
“Ah Lady Jennings, you carry the family long knife I see. Leave it in its sheath.”
She glared at Cern. Buchanan was looking at him too, breathing heavily and hunched over strangely.
“Sergeant,” Stella said. “If you are thinking of trying for the second gun on your ankle, I wish you wouldn’t.”
Buchanan looked at Stella, then Cern, and straightened.
“My apologies Sire,” Cern said. “Feel no shame. You are overmatched against me.”
“Cern,” I said. “These are Templars.”
“Yes, Master Gwydion, I know,” Cern said. “We’ve been tracking them while they’ve been tracking Artemis, and trying to track the Hunt. I am well pleased to meet you, by the way, after times.”
“It would be courtesy if you would all sit for our parlay,” Cern said. He looked at Cate quizzically. “Parlay, yes?”
“Yes, you can say that.”
The eyed each other strangely. “Or should I not stay Artemis?”
“No,” Cate replied. “I think you should.”
He looked at the gun in his hand. “I understand these are dangerous. Am I holding the machine properly?”
“Keep your fingers out of the trigger well,” Cate told him.
“The metal ring in the center.”
Cern looked at the weapon in his hand. “I see. Perhaps I should put this down. Sit, all, please.”
Everyone sat and Cern walked to the fireplace and put the gun on the far corner of the mantle. Then he returned, and seated himself at the end of the table opposite Buchanan. He had a Templar to either side. They weren’t pleased.
“As a gesture of good will and confidence,” Cern suggested, “shall we all lay our hands on the table?”
Everyone followed his lead.
My father couldn’t contain himself. “Delighted. Delighted! The first in our family in generations to see someone from The Kingdom so close, Gwydion.”
“I’ve been looking for you,” Buchanan said to Cern.
“I know, Sire.”
“I ask your pardon.
“I have questions.”
“Do you know who attacked Billy Minster?”
“The boy in the woods?” asked Cern.
A frown broke across Buchanan’s face.
“I did not mean to offer you discourtesy, Sergeant,” Cern said. “Although I believe I did. In my world, we feel bound to answer a question with the truth. Here it is different. Here people are free to lie unless they are forced to write it down on a piece of paper and sign it. Strange.”
“Your world?” Buchanan asked.
The sergeant left this aside for the moment. “Why did you attack Billy Minster?”
“Because he threatened Artemis.”
“That is not sufficient reason.”
“It is to me.”
Buchanan patted the table with the palms of his hands. Cate watched this conversation but said nothing.
“Do you know who murdered Richard Malachi?”
“He did obviously,” George Wolf said. “And Artemis White helped him.”
Cate looked at her aunt. “Will you give me a hand?”
“Be happy to, darlin,” Stella said. “George, shut your dumb mouth or I’ll kick you out of my house.”
“I will question you in turn, George,” Buchanan said. He addressed Cern. “Do you know who killed Richard Malachi?”
“I don’t know who killed Richard Malachi,” Cern replied. “But I know what kind of thing he was.”
“Okay,” Buchanan said warily. “And?”
“He was … what is the word, Artemis?”
“A demon,” Cate said evenly.
“Yes, a demon,” Cern agreed.
Buchanan looked up and down the table. Neither Cate nor I seemed surprised. The Templars were still angry. Stella appeared to be interested but not skeptical. And my father’s face shone with more delight than ever. In other words, no one seemed to think Cern was jerking our chain.
“So everyone at this table is suffering from the same group psychosis,” Buchanan announced.
“The only demon in The Greenwood is him,” Willa Jennings said.
“I have to admit, this is the first I’ve heard about a demon,” Stella remarked. “But almost nothing surprises me anymore.”
“Cern,” Cate said quietly. “I believe you are going to have to give Sergeant Buchanan proof other than your word. He means no discourtesy, but he is bound by his office to be … skeptical.”
“As you command, Daughter of the …”
“Let’s just skip the honorifics in front of company, shall we.”
“You’ll give me leave?” Cern asked Buchanan.
“Sure. I’m not running this show anyway.”
Cern rose from the table and glanced at the roof of the cabin. It was pitched higher over the living room, in front of the fireplace. “Master Gwydion, will you help me move the furniture?”
Buchanan nodded his permission at me, and I rose and moved the chairs and tables out of the way as Cern directed. Then he knelt on one knee, rested his hands on the floor, glanced at the space around him, and transformed into his Greenwood aspect.
I had an idea what was going to happen and I still stumbled back. The members of The Order stood up and drew their weapons, although they crowded themselves against the back wall. My father was shocked. I thought Cate almost looked pleased. Buchanan remained in his chair with his hands on the table, examining Cern. He’d seen many sights more horrible, but none more improbable. Cern nodded at him to acknowledge his coolness.
“What did you put in my tea, Stella?”
“Nothing, I’m afraid, Sergeant.”
“Well, I did ask you to tell me what I didn’t know, Artemis.”
“You can see he is dangerous, Sergeant,” George Wolf said. “Arrest him.”
“How exactly do you propose I do that?” Buchanan asked.
“Cern, I think you have made your point,” Cate said.
Cern returned to his human appearance. He glared at the Templars. “Put those away before you wound yourselves.”
“These are my instructions,” Cate said, standing and addressing the members of The Order. “I am not your enemy and I did not kill Richard Malachi. Neither did he.” She indicated Cern. “We need your help. I want you to tell this to Michael and send him to me. If you threaten me or my family or my friends, I will oppose you. Now get out of my home.”
The Templars went reluctantly, but they went.
“We will continue to guard you,” Cern said.
“Only because I wish it. Sergeant,” Cate said, turning to Buchanan, “I expect you don’t know what to think. I don’t know what I think myself. You’ll come see me in a few days when you do.”
“Take your gun and leave peacefully.”
We watched Buchanan go.
“Stella,” Cate said and looked plaintive. “Don’t die on me. And you two!” Cate addressed Cern and me. “If either one of you starts another fight without my permission, there will be hell to pay. I’m going to take a nap.”
Cate disappeared into her bedroom. Cern sat down in Cate’s chair by the fire, held out his hands to the heat, then rubbed them together. “Now we can begin to enjoy ourselves!” he said.
Both Cern and I stayed after Cate went to her bedroom. My father left, announcing that someone who needed a drink less than he did would pick me up later. Cern walked briefly into the forest to give instructions to the Hunt, then he returned to the cabin. Almost everything in it fascinated him. He spent forty minutes in the kitchen, asking Stella questions about what he found there, and was particularly awed by the microwave. Then she chased him out into the living room. There was less to see in that room, but he occupied himself by having me show him how to turn on and off each of the lamps, and then paused in front of the box with a glass window in its face.
“What’s this, Master Gwydion?”
“Ah! We’ve heard rumor of the machine with thousand-mile sight, but many believe it is a myth. Will you show me?”
“It only has thousand-mile sight if the cable bill is paid up, and it ain’t,” Stella yelled from the kitchen.
“What does Lady Stella mean?” Cern asked.
“Ain’t no lady,” Stella yelled again.
“Stella means it isn’t working right now,” I said. “You’d probably be okay if you called her ‘aunt’.”
“Are you boys hungry?”
Twenty minutes later, we were sitting at the table in front of plates of pasta with Stella’s venison ragout. Cern sniffed the plate appreciatively.
“You’re in luck, Cern, that we had leftovers. Otherwise, you’d be getting something from a can.”
“Yes,” Stella said. “Uh, food preserved in metal.”
He looked up from his plate. It was empty. “Is there more?”
Cern was in luck twice as it turns out, because he did like food in cans, or at least the novelty of it. By the time Cate reappeared, he was surrounded by a dozen empty ones: cans of soup and cans of stew, cans of fruit and cans of vegetables. He’d also learned how to use the hand-held opener.
Cate looked at him. “What are you doing?”
“Sampling the bounty of your world, Artemis. I particularly like ‘chili’ and – Master Gwydion, what was this again?” Cern held up an empty twenty-ounce tin to me.
“Peaches in heavy syrup.”
“Peaches in heavy syrup,” he repeated.
“Can faerie get metabolic syndrome, Aunt Stella?” Cate asked.
“I’m not competent to answer that question.”
Cate sat down next to Cern. “Did you enjoy your little demonstration?”
“I did as you asked me only.”
“Yes, I did,” Cern told her.
“Did you sleep?” I asked Cate.
“Some,” Cate told me.
She looked at Cern. “How much time do we have?”
“A little more, perhaps. But I can’t be certain.”
“Have you seen the Enemy?”
“No,” Cern said.
“That’s what Balthazar told me, too,” Cate said. “What about the Templars?”
“Their weapons can kill us in this world and ours, and don’t underestimate them despite what you’ve seen so far. A few of them are fighters. Including your friend Michael.”
“I don’t like waiting around,” Cate announced. “I want to take the fight to the Enemy.”
“I do not think it,” Cern said. “I believe we will find him only when he wants – and then, I still fear we will lose unless you have your powers.”
“Then we go find them.”
“I do not know where to look.”
“Have you had any more helpful dreams, Gwydion?” Cate asked me.
I was surprised by the question. I guess she had enough to do that staying mad at me would have to wait. “No. There is still very little that I can see.”
“The singer doesn’t have his sight yet?” Cern said, reaching for another can of chili. He squinted at the blade to make sure it would bite into the metal, gave the handle a single turn, and smiled as the lid popped off. “On that, Master Gwydion, we can be of use.”
Read Chapter 8 of The Lost Children of The Greenwood, “Virgil, The Dominion of God” November 29 . The complete eBook is available for Kindle and Nook.