Candace Sams has produced another outstanding book in the `Tales of the Order' series. The Craftsman continues where Goblin Moon left off as Gawain O'Malley is trying to put his life back together after the loss of his friends and right hand in a tragic kiln fire. A fire he believes he is responsible for.M.L.
The wonderful "Tales of the Order" by Candace Sams has another great addition. I have loved every one of these books and look forward to many more.Elaine C McTyer
I have waited a long time to see the next Tales of the Order book in print and it was definitely worth the wait! THE CRAFTSMAN picks up right where GOBLIN'S MOON left off but can be read as a stand alone novel.Deborah Wiley
Mankind moves closer to discovering the Order's existence every year. It's Gawain's artwork that provides food, education, and medical support for all his beloved people including his own parents and siblings.
When someone not only destroys his art in a fire but causes him to lose his hand...in one night...revenge is all Gawain can think about. It consumes him to the exclusion of all else. Worse, he is certain that it was no human from the outside world who committed this act of horror.
That fire was set by a few calculating and hidden saboteurs from within the ranks of the Order.
Whoever these traitors are, they have not only taken away the biggest source of funding for his hidden society, but they have murdered their own kind in the process of stealing.
With limited resources and emotionally injured beyond belief, Gawain is forced to now create an entirely new inventory of magnificent art to sell. And he must do so in a very short time. Even as his will to create has been utterly destroyed.
But there is a cost to revenge.
Finding who started that fire and killed his friends is all that matters to Gawain. Even the love of a gentle and beautiful little brownie won't get in his way.
In a tale of fantasy, theft, murder, mystery, intrigue, romance and suspense, there can be only one outcome. Revenge. And revenge is sweetest when delivered by the one person who can save all the magic that is left on Earth ─ The Craftsman.
Rating: PG limited sexual content; for general audiences
Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal Romance/Action Adventure
Length: A full length novel complete with maps, charts and a Tales of The Order ™ glossary!
Release date: February 12, 2021
Publisher: Candace Sams
Print pages: 356
Content advisory: Some sexual content. Rated PG
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Behind the book
Anyone who loves magic will enjoy the Tales of The Order series.
In The Craftsman - the fifth 'Tale' - mythic creatures hiding in our world are threatened from within. Their only means of financial support has been destroyed in an act of sabotage. Gawain O'Malley must not only recreate all the lost artwork but discover who destroyed it in a fire that was deliberately set. If magic is to continue in our world, it's now up to Gawain to protect it.
The Craftsman: Tales of The Order
Gawain O’Malley slowly backed away from the castle window.
Three stories below, magical creatures of the Order danced and sang. Unknown to them, it would be the last celebration for some time. They were putting behind them the terrible fire that had cost nine friends their lives and their actions were the traditional way to both say goodbye and move on. The families of the dead would mourn in their own way, but the Order would, together, find their peace in the celebrations. For his part, he had been responsible for those deaths and could find nothing to celebrate. Losing his right hand in the inferno had been a small price to pay for his lack of judgment. How could he ever look any of them in the face again? He couldn’t even tolerate his own reflection.
“Won’t you come outside and sit with me, Gawain?”
The sound of Shayla Gallagher’s voice, as the current Sorceress of the Ancients, startled him. He’d been so immersed in his guilt that his ordinarily keen senses hadn’t alerted him to her presence. “No, Shayla. I have some thinking to do.”
“You can’t stay up here forever, man. Your family is worried, as well as your friends.”
“Soon, they’ll have a great deal more to worry over than my missing a celebration. You haven’t told them, have you?” He slowly turned to look her in the face.
“Everyone knows that all the craftwork and your art went up in flames. Will my reiterating the point make it better?” she responded.
“Do they know how close to financial ruin we really are? How low on medical supplies we are? How the food will have to be rationed?”
She walked forward until she stood close. “And you think all of this is your responsibility and that we haven’t faced hard times before?”
“As the Craftsman, it is my responsibility to make sure we have marketable goods.” He turned away. “Because of my ego, I let my art become the main source of income. Now—”
“Now we shall all make do with less,” she interrupted. “We’ve done it before. And you don’t hear sounds of anger or sorrow out there.” She motioned toward the window with one hand. “Those are the sounds of joy.”
“Wait a few months, Sorceress. When the doctors don’t have the medical equipment they need or the children go hungry, there won’t be any sounds of joy. And there are those absent from the gaiety. The families of the dead aren’t there,” he bitterly pointed out.
She gently placed a hand on his shoulder. “Why are you blaming yourself when no one else does?”
He struck a towering bedpost with the fist of his left hand. “I should have checked the gas lines better. It was my job to make sure everything was safe. And those people wouldn’t have been in the building at all if I hadn’t asked them to stay late.”
“Gawain, no one could have known the kilns would explode. Even I, with my ability to see into the future, did not see this.”
“You’ll pardon my saying so, but your premonitions aren’t always right. Nor can you see the full picture of events to come. You see bits and pieces. You see what the gods and goddesses allow you to see. We all know this.” He slowly shook his head. “But I should have known. Any kiln using a gas line can explode. If I’d checked the connections better instead of worrying over my precious artwork and my next gallery showing, those people would still be alive. The entire building wouldn’t have gone up in flames and eighteen months of work wouldn’t have been destroyed.”
“Blaming yourself will change nothing. Monday morning, all the artisans will meet in the great clearing and sort this out. With their doubled efforts and your new artwork—”
“What new artwork?” he interjected and held up his right forearm. “I can’t create art with one hand, Sorceress. I’m right-handed. Or was.”
She shook her head. “Gawain, I refuse to let you castigate yourself this way. We will come out of this situation stronger and closer than ever before. You’ll see.”
“I don’t know how you can say that when the computers will have to be shut down, the utilities won’t be paid and we’ll have to find some way to explain to the London gallery owners that their precious artist won’t have anything to exhibit.”
“We’ve already told them that DeForest won’t be able to make his exhibitions. That he, or should I say you, won’t be able to fulfill this season’s contracts. You were quite wise in stipulating that there might be deadline issues in your negotiations. Thankfully, there won’t be any problem with breaches—”
“Contracts notwithstanding, canceling all the exhibits is bound to cause suspicion. What if some wily reporter or tabloid writer starts asking a lot of questions?”
“That’s why I’m the Sorceress of the Ancients and why, for thousands of years, all the magical creatures of these sacred woods have looked to my kind for protection. I can assure you; a plausible excuse will be made until you can get back on your feet.”
He sighed in frustration. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said?”
“All I’m hearing is a man who’s blaming himself for things he couldn’t control. Accidents happen, Gawain. If the Goddess didn’t give us obstacles to overcome, how would we know when to celebrate life? There can’t be good times without bad. Sweet times without the bitter. That’s the way life is.” She paused and patted his uninjured arm. “I’ll expect you to be in the great clearing on Monday. Think about what we must do to pull ourselves out of this circumstance instead of looking back at what happened. The past is done.” She turned and left his room as silently as she’d come.
Gawain looked down at his right arm and winced when the pain burned its way up to his shoulder. The doctors called it phantom pain. He’d been told its primary cause was self-induced stress and had been prescribed mild painkillers and even anti- depressants. People who’d lost limbs often suffered this kind of discomfort, or so he’d been informed. But how was he supposed to forget the nine people who’d lost their lives in that fire? What about their family’s pain? How was he supposed to ignore the needs of hundreds of magical beings, whose safety might depend upon the Order’s financial security?
Shayla Gallagher couldn’t just march into the nearest London bank, explain that she was the protector of a forest full of hidden, magical creatures, then take out a loan to cover their losses. What kept them hidden was their ability to blend in with the outside world and provide, through a covert maze of business dealings, for their own needs. The very castle within which he now stood took thousands of pounds a year to keep up. Outsiders were led to believe that a reclusive earl lived within its walls. And while that was true, the current earl’s ability to keep the world outside this place was due to the past efforts of the artisans, weavers, jewelry makers and others who paid the bills. Even their physicians, in London and elsewhere, had been trained using funds which originated from the Order. But, in the past years, his artwork had become the most important of all. His creations sold for the highest amount so the other artisans were able to place more emphasis on watching over the young, repairing buildings and using technology his artwork had purchased to maintain safety and anonymity. As he produced more magnificent sculptures and creations in different media, the other artisans relaxed and made better crafts, though fewer in quantity. Still, the rest of the art might have sustained them for just a bit longer if his had been the only craftwork lost. With costs soaring to keep up their collective masquerade, however, his work was now crucial. Without it, the most expensive items, such as computers and medical supplies, couldn’t be purchased or maintained for long.
He shook his head in self-loathing. How had he let himself become so important? “If only I’d checked the damned kilns.” He paced the floor for a time. But when the pain in his arm became so strong he could no longer ignore it; he left the peace of his quarters to locate someone in the castle infirmary.
He was halfway down the hall when the squeaking noise of a hinge alerted him. A girl carefully closed the door to the room from which she exited. The room served as a nursery for the children whose parents were now celebrating.
Gawain watched her with sorrow in his heart. He watched as her expression hardened as she saw him. For the first time in his thirty-four years, he wanted to run.
The girl was only twelve, but the look of hate she bestowed on him tore into his heart like a glass shard. That anger made her appear more as if she was thirty. An adult expression stared him down from the face of a child.
“I was wondering when I’d see you,” she bitterly muttered.
“Hello, Lysson. Have you been well?”
“No! I miss my mother and father.”
Gawain swallowed hard. Lysson’s parents had both died in the fire. “I’m sorry, honey. I wish there were some way to make it better.”
“Well, there isn’t.” She turned to go back into the room and the children she was helping watch. Then, she paused and faced him again. “I hate you! And so long as I live, I always will. I wish you’d been the one who died.”
In shock, he watched her retreat back to the safety of the nursery.
He’d heard about people’s hearts breaking. But he’d never known you could actually feel as though part of you could be ripped into a thousand pieces.
With tears in his eyes that made it difficult to see his next step, he mechanically made his way to the basement infirmary. With everyone out celebrating, except those without a cause to do so, the contents of the medical supply cabinet were freely available.
That was one of the problems with this place. People trusted too much. They’d trusted him and he’d let them down. At that moment in time, he felt there was nothing crawling under any rock that didn’t rate better treatment than his sorry life.
He grabbed a very large bottle of morphine tablets and some assorted small bottles of other medications, then made his way to the back entrance of the castle. He reasoned that it didn’t matter if he took the bottles. No one but him seemed to need them and what few other medications were in the supply cabinet would run out quickly anyhow.
If anyone noticed as he left, they raised no alarm. After all, he was the Craftsman. Once trusted, loved, and revered as a talented artist and Druid warrior, he was now relegated to the object of hatred from a child whose parents would never come home. But if her hatred burned itself into his soul, it was nothing compared to the self-deprecation he couldn’t escape. Anxious to be anywhere but near those who’d mistakenly trusted him, he began to run. It didn’t matter where he went. Just as long as he could be far away from the Order.
Weeks later, Gawain was in the Highlands. Fearing someone might recognize the famous artist the outside world knew only as DeForest, he let his beard grow and kept his long brown hair loose. He’d taken no spare clothing, so that which he had was beginning to look very used.
This was to his advantage. His haggard appearance kept people away.
What food he needed came from the land. If desperate enough, Druids knew how to find roots, berries and a few edible plants and herbs. They weren’t enough to sustain even a child, much less a man of his size, but they were as much as some in the Order would have when the money ran out. And, with a steady supply of morphine to dull the pain in his right arm and his conscience, food was a secondary concern.
He kept moving.
There were sacred sights known to beings of the Order. All were in remote locations and had safe places to sleep, water to drink and pools in which to bathe.
He knew it was only a matter of time before the sorceress or her minions found him. He didn’t care.
It wasn’t really her he ran from as much as himself and his responsibilities. He damned the insufferable ego that led him to think his position as artisan was better or higher than that of the other craft people. The accolades he’d received as the much-vaunted DeForest, in the outside world, led him to believe he could single-handedly support the ranks of the Order and all its magic denizens. But there was a problem with being indispensable. Without his artwork, hundreds of thousands of pounds were lost to the Order. While Shayla could make light of the matter, the entire Order was going to suffer. There weren’t a hundred artists who could bring in what one of his pieces could fetch, in a single gallery opening. Looking down at the stump of his right arm, he felt he’d never be able to create another piece of art as long as he lived.
In his half-starved and drug induced state, bodies of the dead came to him.
Through his morphine-induced haze, their faces floated before him. They silently gestured. They pointed accusing fingers and grotesquely mouthed his name. Sometimes, he’d find a rocky escarpment, cave, or windswept moor to evade their presence. But the dead always followed. His drug-clouded brain had them constantly chasing him. He received little rest or reprieve from their presence. Finally, he found a sacred circle of stones high up in the Scottish moors. Within the circle was a small, spring-fed pool. He desperately hoped the magic imbued in the upright stones would keep out the ghosts of the dead so he could rest his tortured brain for a time. But when he looked into the water and saw a reflection, it frightened him as much as any of the restless spirits haunting the hills.
The man he saw in that reflection was wild-eyed, unkempt and had dark circles under his eyes. Unable to recognize who this gaunt stranger was, he cried out in fear and tried to fight this new stalker. When he couldn’t force or drag the stranger from his watery realm, he fought the image until he fell into the pool and finally collapsed on its shallow bank. Hours or perhaps days later, he woke in horrible pain. He reached for the bottle of pills to discover there were no more.
What followed was the most agonizing time of his life. Only the loss of his coworkers had been more emotionally painful. But this was a physical pain so intense that he might have taken his own life to escape it. He was a coward, or he would have completed that task long ago.
A coward ran from his responsibilities, his friends and his family. With no idea where he was and physically so befuddled that he could not consult the heavens and stars for a location, he staggered from the sacred circle of stones and wandered. Occasionally, he fell to his knees, but he tried to keep moving. The spirits of his dead friends were determined to have their revenge. Their ranting left him almost mad. The days came and went.
Finally, he could move no further. He staggered his last steps and collapsed. Deathlike darkness followed.
“Thank the Goddess one of our people found him and not some outsider,” Shayla ranted to her consort and constant companion as she pulled on her warm gloves. Hugh McTavish opened her door and she got out of the large four-wheel drive. She gazed around at the open moor, trying to sense if anyone were near enough to watch their activities. Satisfied the area was quite remote and no one watched, she proceeded. “I’ll have his head on a stake for this!”
“I don’t think there’s enough left to punish,” Hugh commented. “Lore says he’s almost dead.”
Shayla walked toward a group of fairies and the small fire they’d built. They would only take such a chance on being seen if they believed the fire was necessary.
Near that small fire, a large man lay on his back. Blankets covered his body. Lore, the fairy leader, approached Shayla and Hugh. His face was a mask of grim foreboding.
Lore pointed toward the figure on the ground. “We found him out here, near a sacred circle. I’ve never seen Gawain like this.”
Shayla approached the figure on the ground and gasped. “Gawain! What have you done to yourself?” She knelt beside the unconscious figure and barely recognized the once-massive warrior’s emaciated frame.
“We found this, too,” Lore added and handed an empty bottle to the sorceress. “I don’t think Gawain knew where he was or what he was doing. It’s a wonder he’s still alive. If my people hadn’t stumbled on ‘im, he’d have been dead by tomorrow night.”
“Morphine! He probably mixed it with those other pills missing from the infirmary.” Shayla’s hand closed around the bottle. “If he was trying to kill himself, there were much easier ways to do it.”
“I can’t fathom how he came to this,” Lore murmured as he knelt beside the sorceress and the man being discussed. “Why would he do such a thing?”
“I don’t know. But we’d better get him to the truck. Goddess only knows who might happen along. Even though this is a remote area, we can’t risk being seen. Someone would surely question our presence.”
“Help me get him to the truck, lads,” Hugh ordered.
Lore and several of the other fairies lifted Gawain’s body and carried him to the vehicle. Shayla carefully scanned the horizon and sensed they were still alone. She quickly turned away, ordered the area cleared of any sign of their presence, then let Hugh drive while she tended Gawain.
They were back in the English countryside when she felt they should stop for the night.
After booking into an out-of-the-way motel, fairies covertly carried Gawain’s body into a room before retiring to their own. As always, Lore and his clan had done a superior job in tracking the missing Craftsman. In human form, no one would ever guess their real identity. And because they could hold their human-like form for as long as they wished, fairies were her first choice to send on the search.
Druids had also been sent. Unable to shapeshift, their keen senses could still root another magical being from hiding. But she hadn’t known Gawain was so ill or would be so difficult to track. By the look of his tattered clothing, it hadn’t mattered that he sought refuge from the harsh Highland elements. Of course, in his healthy state, the man could have magically controlled those elements to a certain extent, as all Druids had that power. But he was too weak to have even attempted such a thing.
She seriously doubted that he knew where he’d even been, and gently stroked the matted brown hair away from his unshaven face.
“You’ve done a good job on yourself, haven’t you, my man?”
Something in Gawain’s brain dragged him into consciousness. He opened his eyes and tried to focus on a figure hovering over him. “W-Who are you?”
“It’s Shayla,” she softly told him.
He tried to sit up only to be pushed back down by the older woman and her man, Hugh.
“Where am I?”
Hugh leaned near him. “You’re back in England, lad. Do you recall Lore and his men finding you?”
“No,” Gawain croaked. “I…can’t…no.”
“Hugh, bring me a cup of that herbal tea in my thermos, will you?” Shayla requested. When she had the cup in her hands, she lifted it to Gawain’s lips, raising his head as she did so. “You gave us all quite a fright, young man. But you’re safe now.”
“Sorry…so sorry for…can’t…” Gawain’s voice trailed away, but he felt the sorceress fussing around him even as his eyes wouldn’t focus.
“Don’t talk now. Just rest. When you awaken again, you’ll feel a bit better,” she consoled.
He slipped back into an unconscious state.
“He’s withdrawing from the damned combination of drugs,” Hugh told her. “And I’d have wagered my life that this man would never have done such a thing.”
“That only goes to prove the worst things can happen to the best people. He blames himself for the deaths during that damned fire. I should have seen this coming. Gawain shut himself away from everyone, refused to regroup or listen to any amount of reasoning.”
“I could have tried harder to speak to the lad myself. Since my nephew handfasted with Gawain’s sister, that makes us family.” Hugh settled himself on the other side of the bed and pushed back the unconscious man’s hair. “But he wouldn’t even let his parents or anyone else near ‘im.”
“Thank the Goddess that I ordered them to stay behind. I don’t know what they’d do if they had found him in this state!” Shayla declared. “There’ll be a stop to all of this. Even if I have to have him locked in the castle so he’ll listen to reason!”
“Well, I’m going to get some rest, m’love. I suggest you do the same,” Hugh advised.
She nodded. “I will, Hugh. But I’ve got some thinking to do first.”
“What are you planning?”
“Something to rock Gawain’s world back into orbit, so to speak.”
Hugh’s brows shot up.
Shayla watched Hugh settle himself on a large sofa. He’d left the double bed next to Gawain for her. Before she sought rest, however, she spent time trying to decide how to get this shell of a man to give a damn about his life and the direction it might take. There was only one way to do that, as she saw it. Convinced that her decision was right, she finally settled herself against some pillows and slept.
Gawain slowly opened his eyes and tried to push himself into a sitting position. His gut ached and every bone in his body felt like the marrow had been replaced with heavy lead. Someone was speaking to him, but what was left of his brain just wouldn’t register what the voice said.
“Gawain, lad, can you hear me?” Hugh asked for the third time.
That time, the older man’s calm, repetitive question sunk in. It happened to coincide with the return of his vision, if still blurred. “I hear you.”
“The sorceress is here. We’re going to take you back to the Shire. Lore and some of his men found you. Do you remember? Can you eat?”
Gawain’s stomach protested at the suggestion of trying to consume anything. “No.” He waved his hand in denial. “Take whatever you’re holding in that bag away.”
“It’s just a bagel and some juice, Gawain. You have to get something inside you,” Shayla insisted. “It’s a long way to the sacred forest.”
“You should have left me where I was. I’m no use to you.” Gawain ran a hand over his face and was surprised by the length of his beard. Looking down at himself, he saw that his clothes were filthy and torn. “I don’t suppose you have something else I could wear?”
“Why does it matter what you look like? Especially if you’re just trying to kill yourself,” the sorceress asked, then shrugged her shoulders and opened the bag containing the bagel. She began to eat.
Gawain’s stomach roiled ominously at the sight of food. He looked away and refused to be drawn into one of the sorceress’s discussions where she craftily drew from people the information or response she desired. Those conversations always started casually, over nothing. Then, somewhere in the middle of them, she’d have the strongest foe or most loyal ally spilling their guts. And the only answer he had to give concerning his clothing was that he smelled so bad that the stench would attract a great deal of attention. That was the very last thing he wanted.
In his mind, it would have been better if Shayla, Hugh and the others had just left him alone. Except for the occasional hitched ride, no one had seen him. Certainly, no one would recognize who he was, even if they could stand his hermitlike appearance and the smell.
“Come on, lad, we’ve brought some of your clothing. Your mother packed it. Your entire family would have come, but the sorceress thought it best if they stayed behind. As you are, that might have been a very good decision. You’re in a bad way and could do with a very long shower. After that, maybe you’ll feel more like talking on the drive home.” Hugh offered a hand and hefted him from the bed.
For a moment, Gawain stood still and closed his eyes. The world began to spin and his gut started to ache again. “I’m afraid I’ve developed a…a bad habit you two should know about.” He’d rasped out the words, taking deep gasps of air to steady himself.
Shayla nodded. “If you’re talking about the morphine and the other drugs, we know. Just go with Hugh and let him help you. When you come back, I’ll have some of my herbal tea brewed. It should help with the pain.”
He took a deep, shaky breath and let Hugh lead him to the bathroom.
Some of his own clothes were laid out on the vanity. As soon as the door was closed and Hugh began to run the shower, Gawain looked at himself in the mirror and saw the face and body of a complete stranger.
“Don’t hardly recognize yourself, do you?” the older man asked.
“Goddess of all creation! What’ve I bloody done to myself?”
“It’s all right, lad. Get in the shower.” Hugh pointed to Gawain’s reflection. “This can be undone.” Then he gestured to his head and heart. “The other things will be much harder to fix if you won’t let us help you.”
Gawain shook his head in shame. “I can’t see why you’d want to. I’m a damned fool.”
Hugh grinned and shrugged. “Most of us are at one point or another. It’s how we deal with life after the foolish episode that matters. You understand?”
Gawain nodded. “Thanks for your help. When I don’t feel so sick, I’ll find a way to pay you back.” His hand went to his stomach and he groaned as Hugh helped him undress.
“You don’t owe me a thing except a promise. I don’t ever want you to do anything like this again.”
He was far too ashamed of himself to reply to the kinder, older man. As he stepped under the hot water, he tried to reason things out.
With each moment that passed his body felt a bit better, but his heart still hurt. Then he thought of his parents, brothers and sister. They were probably worried sick. It was one thing to cause yourself grief. Quite another to inflict it upon others through a stupid, cowardly act. But wasn’t that was exactly what his running had been? The pure selfishness of a bastard?
While he couldn’t put right what had happened to the people who had died, he could honor those deaths by trying to help their families and the rest of the Order. Of course, the sorceress would have to punish him first. No one was allowed to leave sacred land without permission. But that hardly mattered. No punishment she could dream up, short of death, could put him through more hell than he’d already seen.
Determined to salvage what little pride was left to him, Gawain scrubbed himself almost raw. Then he stepped out of the shower, feeling a great deal more human. Hugh was gone, but he heard voices coming from the room beyond the bathing area.
After wiping the condensation off the bathroom mirror, he took a more critical look at himself. He’d lost a great deal of weight and the body he’d once prided himself on keeping fit was much worse for wear. As Hugh said, those things could be fixed. His heart and mind were the real problems. But there was one thing that was certain.
He was no longer the Craftsman. Someone else would have to fill that role.
When a leader let his followers down, it was time for someone else to take over. He made a silent promise to help restore as much of the decimated craftwork as he could, then he’d find something else to do. Perhaps a man with one hand could gather herbs, sow a garden of vegetables or help teach the children. Looking down at his left hand and noting the loss of muscle in his arms, he seriously doubted he could serve as a guard and wield a weapon. Those who took that duty had to be the strongest and most vigilant. If the world outside their forest ever converged, it would be those men and women who would protect the rest of the Order. As he was now, he couldn’t even lift a razor to shave, let alone lift and swing a heavy, medieval weapon. And such weapons were what his people still used. They were silent and needed no permit to carry. No constable in the rural UK questioned anyone carrying what would be described as a collector’s item for a gallery or old manor house.
As for him?
People didn’t realize how they depended on their right hand unless it wasn’t there anymore. Certainly, he’d never given the matter much thought. Now, he’d have to.
He finished drying himself and was able to put on a pair of jeans. They were much looser than before. The buttons on the shirt posed a problem. If it wasn’t because of having only one hand, it was because he was shaking so much that the smallest task became a major chore. The drugs to which he’d become addicted were doing a horrible number on his nervous system.
Minute by minute, he could feel the medicines’ hold on him slipping. But it would take time to rid himself of those effects for good. Frustrated, he finally left the bathroom and found Hugh sitting on the bed talking to Shayla.
“I don’t suppose I could get some help with this damned shirt?” he blurted.
Hugh nodded, stood up and buttoned the blue cambric shirt for him. “Not like wearing a leather jerkin, is it?”
Gawain didn’t answer. The medieval clothing of the Order, worn when deep in the sacred forest, had no buttons. It had been easy to shrug into a leather jerkin and leave the front open. Outsider clothing, however, was more difficult. He realized there were some things he would have to do on his own, without asking the castle staff to assist him. Still, it was a small thing when compared to dying. He’d be willing to bet that any of the nine people who’d died in the fire would change places with him. Because of him, they could no longer voice an opinion.
“What are you thinking, Gawain?” Shayla asked as she raised her brows and looked him over.
“You’re still thinking about the fire, aren’t you?”
Gawain averted his gaze in response. She often asked questions to which she already had answers.
Hugh exchanged a quick glance with the sorceress, then picked up the keys to the truck. “I’ll pay the bill and then bring the truck around to pick you and the others up.”
Shayla waited until the older man was gone before saying, “We need you, Gawain. The Order needs its Craftsman.”
“Then let them find him somewhere else,” he responded. “I can’t hold that position any longer.”
“I refuse to let anyone else have the title,” she countered.
Gawain closed his eyes, sighed in frustration and shook his head. “I won’t argue with you about this, Shayla. For the sake of my family, I’ll come back, work where I can be of some use and try to get on with my life. But I’m not an artist anymore. And I certainly can’t lead. The subject is closed.”
Shayla shot him an imperious look. What Gawain wanted and what he’d get were two completely different things. The discussion might be over for now, but Gawain O’Malley was going to resume his duties if she had to drag him back into the position, kicking and screaming. There was no man better qualified for the task. And that artistic brain of his was still there. Even if he had tried to fry it with a very large bottle of morphine and assorted other drugs.
He was capable of great things. Perhaps greater than those remarkable feats he’d accomplished before the fire. Sadly, someone was going to have to shove him hard before he would realize it. But shove she would. Otherwise, the financial stability of the Order would be in shambles before the year was over.
As Sorceress of the Ancients, she wasn’t about to let that happen. Bills had to be paid, new equipment and medical supplies purchased. More urgent was the need to purchase land surrounding the sacred forest so their future would be secure. The safety of the entire Order was at stake. Thousands of years of culture could be lost and the outside world could come crashing down on their secretive existence. All because one man was so hurt and guilt-ridden that he wouldn’t take his rightful place and find a way to fill the coffers again. While her heart ached for him, the safety of those in her charge was of primary importance. To that end, Gawain would have to put aside his pain and do his job. Whether he wanted to or not.
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