THE PLAGUE DIARIES

Keeper of Tales Trilogy: Book Three

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The astounding, epic conclusion to the Keeper of Tales Trilogy brings together the cryptic prophecy in The Mapmaker’s War and the troubling mysteries in The Chronicle of Secret Riven—leading to an unforgettable reckoning between lies and truth.

We are all born made of gold.

Secret Riven—the mystically gifted heroine who now represses her uncanny telepathic power—works for the mysterious magnate Fewmany as an archivist in his private library. There, she stumbles upon the arcane manuscript that had vanished following her mother’s untimely death. She suspects the manuscript contains a profound secret, and she is yet unaware of its link to a thousand-year-old war and her own family’s legacy.

The tasks before her are clear: Secret must finally learn what Fewmany wants from her as well as the meaning of a strange symbol she’s dreamed of since childhood. At last, she must confront the questions haunting her and depart on a quest to find the truth about herself, her dead mother, and her fate—to unleash a Plague of Silences meant to destroy, and transform, the world as all have known it.

A dazzling, genre-bending masterwork, The Plague Diaries illuminates the power of our choices, the scars they leave, and the wounds they heal.


Reviews

"The Plague Diaries gives readers the ultimate experience—a uniquely gifted heroine, a mystery that unravels with spellbinding intrigue, and an escape into a world lush with magical detail. Readers searching for a finely written and compelling genre-bender of a novel, here it is. Enjoy."
— Julia Fierro, author of The Gypsy Moth Summer

The Plague Diaries is a book to get lost in. Intricately imagined, deeply felt, it offers up a rich display of distinct personalities: orphans and kings, parents and children, all with their own dark secrets. More than that, though, like all the best fantasies, it makes one feel that there are other worlds hiding somewhere nearby, no farther than the old chest in the bedroom or the woods behind the fence.”
— Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead and The Illumination

“Ms. Domingue has written a terrifically paced, beautifully textured novel to complete her Keeper of Tales Trilogy. She has given us a fantastical adventure, populated by finely drawn characters and charted with marvelous plot twists. But also a deeply felt, melancholic undertow that makes this world more like our own than we at first realize, and more vivid because of it.”
— Nicholas Christopher, author of A Trip to the Stars


Excerpt from The Plague Diaries

PROLOGUE

Fate is a line free will twists into a spiral. A path fractured into forks that lead to the same place. A snake that bites its own tail. The beginning knows its end.

This is the paradox: Free will slips among the twists of fate. Crosses the valley, scales the mountain, enters the cave. Finds a new way through fixed space. The end remembers where it began.

When I was a child, I knew—believed—none of this.

On a summer morning, weeks before I turned eighteen, a pigeon, a dove, and a sparrow summoned me to visit an estranged friend. I went to her cottage in the woods west of town. There, Old Woman revealed the symbol carved in stone at her hearth. She knew I’d once dreamed of this symbol but had long concealed its presence in her home from me. Then, she said it was known “the man Fewmany” was buying land where other stones lay, but not the reason why. She spoke of the missing arcane manuscript entrusted to my late mother, who was meant to decipher the text but didn’t. Old Woman told me, “You are here to shift a balance, one with the potential to deepen our darkness or bear forth a hidden light.”

Both were my fate, the darkness and the light, and the one I chose, a matter of free will.

I thought I had a choice to accept neither. I wanted no part of a prophecy, although my blood and bones knew it to be true. Foolish, because I’d read enough myth, lore, and fairy tales to know when one receives a call—hold a candle to a sleeping monster lover, search the world for a lost daughter, take a basket to Grandmother’s house, spin straw into gold—one must heed it. That is fate. How one responds, that is free will.

So, descendants and survivors, here told is what happened to me, once as innocent as the girls in the tales I loved, and how it came to pass that I released the Plague of Silences.

PART I

JULY /35

On the second of July, I awoke before the clock’s summons. By first rays, I was dressed and breakfasted, the satchel on my shoulder, turning the lock of the row house’s front door.

Across the street, a lamplighter extinguished the night’s flames. At the third corner on my route, seated inside the newsbox was the news-speaker, his eyes pinned to a timepiece in one hand, the morning report in the other. Several shopkeeps appeared on their thresholds as I waited for my favorite market vendor. He had cherries, sharply sweet. I bought a pint and poured it into a basket in my satchel, next to the boiled egg and a heel of bread I’d packed for my midday meal.

By the time I reached the ward’s edge, the nearby stable lot gate was open and three carts were on the street. For twelve years, I’d walked in their direction or sat next to Father on his two-horse cart, going to school or to my apprenticeship in the translations office. But that day, I was headed toward the grand homes north of town, to my first job.

I passed through four more wards, moving quickly through the one which made me nervous, well-known for the unfortunate frequency of burglaries, violent attacks, and indecent assaults. The narrow streets, decrepit walk-ups, and glaring residents did not refute the ward’s reputation.

Once I crossed the town’s official border, the road continued. I approached the main entrance to The Manses, where several of the kingdom’s prominent families resided and my father once, perhaps still, aspired to move. A man with a ruffed collar stood under a covered archway, flanked on both sides by high wrought iron fences. He asked my name, which I gave. When he checked a list, he said I was now included among Fewmany’s staff and could come and go as I wish. After I passed him, I looked at the fine houses set back on expansive lawns. The only hints of wildness were the sky itself and a flight of swallows streaking blue through the ether.

The road forked. To the right I followed it, drawing closer to the great house. I’d seen it before, once, when Fewmany invited me to his library and offered the archivist position. At the manor’s gate, I gave my name again. As the guard glanced at his list, I tugged at my lace cuffs and brushed the front of my three flounced skirt. He studied my silver hair and tawny skin and stared into my mismatched eyes the colors of night and day.

“You’d be mistaken for no one but yourself, would you, Miss?” he said.

Sadly, I would not, I thought.

With each step along the curved path, my hands shook a little more until surely I looked as if I were having a fit.

At the drive’s apex, I stared up at the manor’s thick columns and the long windows grouped in sets of two. When I reached the double doors, I rang the bell, clasped my hands behind me, and stood straight as a blade.

The door opened.

“Good morning, Miss Riven,” a man said. He bowed. “We weren’t formally introduced when you came for the initial meeting. I am Naughton.”

“Good morning,” I said.

As he closed the door, I looked into the marble-floored hall. Impressive as before, a talon-footed round table stood on an elaborate tapestry rug decorated with animals. Within the recesses between the twelve closed doors were statues.

“Follow me,” he said. Naughton led me to the grand staircase with its green marble steps and dark wooden railings. On the landing, near a long cushioned bench, I paused at the leaded windows to peer at the courtyard below and, beyond that, a stretch of green before a grove of trees.

“An arresting view,” Naughton said.

I glanced at him. His forehead shone under his thinning brown hair, and his eyes, also brown, glinted with patience. He wore a black coat and trousers, a light gray vest with blue piping, and a flawless white cravat.

“Yes, quite,” I said.

He escorted me up the west stair to the closest door on our right. As he searched for the key on his ring, I studied the bowed figures carved into the wood, most charred black. Fewmany told me he’d salvaged this door from a library lost to fire. The other eleven doors on that floor appeared to be identical to those on the first.

Once inside the library, Naughton invited me to hang my satchel on the ornate coatrack. Then he gave my instructions.

If I required assistance or refreshments, I was to pull the cord near the door to summon him. I could stroll the grounds and gardens and enter any room I found unlocked to view the magnate’s art collection, but must make sure to close the doors when I exited. If I found a dog roaming the second floor, I should ring to have him taken away. As etiquette required, I shouldn’t go below stairs, and neither was I to speak to the staff nor they to me. I was to use the water closet on the first floor, to the right and below the east stair’s rise.

Naughton indicated a letter had been left for me on the table. With a nod and the promise of tea, he exited the library.

The letter was from Fewmany, a welcome in his absence. He said he was pleased to have my assistance to organize and catalog his collection and invited me to acquaint myself with the “nooks and crannies herein.”

On that same table, large enough to seat forty people or twenty giants, I found three books, a map of sorts, and a box. The reference texts were on bookbinding and book collecting. The library’s map noted where general categories were kept—history, natural science, et cetera—and where I’d find what interested me—myths, folklore, fairy tales, and the like. The last item was a delightful surprise, a box of stationery printed with the following letterhead:

FEWMANY ATHENAEUM
Miss Secret Riven, Archivist

I began my exploration. To the right of the entrance, near the coatrack, stood a supply cabinet with doors and drawers where pens, ink, bookstands, blotters, paper, wax sticks, pins, and scissors were kept. On top were a bouquet of red and white roses and two wooden book cradles.

At the enormous table were four chairs, cushioned in velvet, with high backs.

Not far beyond the table, centered in the space, was a fireplace, the stone chimney rising to the roof. The simple wooden mantel, curved at the edges, invited my touch. A movable screen, resembling chain mail, hung on a track inside the hearth.

The library itself seemed to span the entire length of the second floor, with a gallery accessible by six spiral staircases tight as a snail’s shell. Along the east and west walls—and surrounding gallery—were rows and rows of bookshelves with leaded glass doors above and cabinets below. Throughout were brass sconces with cut crystal shades, held high by lifelike, masculine, disembodied arms, oil lit; I saw no evidence of candles.

Thick purple drapes framed the windows. The view west looked out to distant neighbors, the carriage house, and stables; the view north to the courtyard, the green, and the trees. Strangely, the south wall had no windows, instead more shelves and cabinets.

The books—so many books, hardly any space for more on the shelves or in the cabinets, which were stuffed with manuscripts and boxes of ephemera.

By the end of the day, my anxiety about the tremendous task before me, among other lurking concerns, gave way to pure giddiness.

How could it not? I was in a paradise.

That night, when Father and I sat down to dinner, the glamour had not faded. I was in rare spirits, glad to tell him what I’d seen and to show him the epic I’d borrowed, leather bound, gold gilt.

All was well; our conversation, amiable. He reminded me he would leave at the week’s end to settle a land deal in Thrigin. Father was to have no lengthy carriage ride that trip, as every time before. He’d arranged to have passage on the new steamwheeler, which connected to a station outside of town. For weeks, he’d been agog reading about how they were built, how much weight they carried, and how fast they traveled.

“Iron can do what muscles cannot!” he said.

As the sole Geo-Archeo Historian at Fewmany Incorporated, Father didn’t need to know any of that for his work, but his personal curiosity was indulged. What mattered were the maps he’d been studying, finished track lines and proposed ones, which veined across Ailliath and the kingdoms around it. To satisfy Fewmany’s ambitions, Father would have to negotiate for the use of vast acres near and far.

However, there were acquisitions Father could never arrange for him.

After our dinner, Father brought out a cake Elinor, our daymaid, had baked to honor my first day. As he nudged a slice toward me, his hand brushed against the ceramic ochre bowl at the table’s center.

Memory cracks with the slightest pressure.

There I was in the same place, but elsewhere in time.

Eleven years old again. Balanced across the edge of the ochre bowl filled with pears, the scissors gleamed, their violent whisper still in my ears. A foot of my black hair was gone, one inch of it cut by my father each night he punished me for telling a lie I had not told. Nearby, an exquisite illustrated book lay open to a page with a fox chasing a hen. And then, to Fewmany, who sat at our table, Father presented my drawing of the symbol.

 

 

 

 

 

Father, my mother, and Fewmany waited for me to tell where I’d seen it.

“In a dream,” I said—and in that moment, I told the absolute truth.

As they looked at me, I wanted to grab those scissors and stab each of them through the heart. After they watched my hair grow back to its full length before their eyes, my parents glanced away, but Fewmany didn’t. He and I matched stares, his amused, mine defiant. In spite of myself, I felt repelled by and drawn to him. Even then, I sensed a mystery connected us.

That night’s incident was never mentioned again. Father didn’t explain why the symbol held such import or why the inquisition had occurred. Whatever I was presumed to know was significant enough for Fewmany to visit our house—under the ruse he was there to deliver documents Father had left at the office—to question me himself.

I hoped, of course, all had been forgotten, and if not that, buried. Because if either Father or Fewmany asked me again, I would have grappled with whether to lie.

I could no longer claim to have seen the symbol in a dream. I knew the location of one carved in stone less than an hour’s walk outside of our town’s borders, in the woods.

Copyright © 2017 by Ronlyn Domingue

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