I’ll admit it, I enjoy writing bad guys more than I enjoy writing good guys. In fact, my works have very few truly “good” characters, and those are usually the ones that I kill off. Maybe it’s a reflection of my own character–I don’t really understand altruism in the abstract. I can relate much more to characters who have their own selfish agendas and are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals.
Whatever the reason, I have a new big bad that I am enjoying bringing to life. The following is a snippet from Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts. Without further ado, let me introduce you to the Grimm, the Hunger Wolf, Eldest Lord of Nightmare and Master of Nivose, the Empty Lands.
There was a different pair of guards on the door, both big, furry, and armed with axes. The one that moved to bar our way had a face like a bear, but a voice that surprisingly soft and clear.
“May I help you gentlemen?” she asked.
“I’m Samhaim Jackknife of Messidor,” I told her. “I would like to speak to Lord Grimm.”
She gave me a nod, “Of course, Sir.” She stepped to the side and pointed with her ax. “Straight ahead, Sir.”
I went on in, Jake trailing nervously behind me into the antechamber. Today there were torches lighting the central hallway and the others were dark. I took the hint.
He awaited us on a pile of furs, lying lazily on it like a great cat. One paw rested on huge skull that looked ape-like, but was as high as a truck tire.
“Samhain Jackknife,” said the deep, rich voice of Lord Grimm. “Well met, my nephew. You know, I was just thinking about you.”
Jake had turned pale. He recovered, though, and bowed low, “Greetings, Lord of Nightmare.”
Lord Grimm nodded. “Jakob Jorge Karnes,” he said warmly. “I haven’t seen you since you were a child. Tell me, did you ever get that train you wanted?”
Jake stared, wide-eyed, confused.
“You were,” the huge beast said slowly, “seven years old, I believe. Yes, it was seven, about to be eight. There was an electric train set that you wanted for your birthday. I recall it quite vividly. Did you ever get it?”
“I…” Jake shook his head, then laughed. “I did, actually. Not that year, but later, when I was in university. I had a job fixing appliances, and I bought it for myself one summer.”
Lord Grimm’s lips pulled back from his teeth in what might have been a smile. “Excellent. Your desire was so sweet. I am pleased that you fulfilled it.”
Lord Grimm turned his attention to the giant ape skull, idly rolling it with his paw. Without looking up he continued speaking. “I can feel your desire now, Jakob. Your hunger. Yet I would hear it from your lips. Tell me why you have come here, Jakob.”
“There is a human woman named Karin Zverocovitch, Lord,” Jake said. “I have reason to believe that she is within your domain. I have come here to speak with her and to convey her back to the Midworld, if she desires to return.”
“Indeed,” said the Lord.
“What must I do to win her freedom, Lord Grimm?” Jake asked simply.
The Grimm looked up. “That is an excellent question, and most politely put,” he observed. “A question, in fact, which has been vexing me as well.”
Those great black eyes turned suddenly to me. “Envoy Jackknife,” the deep voice purred, “do you come bearing a petition from the Primate of Messidor?”
I shook my head quickly. “No, Lord Grimm. My father makes no petition in this matter. My presence here is simply as a friend to Engineer Karnes, not as an Envoy.”
The Grimm nodded, looking contemplative. “I had not thought that my brother would intervene,” he said judiciously. “My judgments then will have no internecine complications. This allows for somewhat more… latitude in my actions.”
He lapsed into silence again. In repose he looked like an enormous house cat.
“Lord Grimm,” Jake asked slowly, “would you allow me to purchase her oath from you?”
Lord Grimm’s eyes widened, as if surprised. “Would you…?” he mused. “Would you, truly, do such a thing, if you knew all that the transaction entailed? Perhaps you might. In any event, I could not allow it. You are signatory to the Mayor’s accords, and his law prevents a human from owning a human soul—quite wisely, I might add.”
“You bought her oath from a human,” Jake shot back. His voice was tightly controlled, but his anger was evident.
“I can see why my sister Agni is so taken with you,” Lord Grimm observed mildly. Then, “I was no party to the original binding, Jakob, nor did I ‘purchase’ it in the sense that you mean. There is no accord to prevent me from taking such an oath upon myself. Once taken, however, propriety must be observed.”
The Grimm looked back at me. “Envoy Jackknife,” he said formally, “am I to understand that your remark that you are here only as a private citizen was meant to imply that you are not acting on behalf of the Lord Mayor?”
I glanced at Jake, who was frowning at me. Well, it couldn’t be helped. I’d explain later. “No,” I answered, “I am not acting as Envoy of the Lord Mayor.”
Technically that was true. His Honor had asked me to pursue it unofficially, which meant that I was not acting under his diplomatic sanction.
The Grimm nodded. “Then I believe that we can leave the original binding oath as an internal matter for the Midworld authorities.”
He paused, going back to toying with the skull. We waited. Then he continued, “I own the young woman. I cannot sell her oath to you, nor could you purchase it. I am afraid that you will simply have to steal her.”
Jake stood staring at Lord Grimm. “Steal her?” he asked at last.
Lord Grimm turned back to gaze at us. “Yes. Steal her. Not an ideal solution, perhaps, but as you are here in the flesh the laws of the Midworld do not apply. You, Jakob, unaided. My nephew Samhain would be subject to the judgments of Messidor, and I would not put my younger brother in an awkward position.”
Jake took a long moment to consider that. “How would I steal her?” he asked at last.
The Grimm’s eyes widened again. “You are asking me to advise you on larceny?” A deep rumbling chuckle. “With a maximum of daring, I would suggest. Bold action, decisive, and perhaps some violence.”
Deliberately the Grimm placed one great paw on the ape skull and pressed down. It cracked with a sound like a gunshot. We both jumped.
A moment later, like an echo, a second loud crack sounded, then a third. They were coming from much closer and I looked down at the ground in front of our feet. The bones that made up the floor were breaking, snapping like twigs. There was a third report, a fourth, a fifth, and then they were coming like a roll of thunder. I stepped back away from the affected area of the floor. Bits of bone were falling, revealing a vertical shaft. In a few moments it was perhaps four feet across, edged with jagged bits of bone.
The Grimm glanced at it, and batted one of the fragments of the broken skull, which slid across the floor and dropped into the hole. I could hear it clattering down, bouncing from wall to wall.
“It is my understanding that haste is preferable in matters of criminal enterprise,” he observed, as if to himself.
Jake gave the huge beast a long hard look, then carefully crouched at the edge of the hole. He dug into one of his pockets and came up with a compact flashlight, which he shown down into the dimness. What he saw must have satisfied him because he snapped it off, stowed it, then clambered over the edge, climbing quickly down the irregular wall of bone.
While I was staring after him the Grimm spoke to me.
“Kin of my kin,” he said, “How fares your father?”
“He is well, Lord,” I said. “I spoke with him yesterday, in fact.”
“And your mother?” he asked.
“She is doing fine, so far as I know,” I said, looking down into the pit. I could hear the sound of Jake climbing down, but he was out of sight.
The Lord saw where I was looking and said sharply, “As far as you know, Samhain? Did you not speak with her as well?”
I looked back at him. “No, she was not in attendance with my father, and I did not take the time to seek her out.”
“You should take the time,” the Grimm said thoughtfully. “One’s parents are worthy of respect.”
I risked another glance at the hole. The sound of Jake’s passage was growing faint.
“All of one’s elder relatives are worthy of respect,” the Grimm said, an edge in his voice.
I looked quickly back to him. “I am sorry, Uncle Grimm. I am concerned about my friend.”
Those bottomless black eyes held my gaze. “Your loyalty does you credit. Yet I fear that you may lose sight of your true priorities.”
“I was raised by humans in the Midworld, Uncle Grimm,” I said. “I am a stranger to Nightmare.”
“Such a pity to hear that,” the Grimm said, his voice gentle. “I do hope in time you will acquaint yourself with your true home. You are always welcome in my domain, and I feel confident the same is true of all of us.” He cocked his head, considering. “Well, perhaps not Mistigris. He has never gotten along well with your father. And the twins can be… capricious. Still, this is your home. You cannot deny your heritage.”
I took a step closer to the hole in the floor. The shaft curved as it descended, and I couldn’t see more than about twenty feet. Jake was out of sight. “Neither can I deny my responsibilities. I gave my word that I would see Karin returned to the Midworld.”
The Grimm nodded, stretched, and settled down, laying his head on his paws and closing his eyes. With his eyes closed he said, a bit sadly, “Ah, yes, conflicted loyalties. The heart of every great opera.”
He gave out a heavy sigh. I could feel the cold breeze of his breath from where I stood. “Apologies, nephew, but it would appear that I am urgently required elsewhere,” he said, eyes still closed. “I trust you can see your own way out?”
“Yes, I—” I was talking to myself. The Grimm was gone. I looked around. I was alone in the chamber with the pile of furs, the bits of shattered skull, and the shaft leading to the depths below the Bone Fortress.
“Don’t be a stranger, Samhain!”
I started, nearly jumped out of my skin. The Grimm’s voice seemed to come from a great distance, but was very clear. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“You know, Uncle,” I muttered, “this kind of thing is exactly why I don’t visit more often.”