*For the previous chapters, please go here. These are posted first draft, as the brain dictates to the fingers which are remarkably stupid. Eventually it will be cleaned up and fixed just before page is made secret/taken down and the book is published. At that time I will take lists of typos or volunteers to proof read. For now, it’s written in a hurry, usually an hour before it goes up. And, let me remind you, it’s free – SAH*
*3/28/20 – note that the cover lettering has been brought into conformity with the previous book in the series, Witchfinder.*
Michael forged ahead, dragging Al into his room at the townhouse, and casually tossing over his shoulder at the butler “Hodges, can you get someone to bring up water and clothes for us to change? Will Seraphim be in at dinner?” He turned to Al by way of explanation, “We probably should dress for dinner. I don’t know if my brother will eat in our house or at the palace. I’m not sure how they manage but—”
“Lord Michael!” the butler sounded shocked to his core, and Michael stared at him, in complete confusion. It was his experience that he sometimes couldn’t even remotely guess at what other people were thinking. This seemed to be one of those situations, as he had no idea what the look of deep reproach in the old retainer’s face was all about.
Hodges cleared his throat, “You cannot possibly mean to wash and change in the same room.”
Michael paused, suddenly alarmed. It wasn’t so much that he could guess what the butler was thinking – he couldn’t – but the man looked as if there would be some high impropriety in changing clothes in the same room with a friend. Michael couldn’t really guess why, since in the past he had brought home play friends and changed for dinner in his room, if they weren’t staying overnight.
However, that had been some years ago. Without being able to fully comprehend it, Michael had a strong feeling that some threshold had been crossed since he’d started having to shave. Once a week maybe, but all the same.
To this was added the memory that his half-brother Gabriel was known to prefer the company of males to that of females. At least Michael had heard that without fully understanding it, and it seemed to him it meant he fell in love with gentlemen, not ladies.
Michael didn’t fall in love with anyone. The whole thing seemed to him a passel of trouble. Look at Seraphim having his life upended ever since he fell in love with a woman whose social consequence was greater than Seraphim’s home. And as for Caroline and her romance – well. He wasn’t even human, in some ways.
In Michael’s world, which he intended to keep as rational as possible as long as possible, romance was not only an infernal nuisance, but an irrational one. And he would have none of it.
And certainly he’d never, under any circumstances have anything to do with a scrubby schoolboy who fell out of windows in other worlds. At any rate, Michael – for all he didn’t care at all – had started to realize that some women – particularly very beautiful and intelligent ones, like that Miss Monkton who had given a talk on magical electricity, which he had attended last summer – had… effects on him. His palms sweated, his throat grew tight, he couldn’t think of anything to say, and altogether a lot of effects took place which Michael had never expected and didn’t like in the least. So he knew for an absolute fact that when it came to avoiding romance, it was romance with women that he was avoiding.
Which meant that he should be offended by Hodges’ implication. He tried to sound severe when he said, “Oh, no one cares for that. We should have some clothes that fit Al. Maybe from when I was younger? I don’t think he’ll be staying the night. He’s only here till dinner, I think. Just have some clothes and warm water brought up. Er…. Not a bath. We’ll just wash our hands and faces and change?”
“No, Hodges, I must insist.”
“And I, sir, must insist that no such thing will happen under his Grace’s roof. If you please, follow me,” And Hodges led them into the small parlor.
Michael blinked. Either his brother’s butler had gone completely insane, or there was something of a magical nature going on that messed with people’s heads.
It wasn’t just the refusal to let them wash and change in the same room. No. It went well beyond that. It was that they were being shown into the parlor.
Michael paced like a caged tiger by the windows, while Al sat, subdued, on a chair, his hands in his lap, as if he were still in the nursery. Good heavens, was the boy still in the nursery? Was that why Hodges was acting so strangely?
But next a maid came in, bringing tea and cakes, which was a crowning insanity.
Surely, Al was too young for liquor. Michael was too young for liquor, besides not liking the stuff. But lemonade and cake would be a more appropriate snack for a schoolboy, would it not?
“I have no idea—” he began, but Al was already pouring tea for both of them and helping himself to cakes. There was a vertical wrinkle between his eyebrows, as though he were trying to decipher a very difficult puzzle.
There was noise in the hall, noise unheard of in this elegant house: an argument and raised voices, between a man and a woman. And Mrs. Hodges came in. She was the housekeeper at the townhouse, a very respectable woman, who wore somber colors and whom Michael had never before seen disturbed.
He’d always assumed that she could plan a party for three hundred or nursery tea without getting flustered. But now she looked flustered. Or she looked flustered until three steps in. And then she looked like she was trying very hard not to laugh.
She curtseyed to Michael, but spoke to Al, “Well, my dear,” she said, a hint of a smile on her lips. “He has no idea, does he?”
Al shook her head.
“So I take it your acquaintance is recent?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Al said, his voice sounding a little shy and strangled.
“I see. And here is Hodges,” she looked over her shoulder at the her husband, “Saying that Lord Michael is getting ready to set up a Corinth. You must forgive them. They are fools. They never actually grow up, they just stop having spots.”
Michael would have been offended, if he had the slightest idea what she was talking about. Except of course, that it included him and Hodges. Hodges, whose eyes he met, looked as dumbfounded as Michael himself.
“Go you, Lord Michael,” the housekeeper said, sounding exactly as commanding and maternal as she had when Michael had been ten years younger. “To your room. Have a proper bath and change.”
“I’ll take care of your friend, sir. Do not fear. We’ll bring… we’ll bring you both here when you’re done. Word has been sent to your brother, but whether he will be in for dinner or not, we do not know. There is some crisis involving fairyland, and it is that important. But never fear, we’ll take care of the two of you.”
Michael was so confused he not only let himself be herded to his room, but he let his brother’s superior valet choose his attire after bath, so that when he dressed, he realized he was wearing the most formal of dinner attires, complete with breeches.
He thought to protest because while his brother might be married to the heir to the throne, he was still very much at home, and if anyone else were at dinner it would be family and….
And he forgot it all when he entered the drawing room.
There was a young lady there, who had a passing resemblance to Miss Monkton. At least she had the same red hair, a mass of it, loose down her back, and very large green eyes with a startled expression in them.
Oh, she also had freckles, masses, but Michael had never understood why people would mind freckles. He found them charming. She wore a very beautiful dark green gown, with … well, he was sure it was very nice lace, though he had no words to even think on it, much less describe it.
“Miss– Madam—“ He stumbled.
Suddenly the features rearranged themselves, and he realized she was… “Al!” he said.
She curtseyed. The damned chit curtseyed, very proper and all to him, as though he were some kind of important person and she a stranger! As though she hadn’t fallen from a window onto his magical row boat. As if—
“Albinia Blackley, milord. At your service.”
Michael realized, with a start, this must be the whelp that Tristam Blackley had spoken of. A bastard child?
He opened his mouth to answer, though he was not sure with what
That was when the window exploded.