*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*
*And this week, I’m sorry it’s so late (besides skipping the last week) but we’re engaged in the Great Office Move of 20. Today we emptied my office and painted and killzeed the floor. Tomorrow we install wood flooring. Wednesday, Dan moves his office in and next weekend we killzee and put flooring down in his current office. After which, we move the household management office there AND we can then paint and killzee that office (Our cats never actually got in there, but the previous owner’s cat did) and put in wood floor. After which I get to have an office again. Yes, other than installing the flooring all of this is in the name of us working in the same floor during work hours. Meh. Deal. Okay, now for the chapter.- SAH*
It was dark and Albinia was tired.
They’d run madly through the forest, leaves and twigs poking up through her indoor slippers and catching at her gown.
And then she stumbled, and Lord Michael put out a hand to stop her falling. for a moment they stayed like that in the dark. She realized she couldn’t hear the sound of pursuit. There was no way that wolf could be chasing them without making any sound.
“I don’t hear it,” Lord Michael said, with a kind of gulp, as if he were trying to get air in , as though he too were breathless after their run.
Albinia shook her head, then realized he couldn’t see her, and said, “I don’t either. I don’t think it…. it is following us.”
For a while they stood. She could hear him breathe, but all she could think of was how much her legs hurt.
“We…. should find a place to…. spend the night, until the light comes up.”
She had a moment of fear, wondering whether the light would come up. Her heart thumping, she wondered if they were in some unnatural land, where the light would never come, day never break.
“I believe it’s just night time,” Lord Michael said, his voice hesitant. “I can’t …. be absolutely sure, but it doesn’t feel like a place of night.” He sounded very tired too, and not just physically. “Perhaps…. He said, we can make a bed of leaves or–”
He stopped because there was a sound like a child screaming. his hand which had let go of her arm came back again, and held her wrist. Albinia wondered if it was meant to reassure her, or if he was seeking reassurance.
The cry sounded again.
Memories of early childhood when they’d visited Albinia’s grandmother who had a lake filled with swans came to Albinia, and she said in relief, “It’s a swan.”
The cry echoed again, and then Albinia felt a beak against her leg. It wasn’t done hard or viciously, but more as though calling her attention. And then she heard the sound again and Lord Michael said, “Ow.”
She felt him move power, and the light came on again, a witchlight, soft in glow. Albinia knew how to do it, of course, but she also had been taught not to use it unless in absolute necessity because it used a high level of power and would make you very tired. By rights Lord Michael should not be able to bring the light up, as tired as he sounded before he did.
But the light was enough to see a very large swan. It seemed completely unsurprised by the sudden light, and in fact — though it was impossible for a swan to do such a thing — Albinia had the impression it was smiling.
It flew near the ground, ahead of them, a short flight, then stopped and waited.
“I think it wants us to follow it?” Lord Michael said.
Albinia forebore to say “Obviously.”
“I sense no evil from it.”
Albinia also didn’t, but all she did was nod, and the two of them followed the swan. After a while, through the trees ahead they saw a sort of glow.
“If it’s a spun sugar cottage remember how the story ends,” she said, mock-sternly, mostly to distract herself from her own fear.
“This is not fairyland,” Lord Michael said. His voice sounded very odd.
The swan led them nearer the light. As they got close they realized it was the tower they’d seen from a distance,a ndn the light shone through a window on the bottom floor.
The swan opened the door. Albinia was sure of it, though she couldn’t see how.
It went in, and they followed it. But when got in, it was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, they were in a tidy room, with a fire burning. On the table there was a warm pot of soup, and a loaf of bread. There were two beds made up, one on either side of the room. Candles burned on candlesticks on the table.
Albinia hesitated. “You are sure this is not fairyland?” she asked Lord Michael.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I was kidnapped into it, you see.” He said it very simply, like he might say that he’d spent some time at a country estate. “And had to be rescued. I know fairyland.”
“This is good, because I am very hungry,” Albinia said, having just realized it when she smelled the soup. It smelled like the beef vegetable soup her brothers used to make.
She realized, at the last moment, that there were three bowls set out on the table. And then she heard light steps down stairs, a door opened next to the fireplace and a familiar voice say, “Al, I’m so sorry. I had to got put clothes on, or it would be quite shocking to receive you.”
Standing in the doorway, impeccably dressed in a brown suit, with white shirt and neatly tied cravat was a young man four years older than her. She knew this precisely because they shared a birthday.
“Geoffrey!” she said, and ran into her youngest brother’s arms.