*Lay back and pretend it’s Saturday, okay? – SAH*
*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*
When it came to having strange relatives, Michael Ainsling felt he couldn’t throw stones. Or rather he could, but it would be akin to standing atop a tower made entirely of glass and throwing stones at your neighbors’ windows. Sooner or later, it was your tower that would come crashing down.
After all, his brother was the royal Witchfinder and had continued his avocation for decades, while the kind himself had forbid it by decree. Seraphim, in fact, had broken royal edict to go to other world where magic was forbidden and punishable with death, and rescue magic users and shifters from the jaws of death. In this he’d been aided by his valet, whom they all knew to be his father’s byblow. What they didn’t know was that Gabriel was also half-elf and in the royal land of fairyland. In fact, he was now the king of fairyland. And Seraphim, despite his transgressions against royal decree, had become the prince consort of the princess Helena, who would eventually inherit the throne.
His father, who wasn’t dead, had gone adventuring among the many worlds, with his mother. His twin sister, Caroline, had gone to fairyland herself — he’d never understood why, and no one had ever explained — and fallen in love with a centaur named Akakios who had, for reasons also never made clear, been banned from fairyland forever, thereby
During the adventures leading to that outcome, Michael had been kidnapped into fairyland. He wasn’t sure what had happened to him there. He had memories. They were all unpleasant ones. But he couldn’t pin them down. The details, the certainty of what happened to him, tended to twist and turn in his mind, when he tried to think of them, leaving him confused, and more scared than the son of such illustrious parentage should be. He couldn’t dodge the feeling that while in fairyland he had become something less than fully human. He’d been known to wonder if his family suspected the same and f that was why he’d been left alone at their country home while everyone else pursued their destiny.
But at least he thought, none of his siblings had ever turned into a goose. He thought. At least he hoped not.
He ran his hand over his face, feeling as though he’d been sandblasted since he’d first read the dead man’s letter over breakfast. He’d somewhere along the line come to the conclusion the dead man was Al’s father. But did that make her the byblow he’d talked about? Or was it instead one of his son’s he referred to.
He watched, past wonder, as Geoffrey, a tall lanky youth who would probably be attending a lever and starting his adult life, were this any kind of sane world, hugged Albinia, then gently nudged her aside. Michael noted that Albinia was crying and wiping her eyes to her sleeve. Since neither Albinia nor — Michael was sure — himself were noticeably clean after their adventures, this meant she was adding grey streaks to her face, to replace the dirt the tears were washing off.
He felt as if he’d fallen headlong in some kind of dream — at least it wasn’t the screaming nightmares he experienced after his return from fairyland — and waking up was long delayed.
Geoffrey advanced on him, full tilt and extended a hand, “Lord Michael,” he said. “my father talks much of you. He considers you the only genius to equal his to come along… well, ever. Or since Da Vinci’s magical inventions, whichever you prefer.”
“Your father talks…” Michael said. He remembered heated discussions about the evil of necromancy around the dining room table and one thing he was absolutely sure of: without necromancy dead men didn’t talk.
“Oh. You imagine him dead,” Geoffrey said. He did not look a thing like Albinia, not having even the vaguest shred of red-headed bone structure. His hair was dark, very straight, unruly, and looked like he’d cut it himself, in irregular swathes, by the method of chopping off whatever protruded onto his field of vision. His eyes were also dark, and he had the jagged nose that Michael knew best from certain statues of the antiquity. At the moment he looked amused, his lips twisting right in a smile that made Michael want to scream. It was the sort of smile his older brothers knew better than to engage in, though they were much older and really royalty, or perhaps in Seraphim’s case, close to it. It was the smile of an upperclassman laughing at the follies of a new student, or of a young man laughing at a toddler.
Michael refused to answer, because a succession of nannies, tutors and, yes, his older brothers, had beat into his skull that politeness was the requirement life placed on the gentle born, no matter what the temptation. Instead, he raised an eyebrow, inquiringly.
The trick, which had taken him weeks to acquire, in front of the mirror, having seen their butler reduce an under-footman to incoherence by that expression, worked. Geoffrey seemed discomfited, as likely an outright rude response wouldn’t have managed.
“Oh. Well. Perhaps it is not surprising. But he’s not. He was put under a spell, you see, and whisked…. well…. here.”
Albinia made a sound of shock, as if the air had been punched out of her stomach, and as Geoffrey turned to her, she said, “It was mama, was it not?”
Geoffrey seemed to have forgotten his sister, so he looked surprised, then sighed, “Well, yes, Al. Who else? Who could have thus got under his guard?”
“And you?” Albinia said. She clenched her fists at her side and for the first time looked like she didn’t trust this man, whether he was her brother or not.
“Myself? What do you mean? I did nothing to Father?”
She made a huff of impatience. Michael felt as if he were familiar with it, having experienced it a few times during their adventures. He was also fairly sure that Albinia didn’t know she made that sound.
“Stupid,” she said, with remarkable fortrightness. “Of course I didn’t mean that. I meant, did mother also spirit you away? Here? Wherever here is?”
Geoffrey pursed his lips. It was an odd expression, as though he were considering what to answer. Which made Michael think meanly of his mind. After all, if he knew he was going to meet them, and clearly he did so. And if he knew Albinia’s curious nature, shouldn’t he have a slew of answers ready, whether they were the full truth or not?
But yet Geoffrey demurred and said, “Well, not precisely, but I think we can safely say it was at her command and instigation. At any rate….” He sighed. “The thing is our father was turned into a werewolf and sent back in time…. or perhaps to a world that doesn’t show to anyone’s scans. And our attempts at freeing him have only locked him tighter.
And our father worries, which is why he decided to recruit you, Lord Michael, into helping us. We wanted to do it earlier but Father said we had to wait until you’d reached the age of reason and could decide whether to help or not.”
Various things fell in place in Michael’s mind, starting with the fact that the letter, and possibly the golem, as well had been sent by that old wizard who had set the modern age in motion. And that he’d — or probably she’d — hit Albinia’s father on the nose with light and force. Well, that was an introduction.
But then his reason intruded, as it had the habit of doing, “What do you mean I could decide? You as good as kidnapped me and brought me here.”
Now it was Geoffrey who looked pained, as though his head hurt. He rubbed with — Michael noted — exceedingly well manicured fingers at a pot above his nose. “I’m not sure of that, milord,” he said. “As nothing is as we planned. We did not, for instance, plan to have Al come with you, and I’m at a loss for how you even met.”
Albinia and he spoke at once. She said “He saved my life,” while Michael, his memory on that moment when she’d grabbed onto the smog-fetch and come with him said “She tried to protect me.”
Then Michael cleared his throat, “That is a discussion for another day,” he said. “Are you saying that if I don’t wish to help you, I can just return to my family’s estate and my normal life.”
The smile was still sardonic, but Geoffrey looked bitter, “Father says without a doubt. Is that what you wish?”
“Geoffrey,” Al interrupted. “You shouldn’t be the one doing this. Where are our brothers?”
“Well,” Geoffrey said. “That is part of the trouble. It’s…. complex.” He then turned to Michael, “So, milord, you’ll turn tail and run and leave us mired in our own difficulties? I guess it’s your prerogative.”
Michael tightened his jaw so hard it hurt. He knew what he must look like, having watched both his brother’s do it. He knew he’d thrust his chin forward, and that his eyes reflected his anger at this Turkish treatment. He took a deep breath, and when he spoke, his voice was so precise, so cultured, no one could accuse him of incivility, but he knew he was being grossly uncivil all the same. “You have a curious means of applying to a boon.” He dusted an imaginary speck of dirt from his sleeve, which in fact was so tattered and suit covered that it would be impossible to tell dirt from fabric, and spoke in tones that did their best to ape Seraphim’s. “Let’s suppose you behave like a normal human being seeking a troublesome favor from another and tell me what this is all about, all of it.”
He looked over at Al, who hesitated. For a moment he wondered if she’d be offended at him, and for some reason the idea bothered him, though he could not say why.
But Al squared her chin, and stepped over to stand next to him. “Yes, Geoff, suppose you tell us. Everything, please. Half truths are no way to go about requesting someone leave everything to help you. It pains me to agree with her but you know what mama always said about your manners and temper!”
Geoff opened his mouth, then snapped it closed. He flushed a dark red, which proved that Al’s hit had gone home. “Very well,” he said. “if that’s what you wish. But it is a great waste of time.”