*Sorry for the long hiatus. Things are still not… normal. And I don’t mean just getting used to a world without Greebo, which is bad enough, but trying to finish reflooring the house before the snow flies. Three rooms to go but one is the family room, which is going to be pure hell, just in terms of moving furniture around.
So: *For the previous chapters, please go here. These are posted first draft, as the brain dictates to the fingers which are remarkably stupid. Also there will be inconsistencies because until September or so, the timing on these is wonky, and I’ll forget stuff between posts. 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*
Albinia was mortified.
She’d read novels — to be truthful mostly because Mama had forbidden her from reading novels. In those works, it seemed that whenever a young lady brought home a suitor of higher status or magical rank or fortune, the young lady’s family would conspire to unwittingly embarrass her mortally.
Albinia had read with great amusement a hundred such scenes of the character being mortified by the behavior of her relatives.
Fine, so Lord Michael wasn’t her suitor, but still! He was the son and brother of a duke, and here was Geoffrey behaving as though he’d been reared in a stable… or worse.
She scratched at her nose, as he promised to explain everything and how everything was so complex. It wasn’t so much that her nose itched, as that she felt something was very wrong, but couldn’t quite figure out what. Other than the fact that her brother apparently could change shapes and become a swan and that papa might be the werewolf they had smacked on the nose. She was trying very hard not to think of the implications of this, since papa had never met her. If she understood the timing correctly, he had left — disappeared — around the time mama was approaching her confinement with Albinia. How terrible to first meet one’s father with such an unfilial action as smacking him on the nose.
Scratching at her nose was what Albinia did when she was confused and trying to gain time. Usually trying to gain time to think of something not quite a lie to tell mama in order to stop her asking inconvenient questions.
Geoffrey made a big show of being offended by Lord Michael asking perfectly reasonable questions, then crossed his arms on his chest and said,
“Very well. We’re under a geas, you see, when none of us can be human at the same time. So I was trying to say my piece, because I don’t know–” Suddenly his voice shook, which to Al was the scariest thing of all, because she thought Geoff was going to break down and start crying. “I don’t know if the others might have need of changing at any time.”
More to ward off his possible tears — she knew from when they all lived together how much any of the boys hated crying — than because she was incensed, she said, “What do you mean by that, Geoff? Surely you could leave each other notes and plan your human–”
To her horror this made things worse. Geoff’s lips trembled, and his eyes shone, and he said “W-w-we d-d-d-did f-f-f—”
And Al realized what had been bothering her. Geoff hadn’t stammered at all through the previous speech, but now it was back, in full bloom. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Lord Michael’s horrified expression and wasn’t sure why, but she reverted to what always worked and said, “Geoff! Deep breaths, and speak slowly.”
This brought a wan smile to Geoffrey’s face. He said “D-d– Darn it, Al. I rarely stammer anymore, because I have had years of solitude to p-p-practice, but…” He took two deep breaths. “Forgive me, Lord Michael.” Then to Al, “You see, at first we did just as you said. We had a big board in this house, and w-we used to have a schedule. And we also left notes and letters to each other. That’s how father told us that L-Lord Michael should be able to free us from this geas, and also how he told us to wait until he came of age. B-b-b–” Geoff took a deep breath. “We couldn’t wait, you see. You have no idea how terrible it is to spend years and years really alone. Though I can see the others when in swan form.”
“Swan, not goose,” Lord Michael muttered under his breath, but Al chose to ignore that ornithological observation. She didn’t suppose that sons of dukes spent much time in the poultry house.
Geoff looked at Lord Michael and the wan smile became more pronounced, even if still wan, “Right. Swans. My step mother got the idea from some old tale or other. But seeing each other as swans doesn’t help much, as there’s a limited degree of what you can communicate by body language. And Papa– Well, it is best at any rate for any of us not to meet papa when he’s a wolf, since he becomes quite a ferocious beast.” He paused for a moment. “To be fair, even as a human, he used to be ferocious if we interrupted him while he was working, though at least as a human devouring people was not in his range of ideas.”
“I imagine not,” lord Michael said, drily and stepped back till he sat on one of the chairs.
“But as I said, we grew impatient. And we had some idea of how to break the spell. Or at least–” He paused. “Papa thought it involved taking the path out the back door and meeting the challenges. He just thought the challenges required g-g-g-genius. And he said none of us had it to that degree… So the others–”
Albinia knew her brothers too well not to know what was coming next “They took the path?”
“One by one,” Geoff said. “Till only I was left.”
She opened her mouth, closed it. There was a cold feeling of dread in her middle. “And none came back?”
Geoff shook his head. Now he sat on one of the chairs as well, and his hands were visible trembling. “Till only I am left.” He looked at Michael. “And if you won’t help us, I’ll have t-t-t-to go myself. Only if none of the others could do it– And papa doesn’t know. I didn’t dare leave him a note telling him what happened. And, oh, Al, it’s been hell.”
And Al fell into the role she’d had all through childhood, when she — incongruously — tried to look after all the boys, “There, there, Geoff, it will be well.” But she didn’t dare ask Lord Michael to help. They’d already put him to so much trouble.
She looked to the side, where he — under the grime and dust of their adventure — looked very solemn.
Well. Never mind. If he wouldn’t, she’d have to do it. Even if she wasn’t a genius. Not even as much of a genius as the boys.