“Nay, Geoffrey, thou knowest ‘tis not! This end of the shelf is mine, for the keeping of my dolls!”
“Tis not! I’ve kept my castle there these several weeks!”
Rod threw down his quill in exasperation. After three weeks of trying, he’d finally managed to get started on his history of Gramarye—and the kids had to choose this moment to break into a quarrel! He glared down at the page…
And saw the huge blot the quill had made.
Exasperation boiled up into anger, and he surged out of his chair. “Delia! Geoff! Of all the idiotic things to be arguing about! Gwen, can’t you…”
“Nay, I cannot!” cried a harried voice from the kitchen. “Else thou’lt have naught but char for thy… Oh!” Something struck with a jangling clatter, and Rod’s wife fairly shrieked in frustration. “Magnus! How oft must I forbid thee the kitchen whiles I do cook!”
“Children!” Rod shouted, stamping into the playroom. “Why’d I ever
“Di’nit, Papa.” Three-year-old Gregory peeked over the top of an armchair. “Mama did.”
“Yeah, sure, and I was just an innocent bystander. Geoffrey! Cordelia!
He waded into a litter of half-formed clay sculptures, toys, and pieces of bark twisted together with twigs and bits of straw that served some fathomless and probably heathen purpose known only to those below the age of thirteen. “What a mess!” It was like that every day, of course. “Do you realize this room was absolutely spotless when you woke up this morning?”
The children looked up, startled, and Cordelia objected, “But that was four hours ago, Papa.”
“Yeah, and you must’ve really worked hard to make a mess like this in so short a time as that!” Rod stepped down hard—into a puddle of ocher paint. His foot skidded out from under him; he hung suspended for a split second, arms thrashing like the wings of a dodo trying to fly; then his back slammed down to the floor, paralyzing his diaphragm. For an instant of panic, he fought for breath, while Cordelia and Geoffrey huddled back against the wall in fright.
Then Rod’s breath hissed in and bounced back out in a howl of rage. “You little
The children shrank back, wide-eyed.
Rod struggled to his feet, red-faced. “Throwing garbage on the floor, fighting over a stupid piece of shelf space—and to top it off, you had the gall to
“We didn’t… We…”
“You just did it
He towered over them, a mountain of wrath. “Naughty,
The children hugged each other, eyes huge and frightened.
Rod’s hand swept up for a backhanded slap.
With a crack like a pistol shot, big brother Magnus appeared in front of Cordelia and Geoffrey, arms outspread to cover them. “Papa! They didn’t mean to! They…”
“Don’t try to tell me what they were doing!” Rod shouted.
The eleven-year-old flinched, but stood up resolutely against his father’s rage—and that made it worse.
“Rod!” Gwen darted into the room, wiping her hands on her apron. “What dost thou?”
Rod whirled, forefinger stabbing at her. “Don’t you even
Gwen’s head snapped back, stung. “Assuredly, thou’rt scarce mindful of what thou sayest! ‘Tis ever
Gwen’s eyes flared anger. “Ware, husband! Even to thine anger, there doth be a boundary!”
“Boundaries! Limits! That’s all you ever
“Peace!” Magnus darted between them, holding out a palm toward each. “I prithee!” His face was white; he was trembling. “Mother! Father! I beg thee!”
Rod snarled, swinging his hand up again.
Magnus stiffened; his jaw set.
Rod swung, with his full weight behind it…
… And shot through the air, slamming back against the wall.
He rolled to his feet and stood up slowly, face drained of color, rigid and trembling. “I told you never to use your ‘witch powers’ on me,” he grated, “and I told you why!” He straightened to his full height, feeling the rage swell within him.
Geoffrey and Cordelia scurried to hide behind Gwen’s skirts. She gathered Magnus to her, but he kept his face toward his father, terror in his eyes, trembling, but determined to protect.
Rod stared at them, all united against him, ready to pick him up with their magic and hurl him into his grave. His eyes narrowed, pinning them with his glare; then his eyes lost focus as he reached down inside himself—deep down, reaching across an abyss—to the psi powers that had lain so long dormant, but which had been awakened by the projective telepathy of Lord Kern, in another universe, one in which magic worked. His powers weren’t as readily accessible as his family’s; he couldn’t work magic just by willing it, as easily as thinking, but once he’d drawn them up, his were at least as great as theirs. He called those powers up now, feeling their strength build within him.
“Mother,” came Magnus’s voice, across a huge void, “we must…”
“Nay!” Gwen said fiercely. “He is thy father, whom thou dost love—when this fit’s not on him.”
What did that mean! The powers paused in their building…
A smaller figure entered his blurred field of vision, to the side and a little in front of the family group, gazing up at him, head tilted to the side—three-year-old Gregory. “Daddy is’n’ there,” he stated.
That hit Rod like a bucketful of cold water; the complete, calm, sanity of the child’s tone—so open, so reasonable—and the totally alien quality of the words. His eyes focused in a stare at his youngest son, and fear hollowed his vitals—fear, and a different anger under it; anger at the futurians who had kidnapped him and the rest of his family away from this child while Gregory was still a baby. The desertion, Rod feared, had totally warped the boy’s personality, making him quiet, indrawn, brooding, and sometimes, even weird. His gaze welded to Gregory’s face, his fear for Gregory burying his anger at the rest of the family; it ebbed, and was gone.
“Who’s not there?” he whispered.
“Lord Kern,” Gregory answered, “that Daddy like thee, in that Faerie Gramarye thou’st talk of.”
Rod stared at him.
Then he stepped closer to the boy. Magnus took a step toward Gregory, too, but Rod waved him away impatiently. He dropped to one knee, staring into the three-year-old’s eyes. “No… no, Lord Kern isn’t anywhere—except, maybe, in his own universe, that Faerie Gramarye. But why should you think he was?”
Gregory cocked his head to the other side. “But didst thou not, but now, reach out to touch his mind with thine own, to draw upon his powers?”
Rod just gazed at the boy, his face blank.
“Gregory!” Gwen cried in anguish, and she took a step toward him, then drew back for Rod still knelt staring at the child, his face blank.
Then he looked up at Gwen, with an irritated frown. “What am I—a bear? Or a wolf?” He raked the children with his glare. “Some kind of wild animal?”
They stared back at him, eyes huge, huddled together.
His face emptied again. “You think I am. You really think I am, don’t you?”
They stared back, wordlessly, eyes locked on him.
He held still, rigid.
Then he swung up to his feet, turning on his heel, and strode to the door.
Cordelia darted after him, but Gwen reached out and caught her arm.
Rod paced out into the bleakness of a day veiled by clouds. A chill wind struck at him, but he didn’t notice.
Rod finally came to a halt at the top of a hill, a mile from home. He stood, staring down at the broad plain below, not really seeing it. Finally, he sank down to sit on the dry grass. His thoughts had slowed in their turmoil as he walked; now, gradually, they sank away, leaving a blank in his mind. Into that, a niggling doubt crept. Softly, he asked, “What happened, Fess?”
The robot-horse answered, though he was a mile away in the stable. Rod heard him through the earphone embedded in his mastoid process, behind his ear. “You lost your temper, Rod.”
Rod’s mouth twitched with impatience. The robot’s horse body might be a distance away in the stable, but the old family retainer could see into him as well as if they were only a foot apart. “Yes, I do realize that much.” The microphone embedded in his maxillary, just above the teeth, picked up his words and transmitted them to Fess. “But it was more than simple anger, wasn’t it?”
“It was rage,” Fess agreed. “Full, thorough, open wrath, without any restraints or inhibitions.”
After a moment, Rod asked, “What would have happened if my family hadn’t been able to defend themselves so well?”
Fess was silent. Then he said, slowly, “I would hope that your inborn gentleness and sense of honor would have protected them adequately, Rod.”
“Yes,” Rod muttered. “I would hope so, too.”
And he sat, alone in his guilt and self-contempt, in silence. Even the wind passed him by.
Quite some while later, cloth rustled beside him. He gave no sign of having heard, but his body tensed. He waited, but only silence filled the spaces of the minutes.
Finally, Rod spoke. “I did it again.”
“Thou didst,” Gwen answered gently. Her voice didn’t blame—but it didn’t console, either.
Something stirred within Rod. It might have risen as anger, but that was burned out of him, now. “Been doing that a lot lately, haven’t I?”
Gwen was silent a moment. Then she said, “A score of times, mayhap, in the last twelvemonth.”
Rod nodded, “And a dozen times last year, and half-a-dozen the year before—and two of those were at the Abbott, when he tried his schism.”
“And a third with the monster which rose from the fens…”
Rod shrugged irritably. “Don’t make excuses for me. It still comes down to my losing my temper with you and the kids, more than with anyone else—and for the last three months, I’ve been blowing up about every two weeks, haven’t I?”
Gwen hesitated. Then she answered, “None so badly as this, my lord.”
“No, it never has been quite as bad as this, has it? But every time, it gets a little worse.”
Her answer was very low. “Thou hast offered hurt to us aforetime…”
“Yes, but I’ve never actually tried it have I?” Rod shuddered at the memory and buried his head in his hands. “First, I just threw things. Then I started throwing them without using my hands. Today, I would’ve thrown Magnus—if Gregory hadn’t interrupted in time.” He looked up at her, scowling. “Where in Heaven’s name did you get that boy, anyway?”
That brought a hint of smile. “I did think we had, mayhap, borne him back from Tir Chlis, my lord.”
“Ah, yes!” Rod stared out over the plain again. “Tir Chlis, that wonderful, magical land of faeries and sorcerers, and—Lord Kern.”
“Even so,” Gwen said softly.
“My other self,” Rod said bitterly, “my analog in an alternate universe—with magical powers unparalleled, and a temper to match.”
“Thou wert alike in many ways,” Gwen agreed, “but temper was not among them.”
“No, and witch powers weren’t either—but I learned how to ‘borrow’ his wizardry, and it unlocked my own powers, powers that I’d been hiding from myself.”
“When thou didst let his rage fill thee,” Gwen reminded gently.
“Which seems to have also unlocked my own capacity for wrath; it wiped out the inhibitions I’d built up against it.”
“Still—there were other inhibitions that thou didst learn to lay aside, also.” Gwen touched his hand, hesitantly.
Rod didn’t respond. “Was it worth it? Okay, so I had been psionically invisible; nobody could read my mind. Wasn’t that better than this rage?”
“I could almost say the sharing of our minds was worth the price of thy bouts of fury,” Gwen said slowly, “save that…”
“Thy thoughts grow dim again, my lord.”
Rod only sat, head bowed.
Then he looked up. “I’m beginning to hide myself away from you again?”
“Hast thou not felt it?”
He stared into her eyes; then he nodded. “Is that any surprise? When I can’t trust myself not to explode into wrath? When I’m beginning to feel as though I’m some sort of subhuman beast? Sheer shame, woman!”
“Thou art worthy of me, my lord.” Her voice was soft, but firm, and so was her hand. “Thou art worthy of me, and of thy children. I’ truth, we are fortunate to have thee.” Her voice shook. “Oh, we are blessed!”
“Thanks.” He gave her hand a pat. “It’s good to hear… Now convince me.”
“Nay,” she murmured, “that I cannot do, an thou’lt not credit what I say.”
“Or even what you do.” Rod bowed his head, and his hand tightened on hers. “Be patient, dear. Be patient.”
And they sat alone in the wind, not looking at each other, two people very much in love but very much separated, clinging to a thin strand that still held them joined, poised over the drop that fell away to fallow lands below.
Magnus turned away from the window with a huge sigh of relief. “They come—and their hands are clasped.”
“Let me see, let me see!” The other three children shot to the window, heads jammed together, noses on the pane.
“They do not regard one another,” Cordelia said dubiously.
“Yet their hands are clasped,” Magnus reminded.
“And,” Cordelia added, troubled, “their thoughts are dark.”
“Yet their hands are elapsed. And if their thoughts are dark, they are also calm.”
“And not all apart,” Gregory added.
“Come away, children,” a deep voice bade them, “and do not leap upon them when they enter, for I misdoubt me an they’d have much patience now with thy clasping and thy pulling.”
The children turned away from the window, to a foot and a half of elf, broad-shouldered, brown-skinned, and pug-nosed, in a forester’s tunic and hose, wearing a pointed cap with a rolled brim and a feather. “Geoffrey,” he warned.
The six-year-old pulled himself away from the window with a look of disgust. “I did but gaze upon them, Robin.”
“Indeed—and I know that thou’rt anxious. Yet I bethink me that thy parents have need of some bit more of room than thou’rt wont to accord them.”
Cordelia flounced down onto a three-legged stool. “But Papa was so angered, Puck!”
“As thou hast told me.” The elf’s mouth tightened at the corners. “Yet thou dost know withal, that he doth love thee.”
“I do not doubt it…” But Cordelia frowned.
Puck sighed and dropped down cross-legged beside her. “Thou couldst scarce do otherwise, if he did truly become as enraged as thou didst tell.” He turned his head, taking in all four children with one gaze. “Gentles, do not reprehend; if you pardon, he will mend.”
They didn’t look convinced.
“Else the Puck a liar call!” the elf cried stoutly.
The door opened, and the children leaped to their feet. They started to back away, but Puck murmured, “Softly,” and they held their ground—warily.
But their father didn’t look like an ogre as he came in the door—just a tall, dark, lean, saturnine man with a rough-hewn face, no longer young; and he seemed dim next to the red-haired beauty beside him, who fairly glowed, making the question of youth irrelevant. Still, if the children had ever stopped to think about it, they would have remarked how well their parents looked together.
They did not, of course; they saw only that their father’s face had mellowed to its usual careworn warmth, and leaped to hug him in relief. “Papa!” Magnus cried, and “Daddy!” Geoffrey piped; Cordelia only clung to his arm and sobbed, while Gregory hugged the other arm, and looked up gravely. “Daddy, thou hast come back again.”
Rod looked into the sober gaze of his youngest, and somehow suspected that the child wasn’t just talking about his coming through the door.
“Oh, Papa,” Cordelia sniffled, “I do like thee so much better when thou’rt Papa, than when thou’rt Lord Kern!”
Rod felt a chill along his spine, but he clasped her shoulder and pressed her against his hip. “I don’t blame you, dear. I’m sure his children feel the same way.” He looked up over the children’s heads, at Puck. “Thanks, Robin.”
“Now, there’s a fair word!” Puck grinned. “Yet I misdoubt me an thou wilt have more such; for there’s one who doth attend thee.” He jerked his head toward the kitchen.
“A messenger?” Rod looked up, frowning. “Waiting
A dapper gentleman in his mid-twenties came into the room, running a finger over a neatly trimmed mustache. Hose clung to well-turned calves, and his doublet was resplendent with embroidery. “Hail, Lord Warlock!”
Gwen’s face blossomed with a smile, and even Rod had to fight a grin, faking a groan. “Hail, harbinger! What’s the disaster?”
“Nay, for once, the King doth summon thee whiles it’s yet a minor matter.”
“Minor.” The single word was loaded with skepticism. Rod turned to Gwen. “Why does that worry me more than his saying, ‘Emergency?’ ”
“ ‘Tis naught but experience,” Gwen assured him. “Shall I ‘company thee?”
“I’d appreciate it,” Rod sighed. “If it’s a ‘minor’ matter, that means social amenities first—and you know how Catharine and I don’t get along.”
“Indeed I do.” Gwen looked quite pleased with herself. Catharine the Queen may have spread her net for Rod, but it was Gwen who had caught him.
Not that Catharine had done badly, of course. King Tuan Loguire had spent his youth as Gramarye’s most eligible bachelor—and it must be admitted that Rod had been a very unknown quantity.
Still was, in some ways. Why else would Gwendylon, most powerful witch in circulation, continue to be interested in him?
Rod looked up at Puck. “Would you mind, Merry Wanderer?”
The elf sighed and spread his arms. “What is time to an immortal? Nay, go about the King’s business!”
“Thanks, sprite.” Rod turned back to Gwen. “Your broom, or mine?”
Gwen bent over the hanging cradle swathed in yards of cloth-of-gold, and her face softened into a tender smile. “Oh, he is dear!”
Queen Catharine beamed down at the baby. She was a slender blonde with large blue eyes and a very small chin. “I thank thee for thy praise… I
“As thou shouldst be.” Gwen straightened, looking up at her husband with a misty gaze.
Rod looked around, hoping she was gazing at someone else. On second thought, maybe not…
Catharine raised a finger to her lips and moved slightly toward the door. Rod and Gwen followed, leaving the child to its nanny, two chambermaids, and two guards.
Another two stood on either side of the outer doorway, under the eagle eye of the proud father. One reached out to close the door softly behind them. Rod looked up at King Tuan, and nodded. “No worries about the succession now.”
“Aye.” Gwen beamed. “Two princes are a great blessing.”
“Well I can think of a few kings who would’ve argued with that.” Rod smiled, amused. “Still, I must admit they’re outnumbered by the kings who’ve been glad of the support of their younger brothers.”
“As I trust our Alain shall be.” Tuan turned away. “Come, let us pass into the solar.” He paced down the hall and into another chamber with a wall of clerestory windows. Rod followed, with the two ladies chattering behind him. He reminded himself that he and Gwen were being signally honored; none of the royal couple’s other subjects had ever been invited into their majesties’ private apartments.
On the other hand, if Gwen had been the kind to brag,
And, of course, there was old Duke Loguire. But that was different; he came under the alias of “Grandpa.” And Brom O’Brien; but the Lord Privy Councillor would, of course, have access to the privy chambers.
On the other hand, Rod tried not to be too conscious of the honor. After all, he had known Tuan when the young King was an outlaw; exiled for courting Catharine; and hiding out in the worst part of town, as King of the Beggars—and unwitting party to the forming of a civil war. “As long as they grow up friends,” he reminded Tuan, “or as much as two brothers can.”
“Aye—and if their friendship doth endure.” A shadow crossed Tuan’s face, and Rod guessed he was remembering his own elder brother, Anselm, who had rebelled against their father, and against Queen Catharine.
“Then must we take great care to ensure their friendship.” Catharine hooked her arm through Tuan’s. “Yet I misdoubt me, my lord, an our guests did come to speak of children only.”
“I’m sure it’s a more pleasant subject than whatever he had in mind,” Rod said quickly.
“And ‘twould have been cause enow, I do assure thee,” Gwen added.
Catharine answered with a silvery laugh. “For thou and I, mayhap—but I misdoubt me an ‘twould interest our husbands overlong.”
“Do not judge us so harshly,” Tuan protested. “Yet I must own that there are matters of policy to be discussed.” He sighed, and turned away to a desk that stood beneath the broad windows, with a map beside it on a floor stand. “Come, Lord Warlock—let us take up less pleasant matters.”
Rod came over, rather reassured; Tuan certainly didn’t seem to feel any urgency.
The young King tapped the map, on the Duchy of Romanov. “Here lies our mutual interest of the hour.”
“Well, as long as it’s only an hour. What’s our bear of a Duke up to?”
“Tis not His Grace,” Tuan said slowly.
Rod perked up; this was becoming more interesting. “Something original would be welcome. Frankly, I’ve been getting a bit bored with the petty rebellions of your twelve great lords.”
“Art thou so? I assure thee,” Tuan said grimly, “I have never found them tedious.”
“What is it, then? One of his petty barons gathering arms and men?”
“I would it were; of that, I’ve some experience. This, though, is a matter of another sort; for the rumors speak of foul magics.”
“Rumors?” Rod looked up from the map. “Not reports from agents?”
“I have some spies in the North,” Tuan acknowledged, “yet they only speak of these same rumors, not of events which they themselves have witnessed.”
Rod frowned. “Haven’t any of them tried to track the rumor to its source?”
Tuan shrugged. “None of those who’ve sent word. Yet I’ve several who have sent me no reports, and mine emissaries cannot find them.”
“Not a good sign.” Rod’s frown darkened. “They might have ridden off to check, and been taken.”
“Or worse,” Tuan agreed, “for the rumors speak of a malignant magus, a dark and brooding power, who doth send his minions everywhere throughout the North Country.”
“Worrisome, but not a problem—as long as all they do is spy. I take it they don’t.”
“Not if rumor speaks truly. These minions, look you, are sorcerers in their own right; and with the power they own, added to that which they gather from their sorcerer-lord, they defeat the local knights ere they can even come to battle. Then the sorcerers enthrall the knights, with their wives and children, too, and take up lordship over all the serfs and peasants of that district.”
“Not too good a deal for the knights and their families,” Rod mused, “but probably not much of a difference, to the serfs and peasants. After all, they’re used to taking orders—what difference does it make who’s giving them?”
“Great difference, if the first master was gentle, and the second was harsh,” Tuan retorted. His face was grim. “And reports speak of actions more than harsh, from these new masters. These sorcerers are evil.”
“And, of course, the peasants can’t do much, against magic.” Rod frowned. “Not much chance of fighting back.”
Tuan shuddered. “Perish the thought! For peasants must never resist orders, but only obey them, as is their divinely appointed role.”
What made Rod’s blood run cold was that Tuan didn’t say it grimly or primly, or pompously, or with the pious air of self-justification. No, he said it very matter-of-factly, as though it were as much a part of the world as rocks and trees and running water, and no one could even think of debating it. How could you argue about the existence of a rock? Especially if it had fallen on your toe…
That was where the real danger lay, of course—not in the opinions people held, but in the concepts they knew to be true—especially when they weren’t.
Rod shook off the mood. “So the chief sorcerer has been knocking off the local lordlings and taking over their holdings. How far has his power spread?”
“Rumor speaks of several baronets who have fallen ‘neath his sway,” Tuan said, brooding, “and even Duke Romanov, himself.”
“I could accomplish it—and I am no wizard.” Tuan shrugged. “ ‘Tis simplicity—close a ring of iron around his castle under cover of night, then hurl an army ‘gainst his barbican, and siege machines against his towers. Invest the castle, and trust to thy ring of knights and men-at-arms to see that not a soul wins free to bear off word.”
Rod shuddered at Tuan’s
“More than ‘guesting,’ as I hear it,” Tuan answered, with a grim smile. “They were thoroughly loyal to Milord Duke, for he had saved them from the stake and embers. They’ve been of great service tending to the ill and injured and, I doubt not, gathering information for him.”
Rod frowned. “They must have been very discreet about it. We make it a practice, in the Royal Coven, not to pry into the minds of anyone except your enemies.”
“Or those who might become so,” Tuan amended. “Who’s to say his witches did more? Nay, once Catharine showed them the way of it, and thou and thy good wife did aid her in forming that band into a battle-weapon, all the lords did learn, and followed suit.”
“And Romanov’s witches couldn’t give him enough advance warning?” Rod pursed his lips. “This sorcerer
“I did. They could not find him.”
“So.” Rod pursed his lips. “What minds
Tuan shrugged. “Only what should be. The plowman followed his oxen, the milkmaid coaxed her swain—naught was there to bring alarm, save that the warlock who listened, could not find the minds of any knights or barons.”
“How about vile thoughts, from evil sorcerers?”
Tuan turned his head slowly from side to side.
“So.” Rod’s gaze strayed back to the map. “On the face of it, nothing’s wrong; it’s just that the Duke of Romanov seems to have taken a vacation to parts unknown, with all his aristocratic retainers.”
“Thou dost see why I do suspect.”
Rod nodded. “Sounds fishy to me, too… not that I can’t understand why the noble Duke would want to take off for a while, though. I’ve been feeling a bit too much stress lately, myself… Gwen?” He turned, to find Gwen standing near. “Been listening?”
“I have.” She smiled. “And I do think thou dost make a great coil of naught.”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly say we’re making a lot of fuss.” Rod locked gazes with Tuan. “Where’s the weeping and wailing? The yelling and hair-tearing?”
“Tis even as thou sayest,” Tuan turned to Gwen. “I do not see great danger here, Lady Gwendylon—only the abuse of witch-power, over those who have it not.”
“And witches ganging up on normals,” Rod added. “But that can all be cured by even more witches—from the good guys. After all, we have a vested interest in the public’s opinion of witches, dear.”
“In truth,” Gwen said firmly, “and we cannot have the folk afeard that witches will seek to govern by force of magic.”
“Of course not,” Rod murmured, “especially when every right-thinking individual knows it has to be done by force of arms.”
Tuan frowned. “How didst thou speak?”
“Uh, nothing.” Rod turned to Gwen. “How about it, dear? A family vacation, wandering toward the North?” When Gwen hesitated, he added, “I don’t really think there’s any danger—at least, none that you and I can’t handle between us.”
“Nay, surely not,” Gwen agreed, but her brow was still furrowed.
“What, then? The kids? I really don’t think they’ll mind.”
“Oh, certes they will not! Yet hast thou considered the trials of shepherding our four upon the road?”
“Sure.” Rod frowned. “We did it in Tir Chlis.”
“I know,” Gwen sighed. “Well, an thou sayest ‘tis for the best, my husband, we shall essay it.”