Good and evil fairy factions continue to battle over the fate of Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII, in this lighthearted, historically detailed third installment in the Scepter'd Isle series (after 2005's Ill Met by Moonlight). To prevent the 14-year-old red-haired princess from ascending the throne, the Dark Sidhe, or Unseleighe, plan to destroy her benevolent Seleighe guardians, Lord Denoriel and his twin sister, Aleneil. Without them to guide her, Elizabeth might slip up, misbehave or marry—defeating the prophecy that she will one day rule England. But Denoriel and Aleneil's Dark Sidhe half-siblings, the twins Rhoslyn and Pasgen, shift their allegiances to help Denoriel and Aleniel keep Elizabeth safe and challenge the power of Vidal Dhu, prince of the Dark Sidhe. Lackey and Gellis blend the best of high fantasy with a grand dose of English history. (Feb.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
By Slanderous Tongues (Scepter'd Isle Series #3)by Mercedes Lackey, Roberta Gellis
Great Harry is dead, and England is ruled by a dour Protector for 10-year-old Edward VI–-a Protector intent on keeping total control over the young king and no friend to Lady Elizabeth because of her brother’s fondness for her. In the great lens and the dark pool that hold Visions for the FarSeers of the Bright Court and the Dark, the images change and… See more details below
Great Harry is dead, and England is ruled by a dour Protector for 10-year-old Edward VI–-a Protector intent on keeping total control over the young king and no friend to Lady Elizabeth because of her brother’s fondness for her. In the great lens and the dark pool that hold Visions for the FarSeers of the Bright Court and the Dark, the images change and waver.
A pale, thin girl sometimes wears a crown and sometimes has no head; King Edward and his Court grow misty as he changes from boy to stripling. But the fires of Mary’s reign still burn bright as they swallow writhing men, women, and children, and if she ever reigns the red-haired queen brings a burgeoning of art and joy. Elimination of that last possibility for England is Vidal Dhu’s prime purpose, but he has been forbidden by King Oberon to attack Elizabeth.
Though he may not attack her directly, still he hatches schemes within schemes. And if his plan to involve the young princess in a scandal that would render her unfit to rule in the opinion of the Proctor and his Council, he has more twisted plans to eliminate Elizabeth once and for all.
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By Slanderous Tongues
By Mercedes Lackey Roberta Gellis
Baen Publishing EnterprisesCopyright © 2006 Mercedes Lackey & Roberta Gellis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneElizabeth's world had fallen apart again. That morning a messenger had come to Katherine Ashley, Elizabeth's governess, from William Cecil, to say that a Dirge for King Henry would be sung and the bells rung in all churches that night. It was very kind of Master Cecil, who must be furiously busy. No one else seemed to have thought at all of what the loss of her father meant to Elizabeth.
A tear dripped down onto the book cover Elizabeth was embroidering, and she found her kerchief to blot her work and wipe her eyes. Across the hearth from her, Kat looked up. Kat had been with Elizabeth since she was three years old and Elizabeth knew Kat loved her as deeply as if she had birthed her. But she did not understand what the king's death meant. She did not understand that, fickle and often arbitrary as he had been, the king had been all that stood between Elizabeth and peril. She also did not understand that, fickle and arbitrary as he had been, Elizabeth had looked up to, and sometimes even worshipped her grand, glorious father, dazzling even in his ruin. The sun had left the sky, and what illuminated it now? A sad, sickly moon.
"What will become of me," Elizabeth murmured, her voice too low to carry to anyone but Kat.
"Nothingbad, love," Kat said soothingly. "You were very well provided for in King Henry's will. You will have lands and manors, and live just as you have always done."
"But who will tell me where to live and with whom? You know the king always decided which manor I should use and when I should share households with Edward, and now that is impossible. Edward is the king." She drew a sharp breath and tears flooded her eyes again. "Will we be allowed to choose in what manor to live?" Impossible, surely, and did she even want it? To decide things for herself-a prospect at this moment more frightening than attractive.
"I think perhaps you would be considered a little too young for that. You are only fourteen years old. You must give the Council time, Lady Elizabeth. There are so many things they must decide upon and they know you are safe here at Enfield with me and your household."
It was not the first time that Elizabeth had posed these questions to her governess since the king, her father, had died, and Kat looked anxiously at her charge. Elizabeth had her lower lip between her teeth, but she did not have that pallid, hollow-eyed look that Kat recognized as a sign of real physical illness.
The girl's cheeks were pale, but they always were because she had the white complexion that went with her red hair-except her skin was not so thin and delicate as some redheads and, thank God, she had no freckles. Her eyes were not her father's blue but her mother's brown. Fortunately, unlike Anne Boleyn's eyes, Elizabeth's were very light, almost golden when Elizabeth was happy. She was not beautiful but she was pretty enough to attract a man.
There was a prospect that had only just occurred to Kat of late ... and not one she relished. Lady Elizabeth was still a valuable marriage pawn. Her disposition would be at the will of King Edward-or rather, King Edward's governors. Attracting men was not safe.
Kat bit her lip. Surely Elizabeth was too young to marry, but with her father, King Henry, dead, who knew what the Council would decide to do with the second in line for the throne. Doubtless the Councilors were fighting among themselves for power. Would one of them suddenly appear at Enfield and try to take possession of Elizabeth? The Lady Mary, Elizabeth's older sister, was the heir apparent, but she was a woman grown and had a much larger household to defend her.
What should I do, Kat wondered fearfully, if a Councilor appears and demands that Elizabeth be in his charge? Kat glanced toward the door, outside of which one of Elizabeth's four guardsmen stood. They were devoted and good fighters, but none of them was young and there were only four, although Dunstan, the Groom of the Chamber and the two stablemen, Ladbroke and Tolliver would fight too.
What if men coming to take Elizabeth had a legal writ signed by Edward? Then to resist them would be treason. But if they did not have a writ, then not resisting them would be treason.... And how could Kat tell a legal writ from one that was forged?
Oh, she was being ridiculous, Kat told herself, no one was going to try to seize Elizabeth. The young king, Edward, was whom they would be fighting over. And there would be much jockeying over which noble daughter he would wed, too. Young as he was, younger than Elizabeth, they would want him safely wed, and bedded to, if that were possible. But Kat wished Lord Denno would come. He would know what was going on in London; he would know what to do. Surely Lord Denno had not abandoned Elizabeth. She looked at Elizabeth again, but said nothing, returning her gaze to her own needlework.
Elizabeth, however, had been aware of the slightly tremulous quality in Kat's voice and of her anxious scrutiny. For a moment, her vision was too blurred to take another stitch, and she looked into the lively fire in the small hearth. The tears refracted her vision so that for one instant she thought she saw a little red salamander twisting and leaping with joy in the flames.
A single blink restored the fire to just orange and yellow light. Elizabeth sighed. Having her world fall apart was no new sensation for her. The first time it had happened she had been only three. That was when her mother had disappeared and no one would tell her where or why Anne Boleyn had gone. And suddenly she was no longer Princess Elizabeth but only Lady Elizabeth and instead of being cosseted and almost drowned in clothes and so many toys she had no time to play with them, there were no new toys at all and hardly enough clothing to keep her warm.
The world had slowly mended itself. Darling Kat had come to be her governess and a new household, much smaller but in some ways closer and warmer, had formed. And she had been taught to read and write-what a joy that was. She had hardly been conscious of what was happening outside her own small world, but her father had taken a new wife and had a son. That was very good because she was no longer a source of trouble for him. So now and then she had some notice from the king, her father, and his blessing. Henry had still been hale and hearty enough to be a modicum of the godlike, glorious "Bluff Hal" of his best years.
Only little Edward's mama had died. The next lady had not been to her father's taste, but she was willing to be divorced. So her father had been free to marry Catherine Howard, Elizabeth's own cousin. At first that had been all joy; Elizabeth had been invited to Court and made much of until the truth of Catherine's promiscuity was exposed ... and Elizabeth's world had been shattered again.
Elizabeth swallowed, set down her embroidery, and chaffed her hands together to warm them. The memory of the black desolation that had seized her after Catherine's execution-a desolation laid upon her by a spell that nearly killed her-could still chill the very marrow of her bones. She knew it could never happen again; she had protection now. Defensively, staring into the fire, Elizabeth raised her shields both inner and outer, felt herself inviolate behind them, and was reassured.
Raising the shields in her mind and on her body reminded her that she had a few other tricks too. The corners of Elizabeth's lips quirked when she thought of the effects of tanglefoot and stickfast, and, in dire need, of gwythio and cilgwythio.
She lifted the embroidery and set another stitch, then frowned and looked at it more closely. "Kat," she said, "I have just bethought myself ... Is this work grand enough? Do you think I should redo part of the embroidery using more gold and silver thread? Edward is no longer my dear little brother. He is king now."
Relieved to hear such a practical and reasonable doubt, instead of the repeated fears about what would happen to her, Kat leaned forward and took Elizabeth's work from her hands.
She looked over the design carefully and said, "Grace of God, I never thought of that. It is true that any pretty design was enough in the past. King Edward would have enjoyed it because you made it for him. He does love you dearly but ... but as you say, he is king now."
The echo of Elizabeth's own words hammered home the meaning. Edward was king because her father was dead!
Cold swept over Elizabeth again and she shuddered. It did not seem possible that Henry VIII could be dead. He had always been there ruling England. He had always been larger than life, the one most important being in the world. He had always directed her fate. How could he be dead? How could ten-year-old Edward be king?
And, she swallowed hard, where did that leave her? What would be her place now? Would the provisions of her father's will be kept? Would she remain the second in line for the throne? What would happen to her?
Underhill. Elizabeth could barely think the word and her lips would not form it, even silently, but she knew it was there, a safe haven if all else failed. She clasped her hands tightly together in her lap and shuddered.
Was Underhill still there for her? Too vivid in her mind was the dreadful quarrel she had had with Underhill's king. How could she have been so foolish? Surely after dealing with her father, knowing that meekness and devotion were the only paths to winning any concession from him, she should have known better than to openly contest King Oberon's will. But it was for her Denno! She had nearly lost Lord Denno!
Nearly lost him more than one way, Elizabeth thought, but she did not feel like weeping over that memory. Although she was frightened by remembering, she was also warmed by recalling how Denno had leapt in front of her to shield her from any blow Oberon might have launched.
She was thrilled to see with her own eyes Denno's devotion. Still-she should have been more careful. Denno always said he would guard her to his death. This time it might have come to that. But Queen Titania had come just in time and snatched them out from under Oberon's power, sending them all whirling back to where they belonged.
Nonetheless, the last look she had had of King Oberon's face had not been reassuring. She had feared he would loose the blast he planned for her at his queen. But Denno had assured her that Queen Titania would not be hurt because King Oberon desired her above all else. Elizabeth was glad to hear that, but Denno looked ... odd when he said it. His eyes had taken on a kind of glazed shine and his lips seemed to be fuller than usual. Suddenly Elizabeth wondered what it would be like to kiss those lips.
For a moment she was shocked at the thought. Lady Elizabeth, the king's daughter, the third highest lady in all of England, thinking of kissing a common merchant! Of course, he was a lord in his own world and she had kissed Lord Denno before, a peck on the cheek, when he had particularly pleased her, but ... Elizabeth looked into the fire again, feeling warmer. This was different. She had not been thinking of a light peck of gratitude when she thought of Denno's lips.
Should she try ... No! He would be so shocked. He thought of her only as a child and she was forever getting him into so much trouble. This last visit Underhill Oberon had threatened to strip Lord Denno of his powers and send a new guardian to watch over her. Elizabeth felt herself growing furious all over again. How dare Oberon make free with her people?
"Well," Kat's voice broke into Elizabeth's thoughts. "I believe if you just make all the centers of the flowers gold, and perhaps stitch a line of silver around most of the leaves that you will not have to unpick anything. Perhaps I can find a pearl or two to add to the bottom of the place marker."
Elizabeth agreed readily, took back the embroidery, and began to stitch at it again, smiling slightly. Yes, Denno was hers, yet it was true that Denno was also King Oberon's subject. Elizabeth sighed, but this time her fingers did not falter on her work. Her own father would have been no more accepting if a foreign person had claimed first right to one of his subject's services.
Yet, Elizabeth thought, she did come first. Denno had gone Underhill to find out whether King Oberon had truly been angry or only seeking information in his own devious way. Elizabeth had a sudden, vivid mental picture of Lord Denno, an image of courage and defiance, facing his king. Her heart squeezed tight in panic. She hoped he had not found more trouble trying to serve her. She wished he would come. He had been gone for several days.
Elizabeth's Lord Denno in his own place was Lord Denoriel Seincyn Macreth Silverhair, warrior and noble among the Seleighe Sidhe, rider with Koronos in the Wild Hunt ... and chosen by the FarSeers of Avalon to guide and protect the red-haired woman who-if she came to the throne-would bring such glory and honor to England, much joy and power to the Seleighe Sidhe.
He had not willingly taken up the duty laid upon him by the FarSeers, among whom was his own twin sister, Aleneil. Denoriel, the warrior, had been appalled at being turned into a nursemaid. But he had found far more danger, interest, and excitement in the mortal world than ever touched him Underhill. Being a merchant was fascinating. He did not need the money, of course. He could ken gold to fill his coffers with little effort, but seeking merchandise and buying and selling to earn a profit ...
Denoriel laughed aloud and stepped into the room in which he mostly lived, when-more and more rarely these days-he was in his apartments at Llachar Lle, the so-called Summer Palace in Elfhame Logres. Lachar Lle-Denoriel often remarked that he could not imagine why it was called the Summer Palace since the weather Underhill invariably suited itself to the being experiencing it and never changed. The thought flicked through his mind and he dismissed it. His twin sister Aleneil was already waiting, and Denoriel sat down in a cushioned chair opposite the sofa she had chosen.
He had long since accepted the fact that they no longer looked much like twins. Aleneil, like most Sidhe, showed no sign of ageing; her hair was spun gold, her eyes emerald green, their black long oval pupils enhancing the color. Her complexion was a flawless, lucent white with just enough rose in cheeks and lips to confirm her blooming health.
Familiar with his own image, because in the mortal world he often needed to look into a mirror to check that illusion covered his oval pupils and long, pointed ears, Denoriel knew he was the one who had changed. The battle with Vidal and his minions when Elizabeth was a baby had damaged him.
No, not actually the battle but his drinking the lightning that was the magic of the mortal world in order to fight when his own strength was gone. His hair was white now rather than gold, lines of pain creased the corners of his eyes and bracketed his mouth, and his skin was tanned and hardened by its exposure to the sun and changeable weather of the World Above. Fortunately no further damage had been done him in this last confrontation with Vidal. Whatever curse Vidal had cast on him that caused him such pain, Oberon had negated.
The changes were all to the good, of course. He would have had to remember to disguise himself with such changes as the years passed so that Elizabeth's human governess and household officers did not wonder why thirty years had left no mark on him. Now there was no need, only to remember to make the pupils of his eyes look round and hide the long pointed ears behind an illusion of human ones.
At least Aleneil no longer asked anxiously if he was well each time they met. She had grown accustomed to his new appearance.
"What a frown," Aleneil said, looking away from the scene of a meadow with a manor house fronting a small copse of trees that one saw through the window of Denoriel's parlor. There was now a glimpse of silver water off to the side of the trees; it was an enchanting illusion, all the more intriguing because it seemed to grow and change. Denoriel's skill with magic was continuing to increase, Aleneil thought approvingly.
"I was just thinking of Prince Vidal Dhu."
Aleneil made a face. "I agree, thought of Vidal is enough to make anyone frown. I try not to think of him at all."
Excerpted from By Slanderous Tongues by Mercedes Lackey Roberta Gellis Copyright © 2006 by Mercedes Lackey & Roberta Gellis. Excerpted by permission.
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