Into a Dark Realm Book Two of the Darkwar Saga
By Raymond E. Feist
Eos Copyright © 2007 Raymond E. Feist
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-06-079280-0
Chapter One Two and a half years later
"There you are, Aunt Sophie!- Entering the drawing room of the Society for the Enrichment and Learning of Females, Tess Linowes, Lady Golding, smiled.
Lady Braxton looked up from the tome lying open on the desk before her. Her dove gray eyes were filled with delight. "Tess! What a pleasant surprise. How are you?-
"I went to your house and your butler directed me here,-Tess explained, setting a kiss on her aunt's cheek.
"I find my house a bit too quiet for comfort these days.- Aunt Sophie's moon-pale face was melancholy as she set her place with a band and closed the book. She'd lost her husband of twenty-five years to a lung ailment last summer, and Tess could hardly imagine her grief. Her aunt's already graying hair had completely turned slate, as if washed in a cloud of her sorrow.
"I like it here.- Aunt Sophie sighed. "The Society for the Enrichment and Learning of Females has been a salvation for me. I wonder that you don't utilize your membership at the society more frequently, since there is such a premium placed on books and learning.-
Tess busied herself with her gloves, unable to explain that if she associated much with the society's members, she'd be duty bound to spy on them for her supervisor at the Foreign Office, Mr. Tristram Wheaton, atask she'd been putting off for months. Wheaton had insisted that Tess join the society since he was worried that it was a potential vessel for discord.
Tess had joined, but had quickly concluded that the members represented what was best about English society and were simply seeking a refuge to study and enjoy each other's company. She could hardly imagine the founding members, Lady Janelle Blankett, Lady Edwina Devane, and Lady Genevieve Ensley, being traitorous in any way. Thus far, Tess had seen no reason to impose on their privacy, and she prayed that it remained so.
Adjusting her cambric blue gown, Aunt Sophie stood. "Shall I call for tea?-
"That would be wonderful.-
After speaking to the footman, Aunt Sophie reclined into one of the armchairs by the low-burning hearth, and Tess dropped into the seat facing her. Aunt Sophie's eyes seemed sad and her lips were pinched.
Tess reached over and squeezed her aunt's hand. "Are you having a difficult day?-
"This is about the time when I would start planning the festivities.- Staring into the fire, her smile was bitter-sweet. "Chocolate layered cake. A pheasant. Fine brandy ... -
"I think ... -Tess bit her lip.-"that we should still have the party.-
Aunt Sophie's brow furrowed. "You do?-
"Uncle Jack liked nothing better than a good party. What better way to celebrate his wonderful life?-
Aunt Sophie's eyes grew shiny with unshed tears. "A party for Jack.- After a long moment, she nodded. "He would like that.-
"Although we must make it smaller. No Uncle Hayden. Or Cousin Christopher. He's a sweetheart but he always has the most atrocious flatulence.-
Aunt Sophie's lips lifted. "You're dreadful, Tess.-
She smiled, glad to see the light in her aunt's gaze.
"True or not?-
"And he doesn't seem embarrassed by it in the least.-
"True again.- Aunt Sophie sighed. "Thank you, Tess. I think it's a brilliant idea. I'll start planning right away. Will you help me?-
"Of course. Though I am dearly looking forward to that chocolate cake and brandy, I don't give a fig about the rest.-
As she tilted her head, Aunt Sophie's gaze was admiring. "You're always so-oh, I don't know-industrious. You always have a plan or an idea. I'm so envious of your ability to strike out with such confidence, Tess.-
Tess thought about her nightmares, the sleepless nights, the days when her insides felt so twisted with anxiety that she feared being too far afield from a chamber pot. She stared into the fire. "I have my moments, just like everyone else.-
"From the way you act, one would never know it. You have this air of resiliency, of-Aunt Sophie shrugged-"I don't know ... perseverance about you. And you're always so cool. I remember when Jack died and my world was falling apart, you were like an anchor steadying me. I knew that if you were around I would be taken care of.-
Tess lifted a shoulder, uneasy with the praise. "I'm glad that I was able to help.-
"But it's not supposed to be like that. I'm older. Your mother's sister. I'm the one supposed to be helping you.- "You do help me.- Aunt Sophie's look was disbelieving. "I can't recall the last time you allowed someone to help you. And I have no idea where this independence comes from, certainly not my side of the family.- "Talking to you is an inordinate help to me. It keeps me sane when I'm feeling less than rational. Aunt, niece, it doesn't matter, what I like about our relationship is that it transcends assumptions. The best of family.- "Indeed we're family, yet somehow I don't feel toward any of my other nieces or nephews the way I feel about you. Perhaps it's because none is nearly as nice to me as you are.- Tess had nothing to say in her family members' defense; often she understood them as well as she understood the whims of "fashion- that called for new colors and new lines every season. As if everyone had extra gold lying around just waiting to be spent on a new wardrobe.
Aunt Sophie's lips pursed and her eyes were amused. "You've courted favor with the wrong aunt, Tess. Aunt Matilda is the one with the large bank account, not me. As your sister Vivian has made inordinately clear.-
Tess had some choice words for her opportunistic sister, but didn't see the point in giving them air. "Vivian doesn't mean to be so ...-
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