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Mayfair, London, February 1851
"We live in an age where people can travel on ships that fly through the air." The sharp rap of an umbrella point on the wooden floor of the carriage punctuated the sentence. "Where a machine can calculate the distance between the stars in less time than it takes you to tie your cravat. I fail to comprehend why, in such an otherwise enlightened era, your ridiculously hidebound Order of the Round Table should refuse to admit female Knights."
"You answered your own question, aunt, when you said the words 'ridiculously hidebound.'" Sir Merrick Hadrian smiled across the coach at his aunt Dorothy, the woman who had more or less raised him since his mother's death when he was six, despite the fact that she was only eight years his senior. This argument was as old and comfortable as his favorite walking boots. "I am in complete agreement with you that the Order of the Round Table is a stodgy and backward organization, so arguing with me is pointless."
"Then do something about it." There was another thump from the umbrella.
"I am merely a foot soldier, aunt. I assure you, my opinion is well known among my superiors." And it was one of the reasons Merrick hadn't advanced into the inner circle of the Knights' leadership. Not that he minded. He was still young and hale enough to prefer fieldwork.
"Yes, but as those fuddy-duddies die off and retire, you will gain power. I want you to promise me you'll work to open the doors. Mathematics, the sciences, engineering-all these professions are slowly proving that women can and do make valid contributions. Law and medicine cannot be far behind."
Merrick idly wondered if Dorothy had a shrine in her room to Ada, Lady Lovelace, whose work with Lord Babbage on his analytical engine had both changed the world technologically, and proven beyond doubt that women were the intellectual equals of men.
"You know very well, nephew, I was born with just as much innate ability as some of those striplings we met at the MacKays' ball last evening."
"In deductive reasoning, as well as in magickal power." It was easy to agree with her as she was right. Sir William MacKay was Merrick's friend and mentor, but Merrick hadn't been at all impressed by Sir William's latest recruits to the Order. "Hell, probably even in swordplay."
Dorothy grinned back at him, her brown eyes, a mirror image of his own, lighting in affection. "Good lad." She patted him on the cheek as if he wasn't thirty-five years old, just as the carriage rolled to a halt in front of her favorite ladies' lending library.
Merrick leapt out of the coach to help her down. Not that she needed it, of course, but manners were still manners, after all. The cold snap they'd been enduring had left small patches of ice on the road, and he made sure his footing was solid before he held out his hand for Dorothy to alight.
Once on the pavement, his aunt leaned up to kiss his cheek. "Thank you for the lift, dear. I'll see you at four."
Before Merrick could reply, he heard the sound of scurrying footsteps, then a little shriek just before someone slammed into his shoulder. He let go of his aunt and spun to catch the woman who slipped about in thin-soled boots. A strange jolt ran up from the point where his gloved hand clamped down on her arm, through a threadbare woolen coat. Magick?