July 21, 1821 Schofield House, London
I know you shall be most dreadfully angry with me for not writing you with the latest news sooner, but I hesitated to disturb you when I know you're already so busy with Arthur and Eleanor. When I arrived in London, I was exhausted from a week of chasing them, and I'm sure they can only be running faster by now.
And, well, the longer I waited to start the letter, the more there was to write about. Until now I have the time to write it all from start to finish. This is my poor excuse for having waited until the end of the excitement to write to you, and I can only hope you will forgive me.
It all began shortly after we arrived in London. We'd only just settled in and had tea, Thomas was muttering over the newspaper, and I was reading the very scandalous Lord Byron poems you gave me, when Graves said that the Earl of Shoreham wished to speak with us.
Before I could even ask the man's business, Thomas urged Graves to bring him right in.
"You know him, I assume," I said, laying my book on the end table.
"Not well," Thomas said with a shrug," but I've heard that he holds a rather sensitive position in the government, so I doubt he's here to invite us to an evening at Vauxhall."
Graves ushered Lord Shoreham in and we had the usual flurry of introductions, greetings, and offers of tea.
"Not that it isn't pleasant to have visitors," Thomas said with mild sarcasm, "but might I ask the reason for your visit?"
Shoreham took a breath and looked askance at me.
Thomas hid a grin. "You need not fear to speak in front of my wife. I have no secrets from her and she is often of great assistance to me." I did my best to look calm and useful.
Shoreham smiled. "I understand. You remind me of another magician of my acquaintance." He nodded, as if to himself. "Then I shall get straight to business. There is something nasty afoot," he said.
"Isn't there always?"
"I'm quite serious. Someone has rediscovered the Tanistry spells and is using them in London."
As you might imagine, Cecy, I gasped. "Who?"
"We're not certain. We have found traces of the spell, but always in some public place with no clues to tell us who might be leaving them." Shoreham paused and that was when I realized the lines around his eyes were of exhaustion, not age.
Thomas slowly pounded his right fist on the arm of his chair. "That is unacceptable."
"It gets worse," Shoreham said.
"Worse than stealing people's lives and magic?" I asked. Thomas crossed his arms, looking skeptical.
"Yes." Shoreham took a deep breath. "I believe that this unknown person might have developed a variation that allows him to take the energy in small parts from large groups of people."
I covered my mouth to stifle another gasp and Thomas uncrossed his arms, sitting forward in his seat. "That's not possible," he said. "The logistics alone--"
Shoreham held up a hand. "I will provide you with all the particulars, but I am certain of my conclusions."
Thomas inclined his head. "I bow to your experience, sir. As Kate would certainly agree, we are at your service. How may we assist you in catching this..." He paused, obviously searching for a word suitable for my tender ears.
"Fiend?" I suggested.
Lips quirked, Thomas looked at me. "Excellent choice." He sobered again. "What do you wish us to do, Shoreham?"
The other man seemed relieved. "I wish you to find this...fiend, so we may capture him. You are nearly the only people I can be *sure* are not conducting these experiments. You have not been present in London these past weeks and you had ample opportunity to use this knowledge previously and instead brought it to the attention of the Royal College. These two facts allow me to trust you, but few other powerful wizards."
Thomas stared into the fireplace, brow creased in thought. "With your permission, I would like to ask my mother for assistance."
"The Dowager Marchioness?" Shoreham's eyes widened and a slow smile spread across his face. "She had not occurred to me, but I can see how she might be able to help."
"To begin with," I said, feeling the need to put a word in for Lady Sylvia, "I am told she is a wizard of no mean ability."
"Indeed," Shoreham said, "she is. And it would take a far braver man than I to accuse her of such misdeeds."
Thomas coughed to cover his laugh. "Braver than I, as well. And I shouldn't care to think how she might react if we undertook such a grave investigation without her."
Thomas gave me a look, which I interpreted to mean that he intended to get all the magical details now and perhaps I might summon his mother. (I presume that you and James have also learned how to exchange such meaning-filled glances by this time. It is certainly one beneficial side effect of marriage.)
I sent a page upstairs immediately, grateful Lady Sylvia was in residence, and went to the kitchen to tell Cook that we should expect one more for dinner. For surely Thomas and Lord Shoreham would spend hours debating the magic involved.
I'm sure you're desperate to know all the details of what Lord Shoreham said, but you will have to wait for Thomas or Lady Sylvia to relay them, for I'm afraid I was lost nearly instantly. I spent the time rather more profitably considering which of our many acquaintances would allow us the widest access to the world of wizards. As I made a list, I made a mental note to ask Lady Sylvia to look it over for me.
I cannot recall very much of that evening, as Thomas and Lord Shoreham discussed magical investigations and defenses, and Lady Sylvia assisted them and helped me plan our visiting schedule.
At one point, Thomas sighed. "Shoreham, there's one thing I won't forgive you."
Everyone gave him a strange look. "In the course of this investigation," he said, "I shall have to make conversation with a great many boring people."
That evening, after Lord Shoreham left and Lady Sylvia retired, Thomas stopped me from going up the stairs, putting his hands on my shoulders with a serious expression.
"If you are about to ask me to leave London and return to Waycross, you may save your breath," I said before he could even open his mouth.
He squeezed my shoulders, face tightening. "You are the most exasperating--"
"I'm not going, Thomas."
He threw his hands up in the air. "And if you had waited a moment to allow me to finish my thought, you would realize that I had no intention of sending you away."
"Do you believe I would bring my mother into this venture, but send you away?"
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that." I frowned. "Then what *were* you going to say?"
Thomas rubbed his forehead. "I wanted to teach you a spell."
"I'm no magician."
"So you say. But I think you have more talent than you know."
"If you say so, dear." I was exhausted and dubious, but willing to humor him if it made him happy.
"Just sit down with me and learn the components of this simple spell, because I fear someday--possibly soon--you may need it."
He led me back into the drawing room. "But Thomas," I said, "what does this spell *do*?"
"It allows you to call me, wherever you are. And with the proper preparation, the spell can be activated by a few words and gestures."
I brightened at that. That could certainly be a *very* useful spell.
Over the next few days, we entered the social whirl with a greater speed than I'd ever encountered. I attended balls, teas, musicales, and other such events with Thomas and Lady Sylvia. My job--you will be amused to know--was to talk. And talk. And tell some of my greatest bouncers, to distract our hosts and the other guests while the two wizards searched people and property for traces of those horrid spells.
After three days, Thomas and I were becoming discouraged and even Lady Sylvia showed minor signs of exhaustion. I was concerned they might be too tired to confront our fiend when they found him, but Thomas assured me they had no intentions of facing him without the backup of significant portions of the Royal College.
I was still worried, however.
On the third evening after Lord Shoreham's visit, we attended a card party at Lord Darver's townhouse. I was growing very tired of Madeira and ratafia, but I sustained myself with the memory of Sir Hilary and Miranda Griscomb. Dainty foodstuffs and sickeningly sweet drinks were a small price to pay to prevent similar villains from injuring others.
But I couldn't help but notice how my stomach rolled as I bathed in preparation for going out. Sighing, I resolved to eat something soothing before we left.
I put on the rose silk you selected for me this spring, hoping it would give me strength, and Thomas and I set out in our carriage. The evening went like every other until I felt the oddest sensation through my ring. I jumped so high that I trod upon the toe of Lord Farnhope, who had been attempting to peer down my dress for at least ten minutes. (I had begun to hope that he was our villain, because any man who could treat a young married lady so could hardly be a gentleman.)
I knew Thomas was uninjured, but he had definitely used his magic for something larger than the detection spell. I set off to find him, not bothering with more than the barest curtsey and a murmured, "Pardon me."
You know that I've been practicing using the ring to monitor Thomas, but with little luck. And I had not had the opportunity (or the reason) to test its directional ability during a crowded card party in a London townhouse. It was decidedly less than perfect, but since I felt no further alarms from Thomas, I decided it was no emergency.
Within a few minutes, I had ascended to the second level, where I was forced to duck into a small linen closet to avoid several maids hurrying down the hall. No sooner had I closed the door and stifled a sneeze from the mothballs, but I heard Thomas' voice above me.
"Why should I believe you?" he asked. "After all, I've found you in a most compromising position, here in a room with these materials."
"No more compromising than *your* position," an amused voice responded, "creeping around your host's rooms like a common thief."
"Thief?" Thomas said, with a hint of growl. "You're the one who--"
"I was cleared. Of all charges." The voice was no longer amused.
There was a pause and I stared upward, trying to discern what rooms lay above me. If the layout was as I suspected, they probably stood in an empty bedroom at the rear of the house.
"My apologies, Merrill," Thomas said eventually. "I am aware of that. However, I am in pursuit of the person who is using the materials in this room, and if you are that person, then I must ask you to step away and accompany me to the Ministry of Wizards."
I groaned silently at my husband's foolishness and flung myself out of the closet and toward the stairs. Sadly, as lovely as the rose silk is, it is not precisely suited for dashing about, and I found myself tripping more than usual as I tried to find my husband.
It took so long, by the time I threw open the correct door, I was certain I would find him engaged in a magical duel to the death. I was prepared to throw myself upon his opponent and distract him, even risking my life if necessary.
After preparing for such dire extremes, it is rather a letdown to find one's husband bent over a pile of ashes, with the supposed villain next to him, both of them waving their hands and debating some fine point of magical use.
"Don't be ridiculous," Thomas said irritably, "it's definitely not Boylan's Corollary. That would cause the whole thing to unbalance and destroy a wall."
"But if you shift the corner of this diagram," said a man slightly taller than Thomas, with a round face and dark hair, "then the extra stability might just make it work."
Breath heaving, I stared at them. Thomas glanced up. The other man didn't even look up at me. "What's really ingenious is this bit over here..."
I coughed loudly. Thomas stood up and held out his hand. "Merrill, may I introduce my wife, Lady Schofield. Kate, this is Richard Merrill. He's also been pursuing our villain."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," I said, politeness slightly strained.
Merrill finally looked up, his eyes finally focusing on me. "Pleased to meet you," he said.
I waited for them to leap into action, but when it appeared they were about to go back to their argument, I put my hands on my hips and glared at them. "I would love to allow the two of you the luxury to stand here all day, but has it occurred to you that we're in the middle of a party?"
They blinked at me, expressions of confusion nearly identical.
"At any moment," I said slowly and clearly, "someone might notice that three guests are wandering around an upper level of the house."
Thomas and Merrill looked at each other and then started setting the room to rights. Tapping my toes, I waited.
Now that he'd been distracted from the scholarly aspects of the magic, Thomas was frowning again, remembering what these spells could *do*. He and Merrill finished what they were doing, took a quick look around, and then Thomas took my arm and we left the room in a hurry.
"We need to talk to Shoreham," Merrill said.
Thomas nodded, peering around a corner to make sure we had the passage free. "I'm sure he's still in his office."
"Don't you think," I said, "that jumping into a carriage and riding straight for his office might raise a few suspicions?"
"I know some messengers who'll go unnoticed," Merrill said. "I can have him meet us at my brother's house in Grosvenor Square."
Thomas raised an eyebrow as we stepped carefully down the back steps and neared the party.
"Won't your brother think it odd that we're descending upon him at this time of night?" I asked.
"Not at all," Merrill said with a shrug. "Nobody in my family would think it odd that another wizard came to visit me at odd hours. Besides, Andrew's out of town. We will have to watch out for my mother's monkey, though."
Merrill stepped into a hallway, nearly running down Sophie von Roche and her daughter. He bowed in apology to them as they continued toward the ballroom, then turned back to us. "You know the house?" he asked Thomas.
Merrill bowed to us and disappeared into the drawing room.
We continued walking out of habit, nodding at acquaintances. Eventually I said, "Monkey?"
"Hmmph," Thomas said. "The man's always been a bit of an eccentric. Runs in the family. He's a good wizard, though."
"Well, then," I said with a sigh, "I suppose that makes up for any number of monkeys. Now could we please find somewhere to sit down? I'm afraid I was not prepared for this sort of exercise."
I could see that Thomas was desperate to leave immediately, but we needed to be seen in attendance at the party and I really did need to sit down. Since our adventurous Grand Tour, my married life has been fairly sedentary (when we're not chasing your twins, of course), and I was simply *exhausted* and a bit ill from running about and fearing for Thomas' life.
Eventually we had circulated and re-established our whereabouts to my satisfaction (and my feet and stomach could take no more) and we set out in the carriage for Grosvenor Square. Thomas suggested taking me back to Schofield House, but I wished to be kept informed of his plans, and I felt this was the only way to be certain of that.
After all, you know Thomas, and if I don't keep a close eye on him, he's prone to silly masculine ideas.
Fortunately, we were nearby, so it was only a few minutes before we were alighting at the right townhouse. As Merrill had predicted, nobody seemed at all surprised that he was having guests at such a late hour, and a maid showed us directly to the library.
There we found Merrill, a young lady, and an older woman holding a monkey, all poring over a pile of books. Even at such a late hour, I was able to determine that the latter must be his mother.
Thomas nodded to Merrill and bowed to his mother. "Lady Wendall, it is good to see you again."
She smiled benevolently. "And to see you, sir. Please introduce me to your lovely bride."
"Kate, this is Lady Wendall. She is infinitely more civilized than her son, even if she has a monkey."
Merrill looked up from a book he and the young woman were handing back and forth. "Pardon me?"
Lady Wendall coughed. "Never mind, dear. Please come and introduce your wife."
The young woman looked up and frowned. "Why can't I introduce myself? I can speak."
Merrill covered his mouth, but not quickly enough to hide his grin. Lady Wendall was more successful in hiding her amusement, and with great composure said, "It's simply the way it is done. Please humor us."
The young woman shrugged and she and Merrill stood. "Lord Schofield, Lady Schofield," Merrill said, "may I introduce my lady wife, Kim Merrill?"
"I'm pleased to meet you," Kim said with a short curtsey.
Thomas bowed and I murmured, "A pleasure."
"Now can we get down to business?" Kim asked, sitting down gracelessly. I yearned to sit down as well--it had been a long evening, following hard upon the heels of several long days.
I took a step forward and nearly fell as my legs gave out under me. Thomas caught me, face paling. "Kate?"
"I'm feeling not quite the thing," I admitted, blinking a few times to keep him in focus.
There were a few moments of bustle as everyone shuffled chairs and arranged for tea and other such things. Once I was sitting down and sipping tea, I began to feel better.
"Kate," Thomas said, "you didn't touch anything in that room, did you?"
"What?" I looked up. "No, of course not."
Merrill looked at him sharply. "You think she's been affected by the spell?"
"But I'm not a wizard," I protested.
"You can do some spells, though," Thomas said, "and that makes you enough of a magician for the purposes of theft."
"Oh!" I frowned at him. "But Thomas, I was feeling unwell before we left home this evening. So that can't be it. And besides, you and Mr. Merrill are fine, are you not?"
Kim sat up straight, muttering a few words as she pointed at her husband. Thomas and Merrill stared at her and she shrugged. "The spell checks if he's hurt and it says nothing happened."
Merrill's eyebrows shot up. "You created a spell to check if I'm injured?"
"I figured one day you wouldn't bother to tell me you'd been hurt and I'd need to know."
Lady Wendall smiled at Kim. "Very commendable. You'll have to teach me that spell."
Thomas rubbed his forehead. "So if you haven't been drained by the Tanistry spells, what's wrong?"
"I'm just tired, Thomas. That's all," I said firmly, putting down my teacup. "Now let's discuss something more pertinent."
Lady Wendall shot me an unreadable look but before she could say anything, Lord Shoreham was escorted into the room.
I'm afraid I can't report much of what happened over the next hour either, as I found myself dozing in my chair. I do recall a conversation with Kim in which we agreed that our husbands were most infuriating creatures. Lovely girl. Thomas tells me she has a most interesting background, and I plan to cultivate her acquaintance because Thomas won't tell me what her background is. Provoking man.
In any case, she seems the sort Aunt Charlotte wouldn't approve of, so I'm sure we're going to get along splendidly.
The clock was striking 3 o'clock when Thomas gently shook my shoulder and said we were going home. I managed to rouse enough to apologize for not being of assistance and I know I was assured that everyone understood, then Thomas took me home.
When I awoke the next afternoon, I was still feeling unwell and Thomas wanted to call the doctor, but Lady Sylvia took a look at my face and vetoed the suggestion. She brought me tea and toast and once I'd eaten and drunk a bit, I felt better.
He scowled at me. "You're sure you didn't touch anything in that room?"
"Quite sure, Thomas."
Pacing back and forth at the foot of the bed, he scowled even harder. "Perhaps someone cast a spell while Merrill and I were otherwise occupied."
"I see no signs of magical interference and neither do you," Lady Sylvia said, sweeping into the room and occupying the wing chair I usually read in. "Honestly, Thomas, you'd think you'd never seen your wife ill."
He stopped, shaking his head. "Yes, but usually she's sneezing her head off, coughing, and drinking her aunt's dreadful concoctions."
Lady Sylvia and I exchanged meaningful glances. "What a pretty picture you paint," she said. "Perhaps you could take up poetry?"
"Thomas." She stared at him until he subsided. "Kate will be fine."
"Yes," I said, "there's nothing wrong with me. Can we please discuss what you and Merrill decided while I was sleeping last night?"
His lips were compressed, but he eventually heaved a sigh and sat on the bed next to me. "The signs are unmistakable. The working materials we found last night are the ones being used to drain magical power."
"If you know it's Lord Darver," I said, "then can't Lord Shoreham simply arrest him?"
"But we don't." Thomas sighed, pushing a shred of toast around my plate. "Not only is Lord Darver a renowned wizard, but so is his son."
Lady Sylvia shook her head with an amused smile. "And I believe that his wife, Amelia, and at least one of their three daughters has sufficient skill as well."
Thomas' eyebrows shot up. "Really?"
"Amelia and I were at school together. She is not as powerful as you or I, but she was always very clever at adapting spells to her own purposes. And she has the morals of an alleycat, I'm afraid."
"And the daughters?" I asked. "I've met them, but I wouldn't know how to recognize a wizard's ability."
Lady Sylvia frowned. "I don't know them well, but I'm quite certain that Lady Jersey was debating the seemliness of Lord Darver allowing his youngest daughter to train with a male wizard. I recall the conversation, because Lady Stanhope and I agreed that the presence of a abigail was sufficient to protect all the proprieties."
Looking fondly at her, Thomas smiled. "What would we do without you, mother?"
"I'm certain I have no idea." She patted him on the shoulder. "And I hate to complicate matters further, but you shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it might not be someone in the house at all. The persons most often in disused bedrooms are maids. Perhaps the husband or relative of one of the maids is our wizard, using the townhouse to disguise his actions."
I flopped back against my pillow with a groan.
"Don't worry," Thomas said, "I don't think this plethora of suspects will change our plans."
"What are our plans?" I asked.
Thomas and Lady Sylvia exchanged a glance, which I assumed meant I wasn't going to like the answer.
"I'm afraid this time you *will* need to stay here," Thomas said finally.
"What?" I sat bolt upright.
Shaking his head, his expression was more mulish and provoking than I'd ever seen. "There will be wizards there aplenty to keep me safe, and just once I'd like to know that you're out of danger."
"And you *are* feeling unwell," Lady Sylvia said.
"But..." I trailed off as I looked at their identical expressions.
Thomas took my hand and smiled at me. "What can you do that a dozen of the Royal College's most powerful wizards cannot?"
I had no good answer for that, and after a fruitless argument, I let them leave to prepare for the evening. Stewing in my bed, I waited until one of the maids, Dorothy, arrived to ask if I needed anything.
"Please let me know when the Marquis and his mother have departed," I said with a smile.
"Yes, mum," Dorothy said. Thankfully she wasn't one of our brighter servants and I doubted it would even occur to her to let Thomas know I was asking.
I fretted in bed, ate the bland food Cook sent, pretended to read, and generally wished things would move along. Finally, Thomas came to dress for the evening. He kept up a surprisingly verbose chatter the entire time, presumably to keep me from continuing the debate about whether or not I would accompany him.
I fumed in annoyance, but let him speak. When he was dressed, he came to sit on the bed beside me, taking my hand. "Don't be mad, Kate. When this is done, I shall let you choose where we go next."
He kissed my hand, and I couldn't help smiling at him. "Dear Thomas, just *be careful*."
"I promise I will take the utmost care." He kissed me, rose, and left the room.
I waited impatiently until Dorothy entered the room. "The carriage has left."
"Thank you, Dorothy. Please send Ellen up."
I bolted out of bed and drew out my most sensible outfit. Ellen looked rather alarmed when she found me seated at my dressing table.
"My lady, I thought that--"
"Please tell Graves to retrieve the other carriage and make it ready for me, and return to assist me with my dress." I snapped the orders out in a fashion most unusual for me, but I *knew* that it was imperative that I be there that evening.
Despite having rested for hours, I was still exhausted, but I would not be dissuaded from my path. Poor Graves was certain he would be fired as soon as Thomas returned and there were no less than three maids fluttering around me, trying to convince me to return to my bed.
You would think that I was dying of consumption.
But I persevered, and within the hour, I was on my way to Lord Darver's house, rubbing my ring and hoping that Thomas was still safe.
I alighted from the carriage, assisted by young Rigsby, who practically dropped me to the ground in his desire to be away before Thomas saw him. (I was amused by the staff's fear of Thomas, whose worst treatment of a servant to date was the time he hollered at Diana for spilling hot tea across his lap. Of course, he felt so terrible after that, he told her to take the next day off.)
When I swept into the ballroom (tottered, most likely, but allow me my illusions), more than one head turned to see me without Thomas, but I only had eyes for one man...and he was nowhere to be seen.
Before I could become truly alarmed, Merrill's wife appeared at my side. "What're you doing here?" Kim muttered, while trying to smile.
"Would you allow your husband to embark upon this task without you here?"
"'Course not." She frowned, taking my arm and leading me to a chair along the wall. "I'm his apprentice, though."
"Really? How interesting. But if you weren't a wizard, would you have stayed at home?"
Handing me a glass of lemonade, Kim scowled in a most unladylike fashion at me. I decided I liked her very much. "No," she said eventually.
"Well then, here I am."
Kim said something under her breath that I strongly suspected young married ladies weren't supposed to know. "And what'm I to do with you, now you're here?"
"Nothing, of course." I sipped the lemonade, which settled my stomach most agreeably. I made a note to have Graves buy a great many lemons. "Do what you would have done without me here."
Kim muttered something that sounded even less complimentary, then shook her head. "If anything happens to you, my life won't be worth..." She trailed off, her head lifting as a hound sensing a trail.
"What's happening? Is something wrong?"
She waved a hand at me and the press of bodies and noise around me seemed to take away all my air. She shook her head several times. "I dunno. But I'm going to find out. Stay here." And she was up and stalking through the crowd in a predatory way. (You will *have* to meet her, Cecy.)
Naturally, I took another sip of lemonade and arose from my chair leisurely while heads were turning at Kim's abrupt departure. Smiling politely at a few people in my vicinity, I rubbed my ring, which was vibrating in a most unpleasant fashion.
At that moment, I heard a gasp from several throats and I saw two men and a woman right in front of me collapse to the floor. I had a suspicion that they were three of the wizards who were supposed to protect Thomas. My vision grayed and I grasped a passing chair to stay upright, but I kept moving, focusing on my ring finger to stay conscious.
I cannot accurately describe what I felt from my ring, but once again, I knew that Thomas was in danger. While the crowd was exclaiming over the numerous people who had collapsed, I made my way out of the room. I saw Kim lying on a couch, with several young women fanning her, and that redoubled my determination. I had no way to know who in this room might be innocent, and it seemed likely that all the wizards were currently unconscious.
I left the room at all possible speed, determined to find my husband at all costs. This time, I knew full well, I would not find him deep in argument with Mr. Merrill.
In the hallway, I hesitated, stepping aside as several servants rushed in with towels and water glasses and smelling salts. Should I head up to the same room, or--since it seemed a trap had been set--should I search elsewhere?
Eventually I decided to look in the one place I knew had been used by the villain, and I headed for the back stairs to avoid notice. Lifting my skirts, I dashed up, my strength already flagging as I climbed.
At least this time I had no need to hide in a closet, as there were no servants to be seen. When I reached the third floor, I was breathing so hard, it took me a moment to hear two voices. Leaning against the wall, I tried to figure out what to do next.
After I'd caught my breath, I crept closer to the room, hoping no one would emerge and see me, for I certainly couldn't run away! The voices became clearer and I stepped up to stand right beside the door. It was open a crack, but I could see very little of the room. Except...there, that was Thomas' arm. And behind him, I was certain I saw Merrill's leg. But they weren't moving.
"We'll be found out!" a frantic young man's voice cried out.
"We already have been," an older man replied. I was almost certain that was Lord Darver, so he and his son were in it together.
"Yes, Gerald, do calm down," said Lady Darver.
Oh dear, I thought to myself, this was a bit much.
"Mother, Gerald has a point," a young woman said. "The Royal College is not going to stand for this."
I blinked. Good heavens, was the entire *household* in there?
Lord Darver chuckled. "It hardly matters what the Royal College thinks, since we can remove their powers whenever we choose."
There was a muffled noise and I felt a twinge in my ring. I was certain someone had done something to Thomas. I held onto the ring and prayed for him to take action, but they had him immobilized in some way. How could I--
The spell! Thomas had forced me to conduct the preliminary portion of the spell to call him. Perhaps that might do him some good, awaken him from whatever they had done to him.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to suppress my doubts about my magical ability and ignore the horrible things the Darvers were saying inside the room. I took off my ring and gripped it tightly in my fist, focusing on Thomas' voice, his smell, the way he grinned at me, and I said the final trigger words of the spell.
A light exploded inside my head and I felt faint, but as I slid to the ground, I seemed hear Thomas' voice saying, "Well *done*, Kate!"
"Kate! Kate, please wake up." Thomas sounded most unusually upset, and I wondered why it was so difficult to open my eyes and tell him to speak more quietly.
"Thomas," I heard Merrill say, "if you'll give her a moment, she's fine."
"Speak for yourself, sir. I don't feel fine at all." I finally convinced my eyes to open, and found I was lying on my husband's lap on the floor of the corridor.
"Kate!" Thomas' arms tightened around me. "I thought--"
That could not possibly be tears I saw in his eyes. I struggled until he stopped smothering me and I managed to sit up, taking his hand to keep myself upright. "Now, if you would be so kind as to explain what's happened."
Thomas was about to say something when Merrill helpfully broke in. "What's the last thing you remember?"
Frowning, I concentrated. "Lord Darver and the others were plotting. Both of you were frozen in place."
"You called me," Thomas said, one side of his mouth turned up in a familiar grin. "So loudly, in fact, that it penetrated their spell and gave me just enough time to break free."
"And when he broke free," Merrill explained, "he was most uncommonly annoyed."
Thomas threw him an annoyed look. "They were so disconcerted that I was able to divert the power they were stealing from all the wizards and return it to its rightful owners."
"Which," Merrill said, "was what we were supposed to be doing all along."
"If you hadn't been caught in a trap." I frowned at Thomas.
"Well, yes." He was about to continue explaining when he was cut off.
"Thomas, I'm glad to see you well," Lady Sylvia said, stalking around the corner. She looked her usual composed self, but I could see lines of strain around her eyes. Obviously the Darvers' spell had caught her unawares as well.
"Hello, Mother. I'm glad you're recovered." His voice was calm, but his grip on my hand showed how worried he'd been about both of us.
"Have you seen Kim?" Merrill asked. He did an even better job of disguising his concern, but from my position on the floor, I could see his worried intake of breath before he spoke.
"Mairelon!" Kim came around the corner at top speed, heedless of any in her way. "You gudgeon!"
"Kim!" Merrill held out his arms just quickly enough to catch her as she flung herself at him, face pressed to his shoulder. "I'm fine. Are you all right?"
"Don't you gammon me," she said into his shoulder. "I felt that spell hit you hardest. Now come home and leave the rest to them what was brought in by the Earl."
She lifted her head and a single tear was making its way down her cheek.
Merrill's eyes widened and his grasp on her tightened. "I...yes, let's..."
He looked down at Thomas, who waved a weary hand. "Go home, Merrill. Shoreham knows where to find you if he needs to talk to you."
Merrill wavered in place and Kim turned her head to look at me, giving me a small wink. It was all I could do to keep a straight face, but I gave her a small nod to say I understood. If I thought there was the slightest chance I could get Thomas home to rest, I would take it as well.
"C'mon, Mairelon," Kim said. She gave the rest of us the sketchiest of curtsies and dragged her husband off, as he protested weakly.
(I will be seeing Kim again soon, I'm sure. She's a most intriguing person and I'm eager to discover why she called him Mairelon. Thomas refuses to tell me the story. He just laughs.)
Lady Sylvia watched them leave with an amused expression before turning back to look at us. I was still seated on the floor, trying to convince my legs they weren't made of jelly, and Lady Sylvia's expression sharpened. "Kate..." she said, her fingers sketching something in the air.
Thomas was staring at her. "Mother?"
"Mmm?" she asked.
"What are you doing?"
She stopped moving her fingers and gave us an absolutely unreadable expression. "Confirming a suspicion, Thomas."
"Kindly lift your wife off the floor and find her someplace more comfortable to sit while I call the doctor."
Thomas and I exchanged confused expressions. "What's wrong?" he asked as he swept me up.
"I don't think there's anything wrong," Lady Sylvia said, "but after such a stressful evening, I do think we should be certain no harm has been done to the baby."
Thomas tripped over his feet, nearly throwing me to the floor, and I grabbed his neck and arm to keep from falling. We both turned our heads to look at her.
"What. Baby?" Thomas asked.
She sighed. "I'm surprised neither of you thought of it. Kate, you are expecting. Thomas, you are to be a father."
Thomas held me so tightly to his chest, I thought I would explode. "Thomas!" I managed.
"I'm sorry, I..." He continued down the corridor toward the stairs, but he seemed to be shaken.
Lady Sylvia pursed her lips. "Perhaps you should go into the drawing room and rest. I will bring the doctor when he is done with the other wizards." She strode away, leaving us moving at a slower pace.
I wanted to speak, wanted to say something, but it was all too much. I was tired, my head hurt, my stomach was queasy, and...I'm going to be a mother. You make it look so easy, Cecy, and I don't quite know how I shall do.
Thomas didn't speak, just lay me down on a couch in the drawing room and knelt beside me, holding my hand. His expression was stunned.
I put a hand on my stomach, even though I know it was too early to feel anything. "I...are you...are you happy?"
"What?" He looked me in the eyes for the first time since his mother's words. "Of course I am! I mean," he paused, "I'm happy if you are."
"Oh, Thomas!" I threw my arms around him. "I'm very happy." And I started to cry, which made Thomas flustered, which was exactly when the doctor arrived.
I'm sure you're terribly worried by now, so let me reassure you that the doctor and the wizards he called in assured *us* that my adventures did the child no harm. Of course, that hasn't stopped Thomas from fussing over me!
We've decided that if it's a girl, she will be named after my mother, and if it's a boy, he will be Edward, after Thomas' brother.
Oh Cecy, I'm so happy! Come visit as soon as you can!