Montgomery de Piaget believed in faeries.
He had good reason to. He had, over the past ten-and-seven years
of his life, seen things of a most mysterious and faerylike nature
that no lad with any sense at all could possibly have dismissed as
a trick of light or the aftereffects of too much wine at
Indeed, hadn’t he as recently as the past spring seen his
sister-in-law Jennifer spring up from the grass to bring her lovely
and magical self to delight them all with her music and her beauty?
Hadn’t he been standing not fifty paces away from his current
location when he’d seen his brother-in-law Jackson stride
from the bejeweled courts below, as if he’d simply walked
through a gate that no mortal eyes could see?
He had supposed that at some point in the distant future he
might be able to discount what he’d seen and perhaps learn to
ignore the things about his siblings-in-law that puzzled him.
That day, he imagined, wouldn’t be today.
He stood still, as still as if he’d been frozen there, on
a spot near his father’s keep, looking at something
shimmering in the air in front of him.
The ground was nothing out of the ordinary. It was the last of
the summer grasses, likely rather tasty to whatever animals
were allowed to graze there, but in all other aspects quite
unremarkable. If he’d walked over the spot another day,
he wouldn’t have marked it at all.
Today, however, things were different. Not only did the grass
bear the sheen of something magical, the air was full of a strange
and marvelous light that had nothing at all to do with the sun that
had risen but an hour before. He would have suspected he was
dreaming, but he had enough wit left to know he wasn’t.
He knew one other thing as well.
He was looking at a faery.
There was no denying it. She had simply appeared, standing not
twenty paces away from him, staring off into the distance as if she
saw things he couldn’t. Her clothing he dismissed
immediately. It was very fine but unremarkable. What held his
attention was the fairness of her visage and the marvelous
cascade of dark curls that fell over her shoulders like a
Well, that and her wings.
They were a gossamer bit of business that shimmered and
fluttered as she breathed in and out. He knew he was gaping, but he
couldn’t manage anything else. He had never in his life seen
anything so lovely, so wistful, so full of things he could not name
but knew he was very interested in discovering. Aye, now,
there was a gel worth snatching from the greedy clutches
of the Faery Queen.
The air began to tremble, as if the gates to the netherworld had
sensed his intention and were determined to thwart him before
he could stop them. He started forward to take hold of the faery,
but before he could touch her, he was jerked backward, almost off
his feet. He spun around, curses halfway out of his mouth, to find
his eldest brother standing there wearing an expression of
the utmost gravity.
“Don’t,” Robin said quietly.
“Are you mad?” Montgomery demanded, trying to pull
his arm free. “Let me go.”
“Do not step on that patch of ground,
He had every intention of doing just that, but he had other
business to see to first. He stepped away from his brother and drew
his sword, fully prepared to teach his brother not to meddle
in affairs that were not his.
He was surprised enough to see Robin not do the same
that he lowered the blade. Robin was never one to back away from a
fight, especially one he could have fought whilst half asleep. That
he merely stood there with his hands down by his sides and an
expression of gravity on his face that bespoke truly dire things
was remarkable enough that Montgomery resheathed his blade before
he thought better of it.
“What are you talking about?” Montgomery asked.
Robin paused, considered, then dug his heels in and said
nothing. Montgomery cursed his brother silently --- no sense in
provoking him unnecessarily --- he then turned back around to get
back to the business of capturing --- er, rescuing, rather --- the
lass who had appeared in front of him as if from a dream.
Only to find her, and the magic that had accompanied her,
Montgomery knew he shouldn’t have been surprised, but he
found himself gaping just the same. Unfortunately, all the
protesting he could muster wasn’t going to change the
fact that the ground before him was now nothing more than what it
should have been. The sparkling air that had hovered over it had
dissipated. Of the beauty he’d seen, there was no
Obviously, Faery had reclaimed her own.
He shivered in spite of himself.
“Montgomery, let us return home.”
Montgomery took a moment to suppress the urge to run his brother
through for interrupting what he was quite certain had been a
singular opportunity to have a Faery for himself, unclenched
his hands lest he be overly tempted to use them instead of
his sword to teach his brother manners, then took a deep breath.
Obviously, Robin knew more than he was letting on. The least he
could do was divulge a few of those secrets. Montgomery turned
around and looked at his brother.
“What lies there in that spot?”
“Nothing,” Robin said with a shrug.
“Robin, I am no longer a child.”
“I never said you were.” He nodded toward the keep.
“Let’s be off. There are surely things enough inside to
hold our interest.”
“You’re not answering my question.”
“I’m not,” Robin agreed seriously. “I
have nothing at all todo with that spot of ground, so on its
particulars I will remain prudently silent.”
“Should I ask --- ?”
“Cease,” Robin interrupted sharply. He chewed on his
words for a moment or two, then shook his head, as if he found the
thought of uttering them unpalatable. He slung his arm around
Montgomery’s shoulders. “I am not the one to be asking,
brother, and if you want my advice, you’ll not look for
others to pose your questions to. Bide your time and keep your
mouth shut.” He nodded knowingly. “ ’Tis what a
virtuous knight would do.”
Montgomery started to protest, then reconsidered. The truth was,
what he wanted more than anything was to be a virtuous knight, the
sort of lad who would meet with the approval of not only his father
but his four elder brothers. No matter the difficulty of the
task set before him.
He supposed he might spend a moment or two now and again
“Let’s go train,” Robin suggested. “That
will occupy our morning quite well, don’t you
Montgomery nodded, for the second thing he wanted, after being
considered the sort of honorable knight his father would admire,
was to be the same sort of swordsman his eldest brothers
were. If Robin was willing to indulge him now in the lists, he
wasn’t going to refuse.
“In fact,” Robin added, “I think you might be
worth my full attention and scrutiny for the next few months.
Especially if you can keep your mouth shut about things I’m
certain you didn’t just see. What think you?”
Montgomery stifled the urge to drop to his knees and kiss
Robin’s dung-encrusted boots. Robin was notoriously choosey
about the lads he trained, so to be thus singled out was indeed an
honor worthy of a bit of discretion.
Though he couldn’t help one final foray into things likely
better left alone. That gel with the long, trailing mass of
relentlessly curling dark hair and the wings . . if he could
just have even a fraction of an answer, simply to put his mind at
rest about her. He took a deep breath, then looked at his
“Was she a faery, do you think?”
Robin slapped the back of Montgomery’s head sharply --- no
doubt in an attempt to dislodge good sense --- then hesitated
before he put his hands on Montgomery’s shoulders. “I
do not know what she was, or if you even saw what you think you
saw,” he said in a low voice, “but I can well imagine
what happens to souls who consort with things not of this
“Like Jake and Jennifer --- ”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about
there,” Robin said promptly. “What I do know is that
faeries are for children, not for grown men.”
“I know what I saw ---
“Then forget it quickly,” Robin advised, “and
instead think on what it would mean for you if it were noised about
that you still believed in things better left to find home in
children’s tales.” He slid Montgomery a sideways look.
“Really, Montgomery. Faeries? At your age? Better that
you concentrate on things that will keep you alive.” He
patted his sword. “Steel and cunning. We’ll consider
both at length over the next pair of months.”
Montgomery nodded reluctantly, and then continued on for a
handful of steps before the temptation to look over his shoulder
became too great to ignore. He paused, then looked back at that
particular spot in the grass that was now nothing out of the
ordinary until he’d come to a decision. He hated to admit it,
but Robin was right. He was ten-and-seven, well past the age of
believing in things better left behind in childhood.
No matter what he’d just seen.
He stepped away from the sight, to give himself distance from
it. It had no doubt been nothing more than sunlight on a bit of
leftover morning mist, or too much rich food the night before and
not enough time in the lists that morning. The possibilities were
endless, but the truth was easily narrowed down to one simple
thing: a true knight concentrated on steel and horses and honor.
There was no room in his future for things of a more ethereal
He turned back to the business at hand, nodded briskly, then
followed his brother to the keep. Steel, horses, and honor.
Those would be the stars he would guide his life by and thereby
find himself comfortably joining the company of his father and
brothers. That was, after all, what he wanted most.
He nodded to Robin, put on a determined expression, and left his
childhood behind him as he should have done years earlier. It was
done without a twinge of regret.
It wasn’t often that a girl had the chance to get lost in
a fairy tale.
Persephone Josephine Alexander wasn’t one to find herself
in those sorts of straits, but she was hardly in a position at
present to do anything about it. She was captive in the
darkened wings of a venerable Seattle theater, watching something
undeniably magical unfold in front of her. The handsome
prince, accompanied by a breathtaking set of strings, was
vocally waxing rhapsodic about the charms of the appallingly lovely
girl across the stage, while that girl was accompanying his waxing
with her own musical commentary about his perfections. It
wasn’t long before the pair fell into each other’s arms
as if they’d been born for just that moment, their voices
mingling in perfect harmony, soaring above the orchestra and
leaving very few dry eyes in the audience.
Pippa was sure of that because she’d peeked out into that
audience --- after she’d dragged her sleeve across her own
eyes, of course. Damned dust allergies kicking up at the most
She got hold of herself, then turned back to her purely
academic study of the love story going on in front of her.
She had to admit, grudgingly, that it looked as real as anything
she’d ever seen anywhere --- or at least it did until the
handsome prince stepped on the back of his soon-to-be
princess’s dress and tore it half off.
Pippa came back to earth abruptly at the two glares she found
thrown her way as the prince and his lady attempted to dance as if
nothing had happened. Fortunately there were no further mishaps
before the couple managed to get themselves off stage for the last
“Lovely designs, Pippa,” the princess said shortly
as she ran off the stage. “Too bad you couldn’t have
sewn them better. I imagine Frank agrees.”
“Pippa didn’t design them,” Frank whispered
sharply, “and given what I’ve seen tonight, it was a
mistake to let her sew them.”
Pippa didn’t bother to respond to that. She had indeed
designed all the costumes, as well as having sewn most of
them, but she was standing on the brink of a truly remarkable piece
of good fortune, and she didn’t want to jinx it by arguing
the point with a successful show’s director on closing
Though it was really tempting to take the pair of
dressmaker’s shears she had stuck in the back of her
belt and cut off Frank’s ponytail while he was otherwise
engaged in sucking up to his leads and belittling the little
people. Fortunately for his dignity, she found herself suddenly too
busy repairing tears and replacing sequins to do any trimming.
By the time she had gotten all the costumes put away for someone
lower than she on the food chain to worry about cleaning in
the morning, she had given up the idea of revenge. Petty theater
directors and grumpy actors were in her past. Her future was a
sparkling green city in the not-so-distant distance and there was
nothing standing between them but a no-nonsense flight to England.
She got herself home through a damp and rather foggy Seattle night,
then settled happily into her favorite pair of flannel pajamas
before going in search of a decent post-production snack.
Half an hour later, she pulled her last cinnamon-sugar Pop-Tart
from the toaster, then frowned at the smell. Something was burning,
and it wasn’t what she was holding in her hand. She leaned
forward and sniffed her toaster. No, not there, either.
She followed her nose to her front door, then opened it and
looked out into the hallway. Gaspard, her neighbor, flung open his
door, shrieking curses in French as he jerked off his chef’s
hat, threw it on the floor, and stomped out the flames. He looked
It took her a moment to reconcile herself to the fact that
flames were licking his doorframe, which meant he was
obviously not just capable of dispensing advice on how to
make a killer Bolognese sauce but could also run a mean escape
operation. She watched the smoke begin to billow for a moment
or two before she realized that she was about to become as crispy
as the pastry she was holding in her hand.
She dashed back into her apartment, tossed her future into a
suitcase, then bolted for the stairs.
Several hours later, she stood on a the edge of
tree-root-ravaged bit of sidewalk, pushed back the hair that was
curling frantically around her face and dripping down the back of
her now-soggy pajamas, and decided that there was only one
explanation for the swirling events she’d been plunked
Karma was out to get her.
She was a big believer in Karma. A girl couldn’t grow up
as the child of flower children and not have a healthy respect for
that sort of thing --- and for tie-dye as well, but those were
probably memories better left for another time when she had peace
for thinking and some mini chocolate muffins to ease the pain.
She rubbed the spot between her eyes that had almost ceased to
pound, then looked around for somewhere to sit. Her sturdy, vintage
suitcase was there next to her, looking imminently capable of
standing up under the strain, so she sat and was grateful for the
recent departure of fire engines and Dumpster delivery trucks. She
rested her elbows on her knees, her chin on her fists, and gave
herself over to the pondering of the twists and turns of her
She also kept a weather eye out for that rather large and clunky
other shoe she was fairly sure was going to be dropped onto her
head at any moment. One couldn’t have the sort of spectacular
good fortune she was about to wallow in without some sort of equal
and opposite cosmic reaction.
And to keep herself from breaking into the kind of jubilant
rejoicing she was sure Karma took note of, she reviewed the path
that had led her to her current enviable spot on a suitcase out in
It had begun, she supposed, when Susie Chapman’s mother
had given her a Barbie and a lunch sack full of fabric scraps for
her seventh birthday. A world of possibilities had opened up for
her, a realm that included plaids and paisleys, stripes and polka
dots, all made from fabrics that weren’t made from hemp and
were probably anything but organic. Her parents would have rent
their tie-dyed caftans if they’d seen any of it, but Pippa
had avoided detection by keeping her contraband doll and those
glorious mass-fabrics hidden cunningly in a couple of Birkenstock
She had continued her illicit evening-gown-making
activities even after she and her siblings had been dumped by
her überflaky parents on the doorstep of an aunt who had
sprung, fully formed, from the pages of a Dickens novel. Pippa had
in public sneered at romance, fairy tales, and designing clothes
for dolls who savored both, but in the privacy of her little
garret room she had sewn magical things from the best her
lunch money could buy. She had gone on to major in art and
costume design in college, then spent the ensuing four years
slaving away over seams for others to wear in their own fairy
tales acted out on stage.
And while designing for shows had been good practice, her
burning and up-until-now secret desire had been to have her own
line of clothing. In spite of her own avoidance of the like in her
personal life, she dreamed of creating modern things with a hint of
medieval romance and fairy-tale magic for others, things with
little touches that only those looking for them would see. She
wanted the women who wore her clothes to feel like the heroines of
their own fairy tales, beautiful and beloved.
She paused. It was entirely possible she had some unresolved
issues concerning romance, knights in shining armor, and her time
at Aunt Edna’s.
She made a mental note to consider therapy later --- after
she’d eluded Karma’s steely eye and leaped at the
chance she’d been recently offered to make her dreams come
Her sister Tess, who owned an honest-to-goodness English castle
and made her living by hosting parties for all sorts of people with
money and imagination, had shown some of Pippa’s designs to
one of her clients. The man had looked at the kids’ costumes,
then spontaneously uttered the magic words.
I say, your sister Pippa doesn’t design for adults,
does she? I’m looking for a new place to invest a
bit of money.
Pippa had immediately begun fiendishly working on things to
expand her collection, wondering all the while if there might be
something bigger at work in her life than simply her wishing
for it. She certainly didn’t believe in magic, pixie dust, or
any of the romantic drivel her older sister Peaches read on what
seemed to be an alarmingly regular basis. She most certainly
didn’t believe in the fairy tales put on by any of the
theaters she’d sewn for.
But in this, she couldn’t deny that there was something,
well, unusual at work.
“Pippa, what in the world happened?”
She looked up at that aforementioned over-romanced sister
Peaches, who had suddenly materialized next to her on the
“Gaspard had his flambé get a little too friendly
with his natural fibers, apparently,” she said with a sigh.
“What are you doing here so early?”
“It’s not early. It’s almost nine. And
I’m here because I thought that since you were leaving
tonight, you might need help packing.”
Pippa supposed Peaches would have thought that. Her sister made
a living by acting as a life coach, plucking people one by one out
of a sea of bills, undeclared intentions, and old pizza boxes to
send them off into a new life of organizational calm. Their parents
were almost proud of her, though they would have preferred her
credentials in feng shui be a bit more solid.
“It’s all finished,” Pippa said, patting her
suitcase and hoping Peaches wouldn’t want to check her
work. “Costumes for the kids’ party, my passport, and
some granola. And my backup thumb drive with all the new designs I
scanned for ease in display. I was sort of in a rush and left
everything else behind.”
Peaches glanced at the smoldering ruins of Pippa’s
building. “I imagine you were. And I suppose you can replace
what you lost.”
Pippa nodded, though she couldn’t exactly agree.
She’d spent years collecting one of a kind vintage fabrics
and trims. In fact, she could have started her own store with what
she had stacked on shelves in her apartment, or hidden cunningly
under her bed and skirted end tables. There had been a few times
--- all right, there had been more than a few times --- when she
had simply sat there and stared for a few minutes --- right, it
might have been for an hour or two at a shot --- at the stacks and
stacks of fabric she possessed, all full of possibilities, all
waiting for her to take them and make them into something more than
they had been before ---
“I mean, it’s not as if you don’t have money
in the bank,” Peaches continued relentlessly, “or
renter’s insurance, or all your valuables tucked safely away
in a safe-deposit box like I’ve been advising you to do for
the past year.”
“I don’t have any valuables.”
Peaches studied her in a way that made Pippa feel as if her
sister really did know that she hid money in her mattress and
family heirlooms in hot chocolate cans.
“But the insurance, Pippa,” Peaches prodded.
“You did take care of that, didn’t you?”
“I have an appointment with the insurance guy,”
Pippa said, trying not to sound defensive. “At noon today, so
yes, I did take care of that. And I did have savings, but I took it
all and bought an embroidery machine last week. And a nicer serger.
And a few bolts of velvet and silk.” She paused. “Maybe
a few sequins.”
“How many sequins?”
Pippa waved her hand toward the wreckage she couldn’t
bring herself to look at any longer. “I think they would be
the enormous swath of multihued sparkles you see up there where the
second floor used to be.”
“That’s a lot of sequins.” She took a deep,
calming breath. “At least you have your scooter. It could be
Pippa pointed over her shoulder to where the Dumpster had been
dumped earlier that morning. A wheel and part of a fender stuck out
from below the container.
Peaches looked, paused, then laughed a bit. “You’ve
had quite a morning.”
“Tell me about it.”
“At least you have your trip to look forward to.”
Peaches nudged her over a bit to join her on her suitcase.
“Tell me more about this guy who wants to look at your
designs. He could be the reason for all this cosmic attention
Pippa was happy to talk about something else besides the stench
of incinerated fabric she could still smell lingering in the
“I don’t know anything about him except that
he’s nobility and he has really deep pockets.”
“He’s the son of an earl, I think, and runs in
Tess’s academic circles. And he has deep pockets.”
“You already said that.”
“His deep pockets are very attractive to my ultimate plan
of fashion world domination.”
Peaches laughed. “I’m glad to see you haven’t
lost your focus.”
“Mr. Nobility might front me some dough for more sequins,
and Karma is probably done with me,” Pippa said with a shrug.
She ignored the little niggling doubt at the back of her mind that
said Karma was nowhere close to being finished with her.
“You’re taking me to the airport tonight, and I have
enough money in the bank to buy more underwear. What else can go
“You can open your big mouth, that’s what can go
wrong,” Peaches said quickly. “Don’t tempt
“Nah,” Pippa said confidently, “I think the
worst is over. After all, bad things come in threes and my
quota is full.”
“My little disorganized friend, good things come
in threes. I don’t think bad luck is constrained by the same
“Ridiculous,” Pippa scoffed, finding it in herself
to rally a bit. She stood and wrapped an emergency blanket around
herself because she was cold, not because she was unnerved.
“You can go along with all that woo-woo business we were
weaned on, but I’m not buying it.”
Pippa shook her head sharply. “Look, Peach, Karma’s
done her bit with me this week. In the past eight hours I have
lost, in no particular order, my apartment, my life’s
savings, my inventory of irreplaceable fabric and salvaged
trims, my means of making a living, and my purple Vespa. I’m
in the clear.”
Peaches only zipped her lips, locked them, and threw away the
Montgomery de Piaget stood on a small rise in the midst of vast
swaths of forests and farmland, looked at the castle currently
languishing in the midst of all that beauty, and wondered what in
the hell he’d done to deserve the gift that beckoned to him
with all the welcoming warmth of a warty-nosed, claw-fingered
To call the keep before him a wreck was to grossly
understate its un-redeeming qualities. Adding to the insult
was the fact that from his vantage point, he could see all those
flaws without their having been able to hide behind some bit of
solid wall or other.
Not that Sedgwick had very many of those.
“I can see why Father didn’t want to come
along,” said a voice at his side. “Being the modest,
reserved soul that he is, perhaps the thought of all the thanks
that would come his way was simply too embarrassing to be
Tittering ensued. Montgomery scowled at the sound. It was
impossible to call the noises coming from the line of men standing
with him anything else. He looked to his right just to see which
one of his companions he would need to kill first. It was a welcome
distraction from what lay before him.
They were, in order, his elder brothers Robin and Nicholas, his
brother-in-law Jackson Kilchurn the Fourth, and then a younger
generation of de Piaget males, Kendrick, James, and Jackson the
Fifth. The lads weren’t laughing. They were gaping at the
castle in the distance as if they’d just looked into the jaws
of Hell and discovered they were to be the next meal.
The men were still struggling to keep their composure. Their
eyes were watering madly and all three of them were stifling, with
varying degrees of success, laughter behind their hands --- damn
them all to hell.
Montgomery firmly refused to dignify their amusement by
acknowledging it, though he wasn’t blind to the unnerving
flaws of his future home. Though the great hall was of a decent
size and the stables and the blacksmith’s forge weren’t
without merit, the castle’s men came and went out of a
rickety garrison hall he wouldn’t have used to house
hounds. There was no chapel, and the walls surrounding the innards
of the keep were poorly maintained and, from what he could tell,
poorly manned. It looked as if someone had once considered putting
a moat about the entire place but had hoped just digging it under
the drawbridge would be enough to deter those with mischief on
The saints preserve him, ’twas a disaster.
Montgomery looked to his left where his eldest nephew stood.
Phillip was a sober lad and rarely spoke without having given his
words great consideration.
“Aye, lad?” Montgomery asked, elbowing Robin on his
other side as he did so.
“I fear there is much work lying before us.”
Montgomery didn’t want to agree, but he had to. He was no
simpering gel, to be sure, but there was a part of him that
couldn’t help but admit that the sight before him was almost
enough to make him want to sit down and rest. He suppressed the
urge to shake his head in disbelief and instead turned to look at
“Fortunately, Phillip, you are just the lad to help me
take on this worthy task ---”
“Are you daft?” Robin interrupted incredulously.
“Do you actually think I’ll leave my son to squire with
you now that I’ve seen this rat-infested hole you intend to
call home? Never.
Come along, Phillip. We’ll leave Montgomery to his,
er…” He looked at Nicholas. “What shall we call
Nicholas shrugged. “Words fail me.”
Jake elbowed both of them out of the way. “He’ll
call it home soon enough. Besides, Robin, you don’t know if
it’s rat infested.”
“I have a sense about these things.” Robin rubbed
his hands together briskly. “Well, lads, we’ve
delivered the boy to his roost. Let’s make for Segrave.
I’m sure Grandmère has something tasty on the
“Father, Uncle Montgomery isn’t a boy,”
Phillip said solemnly.
Montgomery looked at his eldest brother coolly but said nothing.
Robin’s favorite pastime, when not doting on his wife and
children and decimating whatever garrison knights he could find to
face him in the lists, was tormenting his younger brothers.
Montgomery supposed he could be loitering on the far side of three
score and Robin would still treat him as if he were a green lad of
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Robin said,
stroking his chin thoughtfully, as if he actually gave serious
thought to the matter. “He looks like a boy to
“He’s taller than you are, Rob,” Nicholas
said, apparently struggling not to laugh. “I’d tread
“But he’s weak in his limbs,” Robin said,
reaching for his sword belt and unbuckling it. He poked Montgomery
in the arm with his sheathed sword, hard enough that Montgomery
would have flinched if he’d been made of less stern stuff.
“That comes, I understand, from too much time spent at court,
delighting the ladies with his rapier wit and lovely eyes. It
certainly doesn’t do anything for the strength of arm or
skill with a blade.”
Nicholas laughed and walked away. Jake only lifted a
shoulder in a half shrug and turned to follow him. Kendrick
accepted his father’s sword with wide eyes and a slackened
“I’ll take your sword, Uncle,” Phillip said,
with only the slightest quaver in his voice. “You won’t
need it. Will you?”
“I wouldn’t want to do any more damage to your sire
than my fists will accomplish,” Montgomery said, handing his
sword to his would-be squire. He managed it in the heartbeat before
that squire’s father launched himself forward to prove his
It had been, he decided as he landed flat on his back and lost
his wind, too long since he had engaged his brother in a friendly
contest of strength. Robin might have been rumored to have gone to
fat, but he had certainly not gone to seed, and he was nothing if
not wily. And strong. And full of insults that would have earned
him a brisk slap to the back of his head had their grandmother been
anywhere within earshot.
“Don’t wear yourself out, Rob,” Jake said
dryly after an appropriate amount of time had passed.
“You don’t want to be too tired to enjoy a decent
“’Tis just a bit of light exerci ---”
Montgomery slammed his forehead into Robin’s mouth to shut
him up. It earned him an instant increase in ill will from his
sibling, as well as quite a bit of his brother’s blood
dripping onto his face. He finally shoved his brother off him, then
staggered to his feet.
“Enough, damn you,” Montgomery said, his chest
heaving. “I’ve other things to do besides school you in
Nicholas hauled Robin to his feet, then kept hold of his arm.
“Aye, enough,” he agreed with a half laugh. “He
still has a castle to lay siege to.”
Robin stood there, breathing more easily than he should have. He
dragged his sleeve across his mouth, scowled at the blood left
there, then looked at Nicholas.
“I think his peasants have made off with great chunks of
the foundation. As long as he doesn’t mind slithering through
one of the leftover holes, he’ll be fine.”
Montgomery brushed the leaves from his hair and declined to
point out that he had been conserving his strength for the
possibility of just such an assault. “A rematch, when my
floor is clean.”
“Let’s just hope your floor is flat,” Robin
said with a snort, “and not sporting a dozen holes the size
of your horse.”
Montgomery hoped not as well, though he supposed that was more
optimistic than perhaps he should have been. He allowed his
brothers to gather up their sons and turned to face his own
Sedgwick, of all places.
What in the hell had he done to deserve that?
He could speculate on several things readily enough, though
he knew he should put that speculation off until he’d
gained his own supper table where he could think at his
Unfortunately, now that he was faced with the sight of his
father’s generosity, he couldn’t keep himself from it.
Sedgwick was, as Robin had rightly said, a rat-infested hole, but
it had the potential to be a quite spectacular rat-hole. That his
father had given it to him, the youngest of all, instead of to whom
it rightly belong ---
Robin slapped him --- rather gently all things considered --- on
the back of the head, startling him.
“You think too much.”
Montgomery shot his eldest brother a dark look. “How would
“Because I recognize the symptoms,” Robin said,
lifting an eyebrow. “My life now is nothing but easy movement
from one moment of bliss to the next, but it wasn’t always
Montgomery studied the castle for another moment or two, then
looked at his brother. “Why do you think Father gave this to
“Because you are the only one of us desperate enough to
take it,” Robin said solemnly. “Or stupid enough.
I’m not sure which it is.”
Nicholas laughed and pushed Robin out of the way so he could
sling his arm around Montgomery’s neck. “Ignore him.
We’ll discuss the vagaries of Fate and inheritances given by
Rhys de Piaget after we’ve managed to get past your gate
guards and see what’s left of your keep. I have my own
thoughts on the matter, as you might imagine.”
Montgomery didn’t doubt it, given that their father had
gifted Nicholas a keep that had been missing most of its roof when
Nicholas had taken possession of it. At least Sedgwick’s roof
looked to be intact.
With that cheery thought to keep him company, he put on his
grimmest expression, then went to give his commands to the trio of
guardsmen he’d brought with him.
And he ignored the fact that Robin had advised him to bring
more. He would manage with the men who had served him freely, or
not at all. It likely would have taken a king’s ransom to
convince anyone else to darken Sedgwick’s unsteady gates.
Unfortunately, given the condition of his new home, he suspected he
was going to need most all of his gold to repair his
Besides, ’twas his own castle he faced. Why would he need
more lads than he had there already?
It took less time than he’d hoped to reach the keep and
even less time to realize that he was indeed expected. The
guardsmen leaning negligently over the barbican gate managed
lethargic wigglings of their fingers as he rode under the walls.
Montgomery ignored the insult partly because there was no
sense in beginning his life there with a battle and partly because
he was too distracted by the depth and quantity of horse droppings
and other refuse layered over his inner courtyard to work up any
anger. The layer of muck finally became too thick and his
horse --- not a beast in the slightest bit inclined to balking ---
balked in front of the great hall door.
It swung open with creaks that could have been heard leagues
away and out tumbled a ragtag group of souls he honestly
couldn’t begin to identify. Garrison knights? Servants?
Cousins? It was difficult to tell given that they were all equally
filthy and unrelentingly bad mannered.
Montgomery glanced at his brothers. All three were wearing
expressions befitting the battle-hardened warriors they were. Even
the young lads were frowning severely, stealing looks now and again
at their fathers to no doubt make sure they were getting it right.
His own guardsmen were looking terribly unimpressed, as if they
would require a tripling of the castle’s occupants rushing at
them to force them to even yawn.
Montgomery would have smiled if he’d had it in him, but he
didn’t, so he refrained.
He was grateful that Robin was keeping his bloody mouth shut,
though he supposed he shouldn’t have expected anything else
now that the battle was upon them. His brother might have been
impossibly arrogant and endlessly annoying, but he was the future
lord of Artane and well aware of how to act that part. And whilst
Sedgwick was, from all outward appearances, not much more than an
open cesspit with a keep placed strategically nearby,
Montgomery was lord of it and as such deserved respect.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t earned a bit of it.
He’d spent the last nine years with spurs on his heels either
making his fortune in tourneys on the continent or building
alliances at supper wherever court was being held. When he
hadn’t been at home being insulted by his brothers, he
had been moving about in the world of Henry’s nobles without
misstep. That had brought him renown for his skill in battle and no
small number of women wanting to see if he was capable of the same
sort of exploits in the bedchamber. He supposed he had become just
as famous for the number of offers he’d turned down.
He was perhaps too much a romantic in some ways and not nearly
enough of one in others.
He looked back at the souls who peopled his new home and decided
he would introduce himself, and then see if he couldn’t
encourage at least a few of them to brave an encounter with the
water in the horse trough. He couldn’t determine who came
with his new home until he could determine what --- and who ---
He anticipated that the day would drag on endlessly, and he
An hour later he had counted a score-and-four surly
garrison knights and a kitchen staff comprised of five maids,
three scrawny lads under the age of eight, and a portly,
unpleasant-looking cook who seemingly did more eating than cooking.
The rest of his household included three obviously overworked
serving gels, a clutch of randy serving lads, and a trio of sullen,
disagreeable cousins who didn’t bother to either stand or
offer greeting when he approached. The only bright spot was
his new steward, who was seemingly impervious to the unpleasant
looks sent his way by not only those Sedgwick cousins but their
mother as well.
He supposed he could understand his cousins’ irritation.
They had had the run of the keep for the whole of their lives
whilst their father Denys had held Sedgwick in trust for
Montgomery’s father. When Denys had died and the keep
returned to Rhys’s possession, it had been well within
Rhys’s rights to do with it as he saw fit.
Montgomery still wasn’t sure if it had been a very
unpleasant joke on his father’s part or something else,
but he supposed the time for thinking on that was not now. He had a
household to see to.
A long day? He suddenly realized it was going to be a very long
Excerpted from ONE ENCHANTED EVENING © Copyright 2011 by
Lynn Kurland. Reprinted with permission by Jove. All rights