Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dark In The City Of Light - Chapter 1

Dark In The City Of Light
Bethany House (July 1, 2010)
Paul Robertson

Chapter 1

The Thief Comes


On a violent, black winter evening, Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi in Paris received a telegram from his wife in Vienna. It was delivered to his lodging on the Rue de Saint-Simon, and by candlelight at his desk he read its three words, I AM ILL.

"Will there be a reply, monsieur?"

The messenger, an old man, shuddered from the cold and stood close to the fire. The heavy coat of his uniform seemed to do little to warm him. Outside, hard gusts of the tempest outside assailed the window. It rattled and shook in its casing and the wind whistled through it. These were the only sounds inside as the man stood shivering and the Baron Ferdinand sat, uneasy as the storm.

Finally, the baron took the form and touched his pen to the ink bottle. "Today is Monday?"

"Yes, monsieur."

He scribbled, WILL LEAVE TOMORROW ARRIVE THURSDAY. "There, take that."

The messenger returned reluctantly to the night, and Ferdinand stood and began to pace the room. His steps were silent on the thick carpet, a slow tread that soon became quicker and more troubled. His path was wall to wall beneath two portraits, one behind his desk, of the Austrian emperor, and the other opposite, of a woman. At last, he stopped beneath it. The woman, in her youth, with long black hair and striking features, was wearing the fashions of an earlier time. The baron faced her, looking up; he was two hard decades at least past his own youth.


His valet appeared.

"Yes, master."

"We'll depart tomorrow for Vienna. I'll call on the ambassador at his residence this evening to ask his leave."

"Yes, master."


The cold gale had swept the Rue de Saint-Simon clear of men and light. Above the wind's howl, shutters creaked and half-loose things beat against hard walls.

Yet even against the hurricane blackness, curtained light crept from the buildings, side against side, lining the lane. No shaft of it touched the stones of the street. The glimmering windows were only pictures framed in night of the rooms and the lives hidden like jewels from the thieving storm.

It was upon this wailing sheet of shadow that Baron Harsanyi opened his door, its light spilling even onto the pavement, capturing an island from the blackness. He stepped onto the small square. Then he closed the door and the light surrendered back to the dark.

But the baron did not surrender himself to night. He wrapped his thick cape about him and advanced into it.

In a warmer season it would have been a short, pleasant stroll to the Rue de Grenelle. In the cold, he still chose to walk. A few carriages passed, and no one on two legs. For most of the way he was invisible in the shadows, the only witness of the war between the powers of the air and the strongholds of earth. He reached the Austrian Embassy and pulled the bell; it was a short but chilling wait for the front gate to be opened.


Prince Richard von Metternich, ambassador of Franz Joseph, the emperor of Austria, to Louis Napoleon, emperor of France, stood by the mantel in his private apartments, a goblet in his hand and a hot fire dancing at his side.

"Your Excellency." Ferdinand Harsanyi bowed.

The room was warm and close and fitfully bright. Flames roared in hearths at either end, and candle flames floated in their silver holders.

"Baron. What brings you out on a wretched night?" The prince's careless posture was in contrast to the baron's military straightness. His youth and finery were, as well; he was barely forty, and his emerald satin jacket shimmered like cat eyes.

"I must request your leave to return to Vienna."

"As you wish, of course." He set aside the formality with a gesture. "A personal matter?"

"My wife is ill." The baron's attention was pulled aside, toward the far hearth and the two chairs beside it. All the light made the shadows blacker, and the shadows leaped with the fire.

"How unfortunate," Prince von Metternich said. "My wife just visited her a few weeks ago when she was in Vienna. Did your wife tell you? Possibly not." The prince glanced toward the far fireplace, indecisive, but then shrugged. "They are such good friends. I'll not delay you. Please give my regards to the charming baroness, and my hopes for a speedy recovery." He gestured again in dismissal.

"Thank you, Your Excellency." Baron Harsanyi paused. His hair was gray iron and close-cropped. He would have been handsome as a young man; now he was hidden. "Do you have any instructions for me?"

The ambassador pretended surprise. "Instructions?" His head seemed to always be in motion, tilting, swaying, nodding.

"I'll be in the capital. Do you want me to convey any messages?"

"You would take precious hours from your poor, ill wife for a tedious visit to the Foreign Ministry?"

It would have been easier to see without such light. And over the growling flames, there had been another slight sound coming from the opposite fireplace.

"I would have the opportunity. If you wish." Ferdinand spoke slowly and carefully. "I would be expected to call on the foreign minister. It would be an affront to him on your behalf if I do not."

"And he would deserve it!" The ambassador's own fires flared. He took a deep breath and calmed himself. "But if I wish to insult the foreign minister, I should do it myself." His demeanor changed again, to give the baron his full attention. The mocking tone was gone. "Be innocuous, be bland, and say nothing. Tell him the usual, that relations between France and Prussia are as difficult as ever, and we have fears the current crisis may make them even worse."

"Which particular crisis do you mean, Your Excellency?"

"Pick one, any of them. Make one up if nothing new has happened by the time you get to Vienna. There's always a crisis between France and Prussia." He lifted his hands in annoyance. "The Spanish throne if you need a particular one. But ..." The ambassador became more forceful. "Stress that this embassy is diligently working to calm the French government. Because the greatest harm would be that the ministry gives us instructions. You know as well as I, Baron Harsanyi, it is very delicate at the moment, and I think it is best for us to manage it ourselves. There will be war between Paris and Berlin within the next twelve months, I'm sure of it, but it's far better for the Austrian government in Vienna to not meddle. Be careful what you say."

The baron was satisfied. "I understand, Your Excellency."

He stared more closely at the chair facing the far fireplace, but the shadows were too deep. Prince von Metternich drew his attention away. "And will you also visit the office of the Army General Staff?"

"If possible. Again, it would be an affront not to. An affront on my behalf."

"I have no instructions to you about that. What will you say to them?"

"As the military attaché to the embassy in Paris, I will report to them on the state of the French army. That will be all that is necessary."

"Armies are useful, in wars and for other purposes, but they do not interest me." Prince von Metternich shrugged and his careless manner returned. "Perhaps this will be one war that Austria will avoid losing."

"I hope, Your Excellency, that if a war does come between France and Prussia, that Austria would not participate in it."

"Quite, Baron. That is the only way Austria ever avoids losing. We had our own defeat by Prussia four years ago and that is enough."

But now Baron Ferdinand was sure. Of the two heavy chairs that were set by the far fireplace, one was not empty. Prince Richard saw that Baron Harsanyi had seen. He smiled, as if he'd just remembered the two of them weren't alone. "Monsieur Sarroche?" he laughed. "You have been discovered."

The man stood and displayed himself in the tricking light. He was needle-like, short and very thin. Even his nose was long and pointed and unpleasant. His hair was the only feature about him that was abundant, brown and longer than was fashionable. "Monsieur." He bowed slightly and briefly. Baron Harsanyi stiffened, even more.

"Baron Harsanyi is the military attaché assigned to the embassy," the ambassador said. "And Monsieur Sarroche is an official of the French government in their Bureau of Armaments."

"I already know the pleasure of the baron's acquaintance," Monsieur Sarroche said. His voice was also unpleasant.

The baron remained silent.

"Of course you would know him," Prince von Metternich said. "I should have realized. The baron makes it his business to know everything admirable about the French army. Perhaps, Baron, you can guess the reason for the monsieur's visit."

Baron Harsanyi broke his stiff silence. "I wouldn't guess."

"Then perhaps you actually know. Monsieur Sarroche is here to discuss the French government's desire to make purchases from Austria."

"Military materials," Sarroche said. "As Your Excellency suggests, we may have great needs very soon."

"And we were just getting started," Prince von Metternich said, "when you were announced; I had even thought I should ask your assistance. But of course you are in a hurry to prepare for your travels."

"We particularly want mercury." The Frenchman spoke abruptly. He was watching Baron Harsanyi very closely.

"I really do feel as if I'm the one who's stumbled into the conversation," Prince von Metternich said, now pretending amusement. "Do you know something about, um, mercury, Baron?"

"The baron knows a great deal about mercury," Sarroche answered for him. "Austria's largest cinnabar mines are at Idria, in Slovenia, on the baron's estate."

"Cinnabar?" Prince von Metternich asked. "Not mercury?"

"Cinnabar is the ore; the mercury is produced from it," Baron Ferdinand said. "And mercury is used to manufacture mercury fulminate, which is an explosive. But the mines are on my wife's estate, not mine."

"Oh, that's what those mines are? We've known your wife for years, but I never could remember what exactly it was they dug out of the ground there."

"Yes, your wife's estates," Sarroche said to the baron. And then, slowly, "I am so greatly sorry to hear that she is ill." He let the silence hang, then added, "But not entirely surprised."

The baron inhaled sharply.

"Yes, it is unfortunate," the ambassador said, not taking notice of Sarroche's last comment. His always mocking smile was sympathetic for a moment. "And how long will we be without you? A week? Two?"

"A week, I hope."

"A week then." The lights in the prince's eyes narrowed, and his head, moving like an adder, turned straight toward him. "That would be only two days at her side? Will it be enough?"

"Three days. I hope it will be enough."

"Take what time you need."

"And when you return," Sarroche said, "we will continue our discussion."


On the return to his apartment, the wind had decreased and a heavy snow fell. Where the lights of windows and streetlamps had before not penetrated the black, now their radiance had the slow white flakes to illuminate. Every light became a floating globe of falling grains.

With even greater speed, the baron retraced his steps. Inside the front hall of the building, he knocked on the concierge's door.

"A carriage," he said. "Fifteen minutes."


"Zoltan," the baron said at the door of his apartment. "We're leaving tonight. Quickly. We'll catch the last train." He looked out the window. "I hope the snow doesn't block the tracks."

"Ten minutes," Zoltan answered. He had black hair, straight down over his heavy brow, and a similar mustache over his mouth, and he wore a clerk's short coat over his loose white shirt and burly shoulders. He bowed and left the room.

Ferdinand's motions were fast and urgent. He opened a drawer of his desk and quickly removed papers and sorted them into a portfolio. In only eight minutes Zoltan had pulled a trunk from the bedroom and a smaller portmanteau from his own room. Baron Harsanyi searched the room with his eyes, looking for anything else to be taken.

A knock sounded on the door, its echo smothered in the drapery and carpet.

"The carriage, master," Zoltan said. A boy, the concierge's grandson, had brought the driver to the apartment.

The baron gave the boy a few sous, and Zoltan and the driver lifted the trunk and the portmanteau through the hall and down the stairs.

The baron blew out the last lamp, took his portfolio, and locked the door of his dark apartment behind him.


For the final time that evening, Baron Harsanyi ventured out. The snow was not yet deep and the carriage wheels cut through it without resistance. The first corner was the Quai d'Orsay, and they rode for a time along the left bank of the Seine. The road was well lit, and even the gaslights on the far bank were visible. The carriage turned onto the Pont de la Concorde and crossed the Seine; then they were on the other bank, beneath its lights, and the d'Orsay side was faint beyond the snow and fog. The whole river smoked and curled and cloaked itself and its banks in vapor.

On the right bank they still followed the water, on the Quai des Tuileries. The gardens were on their left, and then the bulk of the Louvre, and then on their right, the Ile, and barely, the blunt spires of Notre Dame ghostly in the snow. They turned on the Boulevard de Sebastopol and the river was lost behind them.

The new boulevard was as straight as a cannon shot, which was part of its purpose, to break up the nests and warrens of neighborhoods that had always bred uprisings and unrest.

But the boulevard's other purpose was to make Paris wondrous, and the long lines of lights and endless lines of gray stone mansions and bright windows and the sinuous lines of pedestrians on the sidewalks, and carriages on the paving stones, were beautiful and glittering, a street of light.

Then Boulevard de Strasbourg continued Sebastopol's line, and soon the grand front of the Gare de l'Est train station was in sight. But before they reached it, the baron spoke to the driver, "Turn here."

They turned onto the Boulevard de Magenta and then a second time onto a small side street; the sign said Rue de Valenciennes. They stopped at the third building, once but no longer a house. Now a small brass plaque was set beside the door that read, Partington and Manchester, Ltd.


One light glowed in the uppermost window. Despite the late, dark hour, the baron rang the bell and knocked, as well. There was no answer, but he was undeterred. He continued to knock, and finally the door creaked open. A wide, pasty face looked out.

"What is it?" the face asked in English-accented French.

The baron's English had only a slight accent. "Mr. Henry Whistler. Where is he?"

"Not here!" The clerk changed to English. "Not now."

"Is he in Paris?"

"No, sir. He's away."


"I'm not to say, sir."

"Is he in Vienna?"

The white face hadn't nearly the guile to deny that the baron's guess was the truth.

"I thought as much," the baron said, and turned away.


In an even greater hurry, the baron rushed into the station, leaving behind Zoltan and a porter with the trunk. Though the night had long been dark, it was still before nine thirty and the last trains were standing at the platforms.

"Two first class to Strasbourg," he said at the window.

"Yes, monsieur." The agent eyed him with suspicion. "You are Prussian, monsieur?"

"That isn't your business."

"It is the business of the police," the ticket agent answered. "I am required to ask. Travel by Prussians must be reported."

"I am Hungarian and I am a diplomat of the Austrian Empire."

"Very well, sir! Your tickets!"

The baron turned to go, but then he paused.

"Perhaps I should ask for an apology, for being mistaken for Prussian."

The agent scowled, but caught a gleam of humor in the dark eyes, and smiled. "I will apologize to an Austrian. To be called Prussian, it is a terrible insult, is it not?"


The suburbs of Paris fell behind and the moon rose over the train's eastward course. The farms and villages of the valley of the Seine crowded the track, and the train and the fields each sped past the other in the night, very close but different worlds.

The falling snow was left behind. The fields were silver white from the train's windows; the windows were gaslit yellow from the snowy fields.

At midnight the train stopped at Chalons, and at four in the morning in Nancy. Finally, the winter day dawned as the track rounded the heights of the Vosges Mountains and came to rest at the platform in Strasbourg.

Baron Harsanyi waited in the first-class lounge, wrapped in his heavy coat and unnoticed by his fellow passengers.

"What did you think?" he asked Zoltan, beside him.

"The rails are single track. Every kilometer from Paris."

"When the war begins, how long would it take Marshall Frossard to bring his first fifty divisions from Paris to the Rhine?"

"The first five, one week," Zoltan said. "After that the trains get too confused and the mobilization is a swamp. The trains can't run both ways on the same track."

"The Prussians have four double-track lines from Berlin. Trains both ways at the same time."

"They would move twenty divisions in ten days."

"But their army is conscripts. They'll have to be called up from their farms and villages. Their mobilization would take longer." He looked out at the night. "And the French would have the Vosges Mountains as a defense, and the fortresses in Froeschwiller and Forbach. It won't be easy for either side."

"It will be murder," Zoltan growled.


The train that departed Strasbourg en route to Munich wound slowly at first through the half French and half German spires and villages of Alsace. Then gathering speed it launched onto the Rhine Bridge, a kilometer of iron trusses and spans. The sharp lines were blurred by the mists and fogs rising from the river.

"One company of dragoons would take the French side," Zoltan said. "Then the Rhine is nothing to stop the Prussians."

"That's not Prussia," the baron said, nodding to the approaching bank. "It's the Grand Duchy of Baden. Baden isn't allied to Prussia yet."

"It's all German."

Halfway across, the train began to slow, and well onto the eastern bank in the village of Kehl it stopped. The passengers waited as officials of the Grand Duchy passed the length of the cars, verifying passports. Outside the baron's window, two young guards stood on the platform of the station with rifles.

"Your papers, please?" The compartment door had opened, and a white-haired guard waited politely. "Austrian, yes, they are all in order. Thank you." He laid his hand on the compartment door.

"A moment," Baron Harsanyi said. "You're an old man to have to work hard, and in the cold."

"The young ones are drilling. It is the training."

"Like those?" He pointed out the window at the guards.

"Those two, yes. All those young ones are drilling and practicing."

When the door was closed, Zoltan shook his head.

"The rifles they have? Zundnadelgewehr." He spoke the German contemptuously. Then he returned to Hungarian. "Needle guns. They are trash."

"The Dreyse factories are supporters of Prime Minister Bismarck. He won't let the army change to a new rifle. Even here in the south, they haven't changed. The French rifles are far better. Quite accurate."

"The Chassepots rifles," Zoltan said. "I hit a target at a thousand meters. The needle guns only four hundred."

The train started and they began their journey through the south of Germany. After two hours they'd crossed the narrow waist of Baden and entered Württemberg. The black shadows of the German forest enclosed them.

"The forest of the Grimm tales," Baron Harsanyi said. "Did you know, in English, grim means austere and frightening? To see the place, that name is fitting."

"I don't know English."

Before noon they had passed Stuttgart and in the early afternoon they crossed the next frontier, into the Kingdom of Bavaria, and in the evening they came to the capital, Munich.

"Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria," the baron said. "Von Bismarck and his Prussia have all Northern Germany in their hands, but these three Southern German states are still on the fence. The question is whether they will join a war with France. They have an alliance, but it only comes into effect if France declares war first."

"France would be foolish to attack," Zoltan said.

"Von Bismarck is a genius at making other countries do foolish things. That's why he's been so successful as Prussia's prime minister."

"If France attacks, all Germany will fight against her."

"There is no Germany," Ferdinand said. "They are all separate countries. Bavaria has its own kings, the Wittelsbachs, and they don't like the Prussian Hohenzollerns."

"So far, they have their king, and the Prussians have their king, and Hanover and Brunswick and Baden and all these little places," Zoltan said. "The people, they want one Germany. They always have. Where Germans are, that is Germany."

"The French will never allow Germany to unite."

"Unless they are forced."

"So, war is inevitable?"

"Only God could stop it."


They ate dinner in the station restaurant in Munich. At nearly midnight, they boarded the overnight train from Frankfurt. Zoltan slept, but the baron was lost in remorseless thought, staring out the windows at something beyond the Danube valley.

The day was well begun as they reached the outskirts of Vienna.


Beneath high, steam-shrouded arches of steel he stepped from the train onto the Vienna Westbahnhof platform. The station was crowded with passengers.

"A carriage?" Zoltan asked.

Ferdinand shook his head. "It's too early to arrive."

"The household will be awake."

But the baron was looking out the front doors of the station, toward an opulent marble building. He turned back to Zoltan. "I want to wait until the children have left the house. Check the bags here at the station. Then take a cab to the house. Don't go in, though. Wait at the corner where you can see who goes in and out, and don't let them see you. Wait for me. I'll be at least an hour."

"Yes, master."


Once Zoltan had left him, Ferdinand stood for a moment on the front steps of the station. Other people passed by, aiming for the imposing building directly across the street. Gold letters set above the second row of windows read Imperial Hotel.

He walked up the steps and the door was opened for him by a doorman. Inside, wealthy travelers ambled between the door, the front counter, the stairs, the dining room, and among the chairs and tables of the lobby.

At the desk he paused, and then asked, "Is Mr. Henry Whistler in this morning?"

"Just a moment, sir." The clerk studied the hundreds of squares in the wall behind him. Some of the pigeonholes had keys in them, some letters and notes, and some were empty. "Yes, he is in," the clerk said.

"Please have a message delivered to him."

"Yes, sir?" The man slid a sheet of paper forward, but the baron shook his head.

"Inform him that Baron Harsanyi would like to speak with him in the lobby."

The clerk nodded and rang a bell on the counter. A young man in hotel uniform sprang forward.

"Inform Mr. Whistler in room 225 that Baron Harsanyi wishes to speak with him in the lobby."

Ferdinand took a seat in a leather armchair in a far corner, and waited.


"My good baron!" The language and deep musical voice were English. The man was in a gray wool suit and bowler hat, with an ivory-handled ebony walking stick in his hand. His clothing was simply quiet and affluent, but his face was conspicuous. His cheeks were ruddy and his nose rounded above a bushy white mustache, and his eyes were very sharp. "Good morning! What an absolute surprise."

"Good morning to you," the baron answered.

Mr. Whistler sat beside him. "Quite a shrewd guess to find me here." Most of his smile was hidden behind the mustache. "But you're a shrewd man. And you're in Vienna to see the baroness?"

"I am here to see her."

"It was a guess that you'd find me here, wasn't it? Or did she tell you I was here? No, I doubt that." He smiled again, and for a moment the eyes were wickedly amused. "She's ill, you know."

"I do know."

"She was unable to see me yesterday," Whistler said. "I met with her three days ago, and she didn't seem well."

"She won't sell you any cinnabar," Baron Ferdinand said. "You've wasted your trip."

"I hope I haven't. But it seems to be a slim hope."

"Why did you even try?"

"We'll just say I'd heard a bit of a rumor that the wind might have changed."

"What rumor?"

But Whistler just smiled even more broadly. "And besides, you refuse to talk to me in Paris. It was worth a try to come here. And when she did talk to me, three days ago, she was as unfriendly to me as you have been." The sneering look reappeared in his eyes. "It must be the one thing in which the two of you are in agreement."

Ferdinand met his look with one just as sharp. But he responded calmly.

"Tell me what you proposed to her."

Whistler stared into Ferdinand's eyes for a moment, and his smile faded. "Why do you want to know?" He waited, and then said, "Perhaps I should have stayed in Paris after all. Was that where the new wind was blowing from?"

"I still don't know which wind you mean."

"I heard through one of my agents that Austrian cinnabar might soon be coming on the market. Are you the seller, Baron? I had assumed that it would be your wife."

"The cinnabar mines are part of my wife's estate," Ferdinand said. "She would have to agree to any sale."

"But you are her husband, and women have no legal rights to sign contracts. You have to sign it for her."

"I wouldn't accept anything against her wishes."

"You accepted your posting to Paris. But I suppose that wasn't against her wishes." Whistler tapped his fingers together, considering the baron's blank stare. "If your wife is ill and can't speak for herself, you might presume to speak for her." The sneer disappeared as he studied Ferdinand's face. "The French government has an urgent, desperate need for mercury fulminate and I would like to sell them some."

"The French have their own facilities. They can produce fulminate without buying it from you."

"But our good friend Monsieur Sarroche has no mercury to produce it with. There are only two sources in Europe large enough and developed enough to supply enough cinnabar ore: the Spanish mines at Almaden, and your Idria in Slovenia. Spain is even more unfriendly at the moment. Partington and Manchester will buy the cinnabar from you, produce the mercury fulminate in our own factories, and sell it to the French. You and I will both make a comfortable profit." He allowed another smile. "Herr Bismarck and Louis Napoleon are creating fortunes right now with this war they're trying to start against each other. Why not take our share?"

"The war may not happen."

"What could possibly stop it?" He paused. "Nothing. There is nothing more certain than war."

"You would sell the fulminate only to the French?" the baron asked.

"Not to the Prussians, if that's what you mean."

"That is what I mean."

"I would not sell it to Prussia. I can't," Whistler said. "Unfortunately, von Stieff has the whole German market all to himself. And the Austrian government would never allow the cinnabar ore to be exported to their greatest enemy anyway." He frowned in thought. "But I could find a way. War and greed are the two constants of human nature. For the right price, I'm sure I could find a way."

Baron Ferdinand ignored him. "So, again, tell me what you proposed to my wife."

"Here we get to it, don't we?" Whistler shook his head. "But I think I'll keep my cards to myself. First let me know if you can convince your wife to sell cinnabar to me. Or"—Whistler was back to smiling—"if you simply decide to sell it over her objections."

"I wouldn't do that."

"Don't tell me that your tender regard toward her prevents you from acting against her wishes. I wouldn't believe you."

"Austrian law doesn't give me complete freedom to act," Ferdinand said. "My wife does have some rights concerning her property."

"Then you'll have to start convincing her."

"That is my concern."

"It is, and you'd best get at it." Whistler frowned, and the mocking had returned. "The war won't wait, and the French are impatient." He stood to leave. "Sarroche has sent his own agent after her, you know, here in Vienna at the moment."


"That's another card I'll keep to myself."

"Tell me."

"You'll know where to find me, Baron," Whistler said, not answering. "I'll leave for Paris tomorrow. In the meantime, I wish your wife a speedy recovery." He leaned forward. "Or at least a speedy resolution. That would make things easier, wouldn't it?"


"What have you seen?"

Zoltan stepped back from the corner. "No one has entered."

"Have the children left?"

"Your son left as I arrived. On a horse."

"He's riding. And Therese?"

"She left ten minutes ago in a carriage. It came to get her."

"Who was in it?"

"I couldn't see."

"Most likely a friend. Then I am ready to arrive."

They both got into the cab that Ferdinand had brought from the train station. "On to the front door," Ferdinand said to the driver. Then he spoke to Zoltan. "I may go back out after the children have returned. Go to the stable and reintroduce yourself to the grays."

"Yes, master."

And then they had covered the last thirty meters to the front door. The house was stone and brick, as elegant and quiet as the street. With his cloak billowing unheeded about his shoulders, Baron Harsanyi stepped into the snow and mud and then onto the wide steps and up to the oak doors.

He opened them, and the sound echoed through the empty hall before him. He stood only a moment on the threshold and then walked slowly to the stairway and even more slowly upward. Doors above him opened.

"Master!" A servant woman met him at the top.

"Where is she, Maria?"

"In the bed. We expected you tomorrow. Today is only Wednesday!"

"Where is Rudolph?"

"He is out, and Therese, also. They would have been here if we had known you were coming."

"How is my wife?" he said, starting toward her bedroom.

"Sleeping. She is better than yesterday, less shaking."

The baron stopped. "Shaking?"

"Yes. Trembling."

"When was she awake?"

"Two days ago when we sent the telegram, and a little yesterday. She's breathing better than yesterday, too. The doctor says it is influenza. He says another week—"

But he passed her and came to the closed door.

"When will Rudolph return?"

"By noon, master. He's riding."

"And Therese?"

"She was with ... with a friend. She's buying a hat."

His hand was on the door and he drew himself straight to open it. When he gently had, he stepped into the room, slowly and hushed but with no hesitation.


It was dim in the bedroom. Only a thin line of light entered through the drawn curtains. The shaft fell on the bed, on a heavy white coverlet that was like the snow outside, formed it seemed by the wind into a drift from foot to head, and at the end another mound of pillow blown against the headboard.

On the pillow her head lay still, and beside it a braid of dark hair. Her face was as white as the sheets. Her eyes were closed and only slow gasping breath showed that any life still coursed within.

He stood over her.

There was a sound behind him. "Master?"

He didn't turn. "Leave me, Maria. Close the door."

The echoes quickly died and he was alone with his wife. He knelt close and studied the pale complexion and listened to her fragile breathing. She was still very much the same as the portrait in his apartment in Paris; age hadn't changed her.

"Irene," he said, but there was no motion.

A ticking clock on the mantel was the only sound in the room. He glanced at it, then looked more carefully around the room. The walls were papered satin white with delicate gold-flowered columns. The furniture was heavy and old-fashioned, also painted white with gilded ornaments. Four red candles, two on each side of the bed, burned brightly. Their red was the only strong color in the room.

The fire in the fireplace was well kept; he crossed the room to the hearth and shoveled as much coal into the box as would fit.

He returned to the bed. He caressed his wife's cheek, feeling the dry parchment skin and measuring the heat of her blood and feeling it pulse. He even touched her eyelid and drew it open. He stared into her eye, and she stared back at nothing.

He drew back the cover from her shoulder and arm. He knelt, found her hand and grasped it in his.

Still holding it, with his other hand he took a handkerchief from his pocket and laid it out on the white cover. The cloth was dark red like a stain on snow, the same color as the candles. He folded it twice, into quarters, all with his one hand as his other held hers.

He took a deep, weary, sorrowful breath.

Then he cupped the handkerchief in his free hand and gently, firmly, held it down over his wife's still mouth and nostrils.

A tremor shook the bed as her frail body unconsciously struggled. He maintained his pressure; no air could pass into the lungs. Her hand in his quivered.

Her eyes fluttered open.

Then they closed. The struggle hadn't been long. There was a final shuddering and she was still.

Even so, he kept his palm in place for moments longer. Then he released her and now there was no breath at all, and no pulse in her veins.

He stood for several long minutes watching her, his own face hard and still as hers. Then he pulled the cover back over her arm and stepped away.


"I will be in my study," he said as he closed the door behind himself.

Maria was waiting in the hall. "Did she know you?"

"No. She didn't wake." He started slowly down the stairs. "And I tended the fire. There will be no need to disturb her. When the children return, send them to me."


The baron's study was small and sparsely furnished. One wall was shelves of books and one held only the door. In the corner of the other two walls, beneath a window, was an old, worn desk. Its antique character and archaic carving matched its owner.

The baron was seated at the desk. The portfolio he'd brought from Paris was unopened on it. The only other objects on the desk were an ink bottle and a blotter. Unmoving hours had gone by and it was noon.

A knock sounded on the door. He opened the portfolio, took out a paper, and held the pen over it.


The door opened. "Father?"


He stood from his desk and moved to embrace the young man standing uncertainly in the doorway, briefly and formally. They matched eye to eye in height and in width of shoulders, but the son was still in his first clean strength of manhood. His hair was jet-black and curling; he was square-jawed and dark-eyed and unweathered.

Rudolph stepped back. "I didn't know you were coming today. I would have been here."

"I changed plans."

"Have you seen Mother?"

"Of course, at the very first moment I arrived. She didn't wake."

"She'll recover. She's strong."

"Yes, I know. She will. You've grown, Rudolph."

The son's eyes glowed. "Yes, sir."

"And your schooling? She writes that you still plan to attend University in the fall."

"Yes, Father. At the Institute, here in Vienna. Mother has made all the arrangements."

The baron's eyes were unreadable. "And to what end?"

"There will be a position in the foreign office."

"A good Austrian, Rudolph. Like all your mother's family."

Rudolph's uncertainty, which had never entirely been absent, returned. "Yes, Father."

"And not the army?"

"Mother insists on the foreign office."

"And your wishes?"

"A career as a diplomat seems honorable. I would be following your footsteps."

"I'm not a diplomat. I'm a soldier."

"Well, yes, Father, of course, but—"

"I'm serving the ambassador as a military advisor."

Rudolph was silent, a silence that lasted very long, until another voice broke it.


"Therese! Come."

Rudolph stepped away to make room. Baron Harsanyi embraced his daughter in a true fatherly embrace.

"What are you doing?" she said. "You came early."

"I have business with the ministry."

"And have you seen her? She's in bed."

"Yes, I have. She didn't wake."

"I want to ask her about hats." She was like her mother, with a rounded face and gentle features betrayed by sharp eyes. Her hair was like her brother's, black and curling, even though it was very long.

"Maria said you were getting a new hat," Ferdinand said.

"Yes, it's being made. What are they wearing in Paris, Father?"

He paused. "Soon you'll come and see for yourself."

"Come to see? Paris? Oh, Father! I couldn't! Mother wouldn't let me."

"We'll ask her when she wakes."

"I can't leave until she's well."

"Of course."


Rudolph had stood still through their entire conversation.


"If you don't need me, I'll be at my studies."

"Yes, go ahead. And I'll be going out."

"Through the evening?" Therese asked.

"Through the evening, yes."


"Go," he said to Zoltan. "Get moving."

"Yes, master."

The baron leaned back in his seat. The paving stones were well placed and flat, and the landau with its springs cushioned the ride, but even so, the speed was jolting. Yet he was too deep in his colorless thoughts to brace himself, or to notice as he was thrown against the side.

"To where?" Zoltan asked.

"Just drive."

"Yes, master." The whip cracked, lightly, and the matched gray pair of horses lunged forward.

Baron Harsanyi suddenly realized their speed. "Slow down!"

The reins were pulled and the carriage slowed.

"Take time," the baron said. "Take all the time you can. Anything to delay our return." Then he thought. "The Foreign Ministry."

The horses slowed further and with them the city passing. Now they were part of the streaming multitude. They passed the Belvedere Gardens and Palace, and the Schwarzenberg Palace, then swerved smoothly onto the wide promenade of the RingStrasse. The grand façades of the ministries and mansions, brick and marble gray, added to but did not surpass the majesty of the broad boulevard itself. Each straight segment was flanked by its own great edifice: the Opernring and the Opera; the Burgring and the Kunsthistoriches Museum on one side and on the other the Hofburg, the Imperial Palace itself, gleaming white and gold in the white snow and whiter sunlight. Behind it the gardens slept beneath their blanket of snow.

Then the Parliament on the left, then the Burgtheater on the right, and then the University. And Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi returned to his fog of restless agitation. He shifted from side to side on his seat until he forced himself to be still. Even then, nothing in him was still. And finally they reached the Foreign Ministry building.


"Baron Harsanyi." Count Friedrich von Buest slowly raised his head and eyes from his desk. A fringe of white hair circled the head and dove down into extravagant sideburns. When his eyes finally reached the baron's, they were large and watery light blue in a wrinkled face.

"Your Excellency."

"What brings you to Vienna?" His voice was reedy and lethargic, like an old organ that leaked air.

"My wife is ill." By force of will, he kept his eyes straight forward.

"My greatest sympathy," he said with no sympathy at all. "It is fortunate that you are here. I wish you to take instructions back to Prince von Metternich in Paris."

"I am the military attaché," the baron said. "I may not be qualified to—"

"I know who you are. I don't want this to be connected with any official channels in the Foreign Ministry."

"Yes, sir."

"Next month the Archduke Albrecht will visit Paris."

"The emperor's uncle?"

"He must be kept from any communication with Louis Napoleon."

"We will make every effort."

"The archduke is an old, foolish man. He has no understanding of the political realities. He hates the Prussians, and ever since the battle of Koniggratz, he has called for an alliance against them between Austria and France. He may make any outlandish statement or promise to the French government." He looked sharply at Ferdinand. "Are you paying attention?"

Ferdinand tried to. "Yes, sir. The ambassador can make it plain that the archduke does not speak for the Austrian government."

"It must not be plain. The archduke will be insulted and call on Emperor Franz Joseph to intervene here in the Foreign Ministry. That would create a crisis, which we cannot afford. I can't send this message through normal Foreign Ministry dispatches, or the archduke may hear of it."

"I understand, sir."

"And do you have any messages from Prince von Metternich?"

"Concerning the Spanish throne—"

"I don't want to hear it. Whatever he says is just as likely a lie or a trick, coming from him. And he wouldn't listen to anything I said to him, either. But he'll know what to do with Albrecht. In that, he and I will be in complete agreement. And I'll tell you yourself, Baron, don't trust von Metternich. But you know him. You know his wiles."

The baron didn't answer.

"You are dismissed," the foreign minister said.


"Now where?" Zoltan asked.

Ferdinand had just left the office of the General Staff of the Army. It was still only late afternoon.

"Around the Ring. Just keep going. Anywhere."

They returned to the RingStrasse and Zoltan set the gray horses at an easy pace.

The streets and the day passed.


It was dark and had long been, the dark of a crystal Vienna winter night, not the dark of a Paris snowstorm. The streets were still full despite the bone-snapping cold.

"Enough," the baron said finally. "Home."

It was the first that Ferdinand had spoken in all the past hours, and it had taken a burst of strength to say it. As they traversed the wider streets his agitation increased, just as it had in the apartment in Paris, and though there was no place in the carriage to pace, still his unease was apparent. As finally they reached the corner of his own Hegergasse, he spoke out.

"Stop, Zoltan."

Without a word, his servant stopped the carriage and waited.

"I do not want to arrive at my door this evening."

"To a hotel then, master?"

"No. Not that. It has to be done. Go on. I just dread it."

Submitting to his master's mood, Zoltan stirred the horses to walk slowly toward the building halfway down the block. But they did approach, and the house was blazing in light with every window bright, even as they were draped in heavy black curtains.

"The house is in mourning," Zoltan said.

"My wife is dead. Go ahead, go forward."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Nightshade - Chapter 1

Barbour Books (July 1, 2010)

Ronie Kendig


Crazy lights swirled against the evening sky. Day morphed into the merriment of night. Cotton candy and hot dogs. Teens decked out in goth gear contrasted sharply with young couples dragged from ride to ride by squealing offspring. White smeared over a man’s face as red encircled his mouth. Like a giant maraschino cherry, his nose squawked when a child squeezed it. He threw his head back and laughed. The little boy stood perplexed, as if uncertain whether to laugh or break into tears.

Olin Lambert shifted on the park bench as a parade of kids trailed the balloon-toting clown through the park. He glanced at his watch. His contact was la—

The boards under his legs creaked. A man dressed in a navy jogging suit joined him.

“You almost missed the fun.” Olin tossed a few kernels of popcorn into his mouth.

Rolling his shoulders, the man darted his gaze around the carnival insanity. “You know how dangerous this is? What it took for me to get out here without being seen?”

The danger and risk to his contact were no greater than what was stacked up against Olin. They both had a lot to lose—careers, reputations, families. . . . “We could leave now.”

“You know this has to happen.”

After a sip of his diet cola, Olin stuffed the half-full bag of popcorn on top of the overflowing trash bin. He wiped his hands and turned back to the man. “So, the body count’s finally high enough?”

Blue eyes narrowed. “I’m here. That should tell you something.”

“Indeed.” Olin waited as the ice cream vendor wheeled his musical cart past. “I need full autonomy for me and my team.”

Music burst forth as swings whirled occupants in a monotonous circle. A performer tossed flaming sticks and maneuvered one down his throat, swallowing the flames. Ohs wafted on the noisy, hot wind from the audience gathered around him. A scream pierced the night—a woman startled by another clown.

“Okay, fine. Just get on with this. I’m a sitting duck out here.” He rubbed his hands and glanced around.

Olin swiped his tongue along his teeth, took a draught of his soda, then slumped back against the slats. “I want it in writing. Two copies. Mine. Yours.”

The man shook his head. “No trails.”

The corner of Olin’s mouth quirked up. “You’ve already got one.” He nodded to the ice cream vendor, who reached over the register and tapped a sign with a hole in the center where a camera hid.

A curse hissed through the night. “You’d bleed me out if you could.”

“Whatever it takes to protect these men.”

Eyeing him, the man hesitated. “The men? Or you?”

“One and the same. If they’re protected, I’m protected. Whatever happens out there, we’re not going to take the fall for it.”

“If it goes bad, someone will get blamed.”

Olin pursed his lips and cocked his head to the side. “More dust enough? How many more lives are you willing to sacrifice?”


On his feet, Olin tugged up the hood of his jacket. “Then we’re through.”

The man caught his elbow. “Sit down.”

Teeth clamped, Olin returned to the bench. He bent forward and rubbed his hands together, more than ready to forget he’d ever tried to deal with this man, the only man with enough power on the Hill and the right connections to both fund and authorize black-ops missions. Missions nobody wanted to acknowledge.

The din of merriment swallowed the silence between them. A beat cop worked the scene, glancing their way as he walked, no doubt making a mental note to watch them.

“Get me their names. I’ll write a carte blanche.”

Olin’s gut twisted. “Not happening.” If he revealed the names of his elite, he would essentially place them on individual crosses to be crucified by some politician who got wind of this or by someone far more dangerous—media—if something went south. “Project Overlook happens under my guidance with all the freedom and resources I need, or it doesn’t happen and you have one heckuva mess to clean up.”

“If I do this, I could get put away for a long time, Lambert.” “And a million people will die if you don’t.”

“We should sit back and let Congress grant the authorization to go in there.”

A deep-chested laugh wormed through Olin. “You’ve been around too long to believe that. Thick bellies and big heads crowd the halls of the Hill. They want the power and none of the responsibility.” Had he been wrong in talking to the man next to him? What if he went to the Hill and spilled the news about Project Overlook? They’d be dead before the elite soldiers he had in mind could get their feet wet.

He let out a long exhale. “If you aren’t going to pony up, this has been swept under the proverbial Capitol Hill carpet than anyone will ever admit. You have to decide: Is the cost high conversation is over. You contacted me because you knew I could take care of this little snafu. So let us go in and quell this before it destroys more and the body count rivals 9/11.”

He eyed Olin, a slow grin cracking his lips. “You’ve always impressed me, Lambert, even though you’re Army.”

“Navy lost the last game, Admiral.” Olin let his gaze rake the scene around him. “These men are fully capable, and the situation can be tamed before anyone is the wiser. We don’t have time to wrangle the pundits. Let’s get it done, Mr. Chairman, sir.”

Chairman Orr stood and zipped his jacket. “You’ll have it by morning.”

Chapter 1

Cracking open the throttle ignited a wild explosion of power and speed. Zero to sixty in less than three seconds left Max Jacobs breathless. Gut pressed to the spine of his Hayabusa, he bore down the mountainous two-lane road away from civilization, away from. . .everything. Here only pine trees, concrete, and speed were his friends.

His bike screamed as it ate up the road. The thrill burst through him. He needed the rush. Craved it. Stop running, Max. Her words stabbed his conscience. Made him mad.

Rounding a bend, he slowed and sighted the drop-off in the road—remembered a full 10 percent grade, straight down. His gaze bounced between the speedometer and the cement. Common sense told him to decelerate. The boiling in his veins said otherwise.

He twisted the throttle.


Max leaned into the bike and felt the surge.


He sucked in a breath as he sped toward the break.

The road dropped off. The Hayabusa roared as the wheels sailed out. He tried to grip the handlebars tighter as nothing but tingling Virginia oxygen enveloped him. Silence gaped.

This could be it. This could end it all. No more pain. No more life without Syd...

Take me. Just take me.

The Hayabusa plummeted.

Straight down. Concrete. Like a meteor slamming to earth. The back tire hit. A jolt shot through the bike. Then the front tire bounced. Rattling carried through the handlebars and into his shoulders. He grabbed the brake—

Stupid! The brake locked. Rear tire went right. He tried to steer into the skid but momentum flipped him up. Over. Pops snapped through his back as he spiraled through the air. In the chaos his bike gave chase, kicking and screaming as it tore after him.

Crack! Pop! The sound of his crashing bike reverberated through the lonely country lane.

Scenery whirled. Pine trees whipped into a Christmas-color frosting. Tree bark blurred into a menagerie of browns, drawing closer and closer.

Thud! His head bounced off the cement. He flipped again.

Finally. It’d be over. He closed his eyes. No more—

Thud! “Oof.” The breath knocked from his lungs. Pain spiked his shoulders and spine. Fire lit across his limbs and back as he slid from one lane to another. Down the road, spinning. Straight toward the trees.

He winced, arched his back. Kicking, he tried to gain traction. If he wasn’t going to die, he didn’t want to end up paralyzed. Just like you not to think it through.

He dumped into a ditch.


Everything went black.

He blinked. Pain shrieked through his body, his thighs and shoulders burning. “Argh!”

Max pried himself onto all fours, hanging his head. A crack rent the face shield. A wicked throb pulsed through his temples and . . . everywhere. He fought with the helmet. Growled as he freed the straps. He pawed it off, cursing at the thing for saving his life. Those head whacks as he somersaulted through the air should’ve punched a hole in his skull. Warmth dribbled down his brow. He pressed a palm against his forehead. Sticky and warm. Blood. He grunted and strained to look across the road. Mangled. Twisted. His bike. Him.

Why couldn’t God just let him die? Humanity would be one up, and he wouldn’t have to face his consummate failures in life. “Just let me go!” he growled and pounded a fist against the pavement. He’d do anything to go back to the Middle East, pump some radicals full of lead, and unleash the demon inside. Anything that told him he still had purpose in life.

But that wasn’t an option anymore. Another bad choice. Could he get anything right? Maybe his father had been right to up and leave them. Just like his mother.

A glimmer of light snagged his attention. Less than a mile down the road, a black SUV barreled up the road from town. Max tensed. He’d seen a vehicle like that three times in the last week. But out here? In the middle of nowhere, invading his self-inflicted punishment? This wasn’t a coincidence. And he didn’t like being hunted.

Max dragged himself into the trees, wincing. Using his forearm, he wiped the blood from his face. Why? Why couldn’t he just die? Nothing here for him. No reason.

Sydney. . .

He banged the back of his head against the tree. Pain drove through him like an iron rod. Good. It felt good to hurt. A relief to the agony inside.

Glass popping and crunching snapped his attention to the road. The SUV sat like a giant spider. He wondered who was in the vehicle as he eased farther into the foliage. A carpet of pine needles concealed his steps. He glanced back to the intruder.

The SUV shifted as a man climbed out. Large, African American, and an expression that said he didn’t mess around. Whatever the guy wanted, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. At least not easily.

Even from ten yards away, Max could see the muscle twitching in the man’s jaw. He swallowed and licked his lips, readying himself for a confrontation. He swung back and gazed up at the canopy of leaves. Could he hoof it back to his apartment? Gathering his strength, he shrugged out of the shredded leather jacket, wincing and grunting as it pulled against raw flesh.

“You through? Or you want another go at it?”

What? Max peered around the trunk, surprised to find the man at the edge of the road, hands on his hips as he stared into the trees.

“We took you for stronger.” The man glanced back at the bike. “But maybe you’re nothing but broke and no use to no one.”

Heart thumping, Max jerked back and clenched his teeth. Who was this joker?

“So, what’s it going to be, Jacobs? You ready to face a little reality?”

How does he know my name? “Who are you?” Max hissed as the tree rubbed his raw shoulder. “What do you want?”


Max drew the SOG knife from his pocket and opened it. Holding it down, he pushed into the open, making sure his injuries didn’t show him weak. “What’s the game?”

The man’s eyebrow arched. He angled his left shoulder forward, tugged up his sweater’s sleeve, and flexed his oversized bicep. A tattoo expanded across his muscle. Marine. MARSOC, if Max made out the symbol correctly. Marine Recon Special Operations—impressive.

An ally? As he struggled out of the ditch and back onto the road, Max collapsed the blade. Heat rose from the cement, aggravating the exposed flesh on his back and legs.

“Navy and Marines, you and me. Almost brothers. It’s the Rangers I don’t like. So, I forgive you for coming at me with a blade. This time.”

Max stared. Confusion—and pain—wrapped a tight vise around his skull.

“What’s it going to be, squid?” The guy pointed to the wreck of a bike on the road. “You don’t have a ride back to town. So why don’t you climb in and listen to what I have to say?”

Might ignore the nickname jab, but the guy assumed too much. “You flash a tattoo and think I’ll just bend my knee? I don’t think so.” A silent brotherhood had closed Max’s knife. But he didn’t want company. The oaf’s or anyone else’s. But how else would he get home?

“What? You think you’re going home? To your can opener and mattress?”

Mr. Recon had a point. Still, he knew too much, and that made Max stiffen—fiery shards prickling his back.

“No obligation. Show me a little respect, and just hear me out.” At least, as the man had said, he’d have a ride. Eyes on the large man, Max pocketed the knife as he trudged to the other side of the SUV and opened the door.

He paused at the plastic covering the seat. He jerked his gaze to the driver.

Mr. Force Recon grinned. “You’re predictable, Jacobs.”

Max lowered himself onto the seat, cringing as new fire crawled over his back and legs. He buckled in, the irony of the seat belt crossing his mind. “So what’s this about? Why have you been following me?”

A crisp cologne swirled in the air-conditioned interior as Mr. Recon folded himself behind the steering wheel. “You’ve been recruited, Lieutenant Jacobs.”

Max snorted. “Already did my time. I’m out.” He gulped against the flurry of emotions within.

“Yeah? How’s that working out for you?”

Glaring, Max resisted the urge to thrust his SOG into the guy’s gut. He’d left the service for Sydney. Only it’d been too late. And in one fell swoop, he lost everything. “Why don’t you tell me? You seem to know everything.”

Mr. Recon pursed his lips and nodded. “Okay.” He rubbed his jaw. “You were discharged ninety days ago. In that time, you’ve been arrested twice, once for fighting. The second time—less than three days ago—for assault against your now-estranged wife.”

The words cut deeper and stung worse than his now-oozing flesh. Max looked at his hand and flexed his fingers.

“Yesterday you were hit with a permanent protective order by said wife. She filed for separation.” He leaned on the console and again arched that eyebrow. “How am I doing?”

“If you knew anything about me, you’d dull your edge.”

Wrist hooked over the steering wheel, Mr. Recon continued unfazed. “The military discharged you. Honorably. A veteran of two wars. Untold combat situations and medals. They tried to put you out medically two years ago, but you fought it.”

“And won.”

“Yessir.” The man nodded for several seconds. “So, why now? Why’d you let them put you out this time?”

Max shoved his gaze to the heavily tinted windows. That was a story nobody needed to hear. Bury it six feet under and walk away.

“You’re a discarded hero, Lieutenant Jacobs.”

Head whipped back to the driver, Max fought the urge to light into the guy. But something in the amused eyes betrayed a camaraderie. An understanding. Acceptance.

“Who are you? What’s your story?”

“Name’s Griffin.” He bobbed his head as they pulled onto the highway, driving east toward the Potomac. “My story. . . ?” A toothy grin. “Let’s just say I got smart.”

The sound of crinkling and rustling plastic pervaded the cabin as Max shifted to alleviate a pinprick fire shooting down his leg. He hissed and clamped a hand over his thigh. “So, what’s the gig?”

“The gig is whatever nobody else will do. What you should ask about is our group—and I do mean our group, Lieutenant. Because you are fully a part of this. Are you ready to step out of the medical trappings of your discharge, of the devastation that has become your life since you’ve returned from your last tour?” Max grunted. “Yesterday.”

“That’s what I like to hear.” Tires thumped over docks as Griffin steered into a warehouse. “Then this is where it starts.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stars in the Night - Excerpt of Chapter 1

Stars In The Night
Summerside Press (July 1, 2010)

Cara Putman

Chapter 1

One day earlier
Thursday, June 4, 1942

“Well, well, Audra. I do believe you’re ready to take this matter to trial.”

Audra Schaeffer soaked in the atypical praise. While Roger Clarion was a good man and fair boss, he did not toss praise around for any and all to hear. Satisfaction pulsed through her. After seven years of school and two years where the only job she could find after law school required her to serve as a paralegal, Mr. Clarion had given her a chance. If everything went well, she’d litigate her first case in Superior Court Two in one month. A simple case, but it was hers.

He pulled reading glasses low on his bulbous nose and examined her over the rims. “Don’t let me down, or we’ll both be the laughingstock of the Indianapolis legal community.”

“Yes, sir.” The image of her standing at the podium in front of the counsel table, a legal pad resting on it, filled her mind. She’d finally done it! She’d earned the right to try a case.

He smiled then shook his head. “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d have a woman working for me as an attorney, of all things.” After a twist to his bow tie and a tug on his sweater vest, he stood and grabbed the wool jacket hanging on the coat tree in the corner of his office behind the massive cherry desk. “Now get out of here. I understand you have an important call to take back home.”

Audra couldn’t hide the smile that tugged at her lips. “Fortunately, Rosemary’s usually a few minutes late.” Since the day she was born a week late, Rosemary couldn’t be hurried to join the rest of the world. Audra stood and walked to the doorway. “You can’t believe how hard it is to wait for her calls. But it is a blessing her landlady allows Rosie to call us regularly from her phone. I don’t think Mother could handle it if we didn’t have our weekly report on all things Hollywood.”

Mr. Clarion chuckled. “Off with you. Can’t stand in the way of that.”

“See you in the morning, sir.” Audra hurried from the office and scooped her hat and purse from the seat of her desk chair. If she hurried, she’d make the bus that would get her home in time for Rosemary’s call. Being a little out of breath would be worth it if she could steal a few moments with Rosemary without her parents listening. Audra pushed through the front door into the bright sunshine of an early summer Indianapolis day. Squinting against the brightness, she merged into step with the other commuters headed to carpools or buses. The sidewalks pulsed with energy as people hustled to get home to dinner and their families. The United States had only been at war a few months, but already women outnumbered men on the sidewalks.

Audra glanced at her watch and sped up her pace. Her high heels clicked against the concrete as she did everything but run toward the bus stop, one hand squishing her hat securely to her head. Ahead she could see the behemoth belching exhaust as it idled, waiting for passengers. She had to reach it, because she couldn’t miss Rosie’s call.

The last time Rosie called home, she’d been out of sorts. Short. Distracted. Tense. Yet no matter how Audra had tried, she couldn’t pull what bothered her from Rosemary. She imagined her sister doodling nonsense images on a piece of paper as she held close what disturbed her. If Rosie were home, Audra could eventually tease the problem from her and help her deal with the situation. But now, with so many miles separating them, Audra felt powerless and impotent to do anything. How she hated that. She was supposed to smooth out Rosie’s problems, as she had all through high school when the boys decided Rosie was the cat’s meow—her long legs and sweet face attracting them long before she was aware of their looks.

Audra reached the bus and her shoulders sagged. She’d made it. She climbed the steps, deposited her coin, and found a seat in the back by one of the lowered windows. Though tinged with the stench of diesel, the trickle of outside air seemed fresher than that in the bus.

“Is this seat taken?”

Audra looked up and smiled at an older woman. “Please.”

The woman, burdened with a couple bags of groceries, collapsed onto the seat next to her. She fanned her face and turned forward. “I didn’t think I’d make it in time. My kids would have been mighty disappointed if they had to wait for supper while I waited for the next bus.”

Audra smiled politely then turned back to the window. She twirled a strand of hair around her finger then tucked it behind her ear.

Tonight, Rosemary would have funny stories to weave about people she’d observed, stars she’d met, and roles she’d almost landed. The dinner table had been too quiet since she moved to California six months earlier. She’d set her face toward the West and moved, determined to make her mark on the world.

Memories of the many times Rosie had stubbornly set her path before flowed through Audra’s mind. Time after time Audra had stepped in to either help the dream come true or staunch a pending disaster. She hid a chuckle behind her hand at the image of Rosemary’s determined attempt to make the costumes for a neighborhood play one summer. She’d written a script, drafted neighbor kids for the various roles, and then decided nothing less than specially made costumes would work for her production. Only problem was, she’d never sewn a stitch in her life and Mother was visiting a sick relative. That had left Audra to fill the gaps, something she’d gladly done. The play had been a neighborhood smash, the parents overlooking the melodrama and applauding the kids’ efforts. And Audra stood in the background enjoying Rosie’s success.

Similar scenarios had played out through Rosemary’s in-between years. And Audra had loved stepping in to smooth the rough spots in Rosemary’s big plans. She wondered if Rosie had anyone to do that for her now.

Rosemary would call.

Then Mother would smile, and Daddy would lose the tight lines around his eyes.

And everything would return to normal.

And for once, Audra had exciting news of her own to report to Rosemary. Her sister would understand how hard Audra had worked for this opportunity and what it meant to have her own case. Rosemary might aspire to appear on the silver screen. All Audra had ever wanted was to appear in court, weaving arguments that won the day. She had followed her grandpa around his one-man firm for a summer, and the legal bug had bitten hard.

A tremor of excitement coursed through Audra at the thought she would finally get to stand in front of a judge and make the arguments that would determine the outcome for her client. Yes, she had news of her own. Her dreams were ready to come true.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Heartless - Chapter 1

Bethany House (July 1, 2010)


Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Chapter 1

Five Years Later

"Do you think they will come before the year is out?" Princess Una asked her nurse.

"Who will come?" her nurse replied.

"Suitors, of course!"

Though the sun was bright, the air blew chill through the open window that spring morning, and Una wrapped a shawl around her shoulders as she sat waiting for Nurse to finish the awful business of preparing her for the day. Nurse, who had long since ceased to function as a real nurse and these days played the part of maid and busybody to her princess, wielded a brush with the tenderness of a gardener raking last year's dead leaves, making every effort to tame Una's honey-colored hair into an acceptable braid. One would have expected that, with many years' practice, she might have acquired rather more gentleness. Not so Nurse.

She paused now, mid-tug, and scowled at Una's reflection in the glass. "What brings on this fool talk?" She raised a bushy eyebrow and gave the braid an extra tug, as though to wrest all the unruliness out of it in one go. "You keep your mind busy with your lessons and deportment, just as always, and leave that messy business of courting and arranging marriages to your father, as is right."

"But I'm of age!" Una winced again and tried not to pull away from the vicious brush. She twisted her mouth into an unattractive shape as pain shot through her scalp. "Papa always said that he wouldn't accept a single inquiry from a single prince or single dignitary in a single realm of the whole Continent until I came of age."

"As is right."

"Well, now that I'm eighteen, shouldn't he start receiving them? When will they come to pay their respects?" To pay their respects, according to the definition given the phrase by the courtiers of Oriana Palace, was a tactful way to say, investigate marriage possibilities with the resident princess.

"That's not for you to be speculating, Miss Princess," said Nurse. She pronounced it "speckle-ating." Una dared not laugh. Though Nurse had not been brought up to speak an elegant dialect, her ideas on what was and was not proper behavior for a princess went far beyond anything Una had ever learned from her decorum instructors.

"Suitors indeed! Why, in my day, a girl never put two thoughts together concerning a boy—not till her father gave her the go-ahead."


"Not once!"

"Not even when—"

Nurse whapped the top of Una's head with the back of the brush. "No more! There, you're tidy as mortal hands can make you. Get you gone to your morning tutorials, and I don't want to hear another word of this romantic drivel!"

Rubbing the top of her head, Una gathered herself up, grabbed an armload of books, and made her way to her chamber doors, muttering, "I like romantic drivel." She stepped from the room and, just as the door swung shut behind her, called over her shoulder, "Your day was a singularly unromantic one, Nurse!"

The door clunked, and Nurse's voice came muffled from behind. "You'd better believe it!"

Una glared at the closed door. A demanding "Meeeowl?" at her feet drew her gaze, and she looked down at her cat, Monster, who sat before her, his tail curled elegantly about his paws. He seemed to smile all over his furry face, despite his lack of eyes.

She wrinkled her nose at him. "Don't look so smug."

With that, she turned on her heel and marched down the corridor, the blind cat trotting behind, unlike a dog in every way because, of course, he wasn't truly following her. He merely happened to be going her way.

"Nothing in life is as romantic as it should be, Monster," Una said as they made their way along the white hall and down a graceful staircase. She nodded civil acknowledgements to members of the household who greeted her as she passed. "Here I am, a princess, of age to be courted and married, and where am I? On my way to another history lesson! Then there'll be a tutorial on the proper ways to address ambassadors from Beauclair as opposed to dignitaries from Shippening. Then dancing. And not a single respects-paying gentleman of certain birth as far as the eye can see." She sighed at the heaviness of the world. "Nothing ever changes, Monster."

"Meeaa?" the cat said.

Una looked down her nose at him. "You're not just saying that, are you? Trying to make me feel better?"


"I knew it." She sighed again. "Someday, Monster, won't you express an original idea? For me?"

Felix waited for her in the large but nonetheless stuffy classroom they shared, doodling caricatures of their tutor in the margins of an essay he was supposed to be composing. He scarcely looked up when Una entered. Monster took a moment to rub a cheek against the young prince's knee before dodging Felix's backhand and arranging himself on the windowsill to catch the sunlight.

Una took a seat and opened her book just as the tired-eyed tutor shuffled in. He fortified himself behind his desk, attached a pair of spectacles in place—which made his eyes seem still more tired—and looked upon his students with the air of a man resigned to his fate.

"At what are you so diligently working, Prince Felix?" he asked. His voice never varied from a mournful drone.

Felix held up his essay full of doodles.

The tutor winced. "Most amusing, Your Highness."

"See how big I made the nose on this one?"

"A remarkable likeness, Your Highness."

"Doesn't look a thing like him," Una said.

Felix made a face. "Not supposed to. This one's you."

The tutor closed his eyes during the ensuing argument and let the storm pass. When at last calm returned, he slowly creaked his eyelids back up and dared face the world again. "Prince Felix, do you recall at what passage we left off our reading yesterday?"

"I do," Una said.

"He was talking to me!"

She continued, "We were studying the rise of Corrilond in the year of the Sleeper's Awakening during the reign of King Abundiantus IV—"


The tutor shoved his glasses up onto his forehead and rubbed his eyes. It was a day like all others, a mirror of yesterday and a foretelling of tomorrow: The prosperous sameness and drudging boredom of lives placidly spent proceeding as endlessly as the mind could conceive. Nothing ever really changed, and as far as anyone in Oriana Palace could surmise, nothing ever would.

But then, something did.


For two hundred years they had not been seen.

They first appeared as deeper shadows among the shadows of the Wood, all staring eyes and sniffing noses, as wary as children dipping a toe in deep water, fearful to take a dive.

Then one stepped forth, and he, with a smile, beckoned to the others. A huge creature with eyes as wide and white as the moon and skin like craggy rocks followed with a strange grace of movement; behind him walked another who was black as a shadow but whose eyes shone like the sky. After these came the others. Out of the Wood they streamed in parade—carrying with them the scent of dusk, the sound of dawn—and they arranged themselves upon the lawn outside the walls of the city of Sondhold, in the shadow of Goldstone Hill.

A shepherd boy saw them first. His heart leapt with fear at the sight, though not because of their strangeness, for such strangeness he had witnessed a thousand times in dreams. Rather, he feared that he dreamed them now and that, as soon as his old dad caught him snoozing at his watch, he'd fetch a hiding and perhaps be sent to bed without supper. So he pinched himself, and when that did not work, he pinched himself again.

His lazy flock all lifted their heads, regarded the oncoming throng a moment, and then returned to their grazing. But the quick-eyed herding dog let out a joyous bark and left the shepherd, left the flock, and ran to greet the strangers as though welcoming long-lost friends.

Then the boy jumped up and ran as well, shouting as he went. But he ran the opposite direction, down the dusty path toward Sondhold. Though he had only ever seen them in dreams, he recognized those who came.

"The market! The market!" he cried. The guards at the gates let him through, calling derisively after him, but he paid them no mind. "The market!" he shouted, gathering too much speed so that he lost his balance and scraped the skin from his palms and knees. But he was up again in a flash, shouting all the louder. "The Twelve-Year Market is come from the Wood!"

The very oldest grandmama in all Sondhold could only just recall her old grandmama talking about her grandmama's visit to the Twelve-Year Market. Many families in the city boasted prized heirlooms, strange oddities handed down from father to son, mother to daughter, for generations. A silver spoon that never tarnished; a kettle that sang familiar old tunes when the water boiled; a mug that never let the tea grow cold; a pair of boots that, if polished with the right stuff, would carry a man seven leagues in a step—too bad the polish ran out ages ago. The items once purchased at the Twelve-Year Market were rare and wonderful indeed, items of Faerie make and ever so expensive. But the Twelve-Year Market was the stuff of stories.

Until it showed up on the lawn below Goldstone Hill that day in early spring, soon after Princess Una came of age.

A washerwoman hanging up her second load of the day to dry paused in her work, her wrinkled white fingers momentarily still as the shepherd boy ran by. "The Twelve-Year Market!" he bellowed as he went, and she dropped the clean shirt—dropped it right in the dust—brushed off her apron, and hitched up her skirts to hasten from the city, out to the green lawn.

The boy ran on, shouting, "The market! The market is come!"

Merchants by the docks closed up booths and locked away their wares.

"The market!" the shepherd boy cried.

The cobbler's wife and the baker's sister ceased their gossip, blinked startled eyes, and joined the merchants.

The boy went on, shouting until he was too hoarse to make himself heard, but by then his work was complete. The folks of Sondhold streamed through the gates: the washerwoman, the merchants, the cobbler's wife and her brood of children, even the guards who were supposed to stand at the gates. They all made their way down the dusty track from the city to the lawn below the hill. There they beheld the Faerie bazaar.

They stopped on the fringes, afraid to go forward.

The first to hail them was a man so incredibly ancient that his upper lip nearly reached his chin. His skin was like a walnut, and his eyes like acorn caps. A big black sow pulled his rickety cart, on which two enormous pots of alabaster hummed, as though some musical instrument played the same three notes again and again inside. Water sloshed as he lifted them down, and the city folk could hear the creak of every joint in his body, a crackling percussion accompanying the humming.

When he saw the gathering crowds his acorn-cap eyes winked twice, first with fear, then with a smile. "Come!" he cried, raising a gnarled hand, beckoning. "Come, folk of the Near World! Come inspect my wares! Unicorn fry, fresh from the sea, caught just this morning—or last century, depending on your view. Learning to sing; hear them for yourself! Come hear the sea unicorn young as they sing!"

The folk of Sondhold looked from him to each other, afraid to move closer, unwilling to leave.

Then the cobbler's wife took hold of her youngest son and strode boldly to the lawn, her chin set in defiance though the baker's sister called a warning to her. "I'd like a look," she told the old man with the acorn-cap eyes.

He grinned and lifted the lid of one jar. The strange humming filled the air, only three notes dancing in the ears of all those near, but the sweetest three notes ever played together.

The cobbler's wife stood on tiptoe to peer inside. "Coo!" she breathed. Then, "May I show the boy?"

The old man nodded, and she lifted her littlest one to peer into the alabaster jar. The child made a solemn inspection and finally declared, "Pretty."

"Unicorn fry!" the old man cried. "Caught fresh this morning! I'll sell them at a bargain, good dame, and you can raise one at home, hear sweet music every day!"

With that, the market truly opened. The crowd standing on the edges of the lawn could not bear to miss whatever wonders lay just before them, and they flooded in to inspect the hundred colorful stalls. The lawn below Goldstone Hill was suddenly as merry as a festival, as noisy as a circus, as frantic as a holiday. Music sang from all corners, outlandish music on outlandish instruments played by even more outlandish people. But although the songs were different, somehow they blended into each other in cheerful harmonies, often underscored by a low, melancholy tune that heightened the curiosity and the fun of those who browsed the many stalls.

Word spread fast. Soon all of Sondhold was bestirred. Working girls feigned sickness to be excused, and schoolboys made no pretense of attending classes. The washerwoman let the dirtied white shirt lie untouched, and the smithy allowed his fires to die. How could anyone attend to mundane things on the day of the Twelve-Year Market?

The hubbub bubbled all the way to the crest of Goldstone Hill and flowed on into the palace, where Princess Una sat with her nose in her history text, wallowing in academic misery. Dates and battles and dead kings' names swam before her eyes while spring fever, cruel and demanding, picked at the back of her brain. She and her brother had ceased their squabbling for the time being, and their tutor's voice filled the room in one long, endless drone that commanded no one's attention, least of all the tutor's.

Monster stood up on the windowsill. He stretched, forming an arch with his body, and flicked the plume of his tail. Then, after a quick wash to make certain his whiskers were well arranged, he interrupted the lecture.


The tutor droned on without a glance at the cat. "Abundiantus V was never intended to sit upon his father's throne, being the second son—"

"Meaaa!" Monster said, with more emphasis this time. He unsheathed his claws and scratched the window, a long grating noise.

"Dragon-eaten beast." Felix threw a pencil at the cat's nose, missing by inches.

"Princess Una," the tutor said, "we have had this discussion. Would you kindly remove that creature from the room so that our studies may continue uninhibited?"

Una huffed and went to the window. But when she reached for him, Monster made himself heavy and awkward, slipping through her grasp. He landed back on the windowsill with another "Meeeaa!" and pressed his nose to the glass.

Una looked out.

She saw the colors. She saw the movement. She saw the dancing far below, as though she was suddenly gifted with an eagle's eyes and able to discern every detail even at that great distance. Wonderingly, she opened the window, and music carried up Goldstone Hill and filled the room.

"Oh," she said.

"Meeeea." Monster looked smug.

Felix was on his feet and at her side in a moment. He too looked down. "Oh," he said.

The tutor, frowning, came around from behind his desk and joined them at the window. He looked as well and saw what they saw. His mouth formed an unspoken "Oh."

A clatter of hooves in the courtyard drew their gazes, however unwillingly, from the sight down the hill. Una and her brother saw their father, King Fidel, mounting up with a company of his guard around him. Brother and sister exchanged a glance and bolted for the door, falling over themselves in a headlong dash from the chamber, down the stairs, and out to the courtyard, heedless of the tutor's feeble attempts to restrain them. Monster trailed at their heels.

"Father!" Una burst into the courtyard, shouting like a little girl and hardly caring that she drew the eyes of the stable boys and footmen standing by. King Fidel, upon his gray mount, looked back at his daughter. "Father!" she cried. "Are you going to see?" She did not have to say what.

"Yes, Una," Fidel replied. "I must make certain all is well below."

"May we come?" Una said, and before the words were all out of her mouth, Felix was shouting to the stable boys, "My horse! Bring my horse!"

King Fidel considered a moment, his eyebrows drawn. But the day was fine, the air was full of holiday spirit, and his children's faces were far too eager to refuse. "Very well."

Una and Felix rode on either side of him as he descended the King's Way, the long road that wound down Goldstone Hill to the teeming lawn. The breath of the ocean whipped in their faces, carrying the spice of other worlds up from below.

Sheep left neglected trailed across the road as the riders came to the bottom of the hill. The animals trotted out of the way, lambs scurrying behind their mothers. Una saw a man leaving the market with a great embroidered rug over his shoulder, and children ran hither and yon eating golden apples. A juggler tumbled just in front of Felix's horse, tossing what at first looked like knives, but then seemed to be silver fish, and then, Una could have sworn, shooting stars. A dancer with eyes as large and wet as the moon on water, with pupils like a cat's, too strange to be either beautiful or ugly, twirled past trailing what could have been iridescent scarves or perhaps wings. A man with green-cast skin sprang alongside Una's mount and held up an empty hand. Flowers bloomed from his fingertips, and he smiled hugely, bobbing and bowing.

"Blossoms for the lovely lady? A fair price! Always fair! I do but ask for a strand of your hair. Is that not fair? A single strand of hair!"

Una urged her horse closer to her father's, uncertain whether or not to be frightened. But the green-cast man darted away into the crowds, shouting as he went, "Prices always fair! Blossoms to share!" She could hear his voice amid the din long after he vanished from sight.

Fidel's guards called out in large voices, heralding the king's arrival. But their words hardly carried over the music of the market, and the crowds did not part. The people of Sondhold, their eyes wide and wondering, scarcely spared a glance for their king or his children. King Fidel smiled as he looked around, for despite the noise and the otherworldliness of it all, it was impossible to remain unmoved by the wonders and the excitement. He called the captain of his guard to him and said, "Try to find out who is in charge here, will you?"

Before he had quite finished speaking, a path suddenly emerged in the crowds, and the most enormous person Una had ever seen stepped forward. He stood at least seven feet tall and was terribly ugly. He so exactly fit the image of a goblin she'd held since childhood that, at first sight of him, she felt all her limbs go atremble. But despite his craggy skin that looked as though it would turn sword blades and arrowheads, his face was welcoming.

He raised a hand and called a greeting to the king. "Fidel of Parumvir," he said, "welcome to the Twelve-Year Market."

Fidel raised an eyebrow and inclined his head, and because he was king he showed no sign of fear if he felt it. "And welcome to Parumvir, stranger," he said. "You make yourself quite free in my lands without so much as a by-your-leave." His voice was not unfriendly, but he spoke as a king not a friend. "What is your name?"

The goblin-man, now near enough for Una to see that he stood taller than the ears of her father's horse, bowed low. He was clothed all in white, with a golden belt and a long knife at his side. "I am Oeric," he said when he straightened, "knight in the service of the Prince of Farthestshore."

"Farthestshore?" Fidel repeated.

It was a name from ancient days, from tales so old they were no longer called history but relegated to legend; and even in legends, these tales were mentioned only as myths believed by heroes of long ago. Yet the name of Farthestshore was deeply imbedded in the earth of Parumvir and all the nations of the Continent. When she heard it spoken, Una caught again that strong scent of the sea that she had smelled as she rode down the King's Way. It came to her in a rush, overpowering the thousands of foreign spices and perfumes that misted the air of the market.

Odd, for she had grown up just a few miles from Sondhold Harbor, where tall ships sailed to and from far-off countries, and she had grown so used to the smell of the ocean that she no longer noticed it. But she caught it now, that whiff of wildness and salt and sun and storms, and she wondered how she could ever bear to sit long hours over textbooks or tapestry when that smell beckoned so?

Her father's voice brought her back to the present. "Has the Prince of Farthestshore placed you in charge of this bazaar?"

Sir Oeric answered, "The Prince himself has led us here. Many would not have dared come otherwise. He is near at hand, and you shall meet him anon."

"And in the meanwhile, you and your folk make yourselves at home upon my lawn?"

Sir Oeric bowed again. "It is an ancient and time-honored tradition, Your Majesty, that the people of the Far World visit the Near every twelve years so that we do not too soon forget one another. This very lawn has been kept clear and clean for that purpose. We apologize if we disturb you, but we of the Far World do not so swiftly forget agreements."

Fidel considered this a moment, his face quiet so that Una could not read it. "You're rather late, don't you think?" he said at last. "You have not come to Parumvir in the time of my father or that of his father. If I am not mistaken, it has been two hundred years at least since a Twelve-Year Market was recorded."

"But only twelve years as my folk count it."

"Then your years are much longer than ours."

"Shorter too, Your Majesty. And also wider and narrower, if you will." Sir Oeric smiled, and Una glimpsed sharp fangs. "Time is rather friendlier with the people of Faerie." Then his smile vanished, and his moon-wide eyes were serious. "We bring goodwill, Your Majesty, and wares to delight your kingdom. The Prince himself will assure you of this when you meet him. I know he wishes only to please you with our presence."

"I am eager to meet him."

"Until that time, Your Majesty, would your children like to explore the market?"

Fidel looked at Una and Felix. The prince was already scrambling from his horse, and Una was no less excited. "Very well—" he said, and the two were off like a shot.

All fear overwhelmed by curiosity, Una followed her brother deep into the gathered throng. The people of Sondhold were at first too enchanted with the strangeness surrounding them to take notice, but by and by they recognized the faces of their prince and princess and edged away so that Una and Felix had a circle of distance around them everywhere they went. As she trailed behind her lanky younger brother, inspecting the wares presented before her eyes, Una could not believe that only a short hour before she had been locked away in that den of a schoolroom. The world had taken on a sudden romance and adventure, and anything was possible.

A woman with feathers in her hair—whether she had put them there or they grew right from her head, Una could not guess—beckoned her near to look at fine cloth. "Woven from all the scents of summer," she whispered in a voice like wind-stirred trees. Una reached out to touch it, but the woman snatched it back. "For a price," she said. "Only for a price."

"The lady is not interested in such nonsense as yours!" said the vendor of the next stall over. He was a dwarf with a red face and slanting eyes that disappeared behind the folds of the most enormous grin Una had ever seen. "Step this way, damsel fair. Step this way and see what Malgril has to offer!"

She obeyed, and he pulled back a cloth to reveal silver statues of intricate work—little animals set with jewels for eyes. "Lovely," she said.

"But wait," said the dwarf. "Watch closely."

She smiled and looked again. The animal statues were of the most exquisite workmanship, the bodies engraved all over with delicate scrollwork. They were of creatures she did not know or beings she recognized only from stories: a cat with a woman's head, a snake with wings, a centaur, and a gryphon.

She blinked. Then she gasped.

The little figures had moved. Or had she imagined it? She blinked again, and sure enough, the woman-cat's tail twitched, the gryphon's mouth opened, the centaur turned his head.

"The scrollwork," said the dwarf, "was wrought by my brother, the great Julnril himself. These are powerful charms, like those of the ancient golems. Do they please your ladyship? Would she hold one in her hand?" The dwarf picked up the winged snake and held it out to her, but when Una looked at it, blinking fast, it seemed to writhe in his fingers. She stepped back, smiling again but shaking her head.

Felix's voice caught her attention. "Are you sure these are my size?"

"Standard size, my lord," someone replied, and Una turned to see Felix sitting before a cobbler's bench, shoving his foot into a boot made of old leather. It was a tough fit, and Felix made faces in his efforts to pull it on. The cobbler, rubbing his hands together, nodded and smiled and spoke encouragingly. With a final tug, Felix's heel slid into place, and the prince stood up. "And these are seven-league boots, are they? They kind of pinch—"

"Don't stamp your feet!" the cobbler cried, but too late.

Una yelped. Her brother had vanished.

Immediately the cobbler began ringing a bell and shouting at the top of his lungs, "Thief! Thief! Stop, thief!"

The next instant, huge Sir Oeric appeared, shaking a fist at the cobbler. "You shouldn't insist your customers try them on if you don't want them to run off!"

"He must pay! He must pay!" the cobbler insisted.

"Give me a pair, and I'll fetch him back."

"But, sir—"

"At once!"

King Fidel was there by now with the guardsmen, along with a great hustle of people, all shouting. "Which way did he go?" "He'll be halfway to the Red Desert by now!" "You certain he didn't step toward the sea?" "Fool boy, won't know enough to turn around and come back!"

"I'll get him for you, Your Majesty," Sir Oeric declared, pulling on another pair of the cobbler's special boots. Amazingly, they seemed to grow to fit his enormous feet. The next moment he vanished as well, and the yells of the market-goers doubled. The cobbler, grinning from ear to ear, was suddenly blessed with the best business he'd managed that day.

Una watched it all, laughing to herself and feeling a bit jealous of the fun Felix was having. She turned back to the silver statues but found herself instead looking into a pair of huge white eyes in a face like gray stone.

"My lady, would you have your fortune told?"

The man before her was the ugliest she had ever seen, uglier even than massive Sir Oeric. He was small, smaller still because he huddled into himself, and when he smiled he also displayed rows of sharp fangs. But then again—and here she frowned, for surely her eyes were lying to her one way or the other—he was also beautiful. Like the silver statues that moved only when she blinked, so this shrunken man seemed to change his face for hairbreadth moments, as though a veil wafted over his features and then away again. In those moments, he was beautiful.

He bowed to her. He was dressed in red robes, his head covered with a golden cap edged in intricate embroidery. With a sweep of a long sleeve, he indicated a tent, also red and worked with gold. Glittering beads hung over the opening, and all was dark inside.

"My lady," he said, "you are newly come of age; I read it in your eyes. Are you not curious to know what fates await you this day, this week, this month and year? Catch a glimpse perhaps of your future lover; see the smiles of your children? Torkom of Arpiar is no charlatan. Torkom of Arpiar knows the secrets, and he will tell you."

The ugliness faded more and more as he spoke, and his face grew ever more trustworthy. After all, had not Sir Oeric declared that the people of the market brought only goodwill? If she was going to trust him, a goblin, why should she not trust this beautiful being?

She followed him into the tent. The beads shimmered like so many stars as the tall man held them back, and she stepped into a room full of warm, rosy light. Curtains of gauzy fabric, embroidered and beaded, hung suspended from the center bar, and she had to push them aside as she stepped deeper and deeper into the tent. It was bigger inside than she could have guessed from looking at the outside; curiously it seemed to grow as she went. But the rose-colored light was beautiful, and the smell all around was too sweet for her to feel afraid.

At last Una pulled back a final drape, which felt like fine milkweed to her fingers, and found a low cushioned stool and a wooden box so dark that it looked black.

The fortune-teller appeared beside her and, taking her hand, gently led her to the stool. "Sit, lady, sit," he said. "Torkom will tell you your secrets. Trust him to know. Trust him to tell."

She trusted him. The sweet smell made it impossible not to. The perfume of the roses intoxicated her, though she did not recognize the scent. She allowed the man to seat her upon the cushioned stool. For a moment he remained bowed over her, holding her hand so close to his face she thought he might kiss it. But instead his large eyes inspected the ring on her finger.

"Such a lovely piece," he said. "Opals, yes?"

Breathing in roses, Una nodded. "My mother gave it to me. Before she died. I wear it always."

"Ah!" Torkom's smile grew. "Such a gift. A gift of the heart. Not one to part with too soon."

"I wear it always," Una repeated and drew her hand from his grasp. She put both her hands in her lap, covering her ring.

Torkom bowed himself away and knelt to open the dark wooden box.

Fascinated, Una watched him put his hands inside and lift out a strange object. At first she thought it was a shield, for it was the right size and shape, wide at the top and narrowed to a point at the bottom. But it was subtly concave, and the outside was black and rough, a natural roughness like rock. The inside, however, gleamed gold, and the air shimmered around it as if with heat.

Torkom, his teeth showing in what was almost a smile but might have been a grimace of pain, held the strange object out to Una. "Lady," he said, his voice hissing. "Lady, if you dare, behold your future. Look inside." He held the black shield out to her, and Una leaned forward.

Hot air rising from the golden surface hit her face. Inside she saw her own reflection, wincing but curious. Nothing more.

"Take it," Torkom whispered. She could not see him through the haze of heat and the glare of gold, but his voice worked like magic in her ear. "Take it, lady."

She put out her hands and took hold of the shield.

Heat seared up her fingers, through her arms, and wrapped about her head like a fiery vine. She gasped but could not take her eyes from the bright surface, which writhed suddenly like melted gold.

A face took shape. Black eyes ringed with flames, bone-white skin, and teeth like a snake's fangs. It looked at her, and she could not tear away her gaze. A voice flared in her mind, speaking not in words but in a language of heat and smoke that burned in her mind:

Beloved of my enemy! I played for you, didn't I? I played for you and won! Are you not the one I seek?

Una could not answer, could not break his gaze. The heat from the golden shield was like strong arms pulling her down, drawing her face closer and closer, and the fiery words rolled about her, a thunderstorm.

Where are you? Where are you?

Then another voice spoke.