An excerpt from
The Lord of ElphindaleThis was published long ago in Faery Magic, and is now available for the first time in an e-book -- a collection of my three faery stories,
A Regency story of two people caught up in the ruthless wiles of the Queen of Faery.
In the heart of the woods, in the heart of a dale, somewhere in the heart of England, June, 1794.
Call her Mab, call her Titania, call her Kerrigwen.
Ageless and with many names, the Lady sat among her Faery Court considering the emerald globe floating before her eyes. Considering the swirling patterns there.
"The humans betray the bond, Merlon. They do not keep the ways."
"The simple people do," her favorite pointed out, lounging on the soft grass beside her. Butterflies danced on his outstretched hand to the sound of elfin pipes.
"But the Lord does not. The Lord of Elphindale sends men to cut our trees while he himself stays out of reach."
"He will die. They always do."
"The next Lord is a child still and was born out-of-dale. We said no words over his cradle. His mother keeps him away."
The beautiful male stirred, and at a flick of his fingers the insects fluttered away. He raised his hand and the globe floated down close to his eyes. "Ah." He tilted his head to consider the images. "Do the Elphinsons no longer feel the power of the dale? By rights they should be tied to it, even as we are to our places."
"No, for then they could not serve us in the world where we cannot go." The Lady drew the globe back up to her eyes. "But they must be bound to us. They mussst be bound."
At her tone, the Faery Court stilled. Blossom-small or human-size, cobweb-fine or gnarled, the Folk left off play and turned to watch their queen. Trees trembled and nearby animals quivered in their lairs.
"How long," she asked, "has it been sssince faery blood was joined with that of the Lord of Elphindale?"
"Perhaps hundreds of their years."
"That is many generationsss to humanssss, is it not?"
"Yes, Great Lady." He faced her now on his knees, as wary as the rest.
She drew a finger down his cheek. "Dear Merlon. How fortunate that you rather like them. It is time for us to mix blood with the Elphinsonssss again."
When he made no response, she rapped him with the sharp point of her nail. "Smile. Or I will think you reluctant to bind humans to our will."
"I-" He hissed as her nail pierced his skin.
"You quessssstion my wisdom?"
"No, Great Lady." Blood welled around the nail still in his flesh and began slowly to trickle down his cheek. "But the Lord of Elphindale already has an heir. To kill the boy would be…"
"Ssssanctioned if necessary."
Silver eyes met silver eyes. "The bond says that no one of the lord's family will ever die young, in childbed, or in pain."
"He is cutting the treessss. He has broken the bond."
He raised a hand toward her. "Be merciful, Great Lady. He is a child."
"Your sympathy for humans…." Slowly, she took her hand from her favorite's face and touched his skin to heal him. Slowly she smiled, teeth small, white, and slightly pointed. "Then save him, Merlon. I will bring this child back to Elphindale. You must create his faery bride."
(Many years later.)
Gwen became inexplicably lost in the woodlands in the valley of the dale.
She'd wandered out to look for wild herbs, not intending to go far. Then, despite the fact that she had been walking and riding these hills and valleys almost from birth, and knew every path and tree like her garden, she'd become lost. Suddenly it was as if the woods were not the countryside she knew at all.
Panicked, she pushed on in one direction, hoping to see something familiar. Then, sure she had somehow wandered far from home, she turned back, only to find the scenery behind her now equally strange. The woodland near Elphinson Hall was not even big enough for her to have walked so far without finding a cultivated field or a sheep-dotted hill. Nor was she walking in circles, for nothing was familiar.
She sat down, trying to calm her mind, telling herself that sooner or later men would set out to look for her. But it could be hours before she was missed, and it was so silly to be sitting here all day, so she walked again, sure that at any moment she must come across a landmark, or a person who could help.
Eventually, however, as the light began to fade, exhaustion felled her. Shaking, she collapsed down at the base of an oak, hugging herself against the growing chill of evening and the fear of the peculiar. Her stomach rumbled with hunger and her mouth was parched, for she'd not even come across a stream of sweet water.
The first hunting owl hooted and she flinched, but she told herself there was nothing to be afraid of, even at night. There were no dangerous animals here, and no one who would hurt her. She must have been missed by now so the village people would be out searching. The dalesmen knew every inch of the countryside. They would soon find her.
She'd thought she knew every inch of the countryside.
She shivered again and glanced around nervously. Where on earth was she? Had she somehow managed to leave the dale? She couldn't believe that, for one needed to climb steeply rising ground.
Even though she told herself there was nothing to be afraid of, fear rose in her, all the worse for having no cause or focus. Irrationally, she wanted Drew. He'd find her. He'd save her from whatever it was that lurked in the shadows here. She sank her head on her knees. One thing was sure. Drew wouldn't suddenly appear. He hadn't even come home last year when his father had died and he'd inherited the estate. Or later when Napoleon Bonaparte had been exiled to Elba and the war had apparently stopped.
Where was he now? They were so out of touch in the dale that he could be in battle and she'd have no hint of it....
Suddenly, with scarcely a rustled leaf to announce his coming, a handsome man moved from behind a tree and strolled toward her. His fashionable country-wear of jacket, buckskins, top-boots, and beaver made him seem quite ordinary, but Gwen leapt to her feet nervously.
He was a stranger.
She saw few strangers in the dale.
Inclining his head, he raised his hat with a fine air. "Good evening, miss," he said, as if he were encountering her in the village street.
"Good evening, sir." Good manners made her drop a curtsy. Since there was no way to disguise the fact, she added, "I fear I am lost."
"Poor lady." He extended an arm. "Allow me to guide you to safety."
Gwen hesitated, for she couldn't imagine who this man might be, and his appearance had been so very sudden. Listening most carefully, she could detect no sound of searchers nearby. On the other hand, there was something familiar about him. Perhaps he was of the dale after all.
She studied him as best she could in the dimming light. It was hard to pinpoint his age. He seemed about Drew's age, and yet a great deal older. He had blond hair, silver eyes and --
Gwen gasped. "Who are you?"
He smiled. "You see the resemblance. Yes, I am a relative, Miss Forsythe. You are completely safe with me."
Reassured by the fact that he knew her name, Gwen allowed him to lead her through the gloomy wood, most of her concentration on the ground before her. She had no wish to crown her foolishness by turning an ankle.
"You must be a relative of my father's then," she said, but doubtfully. She'd never met any of her father's family, but from what she knew, and the portrait her mother kept, there was no resemblance other than fair hair.
"After a fashion, yes." She heard humor in his voice, then he stopped and turned so that she was obliged to look up at him. Strangely, it seemed a little lighter around them, as if the full moon had broken through the clouds, and yet there was little moon tonight, and the canopy of leaves cut off what light it gave.
"You are going to be surprised, Gwen Forsythe, but you must open your heart and your mind to the truth. Your family needs you."
Gwen frowned at him, puzzled. Her only family was her mother. Unless it was Drew who needed her....
Her rescuer took Gwen's hands in a firm, warm grasp. "Gwen, I am your father."
She tried to pull free. "Don't be silly."
"And I am of Faery."
Gwen went still. A lifetime of stories had laid down fertile soil, and she couldn't quite scoff. Not here. Not now. Still she had to say it. "You can't be."
"I can. I am." A mischievous smile lit his face. "Though perhaps you should not tell your mother. A charming lady, but conventional."
Gwen had been wondering how such thing might be possible, and now the implication that her mother had no notion staggered her. She should have been horrified, if she believed it at all, but the image of this rakish gentleman with her placid, extremely conventional mother surprised a giggle out of her.
He joined her in laughter. "You are a delight to me, daughter, and it has given me joy to watch over you. But now it is time for you to meet your Faery kin and learn the purpose for which you were created."
When he tried to move on Gwen pulled back. "I am not a creation," she objected. "You speak as if I'm a slave."
He turned stern, and even fatherly. "We are all slaves to our heritage. You are needed, Kerrigwen."
"My name is Gwen."
"Kerrigwen," he insisted, "which is a rank, not a name." He released her and stood back, gesturing her to precede him. "Come. Learn."
A glimmering path traced the ground before her and ahead, through the trees, a faint light glowed -- a light such as Gwen had never seen, holding promise of summer growth and winter ice. Music teased her senses, but so high and soft it could be just imagination.
She was not imagining the impetus, however. Despite a chill down her spine Gwen found herself unable to do anything but go forward on the magical path under the pressure of a man's hand -- her father's hand?
"Do not be afraid." Her father's voice? "I will never let anyone or anything hurt you, my daughter."
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Faery Weddings also includes the novellas The Marrying Maid and The Lord of Elphindale, which have been previously published. However, The Lord of Elphindale has been long out of print.
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