An excerpt from
The Marrying MaidThis was published in 2010 in Songs of Love and Death.
It's not grim, I promise!
Now available in a collection of my faery stories,
A Georgian rake with a mythic destiny has been searching for his bride all his adult life and now has only days left before Faery can claim a terrible victory over his family and his line. At last he's found her, but winning her might not be easy. Martha Darby wants nothing to do with the wickedly handsome man in his satin and lace. She's the respectable daughter of a Dean of York Cathedral, and as soon as Rob shows interest, she heads resolutely north. Thus follows a lively pursuit, as every kiss increases Rob's legendary powers, and warring Oberon and Titania urge on their representatives in their timeless battle of wills.
It gained an honorable mention in the list of Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2010.
St James’s Park, London, 1758
It was as if a new song entered his world, or a new taste, or a new sense -- and yet, one instantly recognized.
Rob Loxsleigh turned to look around the park, striving to make the movement casual to his chattering companions, so noisy in their silks and lace, but already fading under the power of his new awareness.
He smiled, with delight but with surprise.
The woman in gray? The one strolling through the park at the side of another woman just as ordinary, wearing a plain gown with little trimming and a flat straw hat?
She was his destined bride?
He'd been told he'd know and for years he'd sought the unignorable. Sometimes, with a particularly pretty girl or fascinating woman, he'd tried to believe his desire meant that his quest was over. A kiss had quickly proved him wrong.
Now, however, he knew. She alone seemed real in an unreal world and his body hummed with a symphony of need, not just desire, but a hunger for everything she would bring.
Now, within weeks of disaster, Titania had sent his marrying maid.
When Martha Darby turned, she saw a man looking at her. A London beau in silk and lace with powdered hair and a sword at his side. A peacock in company with other birds of fine plumage, their bright laughter and extravagant gestures indicating that they’d escaped the gilded cage of court in the nearby Palace of St. James. But why was one of them staring at her, a very sparrow of a spinster?
He turned back to his companions. She’d imagined his interest, but now she couldn't help staring at him. He seemed somehow brighter than his glittering companions. Merely the effect of a suit of peacock blue silk, she told herself, but he did seem perfectly made and he moved with such grace, even in ridiculous shoes with high red heels.
“Such extravagance in their clothing, and a shower of rain would ruin all.”
Martha turned to her mother, smiling at the practical comment. “I’m sure chairmen would rush to carry them to shelter. Let us admire nature instead. Trees welcome the rain.”
They strolled on their way.
Martha and her mother were enjoying the park, but also, it must be admitted, some glimpses of the follies of the great. Martha had certainly seen nothing like those courtier peacocks in York. But then, in York, she'd lived quietly for so many years, helping her mother nurse her father through a long, distressing illness. This visit to a relative in London was to help them regain their spirits and be ready to pick up life, but Martha wondered what form her life could take. She was too accustomed to quiet and routine and too old for adventures.
She was looking at that man again! She quickly turned away. "Let's walk toward Rosamund’s Pond, mother.” Away from temptation.
Ridiculous. Lord Peacock was a wastrel courtier and she was the virtuous daughter of a canon of York Minster and at twenty-four, long past the age of folly.
Yet she looked again.
Just to be sure she was safe, she told herself.
Safe? Did she think he would pursue her? Laughable....
But then she realized that he was looking at her again. He smiled.
She turned her back, heart pounding. Lud! Had he caught one of her glances and taken it as admiration? Even as lewd encouragement? Heaven defend her! The court was notoriously licentious. She urged her mother to walk more quickly, but plump Anne Darby was never energetic. Her strolling involved many pauses to admire a vista, or yet another pelican. For some reason this park was full of them. Pelicans and peacocks….
"Come, Mother. We must hurry."
"What? Why? "
Martha came up with the only possible excuse. "I need to piss."
"Oh dear, oh dear. Yes, very well." Her mother did walk faster and gradually Martha's panic simmered down. They were safe and she would not come here again.
Martha froze, then would have walked on if her mother hadn't already turned, incapable of being cold or discourteous. Thus she must turn too, already knowing who had spoken. By logic, surely, not by a frisson on the back of her neck and a strange tension deep inside.
He stood mere feet away, his silk suit embroidered with silver thread as well as colors. The lace at throat and wrist would have cost a fortune, and his neck cloth was fixed by a gold pin that sparkled in the sun, as did rings on his fingers and the jeweled hilt of his sword. As did his eyes, as green as a summer leaf. His handsome, lean face was painted to give him fashionable pallor and then to restore color with rouge on cheeks and lips.
He was ridiculous, but Martha was powerfully aware of being dressed in mourning grey with only a silver pin for ornamentation, and of never having let paint touch her face. She should have been disdainful, but instead the peculiar sensation within could almost be awe.
He was smiling directly at her now and holding out a handkerchief. "I believe this is yours, ma'am?"
Martha glared at the linen, ferociously irritated that the handkerchief was indeed her own, marked by the embroidered forget-me-nots in one corner. How had it come to fall out of her pocket?
Before she could lie, her mother said, "Oh, see it is, Martha! How kind of you, sir."
He bowed to them both in the most extravagant manner imaginable, dancing the handkerchief in little curlicues. "I am in heaven to be of service to so enchanting a lady."
Martha plucked the fluttering linen from his fingers. "My thanks to you, sir."
He put hand to chest. "No, no. Thank you, ma'am, for providing me the opportunity to do this small kindness."
Providing? Was the wretch implying that she'd dropped her handkerchief on purpose? It was a well-known device of foolish women, but she would never stoop so low!
She sent him an icy look, but he'd already turned another bow on her mother. "Robert Loxsleigh, ma'am, at your service."
Sensible Anne Darby curtsied, blushing, flustered and delighted. "So kind, so kind. Mistress Darby, sir, of York, and this is my daughter, Miss Darby."
More bowing and greeting, and all of it mockery. If only her mother hadn't been inveigled into exchanging names.
"May I hope to encounter you again in London, Mistress Darby?"
Martha quickly answered. "Alas no, sir. We leave tomorrow."
Her mother began to protest, but Martha shot her a ferocious glare.
"Thus Town is left desolate. But York will soon rejoice. A charming city. I know it well, as my home is near Doncaster."
Martha could have groaned. That he was also from Yorkshire would make her mother regard him as a friend.
"We really must go, mother," Martha said with meaning, reminding her of her spurious need.
"Oh, yes, sir, I'm afraid we must. I do hope we will meet again one day, in York, perhaps?"
He bowed to both of them, but was looking at Martha when he said, "I'm sure of it, ma'am."
"Oh, my," said her mother, watching him walk back to his friends, so lithe and elegant despite uneven ground and those shoes.
"Oh, what idiocy," Martha said, steering away at speed.
That was the end of that -- except that she was holding her handkerchief as if it were precious. She screwed it up and thrust it into her pocket.
"Why did you say we were leaving Town, Martha? We are to stay three more days."
"Because I thought him up to no good."
"Truly? But..." Her mother sighed. "We can't be liars, can we, so we must leave. All for the best, perhaps. We can stay longer with your Aunt Clarissa in Newark."
And thus I am punished, Martha thought. Aunt Clarissa was a very silly chatterer. It was all the peacock's fault. Mr. Robert Loxsleigh been playing a game for the amusement of his idle friends and fecklessly upset her life.
And yet, and yet, as she resisted an almost overpowering need to look back, Martha knew she would never entirely forget an encounter with a peacock in St James’s Park.
Rob returned to his companions, protecting Miss Darby from their curiosity by letting them assume he intended a seduction. It was no lie. If Miss Martha Darby seemed likely to succumb, he'd bed her tonight.
She was the one, the one, the one, his marrying maid, which meant that at first kiss his talent would awake, and when they lay together, it would roar into full power. He would be at last a true trouvedor of Five Oaks, and his family would be saved.
Rapid seduction was unlikely, but a kiss? Perhaps if he pursued her now. Not to do so was like refusing water when parched, but she seemed to be prim to a fault. Perhaps even a Puritan. His very appearance would have counted against him and any boldness could ruin everything. No, he must resume simple dress and manners and then court her carefully.
There was so little time, though. Just two weeks to his birthday.
But he’d found her at last, and she would be willing to be wooed. Faery would make it so.
Zounds! They left Town tomorrow. He separated from his companions, suppressing panic. He needed to untangle himself from court, say farewells, settle bills…
The Darby ladies would travel the York road, however, and surely on the public coach. He could follow post chaise and catch them in days.
As he walked toward his rooms, he wondered how Oberon had hidden Martha Darby for so many years? He visited York quite often.
That didn’t matter. Titania had prevailed. The heir to Five Oaks had found his marrying maid with time enough to woo and win her. It was always so. The dark Lord of Faery had never won this fight, not in five hundred years.
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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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