Roberta Gellis
This Scepter'd Isle

THIS SCEPTER'D ISLE

DOUBLED EDGE SERIES, BOOK 1
by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis
Baen February 2004
ISBN 0-7434-7156-3

Paperback Edition: $7.99
Baen February 2005
ISBN 0-7434-9889-5

Henry VIII was king of England, almost absolute in his power; however, there was one thing he could not order to his liking. Apparently his wife, Catherine of Aragon, could not breed a living son. He had a daughter, but if she married a foreign prince, would not her husband actually rule England? But Henry had a son born out of wedlock. Could he somehow arrange for that son, Henry FitzRoy, to come to the throne?

Unfortunately the Sidhe of the Dark Court were determined that Princess Mary should rule, for she would bring with her the Inquisition, and the agony of the people would feed endless power into the Dark Sidhe. The Bright Court were equally determined that FitzRoy must be kept safe to fulfill his destiny. They desired mortal happiness. When mortals were happy, they created art, music, and tales that set Sidhe minds and spirits soaring
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IN THE BRIGHT COURT
Denoriel was a warrior. He was renowned not only for his skill with his sword but for his ability to withstand attack by mortal steel. He was foremost in the Wild Hunt, bravest of the brave. When his twin sister, Aleneil, and the other FarSeers told him that his future duty was to attend and protect a six-year-old boy, that he was to be a nursemaid, he could hardly believe his long, pointed ears.
IN THE DARK COURT
Pasgen was a Mage growing stronger and stronger in the use of magic. He disdained mortals and all their doings, but when Vidal Dhu, Prince of the Dark Court told him that he must seize or kill Henry FitzRoy, Pasgen was not yet strong enough to refuse. Rhoslyn, his twin sister, created a changeling. It should have been simplicity itself to switch the children so that the changeling would die and they would hold the king's son.
IN THE MORTAL WORLD
Harry FitzRoy knew one thing for certain: he did not want to be king. However, he was Great Harry's son and not given any choice. At six years of age, he was created earl of Nottingham, duke of Somerset, and duke of Richmond and named the premier duke of England. Harry was taught his duty and would do it, but he didn't have to like it. And it didn't make things better when utter strangers tried to kill him or abduct him ... except that he was given a fairy guardian.
 



Excerpt from THIS SCEPTER'D ISLE



Denoriel knew there was no sense in trying to gain control of the air spirit to ask where Harry was. Without urging, Miralys leapt toward the road. Denoriel's sword was drawn, but even before they burst past the brush that lined the road, he saw that Harry was safe, mounted on his sturdy cob. Three of his guardsmen were clustered around him; the other, ably assisted by Dunstan and Ladbroke, was driving off a huge grey-skinned monstrosity.

Demon? A real, larger than man demon? Miralys hesitated and Denoriel swallowed when he saw the toad face -- only toads did not have glowing red eyes nor long, yellow fangs that dripped something vilely green protruding from their lipless mouths. Grey skin, harder than boiled leather, Denoriel knew. There were only a few places on that body that a sword could pierce.

Vaguely Denoriel was aware that the guardsmen who rode ahead of and behind Harry were fighting other beasts, driving them away from the wagons filled with supplies and servants. His business was with the one threatening his boy. He watched the long, scaley arms, waiting for one hand or the other to rise in an attempt to seize one of the men attacking it. Miralys would leap forward and he would strike under the arm ...

Not right! Something was terribly wrong! For all their size, demons were quick and agile. This ... thing ... was roaring and waving its arms, striking at the men, but it was not really fighting and it was terribly clumsy ... and there were cuts on its arms and body where the men's swords had struck it, but there was nothing oozing from the wounds.

A cob? Harry did not ride a cob! Illusion! That was Reeve the men had formed up around. Denoriel realized why Miralys had hesitated. The elvensteed was not afraid of demons -- no more than sensible caution required -- Miralys had stopped because he sensed that what was fighting Harry's men was not a demon and that Harry was not with them.

With a despairing oath, Denoriel turned back into the woods and reached for the air spirit. Now he knew what had happened. When the "demons" attacked, the horses had been terrified and the cortege had scattered. Harry's gelding, faster and higher spirited than the others and with Harry not strong enough to control it, had carried the boy across the road, away from the apparent threat, and into the woods. In only a few minutes Harry's guards and Dunstan and Ladbrooke had mastered their horses and formed up around their charge -- only it was Reeve, bespelled to look like Harry.

Rhoslyn ...

She might not have retained enough of Harry's mind and spirit to build a second changeling, but his appearance would be branded into her brain. She could cast an illusion good enough to fool even those who knew Harry well.

Where?

Denoriel put all the force of his mind and will into that demand. He knew that Rhoslyn and her Unseleighe group had launched some kind of attack on the air spirit and to force it near its enemies might spell its death. He was not ordinarily cruel, but he had to find Harry. He prayed that he was not already too late. Even if the air spirit were wounded and dying, he thought that Aleneil's spell would hold. It would know where Harry was.

Here, came faintly back to his mind. He had been right. The air spirit, drawn by the spell that bound it to Harry, had somehow followed. He had a direction and Miralys had it too. The elvensteed seemed to leap from where it was to one of those open, low-brush-filled areas found in any wood. Denoriel knew the steed had passed through the trees, leaping and dodging but at such speed that it seemed one single stride had brought them to their goal.

Here, but more faintly, as if the spirit were retreating ... or dying.

At the center of the open area was a large blackened circle and at one edge was a moldering shed of some kind. Gate! In or behind the shed was a Gate! But Denoriel had no time to try to discover anything about it. The air spirit's call had brought them to the Gate, not to Harry himself; however from the sound of pounding hooves and outcries others were coming. Miralys's speed had outpaced them.

Denoriel's heart leapt with mingled joy and rage. He still had a chance. Harry was not yet taken. He urged Miralys to the northwestern edge of the clearing. Harry was being herded from the south toward the Gate in the shed on the northeast edge. The Sidhe could not touch the boy because of the iron cross he wore, but they planned to drive him through the Gate and deal with him Underhill.

Harry burst out of the trees, still firmly in the saddle, although he had let go of the useless reins. There were about ten following him, only five even vaguely human. His horse was wild-eyed and lathered, ahead of its pursuers only because it was so terrified of them.

At the front was a Sidhe whose ragged hair flowed in the wind. His eyes were mad -- huge, his slitted pupils closed so tight that the eyes seemed all one glittering green; his mouth was open, the sharp teeth showing as if he wished to tear at his prey with them. His horse trailed streamers of blood-tinged mucus from its mouth, probably nearly dead but driven on by the Sidhe's will. And in his hand he held a huge crook with which he intended to hook Harry from his horse.

Behind, screaming at the mad Sidhe to stop, their fanged and red-eyed not-horses striving to overtake the ravening Sidhe, were Rhoslyn and Pasgen. Behind them were two more dark Sidhe, beautiful still but with lips twisted into cruel smiles. And ranging them to either side were beasts on other beasts. Denoriel's eyes caught twig-like arms with huge hands finished with shining claws, something with bat-ears and a long, curling tongue mounted on an emaciated pig as big as a cow ...

Miralys leapt forward. Two strides put the elvensteed between Harry and the demented Sidhe. Denoriel's sword made a downward stroke with the full strength of his terror and his rage behind it. The Sidhe screamed. Arm and crook flew to one side as Miralys hit the foundering horse with his shoulder and threw the dying creature aside.

An impossible twist, another leap, and Miralys was beside Harry's horse. Somehow since the first warning from the air spirit, Miralys had undone the spell that held his head furniture together and rid himself of it and the reins. Denoriel had both hands free; he held his bloody sword in one hand and with the other tore off his heavy double-lined silk cloak and twisted it around his arm.

Braced for pain, as Miralys slowed to match pace with Harry's tired horse, Denoriel reached over and yanked the boy from his horse onto Miralys. Then the elvensteed seemed to fly across the clearing.

Behind him Denoriel heard Rhoslyn scream with fury. In the same instant, he felt the flickering pain of a near miss with elf shot.

"Hold tight, Harry," Denoriel bellowed, and then lower but still clearly. "My horse's name is Miralys."

With those words, the boy, who had been struggling, threw his arms around Denoriel's neck. The Sidhe gasped with pain, but there was enough clothing between him and the iron so that he was not totally incapacitated. He managed to lift and turn Harry so the boy's back was to him. Harry swung his leg over Miralys and Denoriel drew a sharp breath of relief. The arm with which he clutched the boy -- right across the chest where the cross lay -- was shielded with layers of insulating silk; Harry's body was between him and the iron cross. For now, but not for long, Denoriel could bear it.

The not-horses had been behind the bespelled mount of the mad Sidhe and had been driven sideways when the poor creature fell and began to convulse in dying or Denoriel would have been overtaken when Miralys slowed to pick up Harry. Now the elvensteed really stretched, but the need to dodge trees and leap brambles prevented Miralys from using his full speed. The not-horses were also fast and powerful. They were virtually on Miralys's heels when the elvensteed found the grove and charged into Denoriel's Gate.

Before Rhoslyn or Pasgen could act, the whole grove lit with a terrifying burst of light and energy. Talog and Torgen were thrown backwards and nearly flung to the ground. Their clawed feet won them a purchase no horse could have maintained and they remained erect. Rhoslyn and Pasgen, armored by the nasty tricks Vidal Dhu too often played on his followers in the Hunt, stayed in their saddles.

#


It was fortunate that Denoriel was carrying his naked sword in his hand when they were thrown out of the Gate with force enough to stagger Miralys. Something with bat wings and a great many teeth leapt at them. It was so vicious and stupid, that it impaled itself. Sick with pain from the iron cross and a much worse disorientation from traveling by Gate than had ever struck him before, Denoriel was in no condition to fight.

The violent failure of the Gate had another advantage. Miralys's stagger brought the elvensteed's adamantine silver hooves down with some force on something like a short, fat, slimy snake, also with a great many teeth, every one of them dripping with venom. The feel of the creature beneath his hooves made Miralys leap sideways off the Gate platform. And now it was FitzRoy's deathgrip on the pomel and the elven-steed's mane that kept Denoriel in the saddle.

A short dash away from the Gate to the far side of what might have once been meant as a park around a fountain drastically reduced the number of attackers. Miralys needed only once kick out hard backward -- none of them ever knew what his hooves connected with because it crawled away cursing and whimpering -- to ensure them of some needed quiet and privacy.

After some little period, FitzRoy's hands began to relax their hold on mane and pomel, enough at least so he could turn his head. "Are you all right, Lord Denno," he asked.

His voice, a little thin, a little tremulous seemed to recall Denoriel from his daze. With an expression of disgust he shook the dead bat-winged thing off his sword and looked at the blackish stain on the blade. Then his left arm made an abortive movement as if to reach for something, but it was still tight around FitzRoy.

"The cross," he muttered. "The iron cross must have collapsed the Gate." For a moment his grip on the boy tightened even further, so that FitzRoy grunted in pain. "My God, my stupidity could have killed you."

"Should I put the cross away, Lord Denno?" FitzRoy asked.

"I ... I don't know," Denoriel admitted, wiping the blade off on the skirt of his doublet. "It's a protection to you in one way and, well, the failure of the Gate shows that in other ways it's a danger. Sorry, Harry, my head's full of uncombed wool. I'm not thinking very clearly."

The boy had been looking around while they spoke and his nose wrinkled with distaste. "I don't think we should be here, Lord Denno. I've never been, but I've heard Reeve and Ladbroke talk. This looks like the worst slum in London." He hesitated and then added, "Except I don't think there's anything like that -- " he gestured toward the corpse Denoriel had shaken off his sword " -- even in the worst slum in London."

Harry had not been totally overset by plunging into a small grove in the woods around Sheriff Hutton, feeling as if he were being turned inside out, and emerging in what was obviously a badly decaying city. Nor had he screamed or struggled when one monster attacked them from above and another from below. Moreover, there was now a glint in his eyes that made Denoriel want to smile.

Fairy guardians might be for babies, but Harry wanted to believe in magic. He would tell the boy the truth, he decided. Well, actually, he didn't have much choice since he couldn't think of any lie that Harry would believe. And the child was remarkably trustworthy. In the more than four years since he had first been exposed as not an ordinary human, Harry had never once slipped by accident or shown any desire to boast of an uncanny friend. In fact, whenever anything Denoriel did was noted or remarked upon, Harry would shrug and say, "Foreign. He's Hungarian. They're strange."

The most urgent thing was for the boy to be prepared for anything so that he would not freeze in terror or become hysterical -- not that his behavior so far indicated he would. However, he would be best prepared by being told the truth.

Meanwhile the hopeful glint in Harry's eyes was replaced by concern. "Lord Denno, I think we better get off Miralys and give him a chance to rest. He's shaking."

Denoriel started. The child was right. The elvensteed was shuddering. Denoriel looked around but saw no sign of danger; he let Harry down from the saddle, following immed-iately. When nothing struck, he sheathed his sword.

Now Denoriel removed the saddle and set it on the ground, then examined Miralys to make sure he was not cut or bitten anywhere. There was no sign of any injury, but when the elvensteed rested its head on his shoulder he had an immediate impression of heat and light billowing, almost engulfing them, held off by some force emanating from the elvensteed.

The Gate. The Gate collapsing. Then the force Miralys had used to hold off the ravening energy of the failing Gate began to wane. Denoriel could feel the elvensteed's fear ... and there was a wrenching, a last terrible effort, and then they were spilled out into ... ah, now Denoriel at least recognized where they were ... Wormegay Hold.

Denoriel stroked Miralys, trying to pass into him some of his own power, but that attempt failed. Possibly the elvensteeds used another source of energy than that which powered elven magic, one that was as rich in the mortal world as Underhill. He had never known the source to fail, but now he felt Miralys's desperate effort to gather strength. Had the collapse of the Gate damaged the steed?

"Miralys is just exhausted, Harry," he said. "Are you all right?"

"Oh yes," the boy said brightly but still watching all around. "But this place is a mess. Just look at this park. Half the trees are dead and the weeds are just growing over everything. The statue fell off that fountain in the middle and it's all black and slimy. I think there's a dead animal under the bushes over there. And there's a bench here, but I think someone ... er ... shit on it."

Denoriel looked at the bench and shuddered. A gesture of his hand swept it clean. Another gesture sent the dead thing -- he was grateful Harry had not seen it more clearly because it was a Dreaming Sidhe, not a dead animal -- -to a different corner of the area.

"And look at those houses just outside the park. They're all falling down and mold is growing on them. Ugh! What's more, this place smells." FitzRoy glanced up at him before returning his attention to the area surrounding them. "I was never in a park that smelled before. I don't think this is where you expected to take me. Do we have to stay?"

Denoriel saw Miralys fold his legs and sink down to rest. He put his hand on Harry's shoulder and drew the boy to the bench. "Let's sit down, Harry. I have a lot to explain."

"Oh, good! I'm a big boy now, and I ... I don't really believe in fairy guardians any more. But some of the things you do ..." He shook his head. "I never dared ask you, not even when we were riding out because I was so afraid someone would hear. What are you, Lord Denno?"

Denoriel laughed weakly. "Actually, fairy guardain is pretty close to the truth. Some mortals call us Elves. Some call us Faery. Some call us the Fair Folk." A smile twitched at his lips. "Some call us names that it is better a youngling like you doesn't hear. But as you call yourselves English, from the name of your land, England, we call ourselves Sidhe from the place we made for ourselves, the sidhe. Now, because many, many other folk than the Sidhe live in that place, we keep the name Sidhe and call the place where we live Underhill. Thus sometimes we call your world Overhill or the mortal world."

FitzRoy clasped his hands. His eyes were enormous but bright with pleasure and excitement, not fear. "Oh, Lord Denno are you my own personal Elf?"

Denoriel flicked the boy's nose. "Certainly not! I am my own personal Elf, as you are your own personal boy. I am not a pet or a toy and do not belong to you. When you are older, I will be able to explain why certain mortals are of great importance to the Sidhe. For now it is enough for you to know you are one of those mortals, and I am assigned to protect you. So, in a sense, I am your fairy guardian."

The boy giggled. "Some fairy godfather. I guess you saved me from those things that attacked us all right, but I suspect you landed us in one mess of trouble."

Denoriel sighed. "Well, this certainly isn't where I intended to take you. But I think it was your cross that made the mess and wrecked my plan. Underhill we have this fast way of getting places called Gating."

"Like we went into that dark place in the forest and all of a sudden we were here?"

"Yes. Exactly. But you know that your iron cross won't let any Sidhe and a lot of other Underhill residents touch you. It has a power of its own. And that power ... ah, messed around with the power that lets a Gate move folk who are magical from one place to another. Look at that fountain. That's actually the Gate where we came in. I'm afraid the cold iron collapsed the Gate where we entered so we can't get back by entering that Gate again."

"But you saved us!"

"No, I didn't. I didn't even know what was happening. Miralys saved us, which is why he's exhausted. But I have no idea where this Gate will take us. I wonder if we can find another ...."

He left the sentence unfinished and turned around sharply to look at Miralys who was heaving himself to his feet. Denoriel exclaimed wordlessly with concern. The elvensteed did not look good. His coat was dull and there was a sort of insubstantiality about him.

But something, maybe many things were coming. Denoriel anxiously scanned the disintegrating houses and littered streets.

He heard Harry cry out, "Miralys!" and whirled. The elvensteed had just brought his front hooves down on a crawling thing that looked like an armored fish with the head of a tusked boar. Behind it something squirmed along the ground, the snakelike body creeping forward on thousands of tiny legs ... no, hands ... lifting the most exquisite Sidhe face toward him. An enormously long tongue suddenly snapped out of that face and flicked toward Harry. Denoriel cut it off and then severed the head from the body.

"Behind you!" Harry gasped.

Denoriel turned again, fearing that the ten or twenty creatures he had guessed were coming from the street had all arrived at once. Fortunately it was only the swiftest among them, a winged being that any mortal would have taken for an angel, so fair was its face, so glistening its multicolor wings, so pure a white its fluttering robe. Only a mouth gaping wide to expose long, pointed teeth and clawed hands outstretched to seize did not match the image.

This time the silver sword did not blacken the hand it struck, but the scream from the faux-angel was just as heart-felt as that of the wraith because Denoriel struck off its hand. It groped with the other hand, stretching its neck, elongating it like a folded ribbon, its teeth snapping. But that was a fatal mistake for Denoriel turned the sword and struck at that impossibly thinned neck. It severed as easily as the hand. The head flew off to his right as the body thudded into the ground.

He heard the boy cry out in a brief triumph behind him and heard, too, Miralys's anguished groan as the steed raised his body and struck out backward with his hooves.

"The Gate!" Denoriel cried. "Wherever it takes us will be better than here."

No time to wonder. Miralys was, indeed, sinking. With a cry of fear, Denoriel put his shoulder under the neck of the steed and heaved, kicking the saddle ahead of him and grasping for Harry with his free hand as he pushed as hard as he could. He should not have been able to support the elvensteed, but Miralys was so light, as if he was only an illusory image of himself. The push should not have moved Miralys at all, but the whole entangled group staggered forward into the dark haze of the Gate.

For a moment nothing happened and Denoriel gasped with fear. Had this end of the Gate also collapsed or been damaged by the disaster at the other end? As the thought came, his strength was drained even further so that he fell to his knees. Indeed, he would have fallen flat on his face if Harry had not supported him.

Then came the darkness of transition, the horrible feeling of being wrenched inside out. Usually that lasted so short a time that it was not significant. Now it went on and on. There was no sound. He thought Harry was shouting at him, but he couldn't hear. He could no longer feel Miralys. Lost? Could they be lost in the void through which the Gates made contact, terminus with terminus?

Would they spend eternity in this hell?

#


Almost mindless with terror, Denoriel finally recalled that there were open Gates, Gates that would take you anywhere you were strong enough to chose as a terminus, if there was a Gate terminus there. He fixed his mind on Logres on Gating to Logres ... and spilled out into a swirling mist so thick that he could barely make out Harry and the larger bulk of Miralys.

The elvensteed, solid again, dropped to his knees, bearing Denoriel down, and then got to his feet. Denoriel no longer felt cold and empty. Mwynwen's spell was working again. He heard Miralys snort -- a nice energetic snort.

"Where are we now, Lord Denno?" Harry asked cheerfully. "I don't think this is where you wanted to go either -- but it's almost like home. London has fogs like this. Are we back in London?"

"I'm afraid not, Harry." Denoriel picked up the saddle. "Here, let's just step down -- careful, there should be a sort of platform. Now hold onto me and don't let go. A foot away and I couldn't see you in this mist. We're in what's called the Unformed lands. If I were a strong enough magician, I could build a whole world in here."

Denoriel could feel Harry looking around, and after a little while the boy spoke. "This fog isn't clearing at all. We'll have to think of a way not to go around in circles when we start to move."

"Miralys," Denoriel called, his throat tightening as he realized he had not seen the elvensteed since they arrived. How-ever, before his anxiety could rise any farther, Miralys was there, as beautiful and vibrant as he had ever been. "Shall we try the Gate, Miralys, or will you leap us across to Logres?"

For answer a saddle formed on the elvensteed's back. A double saddle, really, for there was room for Harry just behind the pomel. He mounted, grasped Harry's hands and pulled him up. The boy had scarcely swung his leg over Miralys when they were plunged into an icy darkness that gave way almost instantaneously to the gorgeous, other-worldly garden outside the palace of Llachar Lle. Miralys carefully trod the narrow path that skirted a quiet pond surrounded by moonflowers and nightlillies. The long, silver leaves of Underhill's willows trailed over them, a welcoming caress.

Beyond the pond the path widened and then debouched onto a close-cropped lawn. Harry gaped upward at the shining, unveined, white marble walls of the palace, rising two stories to a battlemented wall above the huge bronze doors. To either side of the central building were slender round towers, showing many wide windows above the second floor. Pennons flapped from each tower.

Denoriel also stared upward. Oberon and Titania? Here? Why? Did the king and queen know he had been involved in the destruction of a Gate, of seeming to abduct a mortal boy of great importance? And he had allowed Harry to see and understand far too much of Underhill.
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