BY SLANDEROUS TONGUESDOUBLED EDGE SERIES, BOOK 3
by Roberta Gellis & Mercedes Lackey
Baen February 2007
In the dawn of the twenty-eighth of January, King Henry VIII went to join the four wives who had predeceased him. His Council kept his death secret for two days, until the earl of Hertford could seize the boy who was now King Edward VI and become Protector. To keep peace in the kingdom, in all other ways Hertford abided by the terms of Henry VIII’s will. Thus Mary and Elizabeth would inherit the throne of England in turn if Edward did not breed heirs.
For the moment the Prince of the Dark Court was quiescent. Although Oberon had forbidden him to interfere with Elizabeth, Vidal Dhu did not despair of being rid of her. He knew there were more ways than direct murder to break the line of succession. The Council and Protector could remove Elizabeth from the succession for misconduct, such as marriage without the permission of the King and the Council. Elizabeth was nearly ripe for marriage and Vidal Dhu enspelled the one man in England that would be totally unacceptable to court her.
With her father dead, Elizabeth felt naked and unprotected, but not for long. To her joy she was ordered to live with her stepmother, Catherine Parr, Henry’s surviving wife. Everyone was delighted with the arrangement including Elizabeth’s Bright Court Sidhe guardians, Denoriel and Aleneil. Elizabeth set out happily to move into Catherine’s palace without the smallest notion that she was riding into the greatest danger in her life so far.
Aleneil could not put her finger on why she felt so uneasy. But with all her heart she wanted Elizabeth to be distracted from her growing liking for Thomas Seymour. To Aleneil, the man was rank and unwholesome, although she could not say why. True, he flirted with Elizabeth, but he flirted in exactly the same way with all the attendant ladies, Catherine’s as well as Elizabeth’s ... except her. Aleneil wondered guiltily whether that was why she disliked him so much. Was it merely offended vanity? Underhill Aleneil was beautiful; the mortal Lady Alana had not enough character or expression on her face even to be called plain.
When one of the air spirits finally popped into Elizabeth’s parlor, circled Aleneil’s head and cried into her mind that Denoriel was in his apartment in Llachar Lle, Lady Alana got suddenly to her feet, pressed a hand to her forehead, and pleaded a headache. Elizabeth had almost dropped her embroidery when the air spirit arrived, and her lips parted but before Elizabeth could give or deny leave, Lady Alana withdrew from the group.
All the girls looked at her in surprise, but Aleneil simply curtsied and backed out of the chamber. She did not even go to her room, but hurried to the sheltered side of the stable where Ystwyth was waiting. Her anxiety that Denoriel would simply leave again when he did not find her waiting for him was such that Ystwyth leapt up into the air and broke the barriers between the worlds.
The elvensteed came to rest at the portico of Llachar Lle, and Aleneil rushed up the stairs and through the corridor to virtually burst into Denoriel’s apartment. He had felt the strong disturbance that Ystwyth’s arrival made in the usually quiet power flow of Elfhame Logres and had got to his feet, his hand going to his sword hilt when Aleneil almost leapt through the doorway.
“Don’t you dare leave!” she cried, raising a hand palm out toward him as if to hold him back.
“Leave? I’ve only just arrived. What is wrong? Why are you so breathless?” He looked toward the door, hand tightening on his sword hilt as if he expected her to be pursued.
Aleneil sighed and sank down onto the sofa facing the fireplace. Denoriel had been away so long that the tiny spell which kept the multicolored flames playing over crystal logs had lost power and dissipated.
“Do you realize that it has taken me over two months to get sight or speech of you?” Aleneil was exasperated and did not try to hide it. “Where have you been? What have you been doing?”
He grinned. “Having a wonderful time,” he said, teasing because of her displeasure. Then, more soberly. “I told you I was going with Harry to the abandoned Elfhames. He and his friends from Elfhame Elder-Elf had cleared out all the magical curses that those Churchly lunatics put on the cities, but they could not touch the Great Evil that had taken root there.”
“You were fighting the Great Evil?” Aleneil breathed, eyes wide.
“No not that. It summoned—-or perhaps just its presence brought—-a host of things from the lower planes. We were busy getting rid of them and sealing the doors through which they came. Harry, the eternal optimist, hoped that the Great Evil would retreat with those that escaped us as we sealed the doors, but that did not happen. It is again isolated, and Harry has withdrawn his party partly to avoid tempting it to further action, partly to take time to search out a new route to it. He is as inventive as a—” Denoriel broke into a laugh. “I was about to say he is as inventive as a mortal.”
Aleneil snorted. “Well, you look wonderful, so I suppose all that fighting did you good, but Denoriel, ridding Alhambra and El Dorado of the evil that was set into them is not your purpose. You know what the FarSeers have Seen. You are tied to Elizabeth and to her rule.”
“Is something wrong with Elizabeth?”
He was half out of his chair and Aleneil waved him down. “Except for growing more and more impatient over your absence, one would think there is nothing wrong ...” Then her voice faltered and she wrung her hands. “But there is! I have no clear Vision, I have seen and heard nothing real, but I feel something bad is coming, and it is all to do with Thomas Seymour.”
Denoriel frowned blackly over the name. “He has got the queen, I suppose. Poor woman. She deserves better.”
Aleneil sighed with agreement. “Yes, but you could not convince her of that and would not have been able to do so even if there had been as much difficulty over the marriage as Seymour expected.”
“Marriage?” Denoriel repeated, frowning even more angrily. “I thought after the first flush of infatuation she could be shown what he truly was. The queen planned on a wait of two years, a full year of mourning and another year to show her great respect—”
”Maybe her head planned on a wait of two years,” Aleneil interrupted with a wry twist to her lips, “but her nether parts decided that two months was more than long enough.”
She went on to tell him about the clandestine courtship and the effect it had on Elizabeth.
Denoriel sort of drew back in his chair and said, “Impossible. Ridiculous. Elizabeth is only a little girl!”
“Denoriel, she is not a little girl. She is a mortal of near fourteen years of age—-a mortal and ripening fast. She has a fine bosom and nice broad hips, and she fair panted when she watched Seymour kiss Catherine’s throat and ears out in the garden.”
Denoriel flushed. “But you said they married. They must have a more private place for their caresses now.”
“Oh yes,” Aleneil’s lips twisted, “Queen Catherine and Seymour were married sometime about the end of April, but they feared that his brother, who is now Protector, would interfere, so they still met secretly. Only after the wedding, Seymour came in the early morning and they kissed and fondled all the way into the entry of the house nearest her bedchamber with all the servants and half the ladies in waiting goggling out of their windows.” She hesitated and then said, “And I will tell you plain, Denoriel, that I do not like the way Elizabeth looks at Seymour.”
“What the devil do you mean?” Denoriel said, his skin darkening further. “Surely now that Seymour and the queen are married she looks at him no longer.”
“Yes she does.” Aleneil’s lips thinned with distaste. “She is only fourteen years old. Her body is ripe and it is waking to urges she hardly understands. But those urges must not be connected to Seymour!”
Denoriel had looked away. Aleneil could see that his jaw was set hard.
“The worst of the trouble,” she continued, “is that he looks back! Oh, not only at Elizabeth. At every woman in the place. And Catherine thinks his flirting is charming. But the others do not matter. Denoriel, Elizabeth must be given something else to look at.”
“No!” The objection burst out of Denoriel with the force of violent jealousy. He swallowed hard, started to compel himself to agree, and then, relieved, shook his head. “No,” he repeated more calmly. “Elizabeth must look at no one, must show no favor to any man. She is forbidden to marry except with the Council’s approval. There is the shadow of her mother’s execution for adultery over her. One slip and she will be named a whore and removed from the succession.”
“I am so glad you see that, and I think Elizabeth sees it too. But she wants what Catherine has, what Catherine’s foolish desire has been holding under her nose for weeks. Her young body is driving her, that and the knowledge that she might, for political reasons, be forced into marriage with a greybeard or a drooling idiot. She wants to know what Catherine feels, to taste desire. She wants to believe that a kiss or two in a corner would do no harm.”
Denoriel stiffened and finally said. “No again. What if she were caught? No, you must tell her—“
”Idiot!” Aleneil interrupted sharply. “I have been telling her! What do you think has saved her so far. But I cannot hold her much longer. She needs a lover.”
“Yes.” Suddenly Aleneil smiled. “What if she could never be caught? What if the lover could disappear? And what if there could be no danger at all of her getting with child?”
“Aleneil, what are you saying? She is still a child herself.”
“The legal age for marriage set by the Church is twelve for females. Plenty of girls have borne children at fourteen, so do not talk like a fool. You know Elizabeth’s will. She knows she cannot marry, but if she makes up her mind to taste the sweetness of love ...”
“Oh, stop saying ‘no’ as if what you say can have any effect. You must do something.”
Denoriel squared his shoulders. “To that I agree. I will talk to her. I will explain to her—-“
”Dannae forfend!” Aleneil exclaimed, with an expression of horror. “You fool! When you next see her, you will tell her that she has ripened into a woman, in your eyes a beautiful woman. You will find a private place while I delay her maidens, and you will kiss her!”
Color again rose in Denoriel’s cheeks, the pupils of his eyes widened, then shrank again, and his lips, a little fuller than usual, parted to take a deeper breath. A moment later, he stiffened and shook his head violently.
“Do not bother to say ‘no’ again,” Aleneil snapped. “Who else can disappear so that Elizabeth can never be found with a lover? Who else has been Elizabeth’s friend for so many years that no one really sees him any more? Who else has the white hair of the aged and infirm, and cannot, no matter how passionate their embraces, make Elizabeth pregnant?”
Denoriel sat looking at his sister as if she had hit him on the back of the head with a board. “Me?” his voice squeaked.
“Unless you are willing to suggest another Sidhe to fill the role, and I—-”
“No!” That time it was Denoriel who interrupted and quite forcefully. “Another Sidhe might become bored and leave her. She would be hurt.”
“Hurt? Mere mortal heartache? That would be the least of our worries. You know Elizabeth. She could turn vindictive against all Sidhe, and if she comes to rule, as we all hope she will, she could close the mortal world, at least of England and Wales, to us.”
“That’s my Elizabeth.” Denoriel sighed.
“So it must be you who courts her and loves her. Only you will have the care of her that she will need. Only you can be trusted with her.”
For one moment an expression of avid desire made Denoriel’s eyes glitter and his lips fill. In the next moment the light in his eyes died and he shrugged. “For the reasons you gave, it might seem so, but she will never have me. You have given all the reasons for that, too. She regards me as an old uncle, to be teased, to do her favors, to amuse her.”
There was such pain in his voice that Aleneil reached out and took his hand. “I don’t think so,” she said and eased her voice into softness. “Did you not hear her say ‘my Denno’ to Oberon himself? Did you not hear her say if you were not her Denno that she would close the mortal world to Sidhe?”
“But that could have been a child’s demand for a favorite toy. Dannae knows, Elizabeth is willful.”
Aleneil smiled. So, there was desire on Denoriel’s part as well. All the better. “Oh, no. Elizabeth knows and respects, even fears, authority. Oberon exudes authority. He is king and none can mistake that. Nonetheless, Elizabeth defied him—-for you. She would not have gone so far for an old friend or an old uncle. Not even, I think, for her Da now that she is sure he is alive and well. But for the love of her life?”
When Aleneil mentioned Da, which was what Elizabeth called Harry FitzRoy, Denoriel’s memory suddenly brought up one of the many quarrels he had had with her. She had been demanding that he bring Harry to the mortal world to visit her, saying she needed to be sure it was Harry and not some simulacrum or some Sidhe beglamored to look like Harry. She had asked passionately whether she was never to touch her Da’s hand or feel him hug her.
Denoriel had then pulled her closer and asked if his hugs would not do. To his pained surprise, she had drawn away from him. When, shocked, he asked if she did not like him, she had assured him that she liked him, liked him very much, but not that way. He remembered now that, without bothering to try to understand what she meant, he had been delighted her affection for him was far different from her affection for her half-brother.
“I do not know,” he said uncertainly. “What if she is disgusted by my attempt on her or frightened by it? What if I am no longer welcome to her?”
Aleneil shook her head. “Are you planning to leap on her and commit rape? She would have time enough to warn you away if she does not desire you in such a way that your friendship would not be damaged. But surely after all these years you know how to approach Elizabeth.” Now she laughed, and looked at him sideways. “Have you never wooed a lady?”
Despite feeling he would be torn apart by the maelstrom of emotions in him—-a hot and eager desire, an icy terror that the desire might be rejected, a sick trembling of doubt over desiring a child—-Denoriel could not help grinning at his sister’s question.
“Actually, no,” he said. “Mostly they woo me.”