The Queen's Necklace, страница 1
Map by Ann Meyer Maglinte
The following people offered aid, comfort, encouragement, and advice during the writing of this book:
Tina Benz, Jennifer Carson, Carolyn Hill, and Tom and Paula King.
Had eluki bes shahar not believed in it, this book might never have seen print.
Therefore, to all these dear friends
The Queen’s Necklace
is affectionately and respectfully dedicated.
About the Publisher
CAPTAIN WILROWAN KROGAN-BLACKHEART—(otherwise “Will”) A raffish young nobleman. Captain of Her Majesty’s Guard.
BLAISE CROWSMEARE-TREFALLON—His closest friend. An ornament of the court.
SIR RUFUS MACQUAY—A fop.
FINN, PYECROFT, BARNABY—Drinking companions of Will and Blaise.
CORPORAL NATHANIEL DAGGET—of the City Guard. A very young officer.
LILLIANA BRAKEBURN-BLACKHEART—(otherwise “Lili”) Wilrowan’s wife. A young woman of character.
LORD BRAKEBURN—Lilliana’s father. An insignificant gentleman, of large, means but very small cunning.
MISS ALLORA BRAKEBURN—Lord Brakeburn’s maiden aunt. Lilliana’s mentor.
SIR BASTIAN JOSSLYN-MATHER—A gentleman magician.
LIEUTENANT KESTREL BRAKEBURN—(otherwise “Nick”) Lili’s young cousin. An officer in His Majesty’s Guard.
WILOBIE CULPEPPER—(otherwise “Willie”) A phantom. That is, a false identity invented by Will.
EULALIE—A wig-maker’s daughter. On terms of considerable intimacy with Wilobie Culpepper.
CORPORAL SWALLOW—A junior member of Her Majesty’s Guard, acting as Will’s body-servant.
KING RODARIC OF MOUNTFALCON—A sober man, very much in love with his flighty young wife.
QUEEN DIONEE—The afore-mentioned wife. Wilrowan’s foster-sister, related to him on both sides of the family.
LORD THADDEUS VAULT—A foreign nobleman. The ambassador from Nordfjall.
LORD-LIEUTENANT JACK MARZDEN—of the City Guard. Formerly Will’s nemesis, now his friend.
A WRYNECK—A Goblin masquerading as a Man.
DOCTOR OCTAVIO PRENDERBY-FOX—An academic magician. A professor at Malachim College.
SIR FREDERIC TREGARON-MARLOWE—Also a Professor of Magic.
LADY LETITIA STEERPIKE—A woman of the court. A scheming hussy.
A Prostitute. A Gaoler. An Innkeeper. The Governor of Whitcomb Gaol. A Surgeon. Various courtiers, servants, guardsmen, tradesmen, pedestrians, magicians, felons, &c.
KING JARRED OF WINTERSCAR—A grieving widower. An honorable young man.
LUCIUS SACKVILLE-GUILIAN—(otherwise “Luke”) A witty young gentleman, Jarred’s second-cousin and foster-brother. An amateur historian.
DOCTOR FRANCIS PURCELL—A natural philosopher. Formerly tutor to Jarred and Luke.
LORD HUGO SACKVILLE—Jarred’s uncle. An aging rake.
PRINCESS SOPHRONISPA—(otherwise “Ys”) The Princess Imperial.
LADY SOPHRONISPA—(otherwise “Sophie”) Ys’s aunt. An Imperial Princess.
VALENTINE SOLANGE—(otherwise “Madame Debrûle”) Governess to Ys. A martyr to her duty.
MADAM ZAPHIR—An Ouph fortuneteller.
LORD VIF—(otherwise “Monsieur Debrûle”) A person of little intelligence but considerable breeding, masquerading as Valentine’s husband and Ys’s uncle.
LORD WITTLESBECK—Jarred’s Master of Ceremonies. A fussy old man.
ALONZO PERYS—Jarred’s coachman.
LORD RUPERT WALBURG—Jarred’s Heir-Apparent. A sporting gentleman, not much interested in affairs of government.
ZMAJ, JMEL, IZEK—Three handsome youths of Imperial descent.
A GRANT—A Goblin apothecary, ancient and venerable.
DOCTOR MATTHEW WILDEBADEN—A physician. Cousin to Francis Purcell.
A Padfoot Seamstress. A Major Domo. Two Footmen. The King’s Secretary. An Invalid. Various courtiers, cabinet ministers, guardsmen, & servants residing at Lindenhoff.
CAPTAIN PYKE—Master of the Pagan Queen. A man with a past.
SIMON PERYS—Lucius Guilian’s valet. A loyal retainer.
RAITH—An Anti-demonist. Tutor and bodyguard to the children of the Crown Princess of Rijxland. A man of mystery.
A Linen-draper. A Goldsmith. A Grant. Three Ouphs. Sailors & passengers.
KING IZAIAH OF RIJXLAND—The Mad King. Formerly a man of rare genius.
PRINCESS MARJOTE—Izaiah’s daughter, the Crown Princess. A woman of high principles but limited understanding.
LORD FLINX—Izaiah’s nephew. An unscrupulous politician.
TREMEUR BROUILLARD—An orphan, his ward. A young female with a scandalous reputation.
LORD POLYPHANT—The ambassador from Winterscar. A man of fashion.
LORD CATTS—The Minister of Trade. A dandy.
VARIAN DOU—An earnest young parlimentarian, being groomed for a government post by the Princess Marjote.
A Hackney-coachman. The Princess’s children. Various visitors, inmates, attendants, & physicians at the mad-house in Luden (including some giddy young women).
LADY KROGAN—(formerly Odilia Rowan) Wilrowan’s grandmother. A dowager of sinister reputation.
A Coachman and a Porter.
In Nordfjall, Chêneboix, Bridemoor, Catwitsen, & Herndyke
A RAG-AND-BOTTLE DEALER—An ancient Wryneck with some claim to gentility.
LIEUTENANT ODGERS, CORPORAL GILPIN—Guardsmen assigned to assist Wilrowan.
GENERAL PENGENNIS—Assigned to protect His Royal Highness, the Prince of Catwitsen’s, frontiers.
A Grant. A Hired Coachman. Several innkeepers. Some border guards. Three constables. Sailors
On a chilly autumn morning in the year 6509, a nondescript hackney coach jolted through the muddy streets of a great northern city and came to a halt in a dismal little square. The door flew open and two women—as discreetly colorless as to their gowns, hats, cloaks, and gloves as they had been in choosing a coach—stepped down to the slippery cobblestone pavement. The taller of the two dropped a few bright coins into the hand of the driver up on the box.
“Wait for us just here.” Her voice was low and intense, with the accent of one accustomed to command. A filmy black scarf thrown over her wide-brimmed hat concealed her face and shoulders, but her figure was straight, her movements graceful. There was a rustle of silken petticoats under the sober skirts of her gown.
When the driver protested against keeping the horses standing, she silenced him with an upraised hand. “Our business is urgent—so may be our hasty departure.”
Turning sharply on her heel, she started down the nearest narrow street, shouldering her way through a knot of rough-looking men unloading beechwood casks from a wagon. Her companion followed in her footsteps, darting nervous glances to either side.
A thick, oily fog had descended during the night, making it difficult to read the hand-lettered cards in the shop windows. But as she passed a tilted sign post, the smaller woman cried out. “Val—is the wrong street. I knew there had to be some mistake.”
“Hush, Sophie. It is a quarter of a mile distant. If there is trouble later, the driver should know as little as possible.”
Sophie lengthened her steps, trying to keep pace. “But such a neighborhood. Could Chimena, even Chimena, abandon her child in a place like this?”
“If she was desperate enough. If they were pressing her very hard, and it was the only way to keep the child safe.”
The street grew narrower and narrower still, finally dwindling to a dirty footpath. Val disappeared in the oily dimness up ahead; somewhere behind, Sophie thought she heard footsteps: the slow but firm tread of a very large man taking long, easy strides. She felt a sudden twinge of panic.
Then, a freshening breeze blew cold and sweet full in her face; the fog lifted. The ground seemed to fall away, and the path opened on a vast blue-grey expanse of mud and sky and water, and what appeared, at first glance, to be an infinite network of piers and catwalks and floating bridges, connecting a likewise infinite number of ramshackle little buildings built up on stilts, a shanty town made up of mud and ooze and sticks and every sort of flotsam and jetsam. They had reached the great mudflats west of the river Scar.
The two women descended a flight of rotting wooden steps and set out briskly across the piers and catwalks.
The houses, though flimsy, were two and three stories high, with unsavory little shops down below. There were ale-houses and opium dens and gin shops advertising their wares in crooked letters: DRuNK FoR a PEnnY, DEaD DRuNK FoR TWo. There were greasy little cookshops redolent of squid and pickled seaweed. There were decaying hulks of ships and smacks and fishing hoys, stranded in the mud ages past, now converted into more of the wretched little dwellings. Smoke rose lazily from a few chimneys, but most of the interiors looked cold and dark.
Gazing around her in wonder and disgust, Sophie came to a startling conclusion. “This is Goblin Town,” she said.
“Yes,” Val replied in a low voice, as they crossed a narrow plank bridge between two of the piers. “This is Goblin Town. A miserable existence to be sure—yet on dry land, these vile hovels would be so many fire-traps. Out here in the damps, where even seasoned firewood is slow to burn, the creatures feel safe.”
Sophie looked down at the murky chemical stew that bubbled and seeped below the bridge. “But living right over the water! How can they—?”
“We are ninety miles from the sea. The river here is a perfect hell-broth of plagues and poisons,” said Val, “but no more noxious to Goblins than it is to Men.”
She came to a sudden stop before an untidy erection of driftwood and shingle. A dirty bow-front window jutted out from the worm eaten woodwork, and a number of faded signs had been stuck up at random. Bottle, Bone, & Rag Shop, said one. Old Clothes. Fine Costumes for Gentlemen, Ladies, Goblins, & Goblines. To Be Had Cheap, said another. And a third, equally faded but originally done in a bolder hand: Old Iron Bought, Books Bought, Curios & Antiquities Bought & Sold. Inquire Within.
“Unless I am mistaken, this is the place.”
It was two steps down to the entry. The door creaked loudly when Val pushed it open, and a bell tinkled dully at the back of the shop.
Inside, the stale air caught at the back of Sophie’s throat and made her cough. On every side there was dust and clutter: tottering piles of books and papers; heaps of old clothing, dark with mildew; a jumble of broken furniture; pyramids of chipped crockery, tarnished silver, ancient tea kettles.
And bottles everywhere—medicine bottles, ink bottles, scent bottles, dusty wine bottles with the dregs still in them, bottles of blue glass and green, bottles of every conceivable description—glinting in the light of a battered horn lantern hanging from a rusty iron bracket.
Sophie shivered at the sight of the bottles with the crusted sediments. Once she had held a similar vessel between her trembling hands, a slender glass phial containing a handful of silvery ashes, and a strip of parchment scrawled with the terrible message: Your Maglore Princess is dead. Abandon the Dangerous course you follow, before you Destroy us all.
“Chimena is gone. Betrayed and murdered by our own kind.” Val’s voice, directly in her ear, brought Sophie back to the present. “We can only hope she was somehow able to preserve the child.”
Something rattled the papers in another part of the room; there was the sound of a hasty scurrying departure down an unseen aisle. A row of skeletons at the back of the shop, dressed up in ragged finery and suspended from a beam, began to sway like so many bodies on a gibbet. Then a second door creaked loudly open, and a grotesque figure came into the light. Sophie drew in her breath.
He was an old, old Goblin of a type not often seen: a Wryneck, all gangling limbs and long body, with a hump at the back of his neck that caused his head to thrust forward. He was the very picture of shabby Goblin respectability in a loose, snuff-colored coat, drab waistcoat and breeches, and grey woolen stockings, yet there were silver buckles on his shoes and his frizzled white hair had been tied back with a large black satin bow—marks of superiority far beyond the aspirations of his humbler Goblin neighbors, the Ouphs and the Padfoots.
When he caught sight of his two visitors, he started visibly. “Ladies—” he began. Then his sharp old eyes seemed to detect something and he bowed very low. “You have come for the child?”
Val lifted up her veil, drew forth a long, gleaming, pearl-tipped hat-pin, and fastened the veil back over her hat so that the silken folds fell down behind. “That remains to be seen. There are many questions which must be answered. The first one is: how such a child ever came under your protection.”
The Wryneck bowed again. “She was left in my care, madam, soon after she was born. The mother gave birth in a room above this shop, lived here for a time, then left in haste the following summer. Alas, I can no longer say that the child remains under my protection. I did what I could for her as an infant, but as she grew—she became unmanageable.”
Val stepped forward into the light. There had been reason for the concealing veil; if her face was not beautiful, yet it was memorable, with bold dark eyes, a high-bridged nose, and a vivid red mouth.
“Such children are often difficult; they are powerfully inclined to be stubborn and willful. Unless, that is, they are left in the care of those who know how to discipline them.” Val made an impatient gesture. “So the child proved unmanageable. What then?”
“She turned feral. She lives for the most part out of doors, though she comes inside when the weather is bad. She is here now.” Again there came a rustling among the moldering piles; a musky, bestial o
Sophie glanced nervously around her. But Val moved swiftly. Heedless of all—the rising dust, the scattered papers, the sudden clattering of the disturbed skeletons—she swooped down, caught hold of a retreating scrap of dirty cloth, and pulled a ragged child into the light.
The child shrieked and began to struggle. But a few sharp words, a smart blow to the head, and it cowered submissively at Val’s feet.
“As I said—unless they are left in the care of those who know how to discipline them.”
Sophie looked down at the child. So dirty, so wild, so abject. Stunted as it was, with a pinched face and tiny claw-like hands, it was the size of a Human child just learning to take its first steps—but there was something about the bright, wary eyes that betrayed a considerably greater age and experience.
Sophie cleared her throat. “When was it—she—born?”
“Eleven years ago, madam, almost to the day.”
The women exchanged a significant glance. “For all that, we must make very certain.” Val turned her brilliant dark eyes on Sophie. “Did you bring those things I told you?”
Sophie searched in her little jet-beaded purse and finally came up with a white handkerchief and a silver phial. Meanwhile, Val produced a second wicked-looking hat-pin. “I’ll hold her while you prick her.”
Another struggle ensued, when the child guessed their intentions, but one dirty finger was eventually pierced; three drops of blood were squeezed out on the white handkerchief. Sophie unstoppered the silver phial and poured the contents over the red stain.
“Ahhh—” breathed the Wryneck, as the linen began to steam where seawater touched blood.
“Maglore in any case.” Val panted softly as she knelt on the floor with the child crushed against her chest. “She’s no Ouph or Padfoot with that straight back and tiny feet. And perhaps, cleaned up, she may resemble Chimena. Who else knows of her existence?”
“The Humans who frequent Goblin Town have seen her, certainly, but they pay small attention to feral children, of which there are so many in the neighborhood. Aside from that—I imagine every Goblin within five miles of this place knows what she is, but they will say nothing.”