Excerpted from Essential Magic, by Cara McKinnon, copyright 2016 Cara McKinnon
29 April 1874
My wee one hasn’t moved in hours. I can feel her there inside me, her little life force so strong and hot, but like any new mother I worry. I’ve seen many a stillborn babe who was energetically kicking its mother the night before. I miss Gran. She would have known what to do. She told me, if anything happened, to send word to her kin in England. I found an old letter from her sister, Beatrice—sent after the War Between the States, making sure she was all right—and so I wrote to her today. I don’t know what I expect in answer. I don’t even know that I wish for them to be aware of me, or my child. Gran left England because they cared more about position than love, and I don’t want a child of mine stifled by that world. Still—I am the last Fay in America. I worry for her future here, too.
-from the journal of Aileana Fay Cook
Etta Mae Cook stepped from the passenger car onto the platform in Waterloo Station and stumbled.
After Raleigh, she thought she’d be prepared for London. She’d expected urbanity—the magical energy raised by hundreds of thousands of people living in close proximity. She hadn’t understood.
Any piece of earth long inhabited by humans will absorb something of the nature and the character of its people. And this bit—this city on the river—had been walked by mankind for thousands of years.
The weight of years past and lives lived left her gasping and disoriented.
Bodies jostled her from all sides, but she inhaled and sought her center, reaching down into herself to that point of balance and harmony that tied her soul to her flesh. The power there hummed and danced. She exhaled and pulled the energy outward until it suffused her limbs and her skin.
Etta dragged another breath into her lungs, redolent with coal smoke and her fellow travelers. The reminder of here and now anchored her. She released the breath.
Calm. Peace. Unity. Determination.
The day her mother died six weeks ago, her life had shifted from its predictable course in Appalachia and gone careening and wheeling to places she could not yet imagine. London was not the first step, and it would not be the last, but it was the biggest yet.
Maintaining her balance, keeping a hold on her valise, and not making a major social gaffe were the most important things now. Or maybe they were all the same thing.
Please, by all that is sacred and true, let them not think me a fool.
A sharp voice shattered her introspection, the consonants clipped and staccato. “Are you Miss Cook?”
Etta squashed the urge to flinch, and though she would have liked to bolt back to the train, she forced her feet to move toward the speaker.
She’d expected to be met by a servant, but no maid wore silk and velvet, or carried herself with such a haughty mien. This must be Lady Cecily Seward, the Marchioness of Hazelby.
The woman was younger than she’d thought, not much older than Etta’s mother had been. Her dark hair was swept up in a simple arrangement, with only a few sprinklings of grey through the brown strands save for a streak of silver at the upper left temple that disappeared beneath a small-brimmed hat.
That pale streak marked this sharp-tongued Englishwoman as family. Ma used to call it the “Mark of Fay.”
“I am Etta Mae Cook,” she said, enunciating precisely, careful of her accent.
For a tense, uncertain moment, they stared at each other. There were other similarities to Ma. Hazel eyes—though the marchioness had a mix of brown, blue, and grey where Ma’s had been green, gold, and brown. A strongly bowed upper lip that Etta had not inherited, matched with a full lower one that Etta shared. Dark arching brows and strong cheekbones, though not as high as Etta’s.
This woman’s magic had a different feel, though—like a solitary boulder rising up from a field, its edges smoothed by wind and rain, but still resolute. Ma’s had been a blackberry bramble—all canes and thorns—studded with brilliant white flowers and sweet fruit. But though their power was not in any way the same, this woman was as strong as Ma had been.
“Come with me.” The woman pivoted and walked off into the crowd of disembarked passengers. She said nothing else, made no gesture of welcome, and did not watch to see that Etta complied with her order.
Etta grabbed her valise and strode after her. Her skirts hampered her steps as she strove to keep sight of the woman in the mass of shifting people. After only moments of brisk walking, the constriction of her new corset left her gasping and breathless. But she endured, and soon they were out of the station and onto a busy street.
Cabs and omnibuses drawn by horses stopped and started near the walkway, picking up and dislodging passengers. Here and there a private carriage stood in the jostling line, awaiting wealthier clients.
The smells were unfamiliar and almost as bad as the weight of two thousand years of magic. Every breath held an underlay of brine, sewage, and fish, covered by the stronger odors of horse manure, coal smoke, and the general stink of humanity. Etta forced down a gag.
The woman halted near the edge of the walk. Etta stopped a few steps behind, unsure whether it would be poor manners to approach her and attempt to speak. While she hesitated, a voice hailed her from behind.
This new figure was small and fine-boned, a tiny doll of a woman with a matching round face, large eyes, and rosebud mouth. She and Etta had shared both the boat from America and the train from the port, but she’d said farewell inside the car and Etta hadn’t thought to see her again.
“Hello, Mrs. Upton.”
“Are you in need of a conveyance, Miss Cook? I’m happy to share my carriage and take you wherever you need to go.”
“Oh, no. I—”
“Good afternoon, Lady Falcestershire.”
Etta glanced over at the other woman—the marchioness?—who obviously knew Mrs. Upton.
Or, Etta thought with annoyance, not Mrs. anything. Lady.
“Lady Hazelby! What a surprise. What brings you to the train station?”
So she was the Marchioness of Hazelby. Etta ought to feel comforted by the confirmation, but the two women eyed each other with animosity. Back away quietly. They look like bull deer about to rut.
The marchioness glanced at Etta, then back to Lady F— What was it again?
“I have come to collect Miss Cook. She will be…staying with me, for a short time.”
“How delightful!” Lady F’s tone was so bright it made the audible equivalent of staring into the sun. It was also patently false. Underneath the forced brilliance, Etta suspected she was brimming over with curiosity. She wanted to know their connection, and how a poor American witch had managed to secure an invitation to stay in the household of the Marquess of Hazelby.
“Quite,” Lady Hazelby replied. She glanced to the drive, and then back to Lady F. “Ah, my carriage has arrived. It won’t do to keep the horses standing. Good day, Lady Falcestershire.”
“Good day Lady Hazelby. Miss Cook.”
They all inclined their heads in a round-robin of polite gestures, and Lady Hazelby led Etta toward the carriage. A man climbed from his perch on the outside of the vehicle to help the marchioness inside, and then held his arm out to Etta. She didn’t think she needed the help, but it was best to emulate Lady Hazelby. He took her valise and handed her up to the carriage step.
Inside the carriage, Etta settled across from Lady Hazelby. She had to take the seat facing backward, a position which always gave her the oddest sense that she was moving through different levels of the spirit world rather than physical space. At least the cushions were soft. Her train seat had been hard as a rock.
The marchioness stared off into a corner of the carriage, carefully not looking at Etta.
Outside, Lady Falcestershire still stood, watching them. What was going on here? On the boat, she’d introduced herself as Mrs. Upton. Her accent was English, and she’d boarded in Baltimore, the closest port to Etta with regular steamship service to England. During their entire voyage, the woman had presented herself as a well-to-do commoner, the widow of a wealthy older gentleman who now had the means and freedom to travel. She’d said she’d been visiting family and friends in all of the major east coast cities, from Boston to Washington.
How much of that had been truth? Etta wanted to ask Lady Hazelby, but was terrified to make a social faux pas. The woman already refused to look at her.
Had she done something offensive? Other than the wobble getting down from the train, she’d acted with perfect propriety. Hadn’t she? Maybe it was her accent. She’d practiced the way Aunt Rachel spoke, with its soft, swallowed consonants and fluid vowels, but Etta was a mountain girl. Had she unintentionally used her native twang?
Maybe it was her dark skin. Even in the dim interior of the carriage, the other woman’s skin had an almost ivory gleam. Etta’s natural tone was a warm red-brown, and her dislike of hats meant the sun turned her face even darker. In the mountains, her resemblance to her Choctaw and Cherokee relatives meant the tribes accepted her as a friend, if not a member. Would English society reject her for the same similarity?
How to proceed? At home, she’d have said what she wanted, asked whatever came into her head, and been done. Here, there were rules and strictures, and consequences for breaking those rules. If she did something bad enough, the marchioness might not agree to teach her.
That was not acceptable. Coming to England to learn magic was Ma’s dying wish. She had to convince the Fay clan that she was worthy of training.
The carriage came to a halt before Etta could decide what to say. The door opened, and Lady Hazelby rose to allow the footman to hand her down. Etta followed without waiting for his assistance.
As she walked off the carriage step, the high heel of her unfamiliar, fashionable walking shoe caught in the hem of her just as fashionable and even more unfamiliar walking dress. She stumbled, but managed to steady herself.
What she wouldn’t give to be on her mountain right now, striding about in boots and trousers, the way any sensible gods would have intended.
Fashion would not defeat her.
While she awkwardly hopped and lurched to free the heel, the footman hurried to her and caught her arm. With his assistance, she succeeded in planting both absurd shoes onto the walkway.
“Steady, miss,” he murmured, low enough that the marchioness—who had marched past a filigreed gate and down a walk toward an impressive townhouse—could not hear.
“Thank you,” she whispered back. His kindness gave her strength. Steps deliberate and quick, she strode toward her future.
1 November 1875
A letter arrived today from the duchess herself. I hadn’t expected that. My great-aunt must have sent her my missive. She begged me to come to her, and to bring my babe. But I cannot. Fayt will never leave these mountains, and I won’t go without him. I don’t want my daughter raised without a father, and I don’t want to live without my husband.
I haven’t answered her. I know that I must, and yet—what if Etta needs her, some day? I do not wish to take away any path that would be of use to my lass. I don’t know what to do.
Gran, I miss you so much.
-from the journal of Aileana Fay Cook
Cuthbert Malcolm Elliott Seward, second son of the Marquess of Hazelby, known—thank the gods—to his family and friends as Mal, stared into his mother’s immaculate garden from the rear terrace and wished he were anywhere but this sooty, cold, monstrosity of a city.
Father had summoned him after he’d instigated another shouting match with the foreman at the family mine in Wales. Mal couldn’t regret it, despite the result. The foreman was a soulless nightmare. What had Giles been thinking, to hire a brute that didn’t care about the workers or the land?
No, Mal could not have kept his mouth shut once he knew the truth of the conditions inside and outside the mine. But being here was almost worse.
He hated London. Had abhorred every trip here as a boy, into this world of squalor and coal. He’d allowed Bertie and the Marlborough House set to seduce him into their glittering society for a little while, but it hadn’t taken long to see the truth. The ton was a garish balloon around a lot of hot air.
And sometimes, the balloon was full of flammable gas, and someone lit a match.
Mal shuddered. He wasn’t going to think about that right now. Better to think of Scotland, and his land and tenants. They, and the disused mine he’d imagined reopening, were the reason he’d traveled to Wales in the first place.
He’d have gone straight back to Scotland, and damned his father, except that the telegram had threatened to cut off his allowance. With every penny he owned sunk into improvements for his crofters and a mortgage on the property, he couldn’t afford to lose access to the family purse.
So he’d come back, and had another three-way argument with Father and Giles in his father’s study.
He’d flung an accusing finger first at Father, and then Giles. “You two can’t hear the earth screaming, but I can. If you’d let me hire a geomancer—”
“Those charlatans cost half again as much as my foreman and work crew,” Giles interrupted, “and they take twice as long to produce the same yield. It isn’t profitable.” If he’d been the sort of person who talked with his hands, they’d have been flailing about. As it was, Giles was always collected and contained. He stood with muscles held rigid, his voice strained and his lips pinched.
“Profit.” Malcolm flung the word like a curse. He liked movement, so he paced over to Giles, pointing a finger at his elder brother in accusation. “That’s all you care about, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is.”
Both brothers swiveled toward their father. The marquess leaned back in the leather chair behind his desk, giving the appearance of calm and relaxation, but with the barest hint of tension along his jaw. Mal’s father usually let them shout each other down before intervening, so he must have grown tired of hearing this particular argument repeated for the thousandth time.
“Our lives depend on money. This house, all of our property, your ramblings, Percy’s tuition, and Olivia’s travel expenses—all require funds. And there’s no profit to be had in land anymore.” He steepled his fingers where they rested on his abdomen. He had the tiniest beginnings of a pouch there, but that was to be expected of a man in the latter half of his fifth decade. Otherwise, the elder Seward was fit and hale.
“There isn’t a single estate in the kingdom that hasn’t been forced to sell off a bit here or there, or the whole thing but the home farm. The few that have managed to hang on are the ones who invested in industry. Now the indolent wrecks who refused to dirty their hands with a trade are seeking money for old rope.” The marquess sat up and put his hands on the edge of the big mahogany desk, leaning toward Mal. “How many of your friends from college and university are engaged to American heiresses? Ten?”
“Twelve.” Malcolm’s mouth turned in a sour expression. The newspapers from New York were calling it Annus Mirabilis—a miraculous year—because so many titled or upper-class families had chosen wealthy American girls to bolster their empty coffers. The Latin, Mal thought, was a bit of an exaggeration.
“So.” His father smiled at him, but it was the sort of smile that Mal distrusted immediately—too broad and with too much glee. The old man was up to something. “You’ve got ideas about how to run a mine. Wonderful. If you can pay for them, Giles will implement them.”
Giles spluttered, all that tension finally escaping in an undignified expulsion of air. “Wh-what? Father, you can’t be serious!”
“He doesn’t expect me to come up with the money.” Mal stared into his father’s blue eyes, mirrors of his own. All three of the men in the room, father and sons, bore a close resemblance. Dark hair, straight noses, wide mouths, and piercing blue eyes. Only Mal looked markedly different, because of the streak of white in his hair. “You’re safe, unless I follow in my school chums’ footsteps.”
Roland Seward, Marquess of Hazelby, grinned. It was a true smile this time, and his eyes crinkled at the corners. He’d always been pleased when Mal could read his intentions, although the gods only knew why. Did he think his son was using magic on him? In the first place, it didn’t work that way. And in the second…Mal didn’t cast spells anymore. Ever.
“I’d like to see you wed, and settled. If you can find a lady with some money, even better.”
At his sides, Mal’s fingers closed into fists. He slammed one of those fists onto the desk. “So that’s the real reason you called me back to London. Do you have a list of names I should peruse before setting off to view what’s for sale on the Marriage Mart? Or no, I forgot. I’m the one that’s for sale.”
Father didn’t even have the decency to flinch. Mal’s anger only amused him. “Your mother would know better than I.”
“I’ve no interest in silly debutantes, rich or not.”
His father shrugged and leaned back again, nonchalance restored. “I honestly don’t care if you wed a princess or the poorest crofter’s daughter. It seems that Giles and Caroline will have only girls, and I want the succession assured. That means you—and Percy, if necessary—wed and having legal offspring.”
Mal didn’t look at his brother, but his magical senses caught the tension radiating from him in waves of heat. Giles loved his daughters, but he’d been born with a preponderance of familial duty, and he saw his inability to sire a son to carry on the title as a failure.
Father didn’t look at Giles, either. “I’ll keep up your quarterly allowance as long as you’re actively seeking a bride, and I will double whatever dowry her family offers. If you do choose a poor chit, I’ll settle a flat hundred thousand pounds on you both, with another hundred thousand in trust for your heirs.”
Mal couldn’t keep his jaw from slackening. He’d recently read of an heiress whose family had paid a million pounds for her dowry. He doubted his father could match that, but even the minimum was no small amount of money.
“I suppose you see this as an investment, and children as the profit?”
His father’s eyebrows rose, as though to ask, ‘are you truly shocked?’
“And if I walk away now? Go to Scotland and hunker down on my bit of land there?”
“Then the money stops. I know you’ve not got anything liquid at the moment and a mortgage to pay, so don’t pretend that’s a viable alternative.”
He was right, damn his eyes. Why couldn’t Giles and Caroline have managed to pop out a son by now? Damn English primogeniture laws anyway. At least in Scotland a daughter would inherit, whether she had uncles or a distant male cousin or not.
“So I’m stuck here until I wed, then?”
The marquess settled his hands on his thighs, his posture still relaxed and open. “Until the end of the season,” he corrected. “Then I expect you to accept invitations to as many house parties as are offered. If you’re unwed by next season, we’ll revisit the arrangement.”
“You’ll need to fund a new kit.” Mal gestured at his suit. It was far from worthy of a ballroom, as he’d not bothered to dress formally in Scotland. Also, he’d filled out quite a bit in muscle after two years of manual labor. None of his old evening wear would fit across the shoulder anymore.
“Of course. And there’s one more thing.” The casual smile turned down. “Viola’s babies.” Father didn’t like to be reminded of his daughter, who’d nearly had her children out of wedlock because she refused to wed their father. But she and Ian had reconciled—or made their peace, anyway—and agreed to the marriage only a few months ago. She’d been hugely, visibly pregnant during the ceremony, and both sets of parents had worn stoic masks over cheeks gone crimson with humiliation.
She ought to have been left alone. If she didn’t want to marry Ian, she shouldn’t have been forced into it. Mal had told her as much outside the church, but she’d smiled and told him it was all sorted. Then she’d asked him to cast the binding-spell on them that was the Fay clan version of a wedding ceremony.
He’d refused. He’d already bound them too close.
No, he would not think of that.
“What of the twins?” He’d avoided Viola—and Ian—since the wedding. But every child born to Clan Fay was welcomed by the magical members of the family with a special spell, and he had a feeling he knew what was coming next.
New tension lined the marquess’s jaw, and his tone was stiff and flat. “Your mother requires that you attend her in Scotland. But you will return once the babies arrive and the…ritual is complete. Is that understood?”
Another thing his father disliked was speaking of magic. He accepted that his wife and two of his children had gifts, but he preferred that those gifts not touch his daily life in any way. Until recently, Mal had not understood how his mother survived.
But he’d managed to go two years without casting a spell, so perhaps his mother wasn’t as bothered by the cage of her marriage and society as he’d always assumed.
“There are reasons why…”
“Your mother insists. You will go to Scotland, then come back here and find a wife, or you are cut off.”
Mal had bristled, but he truly had no choice. His tenants depended on him to keep the estate afloat until the improvements were finished and they could sustain themselves again. “Fine,” he’d said, casting a heated look at first Giles, then his father. “I will agree. For now.”
He’d turned and stomped out of the study, flinging the door closed behind him. A few steps took him through the back ballroom and then out onto the terrace, where he now stood, staring into the muted grey light of an overcast London afternoon.
Mal stepped off the slate of the terrace and onto the grass, and nearly fell to his knees.
Something moved up from the earth, shot through his legs, and then slammed into his belly—a force like lightning and a crashing wave at once, shattering inside him and dragging at his soul like sand pulled by the surf. He gasped and trembled, braced for pain but swamped instead with pleasure so intense it threatened to unman him.
He gained control slowly, forcing the sensation back with a steadily increasing effort of will. When he’d mastered himself, he opened his second Sight.
He needed to be wary. He’d had a good reason for giving up active spellwork two years ago. Connecting his magic with anything else after all this time could be catastrophic.
The lines of magic around the house were stable and staid, the energy following the same paths it had traveled in this portion of Town for years. The City of London was laid out following existing magical topography, but from St. James to Regent’s Park, the city engineers had tried to re-structure the leylines rather than working with them. Mal ground his teeth together. He hated opening his Sight here, hated having to stretch out his senses along the precisely aligned grid rather than the more natural course of the countryside.
There was only one anomaly in the rigid flow of power: a kind of whirl or eddy. He couldn’t tell the cause, but it might be centered on a person. Whatever it was—or whoever—was on the other side of the house, near the entryway. He considered running in the opposite direction, but he wasn’t a coward. He would deal with this threat to his peace and move on. He strode back inside and through the music room, then down the long hallway toward the foyer.
Strand, the butler, opened the door as Mal rounded the corner, and Mal’s first boot-fall struck the marble floor in sync with his mother’s entrance. The synchronicity resonated inside of him, and he almost closed his Sight. Sometimes keeping it open made things seem more symbolic and important. Mages had gone mad, using the Sight too often or too long. But he needed to find out what was, even now, pulling at the edges of his magic.
Mother looked startled to see him. She’d been out when he arrived, but he would have expected Father to tell her he was coming.
“Malcolm.” She extended a hand to him, and he took it, surprised that she hadn’t embraced him. She wasn’t the most ebullient or demonstrative of persons, but she usually put her arms around him and kissed his cheek after a long absence. Her stern expression, and the surface emotions that roiled across her aura, revealed consternation rather than welcome. “You’re home.”
“Hello, Mother,” Mal said, and squeezed her fingers.
“Your father was supposed to have you meet me in Scotland. Now is not a good time for you to be here.” Her words were low, but distinct.
“He said I’m to go with you to Scotland, but he wants me doing the rounds of the Marriage Mart before and after. I’m to find a chit to wed, or else.”
His mother stiffened. Then, over her shoulder, he saw the reason for her reticence. And the reason for the surge of heat, magic, and passion that had nearly crumpled him to the grass.
The woman was not what would be termed an exquisite, or what his grandfather’s generation would have styled ‘a diamond of the first water.’ There was something too primal in her features and her bearing, and her aura shimmered with power. She was a sunset on a mountain peak, or the eerie colors in the sky in the far north of Scotland. She was a vein of gold still glittering inside the rock, her treasure clear but held close, in her own keeping.
She would never belong to anyone but herself, and that made him long for her to share that self with him—in every conceivable way.
He almost laughed, even as he feared what such a connection would mean. Well, Father, it seems I may have no choice but to follow your orders after all.
His mother noticed the indiscreet admiration, and the way the woman returned his stare. She frowned, and he knew why. Mal was supposed to avoid magical entanglements. But this woman might prove too much temptation for him to resist.
Mal stepped toward the woman and was halted by a hand on his arm. Why was Mother being so formal? He chafed at the delay and waited for the introduction.
Mother’s tone was brittle, the words sharp, clipped, and forced. “Miss Cook, allow me to introduce my son, Lord Cuthbert Seward.” Mal frowned at the use of his hated first name, but returned his features to a genial smile when he bowed to Miss Cook. It was a polite bow, of slightly more deference than he might otherwise have used toward a woman of uncertain lineage.
If possible, his mother stiffened further at this evidence of his interest.
“And this is Miss Etta Mae Cook.” She said the name as though the sounds of it were acid, burning her tongue.
Miss Cook curtsied. There was nothing precisely wrong with the curtsey, except that she didn’t look easy doing it. Something about the way she held herself said she wasn’t a woman meant to bow. Her motion caused ripples in the magical currents of the room, and the aroma of rich, fertile earth—like a field plowed and ready for planting—surged in his nostrils. The flavors of honeysuckle and salt cascaded over his tongue.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Cook.” From up close, he could see that her eyes were dark brown, with little flecks of green and gold glittering in the depths. Her magic—so full of potential, so warm and alive—pulled at him, strong and inexorable. Was this what Ian felt like when Viola was near?
He closed his Sight, suddenly desperate not to see her brilliance, not to taste and smell and feel her.
“And I you, Lord Cuthbert.”
Malcolm winced. “My mother introduced me that way because it’s my first name, but everyone uses my middle name, Malcolm.”
“Oh,” she said, and the sound came out flatter, and higher pitched, than her previous vowels. Almost as if another woman had spoken entirely. In the same faster accent, she said, “I didn’t mean to offend, Lord Malcolm.” This was her true voice, and it wrapped around his ears and his brain. A purely physical reaction, but one that woke his magic as though he were a teenage boy again, feeling the first swells of puberty and power.
“You didn’t,” he assured her. He wasn’t offended, but his magic was slipping out of his control. He’d never felt such a sudden and overwhelming urge to merge his magic with another’s. But he couldn’t. Would never do that again. He clamped down on his magical senses even harder than usual, dampening the sensations that were as natural to him as the pressure of air on another person’s skin.
He took refuge in humor. “And there’s no need to Lord me. I don’t care for the courtesy title or the first name. It’s my father’s fault. He read too much Browning.” He smiled at her, and won a small tilt at the corner of her lips in response. Those lips were far too enticing, and made him want to draw her close and discover how well they fit against his. He could fight the magical pull, but what about desire?
She looked away from him, at his mother, and the smile faded.
Mother stood with a frozen expression of polite interest on her face. But beneath the bland exterior, he she seemed ashamed. Or perhaps afraid. He wished Viola was here. With his senses dampened, he couldn’t read Mother’s aura, and he’d never been the best at interpreting those anyway.
Mal returned his attention to Miss Cook. It wasn’t exactly good manners, but he was curious, so he asked, “What brings you to our home, Miss Cook?”
She continued to stare at his mother, so he asked, “Mother, am I missing something?”
“Miss Cook will be our guest for a short time,” she answered. “She is a…distant relative, through my great-grandmother Lilias.”
Malcolm started. Lilias Fay, first Duchess of Fay, was the most prominent member of his mother’s clan—a great seeress and witch who had been instrumental in the war against Napoleon. Her exploits were legend, from leading the group of mages that cast the Great Barrier over the channel, to serving on the Peninsula, to taking the field at Waterloo beside Wellington. She’d then opened schools for magic all across the kingdom, though sadly, most of them were now closed. She’d died at the age of one hundred when Malcolm was thirteen, and he’d mourned her loss ever since.
“How are you related to Lilias?”
The revelation of her relationship to the family had opened a door, allowing Miss Cook to speak. “My great-grandmother was Lilias’ youngest daughter, Marianne.”
“So you’re my…” he paused, counting the generations.
“Some kind of distant cousin.” Her expression was pleasant enough, and her tone indicated an attempt at levity, but the humor was tempered by wariness. “We’re barely related at all. And I wouldn’t impose on your family except…” Her voice trailed off. There was so much pain behind her eyes, but she steadied herself. “Except, my mother died. It was her last wish that I find the rest of the Fay clan to finish my training. I can’t study in America because I’m from the South.”
He’d heard that magic was outlawed in the southern United States after their civil war, and he’d even met a few Americans who’d come to England to train, but no one had ever approached the family directly. Clan Fay’s sort of magic was distinctly out of fashion.
Mal eyed his mother, who still looked like she had stepped in something rank and was trying to pretend the scent was rosewater. “Are you going to train her?”
“I will test her, but I will not make any determinations until after Viola’s babes are born.”
The twins would be born within a fortnight. Since his father had insisted that he go with the rest of the magically-gifted members of the family to the birthing, he and Mother would leave in a day or so to travel to the Highlands.
Magically-gifted family members, Mal realized, now included Etta Mae Cook.
Mal grinned at his mother. If he had to be miserable on this trip, so could she. “Why doesn’t Miss Cook come with us to Scotland?”
Twenty miles to the west at Windsor Castle, Lady Amelia Upton, Queen’s Sorceress and Dowager Countess of Falcestershire, curtseyed to her queen and took her normal seat, at the left hand of the monarch.
“What have you learned?”
Queen Victoria rarely eschewed a chance to engage in the social niceties. That she had done so now was a window into her discomfort over the American chit.
“She is powerful,” Amelia said, “but untrained. Those damn Americans and their laws of attrition.”
The queen did not take up the offered tangent. “That could bode well for us. Will she come to you?”
“Not if I don’t force the issue. She mentioned to me twice on the voyage that her mother had wanted her to seek out her family. Unless the Fay clan turns her away, she’ll stand by them.”
“Then you must ensure that they turn her away, and to you.”
Amelia inclined her head. She would do whatever must be done to fulfill Her Majesty’s desires.
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