Monday, February 18, 2013

Test of Freedom - Episode 35 - Teaser

Episode 35 - "The Royal Governor"
by Camille LaGuire

Government House was glowing softly from small lanterns of white muslin and gold.  There were banners flapping in the balmy breeze.  It was almost--almost, mind you--a pleasant evening.  If one ignored the people, one might imagine a summer event on a hot night back home.

Sir Henry Pembroke, the new royal governor of Sabatine island, thought the blur of too much brandy might improve that impression.  Couldn't hurt.

He turned from his balcony, where he'd been hoping to get some air, but had instead had his nostrils assaulted by the aroma of those large purple flowers that someone had chosen to festoon the place with.  Henry had already given them a name.  Stinking Violets.

As he stepped inside his study, and before he could reach the brandy, the former governor of Sabatine, Lord Halburton, stepped in front of him with that conspiratorial look on his face.

"Good day, sir," said Henry, drawing back a little as Halburton took his arm and led him back to the balcony.  Henry didn't resist, but only because the man was his father-in-law, and supposedly a man of good breeding.  It appeared the island had taken its toll upon his manners.

"Well?" said Halburton, waving a hand out over the town.  "What do you think?"

"The lanterns are quite attractive, and the banners are appropriately excessive for such a location, but the flowers have a stench like a charnel house."

Halburton let out a sigh and studied him.  "You are still not fond of my island."

"No, sir.  I admit, I've seen nothing yet to change my mind."

"It is a work in progress, Henry...."

"Sir Henry."  They exchanged a glance, and Halburton nodded in assent.  It was, after all, Henry's price for cooperation.  His wife, his father, the queen, and Halburton had all conspired to get him to this damned island, and the price Henry demanded was a knighthood, so he could stop being just one of the younger Pembrokes.

"As I was saying, Sir Henry," said Halburton.  "This island is a work in progress. I need you to continue that work."

"I promise to follow your advice in every detail, but please don't expect me to take an interest in it."

At this moment, Lucy Pembroke entered, in a cream colored gown that shimmered with gold in the evening light.  Henry smiled, and she blushed.  He loved the way she blushed, though it also made him cautious that she was so sensitive.  A lady, true and total.

She curtseyed as he quickly stepped forward.  He had forgotten to put down the brandy glass, but that was all right.  He needed only to take one hand and bow deeply, as he kissed her fingers, just below the knuckles.

"Sir Henry," she said.

"Lady Lucy," he replied.

As they greeted one another, one of the clerks scurried in with official business of some sort.  He went straight to Halburton, but the old man directed him toward Henry.

"Please father," said Lucy.  "Don't take him from me now.  You don't want to stop being governor, anyway.  Why don't you see to it?"

"All right," said Halburton, and it was clear Lucy was right.  Halburton did not wish to stop being governor.  He'd only left the job because the Queen insisted. Henry had the feeling that his own appointment had been part of that deal.

"Thank you, sir," said Henry, bowing graciously.  His father-in-law returned the bow with more grace than Henry thought him capable of.  Halburton was a man of quality, after all.  He'd taken on a certain rustic rudeness due to his tenure on this island....

Suddenly Henry was struck with the fear that he was looking in a mirror.  Is that what Henry would become in the future?  Or was it a mirror of the past?  Is that what he became like during the Acton war?

"Henry?" said his wife.

"Yes, my dear," he replied, pulling himself back to courtly grace.  She cocked her head.

"You looked for a moment like you'd been stricken," she said.

"Oh?  I'd realized that the brandy bottle was nearly empty.  I feared I'd have to leave your side in search of more."

She smiled slyly at him, and shook her head.

"You have a full glass, Sir Henry," she said.  "And even as much as you've been drinking since you arrived, that should get you as far as the ballroom."

"I've been drinking too much?"

"You've never become unseemly."

He set down the glass.  "Silly of me.  Your presence is sufficient to make my head spin."

"I don't disapprove," she said, looking concerned.  "A gentleman should have his drink.  Please, take it with you.  I don't want to seem one of those horrible Plain people...."

"You could never be plain!" crowed Henry, and he took her hand and kissed it again, feeling for just one moment like crushing her in his arms.  But she was delicate and innocent, so he refrained.  And instead he took her arm and led her off to the ball.

As they reached the ballroom, though, they paused and looked across their sea of guests.  These were not of the quality, just charter holders of the island, over-dressed, over-noisy. Under-mannered.  And the best the island had to offer.  Lucy's smile grew fixed, and the happy glow faded from her eyes.

"They're trying so very hard," she said under her breath.  "I suppose.... I suppose this is what Acton was like."

"A little."

"I can't imagine Acton could be worse."

"At least there are no Alwyns here," he declared, glibly.  Then he realized how inappropriate that was to say to her. "I'm sorry, my dear..."

"It is quite all right, Sir Henry," she said.  "You are permitted to be glad of that."

The Adventures of Mary Alwyn will continue with League of Freedom -- coming in the fall. (More info on Thursday.)

In the meantime, next week  we begin a short interim serial: A Fisful of Divas, a Mick and Casey Mystery/Western.  And in April, we'll start the summer serial up again, with The Case of the Misplaced Baroness.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

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