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Authors: GnomeWonderland

Jennifer Horseman

BOOK: Jennifer Horseman
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Magic Embrace

Jennifer Horseman


Chapter 1


The grey light of dawn swept into the small attic room where Juliet sat in the window seat, staring down at the mist-shrouded garden, the Bible on her lap replaced by a young lady's dreams. Her lovely reflection in the small glass pane revealed the delicately boned face, ivory white skin, and enchanting dark blue eyes—eyes that solicited comments from everyone. They were large and widely spaced, framed in thick, coal black lashes with two thin brows that often danced as she talked, highlighting the emotions so plain there. The faintest smattering of freckles crossed her small straight nose and her teeth were small, even, and white, set against finely carved lips.

The reflection revealed a strange joy to her beauty as well, an impression one could easier feel than explain. Yet just as these last years had darkened her life, so too had fear altered the light of her eyes and marked her face with a profound sadness. Fairwood s head housekeeper, Bess, recently summed up the subject with: "Oh, she be as pretty as a fairy book princess, such a light around 'er but . . . 'tis like the angels made 'er beauty for happiness, then abandoned 'er to the wrong fates. . . ."

Juliet remembered a time when her dreams were spun from the rich tapestry of life, woven with the thoughts, impressions, and emotions her mother had imparted through the telling of a hundred fanciful stories. Oh those dreams! Her imagination stretched to the four corners of the world, where she populated her dreams with all manner and unlikely situations: King Arthur and Mer-i.·.. nan princesses and Brazilian slaves, pirates and ens, missionary daughters and heathen princes, Norwegian lords and ladies. These dreams made a simple walk in the woods a sojourn into the world of the fairy people; a carriage ride became an exciting journey to the faraway cities of Bethlehem or Saint Petersburg; a common Sunday bonnet was a jeweled crown. Dreams and more dreams, like a rainbow of color arching over everyday life, she had thousands of them.

Fear gradually changed the shape of those dreams.

Her dreams had changed the day she came to Fair woods, changed again four years ago when she first fell in love with Tomas, the day they met on the way to church. Now Tomas held the star position in her dreams, dreams filled with visions of escaping. She dreamt only of the time Tomas would take her away from Fairwoods by the act of marriage. What comfort she found in knowing it would all be over then! Again and again she imagined their happy home, a home blessed with love and laughter, the happy sound of their children.

Yet now she rarely thought past the end of the day.

She looked up from the grey, mist-shrouded garden to see her reflection. The young lady staring back at her startled her, this frightened, haunted creature. Pain joined the fear in her eyes as she saw what she was becoming, what she would become. For now she had only one dream left to her, a single dream taking on a real-life importance—a dream in which only one thing happened.

A dream of a time in which she would feel safe again . . .

Cardiff, 1805

Four men stood alongside their mounts in the cold mist of pre-dawn, tense with the air of expectant danger. Not a single bird's cry interrupted the profound quiet. Rocky cliffs towered above them, the jagged tips disappearing in the thick fog. Two of the three younger men stood poised with pistols drawn. Matched by unwavering gazes, the pistols were leveled at the distance.

Admiral Ferris stood stiffly between them. The drawn features of his weathered face reflected the ominous duty ahead. His gaze kept returning to Ensign Cooper, the young man beside him. The horror of the hell the young man had been through showed in the dark red rings circling his eyes, a horror he said haunted even his sleep. The pain of it appeared in the admiral's eyes too, and he looked heavenward, sending a prayer for the strength to get through the next hour.

"And to you Garrett," he added in a solemn whisper, "may your revenge exact the cruel price of the blood spilt."

As the admiral stood there waiting for the confrontation—cold, worried, and filled with dread—he thought of all of Garrett's passions, the iconoclastic beliefs and philosophies that shaped his life. Garrett could spellbind any gathering of men with the startling elegance of his beliefs. The most unlikely candidates—once King George himself—found themselves agreeing with these strange ideas; ideas the statesman termed anachronistic, the religious called sacrilegious, the king himself would brand as treason. How many times had he, too, listened to Garrett's passions, arguing with Garrett until he was red-faced and stiff-necked, disturbed enough to finish a bottle of Napoleon's own cognac, only to think it over again later as Garrett's words inevitably repeated in his mind, until he would finally find himself thinking, Why, that is true! Nodding his head, he'd think, Garrett, you are right after all. ...

The world at large, and England in particular, was not ready for Garrett's ideas of a world republic, ideas supported by the writings of John Locke and taken up in part by the new United States. By the time he was twenty-four, Garrett saw this, and though at times he seemed uncomfortable with the knowledge, he knew by then his calling in life was one of action rather than words, especially as the world was at war. Needless to say, everyone from the king through the Admiralty was interested in securing the young man's commission when he finally respot.

This information startled the young men, for they had searched the surrounding areas, in vain. Other than the man accompanying Garrett, there was no trace of his equally famous band of men, men whom Garrett had hand picked over the years with an eye not only for the varied skills of warriors but also for intelligence and a passionate commitment to the idea of a world republic. The many tales surrounding Garrett, his men, and their ship, The Raven—tales that filled the papers of three nations—were simply not to be believed, and few people actually did. Their outrages and daring made them into a modern-day legend, so that most everyone thought of Garrett and his men as no more real than Robin Hood and his merry men, King Arthur and his knights of the round table. . . .

Garrett studied the young ensign briefly before gracing the admiral with his full attention. He might have made inquiries into the admiral's family, their mutual friends and concerns, a conversation that would shock the world— indeed, the very idea of Admiral Ferris standing alongside Black Garrett would have shocked the world—but he knew the admiral had not summoned him over a thousand miles to conduct teatime chatter. As he met the admiral's gaze, meaning passed between them and all pretense of formality dropped as Garrett abruptly stiffened. "Ferris . . . No, not Nelson?"

The admiral shook his head. "No, by God's grace Nelson is fine, residing abroad but destined, we've learned, to return. Though by all that's holy Garrett, it is bad news."

"Well? What then?" he asked in sudden indifference, as if having eliminated that possibility, no other could be of consequence.

The man who had accompanied Garrett rode up to stop just behind him. He remained mounted, looking like a great Nordic warrior, an appearance that to Garrett's amusement often sent country maids running off in fright. He was as tall as Garrett but even wider, and just as frightening to look at, with a mane of flaming red hair and beard. He wore no coat against the chill, only buckskin breeches, thick boots, and a vest made of fox skin. An archaic saber hung ominously from his belt, a warning when none was needed. Presently his bright blue eyes focused with abrupt concern on Garrett, for Leif Hansal-Campbell had the gift of a seer, and he knew what the admiral was going to say even before he spoke.

"Your brother, Garrett. Edric-"

For a long moment Garrett's dark gaze searched the admiral's face, as if to see the truth of those awful words. As he did, he slowly shook his head. No, not Edric ... his mother's favorite, her joy and comfort in this world. Dear God, anyone but young Edric, he whose life felt far more precious than his own. Anyone but Edric . . .

The admiral waited, letting the question come when it would, but with sudden horror he realized his hands trembled like a woman's. He thrust them into the pocket of his dark t>lue overcoat and closed his gaze, as if to shut out the horror of what would come next. "I fear," he said in a pain-filled whisper, "the worst has yet to be said."

At those last words the great giant came off his mount to place a hand on Garrett's shoulder, a hand that Garrett seized tightly in his own, his gaze riveted upon the admiral.

"He was murdered most cruelly, Garrett. Young Ensign Cooper here, Edric's friend, survived to tell the story but . . . but Garrett, in all my years, I've not heard of anything so brutal. The devil himself could not have bettered the horror of it. I beg you, my son—nay, I implore you —spare yourself the details of his fate."

The tension was palpable as Garrett listened to this last with widening eyes, blazing with emotion. He could not now speak but Leif spoke for him. Always. In a remarkably gentle voice marking an ancestry where Swedes joined their Scottish cousins, he said: "We are prepared for the worst. Let no detail be spared."

"The man's name is Stoddard. You know of him of course. ..."

A great stillness descended over Fairwoods Manor. From the downstairs green room, where she nervously pretended to dust, Stella heard the trees rustle against the windows, a bird cry in the distance, and the faintest clamor of pots from the kitchen. If she stood perfectly still, she imagined she could hear the twin sounds of the rushing river and the master's quill scratch across the page, this above the pounding of her heart.

The dust rag dropped as she clasped her work-callused hands together in prayer, biting back the tears. Please, dear Lord, stop him. . . . Find some way to stop him!

She jumped, hearing the chair scrape as he finally got up. She heard him move to the brandy decanter resting on the serving tray against the window and the clink of his glass as he set it upon the table. The footsteps returned to the desk. A drawer opened and shut.

No! came a whispered plea as Stella rushed to the door leading to the hall. She leaned against it, her knuckles clenched tight. Another door opened and she heard Mr. Williams, a small, elderly, bookish creature, the master's secretary, address him forthrightly. "Master Stoddard, will you be leaving for the docks now?"

Terrified himself, Williams held his breath as Master Stoddard turned to see him there. The setting light shone behind Viim, outlining Viis height and girftv, Yiis great s\xe adding to his supreme air of omnipotence. Thick grey curls haloed extremely regular features—he was once a handsome man. Not now . . . , but perhaps Williams only imagined the cruelty etched in the lines of his face, cruelty shining in those strange, awfully cold blue eyes. "Why, Mr. Williams, would I do that?" "I ... thought you might want to check the Victoria's


"Did you now?" He stopped himself from shouting at the small mouselike man, his irritation with him bordering on contempt. "Or did you find the unparalleled presumption to interfere with my authority?" "Oh no ... no, Master Stoddard, I'd never presume—" "That's right, Mr. Williams! Don't you dare presume so much as your next breath in my house! Is that clear?"

"Yes sir, yes ..."

Turning his back to him, Stoddard made his way down the hall. Stella peeped out from behind the closed door. She looked first to Williams, where hopelessness passed between them, before anxiously watching the retreating back of Master Stoddard. She saw the coiled whip in his hand, the devil's own tool. As soon as he disappeared up the stairs, Stella dashed down the hall, through the back doors, and into the chilled evening air.

She ran to the kitchen and through the doors, bursting upon the small, solemn gathering in what they called cook's corner, the only happy place in Fairwoods and only because Master Stoddard would never condescend to enter a kitchen. Bess and the kitchen helper, Samuels, looked up, knowing what she was about to say from the agony on her face. Neither Bess nor Samuels ventured to share the news that had arrived less than an hour ago. Was it good news or no, a light from the heavens or a new torment from hell? Bess, with an old woman's wisdom, sadly suspected the latter.

"Master's 'eaded to 'er room with the whip!"

Bess took Stella into her fleshy arms for comfort, shaking her graying head sadly to reflect the collective sentiments of the entire household, "That poor, poor angel. Lord save 'er. . . . Such goodness and unhappiness, tis enough ta make a soul question the Maker's wisdom. There she be so kind and gentle, fragile as porcelain, while 'er cousin—"

Bess had been about to compare sweet young Juliet with her cousin, the master's own daughter, Clarissa, but the old woman stopped. What was the point? They had all watched the two young mistresses grow into two vastly different creatures, until now it was hard to believe they were of the same race, yet alone the same blood. Not that Clarissa had her father's cruelty, she didn't. No one did. Yet the young lady's inclinations were just as wicked, to be sure. Only two months past now, Bobby found the girl in the hayloft with Niles, a groom. A groom! Oh Lord, the shock of it still upset her every time she thought of it—

That wasn't the problem now, anyway. " Twill be a miracle if Mistress Juliet survives this time." Lord knows, it wasn't the first time the master took a strap to the girl, but each time seemed worse than the last. Only ten and seven from May, young Juliet had more scars than a negro,slave in the hateful states of the new America, scars that were hardly the worst of it, too.

Samuels kept his eyes on his boots as he ventured tentatively, "We knew 'twas comin' anyways. She should not 'ave pit 'erself aginst 'is will. I said meself—"

"You hush!" Stella pulled away from Bess's embrace. "Juliet did not a thin' wrong. All she 'as left is 'er readin'. Ceptin' for Tomas, 'twas 'er only comfort in this world, and when he took away that, she said herself to me, 'twas disobey or die of loneliness."

Bess searched Stella's face, the dark tumble of curls framing the frightened brown eyes, and she knew. "You were the one sneaking the master's books to the young mistress, weren't you now?"

BOOK: Jennifer Horseman
13.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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