Leopard in Exile
|Series:||Carolus Rex: Book 2|
1. The Shadow of Albion
|Sub-Genre Tags:||Alternate/Parallel Universe|
Alternate History (Fantasy)
|Avg Member Rating:||
Under King Charles II, England's New World colonies are flourishing, as is France's colony Louisianne. Napolean is the dreaded Master of the European continent . . . And Sarah Cunningham, a woman from our own world, knows all too well what a difference this makes, for not long ago she was ripped from her life as a United States citizen in our history.
Sarah, now the Duchess of Wessex, journeys to North America with her new husband, the Duke--but this is no pleasure trip. The fate of the world--New and Old--rests on her saving her friend Meriel, rescuing Louis, rightful King of France, from the clutches of the Marquis de Sade, and finding the Holy Grail. But she and her beloved Duke are beset by perils that will test their strength and spirit to the utmost.
Under an English Heaven (June 1807)
The rooftops of London sparkled as if they had been polished. The spring had been wet, miring carriages in hedgerows and making travel to the opening of Parliament--and the Season--more than usually hazardous. Despite that inconvenience, every townhouse and rented lodging in every even--remotely fashionable district of Town was full to bursting by the Ides of March, their steps newly limewashed and the knockers on the doors, for this Season was to be the most glittering since bloody Revolution had struck down the aristocracy of France fifteen years before.
The Court, as was its usual custom, spent Yuletide at Holyrood Palace, but instead of spending deep winter in procession from one Great House to the next, this year the Court had returned directly to St. James Palace after Hogmanay, for there was much to do to prepare for a Royal wedding.
The marriage-lines, and the treaty that accompanied them, had been ready for over two years, for this was a marriage of state, one that would bind two countries as well as two persons together. Prince Jamie of England, King Henry's heir, was to wed Princess Stephanie Julianna of Denmark, securing a Protestant royal bride for England and a new support for the Grande Alliance all in one stroke. But though speed was of the essence, first social considerations, then political ones, had delayed the match again and again.
First, the Royal wedding embassy--two ships, the princess, her trousseau, and the final version of the treaty--had mysteriously vanished between Copenhagen and Roskild. Finding the princess had taken months. Soothing her brother, the Prince Regent, had taken longer, and by the time Stephanie was safe in England, all the ambassadors and dignitaries who had come for the wedding had returned home again.
Though Prince Frederick wished to withdraw his sister from the marital alliance, King Henry had the girl under his hand, and was not inclined to lightly set aside what had been organized with such pains. So Henry smiled, and delayed, and prayed that the news from Europe would be brighter--for while the Great Beast daily engorged himself upon what had once been the sovereign thrones of Europe, his northern neighbor could not be sanguine about declaring himself Napoleon's enemy.
Meanwhile, Henry must woo his own people as well, hesitant as always about accepting foreign princes into their midst. If the marriage did not have popular support, riots at home would negate any advantage England might claim upon a foreign battlefield.
Secret peace negotiations conducted by Mr. Fox had caused further delay,5 for the making of the marriage, Talleyrand vowed, would be seen by France as an additional act of war. So King Henry had counterfeited public reasons for private caution until the negotiations had broken down completely. That had consumed the summer of the following year, and he vowed that the Princess would be married next Midsummer Day, for the strain of attempting to preserve her countenance as an unmarried maiden was far greater than he had ever imagined it could be.
At least his heir had accepted the betrothal. Prince Jamie, once its most volatile opponent, was now the happy confederate of Princess Stephanie, though his relationship with his future bride held more of fellowship than of romance. The Danish Court was one of the most protocol-laden in all of Europe, and it seemed that the Princess had chafed under its restrictions. Despite the best efforts of Henry and his courtiers, the rumors about the Princess's behavior had multiplied daily in the weeks following her arrival, and each rumor held more than a grain of truth.
It was not, as Henry had once said to the Duke of Wessex, as if all these reports could possibly be true--"Though enough of them are that I have had it that vouchers for Almack's would be impossible to obtain."
"It is just as well that Prince Jamie's wife will not require them," Wessex had replied lazily. "And if the Patronesses cannot like her, then the same is not true of the mobile,6 for she is cheered whenever she appears in public."
This was certainly true, and had strengthened King Henry's bargaining position with Denmark considerably, for the Princess possessed a most republican soul. She adored the people of London, and their entertainments, and the people adored her unreservedly in return. The amount of bad verse which had been written to her raking blonde good looks was a daunting thing, and had inspired lampoons and rebuttals in its turn, until it seemed that London was awash in a sea of rhyme--a far more fearsome threat, as His Grace of Wessex whimsically confided to his valet, than any French threat.
But at last all the elements were in harmony. The date of the ceremony was fixed. Emissaries from Denmark, Spain, Prussia, Russia, and even China crowded the nation's capital. Nobility from England's New World Colonial possessions and nabobs from the East India Company vied with each other to produce exotic entertainments for both the mobile and the ton.
And at last the day itself arrived.
* * *
"Sarah, where are you?" the Duke of Wessex demanded irritably, striding down the hall to his wife's dressing room.
Herriard House, in London's fashionable East End, had been seething with activity since long before dawn. The crash of traffic about Westminster Abbey today required that they set out no later than eight o'clock of the morning to be in place for the one o'clock ceremony. In addition, Their Graces were giving one of the score of parties to follow the wedding breakfast, and the house was already filled with guests, borrowed servants, and chaos of the most select order.
"Sarah!" Wessex said again, thrusting open the door to her dressing room without ceremony. "Where--"
"Here, of course. Where else would I be?" his wife asked, her words nearly concealing the gasp of outrage from Knoyle, Her Grace's abigail.
Wessex stopped, his gaze flickering over the room full of women. His Duchess sat before her mirror, her back straight, her grey eyes brilliant, and her light brown hair in copious disarray as she suffered the ministrations of her hairdresser. Knoyle hovered indecisively, unable to decide between overseeing her lady's toilette or regarding the seamstress who was even now putting the finishing touches on her ladyship's glittering rose-grey gown.
"Are you not yet dressed?" Wessex demanded, though the answer was patently obvious.
"Easy enough for you, my lord--you have a uniform to wear. I'm not so lucky," Sarah answered with acerbic fondness.
Major His Grace Rupert St. Ives Dyer, the Duke of Wessex, dismissed his gleaming regimentals without even a glance. His Grace was a tall, slender man with the black eyes of his Stuart forbears and the blond fairness of his Saxon ancestors. The Dukedom could trace its beginnings to the merry court of the Glorious Restoration, though the first Duke of Wessex, whose mother was that firebrand lady, the Countess of Scathach, came from a line that was already both ancient and royal. All the Dyers possessed a cold and ruthless charm, though the young Duke--whose sword-blade good looks had been compared by more than one admirer to the kiss of la Guillotine herself--seemed to possess it in abounding measure. His Grace had recently married, though was yet to set up his nursery, and was said to retain an interest in matters at the Horse Guards, though what that interest was, there were few who could say. For many years he had held a commission in the Eleventh Hussars, and in fact had purchased promotion last year.
But his rank was little more than a screen for his more clandestine activities, and he and Sarah had spoken of his resigning it. He was glad, now, to have retained it: the silver-laced blue jacket, scarlet trousers, and gleaming gold-tasseled Hessians were far more comfortable than the Court dress, with Ducal coronet and ermine cloak, otherwise prescribed for such an important occasion.
Sarah's own costume was a bulky thing of hoops and feathers, as much unlike the current mode as could be imagined, and she was a freakish sight in the antique garb that the rigid Court protocol instituted by Henry's Queen demanded.
"Our coach, madame, leaves in a quarter of an hour, whether you are in it or no," Wessex said with an ironic bow.
"And the Princess will marry whether I am there or not," Sarah pointed out reasonably. "There are seven other women to carry her train. Oh, do go away, Wessex. Terrify the servants. I vow I shall be with you as soon as I may, and I can be there no sooner."
The Duke of Wessex, ever a prudent tactician, retreated with a silent flourish.
* * *
Sarah regarded the closed door with inward amusement. Her formidable mother-in-law and godmama, the Dowager Duchess, had sworn to her often and often that all men were just alike, and would rather face a line of cannon than a public ceremony, but until this moment, Sarah had been certain that her own husband--whom she had apostrophized as a hatchet-faced harlequin upon their first meeting--was of another order of creation entirely. It cheered her obscurely to see him as rattled as any other man upon such an important occasion, particularly since His Grace was in so many respects unlike any other husband.
She was not certain of the precise moment upon which she had known him for what he was, for the early days of their relationship had been a series of shocks, riddles, and misunderstandings, complicated not a little by Sarah's occult and precipitous arrival from another world to take the place of her dying counterpart, this world's Marchioness of Roxbury. When she had unwittingly stepped into her double's role, she had acquired not only an identity, but a fiancé as well, and one had been as cryptic as the other, for the Duke of Wessex was England's most noble…spy.
The craft of espionage was not a respectable one, considered, even by those who employed its agents, to be both dishonorable and demeaning. The fact that it was necessary as well was a terrible...
Copyright © 2001 by Andre Norton
Copyright © 2001 by Rosemary Edghill
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