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The marriageable young ladies of London are dying mysteriously, and Abigail Wilder intends to discover why. Abigail’s father, the Lord Sorcier of England, believes that a dark lord of faerie is involved. But while Abigail is willing to match her magic against Lord Longshadow, neither her father nor high society believes that she is capable of doing so.
Thankfully, Abigail is not the only one investigating the terrible events. Mercy, a street rat and self-taught magician, insists on joining Abigail in unraveling the mystery. Mercy is unpredictable, and her magic is strange and foreboding—but the greatest danger she poses may well be to Abigail’s heart.
A queer romantic faerie tale of defiant hope and love against all odds, set in Olivia Atwater’s enchanting version of Regency England.
Praise for the Regency Faerie Tales
“A delightful, romantic romp. The definition of a comfort read.” —Hannah Whitten
“Fully a delight! Whimsical, witty, and brimming over with charm.” —India Holton
“Sweeps you off your feet in the swooniest way possible.” —Megan Bannen
“I wolfed this down with great pleasure.” —KJ Charles
“Whimsical but never frivolous, sweet but not sugary. I loved it.” —Alix E. Harrow
“A perfect historical fantasy romance: Warm, sparkling with magic, dangerous, and delightful.” —Tasha Suri
Abigail hurried after Dora, hiking up her skirts over her half-boots. Aunt Vanessa's servants winced and looked away as she sprinted through Crescent Hill's entryway, no doubt scandalised by the sight of Abigail's calves.
"Mum!" Abigail gasped breathlessly. "We have to wait for Hugh!"
Dora paused in the doorway. She turned back towards Abigail with a look of mild recollection. "Oh yes, Hugh," Dora murmured. "I begin to fear that I am very terrible at this mothering business. I am sure that none of the other ladies would forget their own son."
Abigail smiled ruefully. "You can't see him, Mum," she said. "I know you try to remember when he's with us, but it makes sense you'd forget sometimes. Anyway, it's all right. I bet he's down in the kitchens again. I'll go fetch him if you'll wait in the carriage."
Dora smiled distantly back at Abigail. Most mothers probably smiled more broadly at their children – but Abigail wouldn't have traded her awkward mother for all of the brilliant smiles in the world. "Thank you, Abigail," Dora said softly. "I'll wait for you both."
Abigail turned for the green baize door which led down to the kitchens. Servants darted out of her way as she descended, faintly alarmed… but it couldn't be helped. Most people didn't notice Hugh Wilder, which meant that he could wander rather anywhere he pleased. Abigail had no such advantage – though she technically knew of spells to make herself seem less interesting to look at, she was not very good at actually casting them.
Abigail came out into the kitchens, where Mrs Montgomery currently worked to plate more sandwiches. Aunt Vanessa's cook was a short, brown-haired woman with broad shoulders and a military sort of bearing. Mrs Montgomery did not particularly enjoy the idea of ladies entering her kitchen uninvited – but she had always forced a certain politeness towards Abigail regardless, during the few times that she had visited.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Montgomery," Abigail said carefully, as she slipped through the doorway. "Sorry to trouble you again."
Mrs Montgomery glanced sharply towards Abigail, but she kept her tone even. "You're no trouble, Miss Wilder," the cook assured Abigail.
Abigail snorted. "Many people would disagree with you, Mrs Montgomery," she said. "But I appreciate the sentiment. Mum and I are just headed off, and I was hoping we could take with us one of your lovely…"
"Apple tarts," a young boy's voice cut in very quickly.
"…your lovely apple tarts," Abigail finished obediently.
Abigail glanced towards the corner of the room, whence the voice had originated. Her younger brother Hugh stood there, staring longingly at a plate of apple tarts which had been set aside on the counter.
Hugh was dressed for the occasion today, though Abigail was probably the only person who would ever see him. He wore a neatly tailored blue waistcoat and trousers, and freshly polished shoes. A black silk kerchief hid Hugh's missing eye; Abigail often told him that the kerchief made him look like a pirate. Hugh looked in most respects like a well-mannered eight-year-old boy… but the truth was that he had been eight years old for ages and ages now, ever since the day that he had died.
"Of course, Miss Wilder," Mrs Montgomery said. "Take as many tarts as you like. And please give your mother my best."
"Those tarts look so good," Hugh sighed. "You could take two an' give one to Mum."
Abigail dropped into a clumsy curtsy. "Thank you kindly, Mrs Montgomery," she said. She gathered up two of the apple tarts in her handkerchief. Abigail nearly tried to stow the handkerchief in her pocket – but since she was dressed as a lady today, she didn't have any pockets. As such, she had to hold the handkerchief awkwardly to her chest as she turned to flee the kitchens.
Hugh followed Abigail back up the servants' stairs. "I haven't seen those sandwiches before," Hugh said. "Are they delicious?"
Abigail hid a small smile. "I think they're cucumber sandwiches," she said. "Mum likes 'em, but I think they're squidgy." Talking to Hugh always lured out Abigail's normal, lower-class accent. Being dead, Hugh had never needed to polish his elocution.
"Other Mum lets us eat all kinds of things," Hugh murmured. "But faerie food doesn't taste the same. Wish I could have one real apple tart – just so I know what it's like."
The other half of Lady Theodora Wilder's soul currently lived in faerie with all of the children who hadn't made it back from Hollowvale alive. Hugh and Abigail called the other half of Dora's soul Other Mum whenever they were in England – but most people who knew of her at all called her Lady Hollowvale.
Abigail heaved a sigh. "I'm sorry, Hugh," she said. "I haven't found a way to let you eat food yet. But I'll keep lookin', I promise."
Hugh quickened his steps – it was a bit eerie having him around, since his shoes made no noise upon the stairs. "You already figured out how to get me out of Hollowvale," Hugh said. "It's more'n you should've done. I'll just watch you eat the tarts, if you don't mind. You can tell me how they are."
Abigail walked through the green baize door once again, turning to hold it open for Hugh. Her younger brother giggled as he walked past her. "I can walk through doors, you know," he said. "Walls too."
Abigail rolled her eyes. "It's only polite to hold the door," she said. "An' I'm well aware you can go wherever you please. You got bored with the tea ladies quick enough. Five minutes in, and you were already gone."
"They were just tellin' the same old stories an' talkin' about people they don't like again," Hugh said with a yawn. "Mrs Montgomery's more interestin'. I like watchin' her cook. An' she was talkin' about dead girls an' faeries with Mr Notley."
Abigail had been holding the front door for Hugh… but at this observation, she paused. "Dead girls an' faeries?" she repeated slowly.
Hugh straightened his tiny neck cloth, striding out the door in a comically dignified manner. "Three well-bred young ladies have died this Season, in the very prime of their lives!" he proclaimed, mimicking a more adult tone of voice as he spoke. "Rumours say they were found in their bedrooms the next morning with their western windows open!"
Abigail knit her brow, following after him. "Why does everyone keep talkin' about western windows?" she asked.
Hugh glanced back towards Abigail, waiting at the foot of the carriage. "You don't know?" he asked. "Oh… I guess that makes sense. You spend less time with Other Mum than the rest of us." He locked his wrists behind his back. "Sluagh use the western window. They're, you know… the creepy faeries. They look like ravens most times. If you leave your western window open at night, they might fly through an' kill you in your sleep."
Abigail shivered uncomfortably. Hugh had an understandably cavalier way of discussing death, given his current state – but her own heart still beat within her chest, and she found the subject far less comfortable. Worse by far was the suggestion that cruel faeries had once again decided to meddle in London. The idea was very personally horrifying; it came with a surge of fury, fear and righteous indignation.
Abigail swallowed these emotions with great effort. She knew that Hugh, of all people, did not deserve for her to vent her anger upon him. "Have you ever met a sluagh, Hugh?" she asked carefully. "I don't remember any of 'em comin' to visit Hollowvale… but you're more often there than I am."
Hugh shook his head. "Other Mum won't let the sluagh into Hollowvale," he said. "She doesn't like to talk about it much."
Aunt Vanessa's carriage driver hopped from his seat to pull down the steps and open the carriage door for Abigail. It was an odd feeling, being waited upon so insistently. Abigail could still remember sleeping three to a bed in the Cleveland Street Workhouse, wearing the same dirty clothes every day.
"Thank you," Abigail mumbled at the carriage driver. Hugh clambered up the steps ahead of her, and she followed after him, settling into the carriage with her mother.
Hugh had tucked himself in next to Dora, smiling broadly. "– an' Abigail's bringin' you an apple tart!" he was saying. "You have to eat it for me, Mum; them's the rules!"
Hugh had a habit of talking to the living as though they could hear him. Abigail had always found it a bit painful to watch, but Hugh assured her that it made him feel better about the being dead situation. Alas, Dora could not hear Hugh any better than most – though her small talent at scrying meant that she could see his reflection in mirrors if she exercised herself.
"You've found Hugh, then?" Dora asked Abigail pleasantly.
Abigail glanced towards Hugh, still leaning against Dora's side. "I did," she said. "He was in the kitchens, like I guessed. He's right next to you, tellin' you how you've got to eat the tart I'm about to give you."
Dora turned a distant smile upon the empty spot next to her. "Oh, my apologies, Hugh," she said. "I didn't see you there. You are very good at hiding. Thank you for thinking of me. I do love tarts."
Hugh beamed at Dora's response. "I watched Mrs Montgomery make 'em," he said. "If Abby ever finds a way to let me bake, I'll make some for you myself!"
Abigail passed one of the apple tarts to Dora, who took it obligingly. "Hugh says he'd like to bake some tarts," Abigail repeated dutifully.
Hugh scowled at Abigail as Dora nibbled fondly at the tart. "That's not exactly what I said!" he told her, with a pout. "I said—"
Abigail repeated his words again – more precisely this time – and the peeved expression on Hugh's face melted away. It was hard to keep up with Hugh's breathless chatter sometimes, and he was normally understanding when Abigail had to shorten his sentences. But while Dora could not see Hugh, she had still done everything in her power to make him feel loved and included, and the effort had touched him deeply. As a consequence of this, Hugh craved every last scrap of connection he could manage with their mother.
"This is delicious," Dora said gravely, addressing Hugh's spot. Somehow, she made the conversation seem utterly natural. "I think it must be spiced with cinnamon."
"I thought so!" Hugh said eagerly. "I kept track of all the ingredients—"
"I don't want to interrupt," Abigail said, in between bites of her own tart, "but Hugh heard somethin' in the kitchens, an' I wanted to ask you about it, Mum."
Hugh frowned. "You mean the bit about the dead girls an' the sluagh?" he asked Abigail.
Abigail nodded. "Can you repeat what you heard, Hugh?" she asked. "I'll tell it all exactly, I promise."
Over the next few minutes, Hugh and Abigail related the conversation he'd overheard. Dora gave no indication of her feelings on the matter either way, of course.
"I'm not Lady Mulgrew," Abigail said finally. "If Dad is lookin' into the sluagh, he ought to have told me. He knows how I feel about faeries hurtin' people. He said he'd teach me magic so I could help him with things just like this – but I can't help him if he never tells me anything!"
Dora remained silent for a long moment. It was sometimes hard for Abigail to remember that her mother was probably thinking hard and not just ignoring her – but long experience had taught her to be patient.
Finally, Dora said, "Do you know… much as I am terrible at reading people, I think I must be the closest thing to an expert at reading Elias. I suspect that he is worried about endangering you, Abigail. I know that does not much improve matters, but it is a place from which to begin."
Abigail scowled darkly. "How does that make any sense?" she demanded. "Does he really think he's protectin' me by keepin' secrets?"
Dora sighed. "I do not know how it makes sense," she admitted. "But if I ask him to explain, then I am sure that he will do so. I promise I will speak to him on the matter."
The carriage slowed to a stop shortly thereafter. The carriage driver opened the door, and the three of them climbed out.
At any given time, England's court magician was afforded a generous living, which included a set of apartments off Hyde Park. England's current court magician, of course, was deeply contrary in temperament, which had led at times to a diminishment of his living standards when the Prince Regent became irritated with him. Currently, Lord Elias Wilder had been moved into apartments which were smaller and less opulent than a man of his stature and achievements ought to deserve – a circumstance which bothered him and his family not one whit. Elias had spent his young life in workhouses and his later life at war across the English Channel; any bed, he had often related, was better than cold mud.
As Elias was not overly fond of titles, they had all taken to referring to the tall, narrow building as "the House." The previous House had smelled incessantly of flowers due to its place above a perfumery. The new House did not smell quite so lovely, given its place above a butcher's shop – but the butcher was exceedingly polite, and he always saved them excellent cuts of meat for their supper.
The House came with several servants, which had always seemed a bit of a waste given how little time Elias truly spent there. Eventually, however, Abigail's interest in magic had required her to take a room in the House, rather than at the private orphanage which their family still sponsored. At this point, Dora had decided to hire a governess. And since a governess for just one child had seemed a terrible sort of waste, further children had been moved into the House, until it was difficult to tell the place from yet another orphanage.
The servants had not wanted for work ever since.
As they climbed the stairs to the main floor, just above the butcher, Abigail became aware that there was an odd feeling to the House today. Several of the children had gathered in the dining room. This was not uncommon in and of itself – but they were all very quiet and serious, which was uncommon. The governess, Miss Langley, had settled herself at the end of the table – but as the three of them entered, she rose from her seat, hurrying over towards Dora.
"Thank goodness you're here!" Miss Langley breathed. "I'm certain there's been a disaster!"
Miss Langley was half a head taller than Dora and several years her senior. Her brown hair had just started fading in places to grey, and wrinkles had started coming in at the corners of her eyes. She was normally quite calm and composed – but even her stoic demeanour was not enough to hide the tension which currently poured off of her in waves.
Dora frowned dimly. It was a good thing, Abigail thought, that her mother was rather incapable of panic. "Do explain, Miss Langley," she said. "What has happened, and how can I help?"
Miss Langley glanced back towards the children, all of whom were now pretending very fiercely and very unconvincingly that they were not listening to the conversation. She lowered her voice as far as she dared. "His Lordship went up to the third floor more than an hour ago. He said that I should keep all the children down here, and that none of us should disturb him on any account. I did as he asked, and… well, there was an awful noise, like nothing I've ever heard before. It's all gone silent now, and I've started to fear the worst."
"I see," Dora said. "I shall go and check on him, of course. Thank you for keeping the children calm, Miss Langley."
Privately, Abigail thought that it was the children keeping Miss Langley calm, and not the other way around. Most of them were well used to dealing with emergencies, given the rampant sickness in the workhouses. Even as Abigail watched, fourteen-year-old Roger limped over to pull a chair out for Miss Langley, who collapsed into it gratefully.
Dora headed for the stairs. Abigail glanced towards Hugh. "We're goin' up, of course," Abigail muttered at him. "What do you want to wager this has somethin' to do with Dad's work?"
"I'd wager a tart," Hugh said, "but I'd only have to give it to you to eat for me anyway." He shot her a half-grin. "I'll race you there."
"That might not be safe—" Abigail began.
But Hugh had already vanished up the stairs after Dora.
Abigail hiked up her skirts once more and scurried to follow him. It was a sign of Miss Langley's current distress that Abigail's old governess did not think to rebuke her for it. By the time Abigail reached the door to the third floor, Dora had already opened it and walked through.
The third floor of the House was supposed to have been a ballroom – but it had never once been used for that purpose since coming into the Lord Sorcier's possession. In fact, Elias had turned it into a place for his work. As such, Abigail was rather used to seeing the place in disarray… but today, it seemed, Elias had far outdone himself.
The giant silver chandelier which normally overlooked the old ballroom had crashed to the floor, splintering the wooden floorboards beneath it. Bookshelves had toppled from the walls, spilling their precious contents. Scorch marks and strange gouges marked the walls.
Strewn everywhere across the room were several large black feathers.
Abigail spotted her mother near the open western window – and for an instant, her heart lurched in her chest. Elias was crumpled just beneath the window, leaning heavily against the wall. His white-blond hair was oddly windswept, and his eyes were currently closed. His brown waistcoat was partially undone, and his cravat was barely knotted – though, to be absolutely fair, this was the normal state of affairs when he was not required at some official function. His face was so pale, and his form so still, that Abigail nearly mistook him for dead.
But even as Abigail watched, Elias murmured something to Dora, and her chest unclenched again.
"Abby!" Hugh called. "Come look at this!"
Hugh was standing in the centre of the room, staring down at a set of circular chalk marks on the floor. Abigail gave her father one last glance before she walked over to join Hugh, looking over the markings. The shape and the writing were familiar to her – though far more complex than anything she had ever attempted for herself.
"A summonin' circle," Abigail murmured. "A real powerful one. What's he been summonin', then?" The black feathers were particularly thick on the ground just next to the circle, and a terrible suspicion started to grow within her mind.
Abigail whirled to stalk towards her father. Dora had helped him up from the floor – Elias leaned heavily upon her, looking ragged and weary. There was a strange dignity to him all the same, which he never quite lost. At the moment, that dignity infuriated Abigail for reasons that she could not quite explain.
"You summoned a sluagh!" Abigail accused him. "All on your own, as well! I know you're used to doin' dangerous things, but I still could've helped you if you'd asked!"
Elias drew himself up. His golden, ember-like eyes focused upon Abigail – but when he spoke, it was to Dora. "You told Abigail about the sluagh, then?" he asked.
Dora blinked at him. "I did not," she said. "But I think that perhaps you should have done."
Abigail narrowed her eyes. "I'd have liked to hear it from you instead of from Hugh, who heard it from Mrs Montgomery," she said spitefully.
Elias took a deep, steadying breath. Slowly, he straightened his posture. "Hugh is here, then?" he asked. "I thought he'd gone back to Hollowvale for a time."
Abigail answered this question by tugging at a chain around her neck. This gesture produced the silver, heart-shaped locket which anchored Hugh to the mortal world and allowed him to wander freely away from Hollowvale. It had taken both Abigail and her Other Mum several months of work to create the locket, which contained a lock of Hugh's real hair.
Elias rubbed his face. The sight of the locket seemed to distress him. "You shall both have to return to Hollowvale," he told Abigail. "You and Hugh. London isn't safe for you right now, and I'm no longer certain that I can protect you."
Abigail let out a loud, frustrated noise. "I don't need protection!" she said. "I've had years an' years of magic lessons now so I can protect myself."
Elias closed his eyes, and Abigail knew that he was working to contain his famous temper. "You are still an amateur magician, Abigail," he said. "I have many years of wartime experience, and even I have barely managed to handle the matter. If you are here, then I will continue to worry for your safety. Neither of us can afford that."
Abigail scoffed and crossed her arms. "Look at all this mess," she said. "You really think I'm goin' back to Hollowvale to hide behind Other Mum's skirts with you in this state? I'm surely not leavin' until you explain what I'm lookin' at."
Elias groaned. He opened his eyes to look at Dora appealingly – but Dora had an expression of reasonable expectation upon her own features, such that he soon realised how outnumbered he was. He raked his fingers back through his hair.
"I did not summon a sluagh," Elias said stiffly. "I summoned the first among sluagh. I called Lord Longshadow, and he answered. I had hoped that we might have a reasonable conversation… but that did not occur."
Abigail frowned darkly at the black feathers which still littered the room. "Clearly," she mumbled. She didn't know very much at all about Lord Longshadow, she realised – most of her knowledge of faeries came from either her father or else her Other Mum, and neither one had ever mentioned the faerie before. That, Abigail thought, was somewhat strange.
"I asked Lord Longshadow if one of his sluagh had murdered those girls," Elias continued, "but he would not tell me so, no matter how I pressed him. Faeries, you recall, cannot lie. Instead, he told me that he did not recognise my authority in any way. He said that he would do as he pleased within London, and that the only way I would ever stop him was by force." Elias's expression grew very dark at this, and the scattered feathers suddenly took on new meaning. "I took him up on his invitation. It was a terrible conflict… but I believe that I came out the better of the two of us."
Dora frowned. "Have you killed Lord Longshadow, then?" she asked.
Elias shook his head. "I have not," he said. "He is far darker and more powerful than even Lord Hollowvale was. If I had known Lord Longshadow's true name, I could have killed or commanded him – but in the absence of his name, I have used his own feathers against him to bind him with my magic." So saying, Elias raised one hand – and Abigail saw that he had clenched his fingers around three particularly large black feathers. They had an oily, iridescent shimmer to them which shifted in the light of the open western window. "I have laid three bans upon him. Until the feathers are destroyed, he shall not harm anyone with his magic – nor shall he steal away any unwilling beings, nor speak to his sluagh."
"Those are very powerful bans," Dora observed carefully. "You have bound your own magic up within them, I expect." Dora had no magic of her own, other than her tendency towards scrying – but she had learned quite a lot about magic since marrying the Lord Sorcier.
Elias's grimace suggested that Dora had assessed the situation correctly. "I have leverage over the faerie now," he said, by way of reply. "He will eventually realise how little fun it is to be so bound. I am sure that he will come back and negotiate for the return of his feathers. Life shall be very boring for him in the meantime."
Abigail straightened. "If you're tryin' to convince me to run away to Hollowvale, then you're doin' a poor job," she said. "I'm hardly leavin' you to face the lord of the sluagh while you're all alone an' powerless, even if he is under all those bans. You can't have more'n a thimbleful of your magic left after all of that."
Elias narrowed his eyes. "This is not up for discussion," he said. "It is my job and my responsibility to protect England from black magic – not yours. I rarely ask anything of you at all, Abigail, but I am asking you now to take Hugh back to Hollowvale and to remain there with him until I can resolve this."
Abigail opened her mouth to protest – but Dora raised her eyebrows, just behind Elias's shoulder, and shook her head minutely.
Slowly, Abigail closed her mouth again.
"Fine," she said. "I'll take Hugh back to Hollowvale."
Elias relaxed his shoulders. He wavered visibly on his feet again, before Dora caught him by the shoulders. "Thank you, Abigail," he said. His voice was tired and relieved. "I'll send word as soon as this is sorted. I have hope that it won't be long."
Abigail clenched her jaw – but she forced a nod. "Mum," she said, "can we talk outside for a moment?"
- On Sale
- Aug 16, 2022
- Page Count
- 288 pages