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Chapter 1

Elizabeth's world had fallen apart again. That morning a messenger had come to Katherine Ashley, Elizabeth's governess, from William Cecil, to say that a Dirge for King Henry would be sung and the bells rung in all churches that night. It was very kind of Master Cecil, who must be furiously busy. No one else seemed to have thought at all of what the loss of her father meant to Elizabeth.


A tear dripped down onto the book cover Elizabeth was embroidering, and she found her kerchief to blot her work and wipe her eyes. Across the hearth from her, Kat looked up. Kat had been with Elizabeth since she was three years old and Elizabeth knew Kat loved her as deeply as if she had birthed her. But she did not understand what the king's death meant. She did not understand that, fickle and often arbitrary as he had been, the king had been all that stood between Elizabeth and peril. She also did not understand that, fickle and arbitrary as he had been, Elizabeth had looked up to, and sometimes even worshipped her grand, glorious father, dazzling even in his ruin. The sun had left the sky, and what illuminated it now? A sad, sickly moon.


"What will become of me," Elizabeth murmured, her voice too low to carry to anyone but Kat.


"Nothing bad, love," Kat said soothingly. "You were very well provided for in King Henry's will. You will have lands and manors, and live just as you have always done."


"But who will tell me where to live and with whom? You know the king always decided which manor I should use and when I should share households with Edward, and now that is impossible. Edward is the king." She drew a sharp breath and tears flooded her eyes again. "Will we be allowed to choose in what manor to live?" Impossible, surely, and did she even want it? To decide things for herself—a prospect at this moment more frightening than attractive.


"I think perhaps you would be considered a little too young for that. You are only fourteen years old. You must give the Council time, Lady Elizabeth. There are so many things they must decide upon and they know you are safe here at Enfield with me and your household."


It was not the first time that Elizabeth had posed these questions to her governess since the king, her father, had died, and Kat looked anxiously at her charge. Elizabeth had her lower lip between her teeth, but she did not have that pallid, hollow-eyed look that Kat recognized as a sign of real physical illness.


The girl's cheeks were pale, but they always were because she had the white complexion that went with her red hair—except her skin was not so thin and delicate as some redheads and, thank God, she had no freckles. Her eyes were not her father's blue but her mother's brown. Fortunately, unlike Anne Boleyn's eyes, Elizabeth's were very light, almost golden when Elizabeth was happy. She was not beautiful but she was pretty enough to attract a man.


There was a prospect that had only just occurred to Kat of late . . . and not one she relished. Lady Elizabeth was still a valuable marriage pawn. Her disposition would be at the will of King Edward—or rather, King Edward's governors. Attracting men was not safe.


Kat bit her lip. Surely Elizabeth was too young to marry, but with her father, King Henry, dead, who knew what the Council would decide to do with the second in line for the throne. Doubtless the Councilors were fighting among themselves for power. Would one of them suddenly appear at Enfield and try to take possession of Elizabeth? The Lady Mary, Elizabeth's older sister, was the heir apparent, but she was a woman grown and had a much larger household to defend her.


What should I do, Kat wondered fearfully, if a Councilor appears and demands that Elizabeth be in his charge? Kat glanced toward the door, outside of which one of Elizabeth's four guardsmen stood. They were devoted and good fighters, but none of them was young and there were only four, although Dunstan, the Groom of the Chamber and the two stablemen, Ladbroke and Tolliver would fight too.


What if men coming to take Elizabeth had a legal writ signed by Edward? Then to resist them would be treason. But if they did not have a writ, then not resisting them would be treason. . . . And how could Kat tell a legal writ from one that was forged?


Oh, she was being ridiculous, Kat told herself, no one was going to try to seize Elizabeth. The young king, Edward, was whom they would be fighting over. And there would be much jockeying over which noble daughter he would wed, too. Young as he was, younger than Elizabeth, they would want him safely wed, and bedded to, if that were possible. But Kat wished Lord Denno would come. He would know what was going on in London; he would know what to do. Surely Lord Denno had not abandoned Elizabeth. She looked at Elizabeth again, but said nothing, returning her gaze to her own needlework.


Elizabeth, however, had been aware of the slightly tremulous quality in Kat's voice and of her anxious scrutiny. For a moment, her vision was too blurred to take another stitch, and she looked into the lively fire in the small hearth. The tears refracted her vision so that for one instant she thought she saw a little red salamander twisting and leaping with joy in the flames.


A single blink restored the fire to just orange and yellow light. Elizabeth sighed. Having her world fall apart was no new sensation for her. The first time it had happened she had been only three. That was when her mother had disappeared and no one would tell her where or why Anne Boleyn had gone. And suddenly she was no longer Princess Elizabeth but only Lady Elizabeth and instead of being cosseted and almost drowned in clothes and so many toys she had no time to play with them, there were no new toys at all and hardly enough clothing to keep her warm.


The world had slowly mended itself. Darling Kat had come to be her governess and a new household, much smaller but in some ways closer and warmer, had formed. And she had been taught to read and write—what a joy that was. She had hardly been conscious of what was happening outside her own small world, but her father had taken a new wife and had a son. That was very good because she was no longer a source of trouble for him. So now and then she had some notice from the king, her father, and his blessing. Henry had still been hale and hearty enough to be a modicum of the godlike, glorious "Bluff Hal" of his best years.


Only little Edward's mama had died. The next lady had not been to her father's taste, but she was willing to be divorced. So her father had been free to marry Catherine Howard, Elizabeth's own cousin. At first that had been all joy; Elizabeth had been invited to Court and made much of until the truth of Catherine's promiscuity was exposed . . . and Elizabeth's world had been shattered again.


Elizabeth swallowed, set down her embroidery, and chaffed her hands together to warm them. The memory of the black desolation that had seized her after Catherine's execution—a desolation laid upon her by a spell that nearly killed her—could still chill the very marrow of her bones. She knew it could never happen again; she had protection now. Defensively, staring into the fire, Elizabeth raised her shields both inner and outer, felt herself inviolate behind them, and was reassured.


Raising the shields in her mind and on her body reminded her that she had a few other tricks too. The corners of Elizabeth's lips quirked when she thought of the effects of tanglefoot and stickfast, and, in dire need, of gwythio and cilgwythio.


She lifted the embroidery and set another stitch, then frowned and looked at it more closely. "Kat," she said, "I have just bethought myself . . . Is this work grand enough? Do you think I should redo part of the embroidery using more gold and silver thread? Edward is no longer my dear little brother. He is king now."


Relieved to hear such a practical and reasonable doubt, instead of the repeated fears about what would happen to her, Kat leaned forward and took Elizabeth's work from her hands.


She looked over the design carefully and said, "Grace of God, I never thought of that. It is true that any pretty design was enough in the past. King Edward would have enjoyed it because you made it for him. He does love you dearly but . . . but as you say, he is king now."


The echo of Elizabeth's own words hammered home the meaning. Edward was king because her father was dead!


Cold swept over Elizabeth again and she shuddered. It did not seem possible that Henry VIII could be dead. He had always been there ruling England. He had always been larger than life, the one most important being in the world. He had always directed her fate. How could he be dead? How could ten-year-old Edward be king?


And, she swallowed hard, where did that leave her? What would be her place now? Would the provisions of her father's will be kept? Would she remain the second in line for the throne? What would happen to her?


Underhill. Elizabeth could barely think the word and her lips would not form it, even silently, but she knew it was there, a safe haven if all else failed. She clasped her hands tightly together in her lap and shuddered.


Was Underhill still there for her? Too vivid in her mind was the dreadful quarrel she had had with Underhill's king. How could she have been so foolish? Surely after dealing with her father, knowing that meekness and devotion were the only paths to winning any concession from him, she should have known better than to openly contest King Oberon's will. But it was for her Denno! She had nearly lost Lord Denno!


Nearly lost him more than one way, Elizabeth thought, but she did not feel like weeping over that memory. Although she was frightened by remembering, she was also warmed by recalling how Denno had leapt in front of her to shield her from any blow Oberon might have launched.


She was thrilled to see with her own eyes Denno's devotion. Still—she should have been more careful. Denno always said he would guard her to his death. This time it might have come to that. But Queen Titania had come just in time and snatched them out from under Oberon's power, sending them all whirling back to where they belonged.


Nonetheless, the last look she had had of King Oberon's face had not been reassuring. She had feared he would loose the blast he planned for her at his queen. But Denno had assured her that Queen Titania would not be hurt because King Oberon desired her above all else. Elizabeth was glad to hear that, but Denno looked . . . odd when he said it. His eyes had taken on a kind of glazed shine and his lips seemed to be fuller than usual. Suddenly Elizabeth wondered what it would be like to kiss those lips.


For a moment she was shocked at the thought. Lady Elizabeth, the king's daughter, the third highest lady in all of England, thinking of kissing a common merchant! Of course, he was a lord in his own world and she had kissed Lord Denno before, a peck on the cheek, when he had particularly pleased her, but . . . Elizabeth looked into the fire again, feeling warmer. This was different. She had not been thinking of a light peck of gratitude when she thought of Denno's lips.


Should she try . . . No! He would be so shocked. He thought of her only as a child and she was forever getting him into so much trouble. This last visit Underhill Oberon had threatened to strip Lord Denno of his powers and send a new guardian to watch over her. Elizabeth felt herself growing furious all over again. How dare Oberon make free with her people?


"Well," Kat's voice broke into Elizabeth's thoughts. "I believe if you just make all the centers of the flowers gold, and perhaps stitch a line of silver around most of the leaves that you will not have to unpick anything. Perhaps I can find a pearl or two to add to the bottom of the place marker."


Elizabeth agreed readily, took back the embroidery, and began to stitch at it again, smiling slightly. Yes, Denno was hers, yet it was true that Denno was also King Oberon's subject. Elizabeth sighed, but this time her fingers did not falter on her work. Her own father would have been no more accepting if a foreign person had claimed first right to one of his subject's services.


Yet, Elizabeth thought, she did come first. Denno had gone Underhill to find out whether King Oberon had truly been angry or only seeking information in his own devious way. Elizabeth had a sudden, vivid mental picture of Lord Denno, an image of courage and defiance, facing his king. Her heart squeezed tight in panic. She hoped he had not found more trouble trying to serve her. She wished he would come. He had been gone for several days.


 


Elizabeth's Lord Denno in his own place was Lord Denoriel Seincyn Macreth Silverhair, warrior and noble among the Seleighe Sidhe, rider with Koronos in the Wild Hunt . . . and chosen by the FarSeers of Avalon to guide and protect the red-haired woman who—if she came to the throne—would bring such glory and honor to England, much joy and power to the Seleighe Sidhe.


He had not willingly taken up the duty laid upon him by the FarSeers, among whom was his own twin sister, Aleneil. Denoriel, the warrior, had been appalled at being turned into a nursemaid. But he had found far more danger, interest, and excitement in the mortal world than ever touched him Underhill. Being a merchant was fascinating. He did not need the money, of course. He could ken gold to fill his coffers with little effort, but seeking merchandise and buying and selling to earn a profit . . .


Denoriel laughed aloud and stepped into the room in which he mostly lived, when—more and more rarely these days—he was in his apartments at Llachar Lle, the so-called Summer Palace in Elfhame Logres. Llachar Lle—Denoriel often remarked that he could not imagine why it was called the Summer Palace since the weather Underhill invariably suited itself to the being experiencing it and never changed. The thought flicked through his mind and he dismissed it. His twin sister Aleneil was already waiting, and Denoriel sat down in a cushioned chair opposite the sofa she had chosen.


He had long since accepted the fact that they no longer looked much like twins. Aleneil, like most Sidhe, showed no sign of ageing; her hair was spun gold, her eyes emerald green, their black long oval pupils enhancing the color. Her complexion was a flawless, lucent white with just enough rose in cheeks and lips to confirm her blooming health.


Familiar with his own image, because in the mortal world he often needed to look into a mirror to check that illusion covered his oval pupils and long, pointed ears, Denoriel knew he was the one who had changed. The battle with Vidal and his minions when Elizabeth was a baby had damaged him.


No, not actually the battle but his drinking the lightning that was the magic of the mortal world in order to fight when his own strength was gone. His hair was white now rather than gold, lines of pain creased the corners of his eyes and bracketed his mouth, and his skin was tanned and hardened by its exposure to the sun and changeable weather of the World Above. Fortunately no further damage had been done him in this last confrontation with Vidal. Whatever curse Vidal had cast on him that caused him such pain, Oberon had negated.


The changes were all to the good, of course. He would have had to remember to disguise himself with such changes as the years passed so that Elizabeth's human governess and household officers did not wonder why thirty years had left no mark on him. Now there was no need, only to remember to make the pupils of his eyes look round and hide the long pointed ears behind an illusion of human ones.


At least Aleneil no longer asked anxiously if he was well each time they met. She had grown accustomed to his new appearance.


"What a frown," Aleneil said, looking away from the scene of a meadow with a manor house fronting a small copse of trees that one saw through the window of Denoriel's parlor. There was now a glimpse of silver water off to the side of the trees; it was an enchanting illusion, all the more intriguing because it seemed to grow and change. Denoriel's skill with magic was continuing to increase, Aleneil thought approvingly.


"I was just thinking of Prince Vidal Dhu."


Aleneil made a face. "I agree, thought of Vidal is enough to make anyone frown. I try not to think of him at all."


Denoriel shook his head, and his frown deepened. "No, Aleneil, we must think of him. Elizabeth is now second in the succession and Vidal has recovered most of the cleverness and power—I can vouch for that; he nearly had me in that last fight—that he lost when we first fought over Elizabeth."


Now it was Aleneil who frowned. "Yes, but I worry less about Vidal himself than about the fact that he is Prince of Caer Mordwyn and he controls perhaps a score of Dark Sidhe, not to mention endless ogres and boggles and phookas and hags and Mother knows what else."


"Most of those are useless," Denoriel replied, dismissing the minions with a gesture. "He cannot, without bringing Oberon's anger down on him, send the monsters into the World Above and most of the Dark Sidhe are even more sensitive to the iron in the mortal world than the Seleighe are. But speaking of Oberon, I wonder what happened between him and Titania when she sent us all to our own places."


Aleneil laughed heartily. "Coward! I came to Llachar Lle as fast as I could Gate from Avalon, and you had already fled to the mortal world so you wouldn't be Underhill while Oberon and Titania settled their differences."


"I don't like earthquakes," Denoriel said dryly and added, "but they are settled?"


"Yes, abed as usual." Aleneil's lips twisted. "He cannot resist her—nor she him, especially when they are furious with each other." She rolled her eyes and flushed delicately. "Most fortunate. But their lust is so all-pervading and powerful that their reconciliations have a strong effect throughout the Seleighe Court."


"Then it is just as well that I was in the World Above," Denoriel said, somewhat sourly. "As I presently have no one on whom to vent such desires. I have been chaste as a Christian priest since I became entangled with the Tudors."


The last word cued something in his mind, and Denoriel had a sudden, vivid vision of Elizabeth, her flaming hair spread over the pillows of his bed, her white body . . . He cut off the thought and forcibly brought to mind Titania's perfection, but golden round-pupilled eyes, not green, gazed reproachfully at him.


"What are you thinking about," Aleneil said, grinning.


"That I am tired of being chaste," Denoriel replied, deciding hastily that he had better find a willing partner before he went back to the World Above.


"You may not have time to mend that condition," Aleneil said, suddenly serious. "Do you remember that we have been wondering whether the Visions in the great lens were predictions of a likely future or just future possibilities as usual?"


"Yes. I am no FarSeer, but it seemed to me that the lens was showing what would be this time—that Edward would rule, then Mary, and then Elizabeth."


Aleneil shook her head. "There is another Vision."


"Do not tell me the one of Elizabeth is gone!" Denoriel exclaimed, getting to his feet, a hand on his sword hilt.


"No, no. Mary's fires burn and Elizabeth's glories still appear, but there is another." Aleneil folded her hands in her lap, and her eyes clouded.


Denoriel sat down again, frowning. "A boy or man? Is there some male heir we have overlooked?" His lips thinned with impatience. "Then there is no certainty in what you have Seen. The Visions are still only possibilities."


"I suppose so, but it is not a male we see. It is another girl, younger she seems than Elizabeth, a small, thin creature that looks so sad it breaks my heart." Aleneil had been much taken with the poor waif she had seen in the Vision. Like all the Seleighe Sidhe, she loved children, even those of mortals, and it made her want to weep when one looked so tragic, so lost. "It was a very brief Vision, only of her weeping as someone—we do not recognize the man; his face is hidden—holds out a crown."


"A small, thin creature with sad looks?" Denoriel cast the net of his memory wide, and immediately snared a prospect. "I wonder if that could be Lady Jane Grey? She was in the group of girls that Queen Catherine Parr gathered to be schooled with Elizabeth, and was the only one small and thin and sad. This Jane was Elizabeth's only rival in her love of books and learning."


Aleneil blinked. "But why in the Mother's name should she appear in the lens?"


For a long moment Denoriel was silent. Then he said. "Jane Grey's mother, Frances Brandon, was named in King Henry's will. I have committed to memory every word of that will so that I will understand what pertains to Elizabeth."


Aleneil shook her head. "But who is Frances Brandon to be named in the late king's will?


"I was curious also. My friend Sir Anthony Denny explained. Frances Brandon is the daughter of Henry's sister, Mary—she who married her childhood love Charles Brandon after she became the widow of the king of France. Yes, Henry was determined that no Scot would ever rule England, so he cut out the heir of his aunt Margaret, the current king of Scotland. The succession was set to be Edward, Mary, Elizabeth, and if all else failed, Frances Brandon or her heirs."


"So we are Seeing the three possibilities according to the provisions of the late king's will."


"So it seems." Denoriel was silent for a moment and then he said slowly, "The old Visions of the queens look the same? I mean, neither Mary nor Elizabeth is old?" Aleneil nodded and Denoriel continued, frowning. "I cannot see what that can mean except that Edward, who is king already, will not reign long."


"I fear so," Aleneil said sadly. The loss of any child was a tragedy to the Sidhe who had so very few.


"So one of the three will reign after Edward?"


Aleneil took a deep breath. "Usually that is what Visions one virtually atop the other mean. But in this case, Eirianell does not think so. She said that she had once before Seen a like set of Visions. She now wonders whether what we have seen are not alternatives but what will be, that each of the heirs will, in turn, take the throne. Oddly, the new Vision did not disturb her at all—except that she warned more strongly than ever that a change in the lives of any of these women will alter the future that has been shown for all. And she feels that all of them will be threatened in some way."


Eirianell was the eldest and wisest of the FarSeers. She had gazed into the great lens and interpreted the Visions that rose in it since Atlantis had sunk beneath the waves. If she stated an opinion, Denoriel would not doubt her. He bit his lip.


"Vidal's FarSeers will have the same Vision," he said, forehead creasing into an even deeper frown. "A new Vision will likely set him to trying to remove both Jane Grey and Elizabeth. I cannot protect them both. I wish I knew how he interprets the Visions."


"I can find out," Aleneil said. "I can ask Rhoslyn."


"What?" Denoriel's voice rose with shock.


Rhoslyn Teleri Dagfael Silverhair and her twin brother, Pasgen Peblig Rodrig Silverhair, were to Denoriel's regret his and Aleneil's half brother and sister. Their common father, Kefni, had been caught in a powerful fertility spell woven by Rhoslyn's and Pasgen's mother Llanelli. Powerless to resist, Kefni had coupled with her and made her pregnant, but inwardly he was furious at the use made of him, so he had rushed home to his lifemate, Denoriel's and Aleneil's mother, and using the remains of the spell had impregnated her also.


Children were very rare among the Sidhe. When the Unseleighe learned of the two sets of twins, they raided the Seleighe domain during the celebration of their births and abducted all of them. Kefni, a great warrior, followed swiftly, caught the party that had Denoriel and Aleneil, killed two, and wrested the babies from them. Having returned the twins to safekeeping in Avalon, he set out to recover his other children.


Kefni was wounded and tired but he did find Rhoslyn and Pasgen. Unfortunately a still larger party of Unseleighe was on his heels. He sought to take refuge in a church, where he would be safe from most of the unholy creatures and would only need to fight off the Dark Sidhe, but he was denied the refuge by the priest, warding him away with Cold Iron. Kefni died and the children were carried back to Vidal Dhu's domain. Pasgen and Rhoslyn would have died too, if Llanelli had not followed them into painful and hateful exile.


Of course it was not Pasgen's and Rhoslyn's fault that they had been raised by the cruel and treacherous Unseleighe. But in Denoriel's opinion the trees had grown as the twigs had been trained.


"Rhoslyn is not a safe source of information about Elizabeth," he added to the exclamation of surprise.


"She is different now," Aleneil protested, her gaze earnest. "Since Elizabeth explained what happened to the changeling Rhoslyn had created, that you had not murdered it but it lived many years as Richey with Mwynwen, Rhoslyn has sworn she will do her best to smooth Elizabeth's way and to protect her."


"She is a liar!" Denoriel insisted stubbornly, memories of Rhoslyn's disguise as the false nun all too vivid in his mind. "Do not trust her, Aleneil."


Aleneil sighed, wishing she could make her brother see Rhoslyn as she had, and did. "Creating Richey changed Rhoslyn. That changeling could not have meant more to her than if he had been a child of her body. More than half her animosity toward Elizabeth was owing to her wish to hurt you as she had been hurt. Once she knew you had not murdered the little boy, that he had lived happily with Mwynwen for years, much longer than anyone could have expected—"


"Aleneil," Denoriel interrupted, "can you not see that her very conviction that I would kill a child—even a changeling child—marks something rotten in Rhoslyn?"


"No," Aleneil replied quietly. "I see that she has lived with cruelty and expects only that from others. But what she wrought with Richey—you did not know him as I did; you were busy with Harry—but Richey had the same sweetness and goodness as Harry. He was more childlike, as is to be expected, but he was—I would have said, he almost seemed to have a soul. I do not think, even with the miracle that Rhoslyn wrought, that a made thing could grow like a true mortal, and yet—Richey was so near as to convince me of his nature. And there was nothing evil in Richey."


"That is true," Denoriel murmured. "He was good all through, with the same generosity and self-sacrifice as are so much a part of Harry."


"How could she have done that and be black evil herself?" Aleneil insisted with a shake of her head. "I cannot believe it."


Suddenly Denoriel remembered the tears streaming down Rhoslyn's face when she accused him of murdering the poor changeling. And she had never taken any active part in threatening Elizabeth. Perhaps she was not all bad.


Then he shook his head. "Even if Rhoslyn is not evil, what of Pasgen? He tried to kill Elizabeth, not once but twice! And you must also remember that Rhoslyn is not her own mistress. Vidal must have his hooks into her and might well force her into something she would not wish to do. Aleneil, do not trust her. Elizabeth is too precious. Vidal will do anything at all to prevent Elizabeth from coming to the throne. Who knows what pressure he can bring to bear on Rhoslyn?"


Aleneil sighed again. "Well, I will be careful, but I cannot see what the harm could be for me to ask whether she knows what Vidal's FarSeers have Seen and what she thinks it means. I will not tell her what Eirianell believes."


"How can you reach her?"


"That is easy enough in the mortal world. She attends on the Lady Mary as Rosamund Scott. I can simply write her a note, perhaps to say that Elizabeth wishes to send her sister Mary a mourning prayer or something of that sort. It would not be thought strange. Elizabeth and Mary do write to each other from time to time."


Reluctantly, Denoriel nodded his assent. "Very well, but not yet. My principal source of information at Court is in the Tower waiting beheading. And the friend I have made more recently, Sir Anthony Denny, is so overwhelmed with business that I dare not intrude on him. Also Sir Anthony is not young and not perfectly well. I need to find a new friend in the heart of the King's Council."


Aleneil pursed her lips. "Why not Edward Seymour . . . ah, earl of Hertford? He is the king's maternal uncle and likely to be close to the boy."


Again, Denoriel shook his head. These mortals and their wayward Gifts—they made things very difficult sometimes. "Not Hertford. I suspect he has a thread of Talent and is made most uneasy by any touch of magic. He has a strong distaste for me."


"Then avoid him, and above all stay away from Edward." She sighed heavily. "That poor child. What a misery his life will be." She sighed again. "Does Elizabeth need Lady Alana?" Aleneil asked, mentioning her mortal world alter ego.


Denoriel sensed that his sister had some private business she wished to pursue . . . perhaps connected with the flooding of Underhill with its rulers' lust. Had she found a male in whom she could feel a real interest? Denoriel sometimes worried that because he and Aleneil were so close she could not find a partner to whom she could bond.


"Not yet," he said. "She needs first and foremost to know whether the Council will honor the terms of her father's will so she can settle her mind to where and how she will live." Then Denoriel's expression lightened. "And I think I have just come up with an answer to that, and an answer that will make Elizabeth very happy."


"Elizabeth needs some time of happiness. I sense that— Oh, Good Mother, what a fool I am," Aleneil exclaimed, laughing. "I forgot the most important result of Oberon's and Titania's reconciliation. Titania demanded, and received in response to her promise to do nothing to trouble Mary, permission for Elizabeth to come Underhill and, of course, to return to the World Above."


Denoriel blinked. "But none of us ever thought of doing Mary any harm! Poor woman, I fear the fanatical faith she clings to will hurt her and all of England without any help from the Sidhe."


"Poor woman indeed!" But Aleneil's expression was shadowed by just a trace of fear. "There is something about her that makes me most uneasy. I fear she would welcome the Great Evil if it would promise to return England to the old faith."


Denoriel felt himself blanch. "Aleneil! For the Mother's sake do not say things like that!"


"Sorry," Aleneil muttered. "Mary was once sweet and kind. It annoys me to see her so much a dupe of her priests." She sighed impatiently, "But I do not wish her ill. She has had ill enough in her life."


Denoriel raised his brows and then chuckled, good humor swiftly returning. "Titania knew we never meant Mary harm. And I cannot believe that Oberon did not also know it." He grinned. "That means the king was willing all along for Elizabeth to come Underhill."


Aleneil smiled, with a hint of mischief. "Yes, Oberon is often devious, and I think sometimes he does things deliberately to infuriate Titania. But not this time. He was really angry at Elizabeth, yet Titania faced him down—over a mortal. She is determined to see Elizabeth come to the throne and bring in what she feels will be a golden age for the Seleighe Sidhe."


Denoriel nodded and chuckled again softly. "I have a feeling she intends to sample some of those joys for herself. Poor mortals. Well, better them than me. And now I must get back to the World Above and arrange for Elizabeth to be safe and happy."


He rose as he spoke the last few words and touched his sister's cheek.


But Aleneil frowned, holding his hand against her. "Be careful," she said. "I swear I felt an ice faery slide down my spine. I have just remembered Oberon's strict order to Vidal not to touch Elizabeth. It is true that Vidal might be afraid to harm her directly, but he must realize that if he is rid of those she loves—you, Kat, Blanche . . . was not an attempt made on Blanche already? So soon after her father's death to lose any of them . . . all stability and safety will be gone from Elizabeth's world. She is so close to the edge all the time, so prone to make herself ill with fear and worry, she could be utterly vulnerable to the most ordinary misfortunes."


Denoriel went very still, but then nodded. "I had not thought of that. I will be careful and warn Blanche—and you guard yourself also."


 


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