Excerpts from “Maiden In Light” (Part 1)

From the beginning of the first chapter:
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Were there such creatures as the Faerye?

Ambris, called Just, was a gentle soul who would have paused to notice the first spring flowers at the roadside or a glorious sunset or the sparkles of dew on a spider’s web—but he did not believe. Occupied by his business in the bustling port of New York, he had no time to dwell upon such fanciful ideas. Yet, this day, he must hesitate and wonder.

A carriage accident draws attention, especially within town walls: the splintering crackle of a broken wheel, the crash, the spew of dust, the horse squeals and human cries. The coach had barely cleared the gates of the Dolphin Inn stable yard, closed from the market square by a tall wooden wall tacked with advertising banners and official proclamations, when one of the forewheels collapsed, its spokes snapped, and one side of the carriage suddenly sagged low. A crowd gathered swiftly about the small disaster, laughing, shouting hearty jests and advice to the coachman in his precarious seat above, offering useless encouragements to the woman shut within. A cheer rose as the axle snapped under the weight of the sagging coach and the entire front end landed with a thud. The woman within howled her outrage. The spectators hooted.

Ambris watched the riotous scene with distaste; it was not his idea of sport. New York was not his home, but he was a nobleman and therefore obliged by long-standing tradition to aid any maid or child or commoner, subject or no, whom he found in distress. Duty compelled him.

He went down from the porch of the Goldbell Inn where he had spent the night, and pressed through the commotion. “Make way! Make way!” He was a tall and imposing-looking man; even without the blue robes which marked him a Lord of high rank, his was a voice of authority. The crowd gave way.

The woman in the broken coach, a wealthy merchant by her garments, hung out the open window and argued with a youth who sat atop. “Get down from there, brat! You’ve caused enough trouble!”

“I’m not at fault! Blame the wheelwright for your troubles, not me!”

The youth, in a battered, oversized soldier’s cloak, sword agirt, captured his attention. An unusual attendant for a merchant, Ambris thought, a half-grown and boyish bodyguard, then a glimpse of pale chin and brow and silvery hair grown over the collar redoubled his curiosity. Ambris had traveled and seen people dark and fair from all parts of world. What race was this? The look was not entirely unfamiliar; he thought that he’d seen someone like this overfair child before. But when? Where?

He spoke as the youth scrambled over the piles of boxes knotted on the carriage roof. “Lad-” The child laughed and Ambris saw his mistake. Yes, half-grown and boyish, but not a boy. “Your pardon, Maiden. May I offer assistance?”

She dropped easily to stand before him. No maidenly demure here: the gaze which met his was amused and unabashed, the jaw too square and strong for delicate beauty, the tarnished silver brows arch and expressive, and the pale pink mouth not tender. She was out of place, obviously alien to this busy little town and ill-suited for a merchant’s service, though Ambris could not say what her proper place might be. What was she? Bold, vigorous, tall, long-limbed, frosty-fair—in commoner’s garb of brief brown jerkin and kirtle, she looked like a young swan disguised as a gutter sparrow.

“Gramercies, My Lord. I am unhurt,” she answered. “Perhaps you had better speak to Dame Amaris.”

The coachman and a porter from the inn were struggling to pry the carriage door from its bent frame and free the furious merchant. A pair of town guards tried to clear the square; the crowd complied by moving back some distance, but remained to watch the show. When the door burst open, another delighted shout went up.

Dame Amaris emerged and paused to assess her injuries and rearrange her rumpled finery before giving orders: “There are boxes of samples and patterns in the new Orient colors,” she announced. “Bring them down, quickly! If there is any damage, I will hold this house responsible! Another coach! Immediately! I won’t stop here another moment!” She turned to the maid. “I knew it was dangerous to receive you!”

“I didn’t do anything!” the girl protested.

The dame obviously thought otherwise. “Well, do something now! Make yourself useful.” And she swept back into the inn, apologetic porter at her side.

Already, other servants were on the coach like scavengers, climbing to the roof, unknotting ropes, throwing boxes down and bearing them into the yard. The horses were released from the shafts. The maiden watched, but did not offer to help; when the last parcels were down, she stepped to follow the entourage, but the last of the Dolphin’s servants frowned menacingly and swung the stable-yard gate shut in her face.
She bit her lip then, finding Ambris watching her in astonishment, flashed a knowing smile. “They won’t have me in their yard.”

“Surely, they cannot be so cruel to a young maid.”

“Can’t they?” She twisted to the shut gate. “They say I fright the horses. Dame Amaris blames me for the whole mess, rather than fault her wheelwright.” The excitement ended, the crowd began to disperse; some pointed to the girl, made gestures in ancient fashion to ward off evil, crossed themselves.

“She is not your master?”

“No, My Lord, only a traveling companion. I am sent to my uncle at Greenwaters Island, for I have been a cruel, ungrateful girl to my most generous aunt and she bids me go. Dame Amaris returns to Storm Port and agrees to take me so far, if she has not changed her mind.”

She spoke as an ordinary maiden might, or with a little more sarcasm, but Ambris was enchanted. Her eyes were stranger than all else; the irises were colorless, like deep, clear, still pools of water, rimmed with bright blue. Gazing, he felt himself drawn into their depths. He might drown at the whim of the nixies hiding beneath that water- Until he blinked and the spell was broken. By all the saints and angels attending, what was this child?

“In truth, I’m glad to leave,” said the maid. “If she won’t have me, I shall go alone.”

“What, will you walk?”

“If I must.” She lifted her chin. “I cannot stay here.”

“If you like, I may go in and ask after your companion.”

“Would you? Oh, but I cannot ask such a boon-”

The gates swung open and a newly equipped coach and four rolled out. The merchant-dame pushed aside the window-curtains and shouted out. “Laurel!”

“Coming!” the maid shouted in reply. “Fare ye well, My Lord.” One foot tucked neatly behind the other, she bobbed in a sort of curtsey, then leapt to the back of the carriage and climbed up to sit behind the coachman. A whip cracked; the horses clattered through the square, driving back pedestrians, and they were gone.

Were there such creatures as the Faerye?

From childhood, Ambris had heard tales of the Fair Folk, of elves and enchanted maidens, of Queen Mab, of Pan, of the banshee and the shape-shifting manitou, but he had never believed their truth. They were only pretty legends, dressed by the fogs of a long-forgotten past and retold for amusement these days. Could such fantastic beings exist in the modern world, in this busy, dirty town in the Duchy of the Northlands, for a rational man such as himself? For one brief, bright, startling moment, he began to think it possible.

Then he descended to the noise and stench and press of bodies on the square with some reluctance. True or no, such moments were meant to be treasured for their brevity as well as beauty, and never extended forever. He had practical matters to attend to and no time to dream after faerye-maids. But he smiled to himself as he walked away.