In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magical knowledge can finally be nourished. But soon, Sophie must put her newly learned skills to the test.
Sophie returns home one day to find a note from Gray—he’s been summoned urgently to London. But when he doesn’t return, and none of her spells can find a trace of him, she realizes something sinister has befallen him. With the help of her sister, Joanna, she delves into Gray’s disappearance, and soon finds herself in a web of magick and intrigue that threatens not just Gray, but the entire kingdom.
*National Bestselling Author Juliet Marillier
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Chapter I: In Which Gray Receives an Invitation
Weaving her way slowly through the stacks of the Merlin Library with an armload of histories and grimoires, her chin resting on the dull-green leather of the topmost, Sophie Marshall smiled to herself. From one pocket of her black scholar’s gown trailed a long scrap of writing-paper, on which an equally long list of abbreviated notations—such as M. Domitianus on G.A., “Aves Tenebrae,” Trevelyan Hist. Mag. Brit.—had been neatly written, and tidily scored through; the pile of codices in her arms representing the morning’s final foray into the scrum of undergraduates revising for their Finals, she could now retreat to her carrel to pass the balance of the day in solitude and study.
As she passed a shelf of Roman histories, another black-gowned figure erupted from a gap in the stacks, its face invisible behind another tottering pile. Sophie checked her advance, but too late; a moment later two undergraduates and more than a score of books lay scattered in the narrow aisle.
“Oof!” said the young man cheerfully, picking himself up and beginning to sort through the litter of codices. “A hazardous business, this! Now, let us see: Mine are the Greeks, you know, and these therefore will be yours, I think—”
Peering short-sightedly at Sophie, he held out a battered copy of Trevelyan’s Historie of Magick in Britaine. He wore a vague, amiable smile to match his voice, but as her hand closed on the spine of the codex, their eyes met, and a masque of politeness descended over his face. “I beg your pardon, Your Royal Highness,” he said repressively. “I hope you have taken no hurt.”
Sophie’s answering smile faded into a sigh. “None whatever, I assure you,” she replied, and busied herself in collecting up her books.
She reached her carrel with no further contretemps, and finding it—thanks to her warding-spell—still blessedly undisturbed, attempted to lose herself in contrasting the varying accounts of the lives of several famous British mages. But the encounter had flustered and annoyed her, and she found herself dwelling on it far more than she knew it deserved.
How could she have been so foolish as to expect a welcome here? Beyond each summer’s brief visits by the families of Merlin men receiving their degrees, no woman’s foot before her own had ever trod the paths and lawns of Merlin College—and few were those, as she had since discovered, who wished it otherwise. Her own wilful blindness had led her here, her determination to judge the College by her husband and her tutor, Master Alcuin, who took her as she was; why had she not understood that it was not they but her stepfather, Professor Callender—with his nostrums about the dangers of advanced study to the delicate female mind—who exemplified the Merlin man? And her circumstances were not helped by the tendency of her fellow students to perceive the Princess Edith Augusta in place of Sophie Marshall.
The lonely, isolated, often unhappy Sophie of a few years since, whose life was made bearable by her illicit forays into the Professor’s library, could have imagined no greater prize than this. After the astonishing revelation that Sophie was in truth the daughter of the King of Britain, her hasty marriage, and the chaotic night on which she and her friends had saved the King from his advisors’ plot to poison him, the promise of a place at Merlin had come, like a gift from the gods themselves, to save her from a life of useless idleness, isolation, and acrimony in the royal household, or of wandering penury with Gray. And for all the ceremonious politeness of her fellow undergraduates, the tongues stilled and faces averted at her approach, the glares, the naked resentment, she was more often happy here than she had been in her stepfather’s house—now Gray’s and hers, at least in name—in Breizh. Having once accustomed themselves to her, Gray’s friends treated her as one of themselves, no longer seeming conscious either of her sex or of her rank; the men of Breizh, with few exceptions, had made it a point to demonstrate their friendship. The rest resented her presence, but just often enough did they forget their hostility in the heat of debate that Sophie held out hope of a future thaw. And everywhere one went at Merlin, was there not some new discovery waiting to be made? If only there were fewer game-pits and cowpats along her path...
Sophie fetched a wistful sigh, twisted a curl of dark hair around one finger, and applied herself to the Aves Tenebrae.
At length she was recalled to the present by a soft tapping on the wall of her carrel. Turning in her seat and tilting back her head, she beheld her husband, looking slightly rumpled and bearing a covered basket.
“Have you time to spare for luncheon?” he inquired, depositing the basket and perching dangerously on one corner of the desk.
“It is not noon already?” said Sophie, startled.
Gray’s hazel eyes crinkled in silent laughter. “Indeed it is,” he said, “and high time you were dragged away from your books, evidently. Your hands are all over ink.”
Sophie examined her fingers. Then, casting an eye at her husband, she said, “Whereas yours, on the contrary...”
Gray looked down at his own hands, and registered the palimpsest of ink-stains—the fresher, darker blots overlaid on older ones half scrubbed away—with a rueful grimace.
Sophie grinned at him.
Then she pushed back her chair and allowed Gray to take her hands and pull her up out of it. “What have you got in that basket, then?”
“I have wheedled a picnic luncheon from Mrs. Haskell,” Gray explained happily, as he and Sophie emerged arm in arm into the Garden Quadrangle. “She is in one of her cheerful humours today, and allowed Nessa Strout to pack it up for me. Had you rather eat in the quad, or in the Fellows’ Garden?”
Sophie paused and began to look about them. Having thoughtlessly made the suggestion, Gray at once saw it had been a foolish one; there was scarce a foot of space not already occupied.
All about the grassy quad, undergraduates—and even a few Junior Fellows—basked in the hesitant March sunshine. A few made some pretence of studying, drowsing over a codex under a willow tree or reclining on the lawn amidst a litter of papers and books, but most were simply and unashamedly lolling about in various stages of undress, gowns and coats and even one or two neck-cloths abandoned in little heaps on the grass. The place was so still that the progress of any person across the quad was spectacle enough to draw the attention of the less somnolent, and wherever Gray looked, some curious eye returned his gaze.
One rather undersized first-year had gone so far as to open his shirt; he met Gray’s eye with happy equanimity, but a moment later, his glance alighting on Sophie, he flushed to the roots of his tow-coloured hair and scrambled to retrieve his discarded gown.
Discomfited, Gray looked away—directly into the face of a Junior Fellow who was eyeing Sophie with curling lip and supercilious eye. Under the massive oak-tree in the centre of the quad—the one which generations of matriculating students had believed to be planted by Merlin himself—a trio in commoners’ gowns had their heads together, muttering; a moment later the knot of black silk exploded in laughter like a murder of crows, and one by one they swooped down to make extravagant, mocking bows.
“Clear off, the lot of you!” Gray ordered. They scattered, obedient to his scowl and his Master’s robes but howling with derisive mirth.
Sophie stood motionless, all her attention apparently on the springing buds of the nearest tree, until the last of them had taken himself off; only the tightening of her fingers on Gray’s arm betrayed her. “The quad seems rather overpopulated,” she said then, in a calm and distant tone.
Outraged on Sophie’s behalf—and mortified at having thoughtlessly delivered her to such abuse—Gray drew her closer to his side, looking determinedly straight ahead as they resumed their interrupted journey.
The Fellows’ Garden was occupied only by the Regius Professor of Magickal History, sound asleep on a stone bench quilted by creeping thyme, with a fat codex splayed open upon his breast. It was not difficult to avoid waking him; the first anger over, they consumed Mrs. Strout’s cold collation almost in silence. When they had eaten all they could, and fed the rest to an intermittent procession of chipmunks and an elderly hedgehog, Gray said, “We need not stay here, cariad, if you are unhappy.”
Sophie did not look at him, but went on twisting a sprig of bee-balm between her fingers. “And where else should we go?” she inquired.
It was an old dispute, and he had not really expected her to yield, but it dismayed him to see all her lovely colours faded in dejection, that had bloomed so happily a few hours since. “I am not so very unhappy, Gray,” she continued. “Or, at any rate, I am as happy here as I should be anywhere else.”
When his sister Jenny had spoken these words to him, or something like them, on her wedding-day, Gray had wished for power to give her some better assurance of happiness, and hated his father for promising Jenny to a man she did not love. How young and foolish I was, to believe that where love leads, happiness must always follow!
“There is the house in Breizh,” he ventured, and was perversely cheered by Sophie’s answering flash of temper.
“I do not choose to be an object of pity to Lady Maëlle and Amelia,” she said tartly, “and I have not endured the disapproval of my fellow undergraduates for five terms, only to retire like a wounded fox when the sixth is scarcely begun.” Two years of her life, or nearly, devoted to this undertaking: not, Gray conceded, an effort to be lightly abandoned.
The Regius Professor of Magickal History stirred on his makeshift bed, gave a tremendous snore, and muttered, “Asparagus washtub!”—making Gray and Sophie start, and then snicker, until finally they were cramming their gown-sleeves into their mouths to muffle their laughter. Staggering a little, they packed away Mrs. Haskell’s picnic-cloth, china, and plate and left the Fellows’ Garden as quietly and quickly as they could.
“Do you see?” Sophie said, prodding Gray gently with her elbow, as they emerged at last, still chuckling, into the Front Quad. “Life is not so very grim. I beg you will not fret yourself so over my well-being; I am sure you have work enough without.”
Gray set down the basket and drew her into his arms. “You are my wife, cariad,” he reminded her; “I can hardly be expected to do less.”
She rose up on tiptoe, and her hand came up to rest against his cheek; the touch set the air about them humming softly, Sophie’s magick and his own in the strange communion that they no longer thought to question—from which Gray deduced that her feelings on the subject were more forceful than she wished him to see.
Temple bells began to toll the hour—two after noon—and for some time the air was filled with the plangent bell of the College’s shrine to Minerva.
“I have left the day’s revising half done,” Sophie said at last, drawing away from him with a fond smile, “and you have Bevan and Ransome at the third hour, have you not?”
She stood on tiptoe again and drew his head down for a fleeting kiss, and then she was striding away across the quad, her black gown billowing behind her.
Gray watched her go, troubled. She chose to come here, he reminded himself, and chooses to remain; neither I, nor her father, nor any mage living, could have kept her here, if she did not wish it.
But Sophie deserves a happy home, not merely one less miserable than her last.
“Magister,” said Ransome, “were you at Professor de Guivrée’s lecture yesterday afternoon?”
“I was not,” Gray said; and then, startled, he asked, “Were you?”
“Certainly!” Ransome’s air of affront—as though attending lectures had been a settled habit of his—was so comical that Gray had difficulty in suppressing a smile. “Bevan saw me—did not you see me, Bev?”
Bevan, a little grudgingly, admitted that he had.
Gray suspected a ploy to draw attention from the deeply inadequate essay Ransome had produced for this afternoon’s session. The boy had natural talent in plenty, but no patience whatever for his books; his parents had sent him to Merlin to read magickal theory rather for the prestige of the subject than because he had any real interest in it. Gray privately thought that he had much better have trained in some more practical branch of magick—alchymy or botany, perhaps—where his talent might have been a greater help to him, and his aversion to the library a lesser hindrance.
Ransome was thus equally an object of sympathy and exasperation to his tutor—often both simultaneously; today’s effort to summarise the theory of summoning-, finding-, and drawing-spells had been particularly exasperating, set beside Bevan’s careful and thorough synthesis. Knowing Ransome as Gray did, however, only made the digression more irresistible: What had made him choose that lecture, of the hundreds given in any College term, to grace with his presence?
“Well,” Gray said, therefore, “and what did you think of the lecture?”
Ransome’s guileless face screwed up in concentration. After a moment he ventured, “I thought...it seemed as though he had an axe to grind.”
“Yes,” said Bevan unexpectedly, “and I know why, too.”
“Do you?” Ransome looked impressed, and rather relieved. “Why?”
“There was a...an uproar at his lecture last term,” Bevan said. He cast a cautious glance at Gray, who knew very well what he meant but did not like to curtail this rare manifestation of scholarly discussion between his students. “Old—er, that is, the learned professor had described his study of temples to Neptune and Ceres in Petite-Bretagne—your pardon: Breizh, I mean—and said that the introduction of altars to local gods has rendered many of them inefficacious as offering-places. He did not go quite so far as to call the local gods mere superstition, but—”
If Guivrée had stopped short of asserting that the ancient gods of Britain’s provinces were not fit to lick the metaphorical boots of the gods of Rome, Gray suspected, it was only because he chose not to set that particular cat amongst a set of pigeons so many of whom were Breizhek, Cymric, or Kernowek born and bred—not because he did not himself believe it true.
“There was a great deal of muttering,” Bevan went on, “but the only student who dared put a question at the end of the lecture was Soph—was Mrs. Marshall,” he corrected himself, colouring a little at Gray’s silently raised eyebrow, “and it was a very good question, too, to which he had not a good answer. He began to bluster about women’s fancies, instead, and there was nearly a brawl between his supporters and—”
“A brawl?” Ransome exclaimed. “And I missed it?”
Gray contrived to keep his countenance by carefully not looking at Bevan.
“Well, this time,” said Ransome, in a rather disgruntled tone, “his lecture was nothing but a dispute with a book by a Fellow at the University in Din Edin, which I daresay no one else present had read—”
“I have read it, at any rate,” said Bevan irritably. “It is a treatise on the theory of zoomorphic shape-shifting,” he explained, aside to Gray; “you know, sir, that I am particularly interested in—”
“Yes, yes, Bev, all of Merlin knows it,” Ransome interrupted, rolling his eyes.
No observer of this conversation, Gray reflected, could have guessed that last term Ransome had blacked the eye and bloodied the nose of a second-year student who had mocked Bevan’s patched boots, or that what progress Ransome had made in Old Cymric was due almost entirely to Bevan’s patient tutelage.
“But you see, Magister, he insisted—Professor de Guivrée did, I mean—that the author is quite wrong about things; I am not perfectly sure what things,” Ransome confessed cheerfully, “but it seemed to be all of them. It all sounded reasonable enough to me at first, but then he said a perfectly absurd thing, and that is what I wanted to ask you about, sir.”
He shook his flaxen hair off his face and sat back in his chair, looking expectantly at Gray. Beside him, Bevan closed his eyes briefly and put a hand to his brow as though his head ached.
“And,” said Gray, after a moment, “what, Ransome, was the perfectly absurd thing?”
“Oh!” Ransome flushed a little. Then he sat up straight, folded his face up into a scowl, hooked one thumb into his waistcoat pocket, and produced a startlingly accurate approximation of Professor de Guivrée: “‘It should surprise no one, however, to find such entirely wrongheaded ideas propounded by one who freely confesses to collaborating with...females.’ I mean to say, Magister...!”
Gray smiled at him. “I do believe the tone of your mind improves, Ransome,” he said. Ransome, he now recalled, had mentioned a large number of very clever sisters at home in Cirenceaster; perhaps they had had more influence on him than he allowed.
Din Edin. Collaborating with females. That sounds very much like someone I know...
“Bevan,” said Gray, “what was the name of this shockingly broad-minded scholar? I believe I may be acquainted with him.”
On the morning of the first of June, having sat up very late with her books the previous evening, Sophie awoke much later than was her custom, and was in danger of entirely missing a lecture which she very much wanted to attend. She was hurrying out the door when her attention was caught by the stack of letters which she had brought up the previous afternoon, and which had lain all night forgotten on the rather unfortunate hatstand; and she paused, one hand still ungloved, to riffle through them. One directed to herself, in her sister Joanna’s hand, she tucked into her reticule for later perusal. The rest were all directed to Gray, but only one (which looked rather the worse for its journey from Alba) seemed likely to be of immediate interest.
Gray himself emerged from the bedroom in his dressing-gown, yawning, as Sophie was pulling on her other glove. “Where are you off to so early?” he inquired.
“You remember,” said Sophie; “Doctor Richardson, from Marlowe, is giving a lecture today—with illustrations—on his travels in Egypt.” She made a grab for the letters and handed them up to him. “Look! There is a letter from your correspondent in Din Edin!”
Gray took the letters and frowned at them, in the manner of a man who has not yet eaten his breakfast.
“I overslept, and had not time to make tea,” Sophie said, “but the kettle is on the hob—I must go, love, for I shall be late if I do not leave this moment.”
Standing on tiptoe, with a hand on each of Gray’s shoulders, she hastily kissed him, then darted out the door and down the stairs.
“You will never guess what was in that letter from Din Edin,” said Gray, when they sat down to their rather spartan dinner that afternoon. He retrieved the letter from the pocket of his coat, together with a broken pen, two silver coins, a scrap of writing-paper scribbled all over with magickal formulae, and an owl’s tail feather.
“A translation of that very puzzling account of the Battle of the Antonine Wall?” Sophie hazarded, inhaling soup and exhaling suggestions, Joanna-like. “An antidote for wolfsbane poisoning? Another list of books which you must send northward at once, with all possible speed?”
“I said you would never guess,” said Gray, laughing. “No; it is an invitation from Rory MacCrimmon, on behalf of the School of Practical Magick at the University, to lecture there all next year on the practice of shape-shifting.”
Sophie put down her spoon with a clatter, looking satisfyingly gobsmacked. “An invitation . . . an invitation to you?” Then it seemed to occur to her that her astonishment might be taken amiss, and a becoming pink flared in her cheeks. “That is—”
Gray grinned at her. “I can scarcely credit it, either,” he said, which was entirely true: He had hinted very hard over the course of several months, but until now he had not thought he should succeed in his object. “But it is so, indeed. And look!”
He passed the letter to her, pointing out the second paragraph on the second page, and watched happily as she read:
As you have mentioned your wife’s interest in magickal study, I wish to assure you both that she is of course welcome, should she wish it, as a student either in my own School or in the School of Theoretical Magick, whichever may be the most suitable...
Sophie, round-eyed, put the letter down very nearly in her soup-plate, from which Gray rescued it with the ease of long habit.
“And it is true that there are other women at the University?” she demanded.
Gray nodded. “Several hundred of the undergraduates are women, MacCrimmon says. He seemed surprised at my asking, though I had told him of the dispute regarding female scholars when Bevan and Ransome first brought it to my attention. You should be entirely unremarkable there, I daresay.”
“You intend to accept his invitation, I hope?”
“I should very much like to do so, yes,” said Gray. “Of course there will be all manner of administrative and political details to sort out, but if the notion pleases you—”
But as Sophie was not much interested in administrative or political details, Gray was spared the danger of revealing that one of them consisted in securing her father’s permission to undertake the journey, and another in arranging conveyance and accommodations for some at least of the quartet of Royal Guardsmen (two posing as undergraduates, one as a journeyman baker, and the fourth as a banker’s clerk) presently responsible to His Majesty for Sophie’s safety.
Sophie looked almost dangerously gleeful. “I should like it of all things,” she said.
Excerpted from "Lady of Magick"
Copyright © 2015 Sylvia Izzo Hunter.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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