Charlotte is learning to control her emerging magical powers under the secret tutelage of Magus Hopkins.
Her first covert mission takes her to a textile mill where the disgruntled workers are apparently destroying expensive equipment.
And if she can’t identify the culprits before it’s too late, her brother will be exiled, and her family dishonoured…
About the Author
Emma is a professional audio book narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast "Tea and Jeopardy" which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and role playing games.
Read an Excerpt
CHARLOTTE WAS CERTAIN she was going to die. She'd thought the threat of Royal Society Enforcers was the most terrifying thing she'd ever experienced, but that was nothing compared to travelling by train. Now she understood why her grandmother had always crossed herself whenever anyone mentioned the rapidly expanding rail network.
She'd been fine in the first few minutes of the journey, when the train had pulled away from Euston station in a stately fashion, even excited. She'd looked out on transport sheds and then houses, with a sense of adventure blooming in her chest. It wasn't so bad; it was bumpy and noisy as the carriage rattled over the rails, but only a little faster than an omnibus. Quite why her father had looked so concerned when he'd helped her into the carriage, she'd had no idea.
Twenty minutes into the journey, as the city thinned and the countryside opened up, the train had built speed until the greenery at the side of the track was a blur. Surely nothing could go so fast and be safe? No wonder her mother had been so put out by Ben's letter, asking his sister to visit him in Manchester.
"But you'll have to go on the train!" she'd squawked. "It's such a long way! Why can't he come to visit us here?"
"Because he's not allowed," Charlotte had replied, reading the letter from her brother again. It seemed like a simple invitation, but the fact that he'd asked only for her made Charlotte nervous. Surely he missed their parents too? She feared he was getting ill again and struggling to cope. After the success of being accepted into the Royal Society of Esoteric Arts, she could imagine his reluctance to admit any weakness, especially considering the exorbitant amount of money they'd paid her family as compensation. She remembered how proud he'd been, even though it had been her magical skill, not his, that had earned him a place in the College of Dynamics and changed their family's fortune.
"But I thought he wasn't allowed to see us," Father had said. "Something must be wrong. I should go with you."
Charlotte knew Ben would be furious if she brought anyone else with her. "No, Papa, I'll go by myself. If there was a problem, he'd have been sent home. We'd know about it. He's probably missing us and can't risk the entire family going to see him."
So much concern over one simple invitation, but it was no surprise. They'd all been worrying about him, and with the six-month mark of his training as a magus coming up, they were all afraid that his previous pattern would resurface; he'd last a few months away from home and then fall deathly ill again.
"I'm not sure it's proper for you to travel alone, Charlotte," Mother had said. "We're a respectable family now. We live in the West End. People will talk."
She'd laughed. "Mother, no one will even notice I'm gone! Even George is too busy to see me this week."
Her fiancé's review was on Friday and he was desperate to earn his promotion to registrar. She was certain he'd succeed; the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages could not have a more dedicated clerk. But there was more at stake than his professional pride; he was adamant that they could not marry unless he was earning a decent salary in a secure position. Not even the offer of help from her parents, now very well off thanks to the compensation from the Royal Society for taking Ben, would dissuade him. "It's a matter of principle, darling," he'd said to her. "If I cannot provide a good life for my wife right from the start, I don't deserve to marry."
Charlotte would have been happy to live in a tiny terraced house back over on the other side of the city, where they used to live before the windfall, but she was willing to be patient. Life in the west of the city was surprisingly different. Her mother was so much happier there — she'd been able to give up sewing — and the house was larger, with a better landlord. But with the improvement of their circumstances came a strange set of ideas that Charlotte simply didn't share. Her mother seemed to think that living in the West End meant they had to go promenading in the park on Sunday afternoons after church. The colour of their curtains had to be fashionable, they had to have a maid — even though they'd been perfectly fine without one before — and Charlotte had to take care of her reputation. It seemed that taking the train alone would somehow endanger it. Charlotte was certain that her secret career as an illustrator would not fit in with her mother's ideas about how she should conduct herself, either.
"I will put her on the train at Euston," Father had said, elbow resting on the large mantelpiece, pipe in hand. "Benjamin will meet her at London Road station in Manchester. The London and North Western railway company has trains that go straight there with no changes. We'll make sure he knows which train she will be on."
"I shall go tomorrow," Charlotte had said. "Then I can be back for Friday, so I can be there for George after his review."
"That's settled, then," Father had said between puffs. It seemed that, for him, their change in fortune had translated to that particular pose and unfortunately smelly habit.
Now she wished her father had come with her, if only just so she would have someone to talk to. She'd brought her sketchbook, handkerchiefs to embroider and some crochet, but was unable to put her hand to any of them. Even though the terror had subsided to a constant tension and a gasp every time the carriage lurched on a corner, it was still too bumpy for her to do anything save look out the window.
Growing accustomed to the speed, Charlotte was getting used to focusing her attention out towards the horizon. It was a beautiful May morning when she left Euston and she was filled with hope as she looked out over the verdant countryside. The hedgerows were flowering, the fresh new leaves on the trees were her favourite shade of pale green and she could see lambs gambolling in the fields. George would be promoted and they would have a spring wedding and it would be perfect. As they sped through the midlands, the sky darkened and the view was obscured by driving rain. At least she was in an enclosed first class carriage. Her grandfather had told her about the old third class carriage he'd travelled in once, open to the elements during a terrible thunderstorm. She shivered at the mere thought of it.
Daydreaming about her wedding and enjoying the view could only keep her fears for Ben at bay for so long. The compartment was relatively small, seating six comfortably, and had its own door. She was lonely, yet always relieved when no one got in to share it with her at a station. She wouldn't know what to do if a man travelling alone got in with her. She hoped another young woman would share the rest of the journey, providing company without any fear of unwelcome attention, but she was still alone hours later when the train pulled into Crewe. A comfort stop of ten minutes was announced, but she didn't want to leave her luggage unattended, so she watched the other passengers instead. She was desperate for a cup of tea and a bun, but she decided to wait until she arrived so she could share that with Ben.
Charlotte was just starting to change her mind when she spotted a familiar flash of blond hair against a black satin collar. She jolted in her seat as she realised the man leaving the compartment next to hers was none other than Magus Hopkins, her secret tutor. The sight of him brought the usual tumult of guilt and excitement. The sense of guilt had started months before, when he'd discovered she'd helped to con the Royal Society into thinking her brother was far more magically gifted than he was. It was a permanent emotion now, reinforced every time they met in secret, even though it was only so he could teach her how to control her own ability without turning wild.
Charlotte watched him stride towards the station café along with many other passengers. Her heart pounded, as it always did when she saw him. She scowled at the back of his burgundy frock coat, silently cursing the perfection of his silhouette. Like every time she saw him, she was seized by the desire to draw him. Charlotte knew she must never give in to it. Bad enough that she even considered it.
When Hopkins was out of sight, she leaned back so he wouldn't be able to see her through the window of her carriage when he returned to the train. Had he followed her? Surely not! She'd left a note in the usual hiding place, explaining that she couldn't meet him that week, but hadn't said anything about the reason why.
A knock on the window made her jump and she felt her face flush red when she saw a burgundy velvet cuff. She pulled the window down as Magus Hopkins doffed his top hat to her.
"Why, Miss Gunn, it is you!" he said with a cheery smile. "What an extraordinary coincidence!"
"Indeed," she said, trying to hide her delight at seeing his face by frowning most deeply. "What brings you to Crewe?"
"Oh, I'm going to Manchester," he said, patting his hat back into place. "My compartment is next to yours. We've been neighbours all the way from Euston, it would seem."
She folded her arms. "Magus Hopkins, this is too much of a coincidence for me to bear. Why have you followed me?"
His eyebrows shot up behind the brim of his hat. "Followed you? Quite the contrary, Miss Gunn. I've been invited to assist with the design of a new clock tower. The Manchester Reform Club has proposed something quite ambitious."
It sounded plausible enough; his specialisation in the Fine Kinetic arts was the design of efficient timepieces. The Royal Society held the Queen's charter for the maintenance, measurement and accuracy of nationalised timekeeping, necessitated by the rise in popularity of the railways. Now that the country could be crossed in a matter of hours, localised time at individual towns and cities was no longer acceptable. The trains, in turn, were a product of research funded by the College of Thermaturgy, and one of their magi would be at the front of the train now, using Esoteric arts to keep the boiler at exactly the right temperature. Between the three colleges of the Royal Society, England — and indeed, the Empire — were evolving at an astounding rate.
No matter how plausible the reason, Charlotte didn't believe him. But then she considered how she was simply one secret in his life, not the centre of it. She doubted that her comings and goings were of as much interest to him as he was to her. She shouldn't be so vain.
"May I ask what takes you to the North, Miss Gunn?"
She couldn't tell him the real reason. Ben could get into trouble if his supervisors knew he'd written to her. "I'm visiting a relative," she said. "My aunt. Vera. My aunt Vera."
His lip twitched in that maddening, charming way it did whenever he disbelieved her. "Oh, really? I confess, when I spotted you on the way to the café, I was certain you'd be on your way to visit your brother. He's been assigned to a mill in Manchester, has he not?"
That was more than she knew. "I have no idea," she replied truthfully. "Apprentices aren't permitted to disclose their whereabouts to relatives, as you know."
"Shame," Hopkins said, glancing down the platform as other passengers started to return to their compartments. "I've heard some rather alarming rumours about a couple of the cotton mills there. It would have been interesting to know if there was any truth to them."
He waved a hand, dismissively. "All hearsay, no doubt. But of course, it's of no relevance to your dear aunt."
The twinkle in his eye infuriated her. Must he always tease her so? "If my brother were — purely hypothetically — serving his apprenticeship in one of those mills, would he be in danger?"
"I would not be content if someone I loved were involved in their operation."
She bit her lip. She knew he was steering her again, as was his wont, but she couldn't let her pride interfere when it came to Ben's safety. "Please, Magus Hopkins, if there's something I should know about my brother's apprenticeship, do tell me. Is this Ledbetter's doing? Is it something to do with that awful cage he was involved in?"
Magus Ledbetter was the one who had recruited her brother into the College of Dynamics, an odious man whose marque was embossed on a cage that killed debtors. With the help of Magus Hopkins, she'd been able to save her father from that fate, but not her brother from Ledbetter's clutches. As much as she feared for Ben's health away from home, she also feared that Ledbetter would corrupt his gentle heart.
Hopkins became serious. "The mills are the province of the College of Dynamics, you understand. They wouldn't appreciate the likes of me knowing about any difficulties they may have, let alone my telling another."
Charlotte slid to the edge of her seat, closing the distance between them. "You said that we would work together, rooting out the likes of Ledbetter and his despicable activities. If there is anything like that cage happening where my brother is apprenticed I insist you tell me."
"He's asked you for help, hasn't he?"
She looked away, torn. "He's asked me to visit," she confessed. "He didn't say anything in the letter, but he asked only for me. I'm very worried."
He nodded, satisfied with the truth. She hated breaking her brother's confidence, but Hopkins had not let her down yet. "There have been several unusual accidents that can't be ascribed to mechanical failure nor to human error. The accounts that have reached me speak of something sinister at play and —"
"Is this gentleman bothering you, Miss?"
Charlotte leaned back as the station guard came into view. "Thank you for your concern, but we are acquainted."
The guard doffed his cap at both her and Hopkins. "Begging your pardon, sir, Miss, but I like to keep an eye out for any young ladies travelling alone."
"Most considerate of you," Hopkins said. "I was simply doing the same."
"The train will be moving on shortly," the guard said. "May I suggest you return to your compartment, sir?"
Hopkins doffed his hat to Charlotte again. "I wish you a very pleasant stay in Manchester, Miss Gunn." He looked as if he were about to go, but reconsidered. "And mark my words, Miss Gunn. You are likely to see things in Manchester that will upset you, and possibly test even a saint's temper. Best to keep your mind on higher things."
He was warning her to be mindful of his teachings and remember her own marque. As an untrained latent magus, the risk of turning wild was omnipresent for her. In the months that had passed since Ben's test, she knew she was getting more powerful, and Hopkins had confirmed as much. He had taught her the technique her brother would also have learned to manage his ability. Like all the magi, she'd developed her own personal symbol, what the Royal Society referred to as a "marque." It was meaningful only to her, and focusing upon it helped to rein in her latent ability. It would also, in time, mean that she'd be able to influence objects at a distance, even out of her sight.
She wanted to ask Hopkins to come into the compartment with her so they could continue the conversation, but she didn't dare do something so scandalous in front of the guard. Besides, Ben was meeting her at the station, and if he met her straight of the train, he'd recognise Hopkins. They'd met when Ben was tested. All she could do was give a faint smile and say, "Thank you, Magus Hopkins. I will bear that in mind."
The guard saw Hopkins to his compartment and gave her a kindly smile as he walked off down the platform. Charlotte wished she'd gotten that cup of tea after all. She needed one now more than ever.
THE CROWDED PLATFORM at London Road station was both a blessing and a curse. It reduced any chance that Ben might have had to spot Hopkins, but it also made it very difficult for her to be seen, too.
It was easy to pick Ben out in the crowd, as he stood at least a foot taller than many of the men there. But no matter how much she waved at him, he simply didn't see her. She dragged her bag from her compartment and stood on it, taking off her bonnet to flap it at him. At last, he waved at her and made his way over, cutting through the crowd like a tea clipper.
He picked her up and span her around. "Charlie Bean!" he cheered. "Oh, I am so very glad to see you!"
"Put me down, silly!" Charlotte laughed, worried that far too much of her petticoat lace was in plain sight. She beamed up at him when he put her down.
He looked so well! Better than she'd ever seen him, in fact. His gaunt cheeks had filled out and even taken on a rosy hue. His dark brown hair was shining, his sideburns and moustache neatly clipped, his back straight. The coat hanger quality of his shoulders had gone and he filled out his shirt and frock coat with a broad chest. His arms had felt strong when he'd picked her up. He was the very picture of health.
"How was the journey?"
"Terrifying," she said, and he chuckled. "It improved once I got used to it. Could you wave that porter over?"
Excerpted from "Weaver's Lament"
Copyright © 2017 Emma Newman.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.