Read Midwinter Nightingale Online

Authors: Joan Aiken

Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Fiction, #General, #Juvenile Fiction, #England, #Juvenile Nonfiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Europe, #People & Places, #Adventure and Adventurers, #Children's Stories; English

Midwinter Nightingale

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and furious language, and the turmoil as the helmeted men with pikes and pistols left, dragging his father with them, a shocked silence fell inside the house.

His mother sat at her rosewood desk with her head propped on her hands, staring at nothing. She looked like an image carved out of salt. Mara the nurse tiptoed and pottered about, offering wine, cider, hot posset, but was sent downstairs to the kitchen. Neither woman took any notice of Lothar, huddled in his corner.

After a while there came the sound of horses' hooves outside, and carriage wheels. Lothar raised his head. “Did they make a mistake? Are they bringing him back again?”

“Of course not.”

Her voice was no more than a cobweb of sound. And
no wonder, after all the savage names that had been hurled at her.

“Who can it be?”

“It will be Frank Carsluith.”

Lothar pushed out his lower lip and scowled. “Why does
he
have to come here? Stuttering and fussing and fidgeting? I don't like him.”

“He comes with a message from the king.”

Lothars underlip stuck out even farther.

“My lord Viscount Carsluith,” announced the nurse. A tall, willowy figure followed her into the room where they were sitting and swept off his plumed hat, revealing a fuzz of silvery fair hair. He glanced round the room and its disordered furniture with a gloomy nod.

“Shall I bring refreshments, Lady Adelaide?” asked the nurse.

“No, leave us. …”

Mara looked round for Lothar, but he had hidden himself behind an overturned settle.

“My poor dear,” said Carsluith. He crossed the room and kissed Lady Adelaide's hand. “Was it very bad?”

“Worse than I can say! He cursed me—in
such
a way…. Do you think the curses of—of somebody like that—do you think that they
matter?”

“No, no, no, of course not!” But Carsluith rather spoiled the effect of this reassurance by making the sign against the evil eye and then asking, “What exactly did he threaten?”

“Oh, I don't want to think about it.”

“No—forget it. Think about something better. Your marriage to Baron Magnus is formally annulled. The archbishop of Westminster has set his seal to the deed of annulment as from yesterday. You are completely free.”

“Free,” she repeated in a wondering, dazed tone.

“And His Majesty sends a message. He is happy to permit your marriage to Prince Richard of Wales—indeed he—he does not command, but he
begs
that the marriage may take place as soon as possible. And I think you are well acquainted with the prince's feelings on the matter—”

“Yes,” she said faintly

“They suggest that the ceremony should take place at Clarion Wells cathedral next week.”

“So soon?”

“It cannot be too soon for the prince's wishes. He is preparing a residence for you at Haymarket Palace.”

“And this house? Fogrum Hall?”

“Whatever you wish shall be done with this house, Adelaide. It can have no happy memories for you. It could be pulled down.”

“I will consider.” Infusing a little more strength into her threadlike voice, she asked, “And the children?”

“Children?”
Carsluith sounded thoroughly startled.

“Lot—my boy—the son of Magnus—he is five—”

“I'll be six in three weeks,” corrected Lothar sulkily, scrambling out of his hiding place. Carsluith made only a very slight attempt to disguise his surprise, distaste and disapproval at the discovery of the boy's presence in the
room, but good breeding and good nature came to the rescue.

“Good heavens, young fellow, I had no idea at all that you were here! You must be very happy that our good, kind Prince Richard wishes to marry your mamma. He will be your new father. And a—” He cut himself short.

“Will Mamma be queen, then, when old King James has died?” demanded Lothar.

“Yes, she will,” responded Carsluith, after a slight, astonished hesitation. Gad, he thought, the boy's a chip off the old block. We shall have to watch this one. We shall certainly have trouble with him.

“And when my new father Richard dies, shall
I
be king?”

“No, my boy.”

“Why not?”

“Because you are not the king's son. My lord Richard of Wales already has a son, Prince Davie, by his first wife, who died. He is the prince of Cumbria. You will be friends with him, I am sure. But, Lady Adelaide, I believe you mentioned
children?”

“Yes,” she answered in a troubled tone. “I understand that Zoe Coldacre had a baby girl who will now be a few months old—Zoe died in childbirth, you may not know—the sister of my nurse, Mara, has charge of the infant, for Zoe's family cast her off—Magnus took no interest in her, but he did not deny that the child was his—

I believe she is called Jorinda—”

“She is hardly
your
responsibility,” objected Carsluith.

“But, poor child, if I do not undertake the charge of her, what will become of her? And she is Lot's sister, after all.”

More of that bad blood to worry about, thought Carsluith, but King Jamie is a shrewd old party; he will soon have the problem sorted. Perhaps he can send the brats off to the Colonies. And—thank goodness—their father is safe behind bars for the next fifteen years.

“When shall I see m
y proper
father?” Lothar wanted to know. “Why did those men take him away? Where has he gone?”

“He is gone to the Tower of London.”

“How long will he be there?”

“Fifteen years,” said Carsluith in a tone from which he could not banish very considerable satisfaction.

“Is that a prison?”

“Yes.”

“Why? What did he do that was wrong?”

“You are too young to be told about it. Your father has—a kind of disease—a mixture of sickness and wickedness; he killed several people. Perhaps—it is hoped— he can be cured of his malady while he is confined in prison.”

“Why
does he have to be shut up?” his son asked again.

“I told you. Because he does harm to people.”

“I don't
want
him to be in prison,” Lothar whined, and
slammed his fist on a mahogany table so hard that blood spurted from his knuckles. The two adults stared at him in shock and dismay.

“Lot,” said his mother faintly “go down to Mara and tell her that I said you could have a burnt-sugar frumenty.”

“I don't want one.”

“Run along, now—like a good boy”

“Why?”

“Because your mother says so,” snapped Carsluith.

“Oh, very'well.” He went out, dragging his feet.

“When Richard and I are married, he will soon settle down,” said Adelaide, but she said it without conviction.

“King James will know how to deal with him,” agreed Carsluith in the same doubtful tone. He added, “Now that the boy is out of the way, I can give you this.” And he extracted a small jewel-studded box from his pocket.

This, when opened, proved to contain a ring, set with an enormous rose diamond. Lady Adelaide gazed at it through tear-filled eyes. The huge stone swelled, glittered, seemed to cover the whole space ahead of her.

But Carsluith was thinking: There's bound to be trouble ahead. With those children, with that background …

was notorious for running well behind schedule, and today the passengers could see that it was going to be even later than usual by the time it reached Distance Edge Junction. Here the train was due to divide in half, a passenger coach and four freight cars turning south to Windfall Clumps, while the main part continued westward toward the Combe country, the mountains and the sea.

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