To all my family and friends
Lady Truthful’s Birthday
Of all the birthdays she’d had, Truthful decided her present one was the best and most exciting. It seemed very fine to be eighteen years old, and to finally be on the brink of being launched into fashionable society in London. Not that she was dissatisfied with Newington Hall and its beautiful gardens and lawns that sloped down to the widely-envied cliff walk bordering the vast perspective of the English Channel. Nor was she in any way exasperated by living with her sole surviving parent, Admiral the Viscount Newington, even though she might well have been since he had come late to fatherhood, was past sixty and inclined to be curmudgeonly when he was suffering from the gout.
Truthful also never tired of the company of her neighbours and cousins. Edmund, Stephen and Robert Newington-Lacy had always been like brothers to her and Truthful had spent nearly every summer of her life with them, when they returned from Harrow and she could escape her tutors.
But she admit to admit that she would quite like to see something of the wider world, so to be eighteen and on the very threshold of a triumphal entry (or at least a credible arrival) into the fashionable London ton was both very satisfactory and exciting, though Truthful had to admit to herself that she almost as much frightened as thrilled.
This was particularly so because in her own mind Truthful was not at all sure she would make even a credible debut, despite what everyone told her. Others saw a lithe and fresh-faced beauty, with green eyes and gorgeously thick hair of the deepest russet hue. But when Truthful looked in a mirror she mostly noticed remnant signs of the freckles that had until recently spread themselves generously over her nose and cheeks. She feared her beauty was a purely local phenomenon, the result of a scarcity of young ladies of quality.
In London, Truthful felt sure she would be considered plain, particularly as her sorcerous talents did not include any particular skill with the glamours that would enhance her charms. Truthful could raise a gentle breeze, or soothe a drizzle. Horses and other animals liked her, and would do her bidding, but she had none of the greater arts.
But plain or not, magically-gifted or not, she must make the best of it, she decided. And it was her birthday, so she soon forgot about her freckles and threw herself into the preparations for her small party, giving her maid Agatha a sore trial in her dressing, as she would try on all three new gowns sent down from town by her Great-aunt Ermintrude.
“This one, I think,” she cried to Agatha, pirouetting in a dress of deep green satin that was rather shockingly low cut in the bodice, and had transparent sleeves of a fine lace. At least, Truthful felt it was shocking, but her great-aunt had in fact selected the dresses to be considerably more demure than the latest fashion. Truthful would have been shocked to see some of those dresses, and what some of the faster female set could do with strategically-dampened muslin. Not to mention the most daring, who would use a glamour to wreath a plain under-dress in what looked like gorgeous satins and crapes, sure to dissolve at the touch of a gentleman’s silver watch-chain or signet ring.
Truthful pirouetted again, oblivious to the shower of pins from Agatha’s hand.
“Oh, Agatha, I am sorry!”
Agatha scowled and bent to pick them up. Truthful tried to bend down to help her, but the dress was really rather tight above the waist, so she said, “I think I am a little, just a little … excited today.”
“Mmmmf,” muttered Agatha, who was holding several pins in her mouth. The pins were old and hints of bronze were showing through worn tin plating, which to someone with an arcane education would indicate Agatha could not touch iron, that there was fey blood in the older woman.
Truthful had not had such an education.
Agatha took out the pins, and said, “What’s to be excited about, my lady?”
“Why Agatha!” laughed Truthful. “It’s my birthday, you silly goose. And Papa is going to show the Newington Emerald to all my friends.”
“The Emerald?” asked Agatha. “Shown to all your friends? You mean those Lacy boys?”
“They’re Newington-Lacys, Agatha,” replied Truthful. “And they are young men, not boys.”
“Aye. And no good will come of mixing young men and emeralds, you mark my words,” grumbled Agatha. She put the pins back in her mouth and her face resumed its customary scowl.
“I’m sorry I made you spill your pins,” said Truthful. “But it is my birthday, and it is exciting! Oh, I can hear a carriage in the drive. They must be here already — I have to go down!”
Agatha mumbled and nodded, and tacked the last inch of the hem in place. With a parting cry of thanks, Truthful fairly leapt from the room, leaving Agatha searching for any pins that might have rolled away.
Downstairs, the three Newington-Lacy boys were making their bows to the Admiral, who had launched himself from his study and bore down to meet them, propelled by a good humour that had been reinforced by the excellent claret he’d broached on the excuse of tasting it before Truthful’s birthday dinner.
Truthful paused on the stairs, hoping to achieve the awed, punctuated silence inspired by all heroines as they stood framed in sunlight on the middle landing. But as she had misjudged the light and stopped in shadow, no one noticed her.
Not a bit put off, she paused to look at the men in her life instead.
The Admiral, as her father, came first under her gaze. Admiral the Viscount Newington had been a senior post captain under Nelson, fighting under that great commander at Aboukir, Copenhagen and Trafalgar. At the latter battle, he had been wounded in the leg, and although he survived to continue sea-going service for a decade (rising to the rank of Rear-Admiral of the Blue) it marked the beginning of the gout that sorely plagued him, and the drinking with which he exacerbated his affliction.
He had been retired for several years now, and Truthful had found the distant, none-to-frequent visitor of her childhood to be a loving, if somewhat difficult, father, when he finally came to harbour at the ancestral home.
Truthful had never really known her mother. A renowned glamouress and a granddaughter of the famous sorcerer Marquis of Perraworth, Venetia Newington had died when Truthful was only six.
Looking at the red-flushed, roly-poly face of her father, she wondered how such a paragon of beauty and magic as her mother had fallen in love with a considerably older, irascible naval officer whose prospects were as slight as his personal attractions, two older brothers standing between him and the Fifth Viscount’s coronet. But it had been a love match according to her Great-aunt Ermintrude, and the coronet had soon followed the wedding, when both elder brothers had died in somewhat mysterious circumstances while the youngest was away at sea.
Love was passing strange, mused Truthful, as she transferred her gaze from her father to the Newington-Lacys. They had been her friends since her earliest childhood, and up until the past few years she spent much of her time with them, often disguised as a boy so she could share in pursuits that were deemed unfitting for a girl, such as horse racing or watching a mill, as they called a boxing match. She still missed those outings, though she doubted she could pass for a young man now. At least not without a glamour.
Edmund Newington-Lacy, the eldest of the three, was a finger’s breadth above six feet in height, dark-haired and brown-eyed, and had a very martial carriage. His character was one of seriousness, and he applied this single-mindedly to everything he did. He had come down from Oxford with an undistinguished degree and was soon to go into the Army, doubtless the beginning of a glorious career. His paternal uncle was a colonel at the Horse Guards, and his father was deep enough in the pocket to purchase both Edmund’s initial commission and as many promotions as he might need. If he possessed any magical talent, it was small, and he did not display it.
Stephen Newington-Lacy was next. He looked up as she gazed down, and Truthful smiled at the twinkle in his green eyes. It was typical that he would feel her glance, for he was the most eldritch of the three, with strange quirks of knowledge, and stranger interests. He talked without words to birds and animals, and often knew what Truthful or his brothers were thinking.
Stephen did not have the Lacy looks, and in fact much resembled Truthful. In addition to the green eyes he also had deep red hair, was of a slight build and was the same height as his cousin. This may have induced him to attempt the growing of a moustache in recent months, his brothers having often teased him that he could put on a dress and exchange places with Truthful without any particular notice. He had just gone up to Cambridge, and would likely stay there as an academic sorcerer.
Standing behind his brothers, but looming over both of them, was Robert. He was a Lacy on a larger scale. Not only was he very tall, he was also broad, his light hair framing a rounder face than his brothers. As Truthful looked, he burst into laughter at something the Admiral said, and soon all four were guffawing, infected with Robert’s sense of the absurd.
He was in many ways an unusual son for a country peer, for he had a fondness for machines and devices. Robert would always take steam engines over horses, and iron foundries over hounds. His magical talents were complementary, for he was a ferromancer, who could work iron with sorcery as well as tools.