So I finished it. Woohoo! I’ll start working on a scene I know needs shoring up, doing a pass for major problems, and then it will go to Beta readers. Finally, it will go to an editor before returning for formatting and final covering. Then, marketing and release. It’s a long process, but it could be longer. I have a great team helping me this time, and I’m deeply appreciative of the support.
I’m also working on the cover art. What do you think?
We summon thee to an audience with the King and Council on this day. An escort to Court will be provided.
The signature was scrawled so she couldn’t read it. Short, to the point, and left her feeling like she hadn’t a clue. Bella handed the note to Ellie.
“What does it mean?”
Ellie’s face betrayed her surprise at being shown the royal summons. She was Lom’s most trusted retainer, Bella knew, and Bella also knew she was intelligent and had a mind of her own, she wasn’t simply a servant.
“I don’t know enough about Underhill to not put my foot in my mouth,” Bella explained, “I am going to need help if I’m going to protect his good name.”
“I don’t know what it is about. Lucia may, she has been at court recently.”
Which was also Ellie’s delicate way of referring to Lucia’s ability to keep her ear to the ground when it came to Court gossip. Bella had no doubt that between Margot and Lucia, the King had an efficient internal intelligence operation, had he the sense to use it.
Bella looked toward Lom’s room. They had all been rotating through sitting with him, never leaving him alone. Ellie shooed her down the hall. “I’ll stay, you get breakfast. Lucia is in the great room.”
Bella nodded her thanks and went. Coffee was sounding better and better, as she had slept deeply last night, leaving her groggy. Note in hand, she collected a mug of coffee from the kitchen before finding Lucia seated at a desk under one of the tall, mullioned windows. Lom had indulged himself with this place, Bella thought again.
The older pixie looked up sharply, her crisply arranged white hair framing her pale face perfectly. Bella had never seen her anything other than immaculately made up, which kept her from looking washed out. Lucia was the epitome of old-fashioned grand-dame.
“Good morning, Bella. Is he…?”
One thing about her future mother-in-law, she truly did love her son. “He’s sleeping, and dreaming. I wanted to ask your advice.”
Bella handed the older woman her note. Lucia pulled a set of half-moon framed glasses out of somewhere and slipped them on before reading.
“Ah, I wondered how long he would wait,” she commented after a quick perusal.
“Do you know what this is about?”
“You are to be his consort, and there are many things you do not know yet.”
Bella felt a wave of frustration pass over her, but she tried not to show it. “I’m well aware that I am ignorant, and frankly, don’t want to be his consort.”
That, and it just felt wrong to be called a consort. She knew it was supposed to be a strictly political position, but she was a one-man woman. Bella glanced upward, wishing he were awake. His cool, calm insight was what she needed.
“My dear,” Lucia held out her hands. Bella allowed her to take one of hers into her grasp. “I know this must be terribly confusing, as you were not brought up here. But you must understand this position is both a deep compliment to you, and the only way you can have the freedom to return home even if only for visits.”
“You are enormously powerful in magic. The likes of which has not been seen in many generations. Do you think the King would allow that kind of risk to be untrained in the world above? Only by accepting the consortship could you be trusted.”
“Oh.” Bella hadn’t thought about this. That was Lom’s job, to bring magically dangerous beings Underhill, to… what? She didn’t know. Prison?
“What happens… is there a jail, or?” she groped for the concepts behind what she was thinking.
Lucia looked surprised. “I thought you knew.”
Bella shook her head, feeling Lucia’s fingers tighten on her own. “They are sent to the Wild Hunt, to be bound to the Huntsman. If they try to escape, they are hunted.”
“That’s what the Huntsman wanted of Lom.”
Lucia nodded. Bella went on, feeling numb. “They would have sent me to the Hunt? And Lom…”
“Would never have allowed that to happen.”
“I realise that. I didn’t understand…” She pulled free of Lucia’s hands and sat heavily in the nearest chair.
“When the Hunt came for him, Alger almost let them have him. I didn’t understand – I still don’t, and I wasn’t about to let them anywhere near Lom in that condition. But what has he done, to be turned over to them?”
“I don’t know. As a young man, I…” Lucia looked away, and Bella understood this to be hiding some great emotion. “I sent him away. To Alger, to be trained, but really he could have stayed at home. I don’t know what happened, but the next time I saw him he was very ill,” she imitated Bella’s gesture and looked upward, “dying, really, and I made the second fatal mistake. He never trusted me again. It’s been years, and his chosen profession has not made him friends, Underhill, despite it being for their own good.”
“I think I understand. Cops, up in my world, aren’t always liked, either.”
“He’s not…” Lucia fluttered a little, something Bella had never seen her do. “He’s a bounty hunter, not respectable. It would be better…”
Bella interrupted her. “I know he hunts the monsters. I wanted to help him.”
Lucia looked shocked, her smooth mask crumbling for an instant. “You are… you can’t…”
“Why not?” Bella put her chin up a little. “Someone has to help him, and right now,” they both looked up, “he’s helpless.” She finished softly. “So, tell me what I ought to wear to this audience, and I will go do what I must.”
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