For the Lady Kaline de Belmar, it should be a time of great happiness. As the official social season begins, Kaline and her grandmother, the dowager duchess Catherine de Belmar, accept an invitation to attend a ball at Greywycke Castle, the ancestral home of her godfather. Before they depart, however, the duchess informs Kaline that a male heir has been found for the Belmar title, supplanting both women—and that Kaline should prepare for an arranged marriage, a prospect she does not care for.
Kaline is being courted by the mysterious Sir Edward Brune, but her grandmother informs Kaline that Brune is an unsuitable match and that other prospective suitors she has chosen for her will be present at the ball. Soon after Kaline arrives at the event, however, eerie occurrences begin to undermine the event, putting Kaline and her companions under the control of an unknown force that seems to be shaping the course of the weekend—and their destinies.
In this suspenseful tale, murder, mayhem, and mystery surround a castle above the sea, and a young lady discovers she must rely on the wisdom of strange creatures and her own inner strength in order to triumph over evil and take control of her fate.
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By ROGER DAVIS
iUniverse, LLCCopyright © 2013 Roger Davis
All rights reserved.
Meticulous and caring hands worked feverishly to arrange the older woman's hair in a coiffure that suggested an earlier time. The arrangement vaguely resembled a style worn by Marie Antoinette, but it remained an accepted style of the day.
Dowager Duchess Catherine de Belmar seemed to stare through the mirror she sat before while her personal maid finished arranging her attire. Her eyes did not blink. She pressed her lips tightly together. The maid placed an interlocking set of combs to hold her hair in place around her head. When connected, they resembled a magnificent, glittering diamond tiara.
The older woman was completely lost in other thoughts.
"Ma'am," her maid said.
"Ma'am," she said again.
"Yes, Bridgette. What is it?"
"We are finished, ma'am."
"Very well then. Where is my granddaughter?"
"She is here, ma'am."
The dowager duchess had been so engrossed in her own thoughts that she had not noticed Kaline de Belmar, her granddaughter, enter her boudoir.
"Come in, my dear."
The older woman held out a hand, and her relative quickly grasped it lightly.
"We are ready, then, to proceed to Greywycke."
"Oh, yes, Grandmother."
"Bridgette, see that Timkins brings around the carriage. I need a shawl also. The one with ermine tips. One never knows how the weather will treat us as we visit our neighbors."
Greywycke was the ancestral home of John Norlington, duke of Wakesby. Greywycke and Belmar Castle had been strongholds in the early twelfth century, and each castle had had many additions through the years. First built as stone fortresses to withstand marauding armies of the fiery Welsh, they were nothing in comparison to the current richly and beautifully decorated residences of genteel lords and ladies of the aristocracy.
Throughout the early days, straw had lain hewn on the bare stone floors with barely a light in hallways. Dogs had been allowed to roam and dispose of their bodily waste wherever and whenever they pleased. The original castles were built as strongholds to house the families of noblemen and local common men bound to the lord of the castle in the event of siege or war. Their custom of feudalism predated the birth of Christ.
Not until the Renaissance, when nobility began the pursuit of education and enlightenment, did titled nobility begin to transform these strongholds into polished and decorated homes. Pope Urban II reminded marauding barons and knights that they should consider the gentler approach to their positions that would be much more appropriate since they claimed to be Christians, no matter how powerful their positions. Hence, chivalry was born out of a pope's miter.
Heavy, polished furniture; ornate artwork; and magnificent carpets became sought-after adornments of the wealthy and powerful. Education, formal manners, and etiquette were essential training for the nobility.
The most important occasion of the social season was His Grace's ball. It signified the opening of the season, and His Grace was honored with the first. There would be many pleasures, complete with all the attractions the beau monde could offer. A huge banquet, music, dancing, and meeting with other young ladies and gentlemen of their social set would be the order of the day. In addition, they would be able to catch up on the latest gossip.
Kaline walked casually by her grandmother as she neared the upper platform of the grand staircase.
Timkins, the head butler, stood at the foot of the staircase, waiting for his instructions. The dowager duchess and her granddaughter, Lady Kaline, descended the staircase easily, as if they were not walking at all, but gracefully accomplishing the stairs.
"Is my carriage ready, Timkins?"
"It is here now, Your Grace," he answered.
Her maid brought the requested shawl, and both women walked toward the main entrance of Belmar Castle. The ride between the estates would take more than an hour, but the accommodations of the carriage were more than comfortable.
"I love balls at His Grace's, Grandmother."
"Not just because he is your godfather?"
"No. I like Greywycke as well. It must be twice as big as Belmar Castle."
"At least. They were both commissioned by the Conqueror to defend from those fighting Welsh on the border. Times have changed, my dear."
"Greywycke reminds me of one of your landscapes in your study."
"Yes, Jacob van Ruisdael was a great master at painting."
"Greywycke sits so high over the sea. I saw it once when we were out sailing. The jagged rocks look so frightening. It looks so close to the sea, as if one fierce wave could wash it away."
"His Grace employs enough gardeners to keep the gardens that lead to the edge very well tended. I have been to many a garden party there. In the hundreds of years since it was built, no wave has come close to washing it away."
As late-afternoon sun drifted into dusk, stately carriages emblazoned with various family crests of the neighboring nobility and members of the local haut monde began to roll through the gates of Greywycke Castle. Liveried servants stood erect as their noble families stepped down from the various modes of transportation. Ladies and gentlemen, equally resplendent in silks, satins, and brocades, casually ascended the front steps to the massive door and the gaiety inside.
One carriage showed the large golden letters that stood for de Belmar. The dowager duchess Katherine de Belmar held out one hand as her footman helped her out of her carriage. She was dressed in dark green satin and matching silks. She also wore the Belmar Diamond necklace, bracelets, and rings, all demonstrating her immense wealth.
"Kate," called the duke of Wakesby as she seemed to move without effort into the front hall.
"My dear John," she said as he approached her. She lifted a jeweled hand for him to take, and he bent over it and kissed it tenderly. "You look fit, sir."
"And you, ravishing,"
Her eyes twinkled to match the glittering jewels as he spoke to her.
He led her through the hall as she bowed her greeting to old friends.
"You will be announced by MacGruff shortly. Where is Kaline?"
"She is just stepping out of the carriage now."
"Our work is afoot this evening."
"Yes, we must make haste."
"And in one month's time, my next ball should act as mortar to hold our plans together."
"A sure seal," she agreed.
The duke of Wakesby moved near to the dowager duchess. Narrowly etched smiles in both their immaculate faces conveyed their fondness for each other, and foreknowledge of their secret plans.
"Will you do me the honor of joining my other guests, Your Grace?" he asked as he extended his arm.
"It would be my pleasure," she answered as she slipped into a formally rigid but graceful curtsy.
The perfectly poised and radiant pair walked toward the main reception room at Greywycke, where His Grace would receive his guests as they were announced.
"Old friends or new acquaintances?" she asked.
"Some of both, I hope. I see they are beginning to arrive in droves."
Lords and ladies, barons and their baronesses, and earls and their countesses were announced as they gracefully walked up the stairs to the main reception room.
"And I believe I hear the music being played. Ah," she said with a gasp, "my favorite minuet."
He offered her an arm elegantly attired in crimson brocade with gold flecks of thread throughout in a minute pattern. She accepted with a gloved and jeweled hand, lightly touching his arm as if her hand were the tiniest of elegant birds perching on a fragile limb.
"MacGruff," he said, and his head butler came forward. "Our guests need to be properly announced."
"Very good indeed, Your Grace."
The two grandees of the old school of the haut monde slowly made their way up the massive white marble staircase. At the top of the grand stairs, they stood poised, waiting for guests to arrive. Hundreds of candles lit the ballroom. Greywycke was all in light. There were no more shadows to hide anything.
"Her Grace, the duchess de Belmar," bellowed MacGruff.
Their Graces exchanged bows and curtsies, and then the dowager duchess stood close by His Grace as all of the guests were announced. They swirled in delight, ate and drank their fill, and laughed at each other's amusements until early morning.
At this dine and sleep, most of the guests were afforded accommodations as well as entertainment.CHAPTER 2
A month later, Kaline de Belmar woke suddenly to the sound of thunder, which shook the windowpanes in her bedroom. Her heart pounded, and her breathing was ragged as she pulled back the covers to get out of bed. She had to investigate the loud noise. The entire room was pitch-black, and then, suddenly, a flash of lightning shot across the sky, illuminating her bedroom and once again causing her to jump and grasp the huge four-poster bed for support. A storm, she thought, relieved, as she walked across the thick French Aubusson carpets.
As she walked across the room, she could hear the ticktock of the large clock in her room. As she neared the window, she leaned her head toward the adjoining chamber, where her abigail, Emma, was sleeping peacefully and undisturbed. Soft, repetitive sounds of snoring emanated from the antechamber, assuring Kaline that Emma was sound asleep. And, Kaline thought, she is supposed to be looking after me!
Once again, a sudden flash of light spread across the sky, throwing a spattering of shadows throughout her room, causing Kaline to jump for an instant. She could hear the silk drapes flapping in the wind as she neared the opening. Rain was pouring into the room and onto the floor through the open windows. Her feet became damp with the water as she reached the glass-covered opening.
The wind had loosened the latch that secured the shutter, and the shutter swung in the wind. She hesitated before reaching into the darkness. Another clap of thunder sounded as if it were in her room. Again, the unexpectedness made her start in frightened hesitation. She breathed a deep sigh of relief once the noise subsided and then assured herself that she was safe. She reached out, pulled the shutter to its resting place, and connected the latch.
Her gown was soaked with rain by this time, and droplets of water dripped down her face. She again noted that she easily heard Emma snoring comfortably in the next chamber. Just like Emma, she thought to herself.
The huge clock in her room sounded with three successive gongs as it struck the third hour. In the middle of the night, of all times, Kaline mused to herself as she crossed the room to her bed. After drying her face and changing her gown, she slipped back into bed to try to regain a few hours of sleep.
Later that morning, a moist, heavy spring breeze flowed in the long open windows. The thick French-lace curtains that hung from the portieres fluttered furiously as the air circulated through the large room. The lace hangings on her bed also fluttered as Kaline de Belmar began to awaken. She sat up in bed as she heard an eager rapping on her bedroom door.
"Yes," she said to the urgent sound.
She could barely see the sun outside the open windows: evidence of another day's progress and the promise of a typical English day. It was time for Kaline to rise for the day. It was too late to go out riding that morning, as she usually did. After the storm, she knew the fields would be nothing but mud anyway, so she decided to ride at another time.
"Good mornin', lassie," greeted the older woman as she slipped into the room. A ladies' maid followed with a tray of food. She walked across the huge room, placed the tray on a bedside table, and then curtsied politely and left.
It is nearly my birthday, Kaline thought to herself, and she wondered what trinket her grandmother would give her this year. Her grandmother reminded her many times that Kaline was young, but by most standards of the day, it was time for her to find a suitable match or she might be considered too old to marry. The blossom of her youth would fade from her cheeks. She would begin to age rapidly and become dull. Her grandmother pointed out that respect for the customs of the day were not only important to follow but also expected as part of her strict upbringing. Everyone in their local society was well known to her, and expectations were that she was never to worry about the question of marriage.
Her grandmother told her many times, "Many other young girls of the same age were already married or engaged shortly after being presented into society. It was expected of them—for their position, stations in life, and, more importantly, to catch the best possible suitors early before the best matches were already made."
Kaline's seventeen years of life thus far had been filled with the ease that wealth and beauty could generate and the indulgent care of her grandmother, Dowager Duchess Catherine de Belmar. The duchess acknowledged Kaline as her ward and heir. Kaline was the closest living relative to the dowager duchess and was in direct line to inherit some of her vast wealth but not the title.
Emma, Kaline's abigail, never failed to bring her breakfast in bed when everyone else missed the girl's presence while having breakfast in the main dining room. A gleam appeared in Emma's eyes every time she looked at her attractive young mistress.
"Come, lassie, let me brush your hair while you take chocolate and your breakfast."
"Oh, yes, that would be fine."
"Not every young lass can have all the trappings you have, lass."
"Trappings of what kind?"
"You are not too short or too tall. Your long brown hair, which is thick and heavy with a deep luster, looks lovely in any style we choose to arrange it. Delicate, smooth, creamy skin is covered by a well-balanced face, which is not oval and not quite round either. Those dark brown eyes have an intense light that reaches into the depths of your soul. They complement your entire countenance."
"I hope that is enough for a suitable match."
"You are always suave and refined but not haughty and prideful, as other titled ladies and gentlemen of the haut monde are known to be at times. Many aristocrats are encouraged to develop an air of superiority befitting their heritage and natural expectations from their perspective stations. You know how to act superior but choose the more amiable approach to relationships."
"Anyone can carry on graces, but being genuine is more important."
"Her Grace asked after you this morning at the table," Emma stated after a few moments.
"Oh," returned Kaline, "I just could not get out of bed that early this morning, Emma. I was too tired."
"Too tired, lassie?"
"I was exhausted."
"Well then, how's my young lassie feelin' this mornin'?"
"Oh, I will be fine, Emma."
"Did ya not rest in the night?"
"No," Kaline answered flatly, prodding her maid to continue.
"Did the storm keep you awake then?"
"Was ... was there a storm last night, Emma?"
"My, yes," exclaimed Emma with a rising voice.
"Did it wake you, Emma?"
"I was unable to sleep a wink with the thunder and lightning."
"All that noise?"
"Mighty gale of a storm it was, too."
"Well, uh, Emma ..." She paused for a moment, turning to her maid. "I hope it did not interrupt your sleep too much?"
"I could not sleep a wink."
Kaline looked at her maid incredulously, knowing that Emma had snored through the entire tempest.
"The gardeners have been out all day, clearing the brush away."
"All morning?" asked Kaline.
"What time is it, Emma?" asked Kaline, astonished that she had slept so late and turning to see the hour marked by the large clock in her room.
"Well past breakfast hour. That is why I brought you a tray of food. I knew you would be hungry. We missed you earlier at the table."
"What did you bring? I am not hungry in the least."
"You have to eat a little somethin' to last until the luncheon."
"Very well, Emma. Let's have a look and see what you have ordered for me."
"I brought the usual, lassie. There is some chocolate, fresh-baked bread, and fruits. It is getting late in the morning, lass. We need to make ready for the luncheon and our trip this afternoon."
"Yes, yes, you already told me that. What time is it exactly?"
"It will be time for your luncheon with Nevelyn Fields soon—a couple of hours at the very most."
"Oh dear," she moaned in surprise, not realizing she had slept at least two hours later than usual. "That is correct, Emma, now that you mention it. Nevelyn and a few others she wrote me about are to be here about noon," remarked Kaline. She threw on her robe and went over to the window.
Excerpted from Greywycke by ROGER DAVIS. Copyright © 2013 Roger Davis. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, LLC.
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