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Glasscastle. University of dreaming towers and distant bells, pompous dons and disputatious undergraduates, exquisite architecture and grass that can choke you to death if you walk on it without the proper escort. On the surface, it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in England. But underneath, its magic is ancient and dangerous.
Samuel Lambert, sharpshooter, adventurer, late of the Wyoming plains and Kiowa Bob's Wild West Show, has been invited to Glasscastle to contribute his phemomenally accurate shooting eye to the top secret Agincourt Project. The only dangers he expects to face are British snobbery, heavy dinners, and tea with the Provost's pretty wife. But when the Provost's stylish sister Jane comes to town, things get much more exciting.
This sparkling sequel to A College of Magics is a whirlwind of secret weapons, motor cars, mysterious assaults and abductions, thugs in bowler hats, and a mild-mannered don who is heir to a magical power greater than all Glasscastle. The resulting tale is as funny as a Gilbert and Sullivan Victorian romp, with the wit and suspense of a Dorothy Sayers mystery and a dash of John Wayne thrown in for good measure.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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About the Author
Caroline Stevermer grew up on a dairy farm in southeastern Minnesota. She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania with a B.A. degree in the History of Art. Almost twenty years later, she learned to drive a car. Her interests include Mark Twain, baseball, the portrait miniatures of Nicholas Hilliard, and learning how to parallel park. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
CAROLINE STEVERMER is a multiple-award-winning author, best known for her historical fantasy novels—particularly the Scholarly Magic series (A College of Magics, A Scholar of Magics, and When The King Comes Home), which Terri Windling said had “sly wit and sparkling prose that have earned her a cult following.” Stevermer graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in art history and currently lives in Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
"Peace, brother, be not over-exquisite"
Samuel Lambert, all too aware of his responsibilities as a guest, saw with dismay that there were loose bits of tea leaf in the bottom of his cup. Lambert was not easy to alarm. He had no objection to tea leaves as such, but their presence made it probable that his hostess would once again try her dainty, inexorable hand at telling his fortune.
Mrs. Robert Brailsford cultivated parlor fortune-telling as an excuse to bring out some of her intuitions, her observations, and on rare occasions, what amounted to impertinent remarks. Fragile, blond, and as fashionable as the wife of a Senior Fellow of Glasscastle University dared to be, Amy's refined exterior concealed a lively appreciation of the absurd. That she could sometimes behave with boundless absurdity herself was no small part of her charm.
Lambert liked Amy. He appreciated the hospitality shown to him by both the Brailsfords, and he respected Mr. Robert Brailsford, even felt a bit intimidated by him. But he liked Amy, and he felt quite sure that his liking was returned. In her, he found an appreciative audience for any reminiscences or observations he cared to make. She enjoyed his lapses into American speech and behavior. Indeed, she encouraged them.
Still, in the past six months Lambert had put up with Amy's examination of his handwriting, her analysis of the numerical value of the letters in his name, and an inspection of the bumps on his head that made him suppress a shudder every time he thought of it. Amy Brailsford's powers of divination had revealed that Lambert was a gentleman of keen perception, that he would take a long journey over water, marry well, and have seven children. Her evaluation of his handwriting was accurate enough to make Lambert reluctant to surrender to any more studies.
Enough was enough. Since his arrival at Glasscastle six months before, Lambert's experience of local etiquette had given him the confidence to brave most social perils. Afternoon tea was well within his capabilities. Impromptu fortune-telling was not. Lambert resolved to drink his tea with such fervor and dedication there would be nothing left in the cup to read. As Lambert took a deep breath and prepared to polish off his tea, leaves and all, the parlormaid joined them.
"Miss Brailsford has arrived, ma'am."
Amy Brailsford put her cup down on its saucer with such uncharacteristic force that the porcelain chimed in protest. "Who? That is, which Miss Brailsford?"
"Miss Jane Brailsford."
Amy looked askance at the maid. "Goodness. How extraordinary. Set another place at the table and ask Cook to cut a few more sandwiches. On second thought, make that rather a lot more sandwiches. And a fresh pot of tea. I'll be there in a moment" Amy turned to Lambert, eyes wide, to explain. "It's Robert's sister. The youngest of the family. She teaches at a school in France."
"A schoolteacher?" Lambert exclaimed. "That is, I meant to say, how interesting."
Amy looked puzzled by his response but continued, "We haven't seen her for years and years. It almost seems more likely that Robert's great-aunt Susannah left Cheltenham Spa to call on us than that Jane should visit. Excuse me, please."
Grateful for the unexpected reprieve, Lambert used the precious minute or so of solitude after Amy's departure to conceal the contents of his teacup in a brass pot that held a substantial aspidistra. When his sleeve brushed against the foliage, he roused a beetle from its afternoon nap. The insect flew low over the table, rose to an altitude just out of swatting range, and set itself to veer around the room for the rest of the day. After watching its erratic flight for several circuits of the room, Lambert helped himself to a few sugar cubes from the bowl. He wasted two shots before he got the hang of the insect's abrupt changes of speed and direction, but the third sugar cube closed its account. Lambert nailed the beetle on the wing at three paces, exactly over the tea tray. The corpse missed the milk pitcher with half an inch to spare and landed, legs to the sky, between the teapot and the sugar bowl. Uncomfortably aware that no etiquette book covered freelance insect extermination, Lambert retrieved the evidence. He deposited the dead beetle and the sugar cubes on top of the tea leaves in the aspidistra pot and resumed his seat.
Lambert was listening to the tick of the clock on the mantel and watching the progress of the afternoon sunlight across the oriental carpet when his hostess rejoined him. In Amy's wake was a woman somewhere in her early twenties, no older than Lambert was himself. She had clear gray eyes and smooth dark hair coiled and pinned into a large knot. Only a stray tendril here and there betrayed that she'd just taken off her hat. Her clothing, of good material and elegant cut, showed little sign of the dust of the road, but her half boots did. For all her elegant appearance, Miss Jane Brailsford had apparently traveled a considerable distance. Lambert rose as Amy performed the introductions and the maid arrived with the new place setting and a fresh supply of provisions.
"Jane, may I present Mr. Samuel Lambert? He is an American visiting Glasscastle to help Robert and his friends with some studies of theirs. Mr. Lambert, allow me to present Miss Jane Brailsford, Robert's younger sister."
"Ma'am." Lambert didn't have to strain for sincerity. "I'm mighty pleased to make your acquaintance."
Jane made the proper reply and took her seat. The maid withdrew. Introductions successfully concluded, Amy sat and devoted herself to meeting her guests' need for tea and sandwiches.
Jane removed her gloves and folded them in her lap. She regarded Lambert with interest as he returned to his seat. "Some studies of Robin's? I suppose it is useless to ask directly. What sort of studies?" Lambert couldn't help smiling a little. "I'm the last one who could tell you. The boys in charge are all Fellows of Glasscastle. They give the orders. I just do what I'm told." He inspected his teacup before he took a sip. No leaves. Maybe his luck had turned.
Jane reproached Amy. "You shouldn't have brought it up if I wasn't to ask about it." She turned her attention to a plate of stuffed mushrooms. Lambert had given them a wide berth after his first, since he detected the faint fishy presence of patum peperium in the filling. Jane appeared to find no fault with them, nor with anything else on her plate. Her manners were impeccable, but her appetite was fierce.
Amy dimpled. "My dear, why do you think I said it? I'm curious too. All I know is, Mr. Lambert is here as a marksman. He's allowed to take tea, but no other stimulants. Coffee, alcohol, and tobacco are forbidden. They would interfere with the accuracy of his aim."
"No stimulants of any kind?" Jane gave Lambert a searching glance. "But surely tea itself is a stimulant?"
"I prevailed upon the committee. They granted Mr. Lambert the privilege of drinking tea, provided it is not too strong," Amy said. "After all, what would life be without at least an occasional cup of tea? Hardly worth living."
"I tried to make the same case for brandy," said Lambert. "I gave it a game try, but somehow my opinions don't carry the weight that Mrs. Brailsford's do. I am a greenhorn here, and I appreciate her looking out for me."
Jane studied Lambert for a long time before she spoke. Lambert expected her to take him up on the word "greenhorn," but instead she said, "Then you make the ideal guest. Even a chicken sandwich constitutes adventure."
Lambert met the challenge in Jane's tone with utter solemnity. "Mrs. Brailsford's company is intoxicating enough. I reckon any more excitement than that would upset the Fellows."
"I reckon it would." Jane didn't just match his words, she matched his sober expression with one of her own, but there was a distinct gleam of humor behind her gravity. Lambert warmed to her.
"Isn't he a perfect lamb?" Amy asked Jane. "He says things like that all the time. Unfortunately, neither he nor Robert take the slightest notice of a woman's natural curiosity. Whatever they're doing, it involves firearms. Mr. Lambert is a genuine cowboy, but he is here as a professional sharpshooter. A dead shot." Amy obviously relished the phrase.
"Are you indeed?" Jane looked at Lambert again, her surprise ill concealed.
Lambert was still wincing slightly from hearing himself described as a perfect lamb. Before he could answer, Amy went on.
"He was traveling with Kiowa Bob's Genuine Wild West Show, but when Glasscastle needed him, he obliged us and came here to stay." Amy beamed at Lambert. "Luckily for us."
Jane said, "How extraordinary. Is there really such a person as Kiowa Bob?"
"Yup. Well, his name isn't Bob and he's not really Kiowa. But the fellow in question was good enough to take me on and show me the ropes," Lambert replied. "I only came to the tryouts to keep a friend of mine company. My friend got in with his roping and riding and then dared me to try the sharpshooting. To make a long story short, I was hired. I'll always be grateful to Kiowa Bob for giving me a chance."
"Very amiable of Mr. Bob, I'm sure. Had it been a long-held ambition of yours to go into show business?" Jane asked.
"Nope. I liked it better than what I was doing before, through." Lambert didn't give Jane a chance to ask him about that. Instead, he pushed on. "Thanks to the Wild West Show, I've had a chance to see the world. We toured America, of course. Spent months in New York City. When Kiowa Bob decided to arrange a European tour, I thought I'd come along and see a bit more of the world."
Jane's gray eyes were keen. "If you loved it so much, what made you decide to leave and come here?"
"I was recruited. We heard there was a big shooting contest held in London every year. Kiowa Bob thought it might help plug our show, so I entered. First thing I knew, Mr. Voysey, Mr. Brailsford, and those other men from Glasscastle were there to sign me up."
"You won the contest, then?" Jane asked.
"Of course he did," said Amy. "He wouldn't be here if he hadn't."
Jane looked puzzled. "Surely it defeated the purpose to have you leave the show just as you were, er, plugging it. Didn't your employer object?"
"At first I reckoned I'd just come down here for a day or so, straighten out your Fellows, and head right back to the show. Kiowa Bob gave me permission to miss a few performances. Then, once I'd seen Glasscastle and found out more about the job, I decided to stay here, at least for a spell. Kiowa Bob could have made me work out my contract, but he was a gent about it. He let me go with his blessing."
"Remarkable." Unlike most people, Jane did not subject Lambert to a cross-examination on the subject of the personal habits of Indians, cowboys, or buffalo. Instead, she selected a cucumber sandwich from the offerings before her and began to consume it with obvious pleasure. Lambert was surprised at the degree of his disappointment. It seemed likely that Jane would ask more interesting questions than he was used to. What a pity she seemed so much more interested in the food.
Into the silence that ensued, Amy said, "Jane, it's wonderful to have you visit here at last. Robert will be so pleased. He would have met your train if only he'd known. You might have given us some hint you were coming."
Surprised, Jane paused in the methodical demolition of her sandwich. "I certainly might have. I might have neglected to do so; I'm quite capable of it. But in this instance, I am not guilty, upon my honor, m'lady. I sent a wire from London yesterday."
Amy frowned. "You did? How extraordinary. I wonder if Robert forgot to mention it to me. No, he wouldn't have."
"Preoccupied with his studies, perhaps?" Jane suggested. "Wires do go astray sometimes. Not often, I grant you. Where is our gentle Robin?"
It was Amy's turn to look reproachful. "You know he hates to be called that."
Jane merely smiled and took her time about selecting the next sandwich from the assortment before her.
"Robert is at a reception this afternoon. The new Vice Chancellor of Glasscastle is entertaining two cabinet ministers and Robert is there to help him. The plan is to establish warmer relations between the policy makers and those who carry out the policy. I quote." Amy gave Lambert a sidelong glance of mischief, and then added, "Mr. Lambert is here to keep me company while they are busy making their relations more warm."
Jane was the picture of innocence as she thought this statement over. "Goodness. Luckily, they should have no trouble on a day like this." After a pensive moment, she asked, "Which group does Robin think he's in? Not the policy makers?"
Amy looked scandalized. "Jane. As if there could be any question. All the official funding Robert's research project receives comes straight from the Home Secretary. It couldn't be more direct, or more vital to our imperial interests."
"I suppose I needn't bother to ask about the unofficial funding. You won't say anything you shouldn't. I really must get Robin to tell me what it is he's working on this time." Jane spoke half to herself, half to her cup of tea.
"There was a last time?" Lambert prompted.
Jane looked pleased with herself. "Inadvertently. He needed some help attaining permission to do research in a Breton archive. I was able to smooth the waters, so to speak."
"Your sister-in-law told me you teach at a school in France. In Brittany?"
"What kind of teaching do you do?"
Prompt came the reply, as the gleam of humor reappeared beneath Jane's gravity. Not for a moment did she seem to entertain the notion of giving him a simple answer. "Oh, Mock Turtle's arithmetic: ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision."
Lambert could tell she was quoting from something. It was a sensation he often had at Glasscastle, when an allusion was being made to something that the speaker thought must be as familiar as the alphabet. Nine out of ten times whatever was being alluded to was so far beside the point it wasn't worth the breath it took to explain it. The tenth time the allusion generally turned out to be too clever, or too strained, to make sense to him. Lambert had learned it was faster and more interesting to wait and ask his friend Nicholas Fell to explain later. Either way, letting things pass unquestioned saved him the effort of trying to look interested in the resulting clarification. Lambert thought of it in baseball terms. He was Honus Wagner taking a pitch, confident that the next conversational opening would be something he could handle. So Lambert let the gleam in Jane's eyes go unchallenged. "I take it the school year is not in session yet?"
"That's right. Michaelmas term starts in a few weeks. Until then I've chosen to spend my free time here in England. I haven't seen Robin and Amy for years. There's also the lure of visiting the celebrated precincts of the university of Glasscastle. I'm looking forward to seeing all the sights."
"But you must know —" An awkward pause threatened to descend as Lambert searched for words and came up dry. "You can't —"
Jane looked puzzled. After a moment, she prompted Lambert. "I can't what?"
"It isn't — They don't — For women —" Lambert gave it up.
Jane frowned slightly, apparently perplexed by his lapse into silence.
"Jane knows perfectly well," said Amy.
Jane relented. "I do know Glasscastle is off-limits for any but those properly escorted by members of the university and they man the gates with Fellows of Glasscastle to keep it that way. Very proper and sedate, this place. What about you? Are you able to range at will, or do you have a chaperon?" Lambert found Jane's flippancy engaging. "Oh, I range at will — within reason. Though there are quite a few places they don't let me ramble on my own."
"That must have the charm of novelty for you," said Jane.
"Needing a chaperon? There are plenty of places where outsiders aren't allowed in Glasscastle. Just because they let us inside the gates doesn't mean we're welcome there. An escort provides a simple way to prevent me from delivering unintentional offense while I'm a visitor." Lambert broke off, conscious of how stuffy he must sound. He must have been spending too much time listening to the Fellows' dinner conversation in hall. Pomposity must be contagious. Lambert felt himself poker up.
Jane's solemnity was back, and the challenging look that went with it. "Intentional offenses only, I take it?"
Lambert didn't let Jane's solemn look fool him. He did let the gleam of challenge in her eyes tempt him to maintain his air of gravity as long as possible. "Maybe I should have said inadvertent," he added, with diffidence.
His meekness seemed to take Jane aback. "I hope I haven't — inadvertently — offended you. I prefer the intentional offenses myself."
"Oh, I agree. There's nothing more satisfying than delivering a sound, well-regulated insult. Only to those who deserve it, of course," Lambert added with deliberate piety.
"But whoever does deserve to be insulted?" Amy asked. "When one's intentions are properly taken into account, there is seldom cause to give or even receive an affront. It's all a matter of understanding one another's intentions."
Excerpted from "A Scholar of Magics"
Copyright © 2004 Caroline Stevermer.
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.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents,
1 - "Peace, brother, be not over-exquisite",
2 - "Therefore when any favoured of high Jove Chances to pass through this adventurous glade, Swift as the sparkle of a glancing star, I shoot from Heaven to give him safe convoy",
3 - "And the gilded car of day His glowing axle doth allay",
4 - "'Tis most true that musing meditation most affects the pensive secrecy of desert cell",
5 - "Then down the lawns I ran with headlong haste Through paths and turnings often trod by day",
6 - "Why are you vexed, Lady? Why do you frown?",
7 - "O if thou have hid them in some flowery cave, Tell me but where",
8 - "If those you seek It were a journey like the path to Heav'n, To help you find them.",
9 - "By the rushy-fringed bank, Where grows the willow and the osier dank, My sliding chariot stays",
10 - "But O my virgin lady, where is she?",
11 - "Not that Nepenthes which the wife of Thone In Egypt gave to Jove-born Helena Is of such power to stir up joy as this, To life so friendly, or so cool to thirst.",
12 - "List, list, I hear Some far-off halloo break the silent air.",
13 - "He with his bare wand can unthread thy joints, And crumble all thy sinews.",
14 - "But now my task is smoothly done, I can fly, or I Can run Quickly to the green earth's end, Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend, And from thence can soar as soon To the corners of the moon.",
By Caroline Stevermer from Tom Doherty Associates,
PRAISE FOR A SCHOLAR OF MAGICS,
TOR BOOKS Reader's Guide - A Scholar of Magics,