The thirteenth novel in the magical alternate history Elemental Masters series continues the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes in a richly-detailed alternate Victorian England.
The threat of Moriarty is gone - but so is Sherlock Holmes.
Even as they mourn the loss of their colleague, psychic Nan Killian, medium Sarah Lyon-White, and Elemental Masters John and Mary Watson must be vigilant, for members of Moriarty's network are still at large. And their troubles are far from over: in a matter of weeks, two headless bodies of young brides wash up in major waterways. A couple who fears for their own recently-wedded daughter hires the group to investigate, but with each new body, the mystery only deepens.
The more bodies emerge, the more the gang suspects that there is dangerous magic at work, and that Moriarty's associates are somehow involved. But as they race against the clock to uncover the killer, it will take all their talents, Magic, and Psychic Powers - and perhaps some help from a dearly departed friend - to bring the murderer to justice.
About the Author
Mercedes Lackey is a full-time writer and has published numerous novels and works of short fiction, including the best-selling Heralds Of Valdemar series. She is also a professional lyricist and a licensed wild bird rehabilitator. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, artist Larry Dixon, and their flock of parrots. She can be found at mercedeslackey.com.
Read an Excerpt
The calendar read June 3rd. The weather agreed. There was a fine, light summer wind sweeping down the London street where Nan Killian, her friend Sarah Lyon-White, their raven, their parrot, and their ward Suki lived. It frisked in through the open windows of their flat, bringing with it the scent of the daffodils blooming in the flowerboxes outside their window, a scent that just managed to counter the less pleasant odors of London as summer began. At this time of the day there was minimal traffic outside, but you could have heard a pin drop in the sitting room. Not even the birds were feeling chatty.
Sarah, Nan, and Suki sat on the sofa on one side of the cold hearth; their friends and fellow occultists John and Mary Watson sat on the matching sofa on the other. Between the sofas, the table was laden with tea-things, completely untouched so far. Mary was dressed in full mourning, and John had a mourning band around his upper arm.
John was, in Nan's estimation, a very fine looking gentleman. He kept himself in shape, and the hard line of his jaw gave the lie to the kindness of his eyes. His wife Mary was not a beauty, the way Nan's friend Sarah was, but she was something between "pretty" and "handsome," and her own expression was generally as kind as her husband's.
Nearly a month ago a mysterious telegram addressed to both of them had arrived from Germany. Unsigned, it had said merely this: Do not believe what you read.
Then, before either of them had been able to find John or Mary Watson, both of whom were out of London, or consult with Lord Alderscroft-the what of the mysterious message became clear, as within hours headlines across London screamed SHERLOCK HOLMES DEAD!
Alderscroft, when they finally contacted him, knew nothing. Mycroft Holmes was unreachable. And John and Mary, when at last they appeared in London again, were no help. They went into outward mourning. John Watson simply said in print that Holmes had had a "misadventure" in Germany, and had fallen to his death at the Reichenbach Falls-in private, he thinned his lips and gave the girls a look that suggested they needed to go along with that story.
Mary Watson sent around a brief note a week ago suggesting they should gather for a wake for Holmes, but oddly specified the girls' flat, not 221B nor one of their own flats-neither the seldom-used one above John's surgery nor their real home at 221C. So here they were, regarding one another across a laden tea table covered with cups and edibles that no one had touched, silently staring at one another. Even the birds, sitting behind the girls on their perches, were uncharacteristically silent. No one had said a word aside from the initial greetings. To say that the atmosphere was "strained" was something of an understatement.
Of course, Nan could probably have used her mental powers to read John's mind, or Mary's-but Sarah and Nan had discussed that, and without their permission, that was something Nan simply would not do, and nothing either of the Watsons had said or done had indicated to her that she had said permission.
And as for Sarah, her mediumistic talents were not of much use here.
So for the course of the last month, they had alternated between being certain that it had been Holmes who had sent that telegram, and that he was alive and well, and certain that it had been a mistake or a cruel hoax, and their dear friend Sherlock Holmes was dead.
"Tea?" Sarah ventured, breaking the silence. But before either of the Watsons could answer, they were interrupted by the sound of the bell downstairs.
All of them started, and strained their ears. Mrs. Horace, the girls' landlady, answered the door on the second pull of the bell. There was the sound of quiet murmuring, then footsteps, two sets, coming up the stairs to the girls' flat.
Mrs. Horace tapped on the door, and opened it. "A Mrs. Stately to see you," she said, in tones that suggested she felt very doubtful about their visitor. "She says she is here on invitation from the Watsons."
"Show her in, thank you, Mrs. Horace," Nan replied before Sarah could say anything. The door opened fully, and a hunched old lady-at least, Sarah thought she was old-clad head to toe in black, with a black veil, entered the room. Mrs. Horace closed the door.
And as soon as the door was firmly closed, the old lady suddenly stood up straight, gaining almost a foot in height, pulled back her veil, and revealed the face of Sherlock Holmes.
Sarah stared; she would have sworn that a moment ago the face beneath that veil had been pinched and wizened, and nothing at all like Holmes-save, perhaps, in the beaky nose. But now, there was no doubt-although Holmes looked thinner than usual, and a bit more pale. Still, it was Sherlock Holmes.
Mary and John just looked as if an enormous burden had been taken from their shoulders. Suki squealed, and threw herself at Holmes; he smiled very slightly and patted her on the back as she hugged his skirts. The birds both flew to Holmes as well, landing one on each shoulder, Grey bending down to gently mouth the top of Holmes' nose, and Neville pressing himself up against the side of Holmes' head. Nan felt like flinging herself at Sherlock as well, but what he tolerated in children and animals made him uncomfortable when coming from adults, so she confined herself to sighing as she felt a surge of unimaginable relief.
Then, suddenly, John burst out laughing. "By Jove, I get it. Stately Holmes, indeed!"
Sherlock smiled slightly and took a seat on the one remaining chair, as Suki returned to the girls and the birds to their perches. "The last four weeks have been unpleasant enough for all of us that I thought I might amuse you with a small pun." He lost the smile. "Unfortunately, the unpleasantness is just beginning."
"Wait!" Nan said, before he could continue. "Before you do that, for heaven's sake, tell us what happened! Why did you and John vanish? What happened in Germany? Why did you pretend to be killed? You did send us that telegram, didn't you?"
Holmes raised an eyebrow and glanced down at the laden tea table significantly. Sarah hastened to pour out for everyone, while Nan passed around ham sandwiches and cakes, the birds returned to their perches for their shares, and only when Holmes had eaten and drunk did he put his cup aside and begin,
"I have been on very short commons these last few days," he said by way of apology for eating more than half the sandwiches all by himself. "Well, to begin at the beginning, you will recall my campaign against that villain, Professor Moriarty, and his fiendish gang?"
They all nodded.
"Last month, the campaign had nearly reached its ultimate goal; I was about to spring my trap, when I became aware that Moriarty was going to escape it-and in revenge would not only seek to destroy me, but everyone I had allied myself with. Mary was safely out of harm's way for the moment, so John and I slipped off to the Continent with Moriarty in pursuit. To make the story as brief as possible, I hoped that we could occupy him at the least, and possibly bring him to justice, and while he was concentrating on us, the police would be able to swoop in and round up his gang."
"We stayed as close to water as we could at all times," John put in at that point. "It would have been much easier if we'd had Mary along-"
"I absolutely forbade that," Holmes interrupted with a frown. "Not that I do not believe Mary perfectly capable, but it was enough of a risk bringing John in. Moriarty would have immediately made Mary his target as the weakest of the three of us; he would have used her ruthlessly against us, and in the end, brought all three of us down."
The Watsons exchanged a look. Mary shrugged, a tendril of her dark blond hair escaping from her chignon. She pushed it back behind her ear with an impatient gesture.
But Nan had a good idea of why Holmes had not wanted to risk her presence-and a good idea of why having Mary along would have been more useful than having her husband. Holmes still did not have much of an idea of what an Elemental Master could do with his or her powers. It was entirely within the realm of possibility that had Moriarty seized Mary Watson, she could have sucked the very breath out of his lungs-or rather, her Elementals could have. Under the normal course of things, no Master would ever ask her Elementals to kill, but nothing about the threat that Professor Moriarty posed could be construed as "normal."
"So we stayed close to water so we could employ the protection of my Elementals, knowing they would warn us of danger. And it was in Germany that they finally did. The Professor finally caught up with us. We chose the falls as the place with potentially the most power for me to use, and the likeliest place for Moriarty to attempt an ambush," John continued. "And as we had hoped, Moriarty took the bait as we hiked on a brief sojourn to view the falls close at hand. He sent a false message that there was a dying Englishwoman back at our inn who requested my services. We didn't fall for it, of course."
Now that they were no longer guarding their minds and memories, glimpses of what they had done in those moments flashed across Nan's mind. There was the steep, mist-soaked path leading to the falls. The roar of the falls themselves, like a roar of thunder that never ended, almost obscured the boy's speech. There was the boy; blond, bareheaded, in short leather pants, long white woolen stockings, a green wool jacket, much patched, and sturdy clogs. He wouldn't look at Watson, his eyes shifted as he gabbled out his message, and he fingered something obsessively in his right-hand pocket. The money by which Moriarty had bought him?
Holmes nodded. "John pretended to believe it, and sent the messenger back to tell them he was coming. In actuality, he only went a few hundred yards, then doubled back, warned of exactly where Moriarty was by his Elementals. Moriarty expected me to fight honorably." Holmes uttered a dry laugh. "I think, Doctor, he was rather too much a consumer of your fine stories. Watson and I got him between us; he was concentrating on me, and between the noise of the falls and his own eagerness, Watson crept up on him completely undetected. Watson, I believe you shot first?"
Again, the memory washed over her; first from Holmes' point of view. The Professor faced him, fearlessly, a cold arrogance over his features. The falls thundered at Holmes' back, and if he had not been so keyed up, he would have shivered in the cold spray. But he was keyed up; like a racehorse, waiting for the signal to spring into action. Behind Moriarty, Watson crept up the path, step by cautious, sideways step, a little crouched over, revolver in hand. In that moment she knew, with utter certainty, that Holmes had not exaggerated when he had told Watson that as long as Moriarty perished, he would be willing to die as well.
John nodded, an expression of grim satisfaction on his face. "You don't do a mad dog the courtesy of letting him have the first bite. I got him in the back. I wasn't taking a chance on missing, so I aimed for his torso. I reckoned on the shock of the first shot allowing me to get off more, even if the shot itself deflected on a rib."
Now Watson's view; and within Watson was an anxiety that was tearing him apart. He was afraid, desperately afraid, that Holmes would be honorable, be chivalrous, would offer to fight the fiend man-to-man. Watson did not intend to give Holmes the chance to make that offer-indeed, his one fear as he had doubled back was that Holmes would initiate a fair fight before he had a chance to get in place. So when he saw Holmes' gun hand twitch, ever so slightly, he did not hesitate, bur fired a burst of three shots into Moriarty's back. By the time the second had struck, Holmes had fired his own gun, reflexively.
Holmes continued. "And I shot once you had, as well. He was . . . surprised. He staggered over the side of the path and into the falls."
It was uglier than that. Moriarty staggered, gasped, bled, snarled-tried to reach for his own gun, but his right hand would not obey him, and he could not reach the pocket where it was with his left. He stumbled toward Holmes, arm outstretched, as Holmes skipped out of his grasp with great agility, despite the slippery path.
And then a half dozen long, white arms made of mist snaked out of the falls and seized him.
They were not strong, those arms, but they were enough. They pulled him off-balance, and his stumbling feet carried him to the edge of the path and over. Both John and Sherlock approached the edge of the path cautiously, lest he be somehow lurking on a ledge just beneath it, ready to seize one of them to end the victory in defeat-but there was nothing there, nothing but mist and thundering water. Moriarty was no more.
"And I made sure my Elementals pulled what was left of him down underwater and held it there for a day and a half. Between that, and after four shots and the plunge, we were sure he was finished. Holmes disappeared, and I reported his death along with that of Moriarty."
The memories let go of her, and Nan took a deep breath and a sip of her lukewarm tea. She wondered if either of them guessed what she had just witnessed.
"I stopped in a small village just long enough to telegraph you young ladies, because I did not want you to do something . . . untoward." Holmes added. "But I didn't dare do more. As it transpired, I had been too sanguine in my surety that my trap would catch all of Moriarty's gang. Much to my chagrin and alarm, I underestimated the number of his followers by fifty percent. I have been tracing and dealing with individuals for the last four weeks, and I am only halfway through what is proving to be a gargantuan task, a true Labor of Hercules."
Excerpted from "The Bartered Brides"
Copyright © 2018 Mercedes Lackey.
Excerpted by permission of DAW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent all the way to the end. I always enjoy her books.
Another fine novel in the elemental masters series. This time the tale is a twisted rendition of the brides of Bluebeard, and given the equally twisted nature of the original, its a satisfyingly delight of a read!
As always, Mercedes Lackey does not disappoint. I love her series with Nan and Sarah and seeing them grow up and into their own powers.
Great addition to the “Elemental” series.