An expanded Marshall family breakfast, with aftermath

Author’s Note: You will recognize some elements of this lost chapter, which features Gray’s younger sister Celia (now Lady Garrard) and younger brother Alan, from the breakfast scene in Chapter II of A Season of Spells. The rest was cut early in revisions because, like the business of Mr Trenoweth, it was slowing down the narrative, and because having brought all of these extra Marshalls onstage at the beginning of the book, I realized I was having difficulty in devising plausible exit lines for them later. I like this scene, though, because I rather like Alan for himself and because of the light it sheds on the psychological scars Gray carries from his childhood (and how being in a happy relationship doesn’t magically fix them).

The Marshalls of Din Edin were not by nature early risers, but the arrival at their door of morning tea, heralded as of old by Daisy’s quiet knock—together with a suite of morning noises quite different from those of Quarry Close, or of a country inn-yard—brought them down to breakfast at an hour which even Jenny, surely, could not consider excessively late.

Jenny’s other guests were yet abed; and though neither was so ill-judged as to say anything about it, Sophie did not think she was imagining the look of relief that crossed Gray’s face, a perfect mirror of her own feelings, upon finding only Joanna, Miss Pryce, and Lord and Lady Kergabet already at the breakfast-table.

The conversation was at first general and perfectly ordinary, but partook of an ease and candour which had been altogether absent from the dinner-table on the previous afternoon. Mr Fowler soon afterward appeared, and by degrees the conversation took a more political turn: from the Marshalls’ impressions of Lucia’s state of mind when last seen, to the Kergabet household’s of Roland.

“Prince Roland,” said Miss Pryce unexpectedly, “hopes that Lucia MacNeill’s conversation may be more lively than her letters.”

“Does he,” said Sophie, frowning. What could this signify? She had never had much occasion to correspond with Lucia, but Lucia herself—in Sophie’s admittedly subjective view—could not be said to suffer from a lack of liveliness.

The arrival in the breakfast-room of Mrs Marshall and Lady Garrard necessitated a change of subject, however, and shortly thereafter, Kergabet and Mr Fowler took their leave.

Lady Garrard offered Sophie a diffident smile, and after a general Good morning, sat down in silence to eat—or, rather, to pick at—her breakfast. Sophie frowned thoughtfully into her tea: of course it had been some years since Gray last met his sister Celia, and people did change as they grew older, but by what metamorphosis had this paragon of near invisibility emerged from the hard-headed, sharp-tongued girl Gray had so vividly described? Jenny had confided to Sophie, in the course of the previous evening, that Lady Garrard was increasing; perhaps it was this circumstance made her so reserved—though certainly it never seemed to take Jenny so.

Whatever the case, Mrs Marshall seemed determined to compensate for her younger daughter’s lack of conversation.

“You must tell us all about Din Edin, and the Alban princess,” she announced, turning to Sophie with an expectant expression. “Graham is a most unsatisfactory correspondent; I do not believe I have had even two letters from him, in the past three months. Though I suppose there cannot be very much to relate, when all of one’s time is spent amongst piles of dusty books! Now that you are come back however, I hope you may be able to persuade him to put them aside, and go out into society from time to time, so as to make the best of your visit.”

“Mama,” said Jenny, in a tone of gentle reproof which Mrs Marshall entirely ignored.

Sophie swallowed outrage, reminding herself that her mother-in-law, for very sound political reasons, did not and could not know the true tale of their first year in Din Edin, nor understand how near she had come to losing her second son for good and all.

Gray said nothing, and studied his empty plate as though painstakingly choosing a foretelling-spell for use upon the breadcrumbs. His sandy curls were just the shade of Cecelia’s, though Jenny and George were fair-haired like their mother, and Alan dark like their father.

“I believe, ma’am,” Sophie said, when she felt able once more to speak without fatally offending her listener, “we may expect to enjoy a good deal more society during Lucia MacNeill’s visit than ever in our lives before; and I assure you,” she added with a smile, “that I shall be more than satisfied to return to my dusty books at the end of it.”

She had meant it as a rebuff, if a gentle one; Mrs Marshall however seemed not to hear it as such, for she said, “Tell me, my dear, is it true that the Alban princess walks about Din Edin unescorted, and plays at being a student?”

Gray’s head rose sharply, his eyes narrowing. “Lucia MacNeill does not play at anything she does, Mama,” he said. “She is not a student at present, but she is certainly a scholar—a very fine one, in fact, and every bit as clever as Sophie.”

“And she does not walk about Din Edin unescorted,” said Sophie, before he could go on, or Mrs Marshall present some retort. How like Gray, she thought with an inward sigh, to sit quietly by whilst his mother abused him, as though it were no more than he deserved, yet spring at once to a friend’s defence! “She has guardsmen lurking in the shadows, always, just as I have.”

“Have you, indeed?” Mrs Marshall looked about the breakfast-room (which was, indeed, quite empty of royal guardsmen), her eyebrows pointedly raised. “They must be past masters of concealment, I conclude?”

Lady Garrard’s bent head came up in startlement, and every eye turned to see how Jenny would bear this insult to her hospitality.

“Of course I can have no possible need of a bodyguard in Jenny’s house, ma’am,” said Sophie. If I swallow any more outrage, she thought, I shall have a dreadful belly-ache.

Mrs Marshall now seemed to recognise for the first time exactly what she had said, and how it was likely to be understood. Flustered and wrong-footed, she tittered—a startling sound from a woman of her age and dignity—and in an entirely transparent attempt to turn the conversation, said, “Cecelia, my love, you are eating no more than a sparrow! I hope you are not unwell?”

The sisters exchanged a look of weary resignation.

“No, Mama,” said Lady Garrard. She straightened a little in her chair, and applied herself to her brioche and greengage jam with a passable imitation of enthusiasm.

After a further quarter-hour of limping conversation, consisting mostly in ingratiating questions from Mrs Marshall, and in less and less patient answers on the part of everybody else, Joanna and Miss Pryce excused themselves from the breakfast-table, and went away. Mrs Marshall frowned after them; Sophie, on the contrary, rather wondered at their not having fled sooner.

They had scarcely left the room, however, when Alan strode into it—as cheerful and expansive as his three siblings were presently tense and subdued—and, to Sophie’s astonishment, went round the table to bestow kisses upon the cheeks of his mother and both his sisters. He paused by her own seat, and she wondered for a moment whether she was to be accorded a like greeting; at last however he passed by without touching her, seated himself in Miss Pryce’s abandoned chair, and began helping himself from the teapot and bread-basket.

“Is that Mrs Treveur’s greengage jam I see in that pot before you?” he asked Sophie, his eyes (so much like Gray’s) alight with a childish anticipation.

“It is,” she said, passing it to him and returning his disarming smile. He made her a little bow, and Sophie, chuckling, turned away to find her mother-in-law beaming at both of them, and Gray wearing the particular frown that indicated a struggle with some vexing question which resisted the application of logic and reason.

Alan’s cheerful, garrulous presence made it impossible for Sophie to dwell on her own difficulties. Like his mother, he was eager for tales of Din Edin; his interest was more general, however, and easily satisfied by such tales of University life as Sophie might have relayed to her own younger brothers. He had at last gone up to Oxford only two years since—the late-born youngest child of Gray’s parents, he was nonetheless nearly her own age—and was evidently storing up his own volume of similar tales. How Harry would envy him, thought Sophie.

“I am reading Alchymy at Plato College,” Alan said, in a confiding tone, as though this were a slightly unsavoury revelation; and, lowering his voice further, “It is far less dull than I expected it might be, after hearing Graham go on about his dusty old magickal theorists for so many years.”

“Gray does not go on about theory,” Sophie protested—the protest seemed to have become a sort of reflex. She considered the matter. “Well: perhaps he does do, and I have not remarked it because I have the same tedious tendency myself.”

Alan grinned at her, and for just a moment he so resembled Gray that Sophie blinked in something like alarm. Then he said, hand on heart in ridiculous gallantry, “I am sure you could not possibly be tedious, sister dear,” and the resemblance vanished.

More inclined to laughter than Ned, though of course far less credulous than Harry, this iteration of Alan began to put her in mind of Roland—Roland, that is, before his sudden and unexpected turn from cheerful prankster to self-conscious poet—and before long she had ceased to ponder his motivations and was simply enjoying their conversation.

“And did you ever see the Chancellor’s brother-in-law’s butterfly mausoleum for yourself?” Alan asked, laughing.

“I never did,” said Sophie, “and I am in two minds as to whether I ought to be disappointed or relieved. But I am told that nearly everyone of any standing in Din Edin is accorded that dubious pleasure, sooner or later; so I suppose our opportunity may yet arise.”

“Well, I should like to see it, very much,” said Alan. “And to meet your friend the astronomer, and your friend who can make himself into a mountain cat.”

“You must come and visit us next summer,” said Sophie, without at all thinking before she spoke.

At once she glanced up to see whether Gray had heard her—as she thought he could not have failed to do, for she had been making no effort to keep the conversation private—and what his reaction might be. To her astonishment, Gray appeared to have left the breakfast-table, and, indeed, no one was left in the room at all but Alan and herself. Where on earth had everyone gone, and how had she failed to observe their departure?

“I should be delighted,” said Alan, whilst Sophie was still wondering at this development. “Though of course I should have to persuade my father to let me go, and you should have to persuade Graham to consent to my coming.”

“I am sure Gray will have no objection,” said Sophie, leaving aside for the moment the question of whether, when next summer arrived, they should be in Din Edin at all. “But certainly your father and mother may well be opposed to the notion.”

“Oh! Mama will be very happy for me to go,” said Alan. His voice was full of blithe confidence. “My father is very insistent that I should be capable of earning my keep, should things come to that—hence the alchymy, you know!—but Mama says—”

He stopped suddenly, and his resemblance to Gray struck Sophie anew, in the form of the deep flush creeping up from his collar.

“Alan,” she said gently, “you need not tell me what it is your Mama has said of Gray, or of me, unless you wish to do so; but I assure you that whatever it is, I am not likely to be surprised by it.”

And indeed she was not; but it was with a sinking heart, nevertheless, that she heard him say—haltingly, red-faced with embarrassment—“Mama says that if Graham can catch himself a princess, even—even one like you—then surely I can marry well enough that I need not work for my living.”

“I see.” Sophie kept her gaze fixed on the gleaming silver teapot that stood empty in the centre of the sideboard, and trailed one finger round and round the rim of her empty cup. Yes, I am very much afraid that I do see. She turned to Alan. “Your Mama hopes that I may further her ambitions for you, I suppose,” she said, “by introducing you to all my acquaintance among the Queen’s and Princess Delphine’s unmarried ladies-in-waiting? I am sorry to disappoint her, Alan, but if there is any person less beloved of Her Majesty than I am, I have yet to make his acquaintance.”

The more dismayed was Alan’s expression, Sophie was learning, the more he resembled his brother. Perhaps for that reason—or perhaps because, after all, his mother’s pretensions and manipulations were not, in fact, his fault—she could not help feeling rather sorry for him. And perhaps it showed in her face, for instead of foolishly blustering or wisely keeping silence, he said in a low voice, staring down at his long, slim hands (spotted and scarred, here and there, with the evidence of his alchymical studies) folded upon the table, “If I had my own choice, I should not marry at all; and if I must marry, I had rather choose my own bride. But if neither course is open to me—”

He raised his head, so abruptly that Sophie could not entirely suppress the instinct to flinch away, and the large hazel eyes so like Gray’s and Jenny’s caught and held hers with daunting intensity. “If I must trust to some other person to choose for me,” he said, “I had a thousand times rather trust to you and Jenny—and to Graham, too—than to Mama.”

“Alan,” said Sophie, who was almost too astonished to speak, “how can you say so? You scarcely know me; I do not think we have spent above a fortnight under the same roof. As to Jenny, certainly; but how you should suppose me a better judge than your mother—”

Alan’s eyes narrowed and his mouth turned up on one side, the terrible earnestness falling away. “You have met my mother, have you not?” he said—interrupting, but so wry and gentle about it, that she could not possibly have taken offence. “She means well—she wants only the best for me, I am sure—but she thinks of me, I believe, as a sort of admixture of Graham and George, and her great alchymical project is, to make me less like the one and more like the other. It has always been Graham’s great defect in my parents’ eyes, you see, not to have been George.”

Sophie winced in sympathy: she had, as Alan well knew, seen all too many examples of that particular species of blindness during her one tumultuous visit to the Marshalls’ home in Kernow.

“I thought,” said Alan, laying one hand over hers where it rested beside her (still inexplicably uncollected) plate, “that you might have some experience in the trials of being greatly loved by a parent who has not the least idea who you are.”

And you were quite right to think so, Sophie was about to say, when there came a sharp double rap on the doorjamb, and she turned her head to find Gray standing in the doorway, looking intently—and not at all happily—at his younger brother.

“Sophie,” he said, in a tight, clipped voice, “Sieur Germain wishes to speak with us in the library.”

“Oh!” Sophie sprang up from her chair, instantly alert to the possibility of trouble. “Is all well? Has Lucia—”

“Perfectly well,” said Gray. His troubled expression had cleared a little, she thought—but only a little. “I am sure it is only some question of protocol; but do come, kerra.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Sophie to Alan, who had risen when she did, and was looking from Gray to herself with a worried frown.

He smiled at her—the smile almost natural—and made her a gallant little bow. “There is not the least need, I assure you,” he said.

With scarcely a backward glance, Sophie followed Gray out of the breakfast-room and down the stairs to the Sieur Germain’s library.

§

The library was, of course, quite empty.

Sophie turned to Gray, frowning, and folded her arms across her chest.

“What is afoot, then?” she demanded. “Where is your brother-in-law?”

“He is gone out with Mr Fowler,” Gray confessed, perching on one corner of the heavy library table.

“Then what on earth are you about?” said Sophie. She eyed him, head tilted—perched thus upon the table, he was nearly of a height with her—and after a moment burst out laughing. “Graham Valerius Marshall, you are not jealous of your brother?”

Gray’s ears flared hot, and he scowled and hunched his shoulders. It was absurd of him—he knew it perfectly well—but to be laughed at for his absurdity did not improve his temper.

“And why should I not be?” he said, as though some perverse spirit of mischief had taken possession of his faculties of speech. “If your sister Amelia were to pay me a like sort of attention, I suppose you should have nothing to say about it?”

Sophie’s laughter—and it had been affectionate laughter, not mockery, as he understood too late—drained away, and she looked at him, silent, her eyes wide in a face still and wary as a cornered mouse.

“I am sorry,” Gray said at once. “I ought not to have said that. Any of it.”

Instinctively, he reached out to draw her to him; before his hand could come to rest on her hip, however, she stepped back—a single step, precisely so far as would place her out of his reach, and no farther—and his fingers curved on empty air.

“No,” she said. “You ought not—indeed, you ought not even to think such a thing, as that I should encourage Alan in …” She paused, biting her lip, and at last said, “in flirtation; or that your brother is so lost to any sense of right conduct—and so stupid, too—as to flirt with me under your very nose. And you need not suppose that I shall let you kiss your way out of discussing it,” she added, lifting her chin.

He let his hand fall, opening again in concession. You know me far too well, Sophie-of-mine.

“I am sorry,” he said again.

Sophie stood her ground, folding her arms; her slim fingers curled over her elbows, absently rubbing. “You know me better than to suppose I should betray you,” she said—not accusing, but slow and thoughtful.

Reasoning through the problem, thought Gray, consumed with fondness for her, like the scholar she is.

“Of course I do,” he agreed. “It is quite impossible to imagine your doing anything of the kind.”

“Yet you were jealous,” Sophie continued; Gray ducked his head, ashamed of himself, and when next he looked up, she was nodding thoughtfully. “And I have never seen you behave so—not even when that student of yours at Merlin used to flirt with me so outrageously.” A trio of vertical creases appeared between her eyebrows, then vanished again: “Bevan, that was his name. So, then: What threat can Alan possibly pose, that Bevan did not?”

Seen from this perspective, Gray’s ridiculous, idiotic flash of jealousy seemed both twice as absurd and entirely justified. “Every so often, you see,” he said, clutching about him a threadbare attempt at dignity, “Alan puts me very much of in mind of George.”

Sophie, who always saw (always had seen) more of him than he believed himself to be revealing, nodded again—her mouth twisted in wry sympathy—and said, “And George has never been able to see anything of yours, without wishing to take it away from you.”

This was, in its way, so complete a summary of Gray’s early life, that he could think of no reply. Instead he looked steadily at Sophie, at her soft dark eyes and solemn expression—her slim hands still cradling her elbows (as though, it came to him in a belated flash of insight, to anchor themselves against the instinct to reach out to him)—her slim hips and rounded shoulders.

“Shall I tell you,” she said, after a long moment, “what Alan and I were talking of? You were quite right, it seems, about your Mama—it is not that she loves me any better than she used, but that she should very much like me, or perhaps both of us, to help Alan to an advantageous marriage. Alan has as little taste for her enthusiasms as you or I should do, and hoped to find me a sympathetic audience for his troubles. I do not suppose,” she added, in quite a different tone, “that he is accustomed to receive much sympathy or understanding from George and poor Catharine.”

Gray sighed. “You may consider me suitably chastened, cariad,” he said. He risked another gesture—an arm outflung, the suggestion of an offered embrace—and this time Sophie stepped forward, not away, and subsided into a precarious balance against his bent knees.

“There was a time,” she said, soft and warm against his neck, “when I was blindingly jealous of Catriona MacCrimmon. I am not proud of it; but I think I had some cause.”

“Catriona MacCrimmon?” Gray repeated in utter bafflement. “Why, by all the gods?”

Sophie drew back to search his face, balancing herself with both hands gripping his shoulders; and at last, laughing, tucked herself up against him once more (his arms came round her of themselves, and held fast) and said, “Only you, Gray Marshall, could possibly be so oblivious as to miss such a determined campaign.” Another sigh. “Poor Catriona! The thought had crept in, you see, that perhaps you had simply never been tempted, shut away at Merlin with scarcely a woman in sight apart from myself—”

At Gray’s sound of protest, she laid a warm hand along his cheek and kissed his ear. The magick flowed between them, strong and clear and sure.

“I have no greater loyalty than to you, love,” she said solemnly.

“Nor I to you,” said Gray at once, folding her in closer, that he might feel her heart beating against his own. He could feel a But… hovering in the air above their heads.

What a preposterous thought. Yet true, for all that: sure enough, when next Sophie spoke she said, “But your mother could not hurt you as she does, so easily, if you had not loved her very much, once upon a time.”

Gray laid his cheek against Sophie’s hair, and closed his eyes, and made no answer.