rosemary edghill: Leopard in Exile

Leopard in Exile


Leopard in Exile [?]
by Andre Norton and Rosemary Edghill
Tor Books (February 2001, February 2002)
ISBN: 0-312-86428-0 (hardcover), 0-812-54540-0 (paperback)

Chapter One : Under An English Heaven

(June, 1807)

The rooftops of London sparkled as if they had been polished.

The spring had been wet, miring carriages in hedgerows and making travel to the opening of Parliament -- and the Season -- more than usually hazardous. Despite that inconvenience, every townhouse and rented lodging in every even-remotely fashionable district of Town was full to bursting by the Ides of March, their steps newly limewashed and the knockers on the doors, for this Season was to be the most glittering since bloody Revolution had struck down the aristocracy of France fifteen years before.

The Court, as was its usual custom, spent Yuletide at Holyrood Palace, but instead of spending deep winter in procession from one Great House to the next, this year the Court had returned directly to St. James' Palace after Hogmanay, for there was much to do to prepare for a Royal wedding.

The marriage-lines, and the treaty that accompanied them, had been ready for over two years, for this was a marriage of state, one that would bind two countries as well as two persons together. Prince Jaime of England, King Henry's heir, was to wed Princess Stephanie Julianna of Denmark, securing a Protestant bride for England and a new support for the Grand Alliance all in one stroke. But though speed was of the essence, first social considerations, then political ones, had delayed the match again and again.

First, the Royal wedding embassy -- two ships, the princess, her trousseau, and the final version of the treaty -- had mysteriously vanished between Copenhagen and Roskild. Finding the princess had taken months. Soothing her brother, the Prince Regent, had taken longer, and by then, all the ambassadors and dignitaries who had come for the wedding had returned home again.

Though Prince Frederick wished to take the opportunity to withdraw his sister from the marital alliance, King Henry had the girl under his hand, and was not inclined to lightly set aside what had been organized with such pains. So Henry smiled, and delayed, and prayed that the news from Europe would be brighter -- for while the Great Beast daily engorged himself upon what had once been the sovereign thrones of Europe, his northern neighbor could not be sanguine about declaring himself Napoleon's enemy.

Meanwhile, Henry must woo his own people as well, hesitant as always about accepting foreign princes into their midst. If the marriage did not have popular support, riots at home would negate any advantage England might claim upon a foreign battlefield.

Secret peace negotiations conducted by Mr. Fox had caused further delay, for the making of the marriage, Tallyrand vowed, would be seen by France as an additional act of war. So King Henry had counterfeited public reasons for private caution until the negotiations had broken down completely. That had consumed the summer of the following year, and he vowed that the Princess would be married next Midsummer Day, for the strain of attempting to preserve her countenance as an unmarried maiden was far greater than he had ever imagined it could be.

At least his heir had accepted the betrothal. Prince Jamie, once its most volatile opponent, was now the happy confederate of Princess Stephanie, though his relationship with his future bride held more of fellowship than of romance.

When the Princess had been rescued from her kidnapping to France a year and more before, she had been masquerading as one of her own Guardsmen, and her hoydenish nature had not been ameliorated in any sense by her narrow escape from the Tulleries and the Guillotine. The Danish Court was one of the most protocol-laden in all of Europe, and it seemed that the Princess had chafed under its restrictions, if her hey-go-mad behavior in England thereafter were any yardstick. Despite the best efforts of Henry and his courtiers, the rumors about the Princess's behavior had multiplied daily in the weeks following her arrival, and each rumor held more than a grain of truth.

She had ridden her horse on the Mall. She had attended one of the notorious Vauxhall masquerades. She had taken the exercise in Green Park in the company of the notorious "horse-breakers". She had assumed men's dress -- in company with her betrothed -- and attended an illegal exhibition of boxiana. She had fought a duel in defense of her own good name.

It was not, as Henry had once said to the Duke of Wessex, whose wife held the post of Mistress of the Robes in the Princess's household, and who stood as her sponsor to the ton, as if all these reports could possibly be true -- "Though enough of them are that I have had it that vouchers for Almack's would be impossible to obtain."

"It is just as well that Prince Jaime's wife will not require them," Wessex had replied lazily. "And if the Patronesses cannot like her, then the same is not true of the mobile, for she is cheered whenever she appears in public."

This was certainly true, and had strengthened King Henry's bargaining position with Denmark considerably, for the Princess possessed a most republican soul, and evinced not the slightest desire to return to her homeland. She adored the people of London, and their entertainments, and the people adored her unreservedly in return.

The Princess would often descend from her carriage to accept small posies or other tributes from admirers and had thrown the gardens of her residence open to sight-seers. The amount of bad verse which had been written to her raking blonde good looks was a daunting thing, and had inspired lampoons and rebuttals in is turn, until it seemed that London was awash in a sea of rhyme -- a far more fearsome threat, as His Grace whimsically confided to his valet, than any French threat.

But at last all the elements were in harmony. The date of the ceremony was fixed. Emissaries from Denmark, Spain, Prussia, Russia, and even China crowded the nation's capital. Nobility from England's New World Colonial possessions and nabobs from the East India Company vied with each other to produce exotic entertainments for both the mobile and the ton.

And at last the day itself arrived.

"Sarah where are you?" the Duke of Wessex demanded irritably,

striding down the hall to his wife's dressing room.

Herriard House, in London's fashionable East End, had been seething with activity since long before dawn. The Duke and Duchess of Wessex were fortunately not of the wedding party itself, but the crush of traffic about Westminster Abbey today required that they set out no later than eight o'clock of the morning to be in place for the one o'clock ceremony. In addition to this small matter, Their Graces were giving one of the score of parties to follow the wedding breakfast, and the house was filled with guests, borrowed servants, and chaos of the most select order.

"Sarah!" he said again, thrusting open the door without ceremony. "Where--"

"Where else would I be?" his wife asked, her words nearly concealing the gasp of outrage from Knoyle, Her Grace's abigail. The servant was far more conscious of her mistress's dignity than Sarah had ever been.

Wessex stopped, his gaze flickering over the room full of women. His Duchess sat before her mirror, her back straight, her grey eyes brilliant, and her light brown hair in copious disarray as she suffered the ministrations of her hairdresser. Her abigail, the redoubtable Knoyle hovered, unable to decide between overseeing her lady's toilette or regarding the seamstress who was even now putting the finishing touches on her ladyship's glittering rose-grey gown.

"Are you not yet dressed?" Wessex demanded, though the answer was patently obvious.

"Easy enough for you, my lord -- you have a uniform to wear. I'm not so lucky," Sarah answered with acerbic fondness.

Major His Grace Rupert St. Ives Dyer, the Duke of Wessex, dismissed his gleaming regimentals without even a glance. His Grace was a tall, slender man with the black eyes of his Stuart forbears -- for the Dukedom could trace its beginnings to the merry court of the Glorious Restoration, though the first Duke of Wessex, whose mother was that firebrand lady, the Countess of Scathach, came from a line that was already both ancient and royal -- and the blond fairness of his Saxon ancestors. All the family possessed a cold and ruthless charm, though the young Duke -- whose sword-blade good looks had been compared by more than one admirer to the kiss of la Guillotine herself -- seemed to possess it in abounding measure. His Grace had recently married, though was yet to set up his nursery, and was said to retain an interest in matters at the Horse Guards, thought what that interest was, there were few who could say. For many years he had held a commission in the 11th Hussars, and in fact had purchased promotion last year.

But his rank was little more than a screen for his more clandestine activities, and he and Sarah had spoken of his resigning it. He was glad, now, to have retained it: the silver laced blue jacket, scarlet trousers, and gleaming gold-tasseled Hessians were far more comfortable than the Court dress, with Ducal coronet and ermine cloak, otherwise prescribed for the occasion. Sarah's own costume was a bulky thing of hoops and feathers, as much unlike the current mode as could be imagined, and she was a freakish sight in the antique garb protocol demanded.

"Our coach, madame, leaves in a quarter of an hour, whether you are in it or no," Wessex said with an ironic bow.

"And the Princess will marry whether I am there or not," Sarah pointed out reasonably. "There are seven other women to carry her train. Oh, do go away, Wessex. Terrify the servants. I vow I shall be with you as soon as I may, and I can be there no sooner."

The Duke of Wessex, ever a prudent tactician, retreated with a silent flourish.

Sarah regarded the closed door with inward amusement. Her

formidable mother-in-law and godmama, the Dowager Duchess, had sworn to her often and often that all men were just alike, and would rather face a line of cannon than a public ceremony, but until this moment, Sarah had been certain that her own husband --whom she had apostrophized as a hatchet-faced harlequin upon their first meeting -- was of another order of creation entirely. It cheered her obscurely to see him as rattled as any other husband upon such an important occasion, particularly since His Grace was in so many respects unlike any other husband.

She was not certain of the precise moment upon which she had known him for precisely what he was, for the early days of their relationship had been a series of shocks, riddles, and misunderstandings, complicated not a little by Sarah's occult and precipitous arrival from another world to take the place of her dying counterpart, this world's Marchioness of Roxbury. When she had unwittingly stepped into her double's role, she had acquired not only an identity, but a fianc as well, and one had been as cryptic as the other, for the Duke of Wessex was England's most noble . . . spy.

The craft of espionage was not a respectable one, considered, even by those who employed its agents, to be both dishonorable and demeaning. The fact that it was necessary as well was a terrible paradox, and had forced Wessex to conceal his true nature and activities even from his own mother. Even now, if the truth of his endeavors on behalf of the Crown became common knowledge, King Henry would have no choice but to dismiss Wessex from his post at Court. The entire family would be ruined socially, and have little choice but to withdraw to the country or even to Ireland, and hope the scandal did not follow.

But even with the stakes as high as that, Wessex had trusted his unknown bride: it was the basis of the comfortable love that had grown up between them in the two years they had been married.

Tendre or no, I see little future for us if I cause him to wait! Rupert has worked so hard for this day, both as the Duke of Wessex and as an agent of the Crown, that it is not amazing that his nerves should be shot to flinders. I vow that mine are, and I have had little to do but receive reports of the Princess's high- jinks, Sarah thought to herself.

"Is the gown ready?" she asked aloud.

"A moment more, your Grace," the modiste said.

Wessex galloped down the stairs two at a time, Atheling following

him with hise, shako, peliss and gauntlets. The indomitable valet looked quite as distrait as his master, for the weeks leading up to the Royal wedding had been trying ones, due in no little measure to the household's residence at Herriard House.

The establishment had been a possession that Roxbury had brought to her marriage, for the Marchionate's wealth nearly matched that of the Dukes of Wessex. Strict propriety would have preferred that the Duchess reside beneath the Duke's roof after her marriage, rather than the reverse, but the Wessex family townhouse had long been the Dowager Duchess's residence, and Wessex, who had never entirely planned to marry, and who had resided, when in Town, in a suite of rooms at the Albany, had vaguely assumed he would build a mansion in one of London's New Squares -- the Dyer family were landlords to half of Soho -- to house his future bride. The necessity of an immediate marriage -- so that the Duke's Duchess could act as a sponsor to the Danish Princess -- had put paid to Wessex's hopes of building, and Sarah's removal to beneath her own rooftree had been a sore point in the early days of the couple's marriage.

But once the two had reached an understanding, such petty concerns no longer seemed to matter. Though Wessex still occasionally spoke of building a suitable Town residence for his bride -- and though in fact the land had been chosen and plans drawn up by the most superior builder Mr. Adams, plans never seemed quite to advance, and the household continued to reside, under somewhat cramped conditions, at Herriard House.

Perhaps I left the matter too late, Wessex thought somberly, stopping at the foot of the stair to receive his accoutrements and permit last-minute adjustment of his uniform. Atheling settled the shako precisely upon the Duke's newly-shorn flaxen hair and made a last adjustment to the drape of the bearskin pelisse before stepping back to indicate his ministrations were at an end.

At that moment, Buckland, the butler, who was standing beside the front door with a look of ill-use upon his sallow, lantern-jawed countenance, cleared his throat and made an imperceptible movement forward.

"Your Grace has a visitor," he pronounced austerely.

"What, now?" Wessex demanded, more than a little astounded. Behind Buckland, Wessex could see that the parlor door was locked. Presumably, his caller was within.

"Indeed, Your Grace." Buckland's manner assumed even more of expressionlessness, indicating how very much he disapproved of the caller. But the household staff had strict instructions to admit anyone who came to call upon His Grace without question (though also to secure those not known to them), for as a consequence of his duties to the Crown, Wessex's acquaintanceship was extraordinarily broad.

Wessex sighed, and tucked his shako more firmly beneath his arm. "Very well. I will attend to the matter at once. But let me know the moment Her Grace descends."

The butler inclined his head. Wessex stepped past him and unlocked the door to the small ground-floor parlor.

Within, all was serene. There was a small coal-fire burning upon the grate, for even in summer the ground- floor rooms were inclined to be damp. A large high- backed settee had been drawn up to face the fire, and the brandy decanter removed from the small table before the window to the floor beside the settee. Whoever Wessex's caller was, he had made himself entirely at home. Wessex shut the door with a firm click.

"I dare say, it's a trusting gentleman," a plaintive unseen voice complained in a rumbling bass.

"What the devil are you doing here?" Wessex demanded, recognizing the identity of the speaker at once.

The frame of the settee creaked as the caller got to his feet. Though he was impeccably dressed in the sober height of morning fashion, with a blue superfine coat over biscuit-colored smallclothes, he was a not inconsiderable figure in any company, for Cerberus St. Jean was a giant of a man, well over six feet in height and nearly as wide, with massive shoulders and skin the smooth ebony color of brewed coffee.

The son of slaves brought to England a generation before, St. Jean was a native-born English freeman. He had been educated as a son of the household in which his parents had once served, and had matriculated at Cambridge. There, he had been recruited by Wessex's own master, and was one of the few of Wessex's fellow politicals with whom the Duke maintained a public relationship, for St. Jean's intelligence-gathering was of necessity confined to domestic soil, though through his startling talent for impersonation, he could take on a dozen parts and play them out flawlessly, from Limehouse slavey to emigr Marquis.

Wessex had been introduced to St. Jean for the first time more than a year ago, when his own duties had been focused more on the sifting of gathered intelligence and less upon the gathering of it. In his last dangerous mission to France, Wessex's face had become too well known in high places, and Baron Misbourne had decreed that Wessex must be withdrawn from the field, lest the potential scandal surrounding the Duke of Wessex's hidden life become embarrassingly public. Misbourne also spoke these days of Wessex resigning his commission in the Army and taking his seat in Parliament -- a seat which had stood vacant since his father's death fifteen years before -- but such a step had a ring of finality to it against which Wessex's soul rebelled. The dangerous masquerade of a political had been his only life since his University days, and he could not imagine what he would do if it were denied to him.

Still, it had been something of a relief to move upward from the strictly-enforced ignorance of a field agent to mastery of more of the inner workings of the White Tower Group. Wessex's social circle -- necessarily apolitical due to his relationship with the King -- was much drawn these days from the ranks of those who also served their country in this clandestine fashion, men such as Cerberus St. Jean.

"I've come to give you the word about some gentlemen that you may meet this afternoon. Lord White--" (this was the albino Misbourne's work-name, in the event he must be spoken of outside the walls of the house on Bond Street) "--has received intelligence that trouble is brewing in the Colonies, and you will be in the company of many of the New Albion lords to-day."

"Trouble is always brewing in the West," Wessex answered. "Devil take it, St. Jean, have you nothing more specific for me than a watching brief, on this day of all days?"

Wessex had only made a few brief visits to the New Albion colonies over the past ten years, and had never been briefed in-depth upon Albionese political affairs, though he knew in the most general way that the Tower was active there.

St. Jean bent to retrieve his drink. The crystal tumbler was dwarfed by the size of his enormous hand.

"Only that you must pay attention to the Albionese lords today -- who they speak to, and who speaks to them. Now that they must pay for the labor they once exacted as of right, the plantations, especially those in Virginia and the Carolinas that border on Louisianne, complain that they will be bankrupt. Lord White is concerned that this talk may become open rebellion, which we cannot afford while the Tyrant holds Europe."

"They are squeezed very hard," Wessex, who knew only what everyone knew about the Americas, commented. "With the Mississippi and the Port of Nouvelle-Orlans closed to them, the cost of shipping their goods out of an Atlantic port doubles their costs. Still, I find it hard to sympathize with their distress that slavery has ended. Men are not cattle to be bought and sold."

The matter of full abolition -- for French and Spanish interests in the New World were still a ready market for slaves -- had preoccupied Parliament for almost 20 years. Since 1772 there had been no slavery on native English soil, and any slave brought to England was manumitted with his first step onto English soil. By 1778, this was true of all four of the United Kingdoms.

The Abolitionists, led by, among others, Olaudah Equiano of Cambridgeshire, himself once a slave, drew their membership from every level of society. Even King Henry himself had spoken in their favor, and at last the tide of special interest had turned. In March of this year, the King had been able to put his imprimatur upon the bill put forward by William Wilberforce, to abolish the slave trade in all its particulars in Britain and her New World dominions -- Prince Rupert's Land and New Albion -- as well. No longer would British ships carry a human cargo to foreign ports, nor would any Englishman be permitted to hold slaves, no matter the country of his birth and residence.

"Still, they will resent it," St. Jean said mildly. "And to enforce the law will gain the Crown few friends. The question is, how desperate will resentful men become? You are as well aware as I that we are hard-pressed to find men to put into the field to do better what you may be able to do here -- that is, discover who our enemies are, and what plans they entertain for our future."

"We are losing too many agents in France," Wessex said broodingly, his mind turning on another and more familiar pain. "If only I--"

"Were there," St. Jean finished for him, "we would lose you as well. Tallyrand seems to know our dispositions before we make them. And did he lay hands upon you, my friend, there would be no quiet execution in the Tulleries, as Cornwall and Forester faced last month, but a vast public outcry. Spain is neutral now, but if she were to see any indication that heretics are meddling in the affairs of a Catholic nation, she would declare instantly for France, and once she did, Portugal would join her, out of fear of the Beast if nothing else."

That much was true. Those countries not already under Napoleon's yoke performed a delicate balancing act of check and counter-check upon one another. Pitt's Catholic Emancipation Act six years before had been the price of peace with Ireland --nothing must be allowed to disrupt the fragile network of European alliances, neither ancient feuds nor present grudges. Spain's defection would be nearly as great a disaster as a Colonial revolt.

"Yet it is only a matter of time before Tallyrand gains something that he will wish to use to public advantage, even though it could end his catspaw's usefulness. We know it was this secret informant who caused him to lead Fox on with the negotiations for a treaty he had no intention of making. If only we could stop this leakage."

"To do that, we must find the member of the Tower who has access to such sensitive information -- and even that is not an easy matter."

Though Wessex spoke of the matter so glibly, there were only three men in England who knew for a fact that there was a traitor somewhere within the walls of the White Tower. Baron Misbourne had broached the matter with Wessex over a year ago, but Wessex had already suspected the traitor's existence, and more -- that the turncoat had led his double life for more than twenty years. When Wessex's father had voyaged to France to rescue the Dauphin, then a child of eight, Andrew, Duke of Wessex, had vanished without a trace. And the only men who could have betrayed him were those who had sent him -- the White Tower itself.

And so, when Misbourne asked, Wessex had agreed to hunt Misbourne's traitor and his own, using any means to do so. He had recruited St. Jean to help him because a domestic political -- and one who had not even been a member of the White Tower Group when Andrew, Duke of Wessex, had vanished fifteen years before -- could not possibly be their Judas.

"You have not told me all you came to say," Wessex said. What St. Jean had told him so far was no more than he already knew --not reason enough to make a visit, especially today, for all that the Polite World knew St. Jean as a gaming crony of the Duke's.

"I have heard, from -- other sources -- that under cover of this wedding, one of the Black Pope's spymasters is to come to London to meet with his agent. I am to report to Lord White today -- what shall I tell him?" St Jean's face was troubled.

"Tell him nothing," Wessex said brutally. St. Jean reported his discoveries directly to Wessex, and to Wessex alone. If their game was discovered, Wessex was to allow everyone to believe that simple vengeance motivated him. "I will take responsibility for it, if anyone must."

St. Jean opened his mouth to protest, but at that moment there was a discrete scratching at the door.

"Her Grace, Your Grace," Buckland announced.

The church-spires still cast long blue shadows as the great Ducal

coach rumbled heavily along the street. It was drawn by six heavy-boned Frisians, for like many things in the Duke's vicinity, it was not at all what it seemed. The lacquered oak panels in the ducal colors of silver and green concealed armor plating thick enough to stop a round from a Baker rifle. Its axles held retractable blades that could cripple the horses of an encroaching team, and its interior harbored many secrets, among them brace of concealed pistols. Because of these things, among others, it was not a vehicle built for speed. But on this day, speed was not a matter of concern.

Wessex sat back on the deep green squabs of the bench and regarded his bride. The roof of the coach was high enough so that her egret-feather headdress was in no danger of being crushed. Her cowled cloak of deep rose velvet, lined in satin to match the dress, was pooled about her on the seat, while her dress, stretched and pulled by the archaic hoops, was a quizzical sight.

"We shall make good time, I think, until we enter the City," Wessex observed. "Fortunately, Buckland was good enough to induce Mrs. Beaton to pack us a hamper, or else we might well perish of hunger before the wedding- breakfast."

Sarah's eyes flashed in the dimness of the coach's interior as she inspected the chronometer set into the wall of the coach. "Eight-fifteen," she sighed.

Though a notorious early riser -- as Wessex, given his preference, was not -- the Duchess disliked both confinement and enforced idleness. The prospect of five hours spent sitting in a coach as it inched its way along the street was not one she delighted in. "I suppose we couldn't just have walked?" she said hopefully.

"Indeed we could not," her husband said repressively, though his mouth quirked. "Persons so notoriously high in the instep as the Duke and Duchess of Wessex could not be seen cavorting about the public street in the guise of an infantry regiment."

"No doubt you are correct, my lord," his dutiful spouse replied. "Rupert, who was that who called upon you this morning? I saw a horse standing in the street."

The percipient question brought Wessex's thoughts abruptly back to his distasteful duties. At the wedding breakfast this afternoon, he must be sure to speak to the representatives of the Colonies -- particularly Catholic Marylandshire, chartered in 1635 and a hotbed not only of the Old Religion, but of those who still wished to see a Catholic monarch upon the throne of England. The only good thing about the accession of Napoleon was that the Jacobites could no longer scheme to make common cause with France, now only nominally a Catholic nation. As for Virginia, Dutch New York, and Quaker Pennsylvania--

"Rupert, you are not attending." Sarah's voice held an edge, perceptible even over the sound of the wheels.

"I am indeed. I am merely hoping not to be called upon to answer the question."

"Oh." Sarah's voice went flat with realization. "It is one of those acquaintances, then."

Wessex did not answer. Sarah regarded him unhappily. Though she accepted his work, she hated being shut out of it.

"It is merely a matter of idle political gossip," Wessex said lightly, trying to cheer her mood. "I would be a poor husband were I to tax your patience with talk of matters as far from your interests as New Albion's factionalism."

"Far! New Albion is America! Rupert, I was born there!" Sarah said indignantly.

"But not in this America," Wessex reminded her. Not for the first time, he tried to imagine Sarah's world -- English colonies unthinkably divorced from English rule to become an independent nation without a king, an ally of France. The England she described was even more alien -- a land ruled by German princes, whose cruel taxation had driven her colonies into revolt. As always, the attempt defeated him. The Stuarts were the true kings of England. They had ruled wisely and justly for over 200 years --since Charles' time -- through the Great Marriage and their pacts with the Oldest People.

"It cannot be so very different," Sarah said sulkily. She had told Wessex that she had known very little of England before her journey here, and so she had seen very little difference between one England and another. Had she remained in her birth-place, and journeyed only between worlds, the shock might well have been greater.

"Perhaps not," Wessex agreed. "It is certainly little different from Europe -- for here, as there, France and England war, and who can say which shall be the master?"

estminster Abbey was filled with the massed nobility of England,

her colonies and her allies, as the work of more than five years of diplomatism came at last to its conclusion -- the marriage that would secure a Protestant princess for England, and a Danish ally for the Grand Alliance.

Inside the Abbey, the air was stiflingly warm, filled with the scents of perfume and incense. The church blazed with candles, their flame adding to the heat. There was a constant rustling as the standing spectators shifted position, overheated in their velvets and jewels.

James Charles Henry David Robert Stuart, Prince of Wales and Duke of Gloucester, stood before the Arch- Bishop of Canterbury, awaiting his bride with a good impersonation of impatience. He was dressed entirely in white satin and silver lace, against which his chestnut hair and grey eyes shone to advantage. A coronet of rose gold, newly-commissioned for the ceremony, rested upon his perspiring brow.

Supporting him upon this occasion were his four brothers in marriage, for Prince James was the youngest of five, and the only boy. His four sisters had married, variously, Leopold, a prince of Saxe-Colburg-Gotha, Duncan, a Scots laird of the ancient royal line, Alexander, a Russian Grand Duke, and Earl Drogheda of the Anglo-Irish nobility. Their marriages, much as Jamie's own, had been made for political reasons, for the web of kinship among the nobility was a web of expediency, as well. Three of the men were in their uniforms, and that was a sore point with Jamie as well, for he had long been denied the chance to serve in Britain's army.

But at this moment, all was forgotten, as Jamie's bride made her appearance at the head of the aisle.

Princess Stephanie Julianna of Denmark was tall and fair and hoydenish, but today even the most precious high stickler could find no fault in her appearance or conduct. Her wedding dress was of pale gold silk, oversewn with pearls and brilliants. Her train was edged with the same lace that made up her veil, and both stretched for yards behind her. These items were managed by eight of her Ladies in Waiting in full court dress, among them the Duchess of Wessex.

Today the princess would exchange her Danish tiara for an English crown, and those who had brought her to this place all breathed a grateful sigh of relief. Up until the very last moment it had been possible that the princess's madcap sense of humor would lead her to elope once more, leaving her household to search for her in vain. That would mean the ruin of the treaty, for her brother, Prince Frederick, was a profoundly humorless man. But in a few short moments the ceremony would be completed, and the Danish Minister waited in a private chamber within the Abbey itself to present the treaty for the Prince-Regent's seal.

Stephanie reached the altar and stopped. Her ladies in waiting arranged her train and withdrew to the side.

The Archbishop pronounced the words of the ceremony, and as he did, the air of expectation among the onlookers grew. Few of them would ever participate in a magic greater than this -- the joining of a Prince of the Blood Royal to his bride.

At last the vows were exchanged, the rings blessed and presented. As Prince Jamie sealed his promise with a kiss, the word was passed to the waiting citizenry, and the crowds that had been gathering in the streets since midnight erupted in wild cheering.

And the thing was done.

The Prince and Princess were presented to King Henry, both kneeling to him as his subjects. There was a moment to sign the book, and then the newlyweds promenaded from the church to be escorted back to St. James Palace through streets filled with cheering humanity.

The nobility which had witnessed their joining was left to follow them as best it could.

The Palace of St. James was located between St. James Park and

Green Park, just south of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. To its east, Buckingham House had been renovated to house the household of the Prince and Princess, and would soon play host to its young master and mistress. But the seat of government still rested within the red brick walls of St. James, where the martyred Charles I had spent his last night on earth. His son had defiantly vowed that the Stuarts would reign there for ever after, and from that day to this the Stuart line had boldly held court within those same red walls.

Today the whole kingdom was Henry's guest. Pavilions had been set up on the grounds, dispensing wine and roast meat to all who cared to partake, as well as paper favors printed with the likenesses of the Prince and Princess. Dancing floors had been laid among the trees, and musicians played for all who cared to dance.

Within the Palace itself, the King played host to such important men as the Earl of Malhythe, Baron Grenville, and the Lords Lieutenant of both New Albion and Ireland, all of whom had come to witness the treaty. Even Prince Frederick was here, to grudgingly witness his sister's wedding, and to sign the Danish Treaty into existence.

The Duke of Wessex moved about the edges of the gathering like the wraith at the feast. He had escorted Sarah here, and she would rejoin him at table, but for the moment she was elsewhere in the Palace, attending the Princess.

His place was here, seeking out information. But what information? Somewhere in London a French spymaster met with his English agent: was it here? Wessex gazed at a party of Colonial lords: Jefferson, Jackson, Burr. He had received a general briefing on the Albionese political situation several months ago, but all but the broadest details were hazy. He did, however, recognize the three men before him -- each of whom, in his way, was important in New Albion political life.

The Earl looked calm and even content: he ruled Britain's presence in the New World with an Augustinian detachment, presiding over the turbulent New Albion Parliament which met in Philadelphia, the colonial capital, a location equally-inconvenient to all the delegates.

Burr and Jackson were another matter; a badger and a fox each intent upon an independent New World kingdom, each for his own purposes. Jackson had spoken openly of clearing the Indians from the land to make way for British colonists, though he had not received much support for the notion. Burr was more subtle, spoke beguilingly of the vast mineral wealth of the New World that lay fallow for men of vision to harvest. The lure of gold was powerful, and Burr was a persuasive man. If he managed to raise enough support among the New Albion lords, and somehow raise an army . . . .

If only, Wessex thought wistfully, it were as simple as shooting him. But political murder created more problems than it solved. Better to watch enemies you knew than destroy them and drive their fellows underground.

He accepted a glass of wine from a server, moving on through the press of celebrants -- each intent more upon his own interest than upon the wedding celebrated here today -- until he had reached Lord Malhythe.

Colworth Rudwell, the Earl of Malhythe, was in some sense a colleague of Lord Misborne. He was a conscious epigone, even in the 19th century preferring the powdered wig and ruffles of an earlier age. Like Wessex, the late Charles James Fox, and half the peers of England, Malhythe could trace his lineage back to Good King Charles. He was attached to the Horse Guards in some inexplicit fashion, coordinating the reports from the Army's Exploring Officers and sharing the information where needed. He and Misbourne had clashed several times in jurisdictional disputes as military and political intelligence fought for primacy.

"My lord Earl." Wessex bowed. "A great day for England, is it not?"

"A better day when the Heir is born. Then His Highness can extinguish himself upon the battlefield as he likes, without fear of opening the throne to a German prince."

It had become clear that soon King Henry must permit his Army-mad heir to go to war, or else go himself. The scope of the war expanded every year, and Wessex suspected that in generations to come, a man's measure would be taken by the list of his triumphs in this great conflict.

"As you say, sir. But securing Denmark as our ally seems to me to be a great cause for rejoicing," Wessex answered with studied mildness.

"If only because England has been the midwife of peace between Denmark and Russia," Malhythe riposted.

Wessex smiled to himself. The Grande Alliance fought only slightly more fiercely against Napoleon than it did within its own membership.

He was about to say more, when a motion at the doorway stopped him. He turned toward the movement, as he did hearing Malhythe bite down upon a fervent oath of displeasure.

The man standing in the doorway, supporting himself upon a tall ivory cane, was dressed in black velvet and diamonds. The tail of his silvery wig cascaded down his back.

Wessex knew him. All the players of the Shadow Game knew him. But what in the name of the infernal saints was Baron Warltawk doing at Prince James' wedding breakfast?

He excused himself hastily from Malhythe, moving toward Warltawk. But before he could reach him, Sarah had appeared at his side.

"Wessex!" she said, pleased at having located him in the press of the crowd. "I just saw the Lord Chamberlain--" she broke off, gazing at the peculiar figure in black velvet, who was moving slowly among the press of guests. "Who is that?"

"In his youth they called him 'Warltawk Kingbreaker'," Wessex said meditatively. "He is a Jacobite who fled abroad in '69, and has lived virtually retired since the Revolution forced him home again. And I wonder very much what he is doing here."

The bell signalling that it was time to go in to breakfast chimed, and Wessex and his lady sought their places in the order of precedence.

"Is he important, this Warltawk?" Sarah asked as they rode toward

Herriard House at the end of a day of toasts and speeches. The festivities had dragged on until there was barely enough time for the wedding guests to retreat and prepare themselves for the various balls and routs of the coming evening.

"He was once," Wessex said uncomfortably. "Sarah, I do not wish to involve you--"

"Pooh!" said his wife roundly. "You are involved -- how can I not be? And if it is gossip you want, who better than I -- a weak and feeble woman -- to get it for you?"

Wessex sighed. His better self warred against his practical nature, and, as usual, lost. "What I want to know," he said, gazing at the roof of the coach, "is who he sees, and why. Especially if it is any of the Albionese."

Abruptly, he wondered where Sarah would stand upon the question of a New World revolution. In her world, such revolutionaries were looked upon as heroes.

"Anything else?" Sarah asked helpfully.

Wessex shook his head. He never forgot that the enemies of England could make his wife a pawn on the chessboard of Europe, and what she did not know, she could not reveal. There were secrets he must keep, even from her.

Herriard House was forty covers at dinner. Tables had been brought from

storage, and the doors between the dining room and the withdrawing room thrown open to accommodate the vast length of linen-draped table. Most of those attending would go from here to the Wedding Ball being given at Buckingham House this evening, and even the Duke and Duchess of Wessex would make a token appearance there before returning to preside over their own festivities.

Looking down the table, Wessex had a moment's fervent wish for the presence of his partner, Illya Koscuisko. The volatile Pole was a master of disguise, and would have no difficulty in ferreting out the things Wessex so urgently wished to know. But Koscuisko was still able to operate upon the continent, and had been away on assignment for several months.

Warltawk's presence in London complicated things. Wessex was looking for a French spymaster and an English agent. Wessex had run agents in his time, and knew that a man would have to be mad to attempt to recruit Warltawk, so it was unlikely the man was a French agent. Nor could Warltawk be running agents of his own -- the former Kingbreaker was too closely watched for that. But if Warltawk were neither agent nor spymaster he must be playing at a different game.

To find out what it was, Wessex needed an ally. Suddenly, he smiled.

It had just occurred to him where to look for one.