3

A few weeks after the wedding, Lady Farelle and the new Lady Channing sat together in Lady Farelle's sitting room. The bride's family had departed some days before and were by now safely home. That morning Lord Farelle had taken his sons into the city to attend court for the day and meet with some of his supporters. Charles had already set off for another 'art trip' and Lord Dielle had retreated to his study as his leg was acting up again, leaving the women to an almost peaceful quiet.

"What are you writing?" Anabella asked as the scratching of Mary's pen paused and the sounds of distant clippers drifted in from the garden.

"A history," Lady Farelle said as she twirled the pen. "I am the family records keeper, so I need to write everything down."

"Oh yes, Charles told me you have to keep track of the births, deaths and marriages for the whole Dielle line."

"Mmhm," she nodded in agreement as Anabella glanced down at the letter she was writing to her youngest brother. "But this is a history not just of our family but of the Internecion."

"Really?" Anabella breathed. "Can you write such things now?"

The smile Mary turned towards her was positively wicked and she felt her own lips twitching in response.

"I can write whatever I please as long as no one else can read it," she replied and turned to the beginning of the book she was writing in.

"The peaceful period officially ended with King Edric's ascension to the throne, though the actual violence did not begin for several years. The witch hunts began with commoners, when known witches and warlocks of some renown began disappearing from their homes during the night. At first it was thought that a small group of magic haters were behind the attacks, but all too soon it became apparent that the crisis came from much higher up. Soldiers were seen at the scenes of disappearances and people began to fear the government was involved. Next the marquises began to suffer the ill-will of their king," she read aloud.

"Until the Internecion, the rank of marquis had been primarily held by the heads of sorceresses' houses. The marquises had normally gained their positions by their ancestors' magical services to the king, and their children had the inherited magical ability that made them so much more powerful than a witch or warlock. Entire noble families began disappearing from court, their ancestral houses were found completely destroyed, their magical barriers broken, and no one emerged from the rubble to tell the tale. Once a sufficient number had been eliminated to make a full resistance impossible, the king began carrying out his Internecion publicly against the commoners, ordering all witches and warlocks rounded up and handed over to the army on accusations of treason.

Many tried to flee the kingdom, but few even of the noble families were able to escape the king's troops, who employed their own warlocks to track down fugitives. One lord who pointed out the irony of this disappeared as well though he was known to have no magical connections. This attack upon a non-magic user sent a wave of fear through the titled community and many from the border provinces withdrew to their lands, claiming that instability there prevented them from attending court. So far a few of the known sorceress families have survived, mostly due to their long friendship with the crown and strategic alliances."

They both laughed as Mary finished reading, knowing exactly what she referred to.

"Now you read it," she said, handing the book to her sister-in-law.

Mary took the volume eagerly, ready to read all the deepest secrets of the genocide that had been going on for a generation, but those were not written on the page she saw. "Add three pinches cardamom and a spoonful of brown sugar—but where's your history, Mary?"

"That's the trick," Mary replied as she took the volume back.

There was a rap at the door and a footman bowed his way in. "Lady Farelle, Lady Channing, I am afraid we have some visitors," he said quickly.

Anabella had yet to see any of the Dielle servants so flustered and Mary's sudden alertness as she jumped from her seat and looked around the room did nothing to ease her fears. The very word 'afraid' carried so many dangerous possibilities that she did not want to think about.

"What?" she began to ask but there was no time as they heard several sets of footsteps in the hall.

The footman jumped from the way as the door was thrown open and several men in dark uniforms entered the sitting room without so much as an introduction or a word of excuse.

"How pleasant of you all to visit again so soon after your last inspection," Mary said without a trace of irony in her calm voice, though Anabella knew the other woman must be seething. "I see the Captain is not with you today?"

Anabella was on her feet in a second, in part from the rules of etiquette that had been drilled into her since childhood, and in part from outrage at their peace having been disturbed in such a manner. She recognized these uniforms now, they had been pointed out to her once as the Purple Division of the royal guards, those in charge of hunting down magic users. The soldier who led the group looked at Mary as if she was an insignificant bother before fixing an appraising look on Anabella.

"I'm afraid the Captain was very busy today. It looks like we have almost caught the trail of several traitors who were hiding in the Darkweld Forest." He looked between them, but neither woman showed any emotion at the news.

"Well I hope all traitors are brought to proper justice," Anabella said as her eyes drifted over the other men in the room. Mary seemed nonplussed as these invaders poked through their belongings, taking books from the shelves and looking under cushions.

"Thank you m'lady," the man in charge said. "I am Lieutenant Worthington, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Anabella nodded a dignified acknowledgement. "Greetings Lietenant. May I enquire as to the reason for this intrusion?"

He looked taken aback for a moment and glanced towards Mary, but she was merely smiling faintly, a glazed look in her eyes. "We are conduction an inspection, m'lady."

"What sort of inspection?" she demanded, frowning as one of the soldiers looked underneath the writing table. "Pests, structural, is this a tax evaluation?"

He smirked slightly at her uninformed questions, not noticing the warning look that passed between the two women. "This is a magical household," he said with a nod towards Mary, "as per the Magical Secrecy and Prevention of Treason Act royal guards are allowed to search a private home if they have reason to believe traitors might be using it to hide from the authorities."

"And?" she demanded, causing the other soldiers to pause and look around.

"And so we are here ma'am."

"Are you accusing this house of treason?" she demanded and the Lieutenant blinked. "I have never heard such a ridiculous, libelous lie in my life!"

Mary's glazed look had shifted slightly more towards shocked and she looked between Anabella and the Lieutenant quickly, as if not sure which one was more dangerous.

"It is merely routine m'lady," he said in what he seemed to think was a kindly voice. "We check all known magical household on a regular basis. It is always possible traitors are hiding in your midst without your knowledge, and we are here to find them," he said slowly, as if explaining to a child and as if he really believed the lie.

"May I see that?" a soldier asked, indicating the book in Lady Farelle's hands as he finished with the bookshelf.

She let him take it without so much as a word or a dark look, merely shrugging as he opened the volume. Anabella was shocked at such behavior. She had heard that she would have to play dumb and docile if questions were asked, but letting them rifle through personal belongings without so much as a protest was beyond her imagining.

"Three pinches of cardamom," he read out to his superior before flipping the pages. "Two handfuls of pecans and a hmm." He flipped the pages again and again, finding several pages of recipes and a great deal of empty space.

"May I see those papers?" another asked, pointing to the letter Anabella was still holding. She glanced down at her brother's cramped script and the half page of her response before looking up at the soldier.

"You most certainly may not!" The room went very quiet as everyone turned to look at her. "This is my private correspondence, and no one may look at it, not even my husband."

"M'lady," their leader said with a roll of his eyes, "in accordance with the Regulation of Magic act we are permitted to search the belongings of all know magic users."

"Do I look like a witch to you?" she sneered back causing him to snap out of his lazy disinterest. "I'm sure you can tell sir and would have had me dragged away and beheaded in a ditch by now if I was." The assembled company winced and the Lietenant stared back at her in mild horror. "Do not think sir, that just because I am a foreigner and a lady I do not know what occurs in this once glorious kingdom. My esteemed father would hardly have consented to my residence here if it would put me in so great a danger. I am no witch and certainly no sorceress, you may not read my papers, you may not search my belongings and you had better hurry up with whatever business you do have here for I will set the dogs on you if you so insult me again."

Beside her Mary was struggling to keep a straight face, torn between amusement and horror.

"Look here," the Lieutenant began to say and Anabella was immediately offended at his tone.

"I am no child for you to lecture," she said shrilly, cutting him off. He was obviously not used to such treatment and floundered for words as she trudged on. "Do you know who I am?" she demanded, her face flushing and her voice rising. After the months of confinement and tears, after her hasty marriage and separation from her family and old life, after giving up her son and being told that she could not have another lest these men come to take everyone away, the opportunity for indignant and self-righteous rage was too much.

"I am the Lady Anabella va Margate! I am Lady Channing and I will be the next Marquise of Dielle. My father is Lord Donghai and he will not stand for such disrespectful treatment of his daughter," she said, taking a step towards the Lieutenant.

"I have always got everything I want, sir. I have never had anyone tell me 'no,' sir, and I have never put up with disrespect from my inferiors, that includes you."

"I am a Lieutenant in His Majesty's Special Regiment of the Royal Guards!"

"Rank obviously does not make up for lack of breeding," she snipped.

"I will not take such disrespected for my position and by extension his Majesty!"

"Perhaps you should endeavor to better represent your king," she offered. "When I was at the Brieman court the Palace Guards were models of fine breeding and discretion. And everyone knows that the King of Kahechka does not have mere men to guard him in keeping with his position."

"Such foreign triffles do not impress or concern me," he barked, stepping towards the lady. She merely glared back at him, her arms crossed.

"Leave, you intolerably rude man, and take these," she waved her hand at the other soldiers, "things, with you. They are not fit to be in a noble house for they act as monkeys."

"You will not-"

"Out of my house!" she ordered and the soldiers behind her began moving towards the door.

"Do you wish to be arrested for interfering with our investigation m'lady?" he smirked as if he had won but if anything her defiant look grew more pronounced.

"Do you wish to start a war?" she demanded, "I'm sure his Majesty would be delighted to know a lowly Lieutenant had enraged this nation's most important trading partner. If anything were to happen to me my father would be inconsolable," she smirked back in his face. "Something I am sure your superiors will be aware of."

The Lieutenant glowered before glancing around at his men. "Have you found anything?"

"No sir," they reported.

"Then we are done for now." He turned his glare back to the women and fixed it on Anabella. "We will be back again m'lady, the law requires it."

"Then I will be more prepared to receive you," she replied in a falsely sweet voice.

"Anabella," Mary said quietly some time after they had left. Her former amusement was dying away as she realized the possible reactions to her sister-in-law's actions. "We do not have any dogs, well except father's two hunters and we certainly don't keep any in the house. Dogs tend to not like magic."

"Well I am going to get some," the still fiery lady replied. "Father had always said there is nothing for a busybody like several rows of sharp teeth."


The next time the royal guards came for a surprise inspection, not only were they announced by a horrendous clamor of howls and yammers, but they were aware of being watched from all sides as they rode towards the house. There was but a low fence blocking the path of a pack of snarling beasts and every man was sure that the dogs would leap it as soon as they were past. When the footman answered the door and led them into the drawing room the Lieutenant sent his Captain a smug look as they were greeted by a snarl from the wolfish creatures on either side of Lady Channing's chair. Only that lady looked completely relaxed for the other Dielles seemed almost as nervous as the soldiers.

"Behave boys," she cooed and stroked the manes of her new pets. "I think they like you Captain," she laughed, the girlish giggle sounding out of place amid the tension of the room.

"What manner of magical beast is that?" the stout man demanded. He refused to quake before heathens such as these, but facing such creatures had never been part of his job before as magicians almost never kept dogs.

"Oh no magic involved at all!" she exclaimed. "These are some of the wolf-dogs of Kahechka, raised by the King himself and only given to the most favored nobles. These darlings are from His Greatness' own pack. When my father heard that we had trespassers stealing from the orchards he sent them immediately with His Greatness' compliments." She paused to smile at the assembled men. "I am happy to report there have been no more trespassers since their arrival."

Beside the fireplace her husband cleared his throat in what might have been an aborted laugh before quickly regaining his composure.

"Well no trespassers that have survived," she amended.

"How-how did you get such highly valued er dogs?" the Lieutenant asked as a pair of gleaming black eyes watched his every movement.

"I told you on your last inspection that I had been to Kahechka," Anabella said with the same condescending tone he had previously used towards her. "His Greatness and I got on quite well and he wanted to send me a suitable wedding present."

"What makes these beasts so special?" the Captain demanded as he noted the one watching his lieutenant.

"Each one is at least an eighth-part wolf and they've been raised on human flesh." She laughed at their horrified expressions while one ruffling the fur of the dog on her right. "Oh isn't it just barbaric? But they're the best guard dogs in the world."

The inspections continued, but from then on the soldiers made sure to come during daylight hours and to announce their presence as they came, just to be sure there were no accidents.