Nov 15 2012 5:00pm
Check out this excerpt from the sequel to Ruby Red—Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier:
Gwen’s life has been a rollercoaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the secret time-traveling Circle of Twelve. In between searching through history for the other time-travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she’s been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean.
At least Gwen has plenty of help. Her best friend Lesley follows every lead diligently on the Internet. James the ghost teaches Gwen how to fit in at an eighteenth century party. And Xemerius, the gargoyle demon who has been following Gwen since he caught her kissing Gideon in a church, offers advice on everything. Oh, yes. And of course there is Gideon, the Diamond. One minute he’s very warm indeed; the next he’s freezing cold. Gwen’s not sure what’s going on there, but she’s pretty much destined to find out.
London, 14 May 1602
The streets of Southwark were dark and deserted. The air smelled of waterweeds, sewage, and dead fish. He instinctively held her hand more tightly. “We ought to have gone straight along the riverside. Anyone could easily get lost in this tangle of alleyways,” he whispered.
“Yes, and there’s a thief or a murderer lurking around every corner.” She sounded pleased. “Wonderful, right? Much, much better than sitting in that stuffy room in the Temple building, doing homework!” She picked up the heavy skirts of her dress and hurried on.
He couldn’t suppress a grin. Lucy had a real gift for seeing the bright side of any situation in any historical period. Even Shakespeare’s England, which was supposed to be a Golden Age but looked distinctly sinister just now, held no terrors for Lucy. The opposite, if anything.
“A pity we never get more than three hours,” she said, as he caught up with her. “I’d have enjoyed Hamlet more if I hadn’t had to see it in installments.” She neatly avoided a squelchy puddle of mud. At least, he fervently hoped it was only mud. Then she performed a few dance steps and twirled around. “Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all . . . wasn’t that great?”
He nodded, and had to make a huge effort not to grin again. He grinned too often when he was with Lucy. If he didn’t watch out, he’d end up looking like some kind of village idiot.
They were on the way to London Bridge. It was a shame that Southwark Bridge, which would have been a much more convenient place for them to cross the river, wasn’t yet built. But they’d have to hurry if they didn’t want anyone at home to notice that they’d taken this secret trip to the early seventeenth century.
How thankful he would be to take off this stiff white ruff again! It felt like the big plastic collars that dogs have to wear after an operation.
Lucy turned the corner, making for the river. She still seemed to be thinking about Shakespeare. “How much did you give that man to let us into the Globe Theatre, Paul?”
“Four of those heavy coins—don’t ask me what they’re worth.” He laughed. “To him, they could well be a year’s wages.”
“Anyway, it worked. The seats were super.”
Walking fast, they reached London Bridge. Lucy stopped, as she had on their way to the theater, to look at the houses built right over the bridge. But he led her on.
“You know what Mr. George said: if you stand under a window too long, someone’s going to empty a chamber pot on your head,” he reminded her. “And you’ll draw attention to yourself.”
“You’d never know you were standing on a bridge, would you? It looks like a perfectly normal street. Oh, look, a traffic jam! It’s about time they built a few more bridges.”
Unlike the side streets, the bridge was crowded with people, but the carts, carriages, and litters trying to get across to the opposite bank of the Thames could hardly inch their way forward. From up ahead, Lucy and Paul heard voices, curses, horses neighing, but they couldn’t see exactly what was holding up the traffic. A man in a black hat leaned out of the window of a coach right beside them. His starched, white lace ruff came up to his ears.
“Isn’t there some other way across this stinking river?” he called to his coachman in French.
The coachman shook his head. “Even if there was, we can’t turn back—we’re stuck! I’ll walk on ahead and find out what’s happened. I’m sure it will start moving again soon, monsieur.”
Grunting something, the man put his head, complete with hat and ruff, back inside the coach, while the coachman climbed down and made his way through the crowd.
“Did you hear that, Paul? They’re Frenchmen,” whispered Lucy, delighted. “Tourists!”
“Yes, terrific, but we must go on. We don’t have much time left.” He vaguely remembered reading that, at some point, this bridge had been demolished and rebuilt later fifteen yards farther along the river. Not a great place for time travel, then.
They followed the French coachman, but after a while, the people and vehicles were crammed so close together that there was no way of getting through.
“I heard a cart carrying casks of oil caught fire,” said the woman just ahead of them, to no one in particular. “If they don’t watch out, the whole bridge will go up in flames.”
“Though not today, as far as I know,” murmured Paul, taking Lucy’s arm. “Come on, let’s retrace our footsteps and wait to travel back on that side of the river.”
“Do you remember the password? Just in case we don’t make it in time?”
“Something about gutting caves, wasn’t it?”
“Gutta cavat lapidem, you idiot. Dripping water wears away stone.” Laughing, she looked up at him, her blue eyes bright with pleasure, and suddenly he remembered what his brother Falk had said when he asked about the perfect moment for doing what he wanted to do. “I wouldn’t make long speeches if I were you. I’d just do it,” Falk advised him. “The girl can only slap your face, and then you’ll know.”
Of course Falk had wondered aloud exactly who the girl in question was, but Paul didn’t want any of those discussions beginning, “You do know, of course, that any links between the de Villiers and Montrose families are purely a business relationship?” and ending, “What’s more, all the Montrose girls are silly cows, and later on they get to be dragons like Lady Arista.”
Silly cows, indeed! That might apply to the other Montrose girls, but definitely not Lucy.
Lucy, whom he loved more every day, to whom he’d confided things he had never told another living soul. Lucy, someone you could literally—
He took a deep breath.
“Why have you stopped?” asked Lucy, but he was already leaning down to press his lips to hers. For three seconds, he was afraid she was going to push him away, but then she seemed to get over her surprise. She returned his kiss, at first cautiously, then putting her heart into it.
In fact this was anything but the perfect moment, and in fact they were also in a tearing hurry, because they might travel back in time any minute now, and in fact . . .
Paul forgot about the third “in fact.” Nothing counted but Lucy.
But then he caught sight of a figure in a dark hood and took a step back in alarm.
Lucy looked at him for a moment, rather annoyed, before she blushed and lowered her eyes. “Sorry,” she muttered, embarrassed. “Larry Coleman feels the same. He said I kiss like someone pushing a handful of unripe gooseberries into your face.”
“Gooseberries?” He shook his head. “And who on earth is Larry Coleman?”
Now she seemed totally confused, and he couldn’t even blame her. He had to straighten out the turmoil in his head somehow or other. He drew Lucy into the light of the torches, took her by the shoulders, and looked deep into her eyes. “Okay, Lucy: First, you kiss kind of like . . . like strawberries taste. Second, if I ever catch up with this Larry Coleman, I’ll punch his nose. Third, don’t forget just where we left off. But right at this moment we have a tiny little problem.”
Wordlessly, he pointed out the tall man who was now emerging from the shadow of a cart and strolling casually up. The newcomer leaned down to the Frenchman’s coach window.
Lucy’s eyes widened with alarm.
“Good evening, Baron,” said the man. He, too, was speaking French, and at the sound of his voice, Lucy’s fingers dug into Paul’s arm. “How delightful to see you. You’re a long way from Flanders.” And he pushed back his hood.
A cry of surprise came from inside the coach. “The bogus marquis! How do you come to be here? What does this mean?”
“I wish I knew, too,” whispered Lucy.
“Is that any way to speak to your own descendant?” the tall man cheerfully replied. “I’m the grandson of your grandson’s grandson, and although people like to call me the man with no name, I assure you that I have one. Several, in fact. May I join you in your coach? It’s not very comfortable standing here, and this bridge is going to be jammed for a good while yet.” And without waiting for an answer or looking around again, he opened the door and climbed into the coach.
Lucy had drawn Paul two steps aside, out of the circle of light cast by the torches. “It really is him! Only much younger. What are we going to do now?”
“Nothing,” Paul whispered back. “We can’t go up to him and say hello! We’re not supposed to be here at all.”
“But how come he’s here?”
“Just a stupid coincidence. He mustn’t see us, whatever happens. Come on, we have to reach the bank.”
However, neither of them moved from the spot. They were staring, spellbound, at the dark window of the coach, even more fascinated than they had been by the stage of the Globe Theatre.
“At our last meeting I made my opinion of you very clear.” That was the baron’s voice coming through the coach window.
“Yes, indeed you did!” The other man’s soft laughter brought Paul’s arms out in goose bumps, although he couldn’t have said why.
“My decision is still the same!” The baron’s voice shook slightly. “I will not hand over that diabolical device to the Alliance, whatever evil means you may employ to make me change my mind. I know you’re in league with the Devil.”
“What’s he talking about?” whispered Lucy. Paul just shook his head. Once again, they heard a soft laugh. “My blind, narrow-minded ancestor! How much easier your life—and mine as well!—could have been if you’d listened to me, not your bishop or those unfortunate fanatics of the Alliance. If only you had heard the voice of reason, instead of telling your rosary. If only you had realized that you are a part of something greater than all your priest says in his sermons.”
The baron’s answer seemed to consist of the Lord’s Prayer. Lucy and Paul heard him gabbling it under his breath.
“Amen!” said his visitor, with a sigh. “So that’s your last word?”
“You are the Devil incarnate!” said the baron. “Get out of my coach, and never let me set eyes on you again!”
“Just as you wish. There’s only one more little thing I should mention. I didn’t tell you before, so as not to agitate you unnecessarily, but on your tombstone, which I have seen with my own eyes, the date of your death is given as 14 May 1602.”
“But that,” said the baron, “that’s . . .”
“Today. Exactly. And it’s nearly midnight already.”
All that could be heard from the baron was a gasp.
“What’s he doing?” whispered Lucy.
“Breaking his own rules.” Paul’s goose bumps had spread right up to the back of his neck. “He’s talking about—” He interrupted himself, because a familiar queasy sensation was spreading through him.
“My coachman will be back at any moment,” said the baron, and now his voice was distinctly alarmed.
“Yes, I’m sure he will,” replied his visitor, sounding almost bored. “That’s why I’m going to cut this short.”
Lucy had moved her hand down to the region of her stomach. “Paul!”
“I know, I can feel it myself. Bloody hell. . . . We must run if we don’t want to fall into the middle of the river.” He seized her arm and pulled her on, taking care not to turn his face toward the coach window.
“You’re really supposed to have died in your native land from the effects of a severe attack of influenza,” they heard the other man saying as they slunk past the coach. “But since my earlier visits to you ultimately led to your presence here in London today, and it so happens that you are enjoying the best of health, the equilibrium of a rather sensitive state of affairs is now unbalanced. Correct as I am, I therefore feel it my duty to lend Death a helping hand.”
Paul was concentrating on the queasy feeling inside him and working out how far it still was to the bank, but all the same, the significance of those words seeped into his mind, and he stopped again.
Lucy nudged him in the ribs. “Quick!” she whispered, breaking into a run herself. “We have only a few seconds left!”
Feeling weak at the knees, Paul started off again, and as he ran and the nearby bank began to blur before his eyes, he heard a terrible if muffled scream from inside the coach, followed by a gasp of “you devil!” And then all was deathly quiet.
Today, at 1500 hours, Lucy and Paul were sent to elapse to the year 1948. When they returned at 1900 hours, they landed in the rose bed outside the window of the Dragon Hall, wearing early seventeenth-century costume and drenched to the skin.
They seemed to be very upset; they were talking wildly, and therefore, much against their will, I informed Lord Montrose and Falk de Villiers. However, there turned out to be a simple explanation for the whole affair. Lord Montrose said he still had a vivid recollection of the fancy-dress party held in the garden here in 1948, during which several guests, evidently including Lucy and Paul, had unfortunately landed in the goldfish pool after the excessive consumption of alcohol.
Lord Montrose had taken responsibility for this incident and promised to replace the two rosebushes they had ruined, “Ferdinand Pichard” and “Mrs. John Laing.” Lucy and Paul were strictly instructed to abstain from alcoholic beverages in future, no matter what the period.
From The Annals of the Guardians
18 December 1992
Report: J. Mountjoy, Adept 2nd Degree
Sapphire Blue © Kerstin Gier 2012