1st June 1794
Today, Town will be nearly empty as the ton streams to the border between Wales and England, to a remote valley where the reclusive Duke of Bleidrich rules a fiefdom older than the four kingdoms.
Seldom does His Grace honour Town with his presence, and then to the benefit of Westminster rather than the rounds of Society. Never in living memory has he held a ball. What can be the reason? Is the duke in search of a duchess? Or can the rumours be true? Seven years ago, the duke installed a ward in the castle schoolroom, a maiden understood to be a younger daughter of Baron Whitleaf of Northern Lancashire. Will Isadora Whitleaf defy her humble origins to become the next Duchess of Bleidrich?
And if she does? No one can give details, but all agree there is something uncanny about the Bleidrichs.
1st July 1794
As Society stream back from the celebrations in Bleidrichvale, the Teatime Tattler has been able to confirm that the rumours about Miss Whitleaf were unfounded. The stated reason for the ball was to celebrate the eighteenth birthday of Lord Nathaniel Marrock, younger brother of the duke, before he left for his Grand Tour of those parts of the continent still available to travellers.
The true reason? Our editor has been told in confidence by several Grande Dames of the ton that His Grace was most attentive to their own particular charge. We have also heard from some of the young maidens, who described the duke as remote and scary. Given the gentleman’s high estate, we do not see this as an insuperable bar to matrimony, and even those who shivered at his silver eyes, did not deny him beauty of form to an unearthly degree.
He may be uncanny, but he is rich, titled, and handsome.
10th October 1794
In an update to our story several months ago about the Duke of Bleidrich and his ward, we have recently heard that Miss Whitleaf has married. And married not the master, but the schoolteacher. Marriage to the highest noble in the land would have been a considerable step up for Miss Whitleaf. Marriage to a village schoolmaster, even one who has been tutor to the younger son of a duke, must be seen as a descent.
But then, Miss Whitleaf, more than any, must know the truth about the Bleidrichs. Has she chosen the better part?
12th August 1804
Ten years ago, the Duke of Bleidrich raised hopes in the hearts of matchmaking mamas and their daughters, when he held a ball at his remote estate. And then, nothing. Until today.
Today, dear readers, the finest in the land have been stunned to receive an invitation to another ball in Bleidrichvale. What surprise has the duke in store for us? The Teatime Tattler will not venture to make a guess, but warns readers that the Bleidrichs are known to be uncanny.
24th August 1804
Isadora Harris, formerly Isadora Whitleaf, is the new Duchess of Bleidrich. Yes, dear reader, you read that aright. The Duke of Bleidrich has reached down into the commonality to lift up his bride.
His Grace travelled to the far reaches of Yorkshire to retrieve his widowed bride, marrying her by special license in York a scandalous five weeks after her husband’s death.
Furthermore, the lady comes with a considerable encumbrance in the way of a family. We have been unable to confirm how many are her own, and how many she and the eccentric Mr Harris added to their family by adoption, but we are told that the ducal nurseries, schoolroom, and dining table have been considerably expanded to add twenty-four place settings for the Harris children.
The correspondent we sent into Bleidrichvale has suffered an unaccountable memory lapse, and has been unable to tell us what else he has discovered. We will report soon.
24th September 1804
Sam Clemens sat at his desk, turning a sheet of paper over and over in his hand, staring at nothing.
Joe the printer, coming through from the workshop, stopped in the doorway.
“Fancy visitors, those, Sam.” Joe had stepped aside to let the lord and lady pass, being careful not to let his inky apron touch the lady’s fine silk.
Sam’s voice seemed to come from a distance. “Hmmm.”
“An advertisement? Not scandal. Not those two.” The man made Joe shiver: silver eyes under a dark wing of brow, and the lady was unusual, too. Eyes of forest green, and the loveliest face he’d ever seen. But they were no gossipmongers, that was for certain.
“I came for the front page, Sam. You said you were writing up the news from Yorkshire. About Bleidrich and the Harrises.”
Sam looked blankly at Joe, and then back at the sheet of paper. Joe moved closer, hoping it was the copy he needed, but it was blank.
“Story?” Sam seemed to shake himself awake. “No. There’s no story from Yorkshire.”
“No story? What am I to put on the front page?”
With a problem to solve, Sam was galvanised into action, and in the rush of moving things around, finding extra copy to fill spaces, and getting the paper to print, the weird incident was forgotten.
But later that night, as they sat over a celebratory mug of ale, Joe remembered where he had heard of silver eyes. “Sam,” he asked his editor, “was that the Duke of Bleidrich and his wife who came to see you today?”
“Yesterday,” Sam said, for it was three in the morning. And then his eyes went suddenly blank and he gave his head a quick shake as if to dislodge a blockage in his thoughts. “Bleidrich? Fine chance that would be. The duke in my newspaper office? No, Joe. You must have been dreaming.”
Someone was, Joe thought. But he wouldn’t mention it again. That way, there’d be no risk of drawing that silver gaze on him.
There was no doubt about it. There was something uncanny about the Bleidrichs.
To find out what happened ten years ago, and what brought about the marriage after a decade, read The Heart of a Wolf, a short story in Lost in the Tale. Lost in the Tale is released on 6 September. Buy links on Jude Knight’s website at http://judeknightauthor.com/books/lost-in-the-tale/
Come sample Jude’s wares in her second short story/novella collection
The Lost Wife: Teri’s refuge had been invaded: by the French, who were trying to conquer their land, and by wounded soldiers from the English forces sent to fight Napoleon’s armies. The latest injured man carried to her for nursing would be a bigger challenge than all the rest: he had once broken her heart. (short story)
The Heart of a Wolf: Ten years ago, Isadora lied to save her best friend, and lost her home and the man she loved when he would not listen to her. Ten years ago, Bastian caught his betrothed in the arms of another man, and her guilt was confirmed when she fled. Ten years on, both still burn with anger, but the lives of innocent children and the future of their werewolf kind demand that they work together. (short story)
My Lost Highland Love: Interfering relatives, misunderstandings, and mistranslations across a language barrier keep two lovers from finding one another again. The Earl of Chestlewick’s daughter comes to London from her beloved Highlands to please her father, planning to avoid the Englishman who married her and abandoned her. The Earl of Medford comes face-to-face with a ghost; a Society lady who bears the face of the Highland lass who saved his life and holds his heart. (short story)
Magnus and the Christmas Angel: Scarred by years in captivity, Magnus has fought English Society to be accepted as the true Earl of Fenchurch. Now he faces the hardest battle of all: to win the love of his wife. A night trapped in the snow with an orphaned kitten, gives Callie a Christmas gift: the chance to rediscover first love with the tattooed stranger she married. (short story)
The Lost Treasure of Lorne: For nearly 300 years, the Normingtons and the Lorimers have feuded, since a love affair ended in a curse that doomed dead Lorimers to haunt their home, the Castle of Lorne.
Now the last Marquis of Lorne, the last of the Lorimers, is one of those ghosts, and the Duke of Kendal, head of the House of Normington, holds the castle.
Kendal doesn’t care about the feud or the ghosts. He wants only to find the evidence that will legitimate the son his Lorimer bride bore him before her death, and to convince his stubborn housekeeper to marry him.
But the time allotted to the curse is running out, and his happiness depends on finding the Lost Treasure of Lorne before the 300 years draws to a close. (novella)