Lady Tamsyn and the Pixie's Curse
Her father inherited an earldom and a castle. Has Lady Tamsyn inherited a curse?
It's what it feels like when she discovers that she can see the truth behind the lies that men tell.
All she wanted on arrival at Keyvnor was to avoid Mr. Gryffyn Cardew, but in a sea of lies, he is the one who always tells her the truth.
Together they find that her curse might just be a gift—and their love the key to preventing a tragedy.
She’d been told not to wander. But the sun shone warm out here and the sky echoed blue against the sea and Castle Keyvnor was such a brooding, gloomy place. Tamsyn’s papa said it was their duty to visit, however, as he stood to inherit the Banfield earldom—and the castle came with it.
Such an odd, heavy sort of home. It sometimes felt as if the walls pressed down on her shoulders. The gardens were lovely, though, and as Tamsyn had just reached her fifteenth birthday, Nanny had agreed to allow her some time to spend outdoors and away from the schoolrooms and her four younger sisters.
Never would the nurse have allowed it had she known it was more than a bit of freedom that had lifted Tamsyn’s chin and set her heart to beating.
Mr. Gryffyn Cardew, to give him his due. She sighed. Tall and broad even at just three years older than she, he’d set her pulse to fluttering the first time they met. Apparently his family was important in local society and their land shared a narrow border with the old earl’s. They’d had a quick introduction when his father brought him along to the Castle on a bit of business, and there had been an exchange of interested, lingering glances between them.
And then—an encounter in the local village of Bocka Morrow. Nanny had been in a tizzy that day, trying to get her errands accomplished with all five girls underfoot. Gryff, encountering them in the street, had offered to give the girls a tour—and Nanny had gladly accepted.
He’d taken them rambling all over the little hamlet, from the docks where the fishing boats were unloading, to the shops and even to the dimly lit apothecary where he spooked the younger girls with tales of the wizened proprietress with odd, blue symbols etched on her fingers.
They’d met all manner of people that day, but Tamsyn never worried a moment. Gryff was as tall and sturdy as a young bull. He listened more than he spoke, although he had a dry wit. He showed a font of patience with her chattering sisters and she liked the way he greeted all and sundry with familiarity and ease.
She liked that he spent a great deal of time watching her, too. And that he answered her questions with attentive speed, and shared several more lingering glances and shy smiles as the day wore on.
“We’re to see a bit of Lord Banfield’s tin mine tomorrow,” she’d told him before they exchanged farewells—and thank heavens, he’d heard the invitation that she didn’t dare speak outright. For when they'd left the mine, there he’d come, riding along the coastal track when they headed home. He’d climbed down and walked with them, and if Nanny had glanced askance when they dropped back behind the girls, she hadn’t objected. Tamsyn was mad for horses and had greatly admired his mount. They’d spoken of the local hunt, of racing and purebreds for all the remaining twenty minutes of the walk.
But today—today was the most thrilling of all. A note had been left at her plate at breakfast. An invitation. He wished to show her a pretty spot in the woods, an ancient barrow where it was rumored the pixies danced on the night of the full moon.
She’d shivered. Was it odd to find the thought of a raised earthen burial mound romantic? She didn’t care. Tamsyn had tucked the note away before anyone saw and had spent the morning aquiver with excitement. Even now, moving through the formal gardens toward the distant path he’d indicated, the structured elegance was lost on her. She could only think of his broad shoulders, his large hands, those dark eyes and the way the sun shadowed his angled jaw and got lost in the depths of his dark hair.
She had to pay attention, however, as she moved farther away from the main grounds. Only a narrow strip of Cardew lands bordered the earl’s, and her destination lay on that edge.
Take the path by the gnarled oak
Tamsyn had seen it once before, in her wanderings. She’d caught a glimpse of a young boy a few days ago, and followed his enchanting giggle through the gardens. She’d called to him, but he’d merely laughed and ran on. She’d lost him near just such a tree, but had feared following him and getting turned around in the forest beyond.
She felt only anticipation now, though. And there was no sign of the boy or anyone else when she reached the tree. She took the chance, therefore, to stop and adjust her bodice.
Her walking dress was new—and marvelous. A bit lower cut than her usual gowns, it made her feel quite grown up. Which was why she’d worn it, even though the special stays she’d had made for it had somehow been left behind in Truro. She’d just made a few modifications—with the help of a couple of old lace-trimmed handkerchiefs she’d found in her bedchamber. As long as she kept to a careful and sedate pace, no one would ever know. And if there was a bit of a padded effect to that which had nature endowed her in that area—then so much the better.
With a final tug, she touched a twisted branch as she ducked past the tree and stepped into the dappled beauty of the forest beyond.
How lovely it was. Wild in comparison to the well-groomed paths she’d left and full of birdsong and the hum of insects. Everything shone in varied shades of green, lit by an occasional golden shaft of sun.
Navigate the fallen log over the stream
Not a very wide stream, thank goodness. Tamsyn balanced carefully—until she reached the middle, looked up and caught her breath at the sight of what lay at the end.
Cross the open meadow
She could see the open space, but before that, at the end of the log, was a gorgeous scene. Large shrubbery and a couple of draping trees had crowded close and formed a sort of bower to step through, and clustered beneath, at the edge of the stream, bloomed a riot of wildflowers. She spotted buttercups and kidney vetch and sea pinks. It was so lovely she hurried the rest of the way across, hopped down and bent to gather handfuls of blossoms.
A wayward branch snagged her hem. She leaned forward to free herself, then paused as she heard an odd, snuffling sound. Clutching her flowers close, she looked up—and froze.
A massive boar stood at the other end of the cleared meadow.
Huge. Heavy. Deadly.
Still making quiet sounds, it stood with its nose down and its head tilted oddly.
Tamsyn stifled a gasp of panic. Tried to think over the sudden, fearful racing of her heart. Grasping a branch for stability, she began to ease her way backwards, but another twig snagged her bodice, and another caught her sleeve.
Her fingers shook. The branch at her sleeve bent as she tried to free herself, then let go with a snap that rustled the rest of the tree—and sounded loud in the quiet.
The boar started and looked over at her.
Fear-laced fog invaded her brain. Tamsyn’s breath rasped as panic won. She struggled and wriggled and only succeeded in getting herself more entangled. Were the branches alive? Multiplying? She slapped and tugged and fought and at last, desperate as the boar straightened, still staring at her, she yanked backwards, ignoring the ominous sound of ripping fabric.
Something struck the back of her legs. The log? Another branch? She didn’t know. She only knew she was falling backward, her hands milling wildly and flowers flying everywhere.
Her bottom hit the log. Her legs flew up. Before she could catch a breath she’d rolled off of it and into the water with a splash.
It wasn’t deep.
It was cold.
She sat up, coughing, crying, wiping her eyes and trying to see if the wild beast was upon her.
It was gone.
She blinked. Checked again. The boar was gone and the meadow empty.
But her feet sat high on the bank and her bottom low in the stream. Her skirts were ripped, as was her bodice. A sea pink stuck in her hair and hung in her face. One of the lace-edged handkerchiefs spilled from her front and the other dangled from a tree above.
And laughter, deep, loud and heart-felt, echoed all around.
Mortification speared her. She wanted to sink into the ground. She wanted to slap the cad who laughed instead of coming to her aide.
Instead, heart breaking, she clutched her bodice close, climbed to her feet and fled back along the path to the gardens and the waiting, gloomy Castle.
* * *
How long had it been since he’d laughed?
A hundred years, at least.
But Tuft, ancient Pixie and caretaker of this forest, laughed now. A good, long, sidesplitting laugh too—the kind that comes up from your toes, rises and rips out into the world like an explosion.
An apt comparison. For a Pixie’s laugh is a magical thing. A young Pixie’s giggle can send a flower bursting into bloom. A mature Pixie’s chuckle can ripen all of the apples on a tree.
But Tuft’s laugh? It was of another caliber altogether.
Because of his age. Because of his vast experience with the ancient power of the earth. And yes, because of the rarity of it, too—Tuft’s laugh erupted out of him and across the forest on a wave of joyful magic.
A carpet of bluebells appeared in the meadow in the wake of the wave and nearby currant bushes burst forth with a late crop that would last until the first snow. The mass of trampled wildflowers repaired itself. The wave caught Tamsyn and cleared her few adolescent blemishes—permanently. It traveled just as swiftly behind them and found Gryff as he made his way near, and erased the bruise on his shin he’d got helping a tenant raise a plow from a ditch.
The magic that poured from Tuft healed the ailing boar that had come to him for help and been frightened off. It cleared the burn across its mouth and jaw that had come from a stream of mineral heavy, acidic water leaching from a nearby mine.
Most importantly, it tempered, tamed and transformed the heavy elements in the mine leak, accomplishing in an instant what would have been the work of a hundred years—and saving a multitude of animals from similar suffering.
The girl was long gone by the time Tuft finished laughing. He drew a deep breath as the small figure of young Master Paul from the Castle popped into the meadow. The ghostly boy looked around in wonder. “What happened?”
Tuft shrugged. “A good laugh.”
He said nothing further, just retreated back to the long, earthen barrow where the Pixies lived—but far, far away a pair of storm-grey eyes popped open and a creature no longer just a man turned a calculating gaze toward the Cornish coast.