What manner of man, p.1
What Manner of Man, p.1Tanya Huff / Fantasy / Horror
I'm a huge fan of Georgette Heyer's regency novels so when Pat Elrod asked me to do a story for a historical vampire anthology she was editing, I asked, in turn, if I could use Regency England. Pat was agreeable and so Henry Fitzroy sat down to play cards.
WHAT MANNER OF MAN
Shortly after three o'clock in the morning, Henry Fitzroy rose from the card table, brushed a bit of ash from the sleeve of his superbly fitting coat and inclined his head toward his few remaining companions. "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I believe I'll call it a night. "
"Well, I won't excuse you. " Sir William Wyndham glared up at Fitzroy from under heavy lids. "You've won eleven hundred pounds off me tonight, damn your eyes, and I want a chance to win it back. "
His gaze flickering down to the cluster of empty bottles by Wyndham's elbow, Henry shook his head. "I don't think so, Sir William, not tonight. "
"You don't think so?" Wyndham half rose in his chair, dark brows drawn into a deep vee over an aristocratic arc of nose. His elbow rocked one of the bottles. It began to fall.
Moving with a speed that made it clear he had not personally been indulging over the course of the evening's play, Henry caught the bottle just before it hit the floor. "Brandy," he chided softly, setting it back on the table, "is no excuse for bad manners. "
Wyndham stared at him for a moment, confusion replacing the anger on his face, instinct warning him of a danger reason couldn't see. "Your pardon," he said at last. "Perhaps another night. " He watched as the other man bowed and left, then muttered, "Insolent puppy. "
"Who is?" asked another of the players, dragging his attention away from the brandy.
"Fitzroy. " Raising his glass to his mouth, his hand surprisingly steady considering how much he'd already drunk, Wyndham tossed back the contents. "He speaks to me like that again and he can name his seconds. "
"Well, I wouldn't fight him. "
"No one's asking you to. "
"He's just the sort of quiet chap who's the very devil when pushed too far. I've seen that look in his eyes, I tell you ¨C the very devil when pushed too far. "
"Shut up. " Opening a fresh deck, Wyndham sullenly pushed Henry Fitzroy from his thoughts and set about trying to make good his losses.
His curly brimmed beaver set at a fashionably rakish angle on his head, Henry stood on the steps of his club and stared out at London. Its limits had expanded since the last time he'd made it his principal residence, curved courts of elegant townhouses had risen where he remembered fields, but, all in all, it hadn't changed much. There was still something about London ¨C a feel, an atmosphere ¨C shared by no other city in the world.
One guinea-gold brow rose as he shot an ironic glance upward at the haze that hung over the buildings, the smoke from a thousand chimney pots that blocked the light of all but the brightest stars. Atmosphere was, perhaps, a less than appropriate choice of words. "Shall I get you a hackney or a chair, Mr. Fitzroy?" "Thank you, no. " He smiled at the porter, his expression calculated to charm, and heard the elderly man's heart begin to beat a little faster. The Hunger rose in response but he firmly pushed it back. It would be the worst of bad ton to feed so close to home. It would also be dangerous but, in the England of the Prince Regent, safety came second to social approval. "I believe I'll walk. "
"If you're sure, sir. There's some bad'uns around after dark. " "I'm sure. " Henry's smile broadened. "I doubt I'll be bothered. "
The porter watched as the young man made his way down the stairs and along St. James Street. He'd watched a lot of gentlemen during the years he'd worked the clubs ¨C first at Boodles, then at Brook's, and finally here at White's ¨C and Mr. Henry Fitzroy had the unmistakable mark of Quality. For all he was so polite and soft-spoken, something about him spoke strongly of power. It would, the porter decided, take a desperate man, or a stupid one, to put Mr. Fitzroy in any danger. Of course, London has no shortage of either desperate or stupid men.
"Take care, sir," he murmured as he turned to go inside.
Henry quelled the urge to lift a hand in acknowledgement of the porter's concern, judging that he'd moved beyond the range of mortal hearing. As the night air held a decided chill, he shoved his hands deep in the pockets of his many-caped greatcoat, even though it would have to get a great deal colder before he'd feel it. A successful masquerade demanded attention to small details.
Humming under his breath, he strode down Brook Street to Grosvenor Square, marveling at the new technological wonder of the gaslights. The long lines of little brightish dots created almost as many shadows as they banished but they were still a big improvement over a servant carrying a lantern on a stick. That he had no actual need of the light, Henry considered unimportant in view of the achievement.
Turning toward his chambers in Albany, he heard the unmistakable sounds of a fight. He paused, head cocked, sifting through the lives involved. Three men beating a fourth.
"Not at all sporting," he murmured, moving forward so quickly that, had anyone been watching, it would have seemed he simply disappeared.
"Be sure that he's dead. " The man who spoke held a narrow sword in one hand and the cane it had come out of in the other. The man on the ground groaned and the steel point moved around. "Never mind, I'll take care of it myself. "
Wearing an expression of extreme disapproval, Henry stepped out of the shadows, grabbed the swordsman by the back of his coat, and threw him down the alley. When the other two whirled to face him, he drew his lips back off his teeth and said, in a tone of polite, but inarguable menace, "Run. "
Prey recognized predator. They ran.
He knelt by the wounded man, noted how the heartbeat faltered, looked down, and saw a face he knew. Captain Charles Evans of the Horse Guards, the nephew of the current Earl of Whitby. Not one of his few friends ¨C friends were chosen with a care honed by centuries of survival ¨C but Henry couldn't allow him to die alone in some dark alley like a stray dog.
A sudden noise drew his attention around to the man with the sword-cane. Up on his knees, his eyes unfocused, he groped around for his weapon. Henry snarled. The man froze, whimpered once, then, face twisted with fear, scrambled to his feet and joined his companions in flight.
The sword had punched a hole high in the captain's left shoulder, not immediately fatal but bleeding to death was a distinct possibility.
"Fitz. . . roy?"
"So you're awake are you?" Taking the other man's chin in a gentle grip, Henry stared down into pain-filled eyes. "I think it might be best if you trusted me and slept," he said quietly.
The captain's lashes fluttered then settled down to rest against his cheeks like fringed shadows.
Satisfied that he was unobserved, Henry pulled aside the bloodstained jacket ¨C like most military men, Captain Evans favored Scott ¨C and bent his head over the wound.
"You cut it close. Sun's almost up. "
Henry pushed past the small, irritated form of his servant. "Don't fuss, Varney, I've plenty of time. "
"Plenty of time is it?" Closing and bolting the door, the little man hurried down the short hall in Henry's shadow. "I was worried sick, I was, and all you can say is don't fuss?"
Sighing, Henry shrugged out of his greatcoat ¨C a muttering Varney caught it before it hit the floor ¨C and stepped into his sitting room. There was a fire lit in the grate, heavy curtains over the window that opened onto a tiny balcony, and a thick oak slab of a door replacing the folding doors that had originally led to the bedchamber. The furniture was heavy and dark, as close as Henry could come to the furniture of his youth. It had been purchased in a fit of nostalgia and was now mostly ignored.
"You've blood on your cravat!"
"It's not mine," Henry told him mildly.
Varney snorted. "Didn't expect it was but you're usually neater than that. Probably won't come out. Blood stains, you know. "
"I know. "
"Mayhap if I soak it. . . " The little man quivered with barely concealed impatience.
Henry laughed and unwound the offending cloth, dropping it over the offered hand. After thirty years of unique service, certain liberties were unavoidable. "I won eleven hundred pounds from Lord Wyndham tonight. "
"You and everyone else. He's bad dipped. Barely a feather to fly with so I hear. Rumor has it, he's getting a bit desperate. "
"And I returned a wounded Charlie Evans to the bosom of his family. "
"Nice bosom so I hear. "
"Don't be crude, Varney. " Henry sat down and lifted one foot after the other to have the tight Hessians pulled gently off. "I think I may have prevented him from being killed. "
"I don't know. "
"How many did you kill?"
"No one. I merely frightened them away. "
What Manner of Man by Tanya Huff / Fantasy / Horror have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on15 votes