With wide eyes, Coira Easton held tightly onto Garrick of Clan MacLaren’s arm.
“Where are we…?” her whispered words trailed off whilst she gazed upon in the manor the likes of which she had never seen before. Polished wood panels with portraits hanging on the wall appeared as though the people depicted there were going to jump right out of the artwork. She had never seen anything like it in her entire life.
“…and how did we get here?” Garrick finished. “Were we not just upon the battlement walls of yer cousin’s keep ready to go and have speech with him or am I dreaming whilst I am fully awake?”
A gentleman in clothing certainly different than their own came rushing to their side. “There you are. Please come with me. The Duchess is waiting for you.”
“Duchess?” They spoke in unison and broke out into a smile.
Garrick pulled her closer and leaned down to kiss her cheek. “I will keep ye safe, lass.”
“I know you will. Shall we follow him?”
“I am not certain we have another alternative since we know not where we are.”
Following what Coira assumed was a servant, they went down several passageways and she marveled at the treasures her eyes beheld at every turn. Completely lost in the maze of corridors, they at last came to a door that was promptly opened. “Tea is being served,” the man informed them. “Her Grace has been waiting for you.”
“Tea?” Garrick asked after leaning in to murmur in her ear.
She shrugged. “Do you suppose I should curtsy?”
“Mayhap but I cannot know for certain.”
They came to stand before a well-dressed woman. They glanced toward one another. Coira gave a short bob of a curtsy, whilst Garrick bowed.
“Lady Coira, is it not? And the Piper Garrick. You are most welcome. Please, be seated. May I offer you… now, how to describe it. A tisane that we enjoy here in my century.”
They both took a seat but continued to clasp each other’s hands. “Where are we, milady?” Garrick asked.
“Ah. Forgive me. I did not introduce myself. I am Eleanor Haverford, wife to the Duke of Haverford, and you are in my London townhouse. The more pertinent question is ‘When’ are you, for you have travelled far indeed to take tea with me, Master Garrick. How it occurs, I do not know, but every Monday my visitor book shows the names of those who will appear in my private sitting room, and I never know from when in time or where in space. My own place is here, in the nineteenth century after the birth of Our Lord. Your century, I would guess from your clothes, is the twelfth or thirteenth?”
Coira burst out laughing, ’til she noticed the Duchess continued to look upon them with a serious expression. “’Tis the year of Our Lord’s Grace 1182,” she answered.
“Seven hundred and seventy years!” The duchess’s eyes widened with awe. “How wonderful! I am so excited to have you visit me.”
“No offense, milady, but will we able to return to our own place in time?” Garrick asked tentatively reaching for the cup the duchess held out for him. He sniffed at the cup, uncertain if he should partake of what she offered him. Taking a sip, he sighed in pleasure, nodding to Coira to give the brew a try.
“Yes, indeed. I have had some visitors more than once, and they have returned to their own place as soon as they left me. But tell me, are you husband and wife?” She gave a pointed look at their joined hands.
“Nay, not as yet, Your Grace,” Coira replied, unclasping her fingers from Garrick’s. “We were just on our way to have speech with my cousin, Lord Dristan of Berwyck. Perchance you know of him?”
Her Grace’s brows furrowed as she considered. “Berwyck Castle, on the border with Scotland? I believe I know your cousin’s many-times great grandchildren, the current Duke of Hartford and his brother and sister. Your cousin will be pleased with the match, I hope?” she added.
Garrick shuddered. “If he does not throw me in a pit first for my insolence, I may live to see another day.”
Coira gave Garrick a gentle slap. “Dristan will not dare put you in his pit. Besides, he is most agreeable to most things.”
Garrick choked on his tea. “Agreeable? He is known as the Devil’s Dragon and wants ye to wed a knight.”
The duchess met Coira’s eyes with a concerned glance. “Oh dear, Master Garrick. You are not confident, then?”
“He only wants what is best for me and thinks wedding a nobleman is what I need,” she replied. “Garrick will convince him otherwise, will you not?”
Garrick set down his cup and took her hand once more, raising it to his lips. “Ye know that I shall, Coira.”
“Good for you, Lady Coira. Marriage to a man who loves you is what you need, if the man is loyal and true.”
“Master Garrick, I wish you every success to you and your lady.”
“I am certain my cousin will agree, Your Grace,” Coira replied.
Garrick stood, assisting Coira to rise and tucked her hand in the crook of his arm. “My thanks for having us today, Yer Grace,” he replied with a bow.
The duchess rose, inclining her head. “It was truly my pleasure.”
The Piper’s Lady is Sherry Ewing’s story in Never Too Late, the 2017 collection from the Bluestocking Belles.
Never Too Late
Eight authors and eight different takes on four dramatic elements selected by our readers—an older heroine, a wise man, a Bible, and a compromising situation that isn’t.
Set in a variety of locations around the world over eight centuries, welcome to the romance of the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 Holiday and More Anthology.
It’s Never Too Late to find love.
25% of proceeds benefit the Malala Fund.
Never Too Late has its own page on the Bluestocking Belles website, where you can learn more about each story and find buy links. (It’s 99c for one more week only, so buy now.)