By the time they reached the castle grounds, the sun was dipping toward the horizon. Mosca, who had never seen a real castle before, felt some disappointment as she surveyed the ragged line of its perimeter wall and its roofless, lightless towers. The castle was certainly very large and must have been magnificent many centuries before, but it had been bested by time. The sky had found a thousand ways in, and the turrets had traded their pennants for pigeons.
In the castle's inner courtyard, a market was breaking up with some dispatch, hawkers stacking teetering barrows with bow-headed urgency. One young chicken escaped its crate, and to Mosca's surprise, its owner stared after it for only the merest moment of indecision before deciding to rattle her goods away instead of chasing it.
The Judge's house was attached to the inside of the castle's perimeter wall and built of the same bristling gray flint. This was a much younger building, with high gables, perhaps a century old, and here at least the wink of firelight was visible through its stained-glass panes.
"At last." Clent halted at the oaken door and pulled down the frayed hem of his waistcoat. "Now, child, let us bring warning to this poor - "
"Rich," corrected Mosca.
"To this affluent but imperiled girl," finished Clent.
"And do try not to scowl as if you have lemon juice running through your veins, child." Mosca settled for stony instead of bitter as Clent rapped the knocker. A few moments later the door opened to reveal two footmen in mustard-colored livery.
Both footmen subtly craned their necks to read the designs on Clent's name brooch before deciding how stiffly and respectfully to hold themselves. Mosca and the impatiently champing Saracen merited only the briefest, most disdainful slither of a glance.
"I am Eponymous Clent," Clent declared with aplomb, "and I need to speak with Miss Beamabeth Marlebourne or her father on a matter of the gravest urgency and gravity." Mosca ground her teeth as both footmen went quite cross-eyed with adoration at the mention of Beamabeth, and then one of them ran inside with the message. In a few moments he returned, surprise lifting his eyebrows so high that they were lost in his wig.
"Miss Beamabeth will see you, sir."
It's just the name they're all in love with, said the bitter, stinging voice in Mosca's head. But it'll be all right. You'll see her, and she'll have a squint, marks from the smallpox, and a voice like a peeled gull
. The guard led them along a short hall into a comfortable-looking reception room, its tiled floor dapple lit by stained-glass windows along one wall, the stone walls concealed beneath oak paneling and cloth hangings. A young woman in a green silk dress rose from her spinet as they entered.
Beamabeth Marlebourne was about sixteen, Mosca realized. Somehow, despite the mention of suitors, she had been half expecting to see someone younger, a girl her own age, a creature who had somehow crept into her birth room and stolen her name day. Beamabeth had honey-colored hair that had been trained into a shimmering mass of ringlets, but she managed to look natural rather than tortured. Her skin was creamy pale, with two pretty little coffee-colored freckles just at the corner of one of her dark gold eyebrows. Her blue eyes were large and well spaced, her brow small, her nose short, and her chin daintily pointed in a fashion that made her look a bit like a kitten. She smiled, and her eyebrows rose as if the pleasure of seeing them was almost painful. Her expression was as open as a flower.
It was hopeless. She was flawless. She was a sunbeam.
Mosca gave up and got on with hating her.
A moment later Mosca realized that a man in his fifties was seated in a red damask armchair near the hearth. She had not noticed him at first, because unlike Beamabeth he had not bothered to stand. A gold chain of office winked on his chest, but the eyes beneath his thick brows had the watchfulness of a hard-biting old guard dog. This, then, was Graywing Marlebourne, the mayor of Toll.
Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge, © 2011 HarperCollins Publishers, all rights reserved.
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