The Test of A True Gentleman… Tritomitian station owner Sarkin Trant has always known his great-grandfather was the illegitimate son of an Arcanian giarl but he’s stunned when he learns a bizarre turn of events has made him the new Giarl of Craigsmere. With a Gypsy’s warnings to “Beware the Mistress of Disguise,” Sar, his Terran wife Katy, and son Hatch embark on a journey as frightening as it is exhiliarating. As Sar emerges into Arcanian society, his outspokenness, naivity, and provincial manners slowly but surely charm everyone around him, from the Craigsmere cook to the Margrave himself. At a ball given in his honor, he meets Meva du Thane, a predatory noblewoman determined to snare herself a rich husband. Only a giarl will do, and she sets her sights on Sar…and the fact that he already has a wife doesn’t matter at all…
“Yes?” Ladle in hand, Katy turned from the stew she was stirring to look at the young man standing in the doorway. For a moment, she wondered if she should’ve locked the front door, but cooking over a wood-burning stove was hot work and in her present condition, she needed all the fresh air she could get.
“Mistress Katherine Trant?” he persisted. “Legal consort of Sarkin Trant, owner of Three Moon Station?”
“I’m Sar’s wife. Yes.” Brushing back a strand of hair from her damp forehead, she smiled at his slightly odd phrasing. She had been startled at seeing a stranger after hearing the drone fly over and recognizing its distinctive whine as that of Eli Epson’s little Darter. When she heard footsteps in the yard and then crossing the porch, she’d expected the Federation marshal to appear, not someone seemingly intent on giving her a first-degree interrogation. “And you are…?”
“My apologies. Let me introduce myself. Anson lo Pitresca.” He took a step toward her, reaching into an inner pocket of his suit jacket and producing something, which he offered between thumb and forefinger.
Katy took it, staring at a small business slide on which a hologram of the young man’s head and shoulders did a 360-degree spin for her viewing while a ribbon of letters scrolling on its surface informed her this was Anson lo Pitresca, Prime Assistant to Wynn Barrette, Genealogist and Curator of the Royal Archives by Appointment from His Majesty, the Margrave of Arcanis. She studied it a moment longer, then looked up at the young man again.
He was of much more than average height but slender, good-looking though not in a spectacular way. He had blue eyes and sand-pale hair tied back sleekly in what was called a Shipman’s Club and which she would later learn was the style for upper class Arcanian men. Mentally, she compared him to both her husband and her stepson and thought his features as yet too young to have much character. Surely he wasn’t older than twenty. She smiled at that thought. At the age of twenty-two, and after all that had happened to her, Katy felt much older than the scant years separating her from this stranger.
He was wearing a business suit, black and severely cut, its unaccented color emphasizing his fairness. The high-banded half-collar and lapels were cut wide across the chest, revealing an elaborately folded white ascot. Definitely a politico of some kind. Even if his card hadn’t announced it, Katy would have known. Only those in the highest levels of government wore ascots.
“I’m sorry to have been so brusque, Mistress Trant,” he went on, his blue gaze sweeping over her bulky figure in its loose maternity dress. She was startled to see what she thought was approval in his eyes. Pregnant and in her place in the kitchen, is that what he’s thinking? “But I had to verify your identity.”
“So now you have.” She returned the holocard to him. “And what may I do for you, Master Pitresca, or is it lo Pitresca? I’m unfamiliar with the proper use of Arcanian surnames.”
He appeared surprised she might know of protocols of address and such. “It’s lo Pitresca, but I’ve not come to see you, Mistress. It’s your husband. I’ve some important matters to discuss with him.”
“I’m afraid my husband isn’t here at the moment.” What in the world can an Arcanian want with Sar? Deep inside, Katy felt a twinge of concern. Or was it merely the baby awakening from its mid-afternoon nap? She still found it remarkable how an unborn infant could set its own schedule, but the child was a Trant and an ability to get one’s way seemed to be a family characteristic. It was rapidly approaching early evening, the time of day when Sar’s fetal offspring became most active.
“Now, darlin’ that’s na exactly true.” Someone spoke from the doorway. “He’s here now, so yon visitor can ge’ on wi’ whate’er he has to say.”
For a moment Katie and the young man were both silent as Sarkin Trant walked across the threshold. So tall he had to duck to keep from striking his head on the transom as he entered, the owner of Three Moon Station was dressed in typical station garb; a long-sleeved work shirt with a bright bandanna tied around his neck, denim dungarees and knee boots with rath-hide gaiters for protection while riding through the brush. And a formidable-looking Winchester DT3 laser pistol strapped to his right thigh.
Their visitor saw that straightaway and started slightly. Guess Royal Genealogists don’t see many firearms, Katy decided.
In one movement, Sar unbuckled his gun belt and hung it on one of the little wooden pegs near the door, dropping his wide-brimmed, low-crowned sundowner atop it. His brilliant copper hair, revealed by removal of the hat, had been twisted into a long braid now hanging over one shoulder. Brushing back the red plait, he was across the little space separating them to kiss Katy on the cheek and place an arm around her. He looked down at Master lo Pitresca.
“I’m Sar Trant. An’ who might you be?”
Like most of the inhabitants of Tritomis-2, Sar was generally friendly toward strangers until they proved otherwise, so Katy was a little surprised at his slightly belligerent tone. Then she decided he was simply being protective of her. It had been only a few weeks since the brush raiders had ridden into Three Moon Station and abducted her. Since that confrontation with Alwin Marsten’s men and the aftermath with Katy’s uncle Cyrus, who’d not only managed to keep from being prosecuted for his part in the crimes but tried to blackmail her husband into divorcing her.
Even wounded, Sar had bested the old villain and Katy wondered if he was remembering that, also. How he’d nearly lost her and she’d almost lost him. He still wasn’t fully recovered from what had happened that night--really shouldn’t be riding or doing physical labor--but even she couldn’t stop him. Sar’s proud and determined—and has a right to be suspicious of a stranger.
“Sar, this is Anson lo Pitresca.” The boy--Katy couldn’t help but think of him in that way--was already reaching into his pocket to provide an answer as she spoke.
“Lo Pitresca. Hm. Arcanian, be you?” It shouldn’t have surprised her Sar would recognize the name. After all, his father had been Arcanian.
“Yes, sir.” Apparently Sar’s appearance as well as his weapon intimidated the young man if his respectful reply was any indication. Even if that weapon wasn’t within easy reach at the moment. He held out the holocard. “My credentials, sir.”
Sar didn’t take it, just glanced down at the card and over at lo Pitresca again. He appeared satisfied with what he read. “And you have what business wi’ me?”
“First, sir, I need to satisfy myself as to your identity.” Lo Pitresca took a deep breath as if expecting Sar to take insult at his statement.
“So? Satisfy away, lad.” Sar merely looked amused by his earnestness. The aquamarine gaze he directed at Katy said plainly, I’ll humor the boy. For a wee while.
“Yes, sir. You are Sarkin Trant? Owner of this station?”
Sar nodded. At Katy’s side, his fingers began an insinuating little caress against her ribs. She placed her hand over them to hide the movement from their visitor’s sight. Oh, Sar…
“Biological child of…” Here he took a small hand unit from another pocket and consulted it. Katy had a sudden vision of the lining of lo Pitresca’s jacket being filled with small pockets housing various electronics. “…Andrus Trant, formerly of Turqes Province, Ghermia, Arcanis, sentenced to exile by order of the Margrave?” At that, Sar nodded again but also frowned. His expression seemed to disconcert the young man causing him to hesitate. “A-and your m-mother was Maire Deoridh MacGregor, schoolteacher, from New Edinburgh, Alba Highland Colony, Mars?”
“She was, ” Sar answered, sudden sharpness in his tone. “But what does…”
“You were born eleven months after your father received permission from the Margrave to marry your mother?”
“See here, now.” As usual, Sar was quick to defend his long-dead parents. “If you’re about to cast any aspersions on m’pa’s relationship wi’ m’maither, you’d best…”
“Your birth was also Royally-sanctioned,” Lo Pitresca plowed on, ignoring Sar’s interruption, though the lines appearing on his smooth forehead indicated he realized he was treading into delicate territory. “Through another petition made by Andrus Trant a month after his wedding?”
“Aye, that ’twas, though I’ve always thought it humiliating for a man to have to ask permission from anaither both to marry and then to have a child.” Sar clearly didn’t like the direction of the questions into what he considered private matters but was still controlling his temper.
“It’s Arcanian law, sir. After all, he was an Exile.” Lo Pitresca shouldn’t have said it just that way. The slight sarcasm in his tone was a mistake.
“For having a bit of a temper? And ge’ing into a fight in a bar?” Sar had never gone into detail about why his father was exiled, but Katy had learned from others that Andrus Trant had more than a bit of a temper. He’d been cursed with the Bloodsong, a genetic weakness causing the recipient to go into murderous rages at the sight of blood. That specific bar fight hadn’t been his first brush with violence. Sar had also inherited the taint but learned to control it. “The man dinna die. ’Twas a terrible punishment, sending a man away from his home and loved ones forever.”
“I apologize if I appeared to be making a judgment, sir.” The young man quickly saw his mistake and hastened to rectify it. “Not having known anyone unfortunate enough to experience the Bloodsong, I can’t imagine the personal devastation being so affected must cause.”
“Thank you for that, at least.” The diplomacy of lo Pitresca’s statement seemed to appease Sar. Mollified, he nodded. “Ge’ on wi’ it. You’ve more to say, I’m thinking.”
“Yes sir. Quite a bit…uh… Let’s see…” Glancing down at the hand unit, he read quickly, found his place and continued. “Y-your grandfather was Willem Trant, a yeoman farmer also of Turques, and his father was Hinder Trant, legitimate bastard of Lord Hinder kan Ingan, twenty-fifth Giarl of Craigsmere?”
“Legitimate bastard?” Sar’s mouth quirked. “Seems to me that’s a contradiction in terms.”
“Perhaps I should have said,” the young Arcanian went on, picking his words very carefully. “Product of a union between two unmarried citizens, permitted under lawful petition.”
“Doesna sound much better, put that way.” Sar gave an impatient snort. “It seems you know it all so why’re you asking me?”
“Again, I apologize, Lord Sarkin, but I have to be absolutely sure I have the…”
“What did you call me?” Sar’s words cut through the young man’s explanation with the sharpness of a knife.
Lo Pitresca cringed. There was no other way to describe it. In that moment, Katy wondered if perhaps this was the young Arcanian’s first assignment for his employer and he truly believed he’d just completely trashed it. And also that he was going to be physically ousted from the stationhouse by the man he was questioning. He looked like a puppy who’d just been kicked and if he’d yelped in fear, it wouldn’t have surprised her.
Taking a deep breath, he looked up at Sar, who was scowling at him, brows slanting into a deep copper vee. Staring directly into those brilliant aquamarine eyes, he gamely continued, “L-Lord Sarkin, sir. T-that’s your title. You see, you’re now the twenty-eighth Giarl of Craigsmere.”