Legacy of Darkness by Jane Godman - Read Online
Legacy of Darkness
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Legacy of Darkness by Jane Godman
The Jago Legacy Series, Book One
It is 1837 and the young Queen Victoria has just ascended the English throne.
Orphaned and penniless after her father’s death in India, Lucy Alleyne is forced to accept a post as companion to an elderly lady until a distant relative spirits her away to Castle Athal on the Cornish coast. But Lucy’s initial gratitude at Lady Demelza Jago’s benevolence soon gives way to unease.
The ancient Cornish castle, known locally as Tenebris, is a dark monument to the family’s history and secrets. Within its embrace Lucy is drawn into friendship with Tynan Jago. The young Earl of Athal is handsome and poetic yet tortured, like his father before him. Tynan is utterly different from his uncle, Uther, whose seductive, leonine power radiates from his every word and gesture.
Between them the two Jago men have innocent Lucy enthralled—mind, body and soul. If she remains within the bloodstained castle walls, with their history of ill-starred passion and madness, a mere broken heart will seem a blessing.

165 pages approx

Published: Jane Godman on
ISBN: 9781502210890
List price: $0.99
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Legacy of Darkness - Jane Godman

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Author

Dedication

To my Mum, who shared her love of reading, romance and history with me.

Chapter One

Lucent in tenebris.

Shine in darkness. It was the centuries-old motto of the Jago family. Yet no dancing ray dared pierce the timeless gloom of Tenebris: a desolate fortress perched atop soaring, wave-pounded cliffs. A citadel of hushed sorrows that would, henceforth, be my home.

The carriage that carried us from London was luxurious and well sprung, drawn by four black horses, sleek and swift. As a child, I had heard much of the beauty and temperate climes of Cornwall. My first glimpse of that ancient county, however, did not live up to those glowing reports. Rain screeched like a banshee down the valleys as our vehicle meandered precariously along narrow roads. I surveyed the bleak, unfolding scene from the window. Despite grassy sheep paths criss-crossing boggy rushes and crumbling dry stone walls marking farmland boundaries, I saw not another living soul. Steep slopes plunged directly into a foaming river. A recent landslide blocked the road with suet-like lumps of stone and forced us to take a lengthy detour along higher ground. It was borne in on me that I had abandoned a life of service and drudgery for a different captivity. One of remoteness.

The weather became increasingly gloomy with mist wrapping long streamers around the lower hills. The road deteriorated into little more than a farm track. In the gathering murk, purple heather and lush grass merged into a grey blur. Driving downpour became depressing drizzle. Rain-sodden slopes soared high above the valley sides, closing in around us. My mood lowered with the clouds, but my companion appeared not to notice my apprehension. A little smile played about her lips, and her eyes betrayed an anticipatory sparkle that I found hard to understand.

Then, abruptly, the road swung away from the moors to cling lover-like to a wild, indented coastline. The clouds parted and allowed weak sunbeams to peek through. Deep-hewn caves played hide-and-seek between giant peaks, and I caught glimpses of the stinging blue sea. The din of thundering waves and circling, deep-cried gulls provided a dramatic accompaniment to the majesty of the scene.

Demelza permitted herself a smug little smile at the look of wonder I turned upon her. "Dynnargh dhis. Welcome to Cornubia...the old Latin name for my beloved Cornwall," she said, pointing out ancient stone cairns, which she called cromlechs. I think you will agree, my love, that it has a charm peculiarly its own?

And there it was at last. Standing proud and gaunt, surrounded on three sides by cliffs which plunged into the vast savagery of the Atlantic, was Castle Athal, known within the family, and locally, as Tenebris. As we approached, I viewed the imposing structure with mixed emotions. From Demelza’s reaction I knew that my eyes widened as they took in the reflected light from hundreds of mullioned window panes set within elongated, pointed arches. My gaze was drawn ever upward, the impression of immense height enhanced by the sweep of turrets atop crenelated towers. The overall aspect was dark and forbidding. But beyond the ramparts, in colourful contrast, I glimpsed gently winding paths, groves of artlessly arranged trees festooned with lilac and honeysuckle—a haven of horticultural informality.

Demelza clasped her gloved hands together in an almost reverential pose. Oh, my dear, she exclaimed, laughing delightedly at my solemn expression. Did I not tell you how it would be? That it would take the very breath away from you? It is surely the most enthralling place in the whole country. No, the whole world. I declare, there can be nowhere to rival it.

Some reply seemed to be expected of me and I murmured, It is certainly...impressive, my lady. Even in my desire to please her, I could not call it beautiful. We approached a forbidding entrance defended by two round towers, each adorned with snarling gargoyles. I imagined that the overhanging battlements might once have been draped with welcoming, jewel-bright pennants. Now, in their place, tendrils of ivy swayed on the breeze and reached long, grasping fingers down toward me. 

Demelza leaned forward and clasped my hand in her quick, impulsive way. Child, do, I beg you, call me ‘aunt’. It would please me above all things to hear that word on your pretty lips.

Her smile was irresistible. Swallowing my misgivings, I obediently replied, Very well...Aunt Demelza. As I said the words, the carriage lumbered across the drawbridge and under a menacingly low portcullis.

Demelza sat back with a little purr of satisfaction while I glanced around me at the enclosed courtyard. An invisible hand slowly lowered the fortified metal grille behind us. The impression of doors slamming closed, which had several times assailed me since my first meeting with Lady Demelza Jago, intensified. I gave myself a mental shake. It was not in my nature to be fanciful.

The carriage halted in front of a doorway so large that the coachman could easily have driven the horses and vehicle on through it. A liveried footman sprang forward to let down the carriage steps and Demelza gave him her hand, allowing him to assist her as she alighted. She murmured her thanks and turned to the stately butler who effaced himself on the shallow doorstep. He bowed low in greeting.

This is Miss Alleyne, Pascoe. Demelza turned to look over her shoulder at me as I followed dutifully in her wake. She is my cousin and she has come to stay with me. I do hope Mrs Lethbridge received my letter and has prepared a suitable room?

The butler bowed his portly frame in my direction and assured Her Ladyship that all was in readiness for my visit. Mrs Lethbridge was, he said, waiting to escort me to my room. We passed through into a huge medieval hall with high, vaulted ceilings and a stone flagged floor. One wall was lined with serried ranks of suits of armour. Wrathful warriors wielded daggers, swords and spiked knuckle-galdings, and held aloft shields emblazoned with heraldic ciphers. I wondered at the family who would choose this silent warning as a welcome to its visitors.

The grand staircase opposite the entrance was wide, and galleried with spindle and rail of intricately carved oak. A window stained with the colours of long-dead knights spanned the half landing, scattering rainbow shards into the darkest corners of the vast space. It was July, but ferocious tongues of fire devoured a pile of logs in the cavernous fireplace. A flurry of golden sparks danced and played in the draught from the open door, but even the flickering flames could not compete with the chill that seeped up through the very flags and into the tough leather of my boots. Tenebris, it appeared, did not acknowledge the seasons.

Afternoon tea had been laid on a table close to the fire and Demelza turned to Pascoe with a smile. Ah, now I know I am home! She clapped her hands together gleefully. No matter where I go, no one can make a scone the way dear Huddy can. My dear, do let us indulge ourselves. I declare I am quite famished after such a fatiguing journey. Then I will call Mrs Lethbridge to escort you to your room.

She fluttered about, helping me to remove my cloak and bonnet, and instructing Pascoe to draw my chair closer to the fire. All the while, she fired questions at the butler. Where is my brother? I had hoped he would be here to greet us.... Oh, yes, I had quite forgotten that he sees his man of business on the first of the month. And the earl? She pulled her mouth down slightly at Pascoe’s measured response. Indisposed? Ah... She threw me a thoughtful glance before continuing. His Lordship does not enjoy good health, she explained, for my benefit. Indeed, during his childhood, it was the greatest worry to me and to my brother. We were charged with the care, you see, of our poor orphaned nephew. Between us, we nursed him well and he survived...against all the odds, one might say. I doubt not you will meet him in a day or two, when he is feeling more the thing.

As she chattered, another footman poured tea and piled thick yellow cream onto crumbling scones. I gazed about me in silence, drinking in the Gothic splendour of the hall.

Ah, you are looking at our Jago ancestors. Demelza followed my eyes to the formal portraits that adorned one wall and followed the curve of the balustrade. A devilish bunch, do you not agree? In the short time I had known her, I had come to appreciate that her questions did not always require answers. You must ask my brother to talk you through their various histories, my dear. He is quite the expert, you know. But I give you fair warning. While there is graceful poetry, there is also some lurid prose adorning our past.

And the present earl? I sipped my tea gratefully. I was intrigued by the way she spoke of him. He was only months younger than I, yet she appeared to view him as a child still. Is he equally knowledgeable about the Jago lineage?

She paused, uncharacteristically guarded. Tynan has time yet, she said at last, in a colourless tone.

But you are quite sure he will not object to my visit, my la—A-Aunt? I asked. I could not hide my concern that the Earl of Athal might not take kindly to the arrival of an unexpected guest. One who would, moreover, be wholly dependent on his generosity.

She opened her beautiful eyes wide. My dear child, do, I beg you, rest assured on that score. Tynan is most unlikely, you know, to even notice your presence! He will ever have his head in the clouds or in a book. And, until he comes of age, it is my brother who is master here.

But the earl will celebrate his twenty-first birthday very soon, I think you said? I hoped my curiosity would not be mistaken for prying. I simply wanted to learn more of this new family of mine.

In a little less than three months, she said, and some of her customary vivacity appeared to leave her. But come, child, you look worn half to death. She placed her teacup down with a decisive clatter and signalled to the footman to pull the ornate bell cord that hung at one side of the fire. Let me introduce you to Mrs Lethbridge so that we can take you to your room.

The housekeeper glided into the room on silent feet. She had a face like a squeezed lemon, with nonexistent lips and silver-frosted hair scraped into a ruthless bun. Mrs Lethbridge looked at me as though I was something the cat had just coughed up. I was to learn all too soon that this uncompromising exterior hid a heart of pure granite.

All is in readiness, my lady, just as you ordered. Mrs Lethbridge’s almost colourless eyes softened slightly as they rested on Demelza.

Wonderful. Demelza held out her hand and, with only a split second of hesitation, I placed mine in it. If truth be told, her tactile ways made me uncomfortable. But, given her overwhelming kindness towards me, I could hardly object. You will soon learn, my dear, that Mrs Lethbridge ensures that, despite the vastness of our castle home, we are very well cared for.

Following in the wake of Mrs Lethbridge’s rigid, scouring-stick frame, we mounted the staircase, which divided in front of the stained-glass window. Twin galleries led away to separate wings. Each stone step had a dip in the middle where centuries of feet had worn it down. My mother had walked this way before I was born. The thought comforted me.

It is quite the prettiest room in the castle, Demelza said as we traversed narrow, panelled corridors. Tapestries in shades of faded romance told stories of uneasy crowns and battles lost. My brother and I have rooms in the west wing, but it is the most shockingly draughty place imaginable. And the wind howls off the sea like a maddened dog. It is a Tenebris tradition, however, for the earl and his immediate family to occupy that wing. No, the east wing is where we house our guests and we are much kinder to them. Mrs Lethbridge threw open a door and gestured for us to precede her into the room.

A gasp of pleasure escaped me. The low-beamed ceiling and lighter oak panels gave the room a cosy feel that was conspicuously lacking in other parts of the castle. A blaze crackled in the grate, and the drapes and bed linen—all a pretty, embroidered blue—were clearly new. Thick carpet covered the slightly uneven floor, and fresh flowers had been arranged in vases on the mantel and the window ledges. On the dressing table, silver brushes, combs and a hand mirror were laid out, and a beautiful dressing gown with matching slippers had been hung before the fire to warm.

The view from this wing is picturesque, but not as dramatic as elsewhere. Demelza drew me to the mullioned window and we gazed out across vast ornamental gardens. Paths laid out in a geometric pattern were interspersed with fountains and a man-made lake. Beyond the garden, the dimpled sea sparkled blue in the sunlight. But it is quite delightful and your sleep will not be disturbed—as mine is—by the pounding of the waves against the cliffs. I sent word ahead to Mrs Lethbridge to do what was needed to make the room comfortable for you. I do hope you like what she has done?

My lady... I began. She pouted, and I quickly corrected myself. Aunt, you are too, too kind. How can I ever thank you?

She patted my cheek. Foolish child! she said with a chuckle. "You are doing me a kindness. Can you imagine how lonely it is to be the only woman in a place such as this? All these years I have craved some feminine company and now I have it. And in the form of my dearest Eliza’s daughter. Indeed, it is I who should be thanking you."

She dismissed the housekeeper with a word of thanks. I have taken the liberty of setting one of the younger girls to wait on miss, Mrs Lethbridge stated as she departed, being as how it seemed unlikely she would bring her own maid. The scathing look that accompanied these words perfectly summed up her opinion of me. I was assigned the supporting role of sponging relation. Never must I aspire to join the main cast known as family. 

Demelza fussed about briefly, rearranging the objects on the dresser, examining the fabric of the dressing gown with pursed lips and patting my hand. Now I am going to leave you to rest. I do recommend you lay down on the bed to refresh yourself. Travelling is so fatiguing, is it not? We dine at eight and I will collect you so that we may go downstairs together. We have lost many a guest in these passages, believe me. She bestowed a light kiss on my cheek and, with her own uniquely restless grace, flitted out of the door. 

I returned to the window and threw the casement wide, leaning out to drink in the view. I began to appreciate at last why my mother had loved this place. The peninsula was almost an island, so narrow was the strip of land that joined it to the coast. Cliffs rose, jagged and milky, straight out of the spangling azure depths, their bleak faces softened by the grasses and flowers which bloomed upon them. I glimpsed pretty pinks and bright valerian competing with scrubby grasses and dark purple heather. I breathed in clean, true air. Birds sang me a sonnet of shy welcome. Examining my injured heart, I found it a little healed. Who knew how long I would stay at Tenebris, or where next I would go? For now, however, thanks to Demelza’s altruism, I was no longer a servant. I had a home and, it appeared, a family. And I wanted to believe that this new start would lead me to a future filled with promise and accomplishment.

When I woke, the room was in darkness and the embers of the sleeping fire glowed low and red. A tentative tap on the door was followed by a hesitant head, topped by a profusion of blonde curls, peeping round the door. A lace cap proclaimed the owner of the curls to be a maid by profession. She was young and pretty and held a branch of candles high so that a halo of light shone around her. She dipped a nervous curtsy in my direction. Begging your pardon, miss. Her Ladyship said as how you’d be wanting to freshen up before dinner. She added, as an afterthought, I’m Betty, miss, and Mrs Lethbridge has set me on to wait on you.

I stretched luxuriously and watched Betty as she bustled about lighting other candles and then pouring warm water from a pitcher into a bowl. She laid out soap and towel and shook out the dress I had been wearing when I arrived. She explained that Lady Demelza had given instructions not to disturb my rest by bringing my luggage up to my room while I slept. Betty had strict instructions to unpack my trunk later while I dined with my hosts.

Have you worked at the castle for long, Betty? I asked as I rose reluctantly from the bed and began to splash water onto my slumber-jaded face. I had not expected to sleep, and certainly not so well.

No, miss. She watched with interest as I pulled the silver-handled brush through my long, straight hair. Just a few weeks. I was took on as a parlour maid, but, when Mrs Lethbridge got Her Ladyship’s letter, she thought I might be a good choice to serve you.

I twisted my hair quickly into its