When Kornglow returned to the corner of the old stable he was more than a little surprised to see a horse tethered where there had been none before. It was a tall white stallion, and its ears pricked forward as Kornglow approached it. How had this noble steed gotten here? Then he saw that he was in a different place entirely from where he'd thought he was. The magic key must have led him through one of those doorways Azzie had been speaking about, and his adventure could already be launched.
He had to make sure. Espying the saddlebags that the horse wore, Kornglow opened the one nearest him and reached in. His hand encountered something massy and metallic, thin, and long. He pulled it halfway out. A candlestick! And unless he missed his guess, it was made of solid gold. He slid it back carefully into the saddlebag.
The horse whinnied at him, as though inviting him to get up and ride away, but Kornglow shook his head, left the stable, and looked around outside. The stately manor house not twenty yards from him was unmistakably the house of Lord Rodrigo Sforza, the selfsame house where Kornglow had had his first and only glimpse of Lady Cressilda.
It was her house. She was inside.
There was no sense in rushing into this. Compunction cast its dark wings over him, and Kornglow took thought. Now, for the first time, he considered his adventure, and found it more than a little daft. It was always nobles who were doing this sort of thing. Well, sometimes commoners were involved in the folktales. But was he the stuff folk- story heroes were made of? He doubted it. He knew he was gifted with a swift turn of fantasy; otherwise he wouldn't have gotten himself into this in the first place. But was he the man to persevere through it? Was the lady worth it?
"Why, sir," said a soft voice at his elbow, "you do bend your gaze on the manor house as if someone very special were awaiting you there."
Kornglow turned. Beside him was a diminutive milkmaid in peekaboo bodice and full pleated skirt. She had tousled dark curly hair, a pert expression, a full and curvaceous figure for so small a person, and a smile that was both gentle and lascivious. An unbeatable combination.
"That's Lord Sforza's house, isn't it?" Kornglow asked.
"That it is," the milkmaid said. "Were you thinking of kidnapping Lady Cressilda?"
"Why do you say that?" Kornglow asked.
"Because it cuts directly to the heart of the matter," the woman said. "There's a game afoot, put forth by a certain demon who is known to friends of mine."
"He said Lady Cressilda would be mine," Kornglow said.
"Easy enough for him to promise," the woman said. "I am Leonore, a simple milkmaid to all appearances, but in truth rather more, I assure you. I am here to tell you that the lady you're considering tying yourself to is a bitch of purest nastiness supreme. Winning her will be like damning yourself to the deepest pit of Hell."
Kornglow was much surprised at this speech. He looked at Leonore with an interest that grew more intense as the seconds passed by. "Lady," he said, "I know not what to do. Could you perchance advise me?"
"That I could," Leonore said. "I will read your palm, and that will tell all. Come over here where we can be comfortable."
She led him back into the stable, to a corner where the hay was piled in soft comfortable heaps. Her eyes were wide and wild and had the color of magic, and her touch was featherlight. Taking his hand, she drew him down beside her.