The Cobra Marked King
The Thrilling Victorian Adventures of the Most Dangerous Woman in Europe
by Brenda Clough
All these years, Marian Halcombe has hidden her stepson Zed, the secret heir to an Asian island kingdom. She swore to fulfil her dead husband’s dying wish and set the boy on his throne. But now Zed is of age and he steps forward to fulfill a pirate prince’s dream of peace and unity. Marian’s greatest adventure is about to begin. Can she guide the Cobra Marked King to the destiny he was born to fulfil?
Marian’s royal pirate husband was murdered, leaving her a perilous legacy: his son. Marian must fulfil his dying wish, to raise the orphan and restore him to his throne in Asia. As Zed Saylor, the boy heir has been safely hidden in England under her care. Now grown to manhood, Zed steps forward when his nation calls for him to overthrow the usurper and save his people. And Marian is ready with the plans and funding to set him on his throne. But all the weapons she prepared are the tools of the West. Zed’s Asian kingdom is defended by powers that even Marian Halcombe did not foresee. These are the perils Zed must face to truly become the Cobra Marked King.
PRAISE FOR MARIAN HALCOMBE
Just last night finished reading Marian Halcombe: The Thrilling Victorian Adventures of the Most Dangerous Woman in Europe, by Brenda W. Clough, and I had such a good time! The steadfast alliance between Marian, the dangerous woman of the title, and her more decorous sister, Laura, is a delight, as is the growing consternation of the men – hero and villain alike – as they come to realize just exactly what – who! – it is they’re dealing with. The book’s voice is pitch perfect, which adds to the fun. I’m in for the next one. – Sharon Lee, co-author of the Liaden Universe® novels
It’s a sequel to The Woman In White – but it’s so much more than that. This is a bodice-ripping yarn, a Victorian melodrama with a modern sensibility, a delightful romp, a thriller and a romance and a comedy of manners all at once. I adored it. – Chaz Brenchley, author of author of Three Twins at the Crater School
Brenda Clough’s invincible and endearing Marian Halcombe Camlet easily enters the company of Jane Marple, Miss Maud Silver, Pamela North, and Prudence Ford as a British female sleuth in the mid-1800s. The Marian novels are an absolute joy to read. – Paul S. Piper, author of The Wolves of Mirr
A ripping yarn! Thrilling, lushly Victorian, with a dashing heroine who is not even handsome, yet she bags a delightful husband – not without considerable heroic effort and derring-do – and upholds the finest traditions of pure womanhood! (Well… kinda pure.) – Jennifer Stevenson, author of Coed Demon Sluts
The secret diary of Miss Tryphenia M. Tylerton, spinster but not for long!
September 17, 1890
I had not known that one can’t take one’s money into prison. Since Pa’s sentence is for three years, he has given me his fortune. He is very wise! I have considered carefully the most prudent action. I think the best thing to do with my sudden access of fortune is to marry royalty. Then, not only will Pa’s money be safe. I could get my prince or king to pry Pa out of prison. Even the strictest parent could hardly complain about that, and I have Pa’s measure. He will be delighted.
I take ship tomorrow from New York for London. I hear tell there’s plenty of titles there, and I’m going to find me one.
Marian, Lady Donthorne’s journal
21 September 1890
To picnic on Hampstead Heath, the three young men had dragged out every cushion and rug in Sandett House. The painter John Constable used to sit on this very slope to capture clouds on his canvas: big-bellied puffs of white, mountain-high and foam-light, sailing majestically across a fathomless blue sky. There is no landscape more English. We sat in the centre of all that is our nation. I tipped the broad Leghorn hat to shade my eyes and thought to myself, I must remember this, this moment of perfection.
Zed spoke with dreamy peace from where he lay in the shade of the chestnut tree. “Why is the sky so big in England?”
“Doesn’t it look this large in the South China Sea?” Idly Dickon tossed his empty beer bottle up into the air and caught it again.
Tad replied, “No, Zed’s right. Even in the middle of the ocean, it’s not like this.”
There was a long somnolent pause, broken only by the joyful twitter of swallows as they spun and swooped through the azure late-summer firmament. Even the insects dozed in the last delicious warmth of summer. Soon, too soon, winter shall come. But today is Paradise.
“Might as well let you fellows in on the news,” Dickon said at last. “Last week I proposed to Merry, and she said yes.”
Zed rolled over. “Did she? About time. Tremendous congratters, Dickon! Shall I be your best man?”
“If you marry my sister, then we’ll be truly brothers!” Tad glanced at me. “And of course you approve, Mama.”
“Of course.” From my perch on a lawn chair I smiled down at them, my boys, though I gave birth only to Tad. They were alike and yet quite different. All three dark-haired and dark-eyed, they were entirely handsome, in the first glorious bloom of early manhood.
Dickon is the slightest but visibly a Lowry, an English aristocrat whose ancestors came over with the Conqueror. My stepson Zed’s Asian blood shows in the subtly sculped cheekbones and eyes. The lean height, and his straight black hair and Eurasian light-brown skin, are from his father, my lost third husband Tsan Ziyahn Lord Sze. And over the years Tad has, mercifully, become more and more like my first husband Theo. In sturdy build and most especially in turn of mind, he is his father’s son, intelligent and inventive.
Flushed with health, sunshine, and two baskets of an excellent Sunday picnic luncheon, they were glorious young men. Surely no sight makes a mother’s heart lighter. “Merry loves you, Dickon. So how can I object?”
“She loves me for myself,” he replied. “Not my title, nor my fortune, but me! You’ve no notion, chaps, how wonderful that is.” Dickon is properly known as Lord Richard Henry Halcombe Lowry. He shall be Earl of Brecon and Stowe when his father, my third cousin, passes. He could marry any girl in the world. My youngest daughter Merry is innocent of guile or ambition. She has never needed them, being armed instead with beauty and charm to the strength of triple steel. But now she’ll marry far above her station – dangerously far.
The thought impelled me to speak again. “Dickon, what does your father say?”
There was no shadow of trouble in his reply. “For the first ten years of our lives, everyone said how sweet it was, that Merry and I were children so fond of each other. The next decade it was calf love, something they assured us all young people outgrow. Even when I became of age, my older sister Cressy was getting married, and I had to wait. But now, what objection could anyone possibly make?”
Before I could reply there was a distant halloo from behind us. At the top of the slope near the house a tall goatee-bearded figure waved his bowler at us. Sir Roderick Donthorne is one of my oldest friends. It still astonishes me, that he waited for decades for the chance to become my fourth husband. “Come join us, Roderick,” I cried.
“There’s news, my dear,” my husband called. “This way, sirs – he’s here.”
To my astonishment Roderick was at the head of a considerable cavalcade. Perhaps a dozen men in suits and bowlers, older men in frock coats and tall hats, and in the middle foreigners, in strange clothing. They trooped down the hill, stepping gingerly over the tussocks of buttercup and ox-eye daisy.
Had the day come at last? Terrified, I sat up and looked at Zed. Under the biscuit-brown, my stepson had gone pale. Slowly he rose to his feet.
Instinctively the other two young men stood with him, one on each side, as they have stood for so many years. I scrambled out of my chair as Roderick came and took my hand. He looked down from his greater height at me, and from behind the gold pince-nez he flicked an eyelid, only half a wink.
The white men hung back to let the foreigners approach. There were half a dozen of them, Asiatics with straight black hair like Zed’s. Some were dressed like his late father’s people, in loose dark tunics and trousers girded with cutlasses. Others had sarongs over their silk pyjamas, and cylindrical caps. They came straight to Zed and shuffled themselves into a ragged line before him.
Then to my amazement they bowed, not from the waist like Western gentlemen but the Asian prostration, bending both knees and crouching with their forearms flat on the turf. Only the man in the middle knelt up again. The words he spoke were not English, but I recognised the first few syllables. “Sze Wei Ziyahn,” he said. “Raja Muda.”
The breath caught in my throat. Ziyahn had been Tsan’s title! From the breast of his strange silk robe the visitor drew a scroll. It was tied with scarlet cord and the knots were sealed with wax. He held this up to Zed.
Very slowly my stepson took it. “In nine years,” he said, “no one has spoken my true name.”
All those years Zed has been in my charge. Of all my children he has needed me the most. I thought I knew him. But now, suddenly, he was a stranger. He shifted to Paru Chinese, words I could not understand in a language more ancient than English. Even his face altered. For years his open boyish countenance had been flavored only distantly with the East. Now he spoke like the masters of men that his ancestors had been before him. And I remembered what the title meant. The Ziyahn is next behind the Ziy, the king. Zed is to be the ruler of the Asian nation of Parubalatang, on the other side of the globe.
“What do they say, Roderick?” I whispered. “What’s happening?”
“What we foresaw, Marian,” he replied quietly. “They hail Zed as Ziyahn and Raja Muda – the Ziy to come and also the Crown Prince of his mother’s country, of Gazerakastara. They beg him to return to Asia, unite the two realms, and rule.”