Twenty-five years ago
Lloyd Fellows’ small fists beat into the dirty face of the older boy, bloodying the mouth that had taunted him. Your mum’s a whore, your dad was a scabby old man, and you’re a bastard, a bastard.
Now the older boy was howling, his teeth on the pavement and blood running down his face. Everyone knew not to taunt Lloyd of the hot temper, but sometimes it was hard to resist. Lloyd always taught them to respect his fists.
Besides, his dad wasn’t a scabby old man. His dad was a duke. When Lloyd had been very little, he’d been sure his father would come along in a golden coach and take him away from the squalid streets of London to his palace in Scotland. There Lloyd would have all the toys he wanted, horses, and brothers to play with. His dad had other sons, his mum had told him, and she’d told him Lloyd deserved everything they had.
Years passed, and no golden coach came down the back lanes of working-class London. Wiser now, Lloyd knew the duke was never coming.
Until today. Today, he’d learned, because Lloyd made it his business to know everything that happened in this part of town, his father’s ducal coach would be passing along High Holborn to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where he would be visiting solicitors. Why the duke would visit the solicitors, Lloyd had no idea, nor did he care.
His plan was to stop the coach by any means possible, present himself to his father, and tell the man he needed to take care of Lloyd and his mum. Simple as that.
The duke had never sent money, letters, any word at all that acknowledged he’d fathered Lloyd Fellows. Fellows wasn’t even his true name—his mother had taken it, pretending to be married to a Mr. Fellows who’d died long ago. Lloyd’s mum had been a tavern maid, a duke had charmed her, gotten her with child, and then left her. The duke had never spoken to or looked at them again.
Today, Lloyd would change that. He’d put on the clothes he wore to church whenever his mum bothered to take him and headed up to High Holborn.
Except the little oik, Tommy Wortley, decided to waylay Lloyd and begin his taunts. Lloyd could have thrown them off, but Tommy had brought friends, and rocks. When the stones had started flying, Lloyd had grabbed Tommy and slammed him into the wall, and the fight had commenced.
Now Lloyd was bloody and filthy, his best shirt torn. His mum would tan his hide. But it didn’t matter. Time was running out.
Lloyd delivered one final blow, leaving Tommy writhing in the mud, and he took off, running in his usual swift stride toward High Holborn.
He barely made it. He darted through the crowd, brick in hand, avoiding the grabs of the irritated men he pushed aside.
There was the coach, tall and polished, pulled by matched gray horses. As it came closer, Lloyd watched the burly coachman in his red coat and tall hat, knowing that the coachman could scatter all his plans if he wasn’t careful.
The coach came into full view. Black, with its wheels and points picked out in gold, it bore the crest of the Duke of Kilmorgan on the door—a stag surrounded by curlicues and words Fellows didn’t understand. Lloyd’s father, Daniel Malcolm Mackenzie, was the thirteenth duke in the Scottish line and the first in the English line. Lloyd had spent his childhood teaching himself all about dukes and how they became dukes. This duke had been given a high honor by Queen Victoria to be recognized in England too.
Lloyd waited for the strategic moment, then he let fly the brick, right at the coachman. His aim was not to hurt or disable the man, but to make him stop the coach.
The brick hit the coachman in the hand. The coachman dropped the reins in surprise, and the coach veered. A cart coming the other way skittered to a stop in the thick traffic, and the cart’s driver swore loudly and vehemently.
The coachman quickly caught the reins and tugged the horses right again, but a bottleneck had already happened. The coachman stood up on his box and told the cartman what he thought, finishing with Get out of the way, you piece of dung, this is a duke’s coach.
Lloyd slipped through the morass to the stopped carriage. The coach was a tall box rising above him, shining and clean, except for what mud had splashed on it this morning.
One of the windows went down, and a man put his head out. He had a mass of dark red hair and thick red sideburns, a dark red beard just starting to gray, and a full moustache. From behind all this hair, which was carefully groomed, blazed eyes yellow like an eagle’s.
“Get this pox-rotted coach moving!” the man shouted. “You! Boy!”
Lloyd blinked. The duke, his father, had fixed his gaze on him and was speaking to him. Lloyd opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
“Yes, you there. Gaping like a fish. Go see what’s wrong.”
Lloyd worked his jaw, trying to remember how to speak. “Sir,” he managed. “I—”
“Go to it, boy, before I come out and beat you.”
I’m your son.
The words wouldn’t come. Lloyd stood, frozen, while the man who’d sired him, the lofty Duke of Kilmorgan, glared down at him.
“Are you an imbecile?” The duke ripped open the door, showing he wasn’t concerned about preserving his finery or position by climbing down from the coach into the street. He grabbed Lloyd by the ear and shook him hard. “I tell you to do something, boy, you obey me. Get out there and tell that cart to move.”
The man didn’t even offer a coin, as other aristos did when they commanded boys on the street to do things for them. The duke’s fingers pinched hard, and Lloyd felt a blow across his chin.
“Go.” The duke shoved him away.
Lloyd stumbled back. The years of dreaming, hoping, pretending this man would come for him and take him to a golden castle shattered at his feet.
How could he have been so stupid? Lloyd was old enough now to understand that many men saw women as merely bodies on which they took their pleasure, nothing more. So had the duke done with Lloyd’s mother. Lloyd’s existence was nothing but an accident of nature.
Disappointment, heartbreak, and fury welled up in him and, as usual, came out through his fists. Lloyd launched himself at the duke, screaming in berserker rage.
“Bastard! Bloody, dung-eating, stupid, bloody bastard!” Lloyd pummeled the duke, blows landing on the man’s chest, stomach, arms, and one lucky one across his face. The duke’s nose spouted blood as easily as Tommy’s had.
The duke seized Lloyd by both shoulders, his strength astonishing. Then he had Lloyd on the ground and started beating him with large fists, kicking him with heavy boots made from the finest leather.