The Humming Bird Book 1<br/>Madness in Crescendo

Author: Isabella & Irena de Wardin
Publisher: Xlibris
Published: 2015-06-03
ISBN(s) 978-1499087079
Language(s): English
Category: Fiction
Audience: Adult, Youth (13 to 17)
Genre(s): Dystopian, Romance, Fantasy Read Excerpt >

Chapter 1: The Supplanter 

‘Maria, if you continue prancing around like a demented ogre, your new gown will end up crumpled and torn, and you will be forced to attend the ball as naked as the day you were born!’

‘That is a wonderful idea, Ilga. We will be celebrating my birthday, after all; I believe the sight of my bare body will awaken nostalgia for my childhood days.’ As she said those mocking words, Maria Langlord chased after her miniature Yorkshire terrier, Mr Yaud. Ilga, Maria’s governess, huffed and puffed as she endeavoured to catch the giggling duchess. Once she clutched Maria’s arm, she would not let go.

‘For God’s sake, child! You are nineteen years old. Behave yourself and blind your audience with the posh education your parents gave you!’ 

The nineteen-year-old frowned and, freeing her limb from the governess’s tenacious grasp, reached out for her jewellery box on a nearby table. In one motion, the cheeky girl poured the contents of it over her frame, and the unstable gemstones formed a sort of quivering, grotesque tiara atop her auburn head. ‘Is that blinding enough for you?’ 

‘Thank heavens your parents are blessed with my great golden patience,’ the flustered nanny continued.

‘Oh, yes, go on, flatter yourself!’ Maria said sarcastically before conceitedly examining her figure in the mirror, gazing at the long white dress with transparent, glittering sleeves that revealed her shoulders. Her slender fingers traced the edge of her low neckline revealing the round and elegant upper halves of her porcelain breasts. She smiled knowingly at her reflection.

Ilga arched her brow. ‘When you mix with society, I hope your behaviour will be more proper.’

‘Of course! I shall not eat with my mouth agape or do anything compromising or illegal without your thorough approbation,’ she ridiculed Ilga’s words, consequently earning a snarl from the governess. 

At this moment, Maria’s parents entered the room. 

‘Oh! There you are my magnificent, wonderful creation! Let me admire you!’ Duchess Michelle Langlord chirped. Feigning pensiveness with a hand over her mouth, she gazed at her daughter. ‘Beautiful, honey! Staggeringly perfect! Flawlessly elegant and chic.’ 

‘You will break a lot of hearts tonight,’ Duke Frederick Langlord confirmed his wife’s exuberance. ‘Everything is ready,’ he noted. ‘The musicians are rehearsing and the guests will be at the venue in no time. So put the final touches on your charming outfit, as you are expected downstairs in a few minutes. Make haste, for the chauffeur is waiting.’ 

Maria nodded. ‘Yes, Commander.’

As soon as her parents had left, Maria sat at the vanity for Ilga to comb her long strands and then braid them in a circle around her head before ornamenting the hairdo with small white roses and pearls.

The young maiden felt a strange sensation roaming freely through her veins, and it was almost nauseating. Her heart pumped anxiously as she imagined meeting people, their eyes ever so watchful for possible flaws. Those eyes crucified their victims with the mere blink of disapproval. 

Maria at last ignored her uneasiness when blinded by her own beauty reflected superbly in the mirror.



Under no circumstances was a grand ball in Voskia missed by anyone, especially not a ball put on by such an esteemed family as the Langlords.

A grand ball was, for some, not a time to enjoy oneself but to be seen parading in gorgeous attire and to make witty conversation in order to snag a listener’s attention and earn golden opportunities. 

Many laboured under the misapprehension that everyone in the upper echelons lived a happy existence. This was certainly not true during this period in Voskia. At this time, friends were scarce and enemies numerous; foes waited patiently round every corner to ruin reputations, families, and lives. 

Since the fall of the monarchy and the rise of the presidency in Voskia five years before, the wealthy bourgeoisie mingled with the aristocracy; even though titles had disappeared with democracy, they still were ominously present in everyone’s mind – marrying Duke Robinson was more profitable than being betrothed to Mr Robinson.

Having endured the strain of a four-year war, Voskia’s economy was in crisis; several large fortunes had been trimmed down. Consequently, some parents had an adamant desire to seize a rich heir or heiress, and pressure their offspring into a marriage of interest.


It was Maria’s nineteenth birthday, and it would not go by unnoticed, her much-loved parents insisted. The residence prepared for the grand celebration of this event was absolutely breathtaking. Standing mightily atop a great hill, the castle, its walls white and tall, was surrounded by a sea of thick, soft grass and countless plants of gold and green. From the towers soaring high to the cellars buried deep, the whole place echoed with the laugher of all the joyful guests. 

Maria finally arrived and was announced. All eyes beheld her. 

 With the back of her pristine white dress trailing elegantly behind her, Maria, with a swan’s grace, descended the white marble stairs and set foot inside the immensity of the glittering space. She disappeared inside the cloud of diamond tiaras, lace, and prudish talk. 

Large white pillars supported the vaulted ceiling. Paintings, chandeliers, statues, and spotless mirrors ornamented the brightly lit room. Flirtatious ladies batted open their colourful fans, granting alluring gazes with the fluttering of sparkling eyelashes, whose sheen could almost rival the sun’s luminosity, to the passing gentlemen catching their fancy. Older women stared at this suggestive behaviour, repulsed or jealous, before abruptly turning their heads away. Males mostly chatted with the young females or remained together, preferably near the wine and champagne. A few small, round tables where the guests could set their beverages sat here and there. The servants circled the invitees like hawks around their prey, offering hors d’oeuvres and pastries. Fragrances filled the air, and women were largely responsible for them. 

The orchestra played all the songs selected with sharp accuracy by Maria’s parents. Next to the maestro was a lonely music stand, probably meant for a solo violinist who was currently absent. 

Maria stood like a doll, nattering politely with eligible bachelors and the coquettish ladies introduced to her. 

She overheard her parents’ pleasant banter with a man in his sixties, who seemed to be looking at her, if not ogling the young duchess a great deal. Maria’s brows shot up when the sexagenarian’s wrinkled eyelid granted her a slow and lascivious wink. She excused herself from the plump bloke she was talking to and strayed into exile.

Roaming near the orchestra, she was glad to find an old acquaintance, the twenty-year-old Baroness Annie Glynford. ‘What is happening? You seem uncomposed,’ the damsel remarked, gently taking hold of Maria’s hands. 

‘Is it so visible?’ the birthday girl asked through gritted teeth. 

Annie chuckled softly. ‘Is it the men around? None of them catches your fancy?’ 

Maria merely shrugged, brushing away the assertive question. 

Annie frowned. ‘Try to make an effort, especially now, in this time of crisis. Marrying gold is in everyone’s interest.’ 

Maria rolled her eyes, dismissing the baroness’s words one by one. ‘Who is this gentleman in the brightly coloured costume chattering with my parents?’ she enquired. 

Annie discreetly searched for the fellow in question and quickly turned her head away when he glimpsed furtively in their direction. ‘This gentleman is Lord Byronaless, a powerful man, and one of the richest. He is single and on the lookout for a bride.’

‘Oh, yes! Lord Byronaless.’ Indeed, the appellation was not alien to our young duchess, as her parents were given to dropping it in front of their guests. Overseeing the police and controlling security forces within the country, this lord was a Voskian politician and friend to people of the utmost importance. This inelegant specimen was not to be trifled with, for he possessed innumerable connections, and thus had found himself high in Voskia’s social hierarchy. Maria knew that there were sordid reasons behind his ascendancy in the pecking order, but the sinister story had been kept buried. Nonetheless, she judged it best to let sleeping dogs lie; she would not be the one to besmirch his name. Besides, it was, after all, wiser not to dwell on a subject that did not concern the lady that she was.

Lord Byronaless. Even though he was very short, he managed to stand out. He paraded around in most frightening attire: a large, feathery-furry, green-and-orange jacket engulfed his pudgy form, drawing one’s attention nearly completely away from his thin dry lips. His thinning grey hair was not flattered by its covering of an ugly bright red top hat encrusted with emeralds and adorned with pheasant feathers. Decorated with sparkling beads of all colours, his shoes matched the rest of his costume. He was a garish clown, with wrinkled, sallow skin and a large, groomed moustache under his nose.

 ‘How could he be on the lookout for a bride? He is so old,’ Maria pointed out in a loud whisper, refraining from protruding her tongue in great resentment. 

‘Yes, but money does not age, and speaking of money, he is blessed with much more than anyone else here. And, if I may indiscreetly point out, your parents have great admiration for him,’ Annie replied.

 ‘Admiration for his capital,’ the younger girl countered.

Annie faltered before continuing, ‘There is talk that he has his eye on you for a potential bride.’ 

Maria’s eyes widened in terror. 

‘Are you completely oblivious to his great affection for you?’ 

Maria wished to express her genuine ignorance of the horrific fact but could not, for words failed her.

 ‘You know,’ Annie began, ‘the good thing about marrying an old, practically deaf and blind man is that you can easily hire the services of a well-endowed gigolo without fear of divorce or drama. All you have to do is have the aforementioned gigolo dress as a nurse and tell your old spouse you are making use of his services because you worry about his aging bones and heart.’ 

‘Get out of my sight!’ Maria retorted sourly. 

The waltz stopped and everyone clapped after the song. 

The instrumentalists scanned their surroundings; unmistakably, something was bothering them. The maestro smiled timidly at the crowd, whose hackles began to rise as they waited for the soloist to appear.


Suddenly, a man ran out of the shadows behind the stage, dropped to his knees, and slid across the floor. He was imitating a rock star, except instead of a guitar, he held a violin, and the instrument’s bow was between his teeth.

A deadly silence engulfed the audience and musicians. Finally, the guests clapped, all the while commenting that his manners bordered on the boorish. The black-haired violinist swiftly jumped up to stand, and sliding his rectangular violin case off his back, he laid it soundlessly on the ground. Glancing behind him, he stuck his tongue out, and winked at the bemused maestro and orchestra. The maestro drooped his arms and went pale, whereas the instrumentalists remained firmly unmoving.

‘The gentleman is here, so what are you waiting for?’ an expectant someone peevishly complained. The stiff maestro, his back turned to the audience, shuddered and promptly signalled for the music to begin. The orchestra resumed its concert with a well-known Voskian song.

With his head down and the violin perched on his shoulder, the outlandish musician remained mute. The maestro could not help but fire a discreet but nonetheless terrified look at the silent newcomer. The spectators became more vocal, and further remarks on this stranger’s outrageous deportment were not scarce. Moreover, his slovenly attire – dirty black pantaloons with a long, tattered, burgundy velvet coat – elicited regular criticism.

At last, with his head up and his emerald eyes lost in the never-ending horizon of his imagination, the eccentric fiddler paced to and fro. The listeners showed their unease when his broad smile widened and his eyes danced with sudden mirth. At last, he tucked his violin under his chin and began to play notes unconnected to the tune; extraordinarily enough, they complemented the melody wonderfully.

The fuming conductor peered at the soloist in awe; this artist played so well, perhaps too well. Petrified with admiration, the stunned audience remained pinned to the spot.

As the song progressed in beauty and difficulty, the virtuoso, smiling immensely, ventured to the very edge of the stage. Keeping perfect equilibrium, he walked along it with his eyes closed. His agile fingers created a dementedly thrilling solo, which gradually revealed itself faster and more complicated by the second, and the soloist arched his back further and further until his head scraped the floor. He was so flexible! Coming back up, his bow rebounding, sliding, shifting rapidly from string to string, he guffawed at the bemused looks he received.

Breathless, the young duchess gawked at this captivating character as she came closer and closer to the stage. His attractiveness was undeniable, but his odd persona and his restless facial contortions intimidated all the ladies in the room. Maria’s chest heaved with sudden admiration; never had she heard playing like his before or witnessed someone acting so peculiar. She had listened to many great violinists, been to many concerts, and seen countless shows. However, something about this soloist’s music put all the rest in the shade. The words strong and passionate were insufficient to describe his masterful playing. It was perfection born from the very essence of beauty.

Maria’s cheeks flushed in sweet embarrassment, and her untried heart skipped a beat when his stare caught hers. With his fingers still moving rapidly along the violin’s fingerboard, he grinned widely at her. Leaning forward over the edge of the stage, he pursed his lips in Maria’s direction and wiggled his dark brows, completing his grimace with a mocking wink. Disconcerted, Maria quickly looked away as if her interest was demanded elsewhere.

A gunshot echoed; its roar cut the melody’s voice short.

The fiddler had crouched down, escaping the quietus the bullet had tried to bestow upon him. Shouts escaped all mouths until silence fell heavily over everyone.

The young musician groaned his displeasure and, pressing his bow hard on the strings, pulled it down slowly; a painful, raspy shriek spewed out from the violin’s achy throat. This strident cry of anger stabbed every single ear but instantly faded away when the fiddler stopped, pouted, and glared at his attackers: the tap-dancing police. Silence.

Officers cocked their weapons in his direction while striking the ground continuously with the metal plates on the soles of their shoes. The affluent crowd cried in panic and parted, clearing the way to the stage for the officers. Feeling utterly helpless, Maria’s parents simply stepped in front of their daughter, protecting her with their bodies. 

Lord Byronaless, his bejewelled hands wriggling over his covered cranium, bravely let his short legs laboriously take his stout self in the direction of the individual who had fired: Chief of Police Croft Rainhard. Since Byronaless controlled security forces within the country, this violent police raid on the celebration would be detrimental to his reputation – what would society think of his authority after this? The old lord had to act fast. 

On the brink of apoplexy, Byronaless halted and hollered: ‘Buddhist priest, Croft! What do you think you are doing, you beastly, brutish boodle?’ Silence resounded behind him. Still panting profusely, Byronaless shivered in mortification and, turning around, spared a crooked but nonetheless angelic smile for each concerned face.

‘That man is an impostor!’ Croft Rainhard denounced the soloist while marching with his men towards the stage, under the increasingly concerned gazes of everyone in the room. ‘He is a criminal who gagged and bound the real violinist in the toilets!’

‘Blow me down!’ Byronaless let out before choking on his own ragged breath. 

All heads turned to the accused, whose answer was a guilty grin. Soundlessly, this young man replaced his violin in its case before strapping it on his back.

Struck by shock, the audience dared not stir.

With a grimace, the supplanter extended his leg to the side and prepared to slip away like a crab. 

‘Get him!’ Croft ordained, clacking his metallic heel on the varnished wood.

Officers poured onto the stage after their musical prey, who bounded into the audience, stepping on heads, shoulders, tables on tiptoe as if he were walking on eggs. Crystal glasses, plates, and all manner of utensils clattered to the floor. Landing on firm ground, the musician ran for his liberty and dear life.

Striving to catch this infuriating rabbit, an officer leapt towards him, but the agile quarry propelled himself to the side and, rolling swiftly on the floor, coursed speedily on all fours and slid like an eel under tables and long, large gowns, eliciting outraged gasps from the women who wore them.

In a fit of rage, the uniformed tap dancers brought out their guns and made ready to pull the triggers. 

‘Stop it, you blaitie-bums, or you’ll injure my fans!’ Byronaless cried. 

‘What fans?’ an officer asked. ‘This isn’t your party, My Lord.’ 

‘Every celebration directly or indirectly celebrates me, you bungling baboon!’

Forthwith, the policemen brandished their swords and began to stab each table, hoping to skewer the bandit underneath. Ripping tablecloths and lashing out at any nearby furniture, those ruthless fanatics tore through the room.

The fugitive suddenly emerged from underneath a table. Flinging his leg up, he kicked the first assailant he encountered and then slammed his violin-case at the ones that followed. He swiftly leaped high over an attacker, who froze and stared at the musician admiringly. ‘You sure you’re just a violinist?’ he blurted out.

His only answer a beaming smile playing on his lips, the acrobat-fiddler cavorted towards the main doors which had become his synonym for freedom … just as a second round of officers marched in, in a straight line, their metallic toes flapping and drumming against the floor, blocking his way.

The outlaw squinted, laughed, and tossed his instrument case at the person closest to him – Maria. Grasping it, she had no time to think when she found herself fiercely drawn against him, his strong arms around her. 

‘I’ll kiss her if you don’t let me go!’ The blackguard pursed his lips in warning. Everyone blinked in perplexity; he doubtlessly had unwittingly spoken amiss. 

‘Take your filthy paws off my daughter, you monstrous barbarian,’ Frederick Langlord snarled. 

‘The Supplanter answers to no one. Come get her yourself, flabby,’ the monstrous barbarian retorted, waving his case-holding hand in the air. He pulled Maria closer. 

‘I am not flabby!’ the Duke shot back indignantly (indeed, dear reader, he was not flabby) before he was elbowed by his wife. There were more important matters at hand than Frederick’s pride.

Maria, unable to stir a muscle, felt tremors ripple through her tense body; she did not know whether she shivered because of fear or because she was oddly captivated by this unusual man with piercing emerald eyes; these eyes danced with mischief and appreciation as they slid from her parted lips to her chin, to finally land on the round upper halves of her porcelain breasts, exposed by her low neckline, and squeezed against his hard chest. 

‘Let my precious daughter go, I beg of you!’ her mother implored. 

‘It’s simple. I go free, she goes free,’ the wicked one responded cheekily. Consequently, the officers in front of him stepped sideways, freeing the path to the exit.

The fiddler leered at Maria, vigorously pushed her towards the crowd as he claimed his violin case, and unexpectedly bolted to the left, away from the exit. He jumped onto a table and threw himself out of a large window with his case outstretched in front of him to shatter the glass and shelter his face.

The officers who had concealed themselves behind the entryway blazed with fury upon seeing him flee in the other, unforeseen direction. ‘He’s on the other side!’ They drilled and sprinted in pursuit of the fugitive who, nimbler than a cat, had mingled with the night, disappearing into the shadows of mystery.


Even though time calmed the atmosphere, the jabbering did not cease, for the astonishment, like a stubborn flower, wilted with difficulty. Maria had stayed stationary, breathing heavily. Too bemused to be curious about where this enigmatic stranger had gone, she hemmed and walked over to where her parents held their infuriated show of their victimhood. 

‘Who on earth was this madman? How did this vagabond, this beggar, this Gypsy – Lord only knows what this nefarious soul is – sneak in here?’ Maria’s father fumed as he stomped over to the Chief of Police.

‘Persons in charge of the castle reported hearing strange music coming from one of the towers a few days ago,’ Croft explained, his countenance frosted with villainous tranquillity. ‘Since the search for the author of the sounds remained fruitless, it was assumed the intruder was, in fact, a bird singing.’ 

‘A chirping pigeon? How absurd! My daughter could have been killed! This is mortifying.’

Croft glowered. ‘He did not threaten to kill her, My Lord.’ 

A chirpy laugh broke the edginess in the atmosphere. ‘I believe we should head back to the festivities,’ Lord Byronaless said, hideously gleeful. ‘This loutish beast will be apprehended soon enough. He is probably a homeless hare-brained burglar bound to commit another heinous crime, and he shall be cornered then!’ 

‘My Lord …’

 ‘What now?’ Byronaless’s voice wavered with newborn annoyance as he whirled around. 

Despite the knot in his throat, the maestro continued timidly, ‘I know this man is inconvenient. But putting that to one side, he is astonishingly talented! He has everything – technique, a profound musicality, and originality. Also, he exudes such strong emotion when he plays─’ 

‘Oh, do not be buffaloed by his meagre talents!’ interjected Byronaless. ‘I could proficiently play the violin if I wished to waste my time. He remains nothing but a hooligan who chose a path of darkness, a wild beast that should be caged! Now, enough with this buffoonery. Let us all go back to bopping.’ Byronaless briefly swayed his buttocks from side to side in demonstration. 

Regardless of the prominent contradiction between his thoughts and Byronaless’s witless and inhumane solutions, the maestro nodded.

Following this incident, the orchestra commenced to play in a desperate attempt to calm the mood, and the little inconvenience to Maria’s birthday celebration was quickly forgotten. The music turned out to be a jolly Gallo to which everyone rushed to dance in couples or groups of four or five.

A clearing of a throat startled an unmoving Maria, and she spun around quite dizzyingly to meet the sexagenarian Lord Byronaless.

He studied her up and down, not bothering to hide his ardently pleased and famished gaze. ‘Well, well! Don’t you look seductive. You should not wander around bare-shouldered as you do, as you might whip up several lewd old men! But you have nothing to fear, as I am near! Not only can I rhyme like the dime, I also shine, but now, is that a crime?’ He spoke rhythmically, gesticulating around his plump physique in an attempt to make his «poetic» words seem more powerful.

Maria’s blood shot up and froze inside her brain. Her throat locked, and she stood mute in bafflement. Soon she was suffocating, and she coughed her mortification at seeing and hearing her most probable suitor express his dim-witted thoughts.

‘Well … how did I do? I await your approving criticism!’ 

Uncharitably, Maria remained silent. 

Deprived of an answer, Byronaless added, ‘I know, I know, you wonder how I manage to keep up with all of you youngsters with your unbridled, passionate, poetic minds! If you notice, my dear, I am on a special diet. In fact there is a magical pill…’ He trailed off, suddenly aware that certain masculine secrets were meant to remain secret. ‘But let’s not linger on this dreary subject!’ his throat rasped out. He harrumphed his obvious discomfort. ‘Now, go on. Ask me the question burning on your luscious lips!’

‘I … I beg your pardon, sir?’ Maria uttered, almost unable to conceal her disgust.

‘Now, now, no need to shy away from me, my flower in bloom! I know this music has aroused in you the need to sway with me, and I wholly assent to dance with you as, I am all yours.’ He leered, his dry lips twisting into a flirtatious smile, the corners of his mouth salivating all the while.

Maria’s pupils dilated. ‘But, with all due respect, sir, I have never mentioned anything about dancing.’ 

The repulsion she felt went completely unnoticed by Lord Byronaless’s pompous ego. ‘Of course you did not! But please, wipe the embarrassment off your face. I completely understand that a well-mannered bloomer such as you would be too shy to ask me for a dance. Not to mention it would have been highly improper. We are not like those blue-bellied, raggedy, rude gypsies, now, are we? I hold this horde of curs in my lowest esteem!’ He spat. 

The young maiden recoiled at his vulgarity.

Byronaless turned red at his own crude conduct and raised his hands defensively. ‘Did you see that? They are such a bubonic disease! The simple thought of them makes one act like an uneducated primate!’ he exclaimed between chesty coughs, almost gargling his own saliva. ‘I am appalled! This brood of monsters’ dreadful influence on our society definitely defy all of our beliefs. They must be eradicated!’ He paused. ‘My, oh my, blow my dickey! He is right. It is time,’ muttered he with a vile expression. His eyes became beady and black as if they had been pushed inside his skull, while his forehead looked as if it had grown in size. His bushy brows knitted, squeezing skin between them.

‘Time for what?’ questioned Maria. 

Byronaless’s head bobbed as if he were a puppet, and he uttered a single word that resonated in her ear. ‘Purge.’ His tone was diabolic, and his mouth curled into a sinister smile. 

A tremor of fright raced through Maria’s body and a sense of foreboding grew in her mind. Who was this he the unhinged elderly man spoke of?

‘Purge?’ she let out, emphasising this portent.

Without warning, Lord Byronaless cackled, which caused his skin to ripple and his face to melt into an amorphous blob. He set a ringed hand on Maria’s shoulder, and his yellow nails dug into her bare skin. ‘Worry not, my pulchritudinous peeress. Let the powerful men toy with the world. I assure you, it is a very agreeable game to watch, when you are not their target, of course! But you are from a refined, distinguished family, so you have absolutely nothing to lose sleep about. In fact, your status allows you a front-row seat to the extremely enjoyable entertainment … a spectacular view of the wash out.’ He nictated lasciviously, his cheeks rose, and he sniggered with a deformed sneer.

This alarmed Maria, but she was unable to give what had just happened further thought, as he prattled on again. 

‘But aren’t you curious as to how I managed to discover your yearning for me?’ he quizzed, returning to a gruesomely flirtatious tone, puffing out his chest like a peacock in springtime. 

‘For a dance, you mean?’ She attempted to step away but to no avail, as a group of waltzers blocked her movements. 

His girlish giggles like an owlet’s cry pierced her ears. ‘Yes, a dance! Well, I shall release you from your intense curiosity. I possess a gift!’ He leaned in closer to her as if about to divulge the biggest secret ever concealed from mankind. ‘I am able to read young, attractive souls like yours, and your spirit just cried out for a skip with me. I ought to compliment you on your excellent taste. Needless to say, I am a partner who is much in demand and, undoubtedly, the very best one could ever wish to find.’ 

‘Of course you are,’ she let out charitably.

‘Anyway, I am lavish with charm, talent, and money. All these twinkling diamonds,’ he motioned to the glittering decorations surrounding them, ‘are just insignificant trinkets compared to what I can give you!’ He threw his triple chin up lovingly. 

Maria’s conjecture was that Byronaless was merely striving to impress her but was failing miserably; his sallow, dehydrated face repelled her. Furthermore, his scent of rotten perversion was nauseating, and his gaudy attire was not pleasurable to behold.

‘So may I pleasure you with this dance?’ he offered, drooling like a ravenous beast in heat. 

Maria remained perfectly still, watching the pheasant-like man eye her lecherously. She did not know what was best: to hoot at his ridiculous and wayward conduct or to rip out the gleam in his eyes. Oh, how she wished to see him roasted! Nonetheless, if she wanted to prevent her parents’ wrath, it was best to acquiesce and smile dumbly at him, for indeed, there her parents were, throwing discreet gestures of menace in her direction. She could not refuse his invitation. Before focusing once again on the feathered old man, she closed her eyes momentarily so they would not throw poisonous arrows at him. At last, with a small nod, Maria unenthusiastically slipped her arm into his.

He led her into quadrilles and polkas. She could do nothing to quell her increasing boredom and unconsciously heaved tired sighs; her strength, as well as her patience, waned with the startling thought that her parents seemed indeed to be planning a potential wedding. 

‘Dancing is so stimulating, don’t you think? Doesn’t it make you get all kinds of delectable tingling sensations?’ Lord Byronaless’s raspy voice interrupted her dejected thoughts. 

She suppressed the need to roll her eyes; what a troll this aged soul was!

‘That’s enough!’ she roared in exasperation, but her statement had no time to reach his clotted ears, as he was forcefully pulled from her and whirled around by a tall, muscular man. 

‘I have news for you,’ the stranger declared, keeping Byronaless from falling with a firm grip on his shoulder.

 ‘Blamenation, Günter! You mannerless fop-doodle, can you not see that I am royally, divinely busy? What is your low-status self doing here anyhow? Begone, begone!’ Byronaless sputtered angrily, furiously beating the man with his short arms like a newborn chick attacking a colossal eagle. 

Günter’s features were so sharp it seemed the angles of his face had been hewn with an axe, and he was tall, bulky, and broad-shouldered. His eyes held a slight air of impatience. His hair, cut short atop his head, rose in tiny spikes, while the strands lower down grew longer and were tied in a discrete ponytail.

‘Low status? I’m a general, and you have requested my presence here,’ Günter drawled, clearly unfazed by the lord’s spiteful words.

‘Oh, please! That pitiable status of yours makes you barely more than a peasant!’ Byronaless grunted through gnashed teeth as he straightened himself, striving unsuccessfully to make himself seem imposing. 

Günter snorted loudly as he artfully tossed a cigarette to his mouth, catching it expertly with the side of his lips.

Putting his hands on his wide hips like an infuriated housewife, Byronaless glared at him. ‘Is the matter so important that you need disturb me?’ 

‘It involves the issue you have instructed me to inform you of at all costs, no matter when or where,’ Günter explained in his jaded voice. Surprisingly, he tore the wrapper off his cigarette in one swift movement, eating what had been inside in one go. Maria’s eyebrows shot up in disbelief when she noticed it had not been tobacco but chewing gum inside the wrapper.

Byronaless turned around clumsily with vexation evident on his face. ‘Will you excuse me, milady? I must attend to important, grown-up affairs.’ He took her hand and slobbered on it. 

Günter, munching on his gum in a bovine fashion, grinned amusedly at her obvious distaste for Byronaless.

‘What a pity!’ she croaked, her eyes widening almost immediately at the sarcasm in her tone. She slapped it away. ‘I mean, all good things must come to an end.’ 

‘But they shall be aroused again, milady! And you shall be excited to know the sperm of an idea has poked my head: you shall not miss my sweet presence too long, for I eagerly plan on inviting you and your parents to dinner in my humble abode!’ Byronaless smiled broadly and wriggled his yellow fingers above his head.

Maria wondered at the significance of such an act. It seemed he wanted her to imitate him, and she timidly did, wishing her performance satisfactory enough to make him disappear from her side. It did please him, for he at last turned around, leaving a sickened and inquisitive Maria behind. General Günter smirked at her before strolling after the dumpy lord, the sound of the metallic plates at the soles of his shoes trailing behind his every step.

It was evident that Byronaless was ignorant of the lore of good manners. Despite his affluence and good name, his demeanour was no better than the most uncouth, prurient individual, and the resemblance between his ill-mannered self and the silliest, ugliest of all baboons was quite striking.

Once again, for what seemed the millionth time that night, Maria stood immobile in the middle of the dance floor watching the orchestra. She finally moved – more accurately, was moved – when a couple accidentally bumped her.

She yelped as she felt herself slip, her feet frantically trying to keep her balance. She crashed straight into a large bucket of icy cold water holding several bottles of the finest champagne. The freezing liquid slithered like a snake all the way down her body, and she shuddered violently.

Maria hissed at her soaked dress. The pair that had so chaotically crashed into her had shame all over their panicked expressions, and apologies hanging from their embarrassed mouths. 

‘Oh God! We are so sorry, Lady Langlord!’ they apologized in unison, their faces contorted with guilt.

 ‘All is well, I assure you,’ an angry Maria dismissed stiffly. ‘Now, pray excuse me.’ Maria retreated slowly. 

 The couple nodded as the young duchess and her weighty smile went away from the glittering musical room. Her exit as well as the accident went unnoticed by her parents, who had busied themselves with entertaining their guests. 


Heading to the powder room, young Lady Langlord scurried near the walls. She hugged herself, which helped to hide her soaked front. Little lights hung along the rose-shaded corridor decorated with mirrors. 

Penetrating dimmer light, Maria halted upon hearing whispers coming from round the corner of another gloomy corridor, along which huge blocks of white marble – nude statues of gods and angels – stood in absolutely motionless silence, with eternal patience. Her curiosity enticed her to tiptoe towards the ghostly voices.

Peeking her head into the shade, she frowned upon witnessing Lord Byronaless having a stealthy conversation with two other men, whom she recognised to be Günter and Croft. Quietness prevailed; only the faint murmurs contradicted the stillness of it all. The humans were but shadows. A wave of cold suddenly whipped her senses, and a shiver of mistrust rippled in her conscience. Ensconcing herself behind the wall, she listened clandestinely to their hushed conversation.

‘Hold your bloodthirsty horses, Croft’ Günter said. ‘Nothing is for certain yet. Not until he gets into power.’ 

‘We have to get rid of that brood of parasites, even if he doesn’t get elected!’ Croft snapped, eyes ablaze with fury. 

‘Silence, buffoons!’ Byronaless exclaimed, extending his diminutive arms to either side, his authoritative voice calming the quibbling two. ‘Cease your blathering! It is useless to debate now. You know very well we must await orders. So meanwhile, you both shut up and keep in line or you shall be dismissed. And you know what I mean by dismissed,’ he threatened, raising a hand to his throat and drawing a thin line across it with his finger.

 Byronaless’s stout silhouette jostled past the other two men as he headed back to the festivities. 

Her heart beating fast in alarm, Maria promptly hid behind a nude statue of Apollo when her pudgy suitor came her way. He disappeared round the corner, the clicking of his heels gradually fading into silence. 

Günter straightened himself. ‘A regime filled with generosity and affection, my arse!’ He snorted noisily. 

‘But there will be affection, especially passion … the lethal, murderous kind – a powerful emotion of hatred and an ardent need to destroy!’ Croft assured maliciously. 

‘What about generosity?’ Günter enquired nonchalantly, resuming his cow-like mastication. 

‘Generosity goes to whom we judge deserves it,’ Croft articulated with a diabolical sneer.

‘You’re one freaky bastard, mate,’ Günter remarked, and he patted his colleague heavily on the back before unhurriedly strolling away.


Maria’s tenseness increased at what she had overheard: ‘We have to get rid of that brood of parasites even if he doesn’t get elected.’

‘He … who is he?’

Byronaless’s earlier words knocked on the door of her mind: ‘They are such a bubonic disease.… He is right.’

What did he mean by they and he? Who were they that made him feel such violence, that he so viciously despised?

‘We are not like those blue-bellied, raggedy, rude …’ Oh! ‘Gypsies.’

The final word hammered itself into her brain, imposing itself before her. Soon the menace attached to it became clearer: purge.

This one word haunted her, yet still she failed to understand its significance. The old worn-out Byronaless could not possibly be suggesting that they would eliminate them … all of them. No, no one would be capable of such cruelty.

‘Where have you been?’ a voice resounded, waking the young duchess from her turmoil. ‘I saw what happened on the dance floor and have looked everywhere for you!’

Maria looked up to find Annie, whose eyes shone with profound worry. ‘I was worried that you had committed suicide, unable to bear that shameful incident and the fact that your suitor is old, bald, and perverted,’ her friend continued. ‘Come, let’s go dry your gown in the washrooms.’

Maria wordlessly complied with a nod of her head and was led away.



After many goodbyes, the ball finally ended. Freedom at last!

Maria thanked her beloved parents profusely for such a beautiful night. Nonetheless, she neglected to add that it could have been much pleasanter had the satyric old Lord Byronaless not existed.


Reaching their residence, the Langlords, merry but weary, went their separate ways, and the nineteen-year-old was ushered to her bedchamber.

Slipping her nightgown over her head, Maria slumped on her comfortable bed.

‘Tell me, do my parents really want me to marry this infamous Byronaless?’ Maria asked, not bothering to conceal the bitterness in her tone. 

Ilga, unresponsive, picked up a brush and began smoothing her charge’s locks, hoping the question would be dropped.

Maria cradled her pillow in her arms. ‘When?’ she asked sourly, not letting the matter slip away. 

Ilga yielded. ‘Soon.’ 

 Maria spun to meet her governess’s eyes, ignoring the sudden pull on her hair. ‘What do you mean soon?’ she enquired in outrage, the volume of her voice escalating with every syllable. 

Ilga cringed, her face turning red with mounting emotion, before she finally spilled the beans. ‘I have overheard a conversation between your parents and Lord Byronaless. He asked for your hand. I saw your father nod his head, and I did not hear him refuse. I told you “soon” because Lord Byronaless seemed rather in a hurry, to say the least.’

The young duchess swallowed heavily. The indigestible news confirmed her earlier suspicions. Luckily, she already had tasted the poison so managed to remain serene, refraining from lashing out at her poor governess. Nevertheless, she felt compelled to ask a simple question: ‘Are they not going to ask for my opinion?’ 

‘Well, I doubt it. I think your parents erroneously believe you will gladly accept. They are rather keen on the idea of your marrying Lord Byronaless, but, Maria, they have had just little conversations. I do not think anything has been decided yet.’

‘Even if he was the youngest and handsomest of all men, I could not possibly marry him. He is so silly, old, bald and full of himself!’

Ilga chuckled. ‘It is true. You are to be pitied.’ Her breath caught when Maria glared at her. The governess cleared her throat nervously. ‘He is a little older than you, but_’

‘But what? There is a good chance that he will pass away before the hateful wedding day? Is that it? I do not want to be betrothed to him. Anyone but him!’

‘Maria! Please contain yourself!’ Ilga tried in vain to pacify her charge. 

The fuming protester shot her a livid glare. ‘Perhaps I should frighten the old rag in the hope that he will get a fatal heart attack,’ she muttered, keeping a vicelike grip on her pillow. ‘Or strangle him in his sleep on our honeymoon. Why not! Honeymoon, Ilga! Give me your candid opinion: can you really imagine me and that man cuddling after a long night of—’

 ‘You think he would hold for a long night? You are very optimistic.’ Ilga grinned but stopped herself with a hand over her mouth. Her eyes begged forgiveness.

‘Argh!’ Maria let out. ‘By all means, pack me a bucket with my nightgown so I can vomit myself to death!’ 


 ‘Just leave me alone!’ the bearer of the name cut Ilga off feverishly.

Ilga dropped her head in surrender. ‘Very well.’ With a sigh, she stood, replaced the hairbrush on the shelf, and took her leave.


Visions of the ball swayed in Maria’s head again and again, and the promise of an imminent wedding plagued her mind.

Something swiftly chased her cynical feelings away, though – a tune, a mischievous face. The violinist! A smile crept across her features as she recalled him. A blush crept to her cheeks when she remembered the way he had so hungrily looked at her form when holding her so possessively in his arms. 

She gently closed her eyes.

Regardless of the dreadful news, she slept very well that night, for the beautiful melodies of the incredibly bizarre violinist smoothly led her to peaceful slumber.


The Humming Bird Book 1 ~ Madness in Crescendo   by   Isabella & Irena de Wardin   |   See Bio >
Book 1 of 0 in the The Humming Bird Series.
Downtown boy meets uptown girl? It's a classic, and we love it. Despite the fact that leading a double life will be necessary, forced marriage is still very much in vogue, and war is pending.

In the world of Voskia, rebellious duchess Maria Langlord leads a double life. Pursued by the most perverted and richest man in the country, she splits her time between her pampered life at home and secret ballet lessons in Unsettled Town, a district densely populated by Romanies. At her nineteenth birthday's ball, Maria is intrigued by the performance of a Romani violinist. But it seems the musician is an imposter who manages to escape before carrying out his threat to kiss Maria if he is not granted freedom. Still, Maria is oddly captivated by the unusual man.
Meanwhile, Maria's challenges are just beginning. A dictatorship threatens to take over Voskia, and family secrets are revealed. Maria must choose between supporting her family and country in an era of violence and war and turning against everything she once stood for in order to prepare for a revolution.
Embarking on a dangerous adventure where anything can happen, will Maria's actions make a difference in a world on the brink of genocide?

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