By breakfast Jane was already nearing exhaustion, but the work was worth it. The smell of bread filled the empty hall. She served two loaves alongside fresh butter and jam she’d found at the market. There were eggs as well, smoother and creamier than any I’d had before. “French style,” Mr. Percy said with some amazement, and Jane’s milk white face turned red as a rose. “You have been keeping secrets from us, Jane,” he teased. “These are excellent.”
That was all after Chauncey led his prayer, of course. Father would have pitched a fit if he knew I was being subjected to this.
“I must continue my studies today, children,” Lady Falmouth explained, “so I shall be in the library today and do not wish to be disturbed. Miss Annie and Jane have very many things to attend to as well.”
“Understood,” Julian said.
Mr. Percy spoke up. “Chauncey and I are making repairs to the house and shall be occupied as well, milady, though of course I am at your call if the need should arise.” Chauncey mumbled something and ate a final spoonful of eggs. He alone seemed to dislike them. Perhaps “French” wasn’t such a compliment in this part of the country.
Lady Falmouth continued her instructions. “I don’t want you in the town by yourselves, not yet anyway, and do stay away from the river. It can be more treacherous than it looks, and the land around it isn’t always steady.”
Julian and I changed into play clothes and headed in the orchard of dead trees. We brought our swords, of course, but our enthusiasm wasn’t especially strong. I wished I’d thought to bring my music, but we wouldn’t have all fit in the carriage with the instruments. Perhaps they could have left Miss Annie in London and used her spot in the carriage for my virginal. Or they could have left me. I could see little boats—wherries, they called them here—on the water and imagined I could hop on any one of them and sail to Holland and to my father.
I couldn’t even be certain he was there anymore.
Supper that night showed more of Jane’s talents in the kitchen. Her eyes by then were entirely sunken behind dark rims, and her hair was too limp to even hold itself together in a bun, but she ladled soup into our bowls with pride. I couldn’t even identify what we were eating, I just knew it tasted wonderful. It had lots of onions, but was somehow still delicious.
The meal was largely silent, interrupted only by people asking for something to be passed. For my part, it was because I didn’t want to stop eating. I think everybody else felt uncomfortable with Chauncey there. We were a family of sorts, we southerners, and Chauncey was not. Fortunately he ate quickly and then excused himself. We all watched him rise and shuffle out. As soon as the door closed and he was gone we all started talking at once.
“Why are all the trees dead?” Julian asked.
“Nobody to care for them,” his mother answered.
“Chauncey should have done it,” he said.
“Chauncey did far more than he was asked to do. There’s no mice, no holes in the walls, no fire has gutted the hall.” She gestured lamely at the tapestry. “This hideous thing is still hanging.” We all looked at it, the ugly black dog rising over the town. And then Miss Annie laughed, and we all did the same.
“It’s a shame, though,” Lady Falmouth continued. “This house has a lot of history. Not much of it good, but history nonetheless.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, hoping to hear a story.
“I don’t know much about it. It’s Hector’s family, not mine. But there is a history of sadness here. When Lord Falmouth was young he spent most of his time in this room. His father was difficult, and his mother may have been mad. She was forever going on about the Queen. Her Majesty coming to visit, Her Majesty sending messages. Nobody was ever even sure which Queen she was talking about. Her own mother had been burned at the stake, accused of witchcraft. She saw this happen, apparently.”
“Witchcraft?” Julian asked. “My grandmother was a witch?”
“Your great-grandmother. And no, there are no such things as witches. She was a strong-willed woman, from what I understand. The stories people tell are always about her being a monster. Apparently one time she attacked a knight and stabbed him with his own sword. When I heard the story—from Mr. Chauncey, years ago—he talked about how she grew in size and was possessed by a demon when she did it. Obviously that is madness. I think he just couldn’t imagine a woman strong enough, determined enough, to defend herself from a man. And defending herself is what she was doing. One of her children hadn’t shown this knight enough respect, he felt, so he hit the child with the broadside of his sword. She hit him, and so he struck her instead. So she fought back. I can only imagine that I would do the same if somebody tried to hurt either of you.”
“And they burned her for that?”
“No, they burned her because she set off a keg of gunpowder in the village market. I don’t think anybody was killed but the damage to the goods and buildings was significant.”
“Why did she do that?” I asked, mindful of my own history of setting fires.
“That much I don’t know. But she was accused of being a witch, which is nonsense, and they burned her. They, the town that is, accused her and then refused to hold a trial, claiming she would use her witchcraft to lie and to trick them. So they burned her, figuring that if she was not a witch then she would burn like a regular person, and they could pardon her after she died, but if she was a witch then she wouldn’t burn, and they could take her from the fire and cut off her head.”
“So what happened?”
“She died, of course. In the fire.”
“And they made her children watch it?”
“Only the girls, I’m told. If they looked away then they might be witches, too.” Then, sarcastically, “Because a normal person wouldn’t mind watching a witch burn, but a witch wouldn’t want to watch one of their own burn.”
“That’s madness,” I said.
“It’s all madness. Lady Falmouth—your grandmother Lady Falmouth, not me—she was very small when it happened and never spoke of it, but she was always so unsteady with herself. I think she feared what sort of fate might befall her. Maybe that’s why she cultivated her friendship with the imaginary queen, to protect herself. The older she was the more difficult she became. My husband, when he was still just little Hector, not yet lord of anything, he would come into the library and read all he could. History, mythology, science, philosophy. Everything. And one day he could read better than boys twice his age and his father sent him to Westminster School, and he vowed never to return to Bungay. I’m not sure his mother noticed he was gone. She was quite mad by then. She drowned in the Waveney one day, years later—nobody knows why she was in the water—and her husband passed the following winter after a brief illness. Hector and I came up here and did what we could. We sold most of his holdings in the village, keeping only as much as we needed for the income, and then took all of the books that he liked. Chauncey keeps the house from falling apart but only barely. To be honest I thought he would have died that winter. Instead he is still here.”
“Chauncey,” Mr. Percy said, “is far tougher than he looks. He may outlive us all yet.”
“Let’s hope not,” Miss Annie said, and they all laughed. I looked around. Funny how we came to a house full of ghosts in order to escape a city full of demons.
“In any event moving to London was the best thing that happened to Lord Falmouth. He met your father”—she nodded toward me—”and found a kindred spirit. And of course he met me, which on balance I think has been a good thing for the both of us.”
I felt the words crawling up my throat and couldn’t stop them from coming out. “Who is Tantibus?” I asked. After I said it I forced my face to melt into its most innocent wide-eyed pose, but when I said it I knew that my eyes had betrayed me. But it couldn’t be helped: I knew enough that I needed to know more.
It was hard to understand their reactions. Mr. Percy and Jane acted as though they hadn’t heard me, and they very well may not have. Miss Annie had been reaching for a roll and when she heard me she froze, and then pretended that she was trying to decide between two rolls. It wasn’t convincing. Lady Falmouth looked at me and then at Julian, then back at me and finally took a sip of water. Julian, I could see, was entirely frozen.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “Where did you hear that?”
From all of you, I wanted to say but didn’t. Instead I shrugged. I moved to take a roll for myself, hoping that if I didn’t say anything else then they would think I’d lost interest and it would all go away.
“It’s an old legend,” Lady Falmouth continued. “I don’t know much about it.” She was lying. I don’t know how but I could tell. “Your father and my husband like to share legends with each other. Your father travels much so he knows more. When they were young I think they tried to form a secret society of occultists but they couldn’t attract any more members. That—” She meant Tantibus but didn’t say his name—”was one of the stories they told. But I don’t remember it well.” A lie again.
“But what is it?” Julian pressed. I wanted to kick him under the table. Even though I had started it I wanted this conversation to end. And somehow to continue.
Lady Falmouth took another sip of water. “It was… well, ‘he’ was, I suppose, a king. The story comes from the East, I think Mesopotamia or Persia. A king who wanted to be a god. He found a way to do it, but before he could finish the gods punished him. So now he exists, half-immortal, trying to rediscover the secret. It’s just one of those classic monsters stories, like witches or the Golem. In more superstitious times people told stories to explain away the things that frightened them, or to keep children from misbehaving.”
I could feel a burning in my stomach and a tightening in my lungs that told me that she was lying. She was thinking fast, trying to figure out what to share and what to hold back. She didn’t know how much I already knew and so it was a careful game she played.
“How is he half-immortal?” Julian asked, blithely oblivious to how uncomfortable the table was becoming. He and Jane, united in having no idea what was going on.
Lady Falmouth, again thinking quickly and choosing words carefully, navigating waters that could very well be treacherous. “I suppose because he lives forever, or at least a long time, but can still die somehow.”
“So what does he do?” Julian continued. “Why doesn’t he fix himself back up?”
“It’s just a legend, love.”
“But there has to be more to it. Nobody would tell a story like that without explaining what he wants. How would you scare the children?”
Lady Falmouth laughed a bit. “I suppose… I remember that there was a treasure from which he drew his power. The gods scattered it about the world. Like dust.”
“He gathers dust?”
She smiled more, and teasingly leaned towards him. She had found an angle and was satisfied that she had gotten through the worst of it. “Dust under children’s beds! And if you get up at night and wake your parents you might find him! And he’ll eat your toes!”
She was being silly, and Julian liked it although he pretended not to.
“But we came here to hide from him,” I said flatly, not looking up. “Tantibus.” My fork poked idly at the last remnants of my supper. The laughter died. I looked up to find all staring at me, Lady Falmouth most of all.
Her voice was as flat as mine. “We fled because your father is involved in treason, and we can’t count on either London nor Portsmouth being safe for any of us now.”
Jane fluttered. “Excuse me, I should go…”
“You can stay,” Lady Falmouth said, and Mr. Percy reached a hand out and put it on Jane’s shoulder. She stayed. “We are not involved, not directly at least. But your father’s name is well-known throughout England, and if things go wrong…” She let the thought trail off. “We are safest here.”
The trick with lies, I was learning, is that they are best not invented from whole cloth. If you can wrap them up in enough truth then the lies can hide in plain sight.
The dream again. I had it often now. On the hilltop, surrounded by the crows and the beasts who hurled wind and rain at each other. The details were always the same. I could only see through her eyes—the dream-Isabelle, the girl who wasn’t me but I recognized as myself anyhow—and dream-Isabelle always looked at the same thing. I could feel what she felt—the cold wind whipping through my clothes and striking my skin as though it were bare, my hair flapping about me. I could hear the cries and shouts and the sound of the armies clashing, and over the din I could hear and feel the flow of water and energy through the rivers as they converged on a point at the bottom of the valley.
My room was dark and stuffy. I couldn’t breathe, and needed to go outside as surely as I would need a drink in the desert. I slipped out of my room and down the corridor into the hall, and from there through the library and outside. The horse in the stable whinnied quietly. Otherwise the night was completely still.
The cottage stood a ways off, the lights in it off. I wanted to walk a little but didn’t want to go into the dead orchard, so I followed the path that led past the cottage towards the water meadows. The ground sloped away here. If I wanted to I could follow the old protective wall to the main road.
I didn’t want to get too far away, I just wanted air. I decided I would go to the edge of the tall grasses and then turn around. I liked the way that the air slipped over and around me. It was warm, even in my bedclothes, but there was a slight hint of chill in the night. The air on my skin was real, lifting the shroud from me but in a way that wasn’t terrifying in the least.
In the tall grass I heard a rustle, and then a deep breathing. It was very dark here and I couldn’t make out the shapes at all. A very large dark shape, with a squat head and a long snout. Its mouth was open and the whites of its fangs shone faintly in the night. It was a beast, but its eyes, which shone clearly in the night, were human. My heart stopped beating. The beast didn’t growl or move, it just stood there. I did the same. I wouldn’t say I was scared, just very surprised. Maybe surprised isn’t the right word. It all felt like a dream, except for the very real sensation of the air.
From the road came another figure, much smaller, moving quickly but unhurried. I dared not take my eyes off the beast. The smaller figure in the dark strode past me and up to the beast with one hand extended. It placed its hand on the beast’s snout and the two stayed frozen. They spoke without saying any words I could hear, and just as quietly as it had appeared the beast turned and returned to the meadows. The smaller figure turned away and returned to from where he had come, looking briefly over his shoulder at me. It was the little boy from the river, the one called Asa. His was a strange name that I had heard once before but couldn’t remember where. He looked at me and nodded slowly, and then turned back and returned to the road.
I took a very deep breath, aware of the air filling my lungs and my blood rushing through my veins, and went back in the house, remembering to scrape the dirt and leaves off my feet before going back inside. I walked past my own room and into Julian’s.
I don’t know if Julian knew that I joined him at night. He hadn’t said anything, not even when we were alone. He did, though, leave enough room on the bed for me to crawl in. The bed was small enough that this couldn’t be an accident. In the morning I would get out of bed before he awoke and return to my own room.
Lady Falmouth spent most of every day in the library. Doing what, I didn’t know, but doing it diligently and constantly and without much interruption. She had stacks of books that she leafed through, and notebooks full of words and numbers but nothing that I could recognize. Miss Annie worked with her, too.
Without Lord Falmouth to work for, Mr. Percy divided his time between ordering Chauncey around and helping Jane. There was more to Mr. Percy than I had ever appreciated. Perhaps I had been too wild to see it. In London he had been kind to me when he didn’t need to be, and when the Incident happened, I had a distinct feeling that his eyes were on me, and that he would take care of me if he had to. Now I saw him offering support to Jane. Jane had been abruptly promoted from scullery maid to cook, and she was determined to make the most of it. Mr. Percy stopped by the kitchen quite a bit, tasting her food and offering advice. Mrs. Smith at Shandos Place was always kind to me, but I could tell she had no patience for Jane. I assumed it was Jane’s fault; perhaps it was Mrs. Smith’s.
Jane did not join us for tea ever. She said that she wasn’t dressed properly, and Lady Falmouth didn’t press the issue. I believe that if Jane had wanted to join she would have been allowed, but I also think that there was a larger point being made about Jane’s growing confidence and maturity. As cook she would someday run a kitchen staff, and part of that meant knowing her place and teaching others. Jane took tea in the library instead, and so she wouldn’t be alone Mr. Percy joined her, leaving me and Julian to sit with Lady Falmouth, Miss Annie, and Chauncey, who I think was starting to enjoy being asked to sit at the table after years of being alone in the cottage. He even put on a proper, albeit ratty, dinner jacket to join us.
“Weather’s turning,” Chauncey said. “Leaves falling soon. If William and Mary intend to come they better come soon. Don’t want to march troops through the snow.”
Nobody responded. Nobody wanted to think about the war anymore.
Jane and Mr. Percy came from the library together and tea time was finished. Lady Falmouth called Julian over and whispered in his ear. He made an annoyed face and began to protest but she gave him a stern look and he slunk off towards his room. Miss Annie rose and took my hand. “Come with me,” she said, and feeling confused I rose and followed her, through the hallway down to her room. She ushered me in and closed the door behind her. There was a tub full of warm water on the floor.
“It should be cool enough by now,” she said. “Go on, get in. Neither you nor Julian have had a bath since we came and we can all tell.”
I thought about protesting but didn’t. She turned around to attend to small chores while I undressed and got in. She must have drawn the bath while Julian and I were playing, but the water was still quite hot. I sat down slowly and she came over, soap and scrub brush in hand. But first she took my head and her hands and tilted it up to look at my lip.
“It’s healed quite nicely,” she said. I remembered the little boy’s finger on my lip, curiously warm and soft. My lip had healed completely, with not so much as a tiny scar on it. “Very quickly, too. Good for you.” She released me and reached for my necklace. “What is this?” She held my necklace, and a curious look crossed her face. I could feel her weighing it in her hand. I put my hand over the pendant and slid it out of hers.
“A gift from my father,” I said.
“Well, give it here.”
“No,” I said, holding it in my fist.
“It’s wood and leather, Isabelle, the bath water will make it stink.”
“It will not. I’ve gotten it wet before. And father told me to never take it off.” Julian has one too, I thought of saying, but didn’t.
She sighed. “As you wish,” she mumbled and began to scrub at me with the brush. It hurt and felt good at the same time, just as the hot water stung and soothed.
“How on earth did you get so filthy?” Long streaks of black appeared on my arms where the brush went; rinsing it uncovered the bright pink skin underneath.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t want you playing outside again today. I also brought out a nice dress for you. I haven’t seen you dressed decently all week. Today we shall be decent.”
“There’s nobody here to impress, Annie.”
“Miss Annie, dear,” she corrected, and then dumped a cupful of water on my head. I hadn’t expected it and cringed. I must have shouted out, too. “Don’t fuss, your hair is filled with dirt. You’re lucky I remembered to grab a few dresses. Lord Falmouth said we’d only be gone a fortnight at most but I don’t see that as likely.”
She rubbed soap into my hair and scrubbed at it hard. How had I gotten so dirty? The earth here must be stickier than that in the south.
“The weather is starting to cool and I do believe we won’t be back before it is cold. I’ve asked Lady Falmouth to send me back to London to properly pack if we’re to stay through the winter.”
I turned to look at her. “Through the winter? Nonsense. Father wouldn’t stay away so long.”
She grabbed my head with both her hands and put it back where it was. “Hold still while I scrub your hair. Perhaps Lord Falmouth will send for us to return to London tomorrow, but I doubt it. I think we are here until this revolution mess is over.”
“So you don’t think that this has anything to do with the Incident?”
“Of course it does. There was a spy in the library.” She scrubbed and rinsed.
“You really think so? That it was a spy?”
“You must stop that nonsense,” she said dismissively.
“But it was a girl. The Shively girl.” I turned again, and she put me back in place. I didn’t like having conversation with somebody I couldn’t see.
“I’ve known Emily Shively for all of her life. It wasn’t her.”
“Julian said it was,” I insisted. “He saw her face clearly.”
“So did I. You know as well as I that Julian has a very excitable imagination.”
I wouldn’t give up. Somehow I was going to get somebody to admit the truth. “Lord Falmouth spoke to her. He called her Emily. And Jane says she turned into a bird.”
“Almost nothing that Jane has said in all the time I’ve known her has made any kind of sense. Stand up so I can rinse you.”
“Still, the King wouldn’t send a young girl to spy.”
Miss Annie was dismissive. “The King has proved beyond all doubt that his judgment is poor. I can believe that he or one of his ministers offered a poor girl from the dockyard some money to report on what she heard in a nobleman’s house, and I can believe that in the mess of confusion even Lord Falmouth could mistake her for the missing Shively girl. Stand still while I get you a towel, I don’t want you dripping on my floor. The floorboards are already rotting, I imagine with some water spilled on them they’ll just give way.”
The water pooled around my feet was so dark I couldn’t see my toes. Miss Annie wrapped the towel around my shoulders and lifted me straight up from the tub. “You’re getting to be too old for this.”
“I bathe myself at home, you know.”
“Yes, and you make a terrible mess.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I know you.” She dried me vigorously and my skin turned almost red. She threw a slip on over me and I sat down on a chair. Then she sat down behind me and began brushing my hair dry.
“You are becoming a young lady, Isabelle. It’s time you behaved like one.”
“I can behave like one just fine when I want to,” I huffed.
“Yes, I agree. But you need to want to more often. Running around with wooden swords is not a way for a young lady to behave.”
“Joan of Arc used real swords.”
“Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. And she wasn’t running around with boys all the time.”
“Queen Elizabeth ran around with boys all the time.”
“Hush your mouth,” she snapped, and pulled hard at a tangle in my hair.
“It’s true. Father told me.” He also told me that even after all these years, the Virgin Queen remains a saint in the English imagination and is not to be spoken of lightly.
“When you are queen you may consort with whomever you choose. You, young lady, are already going to have a difficult time being married off. With your father, your circumstances, your ‘you’-ness.”
“I’m eight years old, I don’t need to be married yet.”
“You’re almost nine, mind you, and you’ll be marrying age sooner than you believe. These years go by fast.”
I crossed my arms across my chest. My feet were getting cold. The brush caught in another tangle of hair and she pulled at it hard enough to hurt.
“Mr. Percy told me about your jaunt into the City that night.” Here it was, finally, my reckoning for that night. I tried not to show that my heart had skipped a beat. “I know it was your idea. Julian would never do something like that without your lead.”
“Why did he tell you?”
“You slept all day that day. Most unlike you. I was going to send for the doctor when Mr. Percy told me. You’re very lucky he found you when he did. What if you had made into the City? It’s filled with ruffians at night.”
So she didn’t know after all. In her telling, Mr. Percy caught us at the maypole and marched us home.
“You didn’t tell Lord Falmouth?” I asked.
“No. I should have told your father but he was already gone. I decided that only Julian would get into any real trouble, but you were the one who deserved the scolding. Anyway, I thought Mr. Percy would take care of the two of you by himself.”
“He’s been very nice to me ever since.”
“I noticed. You must have scared the devil out of him. He’s really a very sweet man, though he hides it. You know he used to work for your father?”
“We both did,” she continued. Another tangle, but she dealt with it gently. “When you were a baby. But your father has this habit of replacing all of his staff regularly. So the two of us came to work for Lord Falmouth. John Percy has known you longer than you’ve known him. Despite himself he cares about you, and I think you scared him that night. In all your history of bad ideas that might have been your worst.”
“I wander around Portsmouth by myself.” I bet if she could have found another tangle in my hair she would have pulled at it then.
“Everyone in Portsmouth knows you. And Portsmouth isn’t London.” She gave one last long brush from the top of my head to the bottom of my hair. “There.” She was finished at last, which meant she wouldn’t be pulling at my scalp anymore. She came around and looked at me. “Perfect. Now let’s get you into this dress.”
It was one of my new ones, from when Father went to Spain. I was glad she chose that one.
A flash of panic shot across her face, and she looked back at the tub of dirty water.
“What?” I asked.
“It’s right here.” I reached under the collar of the dress and showed her the leather strap. She was relieved.
“You can’t see it all.” The curious look on her face again. I could tell that she wanted to touch it again. It was strange. This wasn’t the kind of jewelry ladies were normally drawn to, not something studded with rubies. It was wood and leather, and I only wore it because my father gave it to me.
I nodded. “Like it disappears. But I can feel it when it’s on. I know I can’t lose it.” I didn’t feel it on my skin, though. It was more like a feeling in my blood, or my heart. “Why are we dressing up?”
“Because tomorrow is Sunday and we are going to church.”
And now it was my turn to panic. “I don’t go to church. Nobody in my family does.”
“Nobody in this family does, either,” Miss Annie soothed. “But this isn’t London, or Portsmouth for that matter. Back home your father and Lord Falmouth can be eccentrics. In a village like this, if we don’t appear at church, at least on Sundays, we can expect the village to come and burn us all down for being heretics or demons. Or Catholics.”
“We are Catholic,” I reminded. “Or at least we were.” My mother was from Spain. In Spain even the grass is Catholic.
“And in London—and Portsmouth—that is perfectly fine. But in a little village like this I’d rather be a demon from Hell than be a religion different from theirs. When Jane went to the market she didn’t bother stopping by the church first, and I cannot tell you how many times Chauncey has asked me about that. So we shall make an appearance, if not to save our souls than at least to save our skins. This is important, do you understand?” Reluctantly I nodded. She lowered herself to my level and spoke slowly and firmly. “Repeat what I said so I know that we understand each other.”
Dressing up was much less fun now. It was fun, though, to step back into the hall and see Julian laughably uncomfortable in his own nice outfit, unhappy about the scrubbing he received from his mother and the ridiculous way she had smoothed his normally curly hair into a flat bowl over his skull. “Isabelle,” Lady Falmouth began, “you look beautiful. Can I put a bow in your hair?” she asked. Yes, she could, and I knew what to use. I ran quickly into my room and came out with the small scarf the man in the boat had given me.
“Where did you get this?” Lady Falmouth asked.
“From a man in a boat down at the market.”
“Oh, Isabelle,” Miss Annie sighed. “You… Never mind.”
“I found this when I was in the library for tea.” Jane gestured towards the library with her head. The door to it was closed; Miss Annie and Lady Falmouth were in there. Julian and I had been left alone in the hall. We weren’t going anywhere today, and in any event the clothes that we were dressed in were inappropriate for church. We were dressed up so we couldn’t go outside and play, or even play rough inside. They were polite shackles. It didn’t take us long to figure that out.
Jane came from her room with a leather-bound book that she placed on the table in front of us. “I thought you might find it interesting.”
The front door opened and Mr. Percy came in. Jane moved her body so that she blocked his view of the book, and Julian, understanding, reached out and pulled it close to him before hiding it under the table. Jane slowly stepped away from us, smiling. Mr. Percy crossed the room and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Good evening, children.” He smiled at us. Jane walked towards the kitchen and Mr. Percy followed her. He didn’t look back at us but Jane did, with just a hint of mischief on her face.
When they were gone Julian took out the book. “What is it?” I asked him.
The cover had no title. It was not a proper book so much as a scrapbook. Pages torn from other books, crudely bound together with leather strings, not unlike the one that held my necklace. I tried to see if Julian was wearing his but I couldn’t see it on his neck. I shouldn’t have been able to see it, though, so I wasn’t worried. I knew he was wearing it just the same.
“Diverse Mysteries and Legends of the East.” That was on the first page. It was in my father’s handwriting, or at least a version of my father’s handwriting. He must have been young when he wrote it. The printed text underneath was in a different language, probably Latin. There was a drawing on the next page, of large-eyed men with curly beards bowing before a winged lion with a woman’s head. My father had written “Lamassu” on the page.
Subsequent pages were a mess of languages. I recognized Latin, with all the quos vult sic nunc et and such. Greek, too, which always enchanted me with its beautiful curls: ἄγγελος δαίμων θεός χάος. I saw some German and French, and then large sections in Spanish. My father annotated much of it, translating selected words in the margins. For another long section the pages were covered in what looked like ink drippings but with a regularity that told me it must be an alphabet: شيطان يتبع لنا عبر الليل.
Drawings of various kinds: men in robes sacrificing goats; creatures with human heads, or else humans with animal bodies; temples and mountains; battle scenes with spears and swords, some fantastically bloody. And then partway through the words became English, and slowly Julian and I could read them. Gods, monsters, Assyria, Maghrib, Samarkand, Nineveh. The words were difficult to understand.
We turned a page and understood suddenly why Jane thought this book might be of interest to us. There was a picture, drawn by my father, of a man standing on a shore before a city crowned with a succession of domes. The man was only an outline, but Julian and I both recognized him clearly. He was tall and powerfully built, with something odd about him, a deformity perhaps that we couldn’t readily identify but sensed all the same. On either side of him were a line of crows.
“Constantinople, 19 May 1682. Tantibus on European soil.”
A cold chill passed through me and Julian visibly shuddered. We turned the page and saw my father’s writing:
“The Treasure of Tantibus.”
There was a rustle of sound in the kitchen and footfalls that drew closer. Julian slammed the book shut and put it back under the table. Mr. Percy came in and looked on at us as he passed through the hall. The country air was doing well for him. He looked happier than I had ever seen him.
Miss Annie opened the library door then and called out to us. “Children, to bed.” We didn’t protest. In my room I changed into bedclothes quickly and then slipped out. I shut my door behind me and creeped into Julian’s room. He was in his own bedclothes, ready for me. He had strung a blanket up in front of the bedroom door, and once I was behind it he lit a candle. We hoped the blanket would block enough light to keep our activities a secret. Anybody outside would see the light through the window, but we couldn’t imagine any reason why anybody would be outside.
Quietly we flipped through the book until we reached the page we wanted, and then read to ourselves, stopping only to ask each other what specific words meant and how they might be pronounced.