In Fes the people speak of a jinn who came from the East and laid waste a quarter of the city in a violent fire. They did not know what had brought him or how to placate him. They watched as their bravest men attacked the jinn who had assumed the shape of a man but could not hide his evil essence. He cut them down mercilessly and scattered their bodies and bones across the streets. He came to the house of a Berber elder the locals identify as Hajji Mousafa. The hajji approached the jinn with nothing but a wooden staff topped with an emerald charm. He chanted to the jinn in an unknown language. The jinn was entranced for a moment, but then shook his head and seized the hajji and tore him in half. He took the staff and crumbled it in his hands as though it were made of sand and not oak, and then tore his way through the house, knocking down walls and setting fire to all that could burn. The houses on either side caught fire as well but the jinn paid it no heed. He tore apart the walls, ripping one stone from the other and hurling them onto the ground to shatter. At last he found a hollow stone, and when it shattered he took from the rubble two blood red jewels that glowed with the intensity of small suns. The jinn roared in delight and pressed the jewels hard against his heart, and the flames around him rose up, surrounded him and consumed him, and the mighty jinn, his prize now claimed, turned before their very eyes into an enormous black bird and flew back to the East from whence he had come.
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.
I begged to use the carriage but my mother refused and so we walked into town. Jane carried a sack full of other empty sacks, and Isabelle and I trotted alongside. We had tried to bring our swords but my mother wouldn’t let us do that, either.
From the little road that connected the manor to the main road we could see the whole of Bungay, and a couple of other towns that appeared as brown smudges in the distance. At more-or-less random places in the grass sunlight glinted off the river, which must have been terribly curvy to appear in so many places at once. Small boats sailed up and down, and where the river was hidden by the meadows it appeared as if the boats were sailing across grass.
I had expected the market to be something small and shameful, but instead the heart of town was a riot of activity. On one end was a mass of people selling butter, and on the far end a similar mass selling flour, and in between was a jumble of voices and clanging and singing and shouting. The only difference between this market and the one I knew from home was the absence of street children; the few children I saw here were all busy.
Later they called it “the Incident” and focused on the most earthly details, like the broken items and the sense that the neighborhood was not as safe as it had been. They spoke of “intruders,” as if there had been more than one, and as if they had been drunks or burglars. The Three Tuns made a convenient scapegoat. They all agreed that it must be shuttered or the good families of the neighborhood would leave. Lord Falmouth noted that more and more fields to the north of Long Acre were being converted into new homes; perhaps Covent Garden had always been too close to the Strand and the docks. The Incident, then, was something that could be resolved with a simple real estate deal.
But that was later. The day that it happened, as everyone ran around collecting boxes and gathering carriages, there was no agreed-upon name. The Intruder. The Shively Girl. The Witch.
“Will you be safe here?” the Lady asked the Lord.
“I won’t be alone,” he answered.
“Will we be safe there?” she asked.
“Let us hope.”
All is pain, my heart, my head, my soul. I am cold, always. Each breath burns me and yet I dare not stop.
I did my part, just as he said. I spied, and I reported. I did what I was asked. I trusted him, like I trusted them all, and he, like they, betrayed me.
Tantibus has come, Tantibus is here. From across worlds and centuries and he promised that we, that I, will go with him, but he lies. Only he can go on, he and the Other; the rest of us join him until he is finished with us, and then we are done.
And in between all is pain. Is he in pain? Or the Other? Have they hurt and suffered for thousands of years?
Come, he said to me. We will be knights in his army, and we will stand beside him, forever.
I believed him, and now I have lost everything. I died, and now I will die again, no closer to eternity than I ever was, but farther away from life than I could ever have imagined.
My father complained at supper that talk in the capital was growing more indiscreet with each passing day. In the harbors south of Rotterdam a navy was coming together, and the word was that sailors were flocking from all over England to join William and Mary’s fleet. In the marketplace the street children sang about cutting off the King’s head. I heard a priest wonder if being overthrown was to become a Stuart family tradition. At night I could hear cheers for William and Mary coming from the crowd in the Three Tuns.
My father was quite busy at this time and rarely home. He shuttled between his offices on Paternoster Row and various courts and salons in Westminster. My mother also was unusually busy; she feared that the revolution would interrupt her studies, so she determined to absorb as much from the libraries of London as she could before it was too late.
Each night there were men in the house, an odd assortment of nobles, businessmen, and scholars. Isabelle and I were summoned to entertain them. We played and sang nearly every night. There were a few men who came often enough that I recognized them and learned their names, but for the most part I only came to play and then leave again. Once the music was over the conversation would return and my mother would motion for us to leave.
My chief complaint was that Isabelle quite enjoyed dressing up for our performances, and so each day our playtime was cut short by Miss Annie ordering her to come in and get ready. She’d wash up daily, which Mrs. Smith disapproved of at first—frequent baths cause cholera, she said—but Miss Annie insisted that Isabelle couldn’t put on her fine dresses and gowns if she smelled of sweat and earth after a long day of playing in the fields with me. Mrs. Smith eventually relented, and it wasn’t long before they began insisting that I wash daily, too. I asked her about the dangers of cholera and Mrs. Smith admitted she had made it up.
My father was born in Portsmouth, and that is where he took me after my mother died, to the home where he grew up, an ancient manor named Ryne Hall that sat on a hill overlooking the harbor.
My mother died of plague, and it nearly killed me, too, but “such are the vagaries of life and disease,” I heard said once, “that the strong young woman succumbed and her infant daughter did not.” I know of her, of her Spanish ancestry, French education, talent for music and taste for mischief. These things my father told me. A portrait of her hangs over her bed in Ryne Hall, and I often sit on her bed and look up at her, studying her face and her hair and her gown for clues as to who she was. Those who spoke to me of her always described her as an angel, but Father cautioned me that nobody speaks ill of the dead, and I know there was more to her than a voice and a face and a ladylike demeanor.
When my father was young he was sent to London to study at Westminster. As his belief in the Church waned his interest in the occult grew. Witches, ghosts, shades, demons. England was filled with spirits of all kinds, and Father would devote his life to studying them. Secretly, or perhaps not-so-secretly, I have always wanted to see one myself. When I finally did, I regretted it.