Chapter 17: Isabelle

Chapter 17: Isabelle

1.

He lied.

He lied. He lied.

I know when I’m being lied to. When Father said he’d stay this time. When Lady Falmouth said we were safe. When Mr. Percy said he’d stripped the flesh off my father’s bones. They all lied.

Father had cut it too close but he was still a step ahead of Tantibus. Mr. Percy couldn’t have captured him and tortured him and still been at the house to greet us in the morning. Father had escaped.

Unless the crows could travel through time, but if they could then this would have all ended long ago.

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Chapter 16: Julian

Chapter 16: Julian

I pulled the door shut behind me, and the fear that it would squeak made my toes curl. If it did squeak, though, nobody heard.

The church was dark and cool and quiet. The noises from outside only barely made it through the thick stone walls and registered in my ears as a low hum. The fires on the hilltop and on the torches were just flickers in the stained glass. Our footsteps made little echoes, except for Isabelle and her bare feet.

She was imploring Asa to go home. “This isn’t safe for you.” She crossed the sanctuary and looked out through the windows to the east, towards where Asa lived, but I doubt she saw much through the stained glass.

I hoped that Mother was safe. I looked up at the big wooden cross and thought about praying but somehow I didn’t think that whispering to a block of wood was going to help much, especially since the people who were trying to kill us had whispered to the same block only earlier today.

Black Shuck had helped us, but he was dead now. “He protects the innocent,” the bishop had said. That he existed at all, a spirit dog who haunted the Broads, I could accept only after having seen Tantibus up close.

Mr. Percy was dead. He had been dead for hundreds of years, perhaps. Lord Edmonstone. My own father? I shuddered to think that we were alone, Isabelle and I.

“Asa,” Isabelle commanded in her firmest voice, “don’t make me scold you. I am going to open the door and I need you to run home. Stay in the shadows, and go home as fast as you can.”

“No,” he said stubbornly. “I won’t go.” And he stomped away from her.

His stomps echoed. I could hear Isabelle’s feet shuffle on the stone ground. And I could hear something else.

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Chapter 15: Isabelle

Chapter 15: Isabelle

My lungs burned and my feet stung and my head reeled and my heart ached. The tall grass at least hid his shadow from us, and hopefully hid us from him as well. Julian kept pulling at me, forcing me to keep running even though my body at times felt ready to quit. Not that I wanted to die, I just wanted to stop and to make everything go away, make the whole world and everything in it—good bad natural unnatural—disappear.

The treasure pulsed with Julian’s heartbeat. Some treasure. Not rubies or diamonds or gold like in the books. A worthless piece of wood on a leather strap. He said there were things we couldn’t understand, and so I told myself that there must be more to it and I kept running even as the grass cut my face and the stones on the path cut into my feet.

The ground shook as though thunder had clapped here on the earth itself. It could have been the sound of a thousand cannons firing at once. It was the sound of Tantibus bellowing with rage. He had lost us, at least temporarily. I kept my head down and let Julian lead me further.

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Chapter 14: Julian

Chapter 14: Julian

Isabelle closed the door to the other room so she could change in privacy, and Mr. Percy sat me down. He knelt in front of me; it was as if a colossus from the Temple of Rhodes was kneeling before me.

“Julian,” he said in a very grave voice. “Lord Edmonstone gave you something. I know it is true. You, or perhaps Isabelle. You must give it to me. Do you understand me?”

I did not, to be honest. I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying at all. The men outside, my mother in the house without help, and the entire ordeal of the evening. Mother had begun to panic when she heard Isabelle sing the song and I couldn’t understand why but I tried to tell Isabelle to open her eyes and see what was happening and somehow she heard me but it didn’t matter. My mind kept returning, I don’t know why, to the chest of viols on Shandos Place, and the old scorch mark on the side. Could it be cleaned? Such a strange thing to think about.

“Listen to me!” he barked suddenly and grabbed my wrists. “You have it, I know you do. It isn’t yours, it wasn’t his to give. It is mine. These are things you do not understand. There are things in this world—real things, not stories, not myths—that you cannot even begin to see. Does Isabelle have it?”

He was hurting me. I could feel the bones in my wrist turning on themselves. If he squeezed harder he could snap them.

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Chapter 12: Isabelle

Chapter 12: Isabelle

1.

These old manor houses were meant to provide protection. Father once made me close my eyes and stand in the great hall of Ryne Hall and imagine how it must have felt. “None of these doors are here; none of the wings have been built yet,” he said, forcing me to shut out the obvious escape routes. Unlike Winston House, Ryne Hall had continued to live and grow, and there were many halls, each the center of a different wing of rooms and corridors. It was difficult then to imagine being isolated in the great hall. At Winston House I didn’t have to imagine so much.

“The sounds of arrows smacking against the windows,” he said to me. I thought they might sound like little clinks, metal arrow bouncing off stone, a little sound that masked a deadly danger.

“Where do you go?” he asked. I looked around. The great hall was filled with statuary and furniture, but I imagined that back then it would have been bare. All I could do was cower in a corner, so he took me there, and together we crouched. I put my back to the wall and tucked my knees up to my chin. He surrounded me with his bulk and lowered his head so his forehead touched the top of my head.

“We’d have to sit like this until the attack subsided,” he explained.

“How long would that take?”

“It depended. It could be a half hour, it could be all day. It depended on how well-supplied the attackers were, and how badly they wanted to get in.”

And we’d just sit there, waiting, trusting in the thick walls. There’d be shouting from outside, he’d said, and probably shouting from inside. Maybe some of the dogs would be inside with us as a last line of defense, and maybe some armed guards by the door. But the family would be here, in the corner, crouched in the darkness.

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Chapter 7: Isabelle

Chapter 7: Isabelle

1.

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.”

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Chapter 6: Emily

Chapter 6: Emily

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.

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Chapter 5: Julian

Chapter 5: Julian

1.

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.

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Chapter 4: Isabelle

Chapter 4: Isabelle

1.

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.

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