Time Travel Part III

Last week, I issued a challenge to time-travelers (as well as any prognosticators who may be reading) to foretell the results of a series of dice rolls I was to make today, 07/08/2018 at 9:30 AM CDT. I promised to post the results of the rolls no matter the outcome of the experiment, in order to avoid any potential paradox. The results of the dice rolls are as follows.

1 d10- 5

1 d20- 18

3 d6- 6,2,2

3 d6- 5,2,5

1 d100- 73

1 d20- 13

1 d4- 4

1 d4- 4

1 d12- 1

1 d6- 4

2 d20- 2,8

Result: 1 person guessed 1 dice roll- the 1d20 (18) during a d6 dice roll. I assign a probability so low that it is negligible that this person is a time traveler. I hereby conclude that this experiment is a successful failure.

The person who made the guess has expressed to me the doubt that 1) a time-traveler would ever see my posts, considering the infinite informational noise contained within time. Even if time-travelers have infinite time to find your posts, they say, more information is being added in the meantime. To a time-traveler with unlimited time, I am infinitely unimportant.

I have no way to combat this effect experimentally, except to say to myself that an infinite subset of infinity seems to approach one, instead of “undefined” as they say (I’m not able to do the math as of yet- this is intuitive.) However, I cannot deny I my cosmic unimportance does approach infinity.

I only have one incentive to offer any time-travelers, and it is a mere trifle. I am going under the assumption that some time-travelers will become collectors of sorts, and seek out lost treasures in the time stream. To that end I am willing to offer any time-travelers a quaint little sonata I wrote when I was in college. I never wrote down or recorded the sonata, and it only exists in my brain. If and when I go, the sonata goes, too. If any time-travelers would like a copy of the sonata, send me the result of next-week’s dice rolls. I will roll early next Sunday, 07/15/2018, at 8:30 AM.

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The Coven, Part LXXIII

Bright rays of morning light leaked past my eyelids, stirred my mind, and enticed me back to the world.

The sun had risen high enough to reflect off of the paved roads and brick buildings, filling my room with the city’s white glare. I opened my eyes to see the glare mingling with the dust that danced in the seldom-opened window. My eyes followed the beam of light from the window to the pillow beside me, where it was caught in a web of scarlet curls.

Prudence was still asleep, though her eyes were squeezed tight as though to protest the invading light. I could not bear to reach out to wake her- to be the one who caused her eyes to squint open, and her mouth to frown.

Then a loud thumping at the door caused me to jump up, and my heart to thump in response.

Prudence continued to sleep as though she had heard nothing.

There was a strange discord in the air- the morning light contrasted sharply with the dark shadows the lie behind the curtains. There was a second thump at the door, and at that moment a cloud fell across the sun, blotting the glare away. A dark premonition fell over me, and I could not silence the voice in my mind that said danger.

I reached out and shook Prudence. “Wake up- put on your veil. Someone is knocking.”

Prudence groaned and sat up, but she put on the veil so I could not see her frown. Then I got up and unlocked the door, and I saw Mercy on the other side.

“Good Morning, my Lady,” Mercy said with just a bit of annoyance at the edge of her sweet voice. “Do you need me to help you dress? Brother Lux will arrive soon to examine your father.”

“Of course- thank you,” I said.

Prudence rushed past us, muttering that she would wake Celeste.

 

 

#

 

 

My father sat stiffly against plush velvet cushions, dressed in a satin dressing gown that hung off of his thin shoulders. He hadn’t moved since the moment I arrived, except to sit up when directed by Dr. Pearson, and to swallow a spoonful of medicine. Now he was staring blankly into a bright beam of sunlight without even blinking or squinting his eyes.

I went to the window and drew the curtains shut.

“I had hoped that your presence would reach him,” Dr. Pearson, said sadly. “You are Lord Ainsworth’s closest relation. Perhaps if you speak to him-“

Just then the door opened, and Brother Lux entered the room.

All at once, my father’s countenance changed. His eyes went wide with fear, and he pressed back against his cushions as though trying to escape.

“Don’t come closer,” he whimpered. “Don’t touch me.”

Brother Lux shut the door, and then sat on a stool near the bed.

“I will not touch you, my Lord- not until you give me leave,” he said in a low, soft voice. “For now, I just wish to speak with you.”

My father stared at Brother Lux for a long time as though bewildered. Dr. Pearson moved away from the bed and nodded to Brother Lux, as though giving him leave to question the patient.

“I went to Willowbrook- I did,” Father finally ventured in a hoarse croak. “They brought me here.”

“It’s alright, Verdant City is a place of healing,” Brother Lux said gently. “Your loved ones only wish to see you well.”

“No no-“ Father fell against his pillows again and stared up at the ceiling. “They want me to burn. They all want me to burn. Hell is too good a place- a worse fate awaits me. It is all over.”

Father sighed deeply, and then looked up at Brother Lux. “You are the eagle- but you can have the rose. I will not stop you if you take the rose. Just please- don’t take me yet.”

Brother Lux turned to me. “Do his words make any sense to you?”

It was not difficult to maintain an expression of dull confusion, though I felt a chill run up my spine as Brother Lux watched me.

“He’s speaking of a fairy tale, like Lady Fairfax said last night.”

Brother Lux regarded me a few moments more, and then he stood and turned to my father.

“I will not touch you until you give me leave, my Lord,” Brother Lux said, “but I will not go until I’ve examined you.”

“I will not stop you- I cannot stop you,” Father said. “Just take the rose.”

My father let out a groan from so deep inside it seemed to rattle his chest, and I stepped backward in terror. But then my father went quiet, and his breathing became even. It was as though he had fallen asleep- his chest still rose and fell rhythmically.

“Lady Frey, come here. I need your assistance,” Brother Lux said as he approached my father. “Do what you can to keep your father quiet while I examine him.”

Unsure of what else to do, I gingerly took my father’s hand. It was the first time I’d ever held my father’s hand. It wasn’t much larger than my own, and though his skin was covered in age spots, it was not overly thin or wrinkled. I squeezed his hand, but he did not respond; his hand hung passively as I held it.

Father groaned a little, but he did not otherwise protest as Brother Lux took his pulse, felt his glands, and looked into his mouth and eyes. Then Brother Lux placed his hand over my father’s head, as though to feel for a fever, and left it there as he spoke.

“Answer my questions as best you can, my Lord” Brother Lux said. “How old are you?”

“I- I was 35. I was 35.” My father said in an agitated voice.

“When is your birthday?”

“It was too long ago.”

“What is your daughter’s name?”

My father moved, then, pulling his hand away from mine. “Joy has the child. Joy will not give her back.”

“Father- I am here,” I said quietly.

My father turned to look at me, then. He knitted his brow as he stared at me, and he struggled to sit up again.

“No, Harmony- you shouldn’t be in the city. You will get ill again. Go to the country, ride your horse, get exercise and fresh air.”

“Not Harmony, Father; I’m Grace, and I am perfectly well.”

He fell back against his pillows and groaned. “Doctor- doctor, advise my wife. Take her back to the country. She can’t be confined in the city. She will get ill…”

“No- it’s me.” I protested. “Look at me.”

Brother Lux looked at me and shook his head, silencing my protests.

“It’s alright. We will make sure Harmony is well,” Brother Lux said soothingly, placing his hand over my father’s head once more. “Close your eyes, now. Rest.”

Father fell back against the pillows, shut his eyes, and became still.

Then Brother Lux gestured for Dr. Pearson and me to follow, and we went to the next room, where Brother Lux shut the door.

I found myself in a study, which despite being a good-sized room, seemed smaller for the profusion of books. The bookshelves were overstuffed and books spilled onto every table, tumbled onto all of the chairs, and there was not a square-inch visible on the large desk. Brother Lux cleared a stack of books from the desk chair and sat down.

“You have a remarkable method with patients, Brother,” Dr Pearson said, perching his slight frame on a stack of very large volumes that stood near the desk. “I haven’t gotten an answer from Lord Ainsworth for weeks.”

“I have seen such cases, before,” Brother Lux said. “In my opinion-“

Brother Lux’s words were cut short, however, when the hall door opened and Lady Fairfax entered.

“Brother,” she said, and she took Brother Lux’s offered hand as he stood to greet her. “I do hope that you were able to learn something about my dear cousin’s condition.”

“I was, Lady,” Brother Lux said.

Lady Fairfax nodded, and deftly stepped around Brother Lux to take the desk chair from him. Brother Lux nodded to her humbly as she passed, and took the smaller chair across the desk.

“As I was just mentioning to Dr. Pearson, I’ve seen cases like Lord Ainsworth’s before. In older patients, mental faculties can sometimes go into sharp decline. Lord Ainsworth’s anxiety, confusion, and his inability to recognize his loved ones and surroundings are all indicative of dementia.”

“Doctor?” Lady Fairfax turned to Dr. Pearson beseechingly, as though seeking a contradiction.

Dr. Pearson, however, stroked his long, white whiskers with a thoughtful expression. “Well, yes, that diagnosis does seem to fit all of the symptoms. He seemed to be raving, at first, but since your conversation it’s clear that he’s merely confused.”

“Then- is there something that may be done for him?” Lady Fairfax asked.

Dr. Pearson fell silent.

Brother Lux rose and went to Lady Fairfax, taking her hand in his. At this gesture, Lady Fairfax’s regal bearing seemed to crumble away, and her eyes filled with tears.

“I promise, my Lady, that we will do everything we can to keep Lord Ainsworth quiet and comfortable. With enough care, we may be able to relieve his worst symptoms.”

Lady Fairfax nodded meekly, even as tears dripped from her face onto the books below. Her tear had fallen on a worn, paper dust jacket, and where it spattered, ink smudged and ran.

I then the entire scene smudged, and my breath caught. The guilt I’d been nursing swelled inside of me until I could not breathe.

“Please excuse me,” I whispered before I rose and fled the room.

My vision was so blurred with tears that I hardly knew where I was going, but I felt myself climbing staircase after staircase, and when I blinked my tears away I saw where I had gone.

In times of trouble, my feet always remember to seek the quiet comfort of a library.

      The library was in a dusty, forgotten corner of the house. In my childhood, I had called the room the ‘accidental library’ because it was obvious the room was built to be a garret. Over the years, however, rough shelves had been built into the walls, filling the high wall at the back of the room, the crooked walls where the ceiling sloped downward, and even squeezed into the side where the ceiling hung so low that an adult could not stand. There were also two mismatched free-standing bookcases that stood where they just touched the vaulted ceiling, creating a tiny room behind them.

There was no desk, table, or chair in the room, but there were a number of worn, velvet cushions where I had often sat. Now I fell into one of the cushions and allowed myself to weep.

I wept until my tears ran dry, and then I looked around the room once more. The library was almost entirely unchanged, except a little more dust had settled in the corners, and the skylight seemed a little dirtier, making dark smudges across the patch of sunlight on the stained wood floor. A memory, as dusty as the room itself, filtered into my mind.

 

A young girl ran into the dusty garret and slammed the door behind her.

      The girl was long limbed and skinny- a little tall for her nine years, though she was far from finished growing. Her white pinafore was only half-pinned, and a tangle of dark curls fell into her eyes. The girl pulled her hair back and leaned against the door, listening for the growl of the monster that pursued her.

      “Where the devil is Miss Sutton? I can’t get anything done with THAT DAMN GIRL underfoot.”

      The girl stiffened against the door as footsteps echoed up the stairwell, but then the footsteps paused, and finally retreated. The girl pressed her ear against the door and held her breath until the footsteps faded completely into the distance.

      Then she heaved a heavy sigh, relaxed, and stepped into the room.

      All around her, shelves of books towered up to the ceiling, frustratingly out of touch without stair or ladder to reach them. She looked up at the books, the ceiling, and the skylight, turning around and around to look until she felt dizzy.

      Then footsteps echoed up the stairs once more. “I don’t know where the girl is. I was trying to dress her when the threw a tantrum.”

      The girl froze, and then reached up to touch her tumbled hair. Her governess, Miss Sutton, had been in a foul mood that morning, and had pulled and yanked her curls until she thought her scalp would be pulled clean off. The girl had screamed and run, and that had been when she encountered the monster.

      Recalling the danger, the girl ran again, ducking behind the bookcases.

      Then the girl grew a deep breath, and a smile tugged at her lips. She had found herself in a little room that was entirely made of books- there were books on all the walls, books stacked in piles on the floor, and even old book covers that papered the low ceiling. A small footpath between stacks of books led to a low-backed chair, which itself was surrounded by stacks of books.

      “It’s a fortress- a fortress of stories,” the little girl whispered reverently. “Nothing can ever find me, here.”

      The girl pinned her own pinafore, ran her fingers through her hair, and grabbed the nearest book. She would stay in her little fortress, safe from the monsters, until the storm of anger had stilled outside and it was safe to emerge for tea.

      The little girl sat down, opened the book, and read,

 

The Tale of the Magi

 

In the kingdom of Excelsior there were two great mages. One was a holy mage, who lived at the top of a mountain, and one was a witch, who lived in a bog.

 

 

I awakened from my reverie and stood. I had thought I was a different person than the little girl who had hidden from her father and her governess over a decade hence, yet I found myself in the same position- hiding in a fortress of stories from the frightening reality below.

Had my memories played tricks on me? The recollection of my first journey to the library had seemed very clear, but I thought my mind must have substituted the Tale of the Magi- the story from my stolen book that had been torn out and lost- for whatever I had actually read on that morning so long ago.

I walked through the opening in the bookcases and ducked into the little room behind them. I was too tall to stand upright in the little room, now. I had to stoop down until I reached the low-backed chair and was able to sit. Then I looked around, searching for a familiar book cover.

A faded blue cover in the pile near the chair caught my eye, and I reached out and opened the book.

 

Folk Tales of the Midlands, as told by the Vole Brothers

Book III

 

I turned another page, and there I saw the story.

 

The Tale of the Magi

 

How had I forgotten the tale? As I read, the story unfolded itself in my memory. Two mages, a holy mage and a witch, had battled each other for a hundred years. Unable to get the better of the holy mage, the witch sent spies to watch the holy mage carefully in the hopes that he would unlock the secret of his enemy’s power.

Eventually, the witch learned that the mage possessed a magic mirror, which he guarded most carefully. The mirror always showed the mage’s face, whether the mage looked into the mirror or not.

The witch, guessing that the mirror was the secret to the mage’s power, cast a spell of sleep over the mage’s palace, and sent his servant in to steal the mage’s mirror. When the mage awakened and found the mirror was gone, he fell into despair, for the mirror had been a phylactery that contained the mage’s very soul.

The mage could not perform magic without the mirror, so he was forced to travel by foot through the witch’s bog, facing one dangerous adventure after another, until he finally reached the witch’s lair. There, he found the witch guarding the mirror. The witch laughed at the mage as he approached, mocking his powerlessness.

This is how the mage replied:

“I have journeyed long through the dark and misty bog in search of my soul. You have sent trial after trial to stop me, but with each trial I surpassed, my will has grown stronger. I no longer need the soul that is contained in the mirror, for I’ve found the strength to create a soul of my own.”

With these words, the mage unleashed a holy spell so powerful that the witch was destroyed forever.

 

 

 

I put the book aside.

No wonder I could not remember this story, I thought. The books contained here were my fortress when they should have been my guide.  

      I stood, smoothed my dress, and combed my fingers through my hair.

Then I opened the door and descended the garret steps into my father’s house.

Part LXXIV

Start from the beginning.

 

Time Travel, Part II

Putting my latte where my mouth is

 

A few days ago, I issued an open invitation over twitter to time-travelers.

“… I’m willing to test my theory. If there are any time travelers out there in the future, please meet me. I’ll know it’s you because you will already know the time, place, and password.”

I am writing this at the appointed meeting place, at the appointed time, and so far, no one has approached me with the password. There is a thirty-minute window, and after the window closes, I can officially call this experiment a successful failure, and enjoy my latte in peace.

It occurs to me, however, that my first time-travel experiment has invoked a paradox. By demanding that the time-traveler know the time and place of the meeting as evidence of their ability to time-travel, I’m creating a situation where the time-traveler will have already have had to met me in order to tell their past selves where to meet me, creating a closed loop. If the universe is hostile to such paradoxes, I will need to construct a paradox-free time travel test… if such a thing is even possible.

Time, it seems, creates enough paradoxes on its own.

However, I am willing to try to minimize potential paradoxes. Next Sunday, at 9:30 am, I will make a series of dice rolls and post the results to my blog, whether anyone replies to this post or not. If anyone from the future is reading this, please post a reply to this post with the dice-roll results before 9:30am on Sunday, July 08, 2018 either in the comments, or on twitter @bkkawaii.

I realize that one needn’t be a time-traveler per se to pass this test. One could be a prognosticator with either a type of “time telescope” that allows one to see into the future, or they may own a computer that can model the state of the physical world to such detail that it can predict how events will play out. Even seemingly random events, like dice rolls, follow predictable physical laws, after all. Such an ability is impressive enough in itself for me to entertain.

It is also possible that anyone who passes this test will have just gotten lucky. Even if it is really improbable that anyone will guess the dice rolls by random chance, this may still be more probable than time travel. I’ve already declared time-travel to be impossible, so it’s difficult for me to work out a number of dice-rolls to satisfy my standards of evidence. I figure I’ll just subject anyone who passes this test to further dice-roll challenges until I get bored with rolling dice, and then interrogate the subject further about their means.

In either case, the experiment continues. If it fails, I’ll be able to congratulate myself on a successful prediction, and if it is a success, I am bound for an awesome adventure. Either way, I probably look like a lunatic, which I am becoming more and more comfortable with.

Update: It is now 10:01 and no one has approached me with the password. The first experiment was not only a successful failure, but the experiment’s paradox did not destroy the universe. To my knowledge.

Time Travel (Sorry, but we never get it.)

Let’s not worry about physics, right now. Instead, let’s discuss how humans work and fail to work.

Humans fight, and when the stakes are high we use our intelligence to weaponize the tools that are available. This strategy worked very well for our ancestors on an individual or tribal level, because it is extremely difficult to destroy the world with a sharpened stick.

With time travel, however, the destruction of existence is guaranteed.

At first, everyone involved with time travel research may have nothing but the best of intentions. However, it’s just a matter of time before a serious conflict breaks out, and side A- desperate in a struggle to survive- decides to go back in time to fix the outcome of a battle.

Perhaps side A goes back in time to assassinate side B’s brilliant young general while he is in the bath, or perhaps they travel to the future to steal weapons from a more advanced age. If side A really wants to win, they will do both. Afterward, side B either sends their spies into side A’s camp and steals the secret of time travel, or side B gets the secret of time-travel from their descendants, who gained the secret of time travel during a period of peace with side A and then decided that peace was boring.

Either way, side B manages to retaliate against side A by going further back in time, fixing battles in their own favor, and bringing their past-selves technology- including time-travel technology. Side B’s past selves go backward to do the same thing, whose past selves also go backward, and on, and on, etc.

The best-kept secrets will be spilled, and the most important rules will be broken- including the temporal prime-directive. Given enough time, there will inevitably come a point when this seems necessary. Due to the way time war is waged, destruction and death will spread throughout the timeline, until there is nothing left.

In the beginning, Man destroyed the universe.

A universe with time-travel is fundamentally unstable. We exist, and therefore we do not ever get the ability to travel through time.

The first objection to this reasoning that I’ve thought of is that we may transform into some post-human species that is more enlightened than we, and can better resist the temptation to misuse time-travel. In such a case, I can only assert that given enough time (and with time-travel availability, time is no longer a limited resource) it is most probable that the technology will either fall into the hands of a less-enlightened species due to sheer accident, or that post-human enlightenment will evolve into post-post-human barbarity. Thus, no matter what species holds time-travel technology, instability is guaranteed.

The second objection I’ve anticipated is that perhaps, instead of looping into the same timeline when we time-travel, we create alternate branches of reality that fall apart when touched by time travel without tainting the main timeline. In other words, if side A travels back in time to fix the outcome of a battle, the future they return to is an alternate timeline where they win, and the original timeline continues untarnished. My response is that, in going back to fix the outcome of the battle, side A creates a paradox. Side A would only go back in time to fix the outcome of a battle if they originally lost or felt they had a poor chance of winning, and when they tamper with the timeline they destroy the conditions of them going back to fix the outcome of the battle to begin with. Thus, time travelers who originally lose the battle are transported to the timeline where they win, and the versions of themselves who win are duplicates of the versions of themselves who saw no reason to travel, and therefore stayed where they are. One of the timelines must be erased by the time-traveler’s actions; otherwise, multiple timelines are filled with time-duplicates, which creates its own sort of instability.

In either case, I suppose I don’t need my time-clone password anymore, which I created to recognize messages from my future self. My password wasn’t secure, anyway, because it exists somewhere in time and space.timewarp

The Coven, Part LXXII

Lady Fairfax had been sitting in a high-backed chair by the fire, and she stood as the party entered. I curtsied deeply and murmured a greeting, but Lady Fairfax did not reply. She approached me slowly, almost tentatively, taking a wine goblet from the nearest table as she went. Then she stopped before me, raised the goblet, and dashed the contents into my face.

I stood, unable to do anything but sputter as cold, bitter-smelling wine dripped down my face and onto my clothes. Then Lady Fairfax stepped forward and pulled me into an embrace, throwing my composure even more off-balance.

“Oh! My dear, I am sorry, but I had to make sure of your innocence. These are dangerous times; even family is suspect.”

Brother Lux took the empty cup from Lady Fairfax and smelled the dregs. “Witchbane?”

“It’s an herb that will cause any witch to break out in boils from head to foot; my Grandmother swore by it,” Lady Fairfax said stoutly. “Far be it from me to question his holiness, but I believe your inquisition would run a lot more smoothly if you still used the old methods. Your new-fangled torture machines aren’t worth the lumber they are built from.”

“On that count, your Ladyship, we are in agreement,” Brother Lux said with a bow.

At that moment, the party was interrupted by a small bark, followed by the padding of feet on the floor. A small white dog let itself into the drawing room and ran in excited circles around the guests.

“Oh! How sweet!” Celeste, unable to stand like a lady any longer, dropped to the ground and took the small dog in her arms.

“Snowbear- be quiet!” Lady Fairfax scolded the dog, and then spoke to Celeste. “You are Miss Goode, I presume?”

“Yes, Lady Fairfax,” Celeste said, standing to give an awkward curtsey while the dog wiggled in her arms.

“Mind Snowbear for me, Miss Goode. He is a sweet-tempered dog, but his barking will bother Lord Ainsworth.”

I stepped forward, but before I could make proper introductions, Lady Fairfax spoke to Prudence.

“You are the child’s nurse, are you not, Sister? Well, Kingsley will show you to the nursery- ring the bell when the child is ready for supper.”

Lady Fairfax gestured to the footman. I shot Prudence an apologetic glance as she was led from the room.

“Sister Jubilee is not only Celeste’s governess; she is also an invaluable companion to me,” I said mildly when Prudence had gone.

“Indeed?” Lady Fairfax said, gesturing for me and Brother Lux to sit. “She must be from a genteel family, if she is so well-educated. I would guess that she is a plain woman underneath her veil, since she could not make an advantageous marriage.”

“There are those who are called to serve the church,” Brother Lux remarked. “No everyone who joins the sisterhood, or the brotherhood for that matter, is forced to by circumstance.”

“We are all forced by circumstance, whatever we do,” Lady Faifax said with a haughty air. “Some of us manage to convince ourselves that we chose our fate after the fact.”

“Lady Fairfax,” I interrupted quietly, “the letter you sent touched me- I could tell that your concern for my father is genuine. Please tell me; what is his condition now? Has it grown much worse since you wrote?”

Lady Fairfax sighed and sat back a little in her chair, as though greatly fatigued.

“Dr. Pearson will come to examine Lord Ainsworth tomorrow- perhaps he can answer your question. I can make nothing of Valor’s condition. I only know that my poor cousin has altered so greatly that I hardly recognize him.”

“How has he altered?” I asked.

“I had expected that the Prince’s decline would frustrate Valor,” Lady Fairfax said. “He’d staked everything on the Prince’s rise to power, and now all of those ambitions are dashed. They say that the Prince is worse than mad.”

Lady Fairfax sat up again and leaned forward, lowering her voice. “They say that the Prince never had any rightful claim to the throne at all, and that he altered his own horoscope so that it would appear he could rule. Everyone is saying that, after being corrected, the horoscope actually spells out doom for the Prince’s reign. Those of us who once supported the Prince are lost- where should our loyalties lie? Normally, I would consult your father on such matters, but he is no help at all in his state.”

I swallowed hard. “Do you believe that my father is just suffering from disappointment?”

Lady Fairfax shook her head. “After your husband’s arrest, I followed Valor to Willowbrook. When I arrived, I found an empty shell of a man- there were no plans, no schemes, and he did not retreat into his research. I have seen Valor disappointed before, and he usually gets angry and rallies himself. Valor seemed too- too empty to rally himself this time. He would pace around his library for hours on end without touching a book. I couldn’t get him to speak to me. Some days he would be completely silent, and other days he would rant to no one.”

Brother Lux’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly at this. “What did he say during his rants?”

“Oh- complete nonsense,” Lady Fairfax said with a wave her hand. “He would talk of fairy tales we’d read as children- the most ridiculous things. The doctor could detect no fever, so he decided that Valor’s condition was the product of mental stress. The doctor said that the baths at Verdant Springs would be just the thing to soothe Valor’s mind.

“As soon as we left Willowbrook, Valor’s condition grew worse. He said he was being punished for something dreadful he’d done, and that if we stayed in Verdant City he would surely die. He won’t go to the baths. He’s taken to his bed, and he just lies there, groaning and whispering that he will soon die.”

I could ask no more questions. My mouth had grown dry, and there was a lump in my throat.

“Have any of the doctors in Verdant City been able to discover the source of Lord Ainsworth’s affliction?”

“No- as far as the new doctors can tell, there is nothing wrong with Valor other than a mild case of the gout, which we already knew. I’m at my wit’s end.”

“I have some medical training,” Brother Lux said with a humble bow of his head. “I will examine Lord Ainsworth, if you would like a second opinion.”

“Would you? Oh, but you must have so many demands on your time.”

“Never so many that I would ignore those in need; this was my vow when I took orders,” Brother Lux said.

Tears shimmered in Lady Fairfax’s hazel eyes, and she pressed Brother Lux’s hand.

“Bless you,” she said. Then she wiped the tears away and turned to me.

“Lady Frey, you look fatigued. I will ring for tea.”

 

 

#

 

 

After tea, Brother Lux took his leave. I followed him to his carriage.

“How soon can I see Hope?” I asked.

“That depends on you,” Brother Lux said. “We must prepare you, first. This will not be easy.”

“I will do whatever I can,” I said.

“Will you be able?” Brother Lux asked, raising his eyebrows skeptically. “Your father’s illness has affected you more that I would have guessed. You are pale, and when Lady Fairfax spoke, you trembled.”

“I am only fatigued,” I said. “I will deal with this.”

“Go to sleep tonight, Lady Frey- don’t stay up all night, as I know you are wont to do. I will see you tomorrow morning,” Brother Lux said before he left.

 

 

#

 

 

The last time I was at Brighton Place, I’d slept in the nursery. Now, however, the room was occupied by Celeste, and since I’d swept past Lady Fairfax’s footman in order to follow Brother Lux to his carriage, I was left alone to find my room.

There were quite a few empty bedrooms upstairs, and I thought it would be just as well to chose one at random to stay the night. Mercy however, wearing a fresh cap and apron, found me as I wandered the hallway.

“Your trunk has already been placed in your rooms. Please come with me, my Lady,” she said in a meek voice that I hadn’t heard since we were in Rowan Heights

“Thank you, Mercy,” I said much more awkwardly, and I followed her down the hall. Mercy led me to a suite of rooms draped and carpeted in blue- rooms I’d once admired as a child. She showed me wardrobe where she’d stowed the few clothes I’d brought with me, and then helped me to remove my gown and loosen my stays.

“Is there anything else you need, my Lady?” she asked when she had finished.

“N- no. Thank you,” I stammered.

Mercy curtseyed once more, and then left me alone.

I locked the door behind Mercy and extinguished the lamps, leaving the room almost completely dark but for the dull orange glow in the fireplace. I was ready to fall into bed and succumb to exhaustion, but as I reached for the bedcurtains they rustled, as though moved from within.

I took a fighting stance and flung back the curtains. Then I dropped my stance and heaved a sigh of relief.

“Goodness- you frightened me,” I whispered.

Prudence, who had been kneeling on the bed on the other side of the curtains, put a finger to her lips. She continued combing through the curtains on the section that lie against the bedroom wall, and then got down on the floor and looked under the bed.

“What are you doing?” I asked, and a second later I felt foolish. I recalled that I had done the exact same thing when I’d arrived in my stately room at St. Blanc.

“Light the lantern, will you? It’s difficult to do this by feel alone. The bed is clear, as well as the portraits along the back wall. Check the wardrobe while I finish here,” she said.

Lit the lantern once more, and then went through the wardrobe and the commode, but I found no peepholes, trap doors, or false backs. There was a small shelf set into the wall behind the window-curtains, but inside I found nothing but a packet of old laundry lists.

Prudence returned to the bedroom, having searched the small sitting room on the other side of the suite.

“Your rooms are clear. The nurseries were clear too, except for a peephole in my room. The peephole looks into Celeste’s room, however, so it must have been used for minding children.”

“We ought to check the hallways,” I whispered. “Someone tried to drug me when I was at St. Blanc; there was an incense burner hidden in a vase in the hallway, and the smoke drifted under through a crack in the door.”

Prudence nodded, and then briskly went to the outside door and peered out. After a few moments she slipped into the hall, and then returned a few moments later.

“The hallway is clear,” she said. “Now- I’m about to do something that may alarm you. Please promise that you will not panic or try to stop me.”

“I trust you,” I said.

Prudence faced the outside wall and made a familiar gesture with her hands, muttering under her breath. “By Raven, by the five, by my soul- silence, silence, silence…”

She repeated the task at each wall, and then each corner of the room. Then she stepped back toward the center of the room and removed her veil.

“I’ve done it- I’ve truly done it!” she said, her blue eyes sparkling with excitement. “We needn’t play any more late-night games of ringo.”

“You cast the spell of silence,” I said. “But- are you okay? I know you find magic unpleasant, and I understand that the silence spell is difficult.”

“I’ve been avoiding magic for a long time,” she conceded. “But watching you spar with Mercy and then return from the sparring covered in bruises made me feel like a coward. I have an ability to hone- so what if it’s painful?

“Still, it wasn’t easy for me to practice magic after so many years. I struggled through incredible pain to do the simplest spells until the night you gave me my Chaosmas gift- the portrait of my face. When you traced my face with your fingers, it felt as though I were experiencing a double-reality; your reality and mine. And then, just like that, something clicked, and I understood why magic was such a burden for me.”

“Why is that?”

Prudence smirked and then fell back on the bed, stretching out with catlike ease.

“My research has shown me that there are several types of magic, all of which depend on different mechanisms to make it work. The largest category is the magic of illusion. After I learned about your resistance, I deduced why illusion magic cannot be detected by the soulless. You see, it is predicated on a shared reality that exists only in the shared consciousness of those who have souls. I have a soul, so I can see this shared illusion.

“However, the training in rational thought that I’d been given by the oculists made it difficult for me to simply accept an illusion. By the time I joined the coven, I’d already been training myself to reject bias- which is really an illusion the mind creates- in search of a reality that can be independently verified. Every time I used magic, I got a feeling that something was wrong; that I was being invaded by something unnatural. Applying the scientific method to magic itself made the dissonance worse.”

“I see,” I sat beside Prudence on the bed. “So, when I helped you glimpse the reality that I see, the world of the concrete, you were able to discern the difference between the two.”

“Exactly. Now I can see the boundary between illusion magic and the real world. The day after you traced my face with your fingers, I went to the looking glass and saw my own face. It was difficult at first- like the first time you see past an optical illusion. Pretty soon, however, I was able to flip back and forth with ease- there is the young lady, and there is the crone.”

She propped herself up on an elbow and looked up at me.

“My discovery was a breakthrough on its own, but my new ability will do wonders for my research. I meant what I told you that one, glorious morning. I mean to reach the stars; I will surpass even Father Pius.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I laughed, and then lay back so that we were lying side by side- gazing at each other face to face. “You are brilliant, and even though I can’t fully understand your research, its importance is plain.

“As far as surpassing Father Pius is concerned, I believe you can triumph- you’re the only person with enough gall to challenge a God. I will never forget the look on Brother Lux’s face when you demanded he give up his powers in exchange for abandoning your research.”

“I knew he would never do it.” The glitter in Prudence’s eyes transmuted from laughter to hatred. “How could I possibly have believed him capable of a decent act after he uttered such a transparently bald lie?”

“What lie to you mean?”

Prudence narrowed her eyes, as though gazing into the past in disgust. “You were there- Brother Lux told me that he kept my escape from death a secret from Hope because he believed my madness could not be cured. Obviously, this was a lie, because Brother Lux had sent you to del Sol hoping that I would assist you.”

“Perhaps he thought the assistance of a madwoman would hold me back,” I said. “He is my enemy, after all. Or, perhaps, he was lying when he said that he sent me to del Sol so that we would find each other.”

“Either way, we cannot trust a single word from his mouth. No- his actions must guide us, and all of his actions have been reprehensible. Do you have any idea of the true reason why Brother Lux kept my escape secret from Hope?”

“Only the obvious ideas,” I admitted. “If Hope had known you lived, he would have gone straight to del Sol to find you. You might have given Hope evidence of Brother Lux’s betrayal once you were reunited.”

“Why would Brother Lux fear such a thing? I came to del Sol with nothing.”

“You came to del Sol with nothing but a decade’s worth of knowledge,” I pointed out. “You might have learned something that could not be dismissed as madness- something that Hope could independently verify.”

Prudence nodded slowly. “I see your point. Pius might have been too arrogant to see me as a threat, but Lux is generally more careful.”

“My second idea is that Pius may have found it easier to manipulate Hope’s actions while he still grieved your loss. When I met Hope, he was desperate for vengeance. Hope had other motives of course- he longed to free Celeste from the family condemnation, and he sought the higher ideals of universal liberty- but these other motives did not blind him in the way his grief did.”

Prudence rolled over once more, staring up at the ceiling with an inscrutable expression. “I had no idea that Hope still cared for me that much.”

“He still does,” I said. “I know he does.”

“Grace- I’ve read the accusations against the coven. The papers say that they committed murder against the High Priest. Perhaps the church is making these accusations to save face. After all, the High Priest took his own life, which means their greatest leader fell from grace.”

I rolled onto my back to stare at the ceiling, too. A heavy, blue and beige patterned tapestry was stretched across the ceiling so that patches of spring flowers were visible between long, wooden beams. The tapestry sagged just a little between each beam, giving it the look of festoons.

Prudence stirred a little beside me, and then spoke again.

“You may contradict me,” Prudence said. “I wish to believe the best of Hope, but…”

“I’m afraid I know very little of the matter,” I said. “When Father Sauris died, I was not in Hope’s confidence. Any evidence of Hope’s guilt that I saw during that time might have only been a product of my mind- I was frightened of him, when we first married.”

“That means you have some reason to believe that Hope is guilty of murder, but you don’t wish to say it aloud,” Prudence said.

“Please remember that I am guilty of murder, too,” I said. “You will protest that I killed in the heat of battle, and that I fought to liberate my people. Still, I started the battle of my own will, just like raising a gun to shoot is an act of will. If Hope did kill the High Priest, it was not a less noble act. The High Priest was the enslaver of my people and the enslaver of the minds of our nation. Father Sauris had killed countless people with his inquisition, and he was complicit in your families’ damnation. The spiritual battle Hope fought was really no different than the earthly battle I fought at the temple.”

“I don’t mean to condemn either of you,” Prudence said. “I am troubled by nothing more than the naiveté I thought I put aside long ago. When I joined the Oculist Guild, I believed that a bloodless war was possible- that I could liberate everyone using nothing more than the power of science. I was a child- I now realize that the same method that produces medicine also produces bombs.”

“We choose how to use the method,” I said. I reached out and took Prudence’s hand. “Don’t give up. You- no, we– may still find a way to save everyone.”

I heard Prudence sniff, but when she sat up and looked at me, her eyes were dry.

“I have been so self-absorbed, tonight. Forgive me; I’d yet to ask about your father.”

“His mind is broken,” I said. “I haven’t seen him yet, but the symptoms that Lady Fairfax described are…”

I stopped and took a deep breath, and then I sat up to look at Prudence. Her expression was far from judgmental. Her eyes were wide with compassion.

“I’ve learned a hard lesson about vengeance,” I said. “It’s a hollow thing; once you’ve had it you no longer want it.”

“You are more tender-hearted than most,” Prudence said. “I’ve seen many others who revel in their enemies’ pain.”

“I’ve never thought of myself as tender-hearted,” I said. “Once, Hope called me heartless- he said it was my only virtue. I know he was only teasing me at the time, but I’ve often wondered if he was right. I don’t feel the way I should- I feel neither love nor compassion nor righteous condemnation toward my father.”

“You’ve tied your mind into knots over him- I’d hardly say you lacked feeling.”

“What you’ve said is correct. I’ve tied my mind into knots, not my heart. I always consult my mind before my heart.”

Prudence shrugged. “You’ve said before that you are your mind. If that’s the case, then why try to make the distinction between your mind and heart? You feel all the same, don’t you?”

Prudence laughed at me as I gaped, unable to answer.

“You’re just tired and worried. Lie down, close your eyes, and clear your mind. Save these thoughts for the morning.”

Prudence bid me lie beside her, and I found that I was too tired to protest. I closed my eyes as she instructed, and I tried to clear my mind. There were many layers to clear away, from Brother Lux’s insistence I be tutored before I could see Hope, to my father’s condition, to the happenings at del Sol and all of my worries for the future. Once these thoughts had calmed still other, unimportant ones crept up. I was acutely aware of Prudence’s presence- the sound of her breath, her warmth, and the slight rustling sound she made every time she moved. Then, beneath this were the thoughts that instructed me to strip these other thoughts away.

Just when I thought I’d succeeded, I realized that I’d thought I’d succeeded.

“You said you had a method for ridding yourself of recursive thoughts,” I sighed. “If you could share that with me, it would be most helpful.”

I opened my eyes and saw that Prudence was biting her lip, as though to keep from laughing.

“It was unfair of me to expect you to use such an advanced method right away, especially in your frame of mind. I’m sorry. The secret to battling recursive thoughts is misdirection- you must distract your mind with something else. This time, close your eyes and think of the stars.”

I closed my eyes again, and I pictured the summer sky. I saw Lystra, setting in the west, and then I expanded my view to see the cat, the widow’s veil, and the hunter’s bow above me.

“The sky is dark,” Prudence said in a low, soft voice. “The bright stars are steady, and the dim ones glitter. Everything is silent. The world is turning slowly, and the stars are rising and setting, rising and setting…”

I watched the stars in my mind, until the cadence of Prudence’s voice faded away. Then even the stars faded, my mind grew still, and I fell asleep.

Part LXXIII

Start from the beginning.

The Coven, Part LXXI

I left del Sol laden with new riches.

My pocket was heavy with tokens of goodbye from the other sisters. An embroidered handkerchief, a strand of colorful prayer beads, and a paper terra flower covered in signatures and well-wishes were among the treasures I carried in the pocket under my black traveling skirt. Abbess Joy had added to these tokens a heavy hamper, filled with provisions for the journey.

“I wish I had more to give,” Abbess Joy whispered as he handed it to me.

“You’ve given me so much already,” I replied thickly.

Mercy took the hamper from me. “The sun is rising, Lady Frey. We must go,” she said softly.

I waved a last goodbye to everyone and climbed into the carriage, where Celeste, Prudence, and Brother Lux were waiting.

I counted Prudence among the treasures I took from del Sol. When I had arrived at the abbey, I’d believed that Prudence Goode was long dead, but the woman I met and befriended was full of life- warm, brilliant, and unafraid to tell me when I was being a fool.

Prudence had only escaped the hangman’s noose by faking her death, so she kept her face and identity veiled. I alone could glimpse beneath the veil to see her true beauty- a curse had rendered her face grotesque to anyone without Ancient blood. To the world, Prudence was Jubilee- Sister from del Sol and governess to Miss Celeste Goode.

Celeste was the greatest treasure I took away from del Sol with me. She was safe, well, and growing so quickly that her long legs stuck out from under her traveling skirt, even though we’d let down her hems twice.

I had experienced some misgivings about allowing Celeste to accompany us away from the safety of del Sol, but after having been reunited, Prudence could not bear to part with Celeste again. Celeste would have Mercy’s protection, and Brother Lux and Father Pius had sworn a blood oath to protect Celeste

Even so, I felt a chill when I saw Brother Lux sitting inches away from Celeste. Brother Lux had betrayed and imprisoned my husband, and he shared an incomprehensible power with Father Pius, who had ascended to godhood and now sought to take the world. Everyone I loved was trapped under Pius and Lux’s power.

I shuddered a little as the carriage pulled away from the Abbey. The Sisters followed the carriage a little way, waving white handkerchiefs in the orange light of sunrise. Celeste sat up on her knees and looked out of the back window to wave back to them, and then looked up at the shining Cathedral spire with a sigh of longing.

I turned to look back at the cathedral with Celeste, though I did not sigh aloud. I thought of the fragile new conspiracy that I had formed between my mother’s people, the Ancients, and the Oculist Guild. I’d brought the two groups together to liberate the Ancients from Father Pius’s guards. Abbess Joy was guarding the Ancients and the Oculist guild now, keeping them safe behind the spire, but I wondered how long they would remain safe.

“…you must guard the Ancients carefully- because if I discover any of them running free in the world at large, I will return with an army to wipe them out at once.”

I resisted the urge to touch the modest lace I’d tucked around my neck, which concealed the scar that marred my chest- the brand Pius had placed on my people after he’d rounded them up like cattle. The scar was a constant reminder of the danger I still faced.

I brought a final treasure away from del Sol with me. It would not be considered a treasure by many- it was a debased coin, minted during the reign of King Luminous II during a currency crisis. I’d been presented the coin two nights before, at my initiation into the Oculist Guild.

After I’d defended my treatise and Honest had defended his, we’d been subjected to rounds of questions and a final vote. Even though they’d both voted against me on my last attempt, Sir Silas and Prudence both raised their hands to accept me into the guild.

I didn’t have to count the hands to see I had a clear majority. Honest and I had both passed.

“So,” I turned to Prudence in my relief. “Does this mean you’ve changed your mind about my impulsiveness?”

“Oh no- you are more impulsive than you’ve ever been,” Prudence laughed. “You are completely out of control. The only difference is that I’ve learned to trust your impulses. They are becoming finely-honed by practice.”

“Tell me,” Mr. Filius, my mentor, had asked me when he’d handed me the coin. “What would you have done if we’d rejected your petition to join the guild?”

“I would have continued my work, regardless,” I said. “I can work on my own if I must, but I’m sure my friends would still collaborate with me if I asked.”

Mr. Filius laughed. “Then you know the secret- the title we’ve given you, journeyman, is worth as much as this coin.”

Everyone laughed at this, and I laughed along in good-humor even though I knew what Mr. Filius said was false. After all of the work I’d done, the title and acceptance meant everything.

 

 

#

 

 

Thump Thump Thump

“Celeste, please don’t kick the seat,” Prudence said with a sigh.

“I can’t help it; my legs are too long to tuck under me, but they are still too short to rest on the floor,” Celeste protested.

The carriage had left the Abbey grounds and was winding through the soft hills that rose toward the midlands. We had been traveling for less than half an hour, but Celeste was already restless.

“You must try to behave in a more ladylike manner,” Prudence chided gently. “We will be staying in Lord Ainsworth’s townhouse- you won’t have much opportunity to play outside like you have in the countryside, and Lord Ainsworth is too ill to bear much noise.”

“Is he ill? I’m sorry- I didn’t know. I will try to be quiet.” Celeste crossed her ankles and folded her hands, as though she were already sitting in a drawing-room. “But- if he is so ill, then why doesn’t he go to del Sol? I’m sure Abbess Joy can heal him.”

“The Gods have placed limits on Abbess Joy’s powers,” Brother Lux said, peering at Celeste over the edge of his book. “She can cure most ailments, but she cannot reverse the effects of aging. Many elderly patients seek relief in the hot springs at Verdant city, instead- the waters have healing properties.”

Celeste unfolded her hands and sat forward with an interested expression.

“Can the springs make people young again?” Celeste asked.

“Unfortunately, no. Bathing in the waters can relieve pain, and drinking the waters can improve digestion, but that is all.”

“Oh, I see,” Celeste said. She sat back and looked out of the window once more.

“Do you think that the bandits will attack again, Lady Grace?” Celeste asked. She put her hands around herself and shivered as though in fear, but her eyes shone in excitement.

“You needn’t worry, Miss Celeste,” Brother Lux said. “Inquisitors have recently set up checkpoints along this road, and the leaders of each of the bandit clans have been arrested. The roads are as safe as can be.”

“I see,” Celeste said, and then she narrowed her eyes at Brother Lux in sudden anger. “I’m sorry I’d forgotten, but I am not speaking to you at the moment, Brother Lux. I will be your friend again when Uncle Hope is free.”

“Ah- I understand. Thank you for the incentive, Miss Celeste,” Brother Lux said softly. Then he raised his book and began to read once more.

It was not long until we came to one of the checkpoints Brother Lux had spoken of- there was one bend in the road, then another, and then a red and white pavilion became visible over the next hill. As we approached, I saw that the pavilion was next to a makeshift gate that had been stretched across the road. The carriage stopped at the gate, and two armed guards appeared, followed closely by a red-cloaked inquisitor.

“Good morning,” Brother Lux said cheerfully, descending from the carriage to greet the inquisitor.

“Good morning, Brother,” the inquisitor said with a low bow. “I trust your time at del Sol was pleasant.”

“It was, as usual. I have brought Lady Frey, her ward Miss Goode, and two of her servants- the governess Sister Jubilee, and the handmaid Miss Mercy.”

Brother Lux turned and called to Mercy, who sat on the box. “Mercy, please unlatch all of the luggage for these men.”

“There’s no need to conduct a search,” the inquisitor said quickly. “If the ladies are traveling with you…”

“I insist. We must set an example for the laity, after all.”

The inquisitor bowed again, and then gestured to the guards, who stepped forward to help Mercy unload our trunks from the carriage. My heart pounded as I watched. I had purged my trunk of any secret items that were not strictly necessary; my treatise and the book I’d stolen from St. Blanc both had a new home in the old lighthouse- a secret guild stronghold we referred to as ‘the tower.’ I’d given my mother’s contract to Abbess Joy, and the blood oath I’d made with Hope long ago had fed the flames in my small grate on the second day I’d spent at del Sol.

Even so, I still carried dangerous items in the secret compartment in my trunk- items I thought I may need. I had made a map of the dungeons where Hope was kept, and I’d brought it in case I ever found an opportunity to free him. I also held a love letter Pius had written to Lux, and though Pius was now too powerful for the church to destroy, I still thought I might be able to leverage the contents to loosen Pius and Lux’s political hold on the nation. Hope’s bank records, the letters from my solicitor and Hope’s attorney, and the letter I kept from Brother Gaius did not contain any compromising information, but they were still sensitive and private, and I did not like the idea of anyone reading the contents.

Prudence shrank back from the carriage window as the guards approached, holding her veil down with one hand. I cursed myself that I hadn’t asked if she needed help hiding any of her possessions.

My fears, however, proved to be for nothing. The inquisitor hardly peered into each trunk before ordering them to be shut and loaded back onto the carriage. Brother Lux thanked the inquisitor, blessed him, and climbed back into his seat.

The guards opened the gate and waved the carriage through.

“Congratulations on the reforms you’ve accomplished since taking command of the inquisition,” Prudence said to Lux after we’d passed through. “You have implemented the appearance of fairness, which is much better than actual fairness.”

“I’ve missed that sharp tongue of yours,” Brother Lux replied.

We passed another two checkpoints before we reached Crossroads Village, and at each checkpoint, the searches were conducted in the same way; the inquisitor would attempt to wave the carriage through, Brother Lux would insist that he be searched the same as any other traveler, and the inquisitor would barely glance at the contents of our luggage before declaring us clear to pass. We made excellent time until we passed the crossroads. Then the skies grew dark, and after half a day’s journey the heavens opened up and drenched the roads with rain.

The roads soon became flooded, and we were forced to spend the afternoon under the pavilion at the forth checkpoint while we waited for the rain to stop. The rain did eventually stop, but the roads were so muddy that we had to stay the night.

I was relieved when the roads dried and we were able to continue our journey. I gazed out of the carriage window, eagerly awaiting the fork in the road that led to St. Blanc on the left and Verdant City on the right.

“Lady Grace, I was wondering if you could explain something,” Celeste said, sitting up to peer past me to the scene outside. “I read that Bridon City was the capital of Aeterna, but Brother Lux said that Verdant City was the capital. Which is it?”

“Bridon City used to be the capital, but the Prince recently moved the capital to Verdant City so it would be near St. Blanc,” I said.

“It was an excellent strategic move to consolidate his power with that of the Church,” Brother Lux said. “He might have succeeded in becoming king.”

“You don’t think the Prince will become king?” Celeste said, turning back to Brother Lux.

Brother Lux smirked in reply. “Why- I thought you weren’t speaking to me, Miss Celeste.”

“I- I’m not,” Celeste said. Her cheeks went red, and she turned resolutely back to the window.

The sun was setting when we passed through the city gates. The lamplighters were hard at work bringing light to the twilit city. I could hardly see a bare patch of cobblestone beneath us- the streets were crowded with carriages, horses, and a sea of pedestrians dressed in everything from rags to silks.

One woman was dressed strangely enough to catch my eye despite the varied crowd. She wore a pale blue dress that shone with an odd sheen in the lamplight, and which was trimmed with a profusion of very stiff looking lace. Her hair was bright red, and it fell just to her shoulders in soft layers.

I couldn’t stop myself- I gasped aloud in surprise.

“Lady Frey? Is something the matter?” Brother Lux asked.

I looked back into the crowd, but the girl had gone, lost in the throng of people.

“I thought that I saw someone I knew, but I must have been mistaken,” I said.

“It is quite a large crowd for so late in the season,” Brother Lux said, leaning forward to peer out of the window. “It would be difficult to find anyone in this madness.”

“Get comfortable, Ladies- we may be here a while,” The coachman called through the front window. “The road to Brighton Place is all blocked.”

“We may be able to turn down Ferryman St. and then get to Brighton Place by way of the avenue,” I said. “I only came here once as a girl, but I remember that the traffic was always much lighter on Ferryman, though the way is longer.”

Brother Lux nodded and tapped the window to get the coachman’s attention once more. “Take us down Ferryman.”

“You’ve had a season in Verdant City?” Prudence asked. “You once told me that you were never out before your marriage.”

“I didn’t come here to attend balls- I was younger than Celeste at the time,” I said. “We came to visit my ailing grandfather. Once he passed away, I spent every winter at Willowbrook.”

“Is Brighton Place pretty?” Celeste asked. “It has a very grand-sounding name.”

“It’s a very comfortable townhouse,” I said. “There will be plenty of room for all of us.”

“The late Lord Frey had a home at Brighton Place,” Prudence told Celeste. “From what I recall, Brighton Place is very grand, indeed.”

True to my prediction, Ferryman St. was far less crowded than the main street, and the avenue was almost empty but for a few couples who walked, arm-in-arm, under the budding fairy-trees. I had to turn away from the window- the way the lovers gazed at each other as they walked brought to mind how Hope and I had walked together at St. Blanc.

The carriage rolled away from the avenue and onto a wide cobblestone road, which was lined with young spear-trees. The lamps were all lit; they shone merrily off the rain-washed cobblestone. The carriage rolled to a stop in front the white house at the end of the row. I opened the door and descended the carriage, staring up at the broad, white building full of sparkling windows.

Brother Lux escorted me up the walkway, and Prudence and Celeste fell behind us. It felt strange for me to lead the party; the last time I had been to Brighton place I had walked at the back of the party with my governess, who surreptitiously yanked my hair every time it looked like I would step out of line.

You’ve faced inquisitors and soldiers and even a God without trembling. I told myself. It would be ridiculous for you to tremble, now.

      I pulled the bell, and the doorman appeared with his tray in hand. I felt oddly ashamed that I had no card to present, but I raised my head, cleared my throat, and gave the doorman my name.

“Her Ladyship has been expecting you,” the doorman said with a slight bow. “Please follow me.”

As I entered the foyer, two servants stepped forward to take my coat and hat, and two more stepped outside to assist Mercy and the Coachman. I flinched away from the first servant for just a moment before I remembered where I was, and that the self-sufficiency I’d enjoyed at del Sol was gone. The realization felt oddly restraining- like putting on my stays after wearing loose pilgrim’s robes for so long.

The doorman led the party down a hall and to the drawing room. The doors were already open, and as I entered a wave of memories flooded my mind. I’d only been in the drawing room a few times, when no company of any importance had been present. Everything was how I remembered it-the scarlet rugs and rose-printed paper on the walls were the same as ever, and the comfortable sofas and reading-chairs, lamps, and tables, which had been strewn around with the appearance of carelessness, did not seem to have moved an inch.

Lady Fairfax had been sitting in a high-backed chair by the fire, and she stood as the party entered. I curtsied deeply and murmured a greeting, but Lady Fairfax did not reply. She approached me slowly, almost tentatively, taking a wine goblet from the nearest table as she went. Then she stopped before me, raised the goblet, and dashed the contents into my face.

Part LXXII

Book 3 of The Coven is Out

Book Three of  The Coven novelization series is available on Amazon now. As usual, this novelization does include content not available in the serial. 

 

Solar Spectrum

Click here or above to purchase.

 

There is a sanctuary from the chaos that reigns in Aeterna.

After her husband’s arrest, Lady Grace Frey is sent into exile at del Sol, which is an abbey, pilgrimage, and hospital for the ill and broken. At del Sol, Lady Frey finds solace and support in the motherly attentions of Abbess Joy.
Grace also finds allies among the oppressed and the broken at del Sol, especially in the friendship of the mysterious Sister Jubilee. Grace soon learns, however, that Sister Jubilee hides a terrible secret under her veil that may tear their friendship apart.

The Solar Spectrum is the third novel in The Coven series, based on the web serial by Bridgett Kay.