Clockwork Prince (Page 54)

Clockwork Prince(54)
Author: Cassandra Clare

"Fortunately, she has passed that test."

Wayland shook his head. "Very well. Let us vote on it." He handed what looked like a cloudy glass vessel to the Inquisitor, who stepped down among the crowd and handed the vial to the woman sitting in the first chair of the first row. Tessa watched in fascination as she bent her head and whispered into the vial, then passed it to the man on her left.

As the vial made its way around the room, Tessa felt Jem slip his hands into hers. She jumped, though her voluminous skirts, she suspected, largely hid their hands. She laced her fingers through his slim, delicate ones and closed her eyes. I love him. I love him. I love him. And indeed, his touch made her shiver, though it also made her want to weep-with love, with confusion, with heartbreak, remembering the look on Will ‘s face when she had told him she and Jem were engaged, the happiness going out of him like a fire doused by rain.

Jem drew his hand out of hers to take the vial from Gideon on his other side. She heard him whisper, "Charlotte Branwell," before he passed the vial over her, to Henry on her other side. She looked at him, and he must have misconstrued the unhappiness in her eyes, because he smiled at her encouragingly. "It Will be all right," he said. "They’l choose Charlotte."

When the vial finished its travels, it was handed back to the Inquisitor, who presented it with a flourish to the Consul. The Consul took the vial and, placing it on the lectern before him, drew a rune on the glass with his stele.

The vial trembled, like a kettle on the boil. White smoke poured from its open neck-the col ected whispers of hundreds of Shadowhunters. They spel ed words out across the air.

CHA RLOTTE BRA NWELL.

Charlotte dropped her hands from the Mortal Sword, almost sagging in relief. Henry made a whooping noise and threw his hat into the air. The room was fil ed with chatter and confusion. Tessa couldn’t stop herself from glancing down the row at Will. He had slumped down in his seat, his head back, his eyes closed. He looked white and drained, as if this last bit of business had taken the remainder of his energy.

A scream pierced the hubbub. Tessa was on her feet in moments, whirling around. It was Charlotte’s aunt call ida screaming, her elegant gray head thrown back and her finger pointing Heavenward. Gasps ran around the room as the other Shadowhunters fol owed her gaze. The air above them was fil ed with dozens-scores, even-of buzzing black metal creatures, like enormous steel black beetles with coppery wings, zipping back and forth through the air, fil ing the room with the ugly sound of metal ic buzzing.

One of the metal beetles dipped down and hovered in front of Tessa, just at eye level, making a clicking sound. It was eyeless, though there was a circular plate of glass in the flat front of its head. She felt Jem reach for her arm, trying to pul her away from it, but she jerked away impatiently, seized her hat off her head, and slammed it down on top of the thing, trapping it between her hat and the seat of her chair. It immediately set up an enraged, high-pitched buzzing. "Henry!" she called. "Henry, I’ve got one of the things-"

Henry appeared behind her, pink-faced, and stared down at the hat. A smal hole was opening in the side of the elegant gray velvet where the mechanical creature was tearing at it. With a curse Henry brought his fist down hard, crushing the hat and the thing inside it against the seat. It buzzed and went still.

Jem reached around and lifted the smashed hat gingerly. What was left under it was a scatter of parts-a metal wing, a shattered chassis, and broken-off stumps of copper legs. "Ugh," said Tessa. "It’s so very-buglike."

She glanced up as another cry went through the room. The insectile creatures had come together in a black swirl in the center of the room; as she stared, they swirled faster and faster and then vanished, like black beetles sucked down a drain.

"Sorry about the hat," said Henry. "I’ll get you another."

"Bother the hat," said Tessa as the cries of the angry Council echoed through the room. She looked toward the center of the room; the Consul stood with the glowing Mortal Sword in his hand, and behind him was Benedict, stone-faced, with eyes like ice. "Clearly, we have bigger things to worry about."

"It’s a sort of camera," Henry said, holding the bits of the smashed metal beetle creature on his lap as the carriage clopped toward home. "Without Jessamine, Nate, or Benedict, Mortmain must be out of reliable human spies who can report to him. So he sent these things." He poked at a shard; the bits were gathered together in the wreckage of Tessa’s hat, held on his lap as they jounced along.

"Benedict didn’t look any too pleased to see those things," said Will. "He must realize Mortmain already knows about his defection."

"It was a matter of time," said Charlotte. "Henry, can those things record sound, like a phonautograph, or simply pictures? They were flying around so quickly-"

"I’m not sure." Henry frowned. "I shall have to examine the parts more closely in the crypt. I can find no shutter mechanism, but that does not mean -" He looked up at the uncomprehending faces focused on him, and shrugged. "In any case," he said, "perhaps it is not the worst thing for the Council to get a look at Mortmain’s inventions. It is one thing to hear about them, another to see what he is doing. Don’t you think, Lottie?"

Charlotte murmured an answer, but Tessa didn’t hear it. Her mind was caught up in going over a peculiar thing that had occurred just after she’d left the Council chambers and was waiting for the Branwel s’ carriage. Jem had just turned away from her to speak to Will, when the flap of a black cloak caught her eye, and Aloysius Starkweather stalked up to her, his grizzled face fierce. "Miss Gray," he’d barked. "That clockwork creature-the way it approached you . . ."

Tessa had stood silently, staring-waiting for him to accuse her of something, though she could not imagine what.

"Thee’s all right?" he’d said, abruptly and at last, his Yorkshire accent seeming suddenly very pronounced. "It dinna harm thee?"

Slowly Tessa had shaken her head. "No, Mr. Starkweather. Thank you kindly for your inquiry into my welfare, but no."

By then Jem and Will had turned and were staring. As if aware he was drawing attention, Starkweather had nodded once, sharply, turned, and walked off, his ragged cloak blowing behind him.

Tessa could make neither head nor tail of the whole business. She was just thinking of her brief time in Starkweather’s head, and the astonishment he’d felt when he’d first seen her, when the carriage came to a jerking halt before the Institute. Relieved to be free of their cramped quarters, the Shadowhunters and Tessa spilled out, onto the drive.

There was a gap in the gray cloud cover over the city, and lemon yel ow sunlight poured down, making the front steps glisten. Charlotte started toward them, but Henry stopped her, pul ing her close with the arm that wasn’t holding Tessa’s destroyed hat. Tessa watched them with the first glimmer of happiness she’d felt since yesterday. She had truly come to care for Charlotte and Henry, she realized, and she wanted to see them happy.

"What we should remember is that everything went as well as we could have hoped," Henry said, holding her tightly. "I’m so proud of you, darling."

Tessa would have expected a sarcastic comment from Will at this juncture, but he was staring off toward the gates. Gideon looked embarrassed, Jem as if he were pleased.

Charlotte pulled away from Henry, blushing furiously and straightening her hat, but obviously delighted. "Are you real y, Henry?"

"Absolutely! Not only is my wife beautiful, she is bril iant, and that bril iance should be recognized!"

"This," said Will, still looking off toward the gates, "is when Jessamine would have told you to stop because you were making her sick."

The smile vanished from Charlotte’s face. "Poor Jessie . . ."

But Henry’s expression was uncharacteristical y hard. "She shouldn’t have done what she did, Lottie. It’s not your fault. We can only hope the Council deals with her leniently." He cleared his throat. "And let’s have no more talk about Jessamine today, shall we? Tonight is for celebration. The Institute is stil ours."

Charlotte beamed at him, with so much love in her eyes that Tessa had to look away, toward the Institute. She blinked. High up in the stone wall, her eyes caught a flicker of movement. A curtain twitched away from the corner of a window, and she saw a pale face peering down. Sophie, looking for Gideon? She couldn’t be sure-the face was gone as soon as it had appeared.

Tessa dressed with special care that night, in one of the new gowns Charlotte had provided her: blue satin with a heart-shaped basque and a deeply cut, rounded neckline over which was pinned a chemisette of Mechlin lace. The sleeves were short and ruched, showing her long white arms, and she wore her hair in curls, pinned up and back, a coiffure interlaced with dark blue pansies. It was not until after Sophie had careful y fixed them in her hair that Tessa realized they were the color of Will ‘s eyes, and wanted suddenly to pul them out, but of course she did nothing of the sort, only thanked Sophie for her efforts and complimented her sincerely on how prettily her hair had turned out.

Sophie left before she did, to go and help Bridget in the kitchen. Tessa sat down automatical y in front of the mirror to bite her lips and pinch her cheeks.

She needed the color, she thought. She was unusual y pale. The jade pendant was shoved down under the Mechlin lace, where it could not be seen; Sophie had looked at it as Tessa had dressed, but had not commented. She reached for the clockwork angel pendant and fastened it, too, around her throat. It sat below the other pendant, just under her col arbones, and steadied her with its ticking. There was no reason she could not wear both, was there?

When she emerged into the corridor, Jem was waiting for her. His eyes lit up when he saw her, and after a glance up and down the hall, he drew her toward him and kissed her on the mouth.

She Will ed herself to melt into the kiss, to dissolve against him as she had done before. His mouth was soft on hers and tasted sweet, and his hand when it cupped her neck was strong and gentle. She moved closer to him, wanting to feel the beat of his heart.

He drew back, breathless. "I didn’t mean to do that . . ."

She smiled. "I think you did, James."

"Not before I saw you," he said. "I meant only to ask if I could escort you to dinner. But you look so beautiful." He touched her hair. "I’m afraid too much passion could start you shedding petals like a tree in autumn, though."

"Well, you can," she said. "Escort me to dinner, that is."

"Thank you." He ran his fingertips lightly across her cheekbones. "I thought I would wake up this morning and it would have been a dream, you saying yes to me. But it wasn’t. Was it?" His eyes searched her face.

She shook her head. She could taste tears in the back of her throat and was glad for the kid gloves that hid the burn on her left hand.

"I’m sorry you’re getting such a bad bargain in me, Tessa," he said. "In years, I mean. Shackling yourself to a dying man when you’re only sixteen . . ."

"You’re only seventeen. Plenty of time to find a cure," she whispered. "And we will. Find one. I Will be with you. Forever."

"Now, that I believe," he said. "When two souls are as one, they stay together on the Wheel. I was born into this world to love you, and I Will love you in the next life, and the one after that."

She thought of Magnus. We are chained to this life by a chain of gold, and we dare not sever it for fear of what lies beyond the drop.

She knew what he meant now. Immortality was a gift, but not one without its consequences. For if I am immortal, she thought, then I have only this, this one life. I will not turn and change as you do, James. I will not see you in Heaven, or on the banks of the great river, or in whatever life lies beyond this one.

But she did not say it. It would hurt him, and if there was anything she knew to be true, it was that a fierce unreasoning desire lived in her to protect him from hurt, to stand between him and disappointment, between him and pain, between him and death, and fight them all back as Boadicea had fought back the advancing Romans. She reached up and touched his cheek instead, and he put his face against her hair, her hair full of flowers the color of Will ‘s eyes, and they stood like that, clasped together, until the dinner bel rang a second time.

Bridget, who could be heard singing mournful y in the kitchen, had outdone herself in the dining room, placing candles in silver holders everywhere so the whole place glimmered with light. Cut roses and orchids floated in silver bowls on the white linen tablecloth. Henry and Charlotte presided at the head of the table. Gideon, in evening dress, sat with his eyes fixed on Sophie as she came in and out of the room, though she seemed to be studiously avoiding his glances. And beside him sat Will.

I love Jem. I am marrying Jem. Tessa had repeated it to herself all the way down the hall, but it made little difference; her heart flipped sickeningly in her chest when she saw Will. She had not seen him in evening dress since the night of the ball, and, despite seeming pale and ill, he still looked ridiculously handsome in it.

"Is your cook always singing?" Gideon was asking in an awed tone as Jem and Tessa came in. Henry looked up and, on seeing them, smiled all over his friendly, freckled face.

"We were beginning to wonder where you two were-," he began.

"Tessa and I have news," Jem burst out. His hand found Tessa’s, and held it; she stood frozen as three curious faces turned toward them-four, if you counted Sophie, who had just walked into the room. Will sat where he was, gazing at the silver bowl in front of him; a white rose was floating in it, and he seemed prepared to stare at it until it went under. In the kitchen Bridget was stil singing one of her awful sad songs; the lyrics drifted in through the door:

" ‘Twas on an evening fair I went to take the air,

I heard a maid making her moan;

Said, ‘Saw ye my father? Or saw ye my mother?

Or saw ye my brother John?