Clockwork Princess (Page 27)

Clockwork Princess(27)
Author: Cassandra Clare

Tessa struggled upright, fighting a bout of dizziness and nausea. She put her hands on her stomach and tried to breathe deeply, though the fetid air inside the carriage did little to calm her stomach. She put her hands against her chest, feeling the sweat trickle down the bodice of her dress.

"Not going to be sick, are you?" said a rusty voice. "Chloroform does have that side effect, sometimes."

The hooded face creaked toward her, and Tessa saw the face of Mrs. Black. She had been too shocked on the steps of the Institute to make a real study of the visage of her erstwhile captor, but now that she could see it up close, she shuddered. The skin had a greenish tint, the eyes were veined in black, and the lips sagged, showing a view of gray tongue.

"Where are you taking me?" Tessa demanded. It was always the first thing her**nes in Gothic novels asked when they were kidnapped, and it had always annoyed her, but she realized now that it actually made good sense. In this sort of situation the first thing you wanted to know was where you were going.

"To Mortmain," said Mrs. Black. "And that’s all the information you’ll get out of me, girl. I have been given strict instructions."

It was nothing Tessa hadn’t expected, but it tightened her chest and shortened her breath anyway. On impulse she leaned away from Mrs. Black and pulled back the curtain across her window.

Outside it was dark, with a half-hidden moon. The countryside was hilly and angular, without spots of light to be seen that might have meant habitation. Black heaps of rock dotted the land. Tessa reached as subtly as she could for the handle of the door and tried it; it was locked.

"Do not bother," said the Dark Sister. "You cannot unlock the door, and if you were to flee, I would catch you. I am much faster now than you recall."

"Is that how you disappeared on the steps?" Tessa demanded. "Back at the Institute?"

Mrs. Black gave a superior smile. "Disappeared to your eyes. I only moved swiftly away, and then back again. Mortmain has given me that gift."

"Is that why you’re doing this?" Tessa spat. "Gratitude for Mortmain? He didn’t think much of you. He sent Jem and Will to kill you when he thought you were going to get in his way."

The moment she said Jem’s and Will’s names, she blanched with memory. She had been carried off while the Shadowhunters had been fighting desperately for their lives on the Institute steps. Had they held out against the automatons? Had any of them been injured, or, God forbid it, killed? But surely she would know, be able to feel it, if anything like that had happened to Jem or to Will? She was so conscious of them both as pieces of her heart.

"No," said Mrs. Black. "To answer the question in your eyes, you wouldn’t know if either of them were dead, those pretty Shadowhunter boys you like so much. So people always imagine, but unless there exists a magical tie like the parabatai bond, it is but a fanciful imagining. When I left, they were fighting for their lives." She grinned, and her teeth sparked, metallic in the dimness. "If I did not have orders from Mortmain to bring you to him unharmed, I would have left you there to be cut into strips."

"Why does he want you to bring me to him unharmed?"

"You and your questions. I had nearly forgotten how annoying it was. There is some information he wants that only you can provide him. And he still wants to marry you. The more fool him. Let you devil him all his life for all I mind; I want what I want from him, and then I will be gone."

"There’s nothing I could possibly know that would interest Mortmain!"

Mrs. Black snorted. "You are so young and stupid. You are not human, Miss Gray, and there is very little you understand about what you can do. We might have taught you more, but you were recalcitrant. You will find Mortmain a less lenient instructor."

"Lenient?" Tessa snapped. "You beat me bloody."

"There are worse things than physical pain, Miss Gray. Mortmain has little mercy."

"Exactly." Tessa leaned forward, her clockwork angel beating double time under the bodice of her dress. "Why do what he asks you? You know you can’t trust him, you know he would happily destroy you-"

"I need what he can give me," Mrs. Black said. "And I will do what I must do to obtain it."

"And what is that?" Tessa demanded.

She heard Mrs. Black laugh, and then the Dark Sister slipped back her hood and unfastened the collar of her cloak.

Tessa had read in history books about heads on spikes over London Bridge, but she had never imagined how horrific it would actually look. Obviously whatever decay Mrs. Black had suffered after her head had been severed had not been reversed, so ragged gray skin hung down around the spike of metal that impaled her skull. She had no body, only a smooth column of metal from which two sticklike jointed arms protruded. The gray kid gloves that covered whatever sort of hands jutted from the ends of the arms added the last macabre touch.

Tessa screamed.

Chapter 12 Ghosts on the Road

Oh ever beauteous, ever friendly! tell,

Is it, in Heav’n, a crime to love too well?

To bear too tender, or too firm a heart,

To act a lover’s or a Roman’s part?

Is there no bright reversion in the sky,

For those who greatly think, or bravely die?

-Alexander Pope,

"Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady"

Will stood upon the crest of a low hill, his hands jammed into his pockets, gazing out impatiently over the placid countryside of Bedfordshire.

He had ridden with all the speed he and Balios could muster out of London toward the Great North Road. Leaving so near to dawn had meant that the streets had been fairly clear as he’d pounded through Islington, Holloway, and Highgate; he had passed a few costermonger carts and a pedestrian or two, but otherwise there had been nothing much to hold him up, and as Balios did not tire as quickly as an ordinary horse, Will had soon been out of Barnet and able to gallop through South Mimms and London Colney.

Will loved to gallop-flat to the horse’s back, with the wind in his hair, and Balios’s hooves eating up the road underneath him. Now that he was gone from London, he felt both a tearing pain and a strange freedom. It was odd to feel both at once, but he could not help it. Near Colney there were ponds; he had stopped to water Balios there before journeying on.

Now, almost thirty miles north of London, he could not help recalling coming through this way on his way to the Institute years ago. He had brought one of his father’s horses part of the way from Wales, but had sold it in Staffordshire when he’d realized he did not have money for the toll roads. He knew now that he had gotten a very bad price, and it had been a struggle to say good-bye to Hengroen, the horse that he had grown up riding, and even more of a struggle to trudge the remaining miles to London on foot. By the time he’d reached the Institute, his feet had been bleeding, and his hands, too, where he had fallen on the road and scraped them.

He looked down at his hands now, with the memory of those hands laid over them. Thin hands with long fingers-all the Herondales had them. Jem had always said it was a shame he didn’t have a bit of musical talent, as his hands were made to span a piano. The thought of Jem was like the stab of a needle; Will pushed the memory away and turned back to Balios. He had stopped here not just to water the horse but to feed him a handful of oats-good for speed and endurance-and let him rest. He had often heard of cavalry riding their horses until they died, but desperate as he was to get to Tessa, he could not imagine doing something so cruel.

There was a deal of traffic; carts on the road, dray horses with brewery wagons, dairy vans, even the odd horse-drawn omnibus. Really, did all these people have to be out and about in the middle of a Wednesday, cluttering up the roads? At least there were no highwaymen; railways, toll roads, and proper police had put an end to highway robbers decades ago. Will would have hated to have to waste time killing anybody.

He had skirted Saint Albans, not bothering to stop for lunch in his hurry to catch up to Watling Street-the ancient Roman road that now split at Wroxeter, with one half crossing up to Scotland and the other cutting through England to the port of Holyhead in Wales. There were ghosts on the road-Will caught whispers of old Anglo-Saxon on the winds, calling the road Wœcelinga Strœt and speaking of the last stand of the troops of Boadicea, who had been defeated by the Romans along this road so many years ago.

Now, with his hands in his pockets, staring out over the countryside-it was three o’clock and the sky was beginning to darken, which meant that Will would soon have to consider the nightfall, and finding an inn to stop at, rest his horse, and sleep-he could not help remembering when he had told Tessa that Boadicea proved that women could be warriors too. He had not told her then that he had read her letters, that he already loved the warrior soul in her, hidden behind those quiet gray eyes.

He remembered a dream he had had, blue skies and Tessa sitting down beside him on a green hill. You will always come first in my heart. A fierce rage blossomed in his soul. How dare Mortmain touch her. She was one of them. She did not belong to Will-she was too much herself to belong to anyone, even Jem-but she belonged with them, and silently he cursed the Consul for not seeing it.

He would find her. He would find her and bring her back home, and even if she never loved him, it would be all right, he would have done this for her, for himself. He spun back toward Balios, who looked at him balefully. Will swung himself up into the saddle.

"Come on, old boy," he said. "The sun’s going down, and we ought to make Hockliffe by nightfall, for it looks liable to rain." He dug his heels into the horse’s sides, and Balios, as if he had understood his rider’s words, took off like a shot.

"He has gone off to Wales alone?" Charlotte demanded. "How could you have let him do something so-so stupid?"

Magnus shrugged. "It is not my responsibility now, nor will it ever be my responsibility, to manage wayward Shadowhunters. In fact, I am not sure why I am to blame. I spent the night in the library waiting for Will to come and talk to me, which he never did. Eventually I fell asleep in the Rabies and Lycanthropy section. Woolsey bites on occasion, and I’m concerned."

No one really responded to this information, although Charlotte looked more upset than ever. It had been a quiet breakfast as it was, with quite a few of them missing from the table. Will’s absence had not been surprising. They had assumed Will was at his parabatai’s side. So it had not been until Cyril had burst in, breathless and agitated, to report that Balios was gone from his stall, that the alarm had been raised.

A search of the Institute turned up Magnus Bane asleep in a corner of the library. Charlotte had shaken him awake. On being asked where he thought Will might be, Magnus had replied quite candidly that he expected that Will had already left for Wales, with the object of discovering Tessa’s whereabouts and bringing her back to the Institute, whether by stealth or main force. This information, much to his surprise, had thrown Charlotte into a panic, and she had convened a meeting in the library, at which all the Shadowhunters of the Institute, save Jem, were commanded to appear-even Gideon, who had arrived limping and leaning heavily on a stick.

"Does anyone know when Will left?" Charlotte demanded, standing at the head of a long table around which the rest of them were seated.

Cecily, her hands folded demurely before her, suddenly became very interested in the pattern of the carpet.

"That is a very fine gem you’re wearing, Cecily," Charlotte noted, narrowing her eyes at the ruby about the girl’s throat. "I don’t recall you having that necklace yesterday. In fact, I recall Will wearing it. When did he give it to you?"

Cecily crossed her arms over her chest. "I will say nothing. Will’s decisions are his own, and we already tried to explain to the Consul what needed to be done. Since the Clave will not help, Will took matters into his own hands. I don’t know why you expected anything different."

"I did not think he would leave Jem," said Charlotte, and then she looked shocked that she had said it. "I … I cannot even imagine how we will tell him when he wakes."

"Jem knows-" Cecily began indignantly, but she was interrupted, to her surprise, by Gabriel.

"Of course he knows," he said. "Will is only doing his duty as a parabatai. He is doing what Jem would be doing if he could. He has gone in Jem’s place. It is only what a parabatai should do."

"You are defending Will?" Gideon said. "After the way you’ve always treated him? After telling Jem on dozens of occasions that he had dismal taste in parabatai?"

"Will may be a reprehensible person, but at least this demonstrates that he is not a reprehensible Shadowhunter," said Gabriel, and then, catching Cecily’s look, he added, "He might not be that reprehensible a person, either. In entirety."

"A very magnanimous statement, Gideon," said Magnus.

"I’m Gabriel."

Magnus waved a hand. "All Lightwoods look the same to me-"

"Ahem," Gideon interrupted, before Gabriel could pick up something and throw it at Magnus. "Regardless of Will’s personal qualities and failings or anyone’s inability to tell one Lightwood from another, the question remains: Do we go after Will?"

"If Will had wanted help, he wouldn’t have ridden off in the middle of the night without telling anyone," said Cecily.

"Yes," said Gideon, "because Will is well known for his carefully thought-out and prudent decision making."

"He did steal our fastest horse," Henry pointed out. "That bespeaks forethought, of a sort."

"We cannot allow Will to ride off to battle Mortmain alone. He’ll be slaughtered," Gideon said. "If he really did leave in the midst of the night, we might yet be able to overtake him on the road-"

"Fastest horse," reminded Henry, and Magnus snorted under his breath.

"Actually, it is not an inevitable slaughter," Gabriel said. "We could all ride off after Will, certainly, but the fact is that such a force, sent against the Magister, would be more noticeable than one boy on horseback. Will’s best hope is remaining undetected. After all, he is not riding off to war. He is going to save Tessa. Stealth and secrecy best behoove such a mission-"