"Why didn’t you come to me?" Gideon said. "Gabriel, you are my brother…."
"You cannot make all choices for me, Gideon. Sometimes I have to make my own. As Shadowhunters we are meant to be selfless. To die for mundanes, for the Angel, and most of all for each other. Those are our principles. Charlotte lives by them; Father never did. I realized that I had been mistaken before in putting my loyalty to my bloodline above principle, above everything. And I realized the Consul was wrong about Charlotte." Gabriel stopped abruptly; his mouth was set in a thin, white line. "He was wrong." He turned to Charlotte. "I cannot take back what I have done in the past, or what I considered doing. I know of no way to make up to you my doubt in your authority, or my ungratefulness for your kindness. All I can do is tell you what I know: that you cannot wait for an approval from Consul Wayland that will never come. He will never march upon Cadair Idris for you, Charlotte. He does not want to agree to any plan that has your stamp of authority on it. He wishes you out of the Institute. Replaced."
"But he is the one who put me here," Charlotte said. "He supported me-"
"Because he thought you would be weak," said Gabriel. "Because he believes women are weak and easily manipulated, but you have proved not to be, and it has ruined all his planning. He does not just desire you discredited; he needs it. He was clear enough with me that even if I could not discover you engaged in any true wrongdoing, he was granting me the freedom to invent a lie that would convict you. As long as it was a convincing one."
Charlotte pressed her lips together. "Then he never had faith in me," she whispered. "Never."
Henry tightened his grip on her arm. "But he should have," he said. "He underestimated you, and that is not a tragedy. That you have proven to be better, cleverer, and stronger than anyone could have expected, Charlotte-it is a triumph."
Charlotte swallowed, and Cecily wondered, just for a moment, what it would be like to have someone look at her as Henry looked at Charlotte-as if she were a wonder on the earth. "What do I do?"
"What you think best, Charlotte darling," said Henry.
"You are the leader of the Enclave, and of the Institute," said Gabriel. "We have faith in you, even if the Consul does not." He ducked his head. "You have my loyalty from this day forward. For whatever it is worth to you."
"It is worth a great deal," Charlotte said, and there was something in her voice, a quiet authority that made Cecily want to rise and proclaim her own loyalty, simply to win the balm of Charlotte’s approval. Cecily couldn’t imagine feeling that way, she realized, about the Consul. And that is why the Consul hates her, she thought. Because she is a woman, and yet he knows she can command loyalty in a way he never could. "We proceed as if the Consul does not exist," Charlotte went on. "If he is determined to remove me from my place here, then I have nothing to safeguard. It is simply a matter of doing what we must before he has a chance to stop us. Henry, how long before your invention is ready?"
"Tomorrow," Henry said promptly. "I shall work through the night-"
"It will be the first time it is ever used," said Gideon. "Does that not seem a bit risky?"
"We have no other way of getting to Wales in time," said Charlotte. "Once I send my message, we will have only a short time before the Consul comes to relieve me of my place."
"What message?" Cecily asked, bewildered.
"I am going to send a message to all the members of the Clave," Charlotte said. "At once. Not the Enclave. The Clave."
"But only the Consul is allowed-," Henry began, then shut his mouth like a box. "Ah."
"I will tell them the situation as it stands and ask for their assistance," said Charlotte. "I am not sure what response we can count on, but surely some will stand with us."
"I will stand with you," said Cecily.
"And I, of course," Gabriel said. His expression was resigned, nervous, considering, determined. Never had Cecily liked him more.
"And I," said Gideon, "though"-and his gaze, as it passed over his brother, was worried-"a mere six of us, one only barely trained, against whatever force Mortmain has mustered …" Cecily was caught between pleasure that he had counted her as one of them and annoyance that he had said she was barely trained. "It could be a suicide mission."
Sophie’s soft voice spoke again. "You may have only six Shadowhunters on your side, but you have at least nine fighters. I am trained as well, and I would like to fight alongside you. So will Bridget and Cyril."
Charlotte looked half-pleased, half-startled. "But, Sophie, you have only just begun to be trained-"
"I have been trained longer than Miss Herondale," said Sophie.
"Cecily is a Shadowhunter-"
"Miss Collins has a natural talent," said Gideon. He spoke slowly, the conflict clear on his face. He did not want Sophie in the fighting, in danger, and yet would not lie about her abilities. "She should be allowed to Ascend and become a Shadowhunter."
"Gideon-," Sophie began, startled, but Charlotte was already looking at her with a keen dark gaze.
"Is that what you want, Sophie, dear? To Ascend?"
Sophie stammered. "I-it is what I have always wanted, Mrs. Branwell, but not if it meant I had to leave your service. You have been so kind to me, I would not wish to repay that by abandoning you-"
"Nonsense," Charlotte said. "I can find another maid; I cannot find another Sophie. If being a Shadowhunter was what you wanted, my girl, I wish you had spoken. I could have gone to the Consul before I was at odds with him. Still, when we return-"
She broke off, and Cecily heard the words beneath the words: If we return.
"When we return, I will put you forward for Ascension," Charlotte finished.
"I will speak out for her case as well," Gideon said. "After all, I have my father’s place on the Council-his friends will listen to me; they still owe loyalty to our family-and besides, how else can we be married?"
"What?" said Gabriel with a wild hand gesture that accidentally flipped the nearest plate onto the floor, where it shattered.
"Married?" said Henry. "You’re marrying your father’s friends on the Council? Which of them?"
Gideon had gone an odd sort of greenish color; clearly he had not meant those words to escape him, and he did not know what to do now that they had. He was staring at Sophie in horror, but it didn’t seem she was likely to be much help either. She looked as shocked as a fish that had been stranded unexpectedly on land.
Cecily stood up and dropped her serviette onto her plate. "All right," she said, doing her best to approximate the commanding tones her mother used when she needed something done about the house. "Everyone out of the room."
Charlotte, Henry, and Gideon began to rise to their feet. Cecily threw her hands up. "Not you, Gideon Lightwood," she said. "Honestly! But you"-she pointed at Gabriel-"do stop staring. And come along." And taking him by the back of the jacket, she half-dragged him from the room, Henry and Charlotte hard on their heels.
The moment they had left the dining room, Charlotte strode off toward the drawing room with the announced purpose of composing a message for the Clave, Henry by her side. (She paused at the turn of the corridor to look back at Gabriel with an amused quirk of her mouth, but Cecily suspected he did not see it.) Cecily put it out of her mind quickly, regardless. She was too busy pressing her ear up against the dining room door, trying to hear what was going on inside.
Gabriel, after a moment’s pause, leaned back against the wall beside the door. He was in equal parts pale and flushed, his pupils dilated with shock. "You shouldn’t do that," he said finally. "Eavesdropping is most incorrect behavior, Miss Herondale."
"It’s your brother," Cecily whispered, ear against the wood. She could hear murmurs inside but nothing definite. "I should think you’d want to know."
He ran both his hands through his hair and exhaled like someone who’d been running a long distance. Then he turned to her and took a stele from his waistcoat pocket. He carved a rune quickly into his wrist, then placed his hand flat against the door. "I do, at that."
Cecily’s gaze darted from his hand to the thoughtful expression on his face. "Can you hear them?" she demanded. "Oh, that is not at all fair!"
"It’s all very romantic," Gabriel said, and then frowned. "Or it would be, if my brother could get a word out without sounding like a choking frog. I fear he will not go down in history as one of the world’s great wooers of women."
Cecily crossed her arms in vexation. "I do not see why you are being so difficult," she said. "Or are you bothered that your brother wishes to marry a servant girl?"
The expression Gabriel turned on her was fierce, and Cecily suddenly regretted tweaking him after what he had just been through. "Nothing I can think of him doing would be worse than what my father did. At least his taste runs to human women."
And yet it was so difficult not to tweak him. He was so aggravating. "That is hardly a great endorsement for a woman as fine as Sophie."
Gabriel looked as if he were about to deliver a sharp retort, but then he thought better of it. "I did not mean it like that. She is a fine girl and will be a fine Shadowhunter when she Ascends. She will bring honor to our family, and the Angel knows we need it."
"I believe you will bring honor to your family too," Cecily said quietly. "What you just did, what you confessed to Charlotte-that took courage."
Gabriel was still for a moment. Then he reached out his hand toward her. "Take my hand," he said. "You will be able to hear what is going on in the dining room, through me, if you desire."
After a moment’s hesitation Cecily took Gabriel’s hand. It was warm and rough in hers. She could feel the thrum of his blood through his skin, oddly comforting-and indeed, through him, as if she had her own ear pressed to the door, she could hear the low rumble of spoken words: Gideon’s soft hesitant voice, and Sophie’s delicate one. She closed her eyes and listened.
"Oh," said Sophie faintly, and sat down in one of the chairs. "Oh, my."
She could not help but sit; her legs felt wobbly and uneasy. Gideon, meanwhile, was standing by the sideboard, looking panicked. His blond-brown hair was tousled wildly as if he had been running his hands through it. "My dear Miss Collins-," he began.
"This is," Sophie began, and paused. "I don’t- This is quite unexpected."
"Is it?" Gideon moved away from the sideboard and leaned on the table; his shirtsleeves were rolled up slightly, and Sophie found herself staring at his wrists, downed with faint blond hair and marked with the white memories of Marks. "Surely you must have been able to see the respect and esteem I had for you. The admiration."
"Well," Sophie said. "Admiration." She managed to make it sound like a very pale word indeed.
Gideon flushed. "My dear Miss Collins," he began again. "It is true that my feelings for you go far beyond admiration. I would describe them as the most ardent affection. Your kindness, your beauty, your generous heart-they have quite overset me, and it is to that alone that I can ascribe my behavior of this morning. I do not know what came over me, to speak the dearest wishes of my heart aloud. Please do not feel obligated to accept my proposal simply because it was public. Any embarrassment over the matter would and should be mine."
Sophie looked up at him. Color was coming and going in his cheeks, making his agitation clear. "But you haven’t proposed,"
Gideon looked startled. "I- What?"
"You haven’t proposed," Sophie said with equanimity. "You did announce to the whole breakfast table that you intended to marry me, but that is not a proposal. That is only a declaration. A proposal is when you ask me."
"Now that’s putting my brother in his place," said Gabriel, looking delighted in that manner that younger siblings did when their brothers or sisters were entirely set down.
"Oh, shush!" whispered Cecily, squeezing his hand hard. "I want to hear what Mr. Lightwood says!"
"Very well, then," said Gideon, in the decided (yet slightly terrified) manner of Saint George setting off to fight the dragon. "A proposal it shall be."
Sophie’s eyes tracked him as he crossed the room toward her and knelt down at her feet. Life was an uncertain thing, and there were some moments one wished to remember, to imprint upon one’s mind that the memory might be taken out later, like a flower pressed between the pages of a book, and admired and recollected anew.
She knew she would not want to forgot the way Gideon reached for her hand with his own hand trembling, or the way he bit his lip before he spoke. "My dear Miss Collins," he said. "Please forgive me for my untoward outburst. It is simply that I have such-such strong esteem-no, not esteem, adoration-for you that I feel as if it must blaze from me every moment of the day. Ever since I came to this house, I have been struck more forcibly each day by your beauty, your courage, and your nobility. It is an honor I could never deserve but most earnestly aspire to if you could only be mine-that is, if you would consent to be my wife."
"Gracious," Sophie said, startled out of all countenance. "Have you been practicing that?"
Gideon blinked. "I assure you it was entirely extemporaneous."
"Well, it was lovely." Sophie squeezed his hands. "And yes. Yes, I love you, and yes, I will marry you, Gideon."
A brilliant smile broke out over his face, and he startled both of them by reaching for her and kissing her soundly on the mouth. She held his face between her hands as they kissed-he tasted slightly of tea leaves, and his lips were soft and the kiss entirely sweet. Sophie floated in it, in the prism of the moment, feeling safe from all the rest of the world.