Her head turned slowly toward him, her lips parting as if she were about to speak. He leaned forward, heart leaping.
"Jem?" she said.
He froze, unmoving, his hand still wrapped about hers. Her eyes fluttered open-as gray as the sky before rain, as gray as the slate hills of Wales. The color of tears. She looked at him, through him, not seeing him at all.
"Jem," she said again. "Jem, I am so sorry. It is all my fault."
Will leaned forward again. He could not help himself. She was speaking, and comprehensibly, for the first time in days. Even if not to him.
"It’s not your fault," he said.
She returned the pressure of his hand hotly; each of her individual fingers seemed to burn through his skin. "But it is," she said. "It is because of me that Mortmain deprived you of your yin fen. It is because of me that all of you were in danger. I was meant to love you, and all I did was shorten your life."
Will took a ragged breath. The splinter of ice was back in his heart, and he felt as if he were breathing around it. And yet it was not jealousy, but a sorrow more profound and deeper than any he thought he had known before. He thought of Sydney Carton. Think now and then that there is a man who would give his life, to keep a life you love beside you. Yes, he would have done that for Tessa-died to keep the ones she needed beside her-and so would Jem have done that for him or for Tessa, and so would Tessa, he thought, do that for both of them. It was a near incomprehensible tangle, the three of them, but there was one certainty, and that was that there was no lack of love between them.
I am strong enough for this, he told himself, lifting her hand gently. "Life is not just surviving," he said. "There is also happiness. You know your James, Tessa. You know he would choose love over the span of his years."
But Tessa’s head only tossed fretfully on the pillow. "Where are you, James? I search for you in the darkness, but I cannot find you. You are my intended; we should be bound by ties that cannot sever. And yet when you were dying, I was not there. I have never said good-bye."
"What darkness? Tessa, where are you?" Will gripped her hand. "Give me a way to find you."
Tessa arched back on the bed suddenly, her hand clamping down on his. "I’m sorry!" she gasped. "Jem-I am so sorry-I have wronged you, wronged you horribly-"
"Tessa!" Will bolted to his feet, but Tessa had already collapsed bonelessly onto the mattress, breathing hard.
He could not help it. He cried out for Charlotte like a child who had woken from a nightmare, as he had never permitted himself to cry out when he truly was a child, waking in the then unfamiliar Institute and longing for comfort but knowing he must not take it.
Charlotte came running through the Institute, as he had always known she would come running for him if he called. She arrived, breathless and frightened; she took one look at Tessa on the bed, and Will clasping her hand, and he saw the terror leave her face, replaced by a look of wordless sorrow. "Will …"
Will gently detached his hand from Tessa’s, turning toward the door. "Charlotte," he said. "I have never asked you to use your position as head of the Institute to help me before-"
"My position cannot heal Tessa."
"It can. You must bring Jem here."
"I cannot demand that," Charlotte said. "Jem has only just begun his term of service in the Silent City. New Initiates are not meant to leave at all for the first year-"
"He came to the battle."
Charlotte pushed a stray curl from her face. Sometimes she looked very young, as she did now, though earlier, facing the Inquisitor in the drawing room, she had not. "That was Brother Enoch’s choice."
Certainty straightened Will’s spine. For so many years he had doubted the contents of his own heart. He did not doubt them now. "Tessa needs Jem," he said. "I know the Law, I know he cannot come home, but-the Silent Brothers are meant to sever every bond that ties them to the mortal world before they join the Brotherhood. That is also the Law. The bond between Tessa and Jem was not severed. How is she to rejoin the mortal world, then, if she cannot even see Jem one last time?"
Charlotte was silent for a space of time. There was a shadow over her face, one he could not define. Surely she would want this, for Jem, for Tessa, for both of them? "Very well," she said at last. "I shall see what I can do."
"They lighted down to take a drink
Of the spring that ran so clear,
And there she spied his bonny heart’s blood,
A-running down the stream.
‘Hold up, hold up, Lord William,’ she said,
‘For I fear that you are slain;’
”Tis nought but the dye of my scarlet clothes,
That is sparkling down the stream.’"
"Oh, for goodness’ sake," Sophie muttered as she passed the kitchen. Did Bridget really have to be so morbid in all her songs, and did she have to use Will’s name? As if the poor boy hadn’t suffered enough-
A shadow materialized out of the darkness. "Sophie?"
Sophie screamed and nearly dropped her carpet brush. Witchlight flared up in the dim corridor, and she saw familiar gray-green eyes.
"Gideon!" she exclaimed. "Heavens above, you nearly frightened me to death."
He looked penitent. "I apologize. I only wished to wish you good night-and you were smiling as you walked along. I thought …"
"I was thinking about Master Will," she said, and then smiled again at his dismayed expression. "Only that a year ago, if you had told me that someone was tormenting him, I would have been delighted, but now I find myself in sympathy with him. That is all."
He looked sober. "I am in sympathy with him as well. Every day that Tessa does not wake, you can see a bit of the life drain out of him."
"If only Master Jem were here …" Sophie sighed. "But he is not."
"There is much that we must learn to live without, these days." Gideon touched her cheek lightly with his fingers. They were rough, the fingers callused. Not the smooth fingers of a gentleman. Sophie smiled at him.
"You didn’t look at me at dinner," he said, dropping his voice. It was true-dinner had been a quick affair of cold roast chicken and potatoes. No one had seemed to have much appetite, save Gabriel and Cecily, who’d eaten as if they had spent the day training. Perhaps they had.
"I have been concerned about Mrs. Branwell," Sophie confessed. "She has been so worried, about Mr. Branwell, and about Miss Tessa, she is wasting away, and the baby-" She bit her lip. "I am concerned," she said again. She could not bring herself to say more. It was hard to lose the reticence of a lifetime of service, even if she was engaged to a Shadowhunter now.
"Yours is a gentle heart," Gideon said, sliding his fingers down her cheek to touch her lips, like the lightest of kisses. Then he drew back. "I saw Charlotte go alone into the drawing room, only a few moments ago. Perhaps you could have a word with her about your concern?"
"Sophie," Gideon said. "You are not just Charlotte’s maid; you are her friend. If she will talk to anyone, it will be to you."
The drawing room was cold and dark. There was no fire in the grate, and none of the lamps were lit against the cloak of night, which cast the chamber into gloom and shadow. It took Sophie a moment to even realize that one of the shadows was Charlotte, a small silent figure in the chair behind the desk.
"Mrs. Branwell," she said, feeling a great awkwardness come upon her, despite Gideon’s encouraging words. Two days ago she and Charlotte had fought side by side at Cadair Idris. Now she was a servant again, here to clean the grate and dust the room for the next day’s use. A bucket of coals in one hand, tinderbox in her apron pocket. "I am sorry-I did not mean to interrupt."
"You are not interrupting, Sophie. Not anything important." Charlotte’s voice-Sophie had never heard her sound like that before. So small, or so defeated.
Sophie set the coals down by the fire and approached her mistress hesitantly. Charlotte was seated with her elbows on the desk, her face resting in her hands. A letter was on the desk, with the seal of the Council broken open. Sophie’s heart sped suddenly, remembering how the Consul had ordered them all out of the Institute before the battle at Cadair Idris. But surely it had been proved that they were correct? Surely their defeat of Mortmain would have canceled out the Consul’s edict, especially now that he was dead? "Is-is everything all right, ma’am?"
Charlotte gestured toward the paper, a hopeless flutter of her hand. Her insides turning cold, Sophie hurried to Charlotte’s side and took the letter from the desk.
Considering the nature of the correspondence you had entered into with my late colleague, Consul Wayland, you may well be surprised to receive this missive. The Clave, however, finds itself in the position of requiring a new Consul, and when put to a vote, the foremost choice among us was yourself.
I can well understand that you may be satisfied with the running of the Institute, and that you may not wish the responsibility of this position, especially considering the injuries sustained by your husband in your brave battle against the Magister. However, I felt it incumbent upon me to offer you this opportunity, not only because you are clearly the desired choice of the Council, but because, given what I have seen of you, I think you would make one of the finer Consuls it has been my privilege to serve beside.
Yours with the highest regard,
"Consul!" Sophie gasped, and the paper fluttered from her fingers. "They want to make you Consul?"
"So it seems." Charlotte’s voice was lifeless.
"I-" Sophie reached for what to say. The idea of a London Institute not run by Charlotte was dreadful. And yet the position of Consul was an honor, the highest the Clave had to give, and to see Charlotte covered in the honor she had so dearly earned … "There is no one more deserving of this than you," she said at last.
"Oh, Sophie, no. I was the one who chose to send us all to Cadair Idris. It is my fault Henry will never walk again. I did that."
"He cannot blame you. He does not blame you."
"No, he does not, but I blame myself. How can I be the Consul and send Shadowhunters into battle to die? I do not want that responsibility."
Sophie took Charlotte’s hand in hers and pressed it. "Charlotte," she said. "It is not just sending Shadowhunters into battle; sometimes it is a matter of holding them back. You have a compassionate heart and a thoughtful mind. You have led the Enclave for years. Of course your heart is broken for Mr. Branwell, but to be the Consul it is not a matter only of taking lives but also of saving them. If it had not been for you, if there had been only Consul Wayland, how many Shadowhunters would have died at the hands of Mortmain’s creatures?"
Charlotte looked down at Sophie’s red, work-roughened hand clasping hers. "Sophie," she said. "When did you become so wise?"
Sophie blushed. "I learned wisdom from you, ma’am."
"Oh, no," Charlotte said. "A moment ago you called me Charlotte. As a future Shadowhunter, Sophie, you shall be calling me Charlotte from now on. And we shall be bringing on another maid, to take your place, so that your time will be free to prepare for your Ascension."
"Thank you," Sophie whispered. "So will you accept the offer? Become the Consul?"
Charlotte gently freed her hand from Sophie’s and took up her pen. "I will," she said. "On three conditions."
"What will those be?"
"The first is that I am allowed to lead the Clave from the Institute, here, and not move myself and my family to Idris, at least for the first few years. For I do not want to leave you all, and besides, I wish to be here to train Will to take over the Institute for me when I do depart."
"Will?" said Sophie in astonishment. "Take over the Institute?"
Charlotte smiled. "Of course," she said. "That is the second condition."
"And the third?"
Charlotte’s smile faded, replaced by a look of determination. "That, you shall see the result of as soon as tomorrow, if it is accepted," she said, and bent her head to begin writing.
Chapter 23 Than Any Evil
Come; let us go: your cheeks are pale;
But half my life I leave behind:
Methinks my friend is richly shrined;
But I shall pass; my work will fail….
I hear it now, and o’er and o’er,
Eternal greetings to the dead;
And "Ave, Ave, Ave," said,
"Adieu, adieu," for evermore.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "In Memoriam A.H.H."
Tessa shivered; the cold water rushed around her in the darkness. She thought she might be lying at the bottom of the universe, where the river of forgetfulness split the world in two, or perhaps she was still in the stream where she had collapsed after falling from the Dark Sister’s carriage, and everything that had happened since had been a dream. Cadair Idris, Mortmain, the clockwork army, Will’s arms about her-
Guilt and sorrow drove through her like a spear, and she arched backward, her hands scrabbling for purchase in the darkness. Fire ran through her veins, a thousand branching streams of agony. She gasped for breath, and suddenly there was something cold against her teeth, parting her lips, and her mouth was full of a freezing sourness. She swallowed hard, choking-
And felt the fire in her veins subside. Ice shuddered through her. Her eyes flew open as the world spun and righted itself. The first thing she saw was pale, slim hands withdrawing a vial-the coldness in her mouth, the bitter taste on her tongue-and then the contours of her bedroom at the Institute.
"Tessa," said a familiar voice. "This will keep you lucid for a time, but you must not let yourself fall back into darkness and dreams."
She froze, not daring to look.
"Jem?" she whispered.
The sound of the vial being set down on the bedside table. A sigh. "Yes," he said. "Tessa. Will you look at me?"