Clockwork Princess (Page 6)

Clockwork Princess(6)
Author: Cassandra Clare

It was only a moment’s delay, but by the time Will reached his sister’s side, Gabriel had gotten there first. Gabriel had his hand under her chin, his green eyes flicking over her face. She was looking up at him with astonishment, when Will arrived and caught her by the shoulder.

"Get away from my sister," he barked, and Gabriel stepped back, his mouth thinning into a hard line. Gideon was hard on his heels, and they swarmed around Cecily as Will held her fast with one hand, drawing his stele with the other. She looked at him with flashing blue eyes as he carved a black iratze against one side of her throat, and a mendelin on the other. Her black hair had escaped from its braid, and she looked like the wild girl he remembered, fierce and unafraid of anything.

"Are you hurt, cariad?" The word slipped out before he could stop it-a childhood endearment he had almost forgotten.

"Cariad?" she echoed, her eyes flashing disbelief. "I am quite unhurt."

"Not quite," Will said, indicating her injured wrist and gashes on her face and hands, which had begun to close up as the iratze did its work. Anger swirled up inside him, so much that he did not hear Jem, behind him, begin to cough-usually a sound that would have lit him to action like a spark thrown into dry tinder. "Cecily, what could you possibly have been-"

"That was one of the bravest things I’ve seen a Shadowhunter do," interrupted Gabriel. He was not looking at Will but at Cecily, with a mixture of surprise and something else in his expression. There was mud and blood in his hair, as there was on all of them, but his green eyes were very bright.

Cecily flushed. "I was only-"

She broke off, her eyes widening as she looked past Will. Jem coughed again, and this time Will heard it; he turned just in time to see his parabatai slump to his knees on the ground.

Chapter 3 To the Last Hour

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

Not untwist-slack they may be-these last strands of man

In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;

Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Carrion Comfort"

Jem was leaning against the side of the Institute’s carriage, his eyes closed, his face as pale as paper. Will stood beside him, his hand tightly gripping Jem’s shoulder. Tessa knew as she hurried toward them that it was not just a brotherly gesture. His grip would be much of what was keeping Jem upright.

She and Henry had heard the dying scream of the worm. Gabriel had found them, what felt like moments later, racing down the front steps. He had told them breathlessly of the death of the creature, and then of what had happened to Jem, and everything for Tessa had gone white, as if she had been struck suddenly and hard across the face.

They were words she had not heard in a long time, but half-expected always, and dreamed of sometimes in nightmares that left her bolting upright, fighting for air-"Jem," "collapse," "breathing," "blood," "Will," "Will is with him," "Will-"

Of course Will was with him.

The others were swarming about, the Lightwood brothers with their sister, and even Tatiana was quiet, or perhaps Tessa simply could not hear her hysterics. Tessa was aware of Cecily nearby as well, and Henry standing awkwardly beside her, as if he wished to comfort her but did not know how to begin.

Will’s eyes met Tessa’s as she came closer, almost tripping again over her torn gown. For a moment they were in perfect understanding. Jem was what they could still look each other straight in the eye about. On the topic of Jem they were both fierce and unyielding. Tessa saw Will’s hand tighten on Jem’s sleeve. "She’s here," he said.

Jem’s eyes opened slowly. Tessa fought to keep the look of shock from her face. His pupils were blown out, his irises a thin ring of silver around the black. "Ni shou shang le ma, quin ai de?" he whispered.

Jem had been teaching Tessa Mandarin, at her insistence. She understood "quin ai de," at least, if not the rest. My dear, my darling. She reached for his hand, squeezed it. "Jem …"

"Are you hurt, my love?" Will said. His voice was as level as his eyes, and for a moment the blood came up in Tessa’s cheeks and she glanced down at her hand where it held Jem’s; his fingers were paler than hers, like a doll’s hands, made of porcelain. How had she not seen he was so ill?

"Thank you for the translation, Will," she answered, not looking away from her fiance. Jem and Will were both splattered with black ichor, but Jem’s chin and throat were also stained with flecks of red blood. His own blood.

"I am not hurt," Tessa whispered, and then she thought, No, this will not do, not at all. Be strong for him. She straightened her shoulders, keeping her grip on Jem’s hand. "Where is his medicine?" she demanded of Will. "Did he not take it before we left the Institute?"

"Do not talk about me as if I am not here," Jem said, but there was no anger in it. He turned his head to the side and said something, softly, under his breath to Will, who nodded and let go of his shoulder. Tessa could sense the tension in Will’s posture; he was poised, catlike, to seize Jem again if the other boy should slip or fall, but Jem remained standing. "I am stronger when Tessa is here, you see. I told it to you," said Jem, still in the same soft voice.

At that, Will did duck his head so that Tessa could not see his eyes. "I see it," he said. "Tessa, there is none of his medicine here. I believe he left the Institute without taking enough of it, though he will not admit it. Ride back to the Institute with him in the carriage, and watch over him-someone must."

Jem took a rough breath. "The others-"

"I will drive for you. It will be little trouble; Balios and Xanthos know the way. Henry can drive the Lightwoods." Will was brisk and efficient, too brisk and efficient to even be thanked; he did not seem as if he wanted it. He helped Tessa get Jem into the carriage, very careful not to brush her shoulder or touch her hand as he did. He moved to tell the others what was happening. She caught a bit of Henry explaining that he needed to remove Benedict’s record books from the house, before she reached to swing the carriage door closed, shutting herself and Jem into a welcome silence.

"What was inside the house?" Jem asked as they rattled through the open gate bordering the Lightwoods’ property. He still looked ghastly, his head back against the cushions of the carriage, his eyes at half-mast, his cheekbones shining with fever. "I heard Henry speaking of Benedict’s study …"

"He had gone mad in there," she said, chafing his cold hands between hers. "In the days before he transformed, when Gabriel said he would not leave the room, his mind must have gone. He had scrawled on the wall in what looked like blood, sentences about ‘the Infernal Devices.’ That they had no pity, that they would never stop coming-"

"He must have meant the automaton army."

"He must have." Tessa shivered slightly, and moved closer to Jem. "I suppose it was foolish of me-but it has been so peaceful for these past two months-"

"You had forgotten about Mortmain?"

"No. Never forgotten." She glanced toward the window, though she could not see out; she had drawn the curtains when the light had seemed to be hurting Jem’s eyes. "Hoped, perhaps, that he might have turned his mind elsewhere."

"We do not know that he hasn’t." Jem’s fingers wrapped around hers. "Benedict’s death is a tragedy perhaps, but those wheels were set in motion long ago. This has nothing to do with you."

"There were other items in the library. Notes and books of Benedict’s. Journals. Henry is bringing them back to the Institute to study. My name was in them." Tessa stopped herself; how could she trouble Jem with these things when he was so unwell?

As if Jem were reading her mind, his finger moved over her wrist, resting lightly on her pulse point. "Tessa, it is only a passing attack. It will not last. I would rather you told me the truth, all the truth, whether it is bitter or frightening, that I might share it with you. I would never let harm come to you, nor would any in the Institute." He smiled. "Your pulse is quickening."

The truth, all the truth, whether it is bitter or frightening. "I love you," she said.

He looked at her with a light in his thin face that made it more beautiful. "Wo xi wang ni ming tian ke yi jia gei wo."

"You …" She drew her brows together. "You want to get married? But we are already engaged. I do not think one can get engaged twice."

He laughed, which turned into a cough; Tessa’s whole body tightened, but the cough was slight, and there was no blood. "I said I would marry you tomorrow if I could."

Tessa pretended to toss her head. "Tomorrow is not convenient for me, sir."

"But you are already appropriately attired," he said with a smile.

Tessa looked down at the ruined gold of her wedding dress. "If I were getting married in a slaughterhouse," she allowed. "Ah, well. I did not like this one very much as it was. Much too gaudy."

"I thought you looked beautiful." His voice was soft.

Tessa laid her head against his shoulder. "There will be another time," she said. "Another day, another dress. A time when you are well and everything is perfect."

His voice was still gentle, but it held a terrible weariness. "There is no such thing as perfect, Tessa."

Sophie was standing at the window of her small bedroom, the curtain drawn back, her eyes fixed on the courtyard. It had been hours since the carriages had gone rattling away, and she was meant to be sweeping out the grates, but the brush and bucket were motionless at her feet.

She could hear Bridget’s voice drifting softly up from the kitchen below:

"Earl Richard had a daughter;

A comely maid was she.

And she laid her love on Sweet William,

Though not of his degree."

Sometimes, when Bridget was in a particularly melodious mood, Sophie thought about stalking downstairs and pushing her into the oven like the witch in "Hansel and Gretel." But Charlotte would certainly not approve. Even if Bridget were singing about forbidden love between the social classes just at the same moment that Sophie was cursing herself for clutching the curtain fabric tightly in her hand, seeing gray-green eyes in her mind as she wondered and worried-Would Gideon be all right? Was he hurt? Could he fight his father? And how dreadful if he had to-

The gates of the Institute creaked open, and a carriage rattled inside; Will was driving. Sophie recognized him, hatless, his black hair wild in the wind. He leaped down from the driver’s seat and came around to help Tessa out of the carriage-even at this distance Sophie could see that a bleak wreck had been made of her golden gown-and then Jem, leaning heavily on his parabatai’s shoulder.

Sophie sucked in her breath. Though she no longer fancied herself in love with Jem, she still cared for him a great deal. It was hard not to, considering his openheartedness, his sweetness and graciousness. He had never been anything but exquisitely kind to her. She had been relieved over the past months that he had not had one of his "bad spells," as Charlotte called them-that though happiness had not healed him, he had seemed to be stronger, better….

The threesome had disappeared inside the Institute. Cyril had come from the stables and was dealing with the whickering Balios and Xanthos. Sophie took a deep breath and let the curtain fall away from her hand. Charlotte might need her, want her, to assist with Jem. If there was anything she could do … She pulled herself away from the window and hurried out into the corridor and down the narrow servants’ stairs.

In the hall downstairs she met Tessa, ashen and pinched-looking, hesitating just outside Jem’s bedroom. Through the partly open door Sophie could see Charlotte bending over Jem, who was sitting on the bed; Will leaned by the fireplace, his arms crossed, tension clear in every line of his body. Tessa raised her head as she saw Sophie, a little of the color coming back into her face. "Sophie," she cried softly. "Sophie, Jem isn’t well. He’s had another … another bout of illness."

"It will be all right, Miss Tessa. I’ve seen him very ill before, and he always comes through it, right as rain."

Tessa closed her eyes. The shadows beneath them were gray. She did not need to say what they were both thinking, that one day there would be a time when he would have an attack and he would not come through it.

"I ought to be fetching hot water," Sophie added, "and cloths-"

"I should be fetching those things," said Tessa. "And I would, but Charlotte says that I must change out of this dress, that demon blood can be dangerous if it too greatly encounters the skin. She sent Bridget for cloths and poultices, and Brother Enoch will arrive at any moment. And Jem will not hear otherwise, but-"

"That is enough," Sophie said firmly. "You will do him no good at all if you let yourself become ill as well. I will help you with the dress. Come, let us manage it, and quickly."

Tessa’s eyes fluttered open. "Dear sensible Sophie. Of course you are right." She began to move across the corridor, toward her room. At the door she paused, and turned to look at Sophie. Her wide gray eyes searched the other girl’s face, and she seemed to nod to herself, as if she had been proved right in a guess. "He is all right, you know. Not hurt at all."

"Master Jem?"

Tessa shook her head. "Gideon Lightwood."

Sophie blushed.

Gabriel wasn’t sure quite why he was in the Institute’s drawing room, except that his brother had told him to come here and wait, and even after everything that had happened, he was still used to doing what Gideon said. He was surprised at how plain the room was, nothing like the grand drawing rooms in either the Lightwoods’ Pimlico house or the one in Chiswick. The walls were papered with a faded print of cabbage roses, the surface of the desk stained with ink and scarred with the marks of letter openers and pen nibs, and the grate was sooty. Over the fireplace hung a water-blotched mirror, framed in gilt.