Authors: Cassandra Clare
After James was expelled from
school at Shadowhunter Academy, his parents sent him to Cirenworth Hall to decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Cirenworth Hall was a rambling Jacobean pile in Devon that Elias Carstairs had fallen in love with in 1895 and bought on the spot, intending it as a place his family could return to in between their long travels.
there, because he liked the Carstairs familyâwell, other than Alastair, who was luckily spending the summer with Augustus Pounceby in Idris. But on this particular trip, rain had fallen without surcease. It had begun even before they left London, a gray spattering that had deepened during the ride to a steady, regular thrum, and then had settled in for a long residency over Cirenworth that showed no sign of ending. London in heavy rain was a bleak enough affair, but Cirenworth brought things to a new low of marshy wetness that led James to wonder why anyone had bothered to settle Britain at all.
At least it was not for long. His parents had a series of boring political meetings scheduled in Alicante, so he and Lucie were
spending a little less than a month at Cirenworth. Afterward, they'd all return to Herondale Manor together, where the Carstairs would visit them in turn later in the season and where, James hoped, it would be a fine and clear summer.
The worst part was that everybody was carefully giving him so much
. He had the understanding that it was expected he desired
in which to
things. This left him spending most days reading in the parlor while Lucie and Cordelia trained, drew in sketchbooks, put on Wellington boots and stomped out to the blackberry bushes to collect blackberries in the pouring rain, brewed and drank literally thousands of cups of tea, engaged in spirited swordplay in rooms definitely not built for swordplay, at one point caught some kind of small, loud bird and kept it in a cage for a few days, and allowed James so much space that he began to fear he was invisible.
He yearned for the quiet of Idris. Once they were at Herondale Manor, he could wander the woods by himself for hours and nobody would question it. (Except Grace, perhaps: What would he tell her? Would she have heard anything? He didn't think she and her mother heard a lot of gossip.)
He would never have responded to Cordelia's kindness with anything but kindness in return, but eventually Lucie became so obsequiously friendly that one afternoon James burst out, “You don't have to be so
when you talk to me, you know. I'm all right.”
“I know,” Lucie said, startled. “I know you're all right.”
“Sorry,” he said. Lucie gave him a sympathetic look. “I'm going to do some training tomorrow, I think,” he added.
“All right,” she said. She hesitated, as though she was trying to decide whether to speak.
“Lucie,” James said heavily. “It's me. Just say it.”
“Wellâ¦ it's onlyâ¦ do you want Cordelia and me there?”
“Yes,” he said. “You should come. That would beâ¦ that would be good.”
She smiled, and he smiled back, and he felt like maybe everything would someday, not today, but someday, be all right.
Then the next day he went to train with Lucie and Cordelia. Cordelia had brought with her the Carstairs' famous sword, Cortana, which James had long wanted to admire up close. He didn't get a chance, though, because ten minutes into their first exercise, he collapsed in a sudden spasm of unbearable pain.
The girls cried out and ran to him. He had crumpled like a puppet with its strings cut, and only the years of training he'd already put in kept him from accidentally falling onto his own blade. By the time he realized where he was and what had happened, he was on the floor.
The look on Lucie's face as she touched his forehead did not reassure him.
“By the Angel,” she exclaimed, “you're burning up.”
Cordelia was already racing toward the door, calling,
in alarm. Her image wavered and faded as James closed his eyes.
Scalding fever, Sona and Elias declared. They'd seen it before. It was a disease unique to Shadowhunters. Most got it as infants, when it was very mild. Once it passed, you could never catch it again. Before James was even up from the floor of the training room, Sona was barking orders, her heavy skirts gripped in both hands. James was carried to his bedroom, Lucie dragged away to her own quarters, and messages dispatched to Will and Tessa, and the Silent Brothers.
Feverish, James lay in his bed and watched the light fade outside. As the night came on, he began to shiver. He wrapped himself in all the blankets available but shook like a leaf. He waited for the
Silent Brothers to comeâuntil they had checked him, nobody else could be in the room.
It was Brother Enoch who came, not Uncle Jem, to James's disappointment.
Yes, it is almost certainly scalding fever,
Everyone who has not had it before will need to depart the house. I will go to tell them.
Lucie had not had it before. James didn't know about anyone else. He waited a long time for Enoch to come back, but he must have fallen asleep, because all of a sudden there was morning light casting silvery stripes on the wall, and the sound of a door, and footsteps, and then Cordelia was there.
James rarely saw Cordelia without Lucie. This was not how he would have chosen to present himself for one of their rare moments alone. He was half under his covers, shifting around restlessly, unable to get comfortable. His face was flushed with fever and his nightshirt clung to him, wet with sweat.
He took a breath to speak and broke into a pained cough. “Water?”
Cordelia hurried to pour him a glass from the carafe on the nightstand. She tried to press it into his hand, but he couldn't grip it. She slid her hand behind his neck, warm against his skin, supporting him as she held the glass to his lips.
He flopped back on the pillows, his eyes closed. “Please tell me you've had scalding fever before.”
“Yes. My mother has too,” she said. “And the mundane servants are immune. Everyone else has gone. You should have some more water.”
“Is that the treatment?”
“No,” said Cordelia, “the treatment is a grayish concoction made by Brother Enoch, and I suggest you hold your nose when you try to get it down. It will help with the fever, but apparently there's nothing else for it but time. I brought books,” she added. “They're
over on top of the chest of drawers. Iâ¦ I could read to you.”
James flinched at the light but forced himself to look at Cordelia. Tendrils of her deep red hair curled against her cheekbones. They reminded him of the curlicues cut into the surface of his Uncle Jem's beautiful violin.
He flicked his eyes over to the chest of drawers where, indeed, a surprisingly tall pile of books rested that had not been there before. She gave an apologetic smile. “I wasn't sure what you might like, so I just took things from all over the house. There's a copy of
A Tale of Two Cities
with the second half missing, so maybe it's only a tale of one city. And a collection of poetry by Byron, but it's a bit nibbled around the edges, I think by mice, so it might be theirs. Otherwise it's Persian literature. There aren't even Shadowhunter books around. Oh, except one copy of a book on demons. I think it's called
Demons, Demons, Demons
James let his eyes close again but allowed himself a smile. “I've read that one,” he said. “My father is a great admirer of it. You probably don't even have the newest version, which adds a fourth âDemons.'â”
“As ever, the London Institute's library puts ours to shame,” said Cordelia, and then Sona came in and stopped short, surprised to see her.
“Cordelia,” she said with what James hoped was mock surprise. “Really? Alone in a boy's bedroom?”
, he can barely sit up, and I am a trained warrior who wields a mythical sword.”
“Mmm,” said Sona, and waved her out. She descended on James with, she explained, her own remedies from home: pastes and poultices of frankincense, of marigold and
“I'd like it,” James said, “if Cordelia would come back and read to me later. If she wants to.”
“Mmm,” said Sona again, dabbing his brow with a compress.
Cordelia did come back, and she did read to James. And then she returned again and read again, and again. He was too fevered to track the passage of time. Sometimes it was dark outside and sometimes light. When he was awake, he ate what he could, and drank a little water, and forced down some of Enoch's loathsome potion. Sometimes his fever would break for a time, and then he would grow overwarm and sweat through his clothes; sometimes it was as though a bitter cold wind tore through his body and no number of blankets or logs in the fireplace would help. Through it all was Cordelia, quietly reading, occasionally reaching out to wipe his brow or refill his water glass.
She read him the poems of Nizami, and especially the story of Layla and Majnun, one she clearly loved and had known since she was very small. Her cheeks grew unexpectedly red at the more romantic parts: the poor boy falling in love with the beautiful Layla on first sight, wandering mad in the desert when they were separated.
“ââââThat heart's delight, one single glance his nerves to frenzy wrought, one single glance bewildered every thought. He gazed upon her, and as he gazed, love conquered both. They never dreamed to part.'ââ”
She glanced at James and then quickly glanced away. James started. Had he been staring? He was not entirely aware of his own behavior.
“ââââThe killing witchery that lies, in her black, delicious eyes. And when her cheek the moon revealed, a thousand hearts were won: no pride, no shield, could check her power. Layla, she was called.'ââ”
“Layla,” he murmured to himself, but he didn't think Cordelia had heard. He closed his eyes.
Only onceâthat he knew ofâdid he tumble into the shadow realm. He was awake, shaking with fever, his hair matted to his head with cold sweat, agitated. He saw Cordelia's eyes widen in alarm as the change came over him. She leaped to her feet and he thought,
She means to go for help; she is frightened, frightened of me
He reached for her, and the shadow that was his hand caught hers, darkness against flesh. He wondered how his touch felt to her. His whole body was tensed, like a horse shying from thunder. The room smelled of lightning.
“James, you must hold on. You must. Don't go anywhere,” Cordelia said. “Stay with me.”
“So cold,” he managed to add, shaking. “Can't get warm. Can't ever get warm.”
In his body, he would have squinted his eyes shut, trying to still his trembling. As a shadow, it was as though his eyes were open wide and he could do nothing to close them. He saw Cordelia cast about the room for something, anything to help. It was no use, he knew; the fire was already roaring, he was already wrapped in blankets, there was a hot-water bottle at his feet. Nevertheless, a bitter, raw wind tore through him.
Cordelia made a noise of frustration, then furrowed her brow in determination. The thought drifted through James's mind, far behind the endless howling wind, that she looked beautiful. It was not the thought he might have chosen, and he did not have time to think about it now.
But then Cordelia carefully laid herself down on the bed next to him. He was under mountains of blankets and she was atop them, of course. But her presence began to force back the cold. Instead of feeling the agony of being whipped raw by ice, his awareness turned to the length of her body, warm and solid, all along his own. Through the many layers between them he could still feel her pressed against his side: her leg shifting into a comfortable position, her hip against
his. He was looking up at the ceiling and she was on her side, but her face was very close. Her hair smelled like jasmine and woodsmoke. She put her arm over his chest and pulled herself as close as she could.
It took a strenuous effort, but he turned his head to the side, to look at her. He found her eyes open, luminous and deep, gazing at him. Her breathing was very steady.
“âââI sought not fire, yet is my heart all flame. Layla, this love is not of earth.'âââ”
He shuddered and felt himself come back to this world fully, felt his body return to the space he occupied. Cordelia didn't take her eyes off him, but she released her lower lip from between her teeth, her body slackening in relief.
James was still cold, but not nearly as cold as he had been. Cordelia reached up and pushed a lock of his hair out of his eyes. He shuddered again, but not because of cold, and let his eyes close, and when he awoke again it was morning, and she was gone.
It was only another day or so before James's fever broke for good. And only another day after that, Brother Enoch deemed him no longer contagious and his parents arrived with Lucie. And then he was well enough to get up, and then he was leaving Cirenworth for Idris and the familiar comforts of Herondale Manor. The weather there, his father reported, was fine.
Once he was out of bed, James and Cordelia returned to their ordinary, cordial way. Neither of them mentioned the time they had shared during James's illness. No doubt, James thought, Cordelia had simply cared for him with the kindness and generosity she showed to everyone she liked. They did not embrace when they said goodbye. (Lucie clung to Cordelia like a limpet, despite Cordelia's reassurances that she and her family would be at Herondale Manor themselves later that same summer.) As he stepped into the Portal, James waved to Cordelia, and she, amicably, waved back.
In the night, for a long time to come, James thought of jasmine and woodsmoke, the press of her arm, fathomless dark eyes gazing into his.