Authors: Cassandra Clare
If Will had not been so distracted by his loss, perhaps things would have gone differently.
But he was, and they didn't.
The night after they learned of Linette's and Edmund's deaths, Will had been sitting on the floor in the drawing room, Tessa in the overstuffed armchair behind him, and Lucie and James had been stretched upon the fireplace rug. Will's back had been against Tessa's legs as he stared unseeing into the fire. They had all heard the front doors open; Will had looked up when Jem came in, and Jem, in his Silent Brother robes, went over to Will and sat down beside him. He drew Will's head against his shoulder, and Will held the front of Jem's robes in his fists and he cried. Tessa bowed her head over both of them, and the three were united in adult grief, a sphere James could not yet touch. It was the first time it had ever occurred to James that his father might cry about anything.
Lucie and James escaped to the kitchen. That was where Tatiana Blackthorn found themâsitting at a table while their cook, Bridget, fed them pudding for dinnerâwhen she arrived to ask James to cut the briars.
She looked like a gray crow, out of place in their bright kitchen.
Her dress was worn serge, ragged at the hems and cuffs, and a dirty hat with a beady-eyed stuffed bird on it was tilted sideways on her head. Her hair was gray, her skin was gray, and her eyes were dull green, as if misery and anger had sucked all the color out of her.
“Boy,” she said, looking at James. “My manor gates are stuck fast by overgrowth. I need someone to cut the briars. Will you do it?”
Maybe if things had been different, if James had not already been feeling restless with the desire to help his father but no idea how to do so, he might have said no. He might have wondered why Mrs. Blackthorn didn't simply ask whoever had been doing the briar cutting for her all these years, or why she suddenly needed this task accomplished in the evening.
But he didn't. He stood up from the table and followed Tatiana out into the falling night. Sunset had begun, and the trees of Brocelind Forest seemed to flame at the tops as she strode across the grounds between their two houses, up to the front gates of Blackthorn Manor. They were black and twisted iron, with an arch at the top that spelled out words in Latin:
LEX MALLA, LEX NULLA
A bad law is no law.
She bent down among the drifting leaves and stood up, holding an enormous knife. It had clearly once been sharp, but now the blade was such a dark brown with rust it looked almost black. For a moment James had the fantasy that Tatiana Blackthorn had brought him here to kill him. She would cut out his heart and leave him lying where his blood ran out across the ground.
Instead she shoved the knife into his hands. “There you go, boy,” she said. “Take your time.”
He thought for a moment that she smiled, but it might have been a trick of the light. She was gone in a rustle of dry grass, leaving James standing before the gates, rusty blade in hand, like Sleeping Beauty's least successful suitor. With a sigh, he began to cut.
Or at least, he began to try. The dull blade sliced nothing, and
the briars were as thick as the bars on the gates. More than once he was stuck sharply by the wicked points of the thorns.
His aching arms soon felt like lead, and his white shirt was spotted with blood. This was ridiculous, he told himself. Surely this went beyond the obligation to help a neighbor. Surely his parents would understand if he tossed the knife aside and went home. Surelyâ
A pair of hands, white as lilies, suddenly fluttered between the vines. “Herondale boy,” whispered a voice. “Let me help you.”
He stared in astonishment as a few of the vines fell away. A moment later a girl's face appeared in the gap, pale and small. “Herondale boy,” she said again. “Have you a voice?”
“Yes, and a name,” he said. “It's James.”
Her face disappeared from the gap in the vines. There was a rattling sound, and a moment later a pair of briar cuttersâperhaps not entirely new but certainly serviceableâemerged beneath the gates. James bent to seize them.
He was straightening up when he heard his name called: it was his mother's voice.
“I must go,” he said. “But thank you, Grace. You are Grace, aren't you? Grace Blackthorn?”
He heard what sounded like a gasp, and she appeared again at the gap in the vines. “Oh, do please come back,” Grace said. “If you come back tomorrow night, I shall sneak down to the gates here and talk with you while you cut. It has been so long since I spoke with anyone but Mama.”
Her hand reached out through the bars, and he saw red lines on her skin where the thorns had torn herâJames raised his own hand and for a moment, their fingers brushed. “I promise,” he found himself saying. “I will come back.”
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
In the end it is not well.
âAlgernon Charles Swinburne, “The Garden of Proserpine”
“Matthew,” said James. “Matthew, I
know you're under there. Come out, or I swear on the Angel I will pith you like a frog.”
James was lying atop the billiard table in the Institute's games room, glaring down over the side.
The ball had been going on for at least half an hour, and no one had been able to find Matthew. James was the one who'd guessed his
was hiding in here: it was one of their favorite rooms, comfortable and handsomely decorated by Tessa. It was papered up to the dado rail with gray and black stripes, and painted gray above that. There were framed portraits and family trees on the walls, and a gathering of comfortable, well-worn sofas and wing chairs. A beautifully polished chess set glowed like a jewel box atop a Dunhill cigar humidor. There was also the
massive billiard table that Matthew was currently hiding under.
There was a clatter, and Matthew's blond head appeared beneath the table. He blinked green eyes up at James. “Jamie, Jamie,” he said, with mock sorrow. “Why must you chivvy a fellow so? I was peacefully napping.”
“Well, wake up. You're needed in the ballroom to make up the numbers,” said James. “There are a shocking number of girls out there.”
“Damn the ballroom,” said Matthew, scooting out from under the table. He was splendidly turned out in dove gray, with a pale green carnation in his buttonhole. In one hand he clutched a cut-glass decanter. “Bother the dancing. I intend to remain in here and get thoroughly foxed.” He glanced at the decanter and then hopefully up at James. “You can join me if you want.”
“That's my father's port,” said James. It was strong stuff, he knew, and very sweet. “You'll be vilely ill in the morning.”
said Matthew. “It's good port. I've always admired your father, you know. Planned to be like him one day. Though I once knew a warlock who had three arms. He could duel with one hand, shuffle a deck of cards with the next, and untie a lady's corset with the third, all at the same time. Now there was a chap to emulate.”
foxed,” said James disapprovingly, and reached down to seize the decanter out of Matthew's hand. Matthew was too quick for him, though, and swung it out of reach while rising up to clasp James's arm. He yanked him off the table, and in a moment they were rolling on the carpet like puppies, Matthew laughing uncontrollably, James trying to wrestle the bottle away from him.
“Getâoffâme!” Matthew wheezed, and let go. James fell backward with such force that the top of the decanter flew off. Port splashed over his clothes.
“Now look what you've done!” he lamented, using his pocket
handkerchief to do what he could to mop up the scarlet stain spreading across his shirtfront. “I smell like a brewer and I look like a butcher.”
“Piffle,” said Matthew. “None of the girls care about your clothes anyhow. They're all too busy gazing into your great big golden eyes.” He widened his eyes at James until he looked as if he were going mad. Then he crossed them.
James just frowned. His eyes were large, black-fringed, and the color of pale gold tea, but he'd been tormented too many times at school about his unusual eyes to find any pleasure in their uniqueness.
Matthew held out his hands. “Pax,” he said wheedlingly. “Let it be peace between us. You can pour the rest of the port on my head.”
James's mouth curved up into a smile. It was impossible to stay angry with Matthew. It was almost impossible to
angry at Matthew. “Come with me to the ballroom and make up the numbers and we can call it peace.”
Matthew rose obedientlyâhowever much he'd drunk, he was always steady on his feet. He helped James up with a firm hand and straightened his jacket to cover the wine stain. “Do you want any of the port
you, or do you only want to wear it?” He offered James the decanter.
James shook his head. His nerves were already frayed, and though the port would soothe them, it would also muddle his thoughts. He wanted to remain sharpâin case. She might not come tonight, he knew. But then again, she might. It had been six months since her last letter, but now she was in London. He needed to be prepared for anything.
Matthew sighed as he set the bottle on the mantel. “You know what they say,” he said, as he and James left the room and began to wend their way back toward the party. “Drink, and you will sleep; sleep, and you will not sin; do not sin, and you will be saved; therefore, drink and be saved.”
“Matthew, you could sin in your sleep,” said a languorous voice.
“Anna,” said Matthew, sagging against James's shoulder. “Have you been sent to fetch us?”
Lounging against the wall was James's cousin Anna Lightwood, gorgeously dressed in fitted trousers and a pin-striped shirt. She had the Herondale blue eyes, always disconcerting for James to see, as it felt a bit as if his father were looking at him. “If by âfetch,' you mean âdrag you back to the ballroom by any means possible,'ââ” Anna said. “There are girls who need someone to dance with them and tell them they look pretty, and I cannot do it all on my own.”
The musicians in the ballroom suddenly struck up a tuneâa lively waltz.
“Crikey, not waltzing,” said Matthew, in despair. “I loathe waltzing.”
He began to back away. Anna seized him by the back of the coat. “Oh, no, you don't,” she said, and firmly herded both of them toward the ballroom.
“Stop looking at yourself,” said Alastair, in a weary tone. “Why are women always
at themselves? And why are you frowning?”
Cordelia glared into the pier glass at the reflection of her brother. They were all waiting outside the grand ballroom at the Institute, Alastair looking perfect in immaculate black and white, his blond hair slicked back with pomade, hands gloved in kidskin.
Because Mother dresses me, but she lets you wear whatever you like,
she thought, but didn't say it, since their mother was standing right there. Sona was determined to dress Cordelia in the height of fashion, even if the height of fashion didn't suit her daughter at all. For tonight she'd chosen a dress for Cordelia of pale lilac edged with glittering bugle beads. Her hair was swept up into a waterfall of curls, and her swan-bill corset was making her breathless.
Cordelia was of the opinion that she looked awful. Pastels were all the rage in the fashion papers, but those papers expected girls to be blond, small-bosomed, and pale-skinned. Cordelia was decidedly none of those things. Pastels washed her out, and even the corset couldn't flatten her chest. Nor was her dark red hair thin and fine: it was thick and long like her mother's, reaching to her waist when brushed out. It looked ridiculous in tiny curls.
“Because I have to wear a corset, Alastair,” she snapped. “I was checking to see if I'd turned plum-colored.”
“You'd match your dress if you did,” Alastair noted. Cordelia couldn't help but wish her father were there; he always told her she looked beautiful.
“Children,” said their mother reprovingly. Cordelia had the feeling she would address them as “children” even when they were old and gray and sniping at one another from Bath chairs. “Cordelia, corsets not only create a womanly shape, they show that a lady is finely bred and of delicate sensibilities. Alastair, leave your sister alone. This is a very important evening for all of us, and we must be mindful to make a good impression.”
Cordelia could sense her mother's unease that she was the only woman in the room wearing a
over her hair, her worry that she lacked the knowledge of who the powerful people in the room were, when she would have known it immediately in the salons of the Tehran Institute.
Things would all be different after tonight, Cordelia told herself again. It didn't matter whether her dress was hideous on her: what mattered was that she charm the influential Shadowhunters in the room who could effect an introduction to the Consul for her. She would make Charlotte understandâshe would make them all understandâthat her father might be a poor strategist, but it was no reason for him to be in jail. She would make them understand that the Carstairs family had nothing to hide.
She would make her mother smile.
The ballroom doors opened and there was Tessa Herondale in rose chiffon, with small roses in her hair. Cordelia doubted
needed to wear a corset. She was already quite ethereal-looking. It was hard to believe she was the woman who had taken down an army of metal monsters.
“Thank you for waiting,” she said. “I did want to bring you in all together and make the introductions. Everyone is just dying to meet you. Come, come!”
She led them into the ballroom. Cordelia had a faint memory of playing here with Lucie when it had been quite deserted. Now it was full of light and music.
Gone were the heavily brocaded walls of years ago and the massive velvet hangings. Everything was airy and bright, the walls lined with pale wooden benches padded with gold-and-white-striped cushions. A frieze of golden birds darting among trees ran above the curtainsâif you looked closely, you could see that they were herons. Hung on the walls was an assortment of ornamental weaponsâswords in jeweled scabbards, bows carved of ivory and jade, daggers with pommels in the shapes of sunbursts and angel wings.
Most of the floor had been cleared for dancing, but there was a sideboard laden with glasses and pitchers of iced lemonade. A few tables draped in white were scattered around the room. Older married ladies and some younger ones who didn't have dancing partners clustered at the walls, busying themselves with gossip.
Cordelia's gaze instantly searched out Lucie and James. She found Lucie at once, dancing with a young man with sandy hair, but she scanned the room for James's tousled dark hair in vain. He did not seem to be here.
Not that there was time to dwell on it. Tessa was an expert hostess. Cordelia and her family were whisked from group to group,
the introductions made, their virtues and values enumerated. She was introduced to a dark-haired girl a few years older than herself, who looked entirely at ease in a pale green dress trimmed with lace. “Barbara Lightwood,” said Tessa, and Cordelia perked up as they curtsied to each other. The Lightwoods were cousins of James and Lucie's, and a powerful family in their own right.
Her mother fell immediately into conversation with Barbara's parents, Gideon and Sophie Lightwood. Cordelia fixed her gaze on Barbara. Would she be interested in hearing about her father? Probably not. She was looking out at the dance floor with a smile on her face.
“Who's the boy dancing with Lucie?” Cordelia asked, which provoked a surprising burst of laughter from Barbara.
“That's my brother, Thomas,” she said. “And not tripping over his own feet, for a change!”
Cordelia took another look at the sandy-haired boy laughing with Lucie. Thomas was very tall and broad-shouldered, intimidatingly so. Did Lucie fancy him? If she'd mentioned him in her letters, it was only as one of her brother's friends.
Alastair, who had been standing at the edge of the group looking boredâtruthfully, Cordelia had nearly forgotten he was thereâsuddenly brightened. “Charles!” he said, sounding pleased. He smoothed down the front of his waistcoat. “If you'll excuse me, I must go pay my respects. We haven't seen each other in an age.”
He vanished between the tables without waiting for permission. Cordelia's mother sighed. “Boys,” she said. “So vexing.”
Sophie smiled at her daughter, and Cordelia noticed for the first time the vicious scar that slashed across her cheek. There was something about her vivaciousness, the way she moved and spoke, that caused one not to see it at first. “Girls have their moments,” she observed. “You should have seen Barbara and her sister, Eugenia, when they were children. Absolute horrors!”
Barbara laughed. Cordelia envied her, to have such an easy rapport with her mother. A moment later a brown-haired boy approached and invited Barbara to dance; she was whisked away, and Tessa steered Sona and Cordelia to the next table, where Lucie's uncle Gabriel Lightwood sat beside a beautiful woman with long dark hair and blue eyesâhis wife, Cecily. Will Herondale was leaning against the edge of their table, arms folded, smiling.
Will looked over as they approached, and his face softened when he saw Tessa, and behind her, Cordelia. In him, Cordelia could see a bit of what James would become when he was grown.
“Cordelia Carstairs,” he said, after greeting her mother. “How pretty you've become.”
Cordelia beamed. If Will thought she was pretty, perhaps his son thought so too. Of course, due to Will's prejudice toward all things Carstairs, he probably thought Alastair was perfect and also pretty.
“I hear you have come to London to be
with our Lucie,” said Cecily. She looked nearly as young as Tessa, though since she wasn't an immortal warlock, one wondered how she managed it. “I am pleasedâit is high time more girls became
. It has been a state monopolized by men for far too long.”
“Well, the first
were male,” Will pointed out, in a manner that made Cordelia wonder if Cecily had once found him insufferable, as she found Alastair.
“Times are changing, Will,” said Cecily with a smile. “It's the modern age. We have electric lights, motorcarsâ¦”
“Mundanes have electric lights,” said Will. “
“And motorcars are a fad,” said Gabriel Lightwood. “They won't last.”