Read Clockwork Princess Online

Authors: Cassandra Clare

Tags: #Social Issues, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #General, #Other, #Historical

Clockwork Princess (9 page)

BOOK: Clockwork Princess
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He snapped the box open—and froze. What looked like a light dusting of silvery powdered sugar barely covered the wooden bottom. Perhaps there had been a greater quantity before the Silent Brothers had treated Jem; Will did not know. What he did know was that there should have remained much, much more. “Jem,” he said in a strangled voice, “how is this all there is?”

Jem had stopped coughing. There was blood on his lips, and as Will watched, too shocked to move, Jem raised his arm and scrubbed the blood from his face with his sleeve. The linen was instantly scarlet. He looked feverish, his pale skin glowing, though he showed no other outward sign of agitation.

“Will,” he said softly.

“Two months ago,” Will began, realized his voice was rising, and forced it down again with an effort. “Two months ago I purchased enough
yin fen
that it should have lasted a year.”

There was a mixture of challenge and sadness in Jem’s glance. “I have accelerated the process of taking it.”

“Accelerated it? By how much?”

Now Jem did not meet his gaze. “I have been taking twice, perhaps three times, as much.”

“But the rate at which you take the drug is tied to the deterioration of your health,” Will said, and when Jem said nothing back, his voice rose and cracked on a single word:
“Why?”

“I do not want to live half a life—”

“At this rate you won’t even live a fifth of one!” shouted Will, and he sucked in his breath. Jem’s expression had changed, and Will had to slam the box he was holding back onto the nightstand to keep himself from punching the wall.

Jem was sitting up straight, his eyes blazing. “There is more to living than
not dying
,” he said. “Look at the way you live, Will. You burn as bright as a star. I had been taking only enough of the drug to keep me alive but not enough to keep me
well
. A little extra of the drug before battles, perhaps, to give me energy, but otherwise, a half life, a gray twilight of a life—”

“But you have changed your dosage now? Has this been since the engagement?” Will demanded. “Is this because of Tessa?”

“You cannot blame her for this. This was my decision. She has no knowledge of it.”

“She would want you to live, James—”

“I am not going to live!”
And Jem was on his feet, his cheeks flushed; it was the angriest, Will thought, that he had ever seen him. “I am not going to live, and I can choose to be as much for her as I can be, to burn as brightly for her as I wish, and for a shorter time, than to burden her with someone only half-alive for a longer time. It is my choice, William, and you cannot make it for me.”

“Maybe I can. I have always been the one to buy your
yin fen
for you—”

The color went in Jem’s face. “If you refuse to do it, I will buy it on my own. I have always been willing. You said you wished to be the one who bought it. And as to that—” He pulled the Carstairs family ring from his finger and held it out to Will. “Take it.”

Will let his eyes drift down toward it, and then up to Jem’s face. A dozen awful things he could say, or do, went through his mind. One did not slough off a persona so quickly, he had found. He had pretended to be cruel for so many years that the pretense was still what he reached for first, as a man might absently turn his carriage toward the home he had lived in for all his life, despite the fact that he had recently moved. “You wish to marry
me
now?” he said, at last.

“Sell the ring,” Jem said. “For the money. I told you, you should not have to pay for my drugs; I paid for yours, once, you know, and I recall the feeling. It was unpleasant.”

Will winced, then looked down at the Carstairs family symbol glittering in Jem’s pale, scarred palm. He reached out and took his friend’s hand gently, closing his fingers over the ring. “When did you become reckless and I cautious? Since when have I had to guard you from yourself? It is always you who has guarded me.” His eyes searched Jem’s face. “Help me to understand you.”

Jem stood very still. Then he said, “In the beginning, when I first realized I loved Tessa, I did think that perhaps love was making me well. I had not had an attack in so long. And when I asked her to marry me, I told her that. That love was healing me. So the first time I was—the first time it happened again, after that, I could not bear to tell her, lest she think it meant a lessening of my love for her. I took more of the drug, to fend off another illness. Soon it was taking more of the drug to simply keep me on my feet than it used to take to keep me going for a week. I don’t have years, Will. I might not even have months. And I don’t want Tessa to know. Please don’t tell her. Not just for her sake but for mine.”

Against his own will, almost, Will felt himself understanding; he would have done anything, he thought, told any lie, taken any risk, to make Tessa love him. He would have done—

Almost
anything. He would not betray Jem for it. That was the one thing he would not do. And here Jem stood, his hand in Will’s, his eyes asking for Will’s sympathy, his understanding. And how could Will not understand? He recalled himself in Magnus’s drawing room, begging to be sent to the demon realms rather than live another hour, another moment, of a life he could no longer bear.

“So you are dying for love, then,” Will said finally, his voice sounding constricted to his own ears.

“Dying a little faster for love. And there are worse things to die for.”

Will released Jem’s hand; Jem looked from the ring to him, his eyes questioning. “Will—”

“I’ll go to Whitechapel,” said Will. “Tonight. I will get you all the
yin fen
there is, everything you could need.”

Jem shook his head. “I cannot ask you to do something that goes against your conscience.”

“My conscience,” Will whispered. “You are my conscience. You have ever been, James Carstairs. I will do this for you, but I will extract one promise first.”

“What sort of promise?”

“You asked me years ago to cease looking for a cure for you,” Will said. “I want you to release me from that promise. Free me to look, at least. Free me to search.”

Jem looked at him with some wonder. “Just when I think I know you perfectly, you surprise me again. Yes, I will free you. Search. Do what you must. I cannot fetter your best intentions; it would only be cruel, and I would do the same for you, were I in your place. You know that, don’t you?”

“I know it.” Will took a step forward. He put his hands on Jem’s shoulders, feeling how sharp they were beneath his grip, the bones like the wings of a bird. “This is not some empty promise, James. Believe me, there is no one who knows more than I do the pain of false hope. I will look. If there is anything to be found, I will find it. But until then—your life is yours to live as you choose.”

Incredibly, Jem smiled. “I know that,” he said, “but it is gracious of you to remind me.”

“I am nothing if not gracious,” Will said. His eyes searched Jem’s face, that face as familiar to him as his own. “And determined.
You will not leave me
. Not while I live.”

Jem’s eyes widened, but he said nothing. There was no more to be said. Will dropped his hands from his
parabatai
’s shoulders and turned toward the door.

Cecily stood where she had stood earlier that day, the knife in her right hand. She sighted along her eye line, then drew the knife back and let it fly. It stuck in the wall, just outside the drawn circle.

Her conversation with Tessa had not relieved her nerves; it had only made them worse. There had been an air of trapped, resigned sadness about Tessa that had made Cecily feel prickly and anxious. As angry as she was at Will, she could not help but feel that Tessa held some fear for him, some dread she would not speak of, in her heart, and Cecily longed to know what it was. How could she protect her brother if she didn’t know what he needed protecting from?

After retrieving the knife, she raised it to shoulder level again and let fly. It stuck even farther outside the circle this time, prompting an angry exhale of breath.
“Uffern nef!”
she muttered in Welsh. Her mother would have been horrified, but then, her mother was not there.

“Five,” said a drawling voice from the corridor outside.

Cecily started and turned. There was a shadow in the doorway, a shadow that as it moved forward became Gabriel Lightwood, all tousled brown hair and green eyes as sharp as glass. He was as tall as Will, perhaps taller, and more lanky than his brother. “I don’t take your meaning, Mr. Lightwood.”

“Your throw,” he said with an elegantly outflung arm. “I rate it at five points. Your skill and technique may, perhaps, require work, but the native talent is certainly there. What you require is
practice
.”

“Will has been training me,” she said as he drew closer.

The corner of his mouth turned up slightly. “As I said.”

“I suppose you could do better.”

He paused, and jerked the knife from the wall. It sparked as he twirled it between his fingers. “I could,” he said. “I was trained by the best, and I had been training Miss Collins and Miss Gray—”

“I heard. Until you grew bored. Not the commitment one might perhaps look for in a tutor.” Cecily kept her voice cool; she remembered Gabriel’s touch as he had lifted her to her feet at Lightwood House, but she knew Will disliked him, and the smug distance in his voice grated.

Gabriel touched the tip of his finger to the point of the knife. Blood sprang up in a red bead. He had callused fingers, with a spray of freckles across the backs of his hands. “You changed your gear.”

“It was covered in blood and ichor.” She glanced at him, her gaze raking him up and down. “I see you have not.”

For a moment an odd look flashed across his face. Then it was gone, but she had seen her brother hide emotion enough times to recognize the signs. “None of my clothes are here,” he said, “and I do not know where I will be living. I could return to one of the family residences, but—”

“You are considering remaining at the Institute?” Cecily said in surprise, reading it on his face. “What does Charlotte say?”

“She will allow it.” Gabriel’s face changed briefly, a sudden vulnerability showing where only hardness had shown before. “My brother is here.”

“Yes,” said Cecily. “So is mine.”

Gabriel paused for a moment, almost as if that had not occurred to him. “Will,” he said. “You do look very much like him. It is … unnerving.” He shook his head then, as if clearing it of cobwebs. “I just saw your brother,” he said. “Pounding down the front steps of the Institute as if the Four Horsemen were chasing him. I don’t suppose you’d know what that’s about?”

Purpose
. Cecily’s heart leaped. She seized the knife out of Gabriel’s hand, ignoring his startled exclamation. “Not at all,” she said, “but I intend to find out.”

Just as the City of London seemed to shutter itself as the workday ended, the East End was bursting into life. Will moved through streets lined with stalls selling secondhand clothes and shoes. Rag-and-bone men and knife sharpeners pushed their carts through the byways, shouting their wares in hoarse voices. Butchers lounged in open doorways, their aprons spattered with blood, carcasses hanging in their windows. Women putting out washing called to each other across the streets in voices so tinged with the accent of everyone born within the sound of Bow Bells that they might as well have been speaking Russian, for all that Will could understand them.

A faint drizzle had begun to fall, dampening Will’s hair as he crossed in front of a wholesale tobacconist’s, closed now, and turned a corner onto a narrower street. He could see the spire of Whitechapel Church in the distance. The shadows gathered in here, the fog thick and soft and smelling of iron and rubbish. A narrow gutter ran down the center of the street, filled with stinking water. Up ahead was a doorway, a gas carriage lamp hanging to either side. As Will was passing, he ducked into it suddenly and thrust out his hand.

There was a cry, and then he was hauling a slim, black-clad figure toward him—Cecily, a velvet cloak thrown on hastily over her gear. Dark hair spilled from the edges of her hood, and his own blue eyes gazed back at him, snapping with fury. “Let go of me!”

“What are you doing following me about the back streets of London, you little idiot?” Will gave her arm a light shake.

Her eyes narrowed. “This morning it was
cariad
, now it’s
idiot
?”

“These streets are dangerous,” Will said. “And you know nothing of them. You are not even using a glamour rune. It is one thing to declare you are not afraid of anything when you live in the country, but this is London.”

“I am not afraid of London,” Cecily said defiantly.

Will leaned close, almost hissing into her ear.
“Fyddai’n wneud unrhyw dda yn ddweud wrthych i fynd adref?”

She laughed. “No, it would not do you any good to tell me to go home.
Rwyt ti fy mrawd ac rwy eisiau mynd efo chi
.”

Will blinked at her words.
You are my brother and I want to go with you
. It was the sort of thing he was used to hearing Jem say, and though Cecily was unlike Jem in every other conceivable way, she did share one quality with him: an absolute stubbornness. When Cecily said she wanted something, it did not express an idle desire but an iron determination.

“Don’t you even care where I’m going?” he said. “What if I were going to Hell?”

“I’ve always wanted to see Hell,” Cecily said calmly. “Doesn’t everyone?”

“Most of us spend our time struggling to stay out of it,” said Will. “I am going to an ifrit den, if you must know, to purchase drugs from violent, dissolute reprobates. They may clap eyes on you and decide to sell you.”

“Wouldn’t you stop them?”

“I suppose it would depend on how much they would give me.”

She shook her head. “Jem is your
parabatai
,” she said. “He is your brother, given to you by the Clave. But I am your sister by blood. Why will you do anything in the world for him but you only want me to go home?”

“How do you know the drugs are for Jem?”

BOOK: Clockwork Princess
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