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Authors: Cate Tiernan

Eternally Yours

BOOK: Eternally Yours
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With love to my readers—you guys keep me going.



ali! Vali!
the girl?”

I heard my employer’s voice and scrambled up from the storage cellar.

“Here!” I said breathlessly, setting the heavy box of gold thread on the counter. The wooden steps to the cellar below the shop were barely more than a ladder; I’d had to hold the box with one hand while the other kept me from pitching head over feet. In time I would become as nimble as a mountain goat, but I’d been here only a month and these stairs were, even by Scandinavian standards, steep and narrow. Factor in the long skirts and petticoats and you had potential disaster in the making.

My employer, Master Nils Svenson, gave his customer a smile. “Vali is new here; she’s still learning the stock.”

I made a little curtsey, keeping my eyes down.

“She’s doing very well, though, aren’t you, dear?” Master Svenson nodded at me approvingly, then turned his full attention to the man who was deep in the throes of deciding whether large ruffs were truly going out of fashion or not.

I took a feather duster from my apron pocket and began to dust the bolts of fabrics lining two walls. My master was one of the most sought-after tailors in Uppsala, known to have the finest fabrics: finely woven wools, smooth to my hand and dyed in deep jewel tones; plain and colored linen in various weights, from moth-wing gauzy to the heavy, sturdy cloth for breeches and bodices; unbelievably fine silk from the Far East in bright, parrot colors that were completely exotic and out of place in this country in November.

The silver bell over the shop door tinkled, and a very elegant woman came in, her hat trailing a turquoise ostrich plume that I knew cost as much as what I earned in six months.

“Hello, my dear,” said the man, turning and lightly catching the woman’s gloved hand to kiss. “I apologize for being late.”

“I’m not inconvenienced in the least,” she said graciously. “You finish your business.” She seemed to glide across the shop on fine kid shoes that made barely a sound. Moments later she stood near me as I flicked the duster and tried not
to stare at her beautiful storm-gray cloak, chain-stitched all over with black flowers.

“What exquisite fabric,” she murmured, gently touching a peach-colored watered silk, its silver-thread embroidery making it heavy and stiff. She turned to her husband. “My dear? You really should have a waist—”

I don’t know why she looked at me just then, but she did, her clear blue eyes skimming absently across me and then sharpening and locking on my face like a magnet. She stopped in midword, her eyes wide. Her hand gathered a bit of silk and held it, as if without it she would fall down.

“Yes, my dear?” her husband said.

She let go of the silk and gave a shaky smile. “One moment.” She gracefully turned her back to the two men and looked at me again.

“You,” she said in a voice too low for them to hear.

“Yes, mistress?” I asked, concerned. Then—I don’t know how to describe it. I still can’t. I don’t know how we know or what it is. But I met her eyes, and there passed between us an instant of recognition. My mouth opened, and I almost gasped.

We had seen each other for what we were: immortal. I hadn’t met another person like me in three countries, eight cities, and almost fifty years.

“Who are you?” she whispered.

“My name is Vali, mistress.”

“Where are you from?”

The decades-old lie came easily to me. “Noregr, mistress,” I murmured, hoping that there were in fact immortals in Norway. I hadn’t met any when I lived there.

“My dear?” her husband called.

With a last penetrating look, the woman left me and joined her husband. Soon they went out into the dark, cold afternoon—it was only three thirty, but of course the sun had set already, this far north.

I stood still, my mind turning wheels, until I realized Master Svenson was looking at me. I started busily dusting again.

The next day my master called me over from the glass-fronted display of silk ribbons that I’d been arranging.

He was wrapping something in brown paper, folding it neatly and then tying it with waxed twine. “I need you to take this to Mistress Henstrom,” he said. “She’s requested several cloth samples.” He took up his pen, dipped it in ink, and wrote her street and house number on the paper in his educated, slanty script. “Make haste, Vali. And here—buy yourself a bun on the way back.” He handed me a few copper coins.

“Thank you, sir,” I said. He was a genuinely kind man, and working for him hadn’t been at all bad so far.

I retucked the scarf I wore always, pulled on my own loden-green rough-wool cloak, and hurried out. This Mistress Henstrom lived about a thirty-minute walk away. I dodged street filth, horses, and people crowding the high
street’s shops, and was glad again that I lived in a town and no longer in the countryside. Uppsala was by far the biggest town I had lived in since Reykjavík. In the countryside, night closed in on you like a bell placed over a light, silent and grim. Here even at midnight you could occasionally hear the clopping of horseshoes on the cobbles, a baby’s wail, sometimes the off-tune and bawdy singing of men who’d drunk too much. And here, in this town, lived at least one other immortal.

The streets twisted and turned, and more than once I had to backtrack and take a different route. I walked as fast as I could, mostly to keep warm, but the damp, misty chill slipped under my cloak and through my ankle-high boots. By the time I found the correct house number, I was chilled down to my fingernails and shaking with cold.

The house was large and fine, made of brown brick with other colored bricks set into a pattern, and it had a false front with ziggurats. It was four stories high, with the entrance up a tall flight of stairs. I struck the lion’s-head heavy brass knocker several times. The black enameled door was opened almost immediately by a big, round woman wearing a spotless white apron. She had the reddened, work-roughened hands of a servant but also an unmistakable sense of importance. So the head housekeeper, maybe.

“I’m from Master Svenson’s shop?” I said. “With fabric samples for the mistress.” I held out the package for her to take, but she opened the door wider.

“She’s waitin’ on you in the front drawing room.”

“Me? I’m just the shopgirl.”

“Go on then.” The housekeeper nodded toward a double set of tall, paneled doors painted dove gray.

Inside, a woman sat before a white marble fireplace carved with fruit and garlands. Blue and white tiles with ships on them surrounded the firebox, and I wanted to kneel down and look at each tile, enjoying the fire’s delicious warmth. Instead I stood uncertainly in the doorway, and then the woman moved and I saw her face. My heart sped up: It was the woman from the shop the afternoon before. The immortal.

“Oh, good—the samples from Master Svenson,” said the woman, her voice smooth and modulated, the accent refined. “I need you to wait, girl, while I look at them. Then you can directly return my choice to your master.”

“Yes, mistress,” I said, bewildered.

“Thank you, Singe,” she said to the housekeeper, and the woman reluctantly backed out, clearly curious and disapproving of a shopgirl in the fine drawing room.

When the door had quietly clicked shut, Mistress Henstrom beckoned me closer. “Forgive the deceit, but I couldn’t call on a shopgirl,” she said in a low voice, and I nodded. “You said you were from Noregr?”

I nodded again. “And you, mistress—where are you from?” I asked boldly.

“France,” she said. I knew so little about immortals then
that I was shocked. Were there immortals all over? In every other country?

I’d been in my early twenties when I was first told what I was. I hadn’t known it before then. After all, I’d seen my whole family slaughtered in front of me; they had died, and so, clearly, I could die also. But after the death of my nonimmortal first husband when I was eighteen, I’d made my way to Reykjavík and become a house servant to a large, middle-class family. I learned that they too were immortal. The mistress there, Helgar Thorsdottir, had first instructed me about our kind. At the time I was actually young, so the concept of going on endlessly had no meaning for me.

That had been fifty years earlier. As time passed, first slowly and then more quickly, it started to become real for me: to look into a piece of shined metal or the occasional real looking glass or the still water of a pond or puddle, and see the same me. Decade after decade. My skin was unlined; my hair, though light enough to be almost whitish, had no gray of old age. I was the same, always.

“How old are you, my dear?” Mistress Henstrom asked. She neither asked me to sit down nor offered me refreshment; I was just a shopgirl.

“Sixty-eight,” I said faintly. And still looked barely sixteen.

“I’m two hundred and twenty-nine,” she said, and my eyes widened. She laughed. “Surely you’ve met people older than I.”

I didn’t know how old my parents had been. I wasn’t sure how old Helgar or her husband had been, though from
things she’d said she seemed about eighty. Back then. So she would be about 130 now.

“I don’t think so. I haven’t met many others like us.”

“But my dear, we’re everywhere!” She laughed again, and a small spaniel I hadn’t seen before came out from under her chair and jumped on her lap. She stroked its silky head and preposterous butterfly ears. “France and England. Spain. Italy. Here in Swerighe,” she said, gesturing out the window.

I waited for her to say “Iceland,” because that was where I’d been born, but she didn’t. I hadn’t been to any of those other countries, but that one instant, that moment, stood out so sharply against countless moments, because right then I knew that someday I would. The thought caught my breath, opening up a future I had never contemplated. In fifty years, the idea of being something more than a servant or shopgirl or wife, the thought of living somewhere besides these northern countries, had been a dream so without form that I had never grasped it.

BOOK: Eternally Yours
2.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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