Read Till Human Voices Wake Us Online
Authors: Victoria Goddard
He was almost shocked by the intimacy of this offer, from a man who liked to pretend he had no soul (or at least, he would say dramatically, no heart), from the Prince of the Kingdom between the worlds, who flung his emotions around him like a cloak hiding their nature.
“Seriously, though, I’m here if you ever, however uncharacteristically, want to talk.”
Raphael was stung into snapping. “‘I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow.’”
Robin jerked around. Raphael was appalled at what he had just said, but ground his thoughts, like teeth, in the privacy of his head. His friend looked incredulous. “What’s happened to you?” Robin said. “When I first came to Ysthar you were kind.”
The fog coiling around them under Robin’s half-conscious magic gave him the look of some benevolent imp.
“I pulled so many pranks on you that when that cow of yours broke my ankle I was sure I was done for. But you helped me anyway, without knowing that I was the Prince of the Kingdom or wanting anything in return.”
All that it had mattered to him—for of course he had known—was that Robin had undoubtedly had a more difficult life than himself, pawn as he was in the power struggles between his parents.
“It was as if you saw a different person in me than everyone else. I thought Wayfarer was right, calling me a—a proud fool. My mother always says that the fair folk cannot change our nature, because we live outside of time, and really I’m more Faerie than Arvathi Shaian. When I had to choose where I was to live, I couldn’t bear to live in either place—I didn’t fit at my father’s, and I—I wanted to see if I could change—I couldn’t bear the thought of that woman being right.”
The stories Raphael had heard about Robin and Wayfarer and their hunt across Fairyland for the White Stag usually had Wayfarer saying a great deal more than merely that Robin was a proud fool. She had caught the stag first and almost had her wish granted—she had been looking for her memory—but Robin had been so annoyed with her he had shot the stag and thrown her out of the Kingdom. Apparently his mother had been pleased: less so when it eventually became clear that in the murky depths of her son’s eccentricities that hunt had inclined him to leave Fairyland for that mortal cipher, Ysthar.
But that was old news.
“Even last week, you were pleasant with us. Not talkative, maybe, and you haven’t been around all that much, but it wasn’t like this. You were amused when Will and I teased you. When Will and I went to see the Thames Barrier today he mentioned it.”
An ambiguous pronoun, that
, Raphael thought.
“Though I noticed you didn’t mention the fight you were in yesterday.”
He said nothing. He always said nothing, unless it were to a stranger or in a stranger’s words. Those came to his mind so easily, once he shook his thoughts free from emotion; as these from
: “‘All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.’”
Horror enveloped him when he saw Robin’s expression and realized he had spoken aloud. He was losing all control—
“Dickon, are you blind to what path you’ve taken? How are you the same man who befriended me?”
He shook his head to clear it of the fog. “‘I have no way, and therefore want no eyes,’” he rattled off nervously. “‘I stumbled when I saw.’” He started to walk again, but Robin grabbed him by the arm.
Raphael wrenched away and stood trembling. He was not prepared to be touched; he was displeased by how much his defenses were weakened by his emotions. They always were. He wanted to rub his arm, although Robin hadn’t hurt it. Instead he suppressed some leaping biliousness and forced his body language back to pleasant neutrality.
Robin peered at him, frowning. “Are you all right? You haven’t gone suddenly mad or something, have you?”
The word echoed. Raphael turned his head from the shrapnel noise and saw his reflection in a window. His face was as it always was: calm. He could feign any emotion, but had quashed all natural expression of his own; such were the joys of success in the Game. No hint of anything there on his face. No confusion or despair or shame.
“Your brother is just like how you used to be,” Robin said. “Generous. Magnanimous. One might say kingly. I should have known him from the way he laughed.”
Raphael had no idea when was the last time he had laughed. He nearly flinched at the thought that he had become so humourless, but caught himself, reminding himself consciously that the control was the important thing, that he had made his decision to keep his secrets, and come hell or high water he would.
He was a little perturbed at the wind-borne realization that for the Thames it was high water.
Robin threw up his hands. “What
it with you this year? His sense of humour I can understand. It’s straightforward, like a sword or my father.
You—I do wonder sometimes what you see in me.”
Raphael had often wondered the reverse. He was shocked to hear it stated so baldly by Robin. Was this how friendships were lost? An awkward silence which should be filled by one party, who, in his case at least, had never had words to say? He had only ever broken one friendship, and that had happened only because he had been hurting too badly to realize what he was doing. He had never had many friendships to break.
That one friend had been Calaïs, his first adult friend, whom he had not spoken to since he had lost half his life and most of his happiness. Then he had gone mad, or as near to it as made no difference, and when he recovered, everything was different; most especially himself. It had been a long, long time after that before someone had wriggled into his confidence. But even so one day he realized he had told a secret to a friend in the way he might once have told it to Kasian or Calaïs. And that had been Robin.
He swallowed again, successfully this time. “Puck, I’m sorry.” His tongue stammered on the ‘p’ and Raphael remembered quite readily then why it was he tried not to speak what he really wanted to say. It never came out right and usually proved merely embarrassing.
Robin stumbled off the curb, catching himself on the air and blinking. Raphael waited gravely. The silence drew out, and, after a long few moments, he thought that it was after all too late to be making amends. He could not blame Robin for giving up. He drew his coat around him and began to walk towards his house.
A little wind rushed through the narrows of the street and danced over to him, where it tugged at his hair. Behind the river tang it carried the slightest hint of some spring fragrance. Witch hazel, perhaps, or daphne. Raphael made fists of his hands, thrust them deep into his coat-pockets, and stood still before his gate for a long moment before he entered his protections, mumbling to himself in his head below the level of verbal thought. It was ridiculous, yet—and yet, and yet—
He jumped and turned around, banging his shoulders on the sharp points of the iron railing. Robin stood a few yards away, hair frazzled by the humidity, arms crossed and grinning. “Don’t be so bloody ridiculous,” he said.
Raphael looked dumbly at him. He heard the river chuffing to itself, the roar of a motorized boat cresting through the midnight stillness. The tide was near full flood: he wondered how last night he had stood on the river-bed, full of some strange magic that had let him forget water. Robin lifted his head and laughed, and his laughter was like a summer afternoon in the greenwood.
“‘Just when we’re safest,’” he said, flinging himself into a handstand, “‘there’s a sunset-touch, A fancy from a flower-bell, someone’s death, A chorus-ending from Euripides—’”
With the same abrupt easy motion he flipped back to his feet, face now clashing with his ruddy hair. “‘And that’s enough for fifty hopes and fears As old and new at once as nature’s self, To rap and knock and enter in our soul, Take hands and dance there, a fantastic ring, Round the ancient idol, on his base again—’”
Raphael knew what was coming but did not get his tongue unstuck in time. Robin, confound him, must have known exactly what was going through his mind, for his grin, diabolical before, became positively angelic.
“‘The grand Perhaps!’”
Robin stuck out his tongue, twisted around, and with utmost abandon threw himself blithely into the air. Raphael half-expected him to miss the ground and fly (something he knew that Robin could do, if the mood were upon him), but instead the Prince turned ten cartwheels in a row until he reached the bend in the road, whereupon he stood, bowed elaborately, and went off whistling.
Raphael did not move. He stared after Robin and wondered if this meant they were still friends. Finally he mumbled, “Robert Browning.
Bishop Blougram’s Apology
.” By then Robin was far out of earshot and nearly out of sight. Raphael stumped through the gate and into his house, and stopped dead in the anteroom when he saw, next to the old swordsticks and umbrellas, candles left alight for him.
Kasian was lolling on the couch in the living room reading a book. He’d lit the fire so it crackled cheerfully. His feet were in the air, a mug dangling by its handle from one bare toe and the other foot keeping time to his thoughts. Raphael gazed on the flames with a curiously ambivalent feeling, almost pleasure, almost violation. Then he rescued the mug as Kasian suddenly jerked with laughter.
His brother exclaimed sharply and floundered up to a sitting position. “Raphael! How you startled me.”
Raphael turned the mug over in his hands. It was one of Will’s more hideous efforts at pottery, part of a group of four—calling them a ‘set’ unduly stretched the definition of harmony. There was a dribble of coffee collecting at the bottom, which made the greenish-brown glaze almost pleasant, like riparian mud.
“Ugly cup, that,” Kasian said. “Good coffee, though.”
He and Robin (who had warranted plates in an equally vile shade of mustard) were both glad that Will’s fascination with the ceramic arts had been short-lived, the result of a desire to test the truth of certain proverbs (and probably to mitigate boredom) when Will had spent an unexpectedly long period at home in Stratford.
Robin had later joked that they could sell them as Shakespeareana and make their fortunes, before he had discovered that one of the troupes of lesser fairies had done what the great one had not thought of, and brought the Swan of Avon underhill. Now, of course, the plates at least came out at times. Though Will had never been into Raphael’s house to know, he still felt guilty that he had half-deliberately lost one of the other pieces, an object so malformed he’d never discovered what it had been intended to be.
“Have you had a most delightful evening?”
Raphael shrugged. “Have you?”
“Sherry is enchanting. She told me a lovely story about how she met the Lord of
Ysthar in the desert.”
“She is a superb storyteller.”
“I’ve heard some of the songs. Speaking of which, why didn’t you sing this afternoon?”
“I told you,” Raphael said expressionlessly, “I don’t recall the song. I have some things I need to do tonight, so I shall settle you in the bedroom now.”
“It must be past midnight. I believe. My sense of time is all mixed up. Late, anyway.”
Kasian stretched, cracking most of his joints. “What on earth do you have to do at this hour?”
“Something that I didn’t have the chance to finish before the play.” As he’d anticipated, Kasian bit back his next words at the realization that it was his arrival that had delayed the work. “Come upstairs.” He led Kasian up to his bedroom, where he efficiently stripped and remade the bed, found clean towels, then paused to consider the wardrobe before recalling that Kasian had always been a heavy sleeper and would likely not notice him coming in for clothing in the morning.
Kasian looked around, and Raphael followed suit, with less fretfulness than he’d felt downstairs. Honey-coloured wood floors, white walls again, a small table and a wardrobe. He did like the windows, which were cheerful square casements with curved transoms above. Two paintings, one on the east wall, the other over the bed. Kasian nodded at the first. “Is that by the same artist as the seascape downstairs?”
“Yes, Turner. He’s from this country.”
“I thought it might be yours. You used to draw so much.”
Raphael paused in straightening the murrey wool blanket. “I still do.” He was oddly touched at that hesitant affirmation, nodded at the other picture. “I painted that one.”
“It’s lovely. Who is she?”
He ignored this by the simple device of shaking out the blanket again. “The privy and the washroom are downstairs,” he said, coming over to where Kasian stood at the entrance.
“I found them earlier. Where does your errand take you?”
“Downriver. Not far.”
“I see. Where is your room?”
He was slightly taken aback that Kasian assumed this was a guest room, but then, Raphael thought, it was quite plain. He decided not to worry about it and gestured mendaciously down the hall, at a door which actually led to his study. “The door between is a linen closet. In case you need more blankets.”
“Do you require anything else?”
Kasian looked at him a bit oddly. “Require? No, thank you.”
Raphael nodded briskly, then recalled his manners to mind sufficiently to add, “Good night, Kasian.”
His brother looked at him with amusement and something else Raphael didn’t try to decipher. “Good night, Raphael. Have fun with your errand. Don’t fall in the water.”
Outside he wrapped himself in shadows and took himself to the top platform of Tower Bridge by a combination of magic and physical trespass. There he stood for a few minutes, anchoring himself in the way the air glistered against his senses. The city spilled far around him; the clouds had passed, so the sky above was speckled with faint stars. The moon was close to full, just setting behind him.
He sank his magic deep into the world, below the brooding dragon, far-flung along the lines of his knowledge. This was a time for broad sketches, not fine detail, for the great currents of magic that arced from the imagined to the real through the mediation of beauty.