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Authors: Victoria Goddard

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BOOK: Till Human Voices Wake Us
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Robin laughed. “I also know he turned the Lord of Daun’s nephew into a standing stone for attempting to conquer Persia by magic. I’m sure he would send very courteous letters to my parents explaining the situation if I did something similar. I don’t really want to put him to the test. Nor find out my parents’ reaction, for that matter. And of course he is much engaged with the Great Game Aurieleteer, which must be ending soon.”

“Have you information as to its end?” Kasian asked curiously.

“I’ve heard a variety of rumours, but he doesn’t exactly make, hah, public service announcements. No one seems to have any more definite ideas than doomsday predictions based on the stories of other Games Aurieleteer.”

“What stories are these? We do not hear many such, where I live on Daun.”

Robin shrugged again. “The only one I give much credence to is one my father told me. Back when my grandfather was first shaping Fairyland, two great magi were playing the Game Aurieleteer in the Borderlands between Arvath and Zunidh, trying to gain control over one of Aurelius Magnus’ island worlds. I think the idea was to create a base from which to challenge Astandalas.

“Anyway, the end of that game had the usual run of insane magic, but it ended with a Pyrrhic victory—that’s to say that while the Moss Mage won in the end, it was at such a cost that she died shortly after, so it was no true victory at all. Their final duel turned the island world into a region of ice volcanoes.”

He paused a moment, then grimaced. “I saw one once, from a distance—they form one of the borders of my mother’s Kingdom. Extraordinary things. Rather beautiful, but deadly, of course. And my father said there were whole cities and the best beer in all the nine worlds and the border countries there, once.”

Kasian looked at Raphael as if to ask him what he thought of all this, but Raphael was prevented from having to make a circuitous answer by Max’s arrival with their drinks. Dark stout for him and brown ale for his brother. Kasian smiled brightly. “
Ser
Maximilien, you have an unbreaking memory.”

“No one would forget what you did to Ixsaa when you were a student at the university,
Ston
Kasian. It’s the ones who don’t have set likings I have to work on.”

Kasian laughed. “And my brother is memorable to you, obviously.”

Max rubbed his chin in mock thoughtfulness. “He’s a regular. I don’t ask him, because I know he takes whatever’s best in the day.”

“Your brother,” Robin said portentously, “is a man of few fixed preferences. I think it comes of a deeply buried character flaw.”

“That’s unfair, Robin. Our James is surely hiding an inner daredevil under the guise of his excessively organized boring life. We could tell you many tales of him, Kasian.”

“I should be delighted to hear them,
Amiar
Sherry.”

Raphael contemplated his life, which he did think of as being somewhat boring. What else did you call a preference for quiet over glamour? He sipped his stout. Bitter, invigorating, complex, an acquired taste, on the cold side; that was his character, here and now. (And if Max had brought him the brown ale, or fizzing perry, quite likely he would have lightened to humour, leavened himself into gaiety. Or perhaps not, this week.)


James
,” Kasian said vehemently.

Raphael realized he’d let the conversation drift away from him. All four were watching him, Sherry and Kasian both with wry smiles on their faces. “Yes?”

“I asked, do you recall the song concerning the Lord of

Ysthar, that was sung through all the city when we were young. About his yard.”

Were they still on about the Lord of

Ysthar? He regarded Kasian dispassionately. “No.”

“What city do you speak of?” Sherry asked.

Raphael paused, wondering if Kasian would answer for him as he had when they were children, then continued reluctantly when he did not. “Astandalas the Golden.”

“You’ve never mentioned Astandalas! Did you live there?”

“We were born there.”

Kasian frowned. “You must recall the song. It won the list of the Emperor the last year, before Astandalas fell. It was through all the city that
Randoch
, ah, autumn.”

“It was about the Lord of Ysthar?” Robin patted his cheek rapidly, a habit he had when trying to remember something that had always vaguely irritated Raphael. “Thalassior Barred, do you mean?”

“Yes. His yard.”

“Garden, surely,” Robin said, then lit up. “‘The Garden of Light’, you mean. By the Anonymous Master of Astandalas.”

He started to sing in Shaian, Kasian nodding happily and joining in at the chorus, both Sherry and Will listening curiously. Raphael took the opportunity to strengthen the nest of protections around The Seven Magpies and decided that he would speak to the winds after the play tonight.

When the song was finished Kasian said, “You did not sing, Raphael.”

“He
never
sings,” Sherry said, as Robin burst out laughing at the question. “We think he has an abhorrence for music. He won’t go to performances, either.”

Kasian turned to Raphael with an incredulous expression and questions obviously jostling on his tongue. Raphael gave him a completely unemotional glance in return and hoped Robin would not add anything to make the conversation worse than it already was.

But Robin, once he ceased guffawing, said nothing more on the subject. Instead he curved his spine alarmingly to look behind himself at the clock. “It’s gone six. We’d better be off to the theatre.” He elbowed Will, who looked up with some disgruntlement and finished his line before packing his things away.

“When will you return home?” Kasian asked Raphael. “Shall I to wait in your house?”

Raphael discovered he had half-formed the hope that by this point Kasian would return to Gabriel’s. “I should be home by midnight,” he began slowly.

“Like Cinderella,” Sherry interjected, leaning forward. “Would you like to come out for supper with me, Kasian? There’s a new Kaphyrni restaurant opened up—the proprietor’s from Serendip—and I’d like to try it.”

Kasian smiled warmly. “I should be very pleased. To return to your house, I come to the river, yes?” When Raphael hesitated he added in Tanteyr, “These are your friends, aren’t they, Raphael? Your
good
friends?”

Raphael reminded himself of his determination to let them talk about him so that he could focus on the end of the Game. That would only work if they trusted each other. “My dearest friends,” he agreed. In English he continued, “If Scheherezade will see you to the Houses of Parliament, you will be able to find your way from there.”

“If you do not hide it away from me again,” Kasian said with a grin, which made the others look at them both with nearly as startled a glance as when Raphael had introduced him to begin with. Raphael bowed slightly in farewell to Sherry and strode off towards the theatre.

After a few minutes Robin turned to him. “I like your brother, Dickon.”

Will lifted his head but Raphael wasn’t sure if he was listening to them. He looked steadily at Robin. “I am glad to hear that.”

“He has very easy manners. Courtly.”

“Yes,” he replied firmly, raising up his embankments of amiable circumspection, “he’s quite friendly. There’s Hazel Isling.” Hazel played Ophelia and knew nothing of magic nor his private life. Raphael strode forward to offer her his umbrella, which he had taken out of habit and discovered on his elbow when he looked for it.

She smiled at him as if he’d just handed her the crown of laurel leaves for her art. “Good evening, my lord prince.”

“Good evening, fair maiden,” he replied, his voice hovering between several characters, and they walked on to the theatre together.

Chapter Five

Indifferent Children of the Earth

Monday night. Raphael regathered himself slowly after the play, feeling as if his soul were still in tatters about the dead prince.

He changed, collected coat and scarf and gloves, and moved to escape the theatre. In the hall Roderick Maxwell brushed deliberately up against him. “Are you having … personal difficulties, James?” Roderick asked. “You seem to have been rather, uh, distracted these past two evenings.”

Raphael looked at him with words on his lips that would not normally have come to mind. He recovered himself irritably and kept his eyes down.

Roderick smirked. “Well, luckily there’re only a few days left. You’ll soon be off to dazzle the world again, I suppose. Just remember that some of us will be persevering with our art as you think about—well, about whatever it is you do think about.”

Raphael marshalled his features into a mild cast. “‘I shall note you in my book of memory.’”

“Come, come,” Robin said from behind. “What’s all the fuss in the corridor?”

“We were discussing how James has been acting.”

Raphael uncurled his toes, looking away into the props room. He listened hard for what lay beneath the surface of the world, but he heard nothing—nothing—never anything. He was apprehensive—he dared not admit terrified—at how close he was to the surface. His duty depended on his ability to control himself. There was a faux-Egyptian mummy case from some play he had not been in. Stone, he thought, stone. He tried not to think of how all Alexandria’s glory now was drowned.

He barely noticed Roderick and cronies depart; he did relax with only Robin close by.

The magic of the theatre swirled around him, full of illusion and fantastical emotions. It rose in giddy spirals and fell softly again as motes of dust when he calmed. Berating himself for losing track of essentials only made the accidents worse.

Robin said, “James—”

Raphael looked up at the tone, and jolted himself by nearly meeting Robin’s for-once serious gaze. He had learned long ago that while he could burrow his power deeply enough for it to be invisible even to a fairy prince such as Robin (despite appearances) was, any emotion whatsoever channelled it to his gaze. Someone had once told him he was dull as a miserable winter in every other feature, but that meet his eyes full-on and they were brilliant as the midnight sky. And he had always known, even before he had magic, that no one seemed to notice him so long as he kept his attention well in hand.

“Robin,” he said, disentangling look and emotion. “How is it with you?”

Robin ran his hand across his face, grimacing. “Not quite as with the indifferent children of the earth yonder. Are you walking my way? Will’s gone off already in a fit of poetry, and I wondered if you were up for company.”

Raphael would have refused, but then he recalled that Kasian would be waiting for him. He wasn’t sure how much he wanted to speak to his brother again, at least not yet, but he knew he did have to do something about accommodation. Since he had never before had any guests, he was not set up to receive overnight visitors. He nodded brusquely to Robin, who rolled his eyes and snickered at this response.

“Just give me a minute, then.”

Raphael waited by the stage door as Robin went round seeing to the locks and lights. He leaned against the wall, stretched out his legs, and thought about what excuse for his absence Wednesday he would give Kasian that would be plausible. Not that it needed to be all that plausible, if he were convincing enough otherwise. And certainly he did know how to be convincing.

Robin came out at that stage of his thoughts. “Took me forever to find the keys, I’m afraid. Oak and ash, it’s foggy! Haven’t had something so close to a real London fog for years.”

Raphael looked about him with some perplexity, smoothing his expression when Robin turned from the door. The sanctuary protections on the theatre sighed into place; he automatically girded himself against possible attack now that he was outside them. There were other enemies besides Circe out there. Though Robin would be able to protect himself better than Will.

“‘Let us go then, you and I,’” Robin said with startling merriment, “‘when the evening is spread out against the sky’—hmm, too late for that really—what’s the line about the fog? It’s gone out of my head.”

Raphael’s neck was prickling. There were too many people and things coiled watching and silent in the corners of the street. He shook his thoughts away from that, and said, “‘The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes …’” His mind was full of the great hum of the city, haunting the cobblestones and mist. And full, over and beyond it, of the rising and falling of the seas in their basins, far more complicated and immediate than, “‘The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.’”

The night was full of crevasses, he thought, down which might lie the bones of forgotten monsters. As well as living dragons. “‘Lingered on the pools that stand in drains.’”

“Oh!” said Robin. “I remember: ‘Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys. Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, And seeing that it was a soft October night, Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.’ Except that it’s nearly Easter, and certainly not soft. The weather’s been mad as a March hare this week.”

“‘And indeed there will be time,’” Raphael said quietly, “‘For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, Rubbing its back upon the window-panes; There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands—’”

“‘That lift and drop a question on your plate,’” said Robin gleefully; “‘Time for you and time for me.’”

“‘And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions—’”

“‘Before the taking of a toast and tea.’” Robin skipped about for a moment in his own special version of the silly walk. Raphael continued more sedately, wondering at his enthusiasm.

“I am fond of T. S. Eliot’s poetry, although his politics were a bit—hmm, out of step with my own. And Prufrock! Such a long poem to say so very little in, but said so well. Then again I’m not much of a poet. He did get the fog right, though, don’t you think?”

“Yes.”

“If you are unhappy, you know, Dickon, and need to talk about anything, even if it’s personal—” Raphael checked his step and looked askance at Robin, who made a face at him. “I don’t always get on with my brothers, either.”

BOOK: Till Human Voices Wake Us
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