I heard funeral chants. They were distant dreams while I was buried under a blanket of soft goat wool. I was neither awake nor asleep. Instead of being alive, I lay in a half-world of raging sands and alternating fogs so damp and heavy that they pinned my arms to my sides, kept my eyelids pressed shut. It was better to stay there than wake and deal with everything I’d lost.
My skin feels tender and stretched, even the slightest movements pull at stitches, remind me of my bruises.
The thunderstorms rolled out the days, counting each passing afternoon in flashes of lightning. In the dripping silence after the rain, the pied crows kah at each other in the gardens. Light seeps into my room.
Carien’s ghost watches me silently from the dusty streamers of sunshine.
Or perhaps I am dreaming.
I fall asleep again.
* * *
“You should be glad you missed the funeral,” Harun says. It sounds like he’s sitting near me. I’m almost alive. Servants bring me light soups, tea for the pain, they shake me gently awake and make me eat, but this is the first time I remember Harun coming here to this sick room. So I have been saved, but I don’t care.
“Bloody awful affair.” He sighs, and the leather of the seat creaks. “I’m not grateful to you. Not for going off at Eline like that, thinking you could save everyone like some grand hero.” I suppose, at the very least, with Eline’s death the proposals will be forgotten, and we have bought Isidro and the other vampires a little more time before the next fool decides to revive the idea. There will be no more vampire murders. I’m sure Jannik would have thought it worth dying for.
Harun’s boots sound dully on the carpet. He’s pacing now, his voice moving away, then closer, away again. It’s annoying. I will him to stand still. “You’re damn lucky, and you should be dead.”
Damn lucky. If I hadn’t broken the bond with Jannik, I would be dead. Luck. I suppose. If one wants to call it that.
I drift back into my safe little cocoon of nothingness. Inside my head, the childhood room is gone. There is no sign of Jannik or anything else. I set to the painful task of rebuilding, even though I don’t know why I am bothering. Using my room again seems wrong, somehow. Instead, I call up a desert of glittering sand; a white beach without the sea to soften it. An empty world. I sit cross-legged in the sand and pull the walls up around me, raising them higher and higher and curving them overhead, blocking out all the light. I stay there in my dark empty house.
It feels wrong. I am not Jannik. He is no longer a part of me. I am a War-Singer, and our art is strange and subtle and fragile and sharp. I press against the sand, heating, changing it, and the walls shimmer and turn pale, letting in a golden wash of light.
An empty glasshouse. Jannik had his birds, his rippling streams. I fill my house with secrets and memories that are as varied and alien as the plants I have painted in my little botany books.
* * *
When I am finally able to sit, the servants help prop me up with hard pillows, bring me heartier fare to eat, and send for their master.
“Finished sulking, have you?” Harun drags a chair across the room, and sits in it with an irritated sigh.
I wait for him to tell me the news. I want to ask him about what he did with Carien’s body. I want to ask him how Jannik’s funeral went – who went to mourn him, but the words burr up in my throat, tangled and tight.
“Yew turned his coat,” he says. “But I suppose you must have realized that much. He asked for the Lark, in exchange for bringing you back to us.”
The stew is cold and thick. My hand trembles as I press the spoon to my mouth.
“I thought it a small price to pay.”
I wonder if the time will come when I will not care.
“You broke the bond,” he says. “Isidro didn’t know that was possible. He still insists that it’s not.”
“You have your proof.” They are the first words I have spoken in so long that my voice sounds as if it belongs to some other person. Perhaps it does. There is an emptiness in this new Felicita that can only be filled up with a lifetime of bitterness and longing. In my glasshouse, the memory of lying against Jannik unfolds, the petals curling outward. The words I never said to him hide thornily among the black sea roses. “I am, after all, alive.”
“And as waspish as ever.” He stands. “Eat your food. Rest. Recover.”
I close my eyes and wish him away. This time it seems to work. When I am ready to look again. I am alone. I force myself to push down the covers. I feel feeble, and old. Brittle. Somehow I manage to hobble to my dressing table, to the little hand mirror. All it shows me is my own reflection, wan and ghostlike though it is. Of Carien, there is nothing.
Even so, I press my mouth close to the glass, so that my breath mists the silver. “I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I killed him.” For you. “You can go now.” I bring the hand-mirror down on the corner of the table, so that it shatters into a thousand pieces and scatters across the plush carpet.
With that done, I manage to drag myself back to bed.
* * *
I wake to a face that I wish I could bring myself to hate. Isidro is standing in the doorway of my room, leaning against one side, almost hesitantly. It seems that he is not yet ready to walk into this sickroom. He is holding a leather-bound book in one hand, a slim volume with gilt edging the pages.
“Of all the people I do not wish to see, you are the very first of them,” I tell him. He is a reminder of everything I have lost. Lost because of him, if I choose to look at it that way.
“Tell me how you broke the bond,” he says.
“Regretting your marriage?” I look away from him. Someone has cleared away the broken mirror, and left an arrangement of dried dogleaf on my bedside table. One of the Hobs, I suppose, determined to ward off the cats while I was dreaming. A fixative for perfumes, meant to help it last longer. Somewhere in my glasshouse, dogleaf is blossoming. A fixative for memory, meant to make it last longer.
Isidro laughs in derision. “Not as much as you seem to regret yours.”
“I regret nothing,” I say. “Nothing about that, at the very least.”
“And yet you’ve not once asked about him.”
“What good would it do to ask after a corpse?” I ask bitterly. “Am I to ask what was inscribed on his stone, if the rain fell or the sun shone, how many mourners you had to hire?”
Isidro frowns. Finally he steps into the room and throws the book on the bed. It lands just off my lap. A copy of Traget’s Melancholy Raven. My heart seizes, and my face feels frozen and dead.
“Here,” Isidro says. “Jannik can’t walk yet, but he says to read it again, that this time you might even enjoy it.”
I make myself look up at him, too scared to ask him to repeat himself.
“Yew kept his heart beating until the physicians could be called.” The vampire shrugs, and for a moment he looks almost vulnerable, his cold mask slipping. “And so we are both in Yew’s debt.” He snorts, and the flicker of emotion passes. “Or were you hoping that you’d freed yourself?”
I take the book in both hands and hold it close to me. I can see Jannik as I remember him. Head bowed at his desk, tea growing cold at his elbow as he reads this book for the thousandth time. The skew-sharp smile, the fox-fast kisses, black hair and white fingers and all the futures Harun has seen for us. I’m crying. I wipe the tears away and find laughter and relief bubbling together in my chest. My glasshouse brightens, the flowers throwing back their heads to the sun.
“Just for today,” I say to the surprised Isidro, “I will forget to hate you.” I break a sprig of dogleaf free. Keen interest, and a fixative. “Go tell Jannik that I’ll read his damn book. And give him this.” I hold up the innocuous little sprig of grey leaves and yellow buds.
Isidro leaves me alone in the room with Jannik’s treasured poetry for company. I brush my hand across the thin creased leather of the cover.
Not that alone. Not alone at all.