Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)

Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)

Cassandra Clare



For Clary (the real one)





PART ONE



— —

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations





DAYS PAST: 1897


Lucie Herondale was ten years old when she first met the boy in the forest.

Growing up in London, Lucie had never imagined a place like Brocelind. The forest surrounded Herondale Manor on all sides, its trees bent together at the tops like cautious whisperers: dark green in the summer, burnished gold in the fall. The carpeting of moss underfoot was so green and soft that her father told her it was a pillow for faeries at night, and that the white stars of the flowers that grew only in the hidden country of Idris made bracelets and rings for their delicate hands.

James, of course, told her that faeries didn’t have pillows, they slept underground and they stole away naughty little girls in their sleep. Lucie stepped on his foot, which meant that Papa swept her up and carried her back to the house before a fight could erupt. James came from the ancient and noble line of Herondale, but that didn’t mean he was above pulling his little sister’s plaits if the need arose.

Late one night the brightness of the moon woke Lucie. It was pouring into her room like milk, laying white bars of light over her bed and across the polished wood floor.

She slipped out of bed and climbed through the window, dropping lightly to the flower bed underneath. It was a summer night and she was warm in her nightdress.

The edge of the forest, just past the stables where their horses were kept, seemed to glow. She flitted toward it like a small ghost. Her slippered feet barely disturbed the moss as she slid in between the trees.

She amused herself at first by making chains of flowers and hanging them from branches. After that she pretended she was Snow White fleeing from the huntsman. She would run through the tangled trees and then turn dramatically and gasp, putting the back of her hand to her forehead. “You will never slay me,” she said. “For I am of royal blood and will one day be queen and twice as powerful as my stepmother. And I shall cut off her head.”

It was possible, she thought later, that she had not remembered the story of Snow White entirely correctly.

Still, it was very enjoyable, and it was on her fourth or fifth sprint through the woods that she realized she was lost. She could no longer see the familiar shape of Herondale Manor through the trees.

She spun around in a panic. The forest no longer seemed magical. Instead the trees loomed above like threatening ghosts. She thought she could hear the chatter of unearthly voices through the rustle of leaves. The clouds had come out and covered the moon. She was alone in the dark.

Lucie was brave, but she was only ten. She gave a little sob and began to run in what she thought was the right direction. But the forest only grew darker, the thorns more tangled. One caught at her nightdress and ripped a long tear in the fabric. She stumbled—

And fell. It felt like Alice’s fall into Wonderland, though it was much shorter than that. She tumbled head over heels and hit a layer of hard-packed dirt.

With a whimper, she sat up. She was lying at the bottom of a circular hole that had been dug into the earth. The sides were smooth and rose several feet above the reach of her arms.

She tried digging her hands into the dirt that rose on every side of her and climbing up it the way she might shinny up a tree. But the earth was soft and crumbled away in her fingers. After the fifth time she’d tumbled from the side of the pit, she spied something white gleaming from the sheer side of the dirt wall. Hoping it was a root she could climb up, she bounded toward it and reached to grasp it.…

Soil fell away from it. It wasn’t a root at all but a white bone, and not an animal’s…

“Don’t scream,” said a voice above her. “It’ll bring them.”

She threw her head back and stared. Leaning down over the side of the pit was a boy. Older than her brother, James—maybe even sixteen years old. He had a lovely melancholy face and straight black hair without a hint of curl. The ends of his hair almost touched the collar of his shirt.

“Bring who?” Lucie put her fists on her hips.

“The faeries,” he said. “This is one of their pit traps. They usually use them to catch animals, but they’d be very pleased to find a little girl instead.”

Lucie gasped. “You mean they’d eat me?”

He laughed. “Unlikely, though you could find yourself serving faerie gentry in the Land Under the Hill for the rest of your life. Never to see your family again.”

He wiggled his eyebrows at her.

“Don’t try to scare me,” she said.

“I assure you, I speak only the perfect truth,” he said. “Even the imperfect truth is beneath me.”

“Don’t be silly, either,” she said. “I am Lucie Herondale. My father is Will Herondale and a very important person. If you rescue me, you will be rewarded.”

“A Herondale?” he said. “Just my luck.” He sighed and wriggled closer to the edge of the pit, reaching his arm down. A scar gleamed on the back of his right hand—a bad one, as if he had burned himself. “Up you go.”

She grasped his wrist with both her hands and he hauled her up with surprising strength. A moment later they were both standing. Lucie could see more of him now. He was older than she’d thought, and formally dressed in white and black. The moon was out again and she could see that his eyes were the color of the green moss on the forest floor.

“Thank you,” she said, rather primly. She brushed at her nightdress. It was quite ruined with dirt.

“Come along, now,” he said, his voice gentle. “Don’t be frightened. What shall we talk about? Do you like stories?”

“I love stories,” said Lucie. “When I grow up, I am going to be a famous writer.”

“That sounds wonderful,” said the boy. There was something wistful about his tone.

They walked together through the paths under the trees. He seemed to know where he was going, as if the forest was very familiar to him. He must be a changeling, Lucie thought wisely. He knew a great deal about faeries, but was clearly not one of them: he had warned her about being stolen away by the Fair Folk, which must be what had happened to him. She would not mention it and make him feel awkward; it must be dreadful to be a changeling, and to be taken far away from your family. Instead she engaged him in a discussion about princesses in fairy tales, and which one was the best. It hardly seemed any time at all before they were back in the garden of Herondale Manor.

“I imagine this princess can make her own way back into the castle from here,” he said with a bow.

“Oh, yes,” said Lucie, eyeing her window. “Do you think they’ll know I was gone?”

He laughed and turned to go. She called after him when he reached the gates.

“What’s your name?” she said. “I told you mine. What’s yours?”

He hesitated for a moment. He was all white and black in the night, like an illustration from one of her books. He swept a bow, low and graceful, the kind knights had once made.

“You will never slay me,” he said. “For I am of royal blood and will one day be twice as powerful as the queen. And I shall cut off her head.”

Lucie gave an outraged gasp. Had he been listening to her, in the woods, playing her game? How dare he make fun of her! She raised a fist, meaning to shake it at him, but he had already vanished into the night, leaving only the sound of his laughter behind.

It would be six years before she saw him again.





1 BETTER ANGELS




The shadows of our own desires stand between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is eclipsed.

—Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge



James Herondale was in the middle of fighting a demon when he was suddenly pulled into Hell.

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