Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)

“No,” James said quickly. “No, I can’t imagine—no.” James had been almost looking forward to the fight. It had been a frustrating summer, the first one in over a decade that he hadn’t spent with his family in Idris.

Idris was located in central Europe. Warded all around, it was an unspoiled country, hidden from mundane eyes and mundane inventions: a place without railroads, factories, or coal smoke. James knew why his family couldn’t go this year, but he had his own reasons for wishing he were there instead of London. Patrolling had been one of his few distractions.

“Demons don’t bother our boy,” said Matthew, finishing the healing rune. This close to his parabatai, James could smell the familiar scent of Matthew’s soap mixed with alcohol. “It must have been something else.”

“You ought to talk to your uncle, then, Jamie,” said Thomas.

James shook his head. He didn’t want to bother Uncle Jem about what felt now like a moment-long flicker. “It was nothing. I was surprised by the demon; I grabbed at the blade by accident. I’m sure that’s what caused it.”

“Did you turn into a shadow?” said Matthew, putting his stele away. Sometimes, when James was pulled into the shadow realm, his friends reported that they could see him blurring around the edges. On some occasions, he’d turned entirely into a dark shadow—James-shaped, but transparent and incorporeal.

A few times—a very few times—he’d been able to turn himself into a shadow to pass through something solid. But he didn’t wish to speak about those times.

Christopher looked up from his notebook. “Speaking of the demon—”

“Which we weren’t,” Matthew pointed out.

“—what kind was it again?” Christopher asked, biting the end of his pen. He often wrote down details of their demon-fighting expeditions. He claimed it helped him in his research. “The one that exploded, I mean.”

“As opposed to the one that didn’t?” said James.

Thomas, who had an excellent memory for detail, said: “It was a Deumas, Christopher. Odd it was here; they’re not usually found in cities.”

“I saved some of its ichor,” said Christopher, producing from somewhere on his person a corked test tube full of a greenish substance. “I caution all of you not to drink any of it.”

“I can assure you we had no plans to do any such thing, you daft boot,” said Thomas.

Matthew shuddered. “Enough talk of ichor. Let’s toast again to Thomas being home!”

Thomas protested. James raised his glass and toasted with Matthew. Christopher was about to clink his test tube against James’s glass when Matthew, muttering imprecations, confiscated it and handed Christopher a glass of hock instead.

Thomas, despite his objections, looked pleased. Most Shadowhunters went on a sort of grand tour when they turned eighteen, leaving their home Institute for one abroad; Thomas had only just returned from nine months in Madrid a few weeks ago. The point of the travel was to learn new customs and broaden one’s horizons: Thomas had certainly broadened, though mostly in the physical sense.

Though the oldest of their group, Thomas had been slight in stature. When James, Matthew, and Christopher arrived at the dock to meet his ship from Spain, they combed through the crowds, nearly failing to recognize their friend in the muscular young man descending the gangplank. Thomas was the tallest of them now, tanned as if he’d grown up on a farm instead of in London. He could wield a broadsword in one hand, and in Spain he had adopted a new weapon, the bolas, made of stout ropes and weights that whirled over his head. Matthew often said it was like being comrades with a friendly giant.

“When you’re entirely done, I do have some news,” Thomas said, tipping his chair back. “You know that old manor in Chiswick that once belonged to my grandfather? Used to be called Lightwood House? It was given to my aunt Tatiana by the Clave some years ago, but she’s never used it—preferred to stay in Idris at the manor with my cousin, er…”

“Gertrude,” said Christopher helpfully.

“Grace,” James said. “Her name is Grace.”

She was Christopher’s cousin too, though James knew they had never met her.

“Yes, Grace,” agreed Thomas. “Aunt Tatiana’s always kept them both in splendid isolation in Idris—no visitors and all that—but apparently she’s decided to move back to London, so my parents are all in a dither about it.”

James’s heart gave a slow, hard thump. “Grace,” he began, and saw Matthew shoot him a quick sideways glance. “Grace—is moving to London?”

“Seems Tatiana wants to bring her out in society.” Thomas looked puzzled. “I suppose you’ve met her, in Idris? Doesn’t your house there adjoin Blackthorn Manor?”

James nodded mechanically. He could feel the weight of the bracelet around his right wrist, though he had worn it now for so many years that usually he was unconscious of its presence. “I usually see her every summer,” he said. “Not this summer, of course.”

Not this summer. He hadn’t been able to argue with his parents when they’d said the Herondale family would be spending this summer in London. Hadn’t been able to mention the reason he wanted to return to Idris. After all, as far as they were aware, he barely even knew Grace. The sickness, the horror that gripped him at the thought that he would not see her for another year was nothing he could explain.

It was a secret he had carried since he was thirteen. In his mind, he could see the tall gates rising before Blackthorn Manor, and his own hands in front of him—a child’s hands, without scars, cutting industriously away at the thorny vines. He could see the Long Hall in the manor, and the curtains blowing across the windows, and hear music. He could see Grace in her ivory dress.

Matthew was watching him with thoughtful green eyes that were no longer dancing. Matthew, alone of all James’s friends, knew that there was a connection between James and Grace Blackthorn.

“London is being positively swarmed by new arrivals,” Matthew remarked. “The Carstairs family will be with us soon, won’t they?”

James nodded. “Lucie is wild with excitement to see Cordelia.”

Matthew poured more wine into his glass. “Can’t blame them for being tired of rusticating in Devon—what’s that house of theirs called? Cirenworth? I gather they arrive in a day or two—”

Thomas upset his drink. James’s drink and Christopher’s test tube went with it. Thomas was still growing accustomed to occupying so much space in the world, and he sometimes proved clumsy.

“All of the Carstairs family are coming, did you say?” said Thomas.

“Not Elias Carstairs,” said Matthew. Elias was Cordelia’s father. “But Cordelia, and of course…” He trailed off meaningfully.

“Oh, bloody hell,” said Christopher. “Alastair Carstairs.” He looked vaguely ill. “I’m not remembering incorrectly? He’s an awful pill?”

“?‘Awful pill’ seems a kind way of putting it,” said James. Thomas was mopping up his drink; James looked at him with concern. Thomas had been a shy, small boy at school, and Alastair a rotten bully. “We can avoid Alastair, Tom. There’s no reason for us to spend time with him, and I can’t imagine he’ll be yearning for our society either.”

Thomas spluttered, but not in response to what James had said. The contents of Christopher’s spilled test tube had turned a violent puce and begun to eat through the table. They all leaped up to grab for Polly’s dish towels. Thomas hurled a pitcher of water at the table, which drenched Christopher, and Matthew doubled over laughing.

“I say,” said Christopher, mopping wet hair out of his eyes. “I do think that worked, Tom. The acid has been neutralized.”

Thomas was shaking his head. “Someone should neutralize you, you mopstick—”

Matthew collapsed in hysterics.

In the midst of the chaos, James could not help feeling very far away from it all. For so many years, in so many hundreds of secret letters between London and Idris, he and Grace had sworn to each other that one day they would be together; that one day when they were adults, they would marry, whether their parents wished it or not, and live together in London. It had always been their dream.

So why hadn’t she told him she was coming?

* * *

“Oh, look! The Royal Albert Hall!” Cordelia cried, pressing her nose against the window of the carriage. It was a brilliant day, bright sunlight streaming down over London, making the sparkling white row houses of South Kensington glow like rows of ivory soldiers in an expensive chess set. “London really does have marvelous architecture.”

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