Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)

Cordelia thought of Matthew, James’s parabatai. Matthew had hardly left James’s side since they had both been in school in Idris, and she had met him now and then at social events. Matthew was all gold hair and smiles, but she suspected there might be a lion under the kitty cat if hurting James was involved.

But she would never hurt James. She loved him. She had loved him all her life.

And tomorrow she would get the chance to tell him so. She had no doubt that would give her the confidence to approach the Consul and present her father’s case for leniency, perhaps with James by her side.

Cordelia raised her chin. Yes, after the ball tomorrow, her life would be very different.





DAYS PAST: IDRIS, 1899


Every year for as long as James could remember, he and his family had gone to Idris to spend the summer at Herondale Manor. It was a large edifice of golden-yellow stone, its gardens sloping down to the enchanted green space of Brocelind Forest, a high wall separating it from the manor of the Blackthorn family next door.

James and Lucie would spend the days playing on the outskirts of the dark forest, swimming and fishing in the nearby river, and riding horses over the green fields. Sometimes they would try to peep over the wall of the Blackthorn house, but the walls were choked with thorny vines. Razor-tipped briars wrapped around the gates as if Blackthorn Manor had been long abandoned and overgrown, and though they knew that Tatiana Blackthorn lived there, they had only seen her carriage going in and out from a distance, the doors and windows firmly shut.

James had once asked his parents why they never socialized with the woman who lived next door, especially since Tatiana was related to James’s uncles, Gideon and Gabriel Lightwood. Tessa explained diplomatically that there had been bad blood between their families since Tatiana’s father had been cursed and they’d been unable to save him. Her father and her husband had died that day, and her son, Jesse, had died in the years since. She blamed Will and her brothers for her losses. “People become locked in bitterness sometimes,” Tessa said, “and they wish to find someone, anyone, to blame for their grief. It is a shame, for Will and your uncles would have helped her if they could.”

James had not given much more thought to Tatiana: a strange woman who hated his father unreasonably was not someone he wished to know. Then, the summer James turned thirteen years old, a message came from London to tell Will that Edmund and Linette Herondale, James’s grandparents, had died of influenza.

If Will had not been so distracted by his loss, perhaps things would have gone differently.

But he was, and they didn’t.

The night after they learned of Linette’s and Edmund’s deaths, Will had been sitting on the floor in the drawing room, Tessa in the overstuffed armchair behind him, and Lucie and James had been stretched upon the fireplace rug. Will’s back had been against Tessa’s legs as he stared unseeing into the fire. They had all heard the front doors open; Will had looked up when Jem came in, and Jem, in his Silent Brother robes, went over to Will and sat down beside him. He drew Will’s head against his shoulder, and Will held the front of Jem’s robes in his fists and he cried. Tessa bowed her head over both of them, and the three were united in adult grief, a sphere James could not yet touch. It was the first time it had ever occurred to James that his father might cry about anything.

Lucie and James escaped to the kitchen. That was where Tatiana Blackthorn found them—sitting at a table while their cook, Bridget, fed them pudding for dinner—when she arrived to ask James to cut the briars.

She looked like a gray crow, out of place in their bright kitchen. Her dress was worn serge, ragged at the hems and cuffs, and a dirty hat with a beady-eyed stuffed bird on it was tilted sideways on her head. Her hair was gray, her skin was gray, and her eyes were dull green, as if misery and anger had sucked all the color out of her.

“Boy,” she said, looking at James. “My manor gates are stuck fast by overgrowth. I need someone to cut the briars. Will you do it?”

Maybe if things had been different, if James had not already been feeling restless with the desire to help his father but no idea how to do so, he might have said no. He might have wondered why Mrs. Blackthorn didn’t simply ask whoever had been doing the briar cutting for her all these years, or why she suddenly needed this task accomplished in the evening.

But he didn’t. He stood up from the table and followed Tatiana out into the falling night. Sunset had begun, and the trees of Brocelind Forest seemed to flame at the tops as she strode across the grounds between their two houses, up to the front gates of Blackthorn Manor. They were black and twisted iron, with an arch at the top that spelled out words in Latin: LEX MALLA, LEX NULLA.

A bad law is no law.

She bent down among the drifting leaves and stood up, holding an enormous knife. It had clearly once been sharp, but now the blade was such a dark brown with rust it looked almost black. For a moment James had the fantasy that Tatiana Blackthorn had brought him here to kill him. She would cut out his heart and leave him lying where his blood ran out across the ground.

Instead she shoved the knife into his hands. “There you go, boy,” she said. “Take your time.”

He thought for a moment that she smiled, but it might have been a trick of the light. She was gone in a rustle of dry grass, leaving James standing before the gates, rusty blade in hand, like Sleeping Beauty’s least successful suitor. With a sigh, he began to cut.

Or at least, he began to try. The dull blade sliced nothing, and the briars were as thick as the bars on the gates. More than once he was stuck sharply by the wicked points of the thorns.

His aching arms soon felt like lead, and his white shirt was spotted with blood. This was ridiculous, he told himself. Surely this went beyond the obligation to help a neighbor. Surely his parents would understand if he tossed the knife aside and went home. Surely—

A pair of hands, white as lilies, suddenly fluttered between the vines. “Herondale boy,” whispered a voice. “Let me help you.”

He stared in astonishment as a few of the vines fell away. A moment later a girl’s face appeared in the gap, pale and small. “Herondale boy,” she said again. “Have you a voice?”

“Yes, and a name,” he said. “It’s James.”

Her face disappeared from the gap in the vines. There was a rattling sound, and a moment later a pair of briar cutters—perhaps not entirely new but certainly serviceable—emerged beneath the gates. James bent to seize them.

He was straightening up when he heard his name called: it was his mother’s voice.

“I must go,” he said. “But thank you, Grace. You are Grace, aren’t you? Grace Blackthorn?”

He heard what sounded like a gasp, and she appeared again at the gap in the vines. “Oh, do please come back,” Grace said. “If you come back tomorrow night, I shall sneak down to the gates here and talk with you while you cut. It has been so long since I spoke with anyone but Mama.”

Her hand reached out through the bars, and he saw red lines on her skin where the thorns had torn her—James raised his own hand and for a moment, their fingers brushed. “I promise,” he found himself saying. “I will come back.”





2 ASHES OF ROSES




Though one were fair as roses,

His beauty clouds and closes;

And well though love reposes,

In the end it is not well.

—Algernon Charles Swinburne, “The Garden of Proserpine”



“Matthew,” said James. “Matthew, I know you’re under there. Come out, or I swear on the Angel I will pith you like a frog.”

James was lying atop the billiard table in the Institute’s games room, glaring down over the side.

The ball had been going on for at least half an hour, and no one had been able to find Matthew. James was the one who’d guessed his parabatai was hiding in here: it was one of their favorite rooms, comfortable and handsomely decorated by Tessa. It was papered up to the dado rail with gray and black stripes, and painted gray above that. There were framed portraits and family trees on the walls, and a gathering of comfortable, well-worn sofas and wing chairs. A beautifully polished chess set glowed like a jewel box atop a Dunhill cigar humidor. There was also the massive billiard table that Matthew was currently hiding under.

There was a clatter, and Matthew’s blond head appeared beneath the table. He blinked green eyes up at James. “Jamie, Jamie,” he said, with mock sorrow. “Why must you chivvy a fellow so? I was peacefully napping.”

“Well, wake up. You’re needed in the ballroom to make up the numbers,” said James. “There are a shocking number of girls out there.”

“Damn the ballroom,” said Matthew, scooting out from under the table. He was splendidly turned out in dove gray, with a pale green carnation in his buttonhole. In one hand he clutched a cut-glass decanter. “Bother the dancing. I intend to remain in here and get thoroughly foxed.” He glanced at the decanter and then hopefully up at James. “You can join me if you want.”

previous 1.. 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 ..113 next