Anna still felt tired and not entirely well, but most of the awfulness had passed. Tam helped her down the ladder and settled her on the stairs of the Mendiheim, where Ellea joined her. Varden brought Morly safely down after them, and then looked over at her with confused concern. “Are you unwell?” he asked.
“I was,” Anna said. “But that seems to be over now.” She was grateful. Plague would have been the worst thing after she had survived an awful fever already. If she was never sick again it would be too soon. ‘I’m just glad it wasn’t comets.”
“Is the house going to burn all up?” Morly asked. “Will the fire brigade come?”
“Yes, presently, I expect,” Varden said absently. He was fishing in one pocket, looking puzzled. He pulled out the small pistol Anna had packed earlier in the night. “This isn’t mine.”
“It’s mine,” Anna said. “Or, rather, it’s Lady Blackfeather’s.”
Varden handled it over gingerly, careful not to point it anywhere near Morly, who bounced up at his side.
“It’s so small!” Morly said. “How clever, to have one pocket-sized.”
“It isn’t loaded,” Anna said.
Varden frowned. “Why ever would you—“
“Not wish to accidentally kill someone?” Anna asked.
“So this was never—“
“And I, . . .”
“Was an ass, but you’re supervised now, and improving by the moment.” Anna nodded at Morly.
Varden gave her a long, odd look. “You aren’t just a sketch artist. You were right on that count.”
“She’s A. Darvin, from our publications,” said Jon, joining them. He shook Morly’s offered hand and smiled. He reached up next toward Varden. “We were never properly introduced. I’m J. Gardner, Jon really, from the same group of papers. I’ve read some of your work.”
Varden blinked down at Jon in surprise.
“You’re very good,” said Jon, “but I think you’re mistaken when you insist that the assumptions of the people you study were incorrect. You assume they have the same ideas you do about the weight of belief. You think its weighs nothing, but they knew it shaped everything. It’s why you don’t understand them. It’s nice that you don’t pretend to, though. Mereaule, for instance, gives historical people all his own problems and motivations, which really isn’t fair at all, don’t you think? Your papers are very interesting. I’d like to talk more sometime when you aren’t going about with a gun.”
“That would be nice!” Morly said. “Wouldn’t that be grand, Varden?’
“Not tonight,” Varden said thinly. He frowned at Jon with confusion. “And you are the brother of the coachman?”
“I drive a coach, sure,” said Tam, coming down the ladder with a limp Pumphrite. “Can’t you?”
“Well, yes, but. Look, that’s really neither here nor there.”
“In Shandor,” said Anna, “We judge a man by all his actions, not just one of them.”
“Oh, no!” cried Tam. “The poor horses, caught out here in the lightning and all! What’s become of them?” He hurriedly handed over the Pumphrite to Anna, and dashed away to where they’d left the horses. Anna felt Tam had rather spoiled that, but she felt equally awful about having forgotten the horses.
“I shall go and summon a physician for the injured.” Varden bowed stiffly. “Once I have ascertained whether my own horse has fled.” He frowned. “I did arrive on horseback?”
“You did,” Anna assured.
“I’m not entirely clear yet on all this evening’s events,” he confided, and withdrew, taking Morly along by the hand. Jon and Morly waved at one another. Anna exchanged waves with Morly, too.
“What has happened to that lady? I say, we seem to be in Germhacht,” Pumphrey babbled, walking up unexpectedly. Anna started a little in surprise, and suppressed the urge to back away. Pumphrey didn’t look frightening. He merely looked short and flummoxed.
“You are, sir,” Jon said. “Where were you supposed to have been?”
“I really don’t know,” said Pumphrey. “I’d just gone on an archeological holiday of sorts. I do like puttering about in that sort of way.”
“We can find you a nice hotel from which to sort things out,” Hellin Blackfeather said kindly, helping over another dazed former Pumphrite. She settled the woman on the stairs of the Mendiheim, and had a quick look over the lady Anna had been supporting. “Alive, thank the One, though likely concussed,” she observed. “And here comes Tam with the horses. Can you mind those while I borrow him?”
Anna nodded, feeling better by the moment.
“These lot aren’t well happy with me,” Tam said, bringing up the hotel’s horses, who seemed reluctant. “I think I owe them a barrel of oats and carrots before they’ll see me kindly again.”
It would, Anna reflected, take more than oats or carrots or anything she could imagine, to fix some of the things that had been done and said tonight. She stood and smoothed down her skirts as Hellin and Tam went back up the ladder.
“Varden’s not worth feeling too badly about,” Ellea said.
“He could be, I think, if he wasn’t bent on being an ass,” Anna said. “Oh, bother, I’ve lost my charcoal and paintbrushes.”
“I’ll ask Father if he can get them,” Ellea said, not moving from her seat on the stairs.
“How are you doing?” Anna tidied up Ellea’s hair with a careful hand, straightening her hair ribbon.
“Much improved, thank you,” Ellea said. “Though when we return to the hotel this evening I should like tea and cakes, I think. Lemon ones.”
“That can probably be arranged.” Anna gave Ellea a hug.
Jon stood nearby, shuffling a little awkwardly. “That was amazing and clever, what you did,” he told Ellea. “Finding their names.”
“You did very well for this being your first exorcism,” Ellea told him.
“Yours too, right?” he asked.
“I’m sorry you were kidnapped.”
“I shan’t let it happen again.”
“You’re getting very good with your artifact,” Ellea said.
Jon blushed a little. “It was mostly just feeling panicked, really.”
Anna felt it was time she edged away, and did, smiling.
* * * * *
Kara watched while the scarred Professor brushed sand back into containers, and Dr. Blackfeather gathered the new undignified demon artifacts into a sack. Lady Hellin looked around with regret at an assortment of interesting copper objects. “Oh, well,” she said. “They’re far too heavy to carry now.” She set off on a final trip down the ladder, and Corin watched her descend safely before collecting the last of the unconscious Pumphrites.
Kara broke off a palm-sized piece of copper filigree shaped like a four pointed star from the edge of the former platform. She turned it over in her hand, curiously.
“Mother’s power is sort of conditional,” Djaren explained.
They sat together on the broken edge of a stone slab and watched the building burn.
“How do you mean?” Kara asked. She didn’t feel like leaving yet.
“She can do little things like pick up pence bits all the time, but she gets really amazing whenever her family or people she cares about are in danger.”
“That’s really weird.”
“Well, we all are,” Djaren shrugged. “You should hear the stories about when she was pregnant with me. She pulled down a temple once.”
“What do you do?”
“Your father grows wings and armor and changes shape. Your mother can make copper do whatever she wants. Ellea can do stuff with people’s minds. What do you do?”
Djaren reddened and looked down. “I’m not, it’s different with me. I don’t have anything I can do, exactly. It’s more what I don’t do. I don’t forget.” He looked at her, ignoring flames. “Anything. I remember every word I ever heard spoken, every book I ever read. Every stupid thing I ever did.” He laughed at himself, and kicked at the floor. “Kind of useless, huh? All it helps me do is learn languages fast. Some gift.”
“Sounds useful to me.”
“How about you?” Djaren asked.
“I’m not a freak.”
“You kicked a granite and iron pillar in half,” Djaren gestured at the fallen brazier. “And set the house on fire.” He grinned suddenly at her.
“I hate this house,” Kara muttered. She felt cold inside. “So like unto a child, yet not quite human.” Pumphey’s demon had said. “Whose sins crafted you, I wonder? I will sift you later, grain by grain, to learn of your maker.”
“I don’t think I’m like you,” Kara said, frowning at her feet, and thinking of the things the monster last summer had said. “I have been searching for you, the one I lost,” it had said. And later, “I will find you.” Kara shivered. Blackness, not light, had spilled from her hand.
Tam climbed up and offered a hand to Djaren. “I’m to bring you two down next,” he said. “Right away,”
Djaren sighed, stretched and nodded. “Right. I think I can climb on my own, really.”
“I’ll climb down just ahead of you, in case,” Tam said.
“Very well,” Djaren agreed. “You’re coming next, right?” he asked Kara.
She shrugged. “No, I was going to stay in the burning house.”
He grinned and climbed down after Tam. Kara waited until he was out of sight, then spun on her heel, back into the house. She didn’t want to stay, she told herself, not really. Not in the house, and not with them. She kicked through an unburned bit of floor, dropping into smoke choked corridors and then down smoky steps into the kitchen wing and dining room. She filled her pockets with handy silverware that was going to be ruined anyway, if she left it, and kicked her way out the back servants’ entrance.
She ducked into the alleyway and ran down it, only to find Anna waiting there at its end. She glared at her. “What?”
Anna looked at the silverware sticking out of Kara’s pockets, and sighed.
“What?” Kara demanded.
“Did you ever think, maybe life would be easier if you stopped thieving?”
Kara made a face, feeling a strange mix of emotions and settling on fury. “Right. Why didn’t I think of that? I could work twelve hours a day in a factory, making someone’s shoe laces, and get almost enough to rent a room and some dinner scraps. I could do what girls who grow up where I came from did, and let someone else sell me. I could roam someone’s fields for the handfuls of rotten grain they left, and try to sell them in a sad little basket at some market. I could live like the dirt under someone’s shoe, or I could do what I do instead, and be a thorn in this damn world’s side. Easier? There’s no easy for people who weren’t born like you.”
Anna looked shocked. “But, but couldn’t, maybe, I could ask, perhaps you could come work with us. We all like you, however unpleasant you try to be.”
“Do I look like I belong in a fairy tale?” Kara asked her. “Think anyone would let me in the front door of a fancy hotel like yours, dark skin and all? Thief or not, I’d stand accused of taking what the maid did in under an hour. People like me don’t get to live up here. I don’t read any words, foreign or whatever. I don’t draw pretty things right out of my head or what I see. I’m not a genius, or a princess, and I’m not going to be some servant either, that you can tidy up and make do your fetching and pat on the head.”
Anna flushed. “But we wouldn’t, and they’d let you in, and, and what kind of people do you think we are?” She clenched her fists at her sides.
“The kind that don’t and shouldn’t have anything to do with me,” Kara yelled back at her. “I can’t not be me. And if I’m me, you’ll have no use for me. I’ll spoil everything for everyone. I always do. I’ll hurt you, and make no end of trouble, and if you go on liking me, I’ll break your trust and steal your things, all right? Go away.”
Anna reached out a hand, palm up. “You don’t have to, you know. You don’t have to always go away.”
It was hard to see, somehow, all hot and smeary. “While I’m with all of you, you’ll always be making me want things I can’t have,” Kara yelled, and was immediately shocked by having said the truth. She pushed past Anna and ran straight for the train station, gripping the bronze sword inside her coat, the spectacle case in her pocket, and her new copper star. She ignored the calls that followed her. She hadn’t asked where they would be next summer. It wasn’t safe to know. She knew that if she didn’t leave right now, she’d never be able to do it.
* * * * *
“What now?” Tam asked. “We’re not going to Narmos, are we?”
“I’d say quite enough of Narmos already came here.” Anna poured him a cup of tea and pushed the plate of cakes across the table to Ellea’s too-short reach.
“No Narmos,” Hellin said firmly, laying out a letter that had come in that morning. “The Darvins have written saying they are greatly relieved that Anna is recovered, and they invite us to rejoin them in Alarna, to document and observe the final stages of the excavation and help in handing over the dig and the findings to the new Alarnan archeological society. They need some people who can teach Alendi and expand our knowledge of Sharnish. If you boys would like, we can return there for the rest of the summer.”
“That sounds fine,” said Tam, smiling at Jon’s eager look of question. “It’s hotter than anything, but homier than all this with hotels and museums and such.”
“I was hoping we’d have a few more days,” Anna said, disappointed. “Artists can get permission to take easels in and paint from the old masters.”
“And so you should,” Hellin said. “We’ll stay on here a few days, regardless, while I arrange our travel and supplies. I would like to see the art museum myself.”
“We never went with you, that’s right,” Djaren said. “Don’t they have some Shandorian painters?”
“They do. Brilliant ones. I didn’t know you knew anything about art,” Anna said.
“Only what I read on accident, and things you’ve said.” Djaren shrugged. “Though I had an uncle who was a painter. Did you know, there was this mad Shandorian painter once who painted upside down sometimes, and used whole rags and handfuls of fur to paint? He never signed anything, but you can tell everything he made because he always left fingerprints, literal ones, and his style was pretty unmistakable all round. They’re saying now that he might have been a genius, and well ahead of his time.”
Tam frowned. “He sounds a mite touched.”
“They say he made one work by spitting paint from a rafter down on the canvas.”
“Did he die of lead or cadmium poisoning?” Ellea asked.
“Don’t know. They say he made all his own paints and invented color recipes no one ever thought of before.”
“I don’t think the museum has anything of his,” Anna said.
“Pity,” said Djaren.
“Not really,” Anna disagreed.
* * * * *
Hellin and Corin lingered by the DeAngellis while the others drifted on ahead. Anna lingered too, because this might be her last chance with the paintings. She gave the Doctor and Mrs. Blackfeather a bit of room, though, to be polite. They managed somehow to be quite close, and even affectionate, with an air of unassailable dignity and properness.
Hellin studied one painting with a smile. “Djaren informs me that the Alu people believe images capture souls.”
Corin lifted a hand toward the scene of the painters on the mountainside, caught the stern eye of a museum guard, and withdrew the hand with a regretful smile. “Only memories that speak to ours,” he said.
Anna grinned. She always wanted to touch, too. Beautiful brushwork and colors wanted to be felt, however much one knew one shouldn’t.
“What are you thinking, love?” Hellin asked, leaning her head against her husband’s shoulder.
“I knew a man when I was young,” he told her, including Anna as well with a glance. “This man, he saw colors everywhere, he tasted them, saw music, saw sound, as color. He sensed the world in a palette no one else could see. I knew him before I crossed my first desert or met my first monster. When I returned, he said I had gone all to dark shades and shadows. He worried for me, said that I should soak in the colors of the world around. That they would lift and lighten and teach me how to fly. Before he died he recommended that a copper red would suit me.” Corin smiled down at Hellin, melancholy and happy at once. “He was correct.”
Hellin gave him a surreptitious hug, under the disapproving eye of the museum guard.
“I miss him,” Corin said softly.
“They left some amazing and beautiful things to the world, though, didn’t they?” Hellin said.
“They?” Anna asked.
“Davi and Verescinthe,” Hellin said, nodding at the paintings.
Anna did some math in her head and worked out that Corin must have been young indeed if and when he’d met Davi Sheridan. “Is the Professor Sheridan any relation?” she asked.
“Not by blood,” Hellin said.
“Father, Mother, come look at this room!” Djaren called. “There’s an Etrunai archer figure with a really curious inscription.”
Corin and Hellin bemusedly followed their son, while Anna cast a last look at the paintings. That young man standing in painted shadows, all dark shades and faded light, nearly invisible in plain sight in an otherwise bright painting, seemed very familiar.
“If that’s him,” Anna mused, “then Doctor Blackfeather must be nearly two hundred years old.”
Davi Sheridan’s riotously bright works made a new and amazingly lovely sense if one imagined that he really saw and sensed all those amazing colors that swam in his skies and darted about his landscapes. It was a gift, she thought, to hear colors and believe in wonders.
“That does look like the word ‘protector’ in Ancient.” Jon’s high voice threaded to her ear from the next room.
“I once read an Etrunai story about a spirit who called down the stars to use as a sword and a shield,” Djaren said.
“Think they glowed with a silver light, like?” Tam said.
“I’ll look for more books about the Etrunai, and see what other stories they had,” said Djaren. “And I’ll bet Anna knows about some more of their art. She could tell us if any of the figures have hand markings.”
Anna smiled, and followed after her friends into the next gallery, glad to have people to speak seriously to about fairy tales and marvels, and perhaps even about art.