The stone was cold against her face, as cold as the halls of Lost Hope, as bleak and grey as the skies above London that day. She felt the warmth drain out of her slowly, leaving her lethargic and tired. Some days she felt as though at any moment she would be snatched back into those dreadful reels, forced to dance until her slippers were rags once more, and unsmiling gentlemen appeared to in order to offer her new ones. Most of the fairies around her did not wear shoes, she had noticed, but the thistledown haired gentleman had insisted that she remained clothed and shod as she preferred. The one time she had tried to dance barefoot in search of relief for aching feet, the cold had struck so bone-deep that she had been excused from the dance, and Lady Pole had been allowed to chafe warmth back into her unfeeling limbs.
It had been so long since she had been saved from that place, from the macabre dances and eerie winding processions undertaken by candlelight through the halls and towers of the faerie's domain, and yet also so short. She had trouble reckoning the weeks and days now; first it seemed to loom large in her memory, then suddenly to shrink as though it were of no great importance. She had learned to try not to think about it, to think of anything for large swathes of the day. Still she was plagued by wandering feet as though torn from the perpetual dance, her body still ached to move in anyway she could, and she began to notice that the carpet was wearing and fading from where she trod restlessly through the night when still Arabella could not sleep.
Flora and her family had been her saving at first, but she had not felt truly at home until she had been reunited with Lady Pole, in a fashion that she could not have predicted. When weary and heartsick Arabella had arrived back in London, she had expected no visitors. Would not the sight of her fellow prisoner upset Lady Pole and bring back the dark memories that Arabella tried so restlessly to avoid herself? Emma (they had attained the intimacy of their Christian names swiftly in the faerie kingdom) had often assured her passionately, that once she was freed that she would no longer remain married to Sir Walter, and that even if she were obliged to, she should certainly remain no wife, that she would never again let herself be used by any man for her face, her money or her position, but Arabella, worn by the broken promises that she made to herself (Jonathan would surely come this hour, this day, this week, this year to rescue her) had half not believed her.
So the sound of Lady Pole arguing with the servant who she had left with strict orders to admit no-one, to receive cards but permit no entrance, was a shock. She heard her ringing tones before ever she saw her friend. Lady Pole had been restored to the full health and vigour, that she had before been lacking in both Lost Hope, and in her window-seat in the human world, Upon seeing her Arabella was overwhelmed with a rush of gladness that she hardly knew what to do with. Lady Pole had often been imperious in her demands of those who shared the ball with her- she did not accept the apologies of the Horned Herne who had attempted to seize her, against the rather languid denials of the gentleman who seemed to regard himself as entirely responsible for their well-being and yet did not enforce it very well when he grew distracted at the sight of Stephen.
However even at her most faded and exhausted, caught between two worlds, she had never ceased to be unfailingly kind to Arabella and to seek her out at all possible opportunities. Arabella had gradually unlearnt the habits of a lifetime, by reflection on Lady Pole's demeanour, and soon no longer needed her to push away those suitors who grew too pressing for her taste. Eventually she was even able even to secure them brief leaves from the hall to refresh and recuperate. As time went by the gentleman with the thistledown hair though still much admiring of Lady Pole and her beauty, grew less fond of her, and rather more fond of Arabella, and far more inclined to grant her requests. She dimly knew that partially this was due to Lady Pole's never voiced, but barely concealed fury, and partially that she who was there in Faerie both body and soul, was something he understood more and could control more than Emma. Her friend hovered half in and half out of Faerie, never fully there in all ways, but never gone either.
Whatever the reason, she had learnt from Emma things that she had never considered she would need to know. She had been brought up in a clerical household, that did not partake in the social circles of the richer gentry in the area, and then after marrying Jonathan being thrust into society life, she had still always protected by the knowledge that she was the magician's wife. Now, though, she learnt to beware of the two white birds that fluttered the hall and bled from a single wound on the breast, blood that ran clear and could burn a hole through whatever it touched (the stone floors of the hall were pitted in this way) and to observe with a shudder that their eyes were made of glass. That she could not dance with the golden man who approached her so often and silently offered his hand. The first time, Lady Pole pulled her away firmly into the dance with her instead, and said when they were close enough together that none could over hear them, that his touch would scorch her, tho she did not believe that he meant them very much harm.
In these and many other small things did Emma school her in the ways of the new court into which she had been initiated, though the one thing which she never told Arabella was the name of the faerie who she had persuaded to set Arabella free from the binding spell (in return for the drops of blood that, willingly given were so precious to the fairies.) [i]
It was the one secret she kept, the one thing which Arabella could not read in her clear eyes. Emma relied on Arabella for many things, for strength and encouragement- although the fiercer of the two she was also the quicker to tire and despair of their situation, and there were whole nights at a time, where Arabella remained her sole guardian between the dance and the hopelessness of their situation, both of which sickened her and caused her to weep tears of deep frustration.
Their meeting was as you would expect that of dear friends who had not seen each other for an age, for so it felt as her time in Faerie became more dreamlike, and Arabella was surprised at the depth of what she felt. All the emotions that such close company had engendered returned and swamped her in memories, and she wondered how she had ever thought it was a kindness to either of them not to have called the moment that she first returned to London. It seemed a little strange at first to sit in the warmth and talk, rather than to dance in the cold, but Lady Pole’s presence chased away the old fears and memories that had possessed Arabella so often. However it also reminded her of dim fears of the uncertainty of the knowledge of the price that her friend had paid to give her even such freedom as she had had.
They fell back so easily into their intimacy, the hour was surpassingly late before they remembered the time, and yet still they had so much to talk about. By mutual consent, this their first true conversation in full body and spirit was not on what they had suffered together, but on what they looked to in the future, and they finally parted very well satisfied with each other, and both conscious of an even deeper friendship blossoming. It was no surprise that season, that although Mrs Strange kept no company, she was often seen at Lady Pole’s.
Arabella was brushing her hair when the servant knocked on the door late that night, to let her know that Lady Pole begged an audience with her. She was clad in her informal outfit for bed, a silk robe in the oriental style that Jonathan had left when he disappeared into the blackness and that she wore now as a reminder of him in the evenings. It grieved her somewhat that such a reminder was necessary, but not enough that she could put by the bright silks and consign him thus to old memories. She took a few moments to ready herself,- the only reason dear Emma would attend her so late was if there was bad news. They were not yet on a footing of such intimacy that this visit was usual.
So when she came in, she was surprised and delighted that the Emma she saw was beaming with a bright smile and that she seized her hands with such force that it almost hurt. "Oh Arabella," exclaimed her friend- for the first time since they had returned to England she called by her Christian name without reservation or thought, which warmed Arabella beyond all that she could imagine. "I am so sorry for calling on you in such informality, and without warning, please forgive me.”
Arabella laughingly declined the need for apologies at all, excited to know what had so stirred her friend to such expressions. Emma turned and looked at her with bright eyes. "Oh Arabella I have had the most ingenious idea. We shall learn magic, you and I! Who better to foster the cause of women's magic, and the rights of women to wield it, than those who have been subject to the worst effects of it at the hands of men? You know of course my work and my doings with those women who wish for greater governance in England, the right to their own property and their own will, and there can be no doubt that this too must be undertaken. Of course there are those women who study privately with their tutors, but it is in my mind that we should do more than that. As men have chosen to influence the sphere of the world with their magic, to change the very earth we stand on under us, move the very waves and weather that we depend on, so we should strive to do the same. We cannot let men seize this new magic from us, and regulate our access to what should be one of the most fundamental of all human rights."
She was striding around the room now, eyes ablaze with the same hard light that had characterised them during her imprisonment in faerie, and in silence Arabella moved gently towards her, a hand on her sleeve, waiting until her friend had choked back the excess emotion that had marred the latter part of her speech.
"Do not agitate yourself," she said soothingly, noting the excessive slimness of the hands that nervously clutched each other, and the hectic brightness of her friend's eyes. She felt the fear that once again that fever had taken her friend. Emma shook her head stubbornly.
"Arabella, you know I am right," she said calmly. "We who more than anyone have been pawns in the games of magicians, we must take our destiny into our own hands. We must harness what Byron has called the tiger of magic and ride it.” She paused and looked almost tenderly at Arabella; and it was a strange contrast, the solicitousness of the younger towards the elder.
It wasn't something Arabella had considered, not when magic to her meant only the cold desolation of fairy halls, and the sight of berry-red blood on pallid lips. Yet the look in Lady Pole's eyes was so hopeful, so entreating that she could not simply dismiss it out of hand, although the thought sent a bone deep shudder through her. She kept her doubts silent.
Everywhere she had walked in the newly rejuvenated world she had been called back to, called spells to mind, and set shudders racing through her to her fingertips. When the tea on the table went cold, words rose unbidden to her mind to warm it, and she knew without thinking too hard that it was there, part of blood and bone and flesh, part of her that had perhaps drawn her and Jonathan together without even knowing it. The exposure to fairy halls and fairy magic must have played its part as well, she thought sometimes because her magic was not the forgiving, gentle sort that came so easily to the only other female magician she knew. The spells that came to her mind were those of burning and forging, of destruction and war, spells that seemed to her more like those of Jonathan than of anything that belonged to her. The only explanation she could find was that perhaps she had flicked through too many of the books that he had taken to war, that he had spoken too long and too strongly on the spells he used, because they were engraved in her mind in words of flickering red fire.
She would have attempted to tell this to Lady Pole if she could, but the words were halting and feeble, as though she were scared- she who had danced through fairyland and returned to the mortal world if not unharmed, then intact. How could she explain that she did not want to use her magic in such a way as suggested itself most, and which could be of no practical value in her life? She thought of Jonathan and Mr Norrell (even after all this time she could not think of him as Gilbert) in their Tower of Everlasting Darkness, consumed by magic and it's study, and she could not help but think that such a fate was not enviable. A talent that had stolen her husband, and years of her life in service to an unknown and un-understandable menace, was surely too dangerous to be put in the hands of someone like her.
However she could not deny her friend anything, not since the day she had first awoken to understanding and known that she was the author of freeing Arabella from that servitude of silence and mental bondage, nor could she deny anything to the woman who sat opposite her now, flushed and healthy and happy for the first time in so long, with the thought of this possibility. So it was she made her decision.
”My dearest”, she said, the endearment falling from her as naturally as it had in the darkest nights. “Of course we shall do this. I would not let you toil alone. The strangest pang of guilt struck her then. Was it different that she had forbidden Jonathan to walk the Dark Paths without her, and yet she would go boldly by her friend's side? She scolded herself. Then, only Jonathan between them had had magic, and he would never have consented to guide her onto the King's Roads even if she had insisted on accompanying him.
Yet the thought lingered in her mind, and she was thoughtful and silent.
On the day she finally managed to kindle a flame with only a softly spoken word, and let it burn without burning, she did not see Emma, or indeed anyone else. She knew without consciously thinking that this was a decision that she had to make by herself, for herself. If she went any further down this road, it would not be alone, but nor would it be with her husband. The part of her that loved him and would always love him, shuddered at the thought of so thoroughly closing off this option, but the rest of her coldly, and accurately reminded her that Jonathan was not working to escape the darkness. He was not working to be with her; why should she be so hesitant to do what he had done? From the moment he had read that magic spell, the moment he had stepped onto the King's Roads, he left her behind, not merely in body, but in spirit.
She was less important to him than a book, less important than Norrell, less important even than his precious darkness that enabled him to walk shrouded in the fairy world. So why did she hesitate over this final step of acknowledging that she was a magician? He had not invited her to travel with him, or dissuaded her from attempting to learn the magic arts. She was forced to confront the idea that this would perhaps not even be the blow to him, that it was to her. And yet still she wanted to delay.
She sat down at her dressing gown and stared at her tired face, noting once again that like Emma's, it was no different than it had been at the start of their respective imprisonments. Norrell had mentioned once before that aging was different for magicians and she knew that it was possible that Jonathan and his mentor would not reappear in England before everyone they knew had died. She knew also as well that this stretched the time for them both, considerably longer than the average person had to reunite with a love that had been lost. And yet it was not Jonathan she turned to these days when she needed help and comfort or even to talk. It was Emma, Emma who had fought for her and won for her freedom of the mind, if not of the body, and to abandon her dearest Emma for Jonathan was as unthinkable as abandoning him forever to the darkness.
Her eyes were dry, and her head ached terribly. She wished Emma was there with her soothing hands and her kind words even if, she never had anything good to say about Jonathan. Her dear Emma disliked most men now with a bluestocking passion, dismissing them as useless and indigent, distrusting even those who she should expect to protect her.
She did not remember so much of Lost Hope as she once had. The memories faded, though some of them remained bright as berries on snow, as the blood on pale lips, and she wondered sometimes why that was. Surely Emma's memories were more vivid, more real than hers, for her to sustain such pain and such rage at the world and the magicians who had condemned her to a half-life in service of the gentleman with the thistledown hair? She sometimes doubted this, though, because even Emma's clear eyes clouded, and her swift tongue faltered when Arabella asked her the directions to the Tower of Dead Souls (straight on through the arch, round three spirals, then a hop, skip and a jump along eternity) as they had so often wearily trudged in the triumphal procession, or when she asked the name of the sprightly dance that had been his favourite, a country dance often danced still amongst peasants and known lightly as the Leap over the Grave.
And yet there were some memories that remained vivid and terrible, as though they had been engraved with blood in her mind, and the very life force had seeped through and stained the images on her thoughts. Still she woke from nightmares alone in the darkness, shaking with sorrow and fear, feeling every ounce of warmth drain from her until with trembling hands she managed to light the candle that always blew out when she fell asleep. She had taken after some time to filling her room with candles, row after row so there would always be one to hand. The servants were not allowed in; she did not wish the news of her further eccentricity to make its way about London as swiftly as the cruel gossip about her husband had.
And now some nights she woke and there would be a solitary flame flickering and welcoming her, offering her sanctuary from the dark, and she carefully did not think about why that might be. She dreamed now more of magic, not merely those events in Lost Hope, but what could have gone differently had she known what she knew now. In these dreams she faced the gentleman with burning fire, and Emma fought with equal ferocity, her magic taking all sorts of graceful forms, taunting and mocking the gentleman whose superhuman beauty was destroyed by his rage, with his face revealed for partially what it truly was, rent from brow to chin to reveal the horror that lay beneath. And the dream ended in the same fashion every time: though sometimes the faces varied- sometimes it was Jonathan who bled out in her defense in trying to secure her freedom, once it was Norrell, his old-womanish soft hands clutched to the great fountaining spray of blood that thickened his shirt and waistcoat, looking down in surprise as though he could not believe that it was his time to die.
Stephen appeared more than once in her defence. Mostly though it was Emma cut down, while the gentleman knelt beside her and in tones of great reasonability lectured her on how foolish her betrayal was, and berated her for the terrible mess that she was making of his present to her, the white and silver dress made from the tears of a hundred thwarted virgins violated by the unicorn, and from said unicorn's hair, and the fingers of the children born to such a union, that clutched at her skin, like the eeriest of flower petals reminding her every second that what she walked in was ruin and sin.
And while Emma shuddered and gasped for her last breath, the gentleman stood and with one brisk snap of his fingers was washed clean of her blood and approaching her, smiling urbanely, the picture of all that was amiable. "My radiant friend," he said and brushed with one cold finger her face, freezing her to the bone, "it is a genuine misfortune that our dear Lady Pole should prove so dangerously radical. I have high hopes of you, however, and do not blame you in the slightest. I know you harbour not the slightest desire to see the tiresome mortal world again, and it is within my power to grant you this.” He looked at her and his eyes were like the old moons[ii] that hung above the woods of Faerie, the merest sliver of white in the darkest of sockets. "But naturally I must oblige you," and he pressed his cold, musty lips to hers, like a taste of the open mortal grave that he wanted to deny her forever, as if the rotting corpse of a gentleman clad in finest linen now clasped her to his breast. She felt all feeling stream away, her mind as well as her body in perpetual motion, as she traversed the halls of Lost Hope on his arm.
And there was no Lady Pole this time to rescue her.
She sat up and screamed, not noticing that the room around her was ablaze with candles now, every one of them alight, flickering, casting bright light everywhere. She recalled herself and clasped her hands over her mouth in fear that she would call out again, as still she shuddered and forced back the memories. There was no sound outside her room, the servants had grown used to Mrs Strange calling out in the night sometimes and knew better than to force an entry.
She huddled herself within her goosedown covering, feeling the sweat dry on her brow. The thistledown haired gentleman was dead, and he could never return. What had occurred in her dreams were simply shades of futures that could have been. The knowledge comforted her hardly at all, for the same gnawing thought returned again and again: even if John Uskglass was returned to England he had made no sign of his presence, and she was afraid that the faeiries friends, of which he had so often boasted of in numbers and strength, and indeed his relations would make some sort of attempt on both Arabella and Emma.
They were the tangible proof of what had happened. The magicians were in their Dark Place unassailable, and Stephen had gone and not been heard of since they were freed, although there had been rumours that he was the new master of Lost Hope carried by one fumbled traveller who had strayed down a king's road and been set on his path by a tall crowned, extraordinarily handsome black man, which Arabella and Emma were left to decipher at their will ( & Jonathan when appealed to was of no use, merely saying impatiently that yes, yes it was no surprise that Stephen was now in a position of some importance, that as the destroyer of the gentleman he had the right to assume his property and his dependences under Faerie law.) But as they had heard about so much, the gentleman's alliances held true with so few, and he had so many enemies that they could scarcely hope that Stephen had managed to reconcile them all regardless of his charm.[iii]
It had been Arabella's suggestion that they visit The Great House. She knew of Jonathan's failed attempt to summon Maria Absalom, and although she did not wish to replicate his feat (he had not taken into account that all ladies prefer to appear at their leisure and not when summoned by a gentleman,) she was possessed of a desire to see the house where such strong magic had been performed, and rather desirous that it was in such surroundings that they attempt their own newly fledged magic.
Although magic had returned to England, after its initial heady outpourings (ears flying like doves, young gentlemen saving the lives of maidens and the countless other incidents that had been recorded in those early days,)[iv] it still proved most profitable to perform magic in those places with a strong magical history. So The Great House had proved rather a magnet particularly for those magicians of the female persuasion, who had rather naturally gravitated to what seemed to them to be neat justification for their attempts to do magic.
So it was on this day that, rather than the solitary, gloomy place that had first greeted Strange, a rather transformed great house met their eyes. Though the owners had bowed to Maria Absalom's wishes, and the house remained a tumbled-down partial ruin, the gardens were as wild and junglelike as ever, there were still conveniences that had been installed for the comfort of the lady visitors- such as occasional benches for those tired of traversing the grounds looking for magical inspiration. The local pub had experienced an upswing in trade from thirsty coachmen who wished to quench their thirst in good beer, while their mistresses explored what was magic or no, a most intriguing house.
Emma rather thought at first that the upsurge in visitors had dulled the intrigue of the house, but Arabella sensibly pointed out that it was not as though magic was measured in units of mysteriousness. Indeed, many of the visitors came only for the thrill of exploring the house and the grounds, though it was easy to spot the amateur magicians amongst them; those with serious frowns, and more occasionally the look of someone dreamy and transfixed, as though the magic in the house, had sunk it's claws into them and they were seeing visions that no-one else could see.
The longer they walked arm in arm through the grounds though, the more Arabella felt a creeping unease that she could not explain. It had something to do she felt with the lengthening shadows on the ground and the sudden touch of cold in the air, as though the sun setting had not merely taken the light and the warmth, but something less noticeable with it. Emma didn't seem to notice it however, chatting lightly away as she knelt to examine the flowering herbs under a bush.
"Look, " she said. "Vervain, witchwood, rue. It looks as though it could be true, that Maria Absalom practiced with potions and tinctures as well as words."
Arabella would have replied, but the words caught in her throat and remained unspoken. She could have sworn that in the corner of her eye she had seen a tall handsome gentleman with hair as soft and white as thistledown. Her knees weakened, and she felt her heart thump once raggedly, as she whipped round to see whether it had merely been a trick of the light, and caught her breath at the sight of the woman who did indeed stand there.
She was not out of place in the magical surroundings, but everything about her was subtly wrong. She was sumptuously dressed, but not in a style appropriate for exploring the grounds of a magical house- her dress was grey as sleet on a cold winter’s morning, and her shawl was the colour of love-lies-under-snow. Her only ornament was what at first appeared to be diamonds in her hair, but which would on closer inspection be revealed as crafted pieces of ice from the oldest of icebergs. This was a faerie and one that they both recognized. Arabella had dim memories of seeing her in the dance, but from the whiteness of Emma’s face, she recalled far more of this faerie, and those memories had terrible import.
And as she gazed at the fairy, a memory came from no-where, one that she had grasped at before, but never managed to pin down.
For a long time Arabella hadn’t wanted to move, or to think or do anything very much at all. Those were in the dark days when she was so in thrall to the thistledown gentleman's will, that she danced with no protest every night, ceaselessly moving to the beat of the solitary drum and fife, hearing only the dull scrape of the one quiet violin, knowing only the hands of her partners as she was exchanged from fairy to fairy, none of whom ever spoke to her, none of whom ever looked her in the eyes, or by word or glance gave her something to latch her thoughts on to. Sometimes in the midst of a country reel, the hands that held hers for a brief moment were warmer than the others, sometimes they were the whitest white and it seemed vaguely that she must know them, that in some other time and in some other place she had held those hands, and other times less often for he was there so much less, the warm hands that held hers were black and the thought stirred in her tired dull mind that she knew these hands also. Yet there was nothing in her mind save the music that bound and compelled her to dance continually in slippers that fell in rags, and a dress that never changed.
She could not have said at that time what changed, how she broke loose, only that one night she looked as those warm hands clasped hers, and the eyes that she met were ones that she could not mistake, and the words tumbled from her, breaking the spell like glass beads falling from a broken necklace. “Why it is Lady Pole!” And slowly so slowly, she remembered. Remembered that the dance was not natural, that there had been some time and some place where she had not danced, but had read and laughed, and known friends beyond those who were but partners in the dance. And the dark grey eyes that met hers so fiercely were triumphant, and the lips were smeared red and bitten, in what she would later know was the sacrifice paid to free Arabella from the deathly confusion. And for the first time in many nights, her steps faltered in the endless dance, and she curtseyed to her partner - the Duke of Earthly Custom, and withdrew to the bench that would become her comfort and repast in the long days that lay ahead.
Lady Pole was speaking now in hurried, low tones as though she was afraid of being overheard. "Oh my dearest Arabella," she said, and though she was more animated than any other time Arabella had seen her, still she seemed faded and frail like a flower that had bloomed too early and been deprived of the nourishment it needed, all of her but her eyes which burned fierce and bright with vigour and purpose that made Arabella feel like a child in the face of them.
She managed to shake herself lose of the memory and recall herself to the world at hand, whereupon she promptly looked wildly for Emma, remembering all now, remembering the sacrifice that Emma had paid in blood to free her, a fairy she knew with a leap of instinct was the one who now stood talking to her friend, reminding her of the deal that had been struck, whatever had been claimed.
Emma looked at her dearest friend calmly. She had already decided that this was not something she could divulge to Arabella, knowing all too well the other woman's conflicted feelings when it came to magic. And she would not for every land in Faerie have ever breathed a word to Arabella concerning the true nature of this theft, and what it meant for them both. She would not have Arabella's spirit put under obligation for something that had been to Emma the most trifling and unexactory of all promises. Not when she would have sacrificed so much more for her, and would still do so. Nonethless she had wished that she could unburden herself to Arabella, the other woman was so quick and clever, and her sensible mind would no doubt have found the clear flaws in the plan that she had decided on.
She had been very lucky she knew in the price that the faerie had exacted, how minor it had appeared to her. For the price of a drop of blood willingly given from her lips, once a year, until Emma was in such a position as to be able to retrieve a precious stone that the lady claimed was hers, and was held by a gentleman jeweler in London now. It was warded and protected against fairy magic, and magic at all in details that the fairy had given her. Now that she was free, the fairy was reminding her of her obligation, and with the customary cruelty of her race, claiming the drop of blood that was once again due.
Uneasily she thought over the details again that she had already planned. They could not use magic in even the most cursory senses concerning the jewel. As was always the case with bankers and the wealthy they were the first to guard against the possibility of their wealth being stolen, and while the government had argued and debated what it could do with it's first two magicians, the banks and the strong-houses had quietly and with purpose devised a number of protections against magic. They were rudimentary for the most part, strands of half reasoning gleaned from inferior books and writing, not enough to keep a hedge-witch out, but there were two protections that were not so easily bypassed, one of which was the one which the fairy herself could not circumvent. The chains and bonds of iron that encased the stone, and made even the strongest Faerie nauseous and tired, and unable to touch the deadly material, the crosses and salt which fairies disliked though they could touch, and finally- the greatest obstacle to the power that humans could wield was the foresight of the small charm carved into the lid of the box.
Although magic had been gone from England for many a year, and all such small charms had departed with it, with the advent of magic back into the land, such recognisances had regained the power they had lost, and this was a powerful charm. Carved into the grain of the wood it called upon the steadfastness of the oak which made up the box to protect its property, most specifically against magic. If she was to seize the stone and convey it back to the fairy to pay her debt then, she would have to remove the stone from its box with her own hands. Yet the likelihood of her being able to do so, shrunk each time she thought about it. Gaining entrance to that inner sanctum would be near impossible without the help and connivance (of one of the servant's perhaps?) and although she could not rely upon her magic, she was still wary. If it had been possible she would've obtained the likeness of the stone and polished it into some semblance of the original and left it in it's place, but the fairy had been vague as to anything but the most general details of what the stone looked like (like polished moonstone apparently) and she could not risk just bringing a white rock to substitute. It had plagued even her active and busy mind recently, leaving her irritable and melancholy in a way that was most unlike her. Her mother could not understand her sudden mood, used first to the listless, ill child, then to the resolute and determined young woman, and not to this version of Emma who could not pass a painting without giving it a jerk to straighten it, or snapping at the servants.
There was little doubt in Emma's mind that this was not something of which either her parents, her husband or her vicar would approve of. Wantonly stealing another's property however ill-gott it was, was wrong under any circumstances. But when she weighed stealing a stone, against the risk of losing her friend forever to another fairy there could be no choice.
Nor could she protest against the cold kiss however, the fairy had specified the way she collected her dues and she could only comply, though she shuddered as the blood escaped, and close her eyes against the thought of Arabella witnessing this. As suddenly as the fairy had been there she was gone, leaving Emma alone, trying desperately to keep still her secret from burdening Arabella.
She had reckoned against Arabella herself though, both her friend's perception and bravery. Arabella sensibly confronted her in the most graceful and yet stubborn way possible. Against her friend's clear eyes and open heart, Emma had no defence at all, and although she attempted to evade the questioning the outcome was always clear to see, and she found herself spilling forth the whole story- the deal that she had made to secure Arabella even a modicum of freedom in the thistledown haired gentleman's court, the price that she would have to pay if she could not deliver her side of the bargain, and more reluctantly details of what she had to do to secure the outcome of their respective freedom.
This was reluctant because Arabella was amongst the most pure hearted people she knew, and the thought of confessing to her friend her willingness to steal, and even to lie was more terrifying than most other things. But faced with lying to her through omission was more terrifying still, and Bella did not judge her, just sat with a half sad expression, then when she had finished relating the incidence, grasped her hand so tightly she feared that it must cut off the blood flow, though she found she did not mind the thought as much as seemed sensible, not so long as her hand was held in that tight grasp. She looked at her friend with trepidation, and found her holding back tears.
“Do you not trust me as much as I trust you?” she asked quietly. “My dearest Emma, you offered yourself on my behalf to save me. How could I begrudge anything you do in service of saving yourself after you offered such a sacrifice as that? You should know that I shall help you in whatever you require. However I can be of service use me as you will. Her face was wet with tears that she didn't seem to notice that she had shed. "In all truth," she said quietly. "Whatever you ask of me I shall endeavour to provide in good cheer, as you heartened me with love and kindness as I wept in the fairy court. My debt to you can never be paid in such coin as you deserve.”
Emma sat up at that, brushing at her friend's tears with the lace handkerchief she kept in one sleeve. "Oh my dear Arabella do not weep, she begged. “There is no debt, there can never be any debt between us, not with the keen-ness of sensation and love that we share. I should be much obliged if you would aid me in this venture since there is none other in all the world that I would trust so much as to wish them to be with me even as I do such an evil thing as to steal from another.”
They had agreed beforehand that the best and simplest way to conduct business was first to reconnaissance the place, and if possible to seize the stone then, but if not at least they would have valuable knowledge. She had searched as had Emma for more about the stone- how could it possibly be so important they had both wondered. Emma had offered the theory that it was one of the stones that magicians of old had imbued with, though Arabella rather preferred the idea that perhaps this was one of the stones which had been given by Thomas Godbless to the Raven King. Of the two of them, she rather liked the Raven King, though Emma applying the same dislike of magicians rather disdained him. As she said bitterly, it was not the Raven King which had freed her, nor could she imagine that he would very much care if she had been immured forever.
Arabella had taken inspiration from Jonathan's friend, Major Grant, and the tales of how he had always insisted on spying in his uniform red coat. She had pointed out to Emma that it would be far more believable if they appeared to be exactly what they were: society ladies looking to purchase new and unusual jewellery. To this end, Arabella who had worn simple clothing since she had returned to England, in keeping with her more retired life, wore now a gown in the height of fashion and in a striking scarlet. She did not voice it aloud, but both she and Emma knew the reason for the colour.[i]
She carried with her her customary belongings and was accompanied by Emma, wearing the deep blue dress that Sir Walter had most newly given her, or rather had had instructed to have made. They made a pretty pair as they were escorted into the inner sanctum of treasures. The clerk looked up from the counter where he was polishing a watch, then made a bow. He was a small, slippery looking man with a curiously dry look upon his face, which made Arabella feel as though he could not be fooled either by clothing or by magic.
"Mr Canniford will be happy to show you around," he said in a smooth voice, pushing back on the cuffs that covered his wrists. "However he appears to be delayed, so I beg you to make yourselves free, and to examine whatever you please. If you have any questions I shall be more than happy to help you." He bowed again and returned to his watch as they trailed around the room examining the priceless treasures, passing them from hand to hand in admiration. A pair of diamond earrings caught Emma's admiration at once, and Arabella was much enamoured of a chain of opals. However they were not given much time to admire the jewels alone, as the owner soon arrived.
As had been stressed by the owner many times to many people, the jewels were not for public sale, or auction, and they had anticipated that it might take weeks to get this far. However, in a stroke of pure luck Sir Walter had himself enabled their entrance. Emma had approached him, declaring her need for more jewellery to be most urgent, and suggesting places where she could find the best pieces. She had casually dropped that she heard Mr Canniford had a very fine collection, and was only a little surprised when Sir Walter declared that he knew him from his club. She was rather more surprised however when Sir Walter came home that evening with an engraved card as an invitation.
Mr Canniford was a quick, restless man who did not seem to be able to stay still for a moment. He was inordinately proud of his collection, though there was some reason to be- it was reckoned to be the largest private collection of jewellery in London, and most of it had been obtained on voyages abroad. He had no need for money, and less need for patronage, but his desire to do a favour for Sir Walter overcame his reluctance of disposing of any of his collection. In addition his vanity was excited by Sir Walter’s insistence that his collection was so notable.
He was enthusiastic and ebullient in his appreciation for his possessions, and each piece had a history, though Arabella suspected this was in most cases made up, or at least only half truths. The greater part of his collection had been obtained abroad, where he had traded very successfully for a long time, and he was anxious that they understand just how difficult his travails had been to purchase them. The pieces were clearly of far more value to him as talking points than they were for their potential value. As some men poured their passion into horses, paintings or gambling, so Mr Canniford had poured his into his jewellery collection. He often made reference to being sure that it was the best of it's kind in London and thus in England, in a fashion that began after a time to remind Arabella of Mr Norrell. He was, however, a much less possessive owner than Mr Norrell had ever been, and he was happy to consider their offer to purchase the diamond earrings that had so struck Lady Pole.
Arabella took the opportunity to ask the question that most pressed on her mind. Using what little deceit she had in her nature, she smiled at Mr Canniford, and asked if he had any magical items in his possession. It was hardly an odd request. Magic had taken the country by storm; everywhere there was a roaring trade in magical objects and jewels. It didn't seem likely that Mr Canniford who was clearly an astute businessman had ignored this new fad. They were both surprised when without any hesitation at all, no secrecy or private rooms, he proudly led them to the box they had been warned of, and threw it open to display the irregularly shaped stone within. It was not unlike a moonstone, but speckled with dark flecks and about the size of a half palm. When Lady Pole asked to pick up, he politely assented and she exclaimed in surprise. "Why it is warm!"
This provided an opportunity for Mr Canniford to launch into a history of the jewel-like stone, claiming that it had come to him by way of a long chain of previous owners, which he described in great detail, before concluding with complete relish that the provenance of the stone's magical history was attributed to its having been the weapon Titania had used to bludgeon Oberon close to death in times long past. He recounted this with a pleased smile before recalling that he was in the presence of ladies who might not appreciate such stories. He retreated a little into blushing confusion, and Arabella plunged into the silence.
"Would you consider selling it Mr Canniford?" she asked with her refreshing charm and smile, hoping that the novelty of being offered a price for an item by a lady directly would negate any direct refusal.
He was already shaking his head however, the question causing him to quite recover as it drew him back into his natural sphere of business. "I'm afraid that is quite out of the question," he replied, withdrawing uncomfortably from them. "That piece is most definitely not for sale. It's been in the family a rather long time." He realised his slip and blushed a slow dark colour, but hurried on hoping that they had not noticed it. "It's quite out of the question," he continued firmly, and there was no negotiation in his voice. Arabella realised this and gave him a graceful way out.
"I quite understand," she replied. "It was a passing fancy of mine, for it is rather beautiful." She turned to Emma. "Lady Pole would it not make the most superb ornament for my drawing room? Now that I have redecorated in the cream and blue."
Emma recognised her cue and stepped smoothly in. "I had thought that at first," she agreed. "But on closer inspection, had you not chosen an eggshell shade?" They made small talk for a few more moments, moving away from the stone, noting the relief with which Mr Canniford closed the lid, but did not lock the box- obviously trusting to the security of his house to protect his possessions. They went back to the earrings and the opal chain, and discussed them for a few moments, before Emma decided to purchase the earrings.
They had not brought with them a servant to conduct the business for them, but Mr Canniford could be supposed ignorant enough of the ways of ladies to not notice this as being odd, and he happily discussed the price with them, a lower one in fact than they had supposed. Lady Pole suggested that they come by with the bankers draft necessary to pay such a large sum, and he demurred insisting there would be no need, that he would be more than happy to hand deliver it himself. She smoothly argued him out of it, reminding that they had reached no decision upon the necklace for her friend, and he politely bowed in answer, and they fixed a date for the next day, since Sir Walter had made a point of going to his bank that same day.
Once they were back in the safety of Arabella's own comfortable sitting room, the enormity of what they had done struck them both. Arabella was sensibly more concerned than Emma, who still seemed electrified by the proceeding events, but a little bit of her friend's nervous energy had infiltrated her. It didn't seem enough to simply sip tea and gaze at the proceeds of their crime.
Emma bit her lip a little doubtfully. "We did the right thing did we not?" she asked of Arabella, a question odd enough from Emma.
Arabella found herself, as always, defending her friend even from herself. "Of course," she cried. “That gentleman had no claim over the stone. Why I believe it was the fairy's property in the first place. We are merely restoring to her her own property and we had to do it in such a manner, because a thief will never chuse to give up their spoils.”
Emma looked reassured, and Arabella was rather shamefully glad to know that such a pang of conscience had struck her friend even at such a late date. She had been rather afraid that the taste of such victory would prove an addiction to her friend, one that perhaps her wealth and position would not dissuade her from following. Not of course she imagined that there were many fairies in need of aid in achieving the restitution of their property, but she had heard tell even if only from the pen of Mr Doyle that there were hardened scoundrels in the world who sold such services. It was not impossible that Emma would rather like to follow such a path.
They sipped their tea. Arabella hoped it would calm the shaking of her hands, and the ever present fear deep within herself that there would be a knock on the door at any moment, and the heavy hand of the law would be upon her, or, even worse that the solicitous little gentleman from earlier would be on the doorstep asking her ever so politely if she had left the premises with a stone in her pocket that did not belong there. She tried to ignore her thoughts, how on earth could even such a cold little gentleman associate the visit of a lady who had bought rather beautiful diamond earrings, with the later disappearance of what was to all intents and purposes only a rather plain, if unique stone.
She picked up the article in question and stared at it. Now all that remained was that between them they should summon the lady of ice and snow to take back what she had charged them to deliver. Neither of them was at all willing to cast the spell- at the back of each of their minds was the fear that once she was summoned she might never leave, or that she might demand a further service of them. Not to mention that despite all their correspondence with Arabella's husband, they had by mutual agreement never asked for a faerie summoning spell. That would have been too much to give away of what had occurred beneath the ground, and she was rather sad that this was one thing she could not tell Jonathan.
Although magic had flooded back to England and bits and puzzle pieces still sprang to lips readily, There was still little that they knew of magic concerning faeries and their like. What knowledge they had found seemed archaic and unsuited, and it had been with great trepidation that they had adopted Arabella's plan to use the secondary spell of summoning, and the burning of the written summons in order to ensure that their faerie arrived and none other. By guesswork and by magic they hoped to ensure the prompt arrival of their faerie.
The summoning was a difficult spell for even the most skilled of magicians, and there was a debate raging in England, first over whether it was wise to summon faeries at all, (there was still a cadre of thought in England that adhered to Mr Norrell's view of faeries, since the news of his own dealing with that species had not become widely known, despite the original intent of Lady Pole.) The rest, though anxious to secure a fairy servant, and mostly unknowing of the dangers that awaited them if they did so, had not yet succeeded in summoning a fairy themselves. It was one magic that England's lands seemed reluctant to give up, as though even John Uskglass’ return had not been a willing approbation of fairy and human contact.
With this in mind, even given the correspondence that Lady Pole in particular had participated in under the name of Mr Northpole (claiming that a male non de plume was far more useful) with a most obliging young gentleman who lived in Yorkshire and who had had rather noted success with literary charms and magics, that proved of great use in conjunction with more traditional spells, such as the summoning they were working on, had not given them much to go on.
Eventually they had decided that it was best to use the rather second rate spell of summoning, and a third rate literary charm of binding memories to paper in order to identify the fairy they were looking for. It was fraught with risk, but necessary. They could not know or tell when the lady would reappear, and neither of them were willing to wait for the claiming date to give up the stone, which was proving burdensome on their consciences.
Remembering something that Jonathan had said, Arabella knew it was vital that they concoct a situation where there could be no misunderstanding. With this in mind, they used Emma as the centre of the spell, the binding upon her would prove a path they hoped, and paper imbued with her magic was written on in ink (made from, by Arabella's ingenious suggestion, vervain for protection.) Then knowing that fire drew faeries, as though the warmth of it satiated something within their restless natures, they set fire to it, and Arabella bid the flames with the talent that she possessed to convey to the lady that she must appear when the fire died.
The paper crumbled into ash, and they looked at each other with wide frightened eyes. The last time they had been in the company of a fairy, he had sought to kill them. They hardly dared look ‘round the room, and it was only after a few seconds that they noticed there was now a third woman present in the room, dressed in a shimmering white gown, beaded with tear drops, and laced with the soft snow of the mountain tops in spring. She watched them with every appearance of amusement. On seeing herself observed, she smiled, her ruby red lips revealing sharp white teeth. A sudden cold wind had blown into the room with her, and they both shivered in the blast. She rustled forward, and picked up the stone on the table, examining it with minute detail, ignoring them with ease as she stared at it from all angles, and then eventually looked up. Although her face was beautiful, it was inhuman, and her voice when she spoke was like rocks tumbling down a mountain, the old scrape of stone against stone. Arabella shivered, as the cold that had come with the lady was exacerbated. She noticed dimly a thin layer of rime forming on the table that the lady stood next to.
As always Emma spoke first. "My debt is paid," she forced out through trembling lips. The lady took no notice of her, just raised a hand and caused a sheen of ice to form over the stone itself, which she then tucked into her bodice as though to secure it from all dangers in such a fashion.
Eventually she turned to face them both, and answer. "Your debt is indeed paid Lady Pole. A worthy return. In future I shall be gratified if we do business once more together." Her mouth curved as she said it, as though she were attempting to smile. "I have waited long for this moment," she commented, "and I can afford to be generous, especially if we shall talk again. I shall return to you if you wish the drops of blood you gave me as collateral for this one's mind."
Arabella saw Emma's mind instantly work. This was a greater concession than either of them could ever have wished for. The return of the blood meant there would be no bind between them. To a fairy a drop of freely given blood was as important as a name, and the answer was evident. To retrieve the bond-price would be an excellent outcome. She nodded, and said in a voice that was faint and dry. "I would wish to have them back yes."
Again the beautiful face struggled to smile, as though a stone statue fought to change it's features. "You shall have to collect them of course, by the same method you bequeath them to me. For the sake of symmetry it must be so." She raised one cold hand and gestured Emma forward.
Emma cast one brief look of anguish at Arabella, a slow flush mounting her cheekbones as she walked forward head held high, as though she was walking to her death. Arabella could scarcely breathe. Emma seemed to know what must happen, but why was she so afraid? How painful was the method that had been used to take the blood in the first place? Then the fairy of ice and snow, walked forward and in one swift movement crushed Emma's lips to hers, in a parody of an affectionate kiss. When they parted, Emma's lips were once again stained red, and not from rouge, and she would not meet Arabella's eyes. The fairy however seemed well pleased, and when Arabella looked round to see her, she was gone.
They hardly dared breathe until they were certain that the faerie had gone, taking the stone with her, which has assumed a far more hideous significance in their eyes. Arabella could hardly bear to look at Emma, so aflame was she by a mixture of emotions. Embarrassment raged with shame, and most surprisingly a little anger. She scolded herself for even having the nerve to ask her friend who had given her so much, the question that she was so desperate to know the answer to. Then realising that it would choke her beyond all living reason, if she did not know the answer, she managed to ask it, dreading the answer and yet hoping that it would help relieve the tangled mess of emotions that she was experiencing. She blushed even at the thought, but managed to say it: "Emma, I must know. Were your relations with the fairy of ice and snow more than friendly?”
The suspicion had been growing in her mind for some time. How else would Emma have made the deal? The thought even of that chaste touch of lip against lip filled with her with emotions that she could not identify nor did she even wish to try so ashamed was she of their provenance. She had (who had not?) heard tell of the women who found solace in those of their own sex, and she had watched silent and horrorstricken as two maids of the family had been turned out of the house for sharing a bed, but she had never thought that her dearest friend would be so inclined. It was an ugly thought to have she told herself sternly, but when she looked at Emma and her friend's cheeks turned red, she knew she had hit upon her answer, and like many a fool who wishes for the moon, she did not know what to do now that she had it.
Emma's back was rigid and straight. "She demanded a kiss of me to save you," she said bluntly, and Arabella remembered as though in a dream the drops of cherry red blood on her friend's lips when first she was freed, "and she would have taken more if I had been willing." The words went unspoken between them. If the lady had been willing to thwart the gentleman's binding for a kiss, what would she have done for more? Arabella's hand was caught and held fast. "'Bella do you blame me?" Emma asked, and her face was full of shame, that Arabella was suddenly horrified that she had put it there. She did not hesitate but pulled the taller woman into a tight embrace, and murmured into scented hair, her apologies. "My dearest, of course I do not. I blame myself. What have you not done for me? You gave a kiss, you stole a stone, how could I ever ask you to do more?"
Emma pulled back a little, face streaked with tears. "You kept me sane," she whispered. "In those dark days when no-one visited, even though you could not hear me, I could hear you and you threw me a lifeline to the world, with its shawls and fripperies and beautiful kindhearted women who took pity on me. And then you came, and still you kept me going giving me strength and courage to keep dancing onwards, however much sometimes I longed to sit and weep. Oh, I could not have survived without you, Arabella. It was your kindness and strength that sustained me for so long.”
Arabella looked up hardly knowing what she wanted to see, afraid of what she might see in her friend's face, and somewhere in her stomach there was a queer aching that she half recognised, but whose name escaped her. She didn't know what it was, and she was scared to probe further. It was enough to know that she had sufficient of Emma's friendship to sustain them. She could hardly have said how it would've made her feel to know that such a thing had been risked. They sat down, delayed reactions from the visit beginning to hit.
Arabella felt herself begin to shake, and without a word Emma stood, and made her way into the dining room, pouring her a stiff drink of whisky into a tumbler and neglecting to add soda water from the siphon. The amber liquid was warming and Arabella drank it gratefully, feeling the warmth spread through her stomach, to her fingers, prompting the rush of heat to her face. She curled up into her chair, tucking her skirts around her, feeling her heart slow and calm.
With barely a thought she whispered a word at the fire, causing the flames to curl higher and burn more fiercely. As the warmth spread through the room however, she felt a slow tendril of dread in her stomach. Surely there could be no more magician-like activity than this? Stoking a fire with magic after talking to a fairy. How long did she have left before she must make the choice to join Jonathan in the darkness, or not see him until he had dissolved the curse that bound him? She knew within her bones that the time swiftly approached. She was no longer a mere novice in magic, taking tentative steps towards a greater understanding. She was becoming a fully fledged magician. And besides, more than anything she knew that the one of the greatest indicators of her change was that she did not consider leaving her study of magic and thus retaining her ability to walk unhindered through the darkness.
She looked up at Emma, and was surprised by the rush of pure emotion that filled her on seeing the other woman. How could she leave what she had created here, for sharing a home and a life not only with Jonathan, but also Mr Norrell? How could she abandon the friend who had walked through fire to save her, especially when her heart urged her not to do such a thing, urged her to stay. Her wifely instinct was to succour her husband, but still the traitorous voice crept back and pulled at her heart strings, pointing out how little he had done to recover her from the kingdom of faerie. She tried to quell it with logic, but still it pointed out that if at this moment she was replaced by a log of the kind the thistledown haired gentleman had made to mimic her, Emma would do anything to recover her, would never believe that Arabella would thus die so. Had not believed her mind lost in Faerie, nor her soul irrecoverable. She scolded herself. She was being unfair and unkind. Jonathan had moved Earth and Faerie to rescue her when he knew she was gone, but oh why hadn’t he noticed before? It was unjust she knew to blame him, and yet she could not prevent herself from wishing he had been more swift, before she had given up hope.
She knew that the time drew near when she must see Jonathan and make the choice between him and Emma, for so she clearly saw now was the choice. On the one hand her husband and the love that was between them as man and wife, and on the other Emma and England and Magic. There could be no more difficult choice, and she stared into the fire conflicted. It was no comfort to think of what Jonathan would pick- he had already chosen magic over her.
It hurt that this was one of the few things in which she could not fully confide in Emma, who not only disliked Jonathan, but had never experienced a happy marriage of her own for however short a time (and Arabella had to woefully admit that her happy marriage had not been for long, not if she accounted for the time of general neglect since Jonathan had taken up with Mr Norrell.)
Just as she could not tell her friend everything there was between her and her husband, so she could not enquire as to the nature of the relations between her friend and her husband Sir Walter. She knew of course of the age difference between them, and that when they had been married, Emma had not been in her right mind, being newly resurrected. But her friend never breathed a word of discontent, and in all matters Sir Walter seemed happy with his marriage- even given the rather less than respectable adventures that she had engaged in from the night before the marriage.
It was just like Emma she thought affectionately, to be so brave and upright in the face of an unhappy marriage. How much would she have given to be in Arabella's place- affectionately released by her husband to seek what solace she could in the world, as opposed to the requirement that in addition to her activities in the service of women in magic, (and women in society) she must attend to her husband's needs, organise his dinner parties and in all respects be the perfect wife.
Her mother had been careful to ensure that Emma had a fixed income besides the greater portion of her fortune which had naturally been turned over to Sir Walter on the day of the marriage, but Emma followed her own moral code too rigidly to do anything less than her duty when it came to caring for her husband and his place in society. And so a strange disconnect had emerged between the lively fascinating hostess of one of the most well attended salons in London, a woman who practiced magic and proclaimed the rights of the female sex to be educated in all ways, and the young woman who ran her household so practically and with so much effort.
She determined there and then to hazard the journey to the King’s Roads alone the next night, trusting that she could find Jonathan there, where she had made him promise to be on this date, at a certain time. It was only fair to herself and to Jonathan, she thought soberly. He had released her, she knew, but she needed to be certain.
Arabella steeled herself for the meeting that was about to unfold between her and Jonathan. She clutched her trembling hands, as already the darkness of the environment began to grasp her and draw her deeper. She felt, more than she had ever done before, the actual nature of the darkness that surrounded her. Although she couldn't see the threads of the enchantment, she could almost follow it as if it had been woven from threads of magic. It had been made however by a mind infinitely darker and older than her own.
She snatched her mind away from too much contemplation of it, from a fear that gazing too long into it would render her unable to escape. Already she could feel the threads of magic entwine her, judging her, weighing her, deciding whether she was suitable for trapping in the darkness as a magician. She poured all her magic into the pocket of her gown, the pocket that Jonathan had once told her he had stored his heart in, and kept it there safe, thinking of other things as she made her way through the blackness, the insidious fear gripping her soul.
When finally she found the door where Jonathan lived and worked in the same small rooms as he had always claimed as his own, she knocked once firmly and then waited. It seemed an eternity until he opened, blinking as fustily as Mr Norrell on his worst days. It seemed to take a moment before he recognised her, as though he was so abstracted that he couldn't draw himself back to see what stood in front of him. His face lit up when he realised that it was truly her however, and she thought with some sadness of the horrors he had indubitably witnessed, if he could not even be sure that she was not an apparition.
When finally he drew her by her arm into the room, the small cosy space was almost bewildering after the cold bleakness of what she had endured to arrive here. Mr Norrell was working in a corner, but with a grace that had been hard-learned he bowed, murmured something politely and withdrew to another room carrying a book with him. She noted how Jonathan's eyes wistfully followed the book, and then came back to her, and she steeled her courage to tell him her news.
To her surprise he seemed to have guessed.
"Darling 'Bella," he said, "have you found someone?" The kindness in his voice was nearly unbearable, as abstracted as it was, as though the man who asked was not her husband, but rather some friendly acquaintance inquiring about her forthcoming marriage.
She looked at him proudly. "Of course not," she replied, but her words lacked conviction and even she could hear that. With a sigh, she looked at him. "Jonathan, you must know that my interest in magic is not purely theoretical." He nodded, and she ploughed onwards. "Well, I have progressed far enough in my studies that soon I believe I may without modesty be accounted as a magician. And you know what that means. I shall not be able to visit until you have dissipiated the darkness that surrounds you. We shall be sundered unless I wish to join you permanently."
There was silence for a moment, and then Jonathan spoke softly. "Arabella, I told you once when I went into the darkness that I do not wish you to consider yourself a widow. I truly meant it. In all ways. I would not hold you back from your fulfillment in magic or in love for that matter. Being of England, and being away from England has taught me many things, and I could not set limits upon your liberty.”
She went willingly to his arms, and he embraced her as they had done before, but chastely heart against heart, and she knew at that moment, that he might no longer be capable of love in anything more than an abstract fashion and that freeing her was his final gift, one that he had already given to himself.
There could be very little doubt in Arabella's mind as she hurried from that place an hour later, feeling her magic cluster around her again, as the tendrils of darkness fled from her, that she was truly free. Mixed in the relief, there was a tiny bit of hurt that he could so swiftly dismiss her thus, but mainly she was relieved that he seemed to understand that she could not give up such a large part of herself. He had always been understanding, she reminded herself, but she would have remained in the depths of woe had she not had the welcome warmth of Emma's hand to look forward to as she assisted her to leave the mirror.
Finally it seemed, the last binding upon her had vanished. She was a free woman. She looked at her left hand where her plain wedding ring resided, and hesitating only for a second she slipped it off and put it in her pocket. Her hand felt strangely light and free without it, almost naked and she hid it within her pocket, feeling shy and self conscious without it. It seemed a greater lie however to wear it, considering that Jonathan no longer considered her bound (or at least until he returned) and that England in general considered her husband to be lost forever, if not dead at the hands of Mr Norrell. People would talk she was sure of that, but her seclusion and retirement before, must surely convince them that she had been mourning.
As she walked she felt the spiralling threads untangle and unravel, and behind her the darkness pressed ever-threatening, reaching to swallow her, as her exultant joy and the remnants of her anguish drew the darkness that fed on the dark threads of her grief. She batted it away, seeing in front of her the dim grey blur of the mirror that was her release, and beyond it the shadowy face of dearest Emma. She reached one hand out, and was dismayed to see the darkness curve around it, swallowing her and drawing her back. With only the barest notion of what she did, she reacted, and she threw open the gates of her magic, summoning it all in one soundless word and movement, calling out to her soul for what it did best, and reaching fire, the fire that burned eternal in her breast and could not be assailed even by the malevolence of what she faced. It blazed from her, plucking the last threads of darkness from her, not destroying it but repelling it while she stepped through the mirror still wreathed in flames that could not burn their creator, to be greeted with the cool touch of Lady Pole's hand upon her cheek and the hope in her eyes that she could not begrudge after all this time.
Arabella looked at Emma, and her heart was in her eyes, even as her hands shook and the flames she had summoned to wreathe the house died, and it was without a murmur that Emma who had an opinion on every occasion, went to her and drew her head down upon her shoulder, all traces of formality quite forgotten between them, as Arabella cried soundlessly, fingers tangled in the silk of her friend's gown, tears damaging the fragile material as she wept out what she felt.
There were no words needed- every atom of Arabella's grief and loss experienced anew echoed in the sound, as she irrevocably severed the final straw left between her and Jonathan, who remained ever dear and yet whose face had faded and been replaced, by something or someone she dared not name, not for all the tea in china.
When at last she was cried out, she remained there resting. Trusting in both the strong arms of her friend, and also that when the time came she would let her go, let her stand and walk alone. Eventually she drew herself up and supplied herself with a lace handkerchief from where she had tucked it into her sleeve, and dabbed at what she knew must be a tearstained face. She found she did not care in the least. Her spirit felt light and at ease for the first time in a long time, as though she had been caught in an adultery of the heart, if not of the body, and Jonathan knowing of her sin excused it, and set her free. It had not been the same in a long time between them, she had known, but this allowed them to put the past behind and look to the future with a bright spirit.
She smiled at Emma, seeing the mirrored tear tracks on her face, and thanking Providence once again for oh such a friend. It felt so cold and unfeeling to say only that, but what is the heart's best beloved if it is not a friend? And inside her she cherished and nurtured a hope, a hope of what was to come, heralded by the tight press of Emma's hand, the bead of blood on Emma's lip, and the warmth that ran through her as though she were but a conduit to the sun's rays when she happened to catch sight of her friend.
Together they had proved themselves the first full magicians of the new age, the age not of Strange and Norrell, but of magic and fire. And it was time for them to claim the age for their own, hand in hand to face what might come and challenge them, secure always in the knowledge of what they had already suffered, and what had already been given to them.
[i] No-one is certain why human blood is so precious to them. It was long theorised that faeries had no blood of their own, but this is a fallacy that has been disproven and so the mystery remains. Regardless, the blood itself must be willingly given to have any use in the application of faerie magic, and the results have not been possible to mimic by even the most skilled of the Aureate magicians. John Uskglass was said to be able to use human blood in this way, but it was one of the magics he disdained, however willingly given. The faeries of the brugh however, as evidenced had no such prejudice against this form of magic.)
[ii] [ii] The topography of Faerieland changes naturally, but there are some basic constants that those rare humans magicians or otherwise who return from the brugh report, one of those being that there is often two or more moons in the sky, whether real or imagined they were not sure. Considering the great love that faeries have for the moon and her works, it seems natural that Faerie itself is possessed of more than one.
[iv] There were naturally a great deal many brave deeds done, but the one which is remembered most heartily, is that of the young lady of Cheltenham, who upon taking a bath in the afternoon was upset by the entrance of a gentleman insistent in the belief that magic was drowning her. No magic was attempted by the gentleman, but in order to protect her modesty, the young lady was proved capable of summoning a vast quantity of cloth from thin air to shield herself, to bind the impetuous gentleman, and eventually (since she was a young lady of prudence and the cloth was a very fine Chinese silk) to sell for a large sum of money
[i] As detailed by Jonathan Strange in his notes, red was a powerful charm against enchantment, acting in opposition to the traditional fairy preference for green. Fairies are occasionally happy to wear it themselves however as generally red serves most plainly to reveal enchantments, and lady fairies in particular are happy to show that no charms are used to produce their beauty.