Lord Simon: Age Thirty-Four, Part 2

Simon left the meeting, Jerome Quirl’s Signs in the Blood: the Essence of Interiority tucked under his arm. (“Dull and mostly wrong in parts,” Mr. Penderly said when he handed Simon the book. “But the parts on blood transfusion bear reading.”

Mr. Penderly also gifted Simon several vials of Ennancian blood. He seemed to think that Ennancian blood would provide a rational balance to Simon’s formulas.

Simon had his doubts. He wandered into the town’s center, peering up at the brick buildings with white, scalloped roofs and the elegant if empty cathedrals (Roesians went to religious services to satisfy social advancement; Ennancians built churches to satisfy artistic sensibilities.)

He turned into the central cathedral, the Church of the Undying Lands. The interior was dim. Twilight had fallen and light from stained-glass windows struck only the highest part of the gray stone walls. At the front of the cathedral near the shrine, a blue-frocked priest was lighting a set of candles (candles, not gas lamps like at the university). He looked over this shoulder as Simon approach and smiled seraphically.

“The grace of wise thoughts upon you,” he said with a nod.

Simon leaned against a pew and studied the draperies above the altar: weavings of green paradises beneath glowing suns. Roesians worshipped ancestors. Ennancians worshipped mystics. Both religions were conventional in the extreme. The priest was likely a member of the Tuathanian Order, a body of celibate priests who preached that the dead followed paths to lands far beyond the oceans. Sweet fantasies. Magic was more real.

“No service tonight?” Simon said.

“At midnight. Your accent says you are Roesian. A transplant? No? A tourist, then. Are you enjoying Ennance?”

“It is a beautiful town.” Clean. Elegant. Kingston was chaotic and shabby in comparison. Life was easier here.

“It is. I can never live too far from the ocean myself.”

The priest lit the last candle in the standing row and settled the taper in a narrow jar. He genuflected and washed his hands using water in a bowl on the first step to the altar. A true believer, Simon decided (not all priests were), possibly a true mystic, detached from realities.

Then the priest vigorously splashed water onto his face, an ordinary gesture amid the candles and stones and draperies. These days, Simon preferred the mundane. The priest returned to him, wiping a sleeve across his cheeks. In the glimmering light, Simon noted heavy-lidded eyes, high cheekbones, and a full-lipped mouth that might appear sultry under other conditions. It was also a recognizable face. It origin appeared in Roesia papers next to editorials about aid societies.

Simon said, “You’re Martin Keayne’s second son, the one who became a priest.”

The man gave him a soft almost dreamy smile. “I am merely Michel Erland. My father is the most powerful man in the world.”

“I would say, the most powerful man this side of the mountains.”

“I suppose.”

“He can’t help me,” Simon said.

“Not unless your dilemma is politically motivated.”

“No. Something I'm trying to undo--rather, something I want to fix.”

“It can’t be undone?”

“Can anything?”

“I would never discount the possibility.” Michel pulled wax petition slips from a box near the standing candles. He began to clip them to each candle’s base. “In the depths of my innocence, I sired a child.”

Simon said slowly, “There were rumors.”

“Yes. He was raised by my father. And lost when one of our embassies was attacked. I waited years. I funded searches. I even searched myself. And then—” he spread his hands, a petition in each. “I came here to be near his mother, the only one who could comprehend my grief. And now, ten years beyond that loss, he’s been returned to us.”

“Not unscarred.”

“No. But he came to us, to me. He came home. That is beyond anything I ever expected. Grace occasionally exercises itself.”

“For saints, perhaps.”

“I thought the beginning of my story convinced you that I am no saint.”

“You have a remarkably stainless reputation. People compare you to your father.”

“Unfair.”

“To him?”

“To both of us. He does what his job requires of him. My order allows me certain exceptions because I am Martin Keayne’s son. However, individual flaws are not the point.”

“The point being?”

“The world is a remarkable place. Change is always what we expect and yet never what we entirely foresee. Things are returned, repossessed for good or bad. We do, sometimes, get more chances that we deserve.”

* * *

Not in real life, Simon decided as he strolled to his aunt’s house. Real life had consequences. Everything left its mark. Stains remained. Taints lingered, coloring every subsequent moment whether anyone noticed or not.

His aunt was proof positive. Twenty years after her move to Ennance she was as enamored of gossip, fine living and handsome men as she had ever been.

“You should get out of that shabby house,” she told Simon while they sat in the parlor that evening. Friends were coming to play cards, and Simon had put on his court dress to receive them. His aunt’s request. He owed her for accepting his month-long visit without complaint.

“You can live here,” she said, waving a bejeweled hand in his direction. “You were such a useful companion when we lived together in Roesia.”

It was not such an innocent suggestion. Some lines his aunt didn’t cross. Others she swept past with impunity. Roving hands and sly chuckles disturbed his adolescent memory. Surfacing now, they didn’t cause the usual flinch.

Life in Ennance, even in his aunt’s house, would be easy, painless, comparatively normal.

He had left the house in Roesia under watch: the Manderley Brothers offered night and day security. They would keep out trespassers and write Simon should anyone, like a woman, should appear unexpectedly in the house's hall.

Simon had made his arrangements at the Manderley Brothers’ offices. He had held off leaving for a week when Hannah’s presence and voice faded. He'd planned his journey to Ennance like an escape.

For the house was a prison. Hannah’s prison, now his. Perhaps it has always been one, designed from its creation to hold things against their will. Simon didn’t want to go back.

Only, Hannah’s imprisonment, the dispossession of her body and life, was not her fault. Things had consequences. Things people did. Hannah’s presence might fade. It always returned.

I can’t leave her alone. I interred her in that house, corrupted her.

A person formed himself, molded his life. Nothing could be completely undone. The most Simon could hope for was to untrap Hannah, send her back into the world. For Simon, there would be no release.

Before he left Ennance, Simon returned to the Church of the Undying Lands and took away a jar of the water in which Michel Erland had washed his face.

* * *

Simon collected his keys from Manderley Brothers. The oldest brother rode with him back to the house and released the guard on duty.

“We can continue our watches,” he said, but Simon shook his head.

Heading into the house, he heard the guard mutter, “No one will come near this place now he's returned.”

Simon hoped that was true. 

The hall was dark. Simon had brought in a lantern; it highlighted the hall’s vastness, the tunneling expanse that seemed to reach ever upwards. As he mounted the stairs, shadows elongated the railings, the banister. The inset doors along the landing were caves, doors to crypts.

He continued upward to the solarium where he sat in clean moonlight. He set the jar of Michel Erland’s sweat and tears on the table.

“Hannah?”

No response. He went down the stairs to his uncle’s bedchamber. Charwomen had dusted the woodwork, swept the walls, and washed the linens a month after his uncle’s death. During Simon’s absence, Manderley Brothers had arranged another cleaning. The room had already re-accumulated a layer of dust. The linens seemed slightly musty. Otherwise, the room was fresher than it had been during his uncle’s time.

Simon sat on the four-poster bed, let the weariness of the journey sweep through him.

“I thought you left me forever,” Hannah said from somewhere near the windows. A curtain twitched. “I thought I drove you away.”

“No.”

“I was so lonely.” Her voice was a soft thread of pain. She sounded like Hannah had used to sound, only distant, as far away as the years she had been bespelled.

“I’m sorry.”

“I wanted to shatter the world. Burn the house down.”

“I know.” Simon pressed his hands to wet eyes. “I know, Hannah.”

“I went away—into the house, its foundations, its panes of glass. I don’t know how long. I came back. And you were gone. I went away again.”

The panels nearest the bed rippled. The ripple continued into the headboard set against the wall. It moved across the covers, molding them into a shape. Simon lay back, arm across his eyes.

“I’ve made this house my own,” Hannah said. "I've occupied every corner."

“Good.”

She was a shape of quilts and pillows against his side. He slid his arm about the shape, held it to his breast.

“You should have saved yourself, Simon. You should have escaped this tomb.”

“I’m never going to leave you,” he said. “If this is a grave, my life is yours to bury.”