Will Herondale was full of Christmas spirit, and Gideon Lightwood found it very annoying.
It wasn’t just Will, actually; he and his wife Tessa had both been raised in mundane circumstances until they were nearly adults, and so their memories of Christmas were of fond family memories and childhood delights. They came alive with it when the city of London did, as it did every year.
Gideon’s memories of Christmas were mostly about overcrowded streets, overrich food, and over-inebriated mundane carolers who needed to be saved from London’s more dangerous elements as they caroused all night, believing all trouble and wickedness was gone from the world right up until they were eaten by Kapre demons disguised as Christmas trees. Just for example.
Born and raised a Shadowhunter, Gideon, of course, did not celebrate Christmas, and had always borne London’s obsession with the holiday with bemused indifference. He had resided in Idris for most of his adult life, where the winter had a kind of Alpine profundity, and there was nary a Christmas wreath or cracker to be found. Winter in Idris felt more solemn than Christmas, so much older than Christmas. It was a strange facet of Idris: where most Shadowhunters ended up celebrating the holidays of their local mundanes, at least the ones that spilled out into street decorations and public festivals, Idris had no holidays at all. Gideon never wondered about this; it seemed obvious to him that Shadowhunters didn’t take days off. It was the blessing and the curse of being one, after all. You were a Shadowhunter all the time.
No wonder some couldn’t bear it, and left for a mundane life. Like Will Herondale’s father Edmund, in fact.
Perhaps that was why Will’s Christmas spirit annoyed him so. He’d come to like Will Herondale, and consider him a good friend. He hoped that when their children were older they too would become friends, if Thomas was all right by then. And he knew Will deliberately presented himself as silly and rather daft, but that he was a sharp and observant Institute head, and a more-than-capable fighter of demons.
But when Will insisted on taking them all to see the window displays at Liberty, he could not help but worry that perhaps Will had a fundamentally unserious mind after all.
“Oxford Street? Days before Christmas? Are you mad?”
“It will be a lark!” Will said, with the slight lilt into his Welsh accent that meant he was a little too excited for his own good. “I’ll take James, you take Thomas, we’ll have a stroll. Have a drink at the Devil on the way back, what?” He clapped Gideon on the back.
It had been a long time since Gideon was last in England. As one of the Consul’s most trusted advisors, Gideon not only lived in Idris but rarely found opportunity to leave. He also remained so that his son Thomas could breathe the healthy air of Brocelind Forest, and not the air of this filthy, foggy city.
This filthy, foggy city, his father’s voice echoed in his mind, and Gideon was too weary to silence his father’s voice as he usually did whenever Benedict crept in. More than ten years dead, yet he had not shut up.
His brother Gabriel lived in Idris, too, and for less obvious reasons. Perhaps it was not only the bad air; perhaps they both were happier with a good distance between them and Benedict Lightwood’s house. And the knowledge that its current resident would barely speak with either of them.
But now Gideon had come to London, with Thomas, just the two of them, leaving Sophie and the girls behind. He needed advice about Thomas, people with whom he could discuss the problem discreetly. He needed to talk to Will and Tessa Herondale, and he needed to talk to a very specific Silent Brother who was often found in their vicinity.
Just now he was wondering if that had been a good idea. “A good bracing walk” was exactly the kind of English nonsense he’d half-expected Will to suggest for Thomas, but “a good bracing walk down the most crowded shopping street in London three days before Christmas” was a level of nonsense he had not been prepared for. “I can’t take Thomas through that crowd,” he said to Will. “He’ll get knocked around.”
“He isn’t going to get knocked around,” said Will scornfully. “He’ll be fine.”
“Besides,” said Gideon, “we’ll get looks. Mundane fathers don’t usually walk their babies in prams, you know.”
“I shall carry my son upon my shoulders,” said Will, “and you carry yours on yours, and Angel protect anyone who complains about it. Fresh London air would do all of us some good. And the windows are meant to be a spectacle, this year.”
“Fresh London air,” said Gideon dryly, “is thick as molasses and the color of pea soup.” But he acquiesced.
He had left Thomas in the nursery, where Tessa kept a watch over him and James. A full year older than James, Thomas wasn’t always good at understanding what James could and couldn’t do or understand. Tessa had been concerned that James would end up hurt. Gideon, though, was more concerned about Thomas, who was still smaller than James, despite the difference in their ages. He was paler than James, too, and less sturdy. He had only recently recovered from the latest of his terrible fevers, which had brought a Silent Brother, unfamiliar to them, to their house in Alicante to examine him. After a time the Silent Brother declared that Thomas would recover, and left without any further conversation.
But Gideon wanted answers. As he picked up Thomas now, he couldn’t help but think about how the boy was hardly any weight at all. He was the smallest of all “the boys,” as Gideon thought of them – of James, and his brother’s son Christopher, and Charlotte’s son Matthew. He had been born early, and small. They had been terrified the first time he caught fever, convinced it was the end.
Thomas hadn’t died, but he hadn’t fully recovered either. He remained delicate, weak of constitution, quick to illness. Sophie had fought harder than anyone to drink from the Mortal Cup and become a Shadowhunter, but now she was forced to fight a far worse battle against death by their son’s bedside. Over and over again.
Sighing, he took his son to fetch their coats for their bracing Christmas walk.
As expected, Oxford Street was a madhouse of pedestrian shoppers, carriages, gawkers, and menacing groups of roaming carolers. Gideon would just as soon have glamoured them all invisible from mundane eyes (although one of the groups of carolers were obviously werewolves, who had exchanged Acknowledging Looks with Gideon), but Will of course wished to bask in the experience.
James also seemed mostly intrigued by the noise and lights, giggling and yelping at the merry scene around them. A London boy from birth, thought Gideon, and then thought, well, but I was a London boy from birth, and this is too much commotion for my liking. For his own part, Thomas was quiet, watching with wide eyes, clutching onto his father’s shoulders. Gideon wasn’t sure how weakened Thomas still was from the last fever and how much he was overwhelmed by the crowds. In some ways, when he wasn’t sick, Thomas could be guilt-inducingly easy to care of; he rarely made a fuss, just looked out into the world with those large hazel eyes, as if aware of his own helplessness and hoping not to be noticed.
Will waited until after they had already joined the crowds at the windows of Liberty and Will had made a number of nonsensical exclamations of delight of the “By Jove!” variety. He had held James right up to the glass to examine the scenes in detail, which seemed to revolve around some blond children ice skating on a river. Gideon had pointed things out to Thomas, who had smiled.
Only once they had stopped to purchase some hot cider from a man hawking it down a side street did Will say, “I heard about Tatiana’s son Jesse. Dreadful business. Have you spoken to her?”
Gideon shook his head. “I haven’t spoken to Tatiana in nearly ten years, or been back to the house.”
Will made a sympathetic noise.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” said Gideon.
“What?” Will said.
“A coincidence,” said Gideon. “That both her and I have children who are—sickly.”
“Gideon,” said Will reasonably, “forgive me for saying so, but that is a load of codswallop.” Gideon blinked at him. “For one thing, you have your beautiful daughters, neither of whom were more than usually ill when they were babies. For another, all of what happened to your father was his own doing, and happened long after you were born, and neither you or Gabriel were sickly.”
Gideon shook his head. Will was so kind, so eager to spare him the consequences of his family’s sins. “You don’t know the extent of it,” he said. “The extent of Benedict’s experiments with dark magic. They were ongoing, from as long as I can remember. The demon pox just sticks in the memory, because it is rather lurid.”
“And also we were there,” said Will, “when he turned into a giant worm.”
“Also that,” said Gideon grimly. “But two sickly sons, small and frail—I cannot say with certainty that it is a coincidence, that it has nothing to do with the depredations of my father. I cannot risk the possibility.” He looked at Will imploringly. “It took Jesse years to become ill,” he said, “and Thomas has been ill so much already.”
There was a profound silence. Quietly, Will said, “You sound as if you mean to do something.”
“I do,” said Gideon with a sigh. “I must look at my father’s papers, his records of what he called his “work”. They are at Chiswick, and I must go and ask Tatiana for them.”
“Will she see you?” said Will.
Gideon shook his head again. “I don’t know. I hoped her anger would cool, over time, and her resentment. I hoped the fact that the Clave gifted her with all my father’s wealth and possessions would help her find peace.”
“Well,” said Will, “if you go, you absolutely must leave Thomas with us.”
“You wouldn’t want him to meet his aunt?” Gideon said innocently.
Will looked at him seriously. “I wouldn’t want him, or any of my children, on the grounds of that house!”
Gideon was taken aback. “Why? What’s she done to it?”
Will said darkly, “It’s what she hasn’t done.”
Gideon could see Will’s point. Tatiana hadn’t done anything to the house. Nothing to change, or clean, or preserve it in any way. Rather than restoring it or redecorating it to her own tastes, Tatiana had simply allowed it to rot, blackening and collapsing in on itself, a ghastly monument to Benedict Lightwood’s ruination. The windows were clouded, as though fog were seething indoors; the maze, a black and twisted wreckage. When he opened the front gate, the hinges screamed like a tortured soul.
It did not bode well for the emotional state of its resident.
When Benedict Lightwood died in disgrace from the late stages of demon pox, and the full history of his infamy was revealed to the Clave, Gideon laid low. He didn’t want to answer questions, or hear false sympathy for the damage done to his family name. He shouldn’t have cared. He’d known the truth of his father already. Yet it stung his pride, when he shouldn’t have had any pride left in his besmirched name.
The houses and the fortune were taken away from Benedict’s children by order of the Clave. Gideon could still remember when he had found out that Tatiana had brought a complaint against him and against Gabriel for the “murder” of their father. The Clave had first confiscated their possessions, and finally laid out the situation: Tatiana Blackthorn had petitioned the Clave for Benedict’s fortune to be given to her, as well as the Lightwood’s ancestral house in Chiswick. She was a Blackthorn now, not the bearer of a tainted name. She made many accusations against her brothers in the process. The Clave said they understood that Gideon and Gabriel had had no choice but to slay the monster their father had become, yet if they were to speak of technical truth only, Tatiana might be considered correct. The Clave was inclined to give Tatiana the full Lightwood inheritance, in hopes of settling the matter.
“I will fight this,” Charlotte had told Gideon, her small hands tight upon his sleeve and her mouth set.
“Charlotte, don’t,” Gideon begged. “You have so many other battles to fight. Gabriel and I don’t need any of that tainted money. This doesn’t matter.”
The money hadn’t mattered, then.
Gabriel and Gideon discussed the matter, and decided not to contest her claims. Their sister was a widow. She could live in the former Lightwood manor at Chiswick in England, and at Blackthorn Manor in Idris, and welcome. Gideon hoped she and her son would be happy. As it was, Gideon’s memories of the house were, at best, ambivalent.
Now he waited at the front door, its paint mostly peeled off, with deep gouges here and there, as though some wild animal had tried to get in. Maybe Tatiana locked herself out at some point. After a time it swung open, but waiting behind it was not his sister but a ten year old boy, looking somber. He had the midnight black hair of the father he’d never met, but he was tall for his age, willow-thin, with green eyes.
Gideon blinked. “You must be Jesse.”
The boy narrowed his eyes. “Yes,” said the boy. “Jesse Blackthorn. Who are you?”
Jesse, his nephew, after all this time. Gideon had asked so many times to see Jesse when he was a child. He and Gabriel had tried to go to Tatiana when she had the child, but she turned them both away.
Gideon took a deep breath. “Well,” he said. “I’m your Uncle Gideon, as it happens. I am very glad to make your acquaintance at last.” He smiled. “I was always hoping for it.”
Jesse’s expression did not improve. “Mama says you are a very wicked man.”
“Your mother and I,” Gideon said with a sigh, “have had a very…complicated history. But family should know one another, and fellow Shadowhunters, as well.”
The boy continued to stare at Gideon, but his face softened a bit. “I have never met any other Shadowhunters,” he said. “Other than Mama.”
Gideon had thought about this moment many times, but now found himself struggling for words. “You are…you see…I wanted to tell you. We have heard that your mother doesn’t want you to take Marks. You should know…we are family first, always. And if you don’t wish to take Marks, the rest of your family will support you in that decision. With the—the other Shadowhunters.” He wasn’t sure if Jesse even knew the word Clave.
Jesse looked alarmed. “No! I will. I want to! I’m a Shadowhunter.”
“So is your mother,” murmured Gideon. He felt a slight twinge of possibility there. Tatiana could have disappeared like Edmund Herondale, abandoned Downworld entirely, lived as a mundane. Shadowhunters did, sometimes; though Edmund had done it for love, Tatiana might do it out of hatred. That she had not gave Gideon hope, although, he was sure, foolish hope.
He knelt down, to be closer to the boy. He hesitated, then reached out for Jesse’s shoulder. Jesse stepped back, casually avoiding the touch, and Gideon let it go. “You are one of us,” he said quietly.
“Jesse!” Tatiana’s voice came from the top of the entrance stairs. “Get away from that man!”
As if prodded with a needle, Jesse leapt away from Gideon’s reach and retreated without a further word into the shadowed recesses of the house.
Gideon stared in horror as his sister Tatiana drifted down the stairs. She wore a pink gown more than ten years old. It was stained with blood he well knew was more than ten years old as well. Her face was drawn and pinched, as though her scowl had been etched there, unchanged for years.
Oh, Tatiana. Gideon was flooded with a strange amalgamation of sympathy and revulsion. This is long past grief. This is madness.
His little sister’s green eyes rested on him, cold as if he were a stranger. Her smile was a knife.
“As you can see, Gideon,” she said. “I dress for company. You never know who might drop by.”
Her voice, too, was changed: rough and creaking with disuse.
“Have you come to apologize?” Tatiana went on. “You will not find exoneration, for the things you have done. Their blood is on your hands. My father. My husband. Your hands, and your brother’s hands.”
And how was that? Gideon wanted to ask her. He had not killed her husband. Their father had done that, transformed by disease into a dreadful demonic creature.
But Gideon felt the shame and the guilt, as well as the grief, as he knew she intended him to. He had been the first to cut ties with his father, and with his father’s legacy. Benedict had taught them all to stick together, no matter what the cost, and Gideon had walked away. His brother had stayed, until he saw proof of their father’s corruption he couldn’t deny.
His sister remained even now.
“I am sorry you blame us,” said Gideon. “Gabriel and I have only ever wished for your good. Have you—have you read our letters?”
“I never was fond of reading,” murmured Tatiana.
She inclined her head, and after a moment Gideon realized this was the closest she would get to inviting him in. He stepped across the threshold nervously and, when Tatiana did not immediately shout at him, he continued inside.
Tatiana led him to what had once been their father’s office, a sculpture in dust and rot. He averted his eyes from the torn wallpaper, catching a glimpse of writing on the wall that read WITHOUT PITY.
“Thank you for seeing me,” Gideon said as he took a seat across the desk from her. “How is Jesse?”
“He is very delicate,” said Tatiana. “Nephilim like yourself wish to put Marks on him, because they are intent on killing my boy as they have killed everyone else I love. You sit on the Council, do you not? Then you are his enemy. You may not see him.”
“I would not force Marks on the boy,” protested Gideon. “He’s my nephew. Tatiana, if he is that ill, perhaps he should see the Silent Brothers? One of them is a close friend, and could come to Jesse at our house. And Jesse could know his cousins.”
“Mind your own house, Gideon,” Tatiana snapped. “Nobody expects your son to live to Jesse’s age, do they?”
Gideon fell silent.
“I expect you want Jesse to marry one of your penniless daughters,” Tatiana went on.
Now Gideon was more confused than offended. “His first cousins? Tatiana, they are all very young children—”
“Father planned alliances for us, when we were children.” Tatiana shrugged. “How ashamed he would be of you. How is your grubby servant?”
Gideon would have struck any man who spoke of Sophie so. He felt the rage and violence he’d known as a child storm within him, but he’d desperately taught himself control. He exercised every bit of that control now. This was for Thomas.
“My wife Sophia is very well.”
His sister nodded, almost pleasantly, but the smile quickly became a grimace. “Enough pleasantries, then. You came to Chiswick for a reason, did you not? Out with it. I know what it is already. Your son is like to die, and you want money for filthy Downworlder remedies. You’re here as a beggar, cap in hand. So beg me.”
It was strange: Tatiana’s obvious, undeniable insanity made her insults and imprecations undeniably easier to bear. What was she even saying? What Downworlder remedies? How could remedies be filthy?
Had Benedict destroyed Tatiana as well? Or would she always have been like this? Their mother had killed herself because their father passed on a demon’s disease to her. Their father had died of the same sickness, in disgrace and horror. Will Herondale could dismiss it all as nonsense, but could it be a coincidence that Tatiana’s son, and his son, were both sickly? Or was it some weakness in their very blood, some punishment from the Angel who had seen what the Lightwoods truly were and passed his judgment upon them?
“I need no money,” Gideon said. “As you well know, the Silent Brothers are the best of doctors, and their services are always freely available to me. As they are to you,” he added with emphasis.
“What, then?” Tatiana said. Her head cocked slightly.
“Father’s papers,” Gideon said in a rush of expelled breath. “His journals. I think that the cause of my son’s illness might be found there.” He found he didn’t want to say Thomas’s name in front of his sister, as though she might decide to conjure with it.
“A man you betrayed?” Tatiana spat. “You have no right to them.”
Gideon bowed his head to his sister. He had been prepared for this. “I know,” he lied. “I agree. But I need them, for the sake of my child. You have Jesse. Whatever our differences, you must understand that we could both love our children, at least. You must help me, Tatiana. I beg you.”
He’d thought Tatiana would smile, or laugh cruelly, but she only gazed at him with the impassive, mindless stare of a dangerous snake.
“And what will you do for me?” she said. “If I do help?”
Gideon could guess. Get the Clave to leave her alone, to let her do as she wished with Jesse, for one thing. But in Tatiana’s madness, who knew what she would come up with.
“Anything,” he said hoarsely.
He lifted his head and looked at her, at his mother’s green eyes in his sister’s pitiless face. Tatiana, who would always break her toys rather than share them. There was something missing in her, as there had been in their father.
Now she did smile. “I have just the task in mind,” she said.
Gideon braced himself.
“On the other side of the road from this estate,” Tatiana said, “is a mundane merchant. This man has a dog, of an unusual size and vicious temperament. Quite often he lets the dog run free in the neighborhood, and of course he comes straight here to make mischief.”
There was a long pause. Gideon blinked. “The dog?”
“He is always making trouble on my property,” Tatiana snarled. “Digging up my garden. Killing the songbirds.”
Gideon was utterly positively sure that Tatiana did not keep a garden. He had seen the state of the grounds on his way in, left to crumble as a monument to disaster no less than the house itself.
There were definitely no songbirds.
“He’s made a disaster of the greenhouse,” she went on. “He knocks over fruit trees, he throws rocks through windows.”
“The dog,” Gideon said again, to clarify.
Tatiana fixed her piercing gaze on him. “Kill the dog,” she said. “Bring me the proof you have done this, and you will have your papers.”
There was a very long silence.
Gideon said, “What?”