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The Anniversary Party
Cordelia did not like Menton very much. She should have, in theory. Menton was a pretty seaside town, a jumble of pink and yellow buildings along a small harbor, mostly slips for sailboats and some fishing boats. The air was warm and Mediterranean, the fish was exceptionally fresh, she could see Italy from her bedroom window across the far side of the harbor. What was there not to like?
They had come for her father’s health—why else did they go anywhere, after all—and Cordelia could understand why Menton had a reputation as a healing destination for the sick and the elderly. Indeed, her father’s health had rebounded since their arrival a few weeks earlier and he was in a period of good spirits, willing to dance with her in the parlor and even managing to drag a smile out of Alastair on occasion. Alastair had entered a turbulent adolescence, as Cordelia overheard her mother say to her father. Cordelia hoped that when she was Alastair’s age she would maintain her composure a little better than he was managing.
But Menton’s charms quickly faded for her. Its popularity with the sick and the elderly meant that the town’s population had a large proportion of both, and while Cordelia wished them all well, they did not offer her much in the way of companions or even adults interested in conversation with a girl for whom French was her third language, and not very strong. The beach turned out to be made not of sand but of large round pebbles—Cordelia had never heard of such a thing, a beach made of rocks, very uncomfortable on bare feet, not pleasant to lie on, and offering no opportunity for building castles or digging trenches.
Worst of all, her parents continued to be as antisocial as ever, making no efforts to reach out to the local Shadowhunter community (the closest Institute being in Marseilles). And so Cordelia was alone. Sometimes she was alone with Alastair, but he mostly ignored her, and even so they were both duly sick of each other’s sole company after a week.
The only source of relief was the knowledge that this, too, would pass—the Carstairs family moved constantly, obsessively, for the sake of her father’s health. Cordelia could never understand the logic of it, except that she agreed that it was worth doing anything if it meant her father’s wellbeing. In this case, it was a bit of a relief. She knew they would not stay in Menton more than a few months.
This was, she felt, why she was so alone. Her family never stayed anywhere long enough for her to meet anyone her age, much less make friends. Her only real friends in the world were Lucie and James Herondale, and only because, Cordelia knew, Will and Tessa Herondale had always worked very hard to make sure that their children saw the younger Carstairs. It was still a rare treat to see them, as the Herondales ran the London Institute, and thus were usually in London, and occasionally in Idris, while Cordelia and her family were all over the map.
And here again, the Herondales came to her rescue, this time in the form of a letter her father read aloud at the breakfast table.
“’Good morning, Elias and Sona,’ – I say, how would he know what time of day we’d read it, the man is mad as a hatter—”
“We are reading it in the morning, though,” Cordelia said. Her father gave her an indulgent smile and went on.
“’It is a capital day here in London, and I hope it will be a capital day in Paris six weeks hence, when Tessa and I will celebrate our nineteenth wedding anniversary. As it is not the custom of any known culture to make a to-do out of the nineteenth wedding anniversary, we have decided to throw an enormous party.’”
“A ball!” cried Cordelia, but a worry poked at her. Would her parents attend such a thing? Her father was frowning at the letter, but possibly he was simply trying to make the words out better without his glasses.
“It’s not a ball,” said Alastair, who had stopped halfway down the stairway to listen.
“’A ball, if you will,’” her father read on. “Well done, Cordelia.”
Cordelia stuck out her tongue at Alastair.
“’We would love if you and your darling children would join us…if you would do us the pleasure of responding…,’ et cetera, et cetera…” Her father scanned the letter. “And then it has the date and the address and all that.”
“It started out strong, but it ended in something of an anticlimax,” Alastair said.
“Can we go?” Cordelia said eagerly. “Can we please? I would so like to see Lucie and James. And maybe I’d meet some of the people Lucie talks about in her letters!”
“I would like to see anyone at all other than you lot,” said Alastair mildly. “No offense intended.”
“Alastair!” Sona scolded, but Cordelia was not about to let Alastair distract from the main point. She redoubled her efforts in the direction of her father.
“Papa, can we go, please? You’ve recovered so well, surely a trip of only a few days would be possible. Don’t you want Shadowhunter society to see how well you are?”
“Hm,” her father said. He looked at her mother, who looked back. They exchanged a series of incomprehensible looks with one another.
“If you think it would be a good idea,” Sona said to Elias. Cordelia’s father gave Cordelia a long look. Cordelia tried to catch Alastair’s eye, but he’d turned away and was looking with disgust into the middle distance, a typical expression for him these days.
“I think we could manage a train trip and a few days in Paris,” her father allowed. “I do adore Paris.”
Cordelia threw her arms around him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Cordelia spent the next weeks in a state of constant dread. She didn’t dare remind her parents of the upcoming trip, lest they remember that they had intended to cancel and not attend after all. It had happened before, but never before for an event in which Cordelia had a strong investment.
But when the event was a few days away, her father brought up the timetable of the Calais-Méditerrannée Express train at breakfast. Tickets were bought, bags packed, and still Cordelia could barely believe it when she found herself the evening before the party, pulling into the Gare du Nord in an elegant blue train car, clutching her hands in her lap in anticipation: Paris, at last she was in Paris! She would see her future parabatai, and her brother, and the cream of Shadowhunter society, and she would do so in Paris.
The next day found her gazing into the full-length mirror in their rooms at the Hôtel Continental on the Rue de Rivoli and wondering that she was even the same girl who had been miserably pining away a few days before. Her mother had helped her select her dress, a frothy lemon confection of lace and silk. She wasn’t entirely sure it suited her, but it was very elegant.
Even Alastair regarded her with something in the neighborhood of admiration when he came in to fetch his gloves. “You look surprisingly mature,” he told her. Cordelia thought that was probably equivalent to a full swoon, for Alastair. For his part, he was clearly aiming at “mature” as well, having put on a brown sack coat with only one of its buttons buttoned, and having dared to apply a dab of pomade to his black hair, which, Cordelia had to admit, did make it shine compellingly.
“You look like you’ll be trying to impress someone at the party,” Cordelia teased him. “Anyone in particular?”
“Everyone,” Alastair sniffed. “Everyone that is anyone.”
Cordelia rolled her eyes.
Her father was in high spirits as they entered the carriage a short time later, joking and laughing. Her mother was quiet, watching her husband with a smile and a considering expression, and that is how they were for the entire ride to the Paris Institute.
She had been practicing her French, and when the imposing figure of Madame Bellefleur greeted them at the Institute door with a paragraph of rapid-fire enthusiasm and questions, she understood them: welcome, how was their journey, isn’t it frightfully chilly tonight. She began to think of a reply, and found that her entire speaking ability in the French language had departed her brain in exactly that moment.
Her father’s French was fluid and expert, and Cordelia felt a little rush of pride as he said, “Madame Bellefleur, dear! You are looking as lovely as ever, Odile. But what has become of you, that you’ve fallen so far to be working the door?”
Madame Bellefleur laughed, a hearty chuckle that made Cordelia like her immediately. “I sent the maid off to enjoy herself. I like answering the door, Elias — it may be the Herondales’ party, but it’s my Institute.”
Inside, Cordelia slipped away from her parents as soon as it was feasible and went to look for her friends. It took her all of five minutes to become hopelessly lost. Unlike any Institute she had been in before, this one was laid out as a labyrinthine series of interconnected salons. Each looked much like the last, and was crowded with adults, none of whom Cordelia knew, and most of whom were speaking in rapid French. She had not spotted a single Herondale, and the clatter and chatter of the party guests was beginning to make her feel less like a young sophisticate at the ball and more like a little girl who had lost her mother at the market.
Out of nowhere came a whirlwind of petticoats, which turned out happily to be Lucie Herondale, throwing herself into Cordelia’s arms with great force and a squeal of delight. “Cordelia, Cordelia, you must come, Christopher is going to teach us how to eat fire!”
“I’m sorry?” Cordelia said politely, but Lucie was already pulling her toward the door to the next salon. “Who is Christopher?”
“Christopher Lightwood, of course. My cousin. He saw a man eating fire in Covent Garden and he said he’d worked out how to do it. He’s very scientific, Christopher.” Lucie’s progress was stopped short, and Cordelia looked up to see a tall, slender older girl, with dark hair braided atop her head and a striking look. She was wearing a lacy blue dress without much enthusiasm. She raised her eyebrows and stared Lucie down. “And this is his sister Anna,” Lucie said, as though she’d planned the encounter.
“Christopher will not be eating any fire,” said Anna, “or indeed anything other than the canapes tonight.”
Lucie said, “Anna, this is Cordelia Carstairs; she’s going to be my parabatai.” Cordelia felt a rush of affection for her friend—she felt so alone so much of the time, but she wasn’t, not really. She was going to have a parabatai; neither she nor Lucie would ever fully be alone again. Or that’s how she had come to understand it would feel.
Anna, however, merely arched an eyebrow. “Not if Christopher burns the Institute down, she won’t.” She turned her piercing gaze onto Cordelia. “Carstairs?” she said curiously. “What Carstairs?”
Cordelia knew what that was about. She gave Anna a smile. “Jem Carstairs is my second cousin. I only know him a very little bit, unfortunately.” Jem, who had been Lucie’s father’s parabatai, had a long and tragic story that ended with his having become a Silent Brother. He was Brother Zachariah now.
Would he be here? It was strange to imagine among the sparkling, laughing conversation, the clinking of glasses, a parchment-robed silent figure drifting about. But why wouldn’t he be? Lucie spoke of him all the time. Cordelia felt a little frisson of nerve at the thought of meeting him again—eagerness but also worry.
“Any Carstairs is welcome,” Anna smiled back airily. “And obviously any parabatai of Lucie’s is essentially a member of the family. Speaking of which.” She turned back to Lucie. “Don’t encourage Christopher, Lucie. You know how he is.”
“It wasn’t my idea!” Lucie protested. “It’s Matthew who set him on it. You know how he is.”
“I don’t,” said Cordelia mildly.
Lucie gave her a look of wide-eyed horror. “Oh, dear, what kind of host am I? Here is my best friend in the world, and I haven’t even introduced you to everyone! Anna, we must go.” She reached for Cordelia’s hand again.
“It was lovely to meet you,” Cordelia said to Anna.
Anna tipped her glass in Cordelia’s direction with a small smile. “Likewise.”
“All right,” Lucie narrated as she pulled Cordelia into yet another salon. “Matthew is Matthew Fairchild, he’s the consul’s son but don’t worry, he’s all right and not a bit stuck-up about it, and anyway Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Henry ran the London Institute when my Papa was young—he lived there, you know—and they’re over there, actually, hullo Aunt Charlotte!” Lucie waved a hand madly.
Cordelia looked over and quickly spotted Charlotte Fairchild—even someone as socially deprived as she was recognized the Consul—who was in the middle of saying something very serious to a group of equally serious-looking people, and didn’t notice Lucie’s wave. It was funny; Charlotte was tiny, bird-like, and towered over by the men around her, but she had a presence that dominated the room regardless. It was an admirable way to be, Cordelia thought.
Next to Charlotte was a red-headed man in a Bath chair, who did see Lucie wave, and waved back madly himself with a grin. Henry Fairchild. He was too far away for them to speak, but Lucie pointed at Cordelia and raised her eyebrows. Henry raised his hands and exclaimed in pleasure, and Cordelia waved too, a little less madly than the others.
“Is that Matthew with them?” Cordelia said. “The tallish one with his father’s hair?”
Lucie snorted. “Oh no! Matthew would be so offended. That’s his older brother Charles. He’s, well….”
“What?” said Cordelia.
“He’s a little dull.” Lucie had the good manners to look ashamed at her admission. “He’s very interested in politics and Shadowhunter business and all that, and he treats us all like children.”
“We are children.”
“Yes, so is he!” Lucie said impatiently. “But you wouldn’t know it from the way he acts.” She sighed. “He’s an all right sort, though. Next salon!”
With rapid speed Lucie took her through the remainder of the people Lucie considered it important for Cordelia to know. Her Aunt Cecily and her Uncle Gabriel—Gabriel also turned out to be among the group surrounding Charlotte—who were Anna and Christopher’s parents. Her Aunt Sophie, who had worked at the Institute as a mundane and then Ascended and married Gabriel’s brother Gideon.
Gideon, Lucie explained, was not here, because Thomas—oh, it was a shame that Cordelia was not going to meet Thomas, and also Thomas would never have allowed Christopher to get within a mile of fire to eat it, if he had anything to say about it, but anyway Thomas had broken his leg and Gideon had stayed home with him.
“Also there are the older girls,” Lucie said darkly. “Barbara and Eugenia. But they’re not much like us. They’re not even here; they had something else tonight. Can you believe it?”
Cordelia wasn’t sure whether she was supposed to believe it or not believe it, having never met either girl, so she only shook her head understandingly.
“Lucie!” A woman with heaps of curly scarlet hair was advancing on them at speed. “I need someone to help me put out the silver. Congratulations, girl, you’re hired.”
“Bridget,” Lucie protested. “Bridget was my nursemaid, when I was young enough to have a nursemaid,” she explained to Cordelia.
“And now your repayment of my kindness to you continues,” Bridget said sharply, “with the putting out of the silver. Come along.”
“I can help,” offered Cordelia.
Bridget looked offended. “I’ll not have a guest doing work at a party. This one here is hosting the thing.” She dragged off Lucie, who gave Cordelia a beseeching look of apology as she vanished into the crowd.
This left Cordelia back to meandering a bit aimlessly. Perhaps, she thought, she would go back and speak more with Anna, who had been so kind. Perhaps she would seek out her own family and see how they were making out.
Where were her family, though? After a few minutes’ wandering she spotted her mother, who seemed to be unusually in her element, animatedly telling some story to a captivated audience. But she couldn’t find her father, or Alastair, anywhere. It was a large party, surely, but she would have expected her father to be with her mother, or if not, captivating his own audience. Cordelia had been able to tell that he was the second-most excited to go to the party after herself. So where was he?
Perhaps, she thought, he had slipped away to the library. She wanted to get a look at the Institute’s library herself, anyway. She managed enough French to ask directions from one of the waitstaff. It was down an iron spiral staircase, and Cordelia allowed herself to feel like a princess descending a tower.
The library had a tremendously high ceiling, which gave it an airy feel, but on the ground it was crowded with ancient, heavy oaken bookshelves, all of which were piled so densely with books that they were bent over by the weight, and it was astonishing that they had not already collapsed. Cordelia loved the place immediately. It was crumbling, in the most beautiful way possible. The light was warm and orange, and dust motes floated in it. It smelled pleasantly of must and old paper, and here and there were chairs of cracked, heavily aged and stained red leather.
Down at the other end of the room there was indeed a figure seated on the windowsill, curled up with a book, but it was obviously not her father. As she got closer, the dark-haired figure raised its head to peer at her, and she realized: it was James Herondale.
“Hello,” said James Herondale. He peered up at Cordelia owlishly, as though he’d just come out of a reverie and wasn’t quite returned to the fully waking world.
“By the Angel, I’m awfully sorry.” Cordelia couldn’t help feeling she had interrupted something. She had met James before, of course—Will Herondale had been nothing if not diligent about making sure that his children and the Carstairs children knew one another—but she would not have described him as a friend, necessarily. He was a bit unknowable, in his odd way.
“No need to apologize,” James said mildly, “it’s me who’s skiving off this party to read.” He sat up rather suddenly, as if he’d only just realized he had been splayed casually across the windowsill and he should seek some kind of propriety.
“Most people don’t skive off parties,” Cordelia said, amused. “It’s usually lessons and chores, that sort of thing. Do you not like parties?”
“I like parties just fine,” James said, a bit defensively.
Cordelia crossed her arms and said sternly, “Well, I am in the library because I wanted to see the Paris Institute library, but also because almost the whole party are strangers to me. But they’re your friends, aren’t they? Wouldn’t you want to be with your friends? Matthew, and Thomas and the rest?”
James gave Cordelia a long look. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. “They are my friends, I suppose, but really they’re more like relatives. I’ve always felt out of place among them.”
The thought of James being out of place anywhere struck Cordelia as funny. Compared to herself, he was self-assured, charismatic, effortlessly interesting. Compared to her awkward discomfort inside her own body, he was graceful and strikingly handsome—
Good Lord, Cordelia thought, where had that come from?
It was true, though. Among the pillars and medieval arches of the library he looked as at home as a marble statue, an oil painting of a classical youth at study. How could someone who matched his environment so perfectly be uncomfortable?
“I always feel out of place too,” she offered. “But I thought it was just because my family is always traveling so much. I’ve never stayed in one place long enough to make friends.” She looked down at the ground. “Maybe it’s more complicated than that.”
James said, “We’re friends, aren’t we?”
Cordelia gave a little laugh. “Well, yes. We are. But how often do we see each other? Once a year, maybe twice, if we’re lucky?”
He shrugged. “I don’t see most of the people at this party more than that, anyway. We’re always in London and they’re usually in Idris. Although we’re meant to go to Idris this summer, so perhaps I’ll see them a bit more. And of course, we’ll all be at the Academy this fall.” He sighed. “Maybe I’ll start to think of them as real friends at some point. I just feel so different than them. Like…like everyone else is looking out at the world, at other people, but I am always looking inward, instead.”
Since to Cordelia James appeared to glow from within slightly, this struck her as an odd facet of his personality, but she supposed that the shy and retiring came in all shapes and sizes. “‘All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone,’” she quoted. “My father always says that.”
“Your father sounds very wise,” said James.
“Actually,” said Cordelia, “I think Blaise Pascal said that, and my father was only quoting him. You’d get along with my father,” she went on, surprised to find herself saying it out loud. But it was true; both her father and James had the same sense of the world being a bit too much for them, of preferring solitude, of seeking refuge in books. “I should go find him,” she said. “Again, I’m so sorry for interrupting your reading.”
James put the book down on the side table next to the window. “Again, please don’t apologize, I’m always happy for the opportunity to talk with you.” Cordelia found herself blushing, a bit, but James didn’t appear to notice. He stood up and said, smiling, “I shall escort you in your endeavor.”
On the way out of the library they fell silent, and Cordelia began to feel a bit awkward. It was usually so easy to speak with James, and yet she was unaccountably tongue-tied. Finally, desperate for a conversational gambit, she blurted, “Did you know that the original Paris Institute library burned down in 1574 when someone opened a Pyxis containing a Dragonidae demon?”
James raised his eyebrows. “I did not know that, Miss Carstairs,” he said, and Cordelia burst into giggles.
The smile was wiped quickly off her face, however, by the arrival of Alastair, who looked grim. “There you are,” he said, but he sounded more relieved than angry. He had a tired look in his eyes. “Father’s not well,” he said. “He’s asking for you.”
“Oh!” said Cordelia. She felt a brief, uncharitable flash of annoyance — her father’s sickness had spoiled so many parties, even Cordelia’s first rune-day. She turned to James. “I should go to him.”
“Of course,” said James. “I’m so sorry to hear he’s not well.”
“There’s an old monk’s chamber down that hall,” Alastair said, gesturing. “Father said he wanted to be someplace cool and dark.” He shook his head, agitated. “Sorry, Cordelia.”
Cordelia wasn’t sure what he meant—perhaps that it was usually her that Elias asked for when he wasn’t well, and not Alastair? She hoped it didn’t hurt Alastair’s feelings. She assumed it was because Elias believed girls made better nurses than boys, though she wasn’t sure that was true.
She left James and her brother there, looking askance at one another, and went down the hall until she found a short little heavy wooden door set in the wall. It swung open at her tentative push, and inside she found only a bit of dim light and a sparsely furnished room, with a small platform bed in the corner on which her father sat, his arm over his eyes.
“Papa,” she said, “I’m here.”
He groaned. “Cordelia, my love. It came on so suddenly.”
Cordelia felt a wash of guilt at having resented her father. “I know. I’m here, Papa.”
She went over to the bed and sat down next to him. The room was suffused with the strong smell, herbaceous and strongly bitter, that she associated with his episodes—the medicine that the Silent Brothers gave him to keep his health under control, she assumed.
“I’m sorry to ruin your party, Cordelia,” her father said after a moment. His voice was throaty, his words slow, as though it pained him to speak.
“No,” said Cordelia gently. “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. I know you had looked forward to the party as well.”
He looked up from his arm and gazed at her fondly. “I already feel better now that you’re here.” He reached out and took her small hand in his larger one. “You’ve always been my best charm for getting well.”
Cordelia rubbed his hand anxiously. “What can I do, Papa? Is there anything you need?” She glanced around the room, looking for anything that might be helpful. Her eye fell on one of the room’s few decorations, a small shelf with a selection of cloth and leather-bound books arranged haphazardly across it. “I could read to you,” she said. That was what she would want if she were feeling ill, after all. To be read to would be the greatest act of love she could receive, so it only made sense to offer it here.
“Yes, that would be very nice.” Her father closed his eyes and smiled, as if in anticipation.
Cordelia went to examine the shelf. Doubtfully she said, “Well, in English we have either the 1817 classic How to Avoid Werewolves—”
“You mean, socially?”
“I’m not sure,” said Cordelia. “Your other option is the classic travelogue of the Shadowhunter Hezekiah Featherstone, Demons With Whom I Have Had Relationships.”
“Should you really be reading that second one?” her father rumbled.
“Papa!” said Cordelia, scandalized. “I don’t think they are romantic relationships.”
“Well then,” said Elias, settling back on the bed, and Cordelia thought he did already sound like he was feeling a bit better, “surprise me.”
James thought, it wasn’t Cordelia’s fault that he had been left alone with her older brother. It was only an unfortunate side-effect of the situation.
Though only a couple of years apart in age, James had always thought of Alastair as impossibly older than him, and Alastair, for his part, had treated James as impossibly younger. James supposed this was a natural result of being an older sibling. Certainly he could not imagine taking anyone fully seriously who was only his little sister’s age. In this circumstance, however, it left him unsure what to say to Alastair, or whether to wait for Alastair to speak, or whether to simply bolt from the room at top speed and assume Alastair was too slow to catch him.
Alastair ended the mystery by saying, in an odd tone, “My apologies for all this. My father is often unwell.”
“It’s all right,” James said, feeling strange to be reassuring an older boy. Tentatively he said, “Your father is a hero, after all.”
“What?” said Alastair, thrown off guard.
“Your father,” James said. “He killed the demon Yanluo.”
“Not by himself,” said Alastair.
“No,” said James, “but still. My father says an experience like that can leave scars. It’s a kind of sacrifice that heroes make, taking those scars so others don’t have to.”
He had meant it kindly, but was dismayed by the way Alastair’s face shut down. He became a blank, and when he looked at James, it was clear that he had ceased to regard James as being present in the room, or indeed, existing at all. “Quite,” he said. Without further comment he headed down the hallway toward the library..
“I’ll see you at the Academy,” James offered, one final try. “This fall. I’ll be starting.”
Alastair turned back, and in the same oddly neutral tone, he said, “That’s right. I suppose you will.”
After Alastair departed, James stayed where he was for a while, alone in the narrow, whitewashed corridor of the Institute. There was a party shaking the very rafters of the building, and yet here there was only silence. James thought of Cordelia, comforting her ill father, of Alastair stomping off for the sake of stomping off, obviously with no destination in mind.
His father had always made such an effort to get the two families together, the Herondales and the Carstairs. He had told so many stories about them, and was always encouraging their spending time together. And James had always been fond of the Carstairs, especially Cordelia. But now he thought, it’s odd, really, how little I know them as people.
He thought of the cousins, the parents’ friends, the Enclave members celebrating above. Other than his own family, he knew so little about any of them as people. And while he felt safe here, in the quiet, in the dark, he could tell that the world would not let him remain there for much longer. He would be out in the world, and he would need friends, and family, to help get him through.
Perhaps at the Academy, this fall.