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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.
To be continued in February…