Revenant Eve by Sherwood Smith


  I turned toward where the Rathaus tower should stick up, knowing that it was gothic-Victorian and had been built in the 1880s. A faint shadow bisected the horizon, perceptible if I gazed straight at it, but invisible if I shifted my attention away a fraction.

  Okay, that made (sort of) sense. People and buildings existed in different states, different times.

  We descended the bridge on the other side and were surrounded by buildings again. Here and there echoed the clashes and shouts of fighting, but suppressing that noise was music, coming from various sides. The sky had darkened overhead, but golden light poured out from windows and doors. In and out through those doors, couples and groups strolled. In the more shadowy darkness, silent individuals lurked about or darted here and there.

  We reached the quiet alley that ended at the Piarist convent. Knocking got no response. We looked at one another, then I figured, Why not? And tried the door.

  It opened to my touch.

  Aurélie and I walked in. Even in the Nasdrafus, the guys were not about to enter a nunnery. They stayed outside.

  The place was quiet, light gleaming here and there in lamps. Nobody was awake. I walked right up to a sleeping nun in her little cell. Touching her made my hand feel numb, and all she did was stir in her sleep.

  “There’s a ghost,” Aurélie whispered—though we could have danced the Funky Chicken while whooping like banshees for all the notice the nuns would have given us.

  I turned around, and there in the doorway to the cell stood an elderly nun in her habit. We could see the lintel through her.

  “I am dream-walking,” she said in German, her tone declarative. I suspected the statement was more for her than for us.

  “I was here a fortnight or so ago,” Aurélie said. “I asked about magic. For Madame Bonaparte. But now we need to ask on our own behalf.”

  “We will not disturb the rest of Sister Bernard,” the ghostly nun whispered, finger to her lips, as behind me the sleeping nun stirred restlessly.

  Aurélie and I followed the ghost from the cells to an inner chamber with a single candle flickering.

  “What do you seek?” the nun asked.

  “Demons took away one of us,” Aurélie said. The nun had crossed herself at the word demon. “Her name is Elisheva Barta, and it happened in Dobrenica a short time ago.”

  “Time is not reliable in the realm of dreams,” the nun murmured.

  “It was a short time ago for us,” Aurélie said politely. “We want to find her as quick as we can. They said something about putting her in a garden in Lutetium.”

  The nun said, “Do you have any connection with her?”

  “Connection?” I asked.

  “Any connection. It could be by blood, by bond, by a personal object of significance.”

  Aurélie looked nonplussed, so I said, “She dropped an amulet. One of us has it.”

  “Then you will be able to use that to find her,” the nun said. “Follow the connection.”

  “How?”

  “The same way you brought yourselves here,” she replied.

  It can’t be that easy, I thought.

  The nun was thinking along a parallel path, or else ghosts could hear others’ thoughts, because she said, “The demons will try to hide her. But faith and love will always defeat them.”

  “How?” I asked, remembering far too many historical instances where faith and love had not defeated evil.

  The nun turned my way. “You walk in the dream realm, where strength is measured differently, as is time.”

  “How do we get to Paris, Sister?” Aurélie asked.

  “You must use the portal.” She began to fade.

  “Which portal? We only know of the two that brought us here.”

  “The oldest,” the nun said, looking surprised. “In the bell tower at Nôtre Dame de Paris, on Île de la Cité,” she said in the but everybody knows that tone.

  “I’ve been there,” Aurélie and I said at the same time. I laughed and said, “I remember when Hortense took you there.”

  The nun vanished, so we left.

  Out in the alley, we found the guys waiting. “Back to the portal,” I said. “We’re on our way to Paris. The portal we need is at Nôtre Dame. But how we’re going to find this garden of theirs is anyone’s guess.”

  “We must search where the demons are thickest,” said Mord.

  Oh, great.

  Well, at least the uglies went pop and not squish, I thought as I swung my sword.

  As we passed an inn, music came from its open doors and windows. Visible in the huge windows were silhouettes of couples hopping and twirling as they wove the geometric patterns of the dance.

  “I hear it again,” Mord said, and then in a different voice, “That is Mozart.” It was clear from his distant gaze that he didn’t mean the mazurka being played in the tavern we were passing.

  “Which composition?”

  “None that I know.”

  That got three variations on “Huh?” which Mord ignored. As we crossed the bridge, he walked faster. From all around came at least five separate kinds of music, punctuated by the occasion snap of a pistol report, or the clang of steel. Shouts and bellows. Closer, in the dark-shrouded corners, intimate laughter from couples.

  But I heard no Mozart, or anything close.

  Mord made a beeline for St. Stephen’s cathedral. Light poured from the open doors and the clerestory windows, the stained glass luminous with color. Inside, a thirty-something guy in a 1780s powder-dusted wig conducted an enormous orchestra, spread in both directions through both transepts. Blocking the view of the church altar was a choir that looked five hundred strong, singing at tremendous volume, complicated melodic lines.

  Mord stopped in the middle of the nave. “That is Mozart,” he said. “And he is conducting.”

  Jaska stared, then looked back. “How do you know? Mozart died when we were boys.”

  Mord said, “I tell you, that’s Mozart.” He listened raptly.

  All around us the audience listened raptly.

  The music reminded me a little of The Magic Flute, which was Mozart’s last opera, but it also carried the gravitas of his unfinished Requiem.

  For a time we stood while the music built, weaving complicated chains of melody around us. That’s the only way I can describe it, not being a musician. Back in college, I’d taken music appreciation. The professor had talked about how Mozart had worked secret Freemason symbols into his music. I couldn’t hear them, but the idea had stayed with me, because the memory was back, and there I was in class, sitting at my desk, pencil tapping in time as I listened for something I wasn’t sophisticated enough to discern.

  The memories came, vivid and nearly real: college, music, dance. I was so absorbed that Aurélie’s touch made me jump. “We’re forgetting Elisheva,” she said.

  “Elisheva,” Mord repeated, and horror constricted his features.

  He whirled and plunged out, but he could not help a longing glance back.

  “This way,” Jaska said, leading us into the New Market sections again.

  Aurélie walked next to me, holding up her skirts with both hands. “It was like the fae,” she said. “You all were…”

  “Enchanted?” I said, chill tightening my neck. “Did you hear her?” I spoke up. “That was some kind of enchantment, back there.”

  “If so, it must be an advantageous one,” Mord stated. “I intend to return, if I can. But you are right to remind us of Elisheva.”

  Aurélie seemed uneasy as we walked faster, again Mord in the lead, as if he had to escape the music’s spell. Maybe he did.

  We reached the Graben street to find it full of uglies fighting locals. I ran forward, sword ready. The guys kept pace at either side. We began spreading out as a clump of uglies took down a guy with a scimitar. The man fell full length, the sword clanging on the cobblestones. The uglies howled and turned to attack someone else as more of those silent, tidy servants came out of the deep-set doorways.
Sometimes they tended the person right on the street, but a few of the fallen were borne away.

  That’s when the uglies saw us.

  Mord took point, his sword whirling. Jaska and I fought at either side of him, taking on the scatterers.

  We made it all the way to the crypt, but as soon as we got inside, an ambush party rushed us. We tried to fight our way past—we were in sight of Maria Theresia’s sarcophagus—but there were too many, the light too dim, and we were forced back outside again, foot by foot. None of us wanted to end up taken away to wherever the fallen went, even if it wasn’t death in the sense that we understood it.

  The fight spilled back into the street. I switched hands. From the sidewalks shouts of encouragement rose as people streamed from cafes and theaters, restaurants and other emporia. Most joined the battle, some preferred to cheer from the sidewalks.

  “Heroes!”

  “Kill them all—they’ve made it impossible to go about at night!”

  More people poured out, and the street filled with mass fighting until every ugly had been popped.

  That left the Viennese smiling in triumph at one another. A few paces away, the woman in the swashbuckler costume sheathed her sword with a flourish. She saw my glance, doffed her hat and bowed. I bowed back, flourishing my hand as if it held an invisible plumed hat. When I clapped my pretend hat back on my head, she laughed.

  Aurélie blinked back tears. “She looks like my mother,” she whispered.

  I gazed back in surprise. The woman didn’t look like my memory of Anne, except for the blond hair. For one thing, she was at least ten years younger than Anne had been in 1795.

  “Come celebrate!” someone called.

  “No charge for the heroes,” a restaurant owner declared, to general cheering.

  Mord shook his head. “We have to go.”

  The smiles vanished from the faces. Quick as lightning the crowd’s mood changed. “What, too good for the likes of us?”

  “Got a better offer?”

  “Their majesties are expected at the Hofburg!”

  A threat would have caused the two guys, at least, to ready for action. But an accusation of anti-egalitarianism hit us all.

  “A glass, thank you,” Jaska said. “But then we have someone else to rescue.”

  The crowd sent up a cheer at that and closed around us. We ended up in a Heuriger, a wine tavern, with beautiful Egyptian-themed décor, and a light, crisp, local white wine was poured for all. Before I drank mine, I stared into the depths of the cup, trying to recall if anyone had said that eating or drinking was dangerous in the Nasdrafus. Not that I remembered. Fairy food and drink, yes, but then everything with them was fake.

  This wine smelled like wine, and Jaska was already toasting and then drinking. Aurélie followed with an air of whatever happens to you will happen to me. Mord raised his glass, and sipped—or pretended to, I wasn’t sure.

  Then out came baskets and wrapped packages of food to be shared around, and people gathered expectantly as musicians muscled through the crowd.

  I tried a sip. The flavor of wine burst along my tongue, but when I swallowed there was a sense of the liquid vanishing like vapor somewhere inside me. Excellent. I didn’t want to be soused in case another batch of uglies trundled up, swords a-waving.

  We drank our wine, not feeling it in the least. The innkeeper kept pouring it out, everyone’s mood happy and generous as they clinked glasses and drank to heroes.

  Bouncy, catchy Volkslieder were the order of the day, branching out into other types of folk music. When a Gypsy tune was offered, the woman with the pistols, who reminded Aurélie of her mother, moved out on the floor and began dancing a kind of sailor’s hornpipe/clog dance, causing everyone to start clapping.

  And so it went around, people expected to play or to sing or to dance in turn. A very fine harpsichord was disclosed, upon which Aurélie played; instruments were shared, Jaska picking up a Pandean pipe. When eyes turned my way, I didn’t want to say that I’d never learned an instrument, so I moved out to dance, and discovered that though I hadn’t done any ballet for a long while, my skills were, if anything, better than ever.

  It was exhilarating! Without much effort, I turned a series of twenty fouettés, with double-pirouettes every fourth, causing the crowd to roar its approval and clap in time. I finished without being breathless, took a bow to a storm of applause, and as my hair swung down to my skirts in a waterfall, free of the slightest tangle, I thought, I could do this forever.

  I definitely wanted another turn and waited eagerly as the songs came and went, working around the circle.

  “That was wonderful,” Aurélie said to me as a shift in the crowd put us side by side. “I didn’t know you were a dancer.”

  “You didn’t know me with a body!”

  She laughed, then looked up expectantly when it was Mord’s turn. The fiddle that had passed from hand to hand came to him. As he touched the strings lightly and tuned them, he said, “Let us play the Beethoven.”

  They began the Serenade in D Major, with Aurélie adapting the harpsichord to the viola part. For the first few pages, that is. They were playing from memory, but as yet they had not learned it the way they knew the repertoire from their travels.

  When Jaska faltered on a note, then repeated a phrase, Mord shut his eyes. He’d been pacing them, gathering his strength, or his thoughts. His eyes closed, and the music took off, rapid as a kestrel, soaring high and remote. The battered fiddle was again a violin, reaching for spiritual union, or as Mord would say, davening in nigun.

  The entire room fell silent, eyes focused beyond the tall man swaying before them, his expression exalted. Then, one by one, they slowly sank down onto benches and barrels, stools, even the floor, and their eyes closed.

  When Mord drew out the last poignantly sweet note and lifted the bow from the violin, everyone was asleep but us.

  He slowly lowered violin and bow, looking around in bemusement.

  “What did you do?” Jaska whispered.

  “Evening prayers. I sought to bring them to contemplate the divine, um, mysteries,” Mord said softly, setting the violin noiselessly on the counter. “I did not think it would succeed.” He wiped his hair back, and blinked. “We should leave before they stir.”

  We picked our way among the recumbent figures, halting when we reached the door. Someone was waiting, a man of medium height, wearing a long satin coat of gray, turned back cuffs, a wig…it was Mozart. Or someone who looked like Mozart.

  “If you come play for me, I will write you a symphony,” he said to Mord.

  Mord stopped just outside the doorway. We could see from his expression the intense inner conflict. He looked up sharply. “There is someone in need of rescue.”

  “Did you write down what you did to that composition?” Mozart asked. “Those embellishments—” He went off into highly abstruse commentary.

  For a time Mord answered, and they talked rapidly back and forth, one or the other sometimes sawing the air or humming snatches of melody.

  “Have you heard my concerti for Haydn?” Mozart finally asked, humming a main theme. “I mention them only as proof that I can write for others. I have been making further experiments with polyphony and with glass harmonica, binding charms from the Craft—you know the Craft?—through the form of opera seria, for I have come to the conclusion that opera should not belong exclusively to the Italians! Come, pick up your instrument, for I have need of your skill to play these pages I have written out. But as yet I’ve no one, no one, who can play with the skill I require.”

  “I cannot,” Mord said, after a painful pause. And then, more forcefully, “I must go. Now.”

  Mozart put out a hand. “Is it love? You go for amore?” He gave the word the Italian pronunciation.

  Mord reddened slightly, but gave a short nod.

  “Ah.” Mozart kissed his hand to Mord and waved it airily. “Go! Find your beloved. Then you will return, yes? If you work for amore, then you
are one of us. I have an instrument for you,” he added in a low voice. “It is the finest ever made. By one of the Craft, every piece of wood charmed…”

  “I promise to return,” Mord said. “After I am successful.”

  Mozart threw his hands wide. “I shall count the moments until I have you back, and with my music before you.”

  Now that we were outside, urgency returned. I could see it in everyone’s face. I gripped my sword, ready for a new batch of uglies, but this time nothing got in the way of our reaching the crypt. We ran inside, stopping when we reached the portal beyond Countess Fuchs-Mollard’s sarcophagus.

  “Think of the bell tower at Nôtre Dame de Paris,” I said.

  There was that brief soggy sense of pressure, almost of suffocation, and then we were through.

  FORTY-SIX

  BACK IN PARIS. The noises were the same. I sniffed, bracing for the famous stench, but at the same time realized I had yet to eat anything, nor did I feel the need. And the wine I’d drunk in Vienna had no effect.

  So here we were in Paris, even farther from Dobrenica than before.

  Not so far by portal, I reminded myself.

  We emerged from the bell tower and found ourselves in the cathedral as the great bourdon bell Emmanuel rang once, the sound shivering through the air.

  Before the altar stood a choir of children dressed in white robes, singing Palestrina’s “Kyrie.” The slow fading of the bell’s tone, the sweet young voices echoing, resonated through bones and spirit. Nothing here is what it seems…The music had intent, I knew it, but could not discern what. I could not even tell if those children were ghosts.

  We stepped outside the massive doors. Mord began to speak, his hands closed around Elisheva’s amulet. He halted when he saw the three seraphs standing outside the cathedral awaiting us: Uriel, Raguel, and the beautiful Jeremiel, who spoke in that voice like wind chimes, “You are in good time!”

 
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