The Runaway QueenCassandra Clare
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There was a smell to Paris in the summer mornings that Magnus enjoyed. This was surprising, because on summer mornings Paris smelled of cheese that had sat in the sun all day, and fish and the less desirable parts of fish. It smelled of people and all the things that people produce (this does not refer to art or culture but to the baser things that were dumped out of windows in buckets). But these were punctuated by other odors, and the odors would shift rapidly from street to street, or building to building. That heady whiff of a bakery might be followed by an unexpected flush of gardenias in a garden, which gave way to the iron-rich pong of a slaughterhouse. Paris was nothing if not alive—the Seine pumping along like a great artery, the vessels of the wider streets, narrowing down to the tiniest alleys . . . and every inch of it had a smell.
It all smelled of life—life in every form and degree.
The smells today, however, were a bit strong. Magnus was taking an unfamiliar route, one that took him through quite a rough patch of Paris. The road here was not as smooth. It was brutally hot inside his cabriolet as it bumped its way along. Magnus had animated one of his magnificent Chinese fans, and it flapped ineffectively at him, barely stirring the breeze. It was, if he was completely honest with himself (and he did not want to be), a bit too hot for this new striped blue-and-rose-colored coat, made of taffeta and satin, and the silk faille waistcoat embroidered with a scene of birds and cherubs. The wing collar, and the wig, and the silk breeches, the wonderful new gloves in the most delicate lemon yellow . . . it was all a bit warm.
Still. If one could look this fabulous, one had an obligation to. One should wear everything, or one should wear nothing at all.
He settled back into his seat and accepted the sweat proudly, glad that he lived by his principles, principles which were widely embraced in Paris. In Paris people were always after the latest fashion. Wigs that hit the ceiling and had miniature boats in them; outrageous silks; white paint and high, blushed cheeks on the men and the women; the decorative beauty spots; the tailoring; the colors . . . In Paris one could have the eyes of a cat (as he did) and tell people it was a trick of fashion.
In a world such as this, there was much work for an enterprising warlock. The aristocracy loved a bit of magic and were willing to pay for it. They paid for luck at the faro table. They paid him to make their monkeys speak, to make their birds sing their favorite arias from the opera, to make their diamonds glow in different colors. They wanted beauty spots in the shapes of hearts, champagne glasses, and stars to spontaneously appear on their cheeks. They wanted to dazzle their guests by having fire shoot from their fountains, and then to amuse those same guests by having their chaise longues wander across the room. And their lists of requests for the bedroom—well, he kept careful notes on those. They were nothing if not imaginative.
In short, the people of Paris and the neighboring royal town of Versailles were the most decadent people Magnus had ever met, and for this he revered them deeply.
Of course, the revolution had put a damper on some of this. Magnus was daily reminded of that fact—even now, as he pulled back the blue silk curtains of the carriage. He received a few penetrating looks from the sans-culottes pushing their carts or selling their cat meat. Magnus kept apartments in the Marais, on the rue Barbette, quite near the Hôtel de Soubise, home of his old (and recently deceased) friend the Prince of Soubise. Magnus had an open invitation to wander the gardens or entertain himself there anytime he chose. In fact, he could walk into any number of great houses in Paris and be warmly greeted. His aristocratic friends were silly but mostly harmless. But now it was problematic to be seen in their company. Sometimes it was problematic to be seen at all. It was no longer a good thing to be very rich or well connected. The unwashed masses, producers of the stink, had taken over France, overturning everything in their unwashed path.
His feelings about the revolution were mixed. People were hungry. The price of bread was still very high. It did not help that the queen, Marie Antoinette, when told that her people could not afford bread, had suggested that they eat cake instead. It was sensible to him that the people should demand and receive food, and firewood, and all the basic needs of life. Magnus always felt for the poor and the wretched. But at the same time, never had there been a society quite as wonderful as that of France at its dizzying heights and excesses. And while he liked excitement, he also liked to have some sense of what was going on, and that feeling was in short supply. No one quite knew who was in charge of the country. The revolutionaries squabbled all the time. The constitution was always being written. The king and queen were alive and supposedly still somewhat in power, but they were controlled by the revolutionaries. Periodically there would be killings, fires, or attacks, all in the name of liberation. Living in Paris was like living in a powder keg that was stacked on top of several other powder kegs, which were in a ship tossing blindly at sea. There was always the feeling that one day the people—the undefined people—just might decide to kill everyone who could afford a hat.
Magnus sighed and leaned back out of the range of prying eyes and put a jasmine-scented cloth to his nose. Enough stink and bother. He was off to see a balloon.
Of course, Magnus had flown before. He’d animated carpets and rested upon the backs of migrating flocks of birds. But he’d never flown by a human hand. This ballooning thing was new and, frankly, a little alarming. Just shooting up into the air in a fabulous and garish creation, with the whole of Paris staring at you . . .
This, of course, was why he had to try it.
The hot air balloon craze had largely passed him by when it had first been the rage of Paris, almost ten years before. But just the other day, when Magnus had had perhaps a little too much wine, he’d looked up and seen one of the sky-blue, egg-shaped wonders drifting past, with its gold illustrations of zodiacal signs and fleurs-de-lis, and all at once he’d been overcome with the desire to get into its basket and ride over the city. It had been a whim, and there was nothing Magnus attached more importance to than a whim. He’d managed to track down one of the Montgolfier brothers that very day and had paid far too many louis d’or for a private ride.
And now that Magnus was on his way to take said ride on this hot afternoon, he reflected back on just how much wine he had drunk on the afternoon when he had set this all up.
It had been quite a lot of wine.
His carriage finally came to a stop near the Château de la Muette, once a beautiful little palace, now falling apart. Magnus stepped out into the swampy afternoon and walked into the park. There was a heavy, oppressive feel to the air that made Magnus’s wonderful clothes hang heavily. He walked along the path until he came to the meeting spot, where his balloon and its crew awaited him. The balloon was deflated on the grass—the silk just as beautiful as ever, but the overall effect not as impressive as he had hoped. He had better dressing gowns, when it came down to it.
One of the Montgolfiers (Magnus could not remember which one he had hired) came rushing up to him with a flushed face.
“Monsieur Bane! Je suis désolé, monsieur, but the weather . . . today it will not cooperate. It is most annoying. I have seen a flash of lightning in the distance.”
Sure enough, as soon as these words were spoken, there w
as a distant rumble. And the sky did have a greenish cast.
“Flight is not possible today. Tomorrow, perhaps. Alain! The balloon! Move it at once!”
And with that, the balloon was rolled up and carried to a small gazebo.
Dismayed, Magnus decided to have a turn around the park before the weather deteriorated. One could see the most fetching ladies and gentlemen walking there, and it did seem to be a place that people came to when they were feeling . . . amorous. No longer a private wooded area and park, the Bois de Boulogne was now open to the people, who used the wonderful grounds for growing potatoes for food. They also wore cotton and proudly called themselves sans-culottes, meaning “without knee breeches.” They wore long, workmanlike pants, and they cast long, judgmental looks at Magnus’s own exquisite breeches, which matched the rose-colored stripe in his jacket, and his faintly silver stockings. It really was getting difficult to be wonderful.
Also, the park seemed singularly devoid of handsome, love-struck persons. It was all long trousers and long looks and people mumbling about the latest revolutionary craze. The more noble sorts all looked nervous and turned their gazes to the path whenever a member of the Third Estate walked by.
But Magnus did see someone he knew, and he wasn’t happy about it. Coming toward him at great speed was Henri de Polignac, dressed in black and silver. Henri was a darkling of Marcel Saint Cloud’s, who was the head of the most powerful clan of vampires in Paris. Henri was also a terrible bore. Most subjugates were. It was hard to have a conversation with someone who was always saying, “Master says this” and “Master says that.” Always groveling. Always lingering about, waiting to be bitten. Magnus had to wonder what Henri was doing out in the park during the day—the answer was certainly something bad. Hunting. Recruiting. And now, bothering Magnus.
“Monsieur Bane,” he said, with a short bow.
“It’s been some time since we’ve seen you.”
“Oh,” Magnus said airily. “I’ve been quite busy. Business, you know. Revolution.”
“Of course. But Master was just saying how long it’s been since he’s seen you. He was wondering if you’d fallen off the face of the earth.”
“No, no,” Magnus said. “Just keeping busy.”
“As is Master,” Henri said with a twisted little smile. “You really must come by. Master is having a party on Monday evening. He would be very cross with me if I did not invite you.”
“Would he?” Magnus said, swallowing down the slightly bitter taste that had risen in his mouth.
“He would indeed.”
One did not turn down an invitation from Saint Cloud. At least, one didn’t if one wanted to continue living contentedly in Paris. Vampires took offense so easily—and Parisian vampires were the worst of all.
“Of course,” Magnus said, delicately peeling one of his lemon-yellow gloves from his hand, simply for something to do. “Of course. I would be delighted. Most delighted.”
“I will tell Master you will be in attendance,” Henri replied.
The first drops of rain began to fall, landing heavily on Magnus’s delicate jacket. At least this allowed him to say his good-byes quickly. As he hurried across the grass, Magnus put up his hand. Blue sparks webbed between his fingers, and instantly the rain no longer struck him. It rolled off an invisible canopy he had conjured just over his head.
Paris. It was problematic sometimes. So political. (Oh, his shoes . . . his shoes! Why had he worn the silk ones with the curled toes today? He had known he’d be in a park. But they were new and pretty and by Jacques of the rue des Balais and could not be resisted.) Perhaps it was best, in the current climate, to consider retiring to somewhere simpler. London was always a good retreat. Not as fashionable, but not without its charms. Or he could go to the Alps. . . . Yes, he did love the clean, fresh air. He could frolic through the edelweiss and enjoy the thermal baths of Schinznach-Bad. Or farther afield. It had been too long since he’d been to India, after all. And he could never resist the joys of Peru. . . .
Perhaps it was best to stay in Paris.
He got inside the cabriolet just as the skies truly opened and the rain drummed down so hard on the roof that he could no longer hear his thoughts. The balloon-maker’s assistants hurriedly covered the balloon works, and the people scurried for cover under trees. The flowers seemed to brighten in the splash of the rain, and Magnus took a great, deep breath of the Paris air he loved so well.
As they drove off, a potato hit the side of his carriage.
The day, in a very literal sense, appeared to be a wash. There was only one thing for it—a long, cool bath with a cup of hot lapsang souchong. He would bathe by the window and drink in the smoky tea, and watch the rain drench Paris. Then he would recline and read Le Pied de Fanchette and Shakespeare for several hours. Then, some violet champagne and an hour or two to dress for the opera.
“Marie!” Magnus called as he entered the house. “Bath!”
He kept as staff an older couple, Marie and Claude. They were extremely good at their jobs, and years of service in Paris had left them completely unsurprised by anything.
Of the many places he had lived, Magnus found his Paris house to be one of the most pleasing abodes. Certainly there were places of greater natural beauty—but Paris had unnatural beauty, which was arguably better. Everything in the house gave him pleasure. The silk wallpaper in yellow and rose and silver and blue, the ormolu tables and giltwood armchairs, the clocks and mirrors and porcelains. . . . With every step he took farther into the house, to his main salon, he was reminded of the good of the place.
Many Downworlders stayed away from Paris. There were certainly many werewolves in the country, and every wooded glen had its fey. But Paris, it seemed, was the terrain of the vampire. It made sense, in many ways. Vampires were courtly creatures. They were pale and elegant. They enjoyed darkness and pleasure. Their hypnotic gazes—the encanto—enchanted many a noble. And there was nothing quite as pleasurable, decadent, and dangerous as letting a vampire drink your blood.
It had all gotten a bit out of hand during the vampire craze of 1787, though. That’s when the blood parties had started. That’s when all the children had gone missing and some other young people first returned home pale and with the absent look of the subjugate. Like Henri, and his sister, Brigitte. They were the nephew and niece of the Duke de Polignac. Once beloved members of one of the great families of France, they now lived with Saint Cloud and did his bidding. And Saint Cloud’s bidding could be a strange thing indeed. Magnus didn’t mind a little decadence—but Saint Cloud was evil. Classic, straightforward evil of the most old-fashioned type. The Shadowhunters of the Paris Institute seemed to have little effect on the goings-on, possibly because in Paris there were many places to hide. There were miles of catacombs, and it was extremely easy to snatch someone from the street and drag them below. Saint Cloud had friends in places high and low, and it would have been very difficult to go after him.
Magnus did all he could to avoid the Parisian vampires and the vampires who appeared on the edges of the court at Versailles. No good ever came of an encounter.
But enough of that. Time for the bath, which Marie was already filling. Magnus kept a large tub in his main salon, right by the window, so he could watch the street below as he bathed. When the water was ready, he submerged himself and began reading. An hour or so later he had dropped his book bathside and was watching some clouds pass overhead while absently thinking about the story of Cleopatra dissolving an invaluable pearl in a glass of wine. There was a knock on his chamber door, and Claude entered.
“There is a man here to see you, Monsieur Bane.”
Claude understood that in Magnus’s business it was not necessary to take names.
“All right,” Magnus said with a sigh. “Show him in.”
“Will monsieur be receiving his visitor in the bath?”
“Monsieur is considering it,” Magnus said, with an even deeper sigh. It was
annoying, but professional appearances had to be kept. He stepped out, dripping, and put on a silk dressing gown embroidered on the back with the picture of a peacock. He threw himself petulantly into a chair by the window.
“Claude!” he yelled. “Now! Send him in!”
A moment later the door opened again, and there stood a very attractive man with black hair and blue eyes. He wore clothes of an obviously fine quality. The tailoring was absolutely delicious. This was the sort of thing Magnus wanted to happen more often. How generous the universe could be, when she wanted to be! After denying him his balloon ride and giving him such an unpleasant encounter with Henri.
“You are Monsieur Magnus Bane,” the man said with certainty. Magnus was rarely misidentified. Tall, golden-skinned, cat-eyed men were rare.
“I am,” Magnus replied.
Many nobles Magnus had met had the absentminded air of people who had never had to take care of any matters of importance. This man was different. He had a very erect bearing, and a look of purpose. Also, he spoke French with a faint accent, but what kind of accent, Magnus could not immediately place.
“I have come to speak to you on a matter of some urgency. I wouldn’t normally . . . I . . .”
Magnus knew this hesitation well. Some people were nervous in the presence of warlocks.
“You are uncomfortable, monsieur,” Magnus said with a smile. “Allow me to make you comfortable. I have a great talent in these matters. Please sit. Have some champagne.”
“I prefer to stand, monsieur.”
“As you wish. But may I have the pleasure of learning your name?” Magnus asked.
“My name is Count Axel von Fersen.”
A count! Named Axel! A military man! With black hair and blue eyes! And in a state of distress! Oh, the universe had outdone herself. The universe would be sent flowers.
“Monsieur Bane, I have heard of your talents. I can’t say whether I believe what I’ve heard, but rational, intelligent, sensible people swear to me that you are capable of wonderful things beyond my understanding.”