At last Famke did let herself cough. She coughed a good, long time, to get all the tickles and scratches out
of her lungs. When she was done she
climbed down from the little platform and joined him at the window.
"Albert," she said, laying a tentative hand on his arm.
She added, in English, "Sweetheart . . . "
He continued to sulk, so she looked out the window, too, and chewed a lip
in thought. It was a pristine November day, sunlight dazzling on a full,
thick blanket of snow that even the horses hadnt gone tisse in yet. Chimney
smoke had only just begun to soot the rooftops, the trains were blocked by the
snow on the rails, and in the narrow harbor chunks of ice were bumping against
each other, like pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle trying gently for a better fit.
A draft leaked in through the warped panes and Famke, shivering, pressed
herself against Alberts back.
She was somewhat pleased to find he was staring toward the
ruin of the royal palace, now a white mound to the south. It was a mound they both knew well; one night a month or so
ago, just after the fire that started in a garderobe had finally quenched itself
in the harbor, the two of them had sneaked past the sentries and poked around
the rubble for souvenirs. Famke had
held a shuttered lantern while Albert dug out a nearly perfect silver tinderbox
still filled with royal matches, something that he with his fondness for
cheroots could put to far better use than she; and yet he presented it to her
with a gallant flourish. It sat now
on the icy mantel, polished to such a gloss that the three ladies carved on the
top, whom Albert called the Graces, seemed to move with the light.
Albert spoke. "That
ruin"he pulled her up beside him and pointed, as if she couldnt see it
for herself "that was the first thing I saw when I woke this morning. "
"Our first snowfalling," Famke agreed, but he didnt seem to hear.
"I said to myself, 'That is
my inspiration. That
is whats been lacking in the work I came here to do . . . '"
"Your entryness," she elaborated, "to your Brothergood. "
"Brotherhood. "He adjusted
the angle of her head, even though she wasnt posing now. "And yes, you are right.
You," he said, looking at and yet beyond her, "will be Nimue,
creating the ice cave in which you will make the noble Merlin a prisoner for
time and all eternity. The enchantress baiting her trap. Eyes
weaving spellsmaking this icy cell a crystal semblance of paradise . . . "
She strained to look especially magical.
Albert studied her critically and said, "Your figure is right, your
eyes and your face. Your hair.
And yet something is missing. "
Famke dropped her last attempt at a pose.
She hardly understood when Albert talked in this voice, with this passion
and despair; hed only just begun to teach her his language, and she was
barely seventeen, hardly a scholar. She
clutched her elbows and said, "Doesnt magic people feel cold?"
"Cold," Albert whispered.
He was prone to repeating the last word that had stuck in his mind, as if
there hed find the revelation that would make him the most celebrated of the
painterly Brotherhood to which he aspired. "A paradise. Coldice!"
And, perhaps giving up on some loftier endeavor, he kissed her.
Who would imagine paradise to be cold? Famke thought as Alberts lips
oystered away at hers. To her the
cold meant chillblains, a red nose, and extra pain in the lungs.
Everyone had trouble keeping warm in a winter like this of 1884, and
Albert for some reason insisted on living in a garret with a fireplace that
would not draw. She didnt even
have a full set of underwear on. But
when she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him deep, she felt his warmth
through the layers of his coat and waistcoat and shirt and undershirt, and
sudden bright heat sprang into her cheeks, sweat to her brow.
She broke into a fever so intense she might have swooned if she hadnt
been caught by another fierce bout of coughing.
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