‘I believe you are acquainted with my cousin, Jared Fraser?’

Rosenwald’s round face lighted at once.

‘Oh, to be sure, sir! A man of the most exquisite taste and discrimination. I made him a wine-cistern with a motif of butterflies and carnations, not a year past!’

‘I know.’ The young man smiled, a smile that creased his cheeks and narrowed his eyes, and that small bell of recognition rang again. But the name held no familiarity to Rakoczy – only the face, and that only vaguely.

‘My uncle has another commission for you, if it’s agreeable?’

‘I never say no to honest work, monsieur.’ From the pleasure apparent on the goldsmith’s rubicund face, honest work that paid very well was even more welcome.

‘Well, then – if I may?’ The young man pulled a folded paper from his pocket, but half-turned toward Rakoczy, eyebrow cocked in inquiry. Rakoczy motioned him to go on, and turned himself to examine a music-box that stood on the counter – an enormous thing the size of a cow’s head, crowned with a nearly naked nymph, festooned with the airiest of gold draperies and dancing on mushrooms and flowers, in company with a large frog.

‘A chalice,’ Murray was saying, the paper laid flat on the counter. From the corner of his eye, Rakoczy could see that it held a list of names. ‘It’s a presentation to the chapel of des Anges, to be given in memory of my late father. A young cousin of mine has just entered the convent there as a postulant,’ he explained. ‘So Monsieur Fraser thought that the best place.’

‘An excellent choice.’ Rosenwald picked up the list. ‘And you wish all of these names inscribed?’

‘Yes, if you can.’

‘Monsieur!’ Rosenwald waved a hand, professionally insulted. ‘These are your father’s children?’

‘Yes, these at the bottom.’ Murray bent over the counter, his finger tracing the lines, speaking the outlandish names carefully. ‘At the top, these are my parents’ names: Ian Alastair Robert MacLeod Murray, and Janet Flora Arabella Fraser Murray. Now, also, I – we, I mean – we want these two names as well: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, and Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser. Those are my uncle and aunt; my uncle was very close to my father,’ he explained. ‘Almost a brother.’

He went on saying something else, but Rakoczy wasn’t listening. He grasped the edge of the counter, vision flickering so that the nymph seemed to leer at him.

Claire Fraser. That had been the woman’s name, and her husband, James, a Highland Lord from Scotland. That was who the young man resembled, though he was not so imposing as . . . but La Dame Blanche! It was her, it had to be.

And in the next instant, the goldsmith confirmed this, straightening up from the list with an abrupt air of wariness, as though one of the names might spring off the paper and bite him.

‘That name – your aunt, you say? Did she and your uncle live in Paris at one time?’

‘Yes,’ Murray said, looking mildly surprised. ‘Maybe thirty years ago – only for a short time, though. Did you know her?’

‘Ah. Not to say I was personally acquainted,’ Rosenwald said, with a crooked smile. ‘But she was . . . known. People called her La Dame Blanche.’

Murray blinked, clearly surprised to hear this.

‘Really?’ He looked rather appalled.

‘Yes, but it was all a long time ago,’ Rosenwald said hastily, clearly thinking he’d said too much. He waved a hand toward his back room. ‘If you’ll give me a moment, monsieur, I have a chalice actually here, if you would care to see it – and a paten, too; we might make some accommodation of price, if you take both. They were made for a patron who died suddenly, before the chalice was finished, so there is almost no decoration – plenty of room for the names to be applied, and perhaps we might put the, um, aunt and uncle on the paten?’

Murray nodded, interested, and at Rosenwald’s gesture, went round the counter and followed the old man into his back room. Rakoczy put the octafoil salver under his arm and left, as quietly as possible, head buzzing with questions.

Jared eyed Michael over the dinner table, shook his head and bent to his plate.

‘I’m not drunk!’ Michael blurted, then bent his own head, face flaming. He could feel Jared’s eyes boring into the top of his head.

‘Not now, ye’re not.’ Jared’s voice wasn’t accusing. In fact, it was quiet, almost kindly. ‘But ye have been. Ye’ve not touched your dinner, and ye’re the colour of rotten wax.’

‘I—’ The words caught in his throat, just as the food had. Eels in garlic sauce. The smell wafted up from the dish, and he stood up suddenly, lest he either vomit or burst into tears.

‘I’ve nay appetite, cousin,’ he managed to say, before turning away. ‘Excuse me.’

He would have left, but he hesitated that moment too long, not wanting to go up to the room where Lillie no longer was, but not wanting to look petulant by rushing out into the street. Jared rose and came round to him with a decided step.

‘I’m nay verra hungry myself, a charaid,’ Jared said, taking him by the arm. ‘Come sit wi’ me for a bit and take a dram. It’ll settle your wame.’

He didn’t much want to, but there was nothing else he could think of doing, and within a few moments, he found himself in front of a fragrant applewood fire, with a glass of his father’s whisky in hand, the warmth of both easing the tightness of chest and throat. It wouldn’t cure his grief, he knew, but it made it possible to breathe.

‘Good stuff,’ Jared said, sniffing cautiously, but approvingly. ‘Even raw as it is. It’ll be wonderful, aged a few years.’

br />

‘I believe you are acquainted with my cousin, Jared Fraser?’

Rosenwald’s round face lighted at once.

‘Oh, to be sure, sir! A man of the most exquisite taste and discrimination. I made him a wine-cistern with a motif of butterflies and carnations, not a year past!’

‘I know.’ The young man smiled, a smile that creased his cheeks and narrowed his eyes, and that small bell of recognition rang again. But the name held no familiarity to Rakoczy – only the face, and that only vaguely.

‘My uncle has another commission for you, if it’s agreeable?’

‘I never say no to honest work, monsieur.’ From the pleasure apparent on the goldsmith’s rubicund face, honest work that paid very well was even more welcome.

‘Well, then – if I may?’ The young man pulled a folded paper from his pocket, but half-turned toward Rakoczy, eyebrow cocked in inquiry. Rakoczy motioned him to go on, and turned himself to examine a music-box that stood on the counter – an enormous thing the size of a cow’s head, crowned with a nearly naked nymph, festooned with the airiest of gold draperies and dancing on mushrooms and flowers, in company with a large frog.

‘A chalice,’ Murray was saying, the paper laid flat on the counter. From the corner of his eye, Rakoczy could see that it held a list of names. ‘It’s a presentation to the chapel of des Anges, to be given in memory of my late father. A young cousin of mine has just entered the convent there as a postulant,’ he explained. ‘So Monsieur Fraser thought that the best place.’

‘An excellent choice.’ Rosenwald picked up the list. ‘And you wish all of these names inscribed?’

‘Yes, if you can.’

‘Monsieur!’ Rosenwald waved a hand, professionally insulted. ‘These are your father’s children?’

‘Yes, these at the bottom.’ Murray bent over the counter, his finger tracing the lines, speaking the outlandish names carefully. ‘At the top, these are my parents’ names: Ian Alastair Robert MacLeod Murray, and Janet Flora Arabella Fraser Murray. Now, also, I – we, I mean – we want these two names as well: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, and Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser. Those are my uncle and aunt; my uncle was very close to my father,’ he explained. ‘Almost a brother.’

He went on saying something else, but Rakoczy wasn’t listening. He grasped the edge of the counter, vision flickering so that the nymph seemed to leer at him.

Claire Fraser. That had been the woman’s name, and her husband, James, a Highland Lord from Scotland. That was who the young man resembled, though he was not so imposing as . . . but La Dame Blanche! It was her, it had to be.

And in the next instant, the goldsmith confirmed this, straightening up from the list with an abrupt air of wariness, as though one of the names might spring off the paper and bite him.

‘That name – your aunt, you say? Did she and your uncle live in Paris at one time?’

‘Yes,’ Murray said, looking mildly surprised. ‘Maybe thirty years ago – only for a short time, though. Did you know her?’

‘Ah. Not to say I was personally acquainted,’ Rosenwald said, with a crooked smile. ‘But she was . . . known. People called her La Dame Blanche.’

Murray blinked, clearly surprised to hear this.

‘Really?’ He looked rather appalled.

‘Yes, but it was all a long time ago,’ Rosenwald said hastily, clearly thinking he’d said too much. He waved a hand toward his back room. ‘If you’ll give me a moment, monsieur, I have a chalice actually here, if you would care to see it – and a paten, too; we might make some accommodation of price, if you take both. They were made for a patron who died suddenly, before the chalice was finished, so there is almost no decoration – plenty of room for the names to be applied, and perhaps we might put the, um, aunt and uncle on the paten?’

Murray nodded, interested, and at Rosenwald’s gesture, went round the counter and followed the old man into his back room. Rakoczy put the octafoil salver under his arm and left, as quietly as possible, head buzzing with questions.

Jared eyed Michael over the dinner table, shook his head and bent to his plate.

‘I’m not drunk!’ Michael blurted, then bent his own head, face flaming. He could feel Jared’s eyes boring into the top of his head.

‘Not now, ye’re not.’ Jared’s voice wasn’t accusing. In fact, it was quiet, almost kindly. ‘But ye have been. Ye’ve not touched your dinner, and ye’re the colour of rotten wax.’

‘I—’ The words caught in his throat, just as the food had. Eels in garlic sauce. The smell wafted up from the dish, and he stood up suddenly, lest he either vomit or burst into tears.

‘I’ve nay appetite, cousin,’ he managed to say, before turning away. ‘Excuse me.’

He would have left, but he hesitated that moment too long, not wanting to go up to the room where Lillie no longer was, but not wanting to look petulant by rushing out into the street. Jared rose and came round to him with a decided step.

‘I’m nay verra hungry myself, a charaid,’ Jared said, taking him by the arm. ‘Come sit wi’ me for a bit and take a dram. It’ll settle your wame.’

He didn’t much want to, but there was nothing else he could think of doing, and within a few moments, he found himself in front of a fragrant applewood fire, with a glass of his father’s whisky in hand, the warmth of both easing the tightness of chest and throat. It wouldn’t cure his grief, he knew, but it made it possible to breathe.

‘Good stuff,’ Jared said, sniffing cautiously, but approvingly. ‘Even raw as it is. It’ll be wonderful, aged a few years.’

‘Aye. Uncle Jamie kens what he’s about; he said he’d made whisky a good many times, in America.’

Jared chuckled.

‘Your uncle Jamie usually kens what he’s about,’ he said. ‘Not that knowing it keeps him out o’ trouble.’ He shifted, making himself more comfortable in his worn leather chair. ‘Had it not been for the Rising, he’d likely have stayed here wi’ me. Aye, well . . .’ The old man sighed with regret and lifted his glass, examining the spirit. It was still nearly as pale as water – it hadn’t been casked above a few months – but had the slightly viscous look of a fine strong spirit, like it might climb out of the glass if you took your eye off it.

‘And if he had, I suppose I’d not be here myself,’ Michael said dryly.

Jared glanced at him, surprised.

‘Och! I didna mean to say ye were but a poor substitute for Jamie, lad.’ He smiled crookedly, and his hooded eyes grew moist. ‘Not at all. Ye’ve been the best thing ever to come to me. You and dear wee Lillie, and . . .’ He cleared his throat. ‘I . . . well, I canna say anything that will help, I ken that. But . . . it won’t always be like this.’

‘Won’t it?’ Michael said bleakly. ‘Aye, I’ll take your word for it.’ A silence fell between them, broken only by the hissing and snap of the fire. The mention of Lillie was like an awl digging into his breastbone, and he took a deeper sip of the whisky to quell the ache. Maybe Jared was right to mention the drink to him. It helped, but not enough. And the help didn’t last. He was tired of waking to grief and headache both.

Shying away from thoughts of Lillie, his mind fastened on Uncle Jamie instead. He’d lost his wife, too, and from what Michael had seen of the aftermath, it had torn his soul in two. Then she’d come back to him by some miracle, and he was a man transformed. But in between . . . he’d managed. He’d found a way to be.

Thinking of Auntie Claire gave him a slight feeling of comfort – as long as he didn’t think too much about what she’d told the family . . . Who – or what – she was, and where she’d been while she was gone those twenty years. The brothers and sisters had talked among themselves about it afterward; Young Jamie and Kitty didn’t believe a word of it, Maggie and Janet weren’t sure – but Young Ian believed it, and that counted for a lot with Michael. And she’d looked at him – right at him – when she said what was going to happen in Paris.

He felt the same small thrill of horror now, remembering. The Terror. That’s what it will be called, and that’s what it will be. People will be arrested for no cause and beheaded in the Place de la Concorde. The streets will run with blood, and no one – no one – will be safe.

He looked at his cousin; Jared was an old man, though still hale enough. He knew there was no way he could persuade Jared to leave Paris and his wine business. But it would be some time yet – if Auntie Claire was right. No need to think about it now. But she’d seemed so sure, like a seer, talking from a vantage point after everything had happened, from a safer time.

And yet she’d come back from that safe time, to be with Uncle Jamie again.

For a moment, he entertained the wild fantasy that Lillie wasn’t dead, but only swept away by the faeries into a distant time. He couldn’t see or touch her, but the knowledge that she was doing things, was alive . . . maybe it was knowing that, thinking that, that had kept Uncle Jamie whole. He swallowed, hard.

‘Jared,’ he said, clearing his own throat. ‘What did ye think of Auntie Claire? When she lived here?’

Jared looked surprised, but lowered his glass to his knee, pursing his lips in thought.

‘She was a bonny lass, I’ll tell ye that,’ he said. ‘Verra bonny. A tongue like the rough side of a rasp, if she took against something, though – and decided opinions.’ He nodded, twice, as though recalling a few, and grinned suddenly. ‘Verra decided indeed!’

‘Aye? The goldsmith – Rosenwald, ye ken? – mentioned her, when I went to commission the chalice and he saw her name on the list. He called her La Dame Blanche.’ This last was not phrased as a question, but he gave it a slight rising inflection, and Jared nodded, his smile widening into a grin.

‘Oh, aye, I mind that! ’Twas Jamie’s notion. She’d find herself now and then in dangerous places without him – ken how some folk are just the sort as things happen to – so he put it about that she was La Dame Blanche. Ken what a White Lady is, do ye?’

Michael crossed himself, and Jared followed suit, nodding.

‘Aye, just so. Make any wicked sod with villainy in mind think twice. A White Lady can strike ye blind or shrivel a man’s balls, and likely a few more things than that, should she take the notion. And I’d be the last to say that Claire Fraser couldn’t, if she’d a mind to.’

Jared raised the glass absently to his lips, took a bigger sip of the raw spirit than he’d meant to and coughed, spraying droplets of memorial whisky halfway across the room. Rather to his own shock, Michael laughed.

Jared wiped his mouth, still coughing, but then sat up straight and lifted his glass, which still held a few drops.

‘To your da. Sláinte mhath!’

‘Sláinte mhath!’ Michael echoed, and drained what remained in his own glass. He set it down with finality, and rose. He’d drink nay more tonight.

‘Oidche mhath, a charaid.’

‘Goodnight, lad,’ said Jared. The fire was burning low, but still cast a warm ruddy glow on the old man’s face. ‘Fare ye well.’

The Next Night

Michael dropped his key several times before finally managing to turn it in the old-fashioned lock. It wasn’t drink; he’d not had a drop since the wine at supper. Instead, he’d walked the length of the Ile de Paris and back, accompanied only by his thoughts; his whole body quivered and he felt mindless with exhaustion, but he was sure he would sleep. Jean-Baptiste had left the door unbarred, according to his orders, but one of the footmen was sprawled on a settle in the entryway, snoring. He smiled a little, though it was an effort to raise the corners of his mouth.

‘Bolt the door and go to bed, Paul,’ he whispered, bending and shaking the man gently by the shoulder. The footman stirred and snorted, but Michael didn’t wait to see whether he woke entirely. There was a tiny oil-lamp burning on the landing of the stairs, a little round glass globe in the gaudy colours of Murano. It had been there since the first day he came from Scotland to stay with Jared, years before, and the sight of it soothed him and drew his aching body up the wide, dark stair.

The house creaked and talked to itself at night; all old houses did. Tonight, though, it was silent, the big copper-seamed roof gone cold and its massive timbers settled into somnolence.

He flung off his clothes and crawled naked into bed, head spinning. Tired as he was, his flesh quivered and twitched, his legs jerking like a spitted frog’s, before he finally relaxed enough to fall headfirst into the seething cauldron of dreams that awaited him.

She was there, of course. Laughing at him, playing with her ridiculous pug. Running a hand filled with desire across his face, down his neck, easing her body close, and closer. Then they were somehow in bed, with the wind blowing cool through gauzy curtains, too cool, he felt cold, but then her warmth came close, pressed against him. He felt a terrible desire, but at the same time feared her. She felt utterly familiar, utterly strange – and the mixture thrilled him.

He reached for her, and realised that he couldn’t raise his arms, couldn’t move. And yet she was against him, writhing in a slow squirm of need, greedy and tantalising. In the way of dreams, he was at the same time in front of her, behind her, touching, and seeing from a distance. Candle-glow on naked breasts, the shadowed weight of solid buttocks, falling drapes of parting white, one round, firm leg protruding, a pointed toe rooting gently between his legs. Urgency.

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