He would have been terrified to get an answer, and felt something that was much more relief than disappointment when he didn’t. Even so, when he finally opened his eyes and took his hands away, he saw a trace of blue light, the barest trace, glow briefly between his knuckles. That frightened him, and he hurried away, hiding his hands beneath the shelter of the cloak.

Surely not, he assured himself. He’d done that before, made the light happen when he held the jewels he used for travel and said the words over them – his own version of consecration, he supposed. He didn’t know if the words were necessary, but Mélisande had used them; he was afraid not to.

And yet. He had felt something here. The sense of something heavy, inert. Nothing resembling thought, let alone speech, thank God. By reflex, he crossed himself, then shook his head, rattled and irritated.

But something. Something immense, and very old. Did God have the voice of a stone? He was further unsettled by the thought. The stones there in the chalk-mine, the noise they made – was it, after all, God that he glimpsed, there in that terrifying space between?

A movement in the shadows banished all such thoughts in an instant. The frog! Rakoczy’s heart clenched like a fist.

‘Monsieur le Comte,’ said an amused, gravelly voice. ‘I see the years have been kind to you.’

Raymond stepped into the starlight, smiling. The sight of him was disconcerting; Rakoczy had imagined this meeting for so long that the reality seemed oddly anticlimactic. Short, broad-shouldered, with long, loose hair that swept back from a massive forehead. A broad, almost lipless mouth. Raymond the frog.

‘Why are you here?’ Rakoczy blurted.

Maître Raymond’s brows were black – surely they had been white, thirty years ago? One of them lifted in puzzlement.

‘I was told that you were looking for me, monsieur.’ He spread his hands, the gesture graceful. ‘I came!’

‘Thank you,’ Rakoczy said dryly, beginning to regain some composure. ‘I meant, why are you in Paris?’

‘Everyone has to be somewhere, don’t they? They can’t be in the same place.’ This should have sounded like badinage, but didn’t. It sounded serious, like a statement of scientific principle, and Rakoczy found it unsettling.

‘Did you come looking for me?’ he asked boldly. He moved a little, trying to get a better look at the man. He was nearly sure that the frog looked younger than he had when last seen. Surely his flowing hair was darker, his step more elastic? A spurt of excitement bubbled in his chest.

‘For you?’ The frog looked amused for a moment, but then the look faded. ‘No. I’m looking for a lost daughter.’

Rakoczy was surprised and disconcerted.

‘Yours?’

‘More or less.’ Raymond seemed uninterested in explaining further. He moved a little to one side, eyes narrowing as he sought to make out Rakoczy’s face in the darkness. ‘You can hear stones, then, can you?’

‘I— what?’

Raymond nodded at the façade of the cathedral. ‘They do speak. They move, too, but very slowly, as one might expect.’

An icy chill shot up Rakoczy’s spine, at thought of the grinning gargoyles perched high above him and the implication that one might at any moment choose to spread its silent wings and hurtle down upon him, teeth still bared in carnivorous hilarity. Despite himself, he looked up, over his shoulder.

‘Not that fast.’ The note of amusement was back in the frog’s voice. ‘You would never see them. It takes them millennia to move the slightest fraction of an inch – unless of course they are propelled or melted. But you don’t want to see them do that, of course. Much too dangerous.’

This kind of talk seemed frivolous, and Rakoczy was bothered by it, but for some reason, not irritated. Troubled, with a sense that there was something under it, something that he simultaneously wanted to know – and wanted very much to avoid knowing. The sensation was novel, and unpleasant.

He cast caution to the wind, and demanded boldly, ‘Why did you not kill me in the Star Chamber?’

Raymond grinned at him; he could see the flash of teeth, and felt yet another shock: he was sure – almost sure – that the frog had had no teeth when last seen.

‘If I had wanted you dead, son, you wouldn’t be here talking to me,’ he said. ‘I wanted you to be out of the way, that’s all; you obliged me by taking the hint and leaving Paris.’

‘And just why did you want me “out of the way”?’ Had he not needed to find out, Rakcozy would have taken offence at the man’s tone.

The frog lifted one shoulder.

‘You were something of a threat to the lady.’

Sheer astonishment brought Rakoczy to his full height.

‘The lady? You mean the woman – La Dame Blanche?’

‘They did call her that.’ The frog seemed to find the notion amusing.

It was on the tip of Rakoczy’s tongue to tell Raymond that La Dame Blanche still lived, but he himself hadn’t lived as long as he had by blurting out everything he knew – and he didn’t want Raymond thinking that he himself might still be a threat to her.

‘What is the ultimate goal of an alchemist?’ the frog said, very seriously.

‘To transform matter,’ Rakoczy replied automatically.

The frog’s face split in a broad amphibian grin.

‘Exactly!’ he said. And vanished.

He had vanished. No puffs of smoke, no illusionist’s tricks, no smell of sulphur . . . the frog was simply gone. The square stretched empty under the starlit sky; the only thing that moved was a cat that darted mewing out of the shadows and brushed past Rakoczy’s leg.

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He would have been terrified to get an answer, and felt something that was much more relief than disappointment when he didn’t. Even so, when he finally opened his eyes and took his hands away, he saw a trace of blue light, the barest trace, glow briefly between his knuckles. That frightened him, and he hurried away, hiding his hands beneath the shelter of the cloak.

Surely not, he assured himself. He’d done that before, made the light happen when he held the jewels he used for travel and said the words over them – his own version of consecration, he supposed. He didn’t know if the words were necessary, but Mélisande had used them; he was afraid not to.

And yet. He had felt something here. The sense of something heavy, inert. Nothing resembling thought, let alone speech, thank God. By reflex, he crossed himself, then shook his head, rattled and irritated.

But something. Something immense, and very old. Did God have the voice of a stone? He was further unsettled by the thought. The stones there in the chalk-mine, the noise they made – was it, after all, God that he glimpsed, there in that terrifying space between?

A movement in the shadows banished all such thoughts in an instant. The frog! Rakoczy’s heart clenched like a fist.

‘Monsieur le Comte,’ said an amused, gravelly voice. ‘I see the years have been kind to you.’

Raymond stepped into the starlight, smiling. The sight of him was disconcerting; Rakoczy had imagined this meeting for so long that the reality seemed oddly anticlimactic. Short, broad-shouldered, with long, loose hair that swept back from a massive forehead. A broad, almost lipless mouth. Raymond the frog.

‘Why are you here?’ Rakoczy blurted.

Maître Raymond’s brows were black – surely they had been white, thirty years ago? One of them lifted in puzzlement.

‘I was told that you were looking for me, monsieur.’ He spread his hands, the gesture graceful. ‘I came!’

‘Thank you,’ Rakoczy said dryly, beginning to regain some composure. ‘I meant, why are you in Paris?’

‘Everyone has to be somewhere, don’t they? They can’t be in the same place.’ This should have sounded like badinage, but didn’t. It sounded serious, like a statement of scientific principle, and Rakoczy found it unsettling.

‘Did you come looking for me?’ he asked boldly. He moved a little, trying to get a better look at the man. He was nearly sure that the frog looked younger than he had when last seen. Surely his flowing hair was darker, his step more elastic? A spurt of excitement bubbled in his chest.

‘For you?’ The frog looked amused for a moment, but then the look faded. ‘No. I’m looking for a lost daughter.’

Rakoczy was surprised and disconcerted.

‘Yours?’

‘More or less.’ Raymond seemed uninterested in explaining further. He moved a little to one side, eyes narrowing as he sought to make out Rakoczy’s face in the darkness. ‘You can hear stones, then, can you?’

‘I— what?’

Raymond nodded at the façade of the cathedral. ‘They do speak. They move, too, but very slowly, as one might expect.’

An icy chill shot up Rakoczy’s spine, at thought of the grinning gargoyles perched high above him and the implication that one might at any moment choose to spread its silent wings and hurtle down upon him, teeth still bared in carnivorous hilarity. Despite himself, he looked up, over his shoulder.

‘Not that fast.’ The note of amusement was back in the frog’s voice. ‘You would never see them. It takes them millennia to move the slightest fraction of an inch – unless of course they are propelled or melted. But you don’t want to see them do that, of course. Much too dangerous.’

This kind of talk seemed frivolous, and Rakoczy was bothered by it, but for some reason, not irritated. Troubled, with a sense that there was something under it, something that he simultaneously wanted to know – and wanted very much to avoid knowing. The sensation was novel, and unpleasant.

He cast caution to the wind, and demanded boldly, ‘Why did you not kill me in the Star Chamber?’

Raymond grinned at him; he could see the flash of teeth, and felt yet another shock: he was sure – almost sure – that the frog had had no teeth when last seen.

‘If I had wanted you dead, son, you wouldn’t be here talking to me,’ he said. ‘I wanted you to be out of the way, that’s all; you obliged me by taking the hint and leaving Paris.’

‘And just why did you want me “out of the way”?’ Had he not needed to find out, Rakcozy would have taken offence at the man’s tone.

The frog lifted one shoulder.

‘You were something of a threat to the lady.’

Sheer astonishment brought Rakoczy to his full height.

‘The lady? You mean the woman – La Dame Blanche?’

‘They did call her that.’ The frog seemed to find the notion amusing.

It was on the tip of Rakoczy’s tongue to tell Raymond that La Dame Blanche still lived, but he himself hadn’t lived as long as he had by blurting out everything he knew – and he didn’t want Raymond thinking that he himself might still be a threat to her.

‘What is the ultimate goal of an alchemist?’ the frog said, very seriously.

‘To transform matter,’ Rakoczy replied automatically.

The frog’s face split in a broad amphibian grin.

‘Exactly!’ he said. And vanished.

He had vanished. No puffs of smoke, no illusionist’s tricks, no smell of sulphur . . . the frog was simply gone. The square stretched empty under the starlit sky; the only thing that moved was a cat that darted mewing out of the shadows and brushed past Rakoczy’s leg.

Rakoczy was so shaken – and so excited – by the encounter that he wandered without knowing where he was going, crossed bridges without noticing, lost his way among the maze of twisting streets and allées on the Left Bank and did not reach his house ’til nearly dawn, footsore and exhausted, but with his mind buzzing with speculation.

Younger. He was sure of it. Raymond the frog was younger than he had been thirty years before. So it could be done – somehow.

He was convinced now that Raymond was indeed a traveller, like him. It had to be the travel; specifically, travelling forward in time. But how? He’d tried, more than once. To go back was dangerous, and the journey depleted you physically, but it was possible. If you had the right combinations of stones, you could even arrive at a certain time – more or less. But you needed also a focus; someone or something upon which to fix the mind; without that, you might still end up at some random point. And that, he thought, was the problem in going forward: it wasn’t possible to focus on something you didn’t know was there.

But Master Raymond had done it.

How, then, to persuade the frog to share the secret? Raymond did not seem to be hostile to him, but neither did he seem friendly; Rakoczy would hardly have expected him to be.

A lost daughter, the frog had said. And he had poisoned Rakoczy to remove him as a threat to the Fraser woman, La Dame Blanche. And the woman had glowed with blue light – because she had touched him, when handing him the cup? He couldn’t remember. But she had glowed, he was positive.

So. If he was right, then she too was a traveller.

‘Merveilleuse,’ he whispered. He had already been interested in the woman; now he was possessed. Not only did he want – need – to know what she knew; she was important to Raymond in some way, perhaps connected with the lost daughter – perhaps she was the lost daughter?

If he could but lay hands on her . . . He had made a few cautious inquiries, but no one in the Court of Miracles, or among his more respectable connections, had heard anything of Claire Fraser in the last thirty years. Her husband had been political, had died, he thought, in Scotland. But if she had gone to Scotland with him, how did Raymond come to be searching for her in Paris?

These thoughts, and many more like them, ran round in his head like a pack of fleas, raising itching welts of curiosity.

The sky had begun to lighten, though the stars still burned dimly above the rooftops. The scent of fresh woodsmoke touched him, and a whiff of yeast: the boulangeries firing their ovens for the day’s bread. A distant clop of hooves, as the farmers’ wagons came in from the country, full of vegetables, fresh meat, eggs and flowers. The city was beginning to stir.

His own house, his own bed. His mind had slowed now, and the thought of sleep was overwhelming. There was a grey cat sitting on the stoop of his house, washing its paws.

‘Bonjour,’ he said to it, and in his drowsy, exhausted state, almost expected it to answer him. It didn’t, though, and when the butler opened the door it vanished, so quickly that he wondered whether it had ever really been there.

Worn out with constant walking, Michael slept like the dead these days, without dreams or motion, and woke when the sun came up. His valet, Robert, heard him stir and came in at once, one of the femmes de chambre on his heels with a bowl of coffee and some pastry.

He ate slowly, suffering himself to be brushed, shaved, and tenderly tidied into fresh linen. Robert kept up a soothing murmur of the sort of conversation that doesn’t require response, and smiled encouragingly when presenting the mirror. Rather to Michael’s surprise, the image in the mirror looked quite normal. Hair neatly clubbed – he wore his own, without powder – suit modest in cut but of the highest quality. Robert hadn’t asked him what he required, but had dressed him for an ordinary day of business.

He supposed that was all right. What, after all, did clothes matter? It wasn’t as though there was a costume de rigueur for calling upon the sister of one’s deceased wife, who had come uninvited into one’s bed in the middle of the night.

He had spent the last two days trying to think of some way never to see or speak to Léonie again, but really, there was no help for it. He’d have to see her.

But what was he to say to her? he wondered, as he made his way through the streets toward the house where Léonie lived with an aged aunt, Eugenie Galantine. He wished he could talk the situation over with Sister Joan, but that wouldn’t be appropriate, even were she available.

He’d hoped that walking would give him time to come up at least with a point d’appui, if not an entire statement of principle, but instead, he found himself obsessively counting the flagstones of the market as he crossed it, counting the bongs of the public horloge as it struck the hour of three, and – for lack of anything else to count – counting his own footsteps as he approached her door. Six hundred and thirty-seven, six hundred and thirty-eight . . .

As he turned into the street, though, he stopped counting abruptly. He stopped walking, too, for an instant – then began to run. Something was wrong at the house of Madame Galantine.

He pushed his way through the crowd of neighbours and vendors clustered near the steps, and seized the butler, whom he knew, by a sleeve.

‘What?’ he barked. ‘What’s happened?’ The butler, a tall, cadaverous man named Hubert, was plainly agitated, but settled a bit on seeing Michael.

‘I don’t know, sir,’ he said, though a sideways slide of his eyes made it clear that he did. ‘Mademoiselle Léonie . . . she’s ill. The doctor . . .’

He could smell the blood. Not waiting for more, he pushed Hubert aside and sprinted up the stairs, calling for Madame Eugenie, Léonie’s aunt.

Madame Eugenie popped out of a bedroom, her cap and wrapper neat in spite of the uproar.

‘Monsieur Michel!’ she said, blocking him from entering the room. ‘It’s all right, but you must not go in.’

‘Yes, I must.’ His heart was thundering in his ears and his hands felt cold.

‘You may not,’ she said firmly. ‘She’s ill. It isn’t proper.’

‘Proper? A young woman tries to make away with herself and you tell me it isn’t proper?’

A maid appeared in the doorway, a basket piled with bloodstained linen in her arms, but the look of shock on Madame Eugenie’s broad face was more striking.

‘Make away with herself?’ The old lady’s mouth hung open for a moment, then snapped shut like a turtle’s. ‘Why would you think such a thing?’ She was regarding him with considerable suspicion. ‘And what are you doing here, for that matter? Who told you she was ill?’

A glimpse of a man in a dark robe, who must be the doctor, decided Michael that little was to be gained by engaging further with Madame Eugenie. He took her gently but firmly by the elbows, picked her up – she uttered a small shriek of surprise – and set her aside.

He went in and shut the bedroom door behind him.

‘Who are you?’ The doctor looked up, surprised. He was wiping out a freshly used bleeding-bowl, and his case lay open on the boudoir’s settee. Léonie’s bedroom must lie beyond; the door was open, and he caught a glimpse of the foot of a bed, but could not see the bed’s inhabitant.

‘It doesn’t matter. How is she?’

The doctor eyed him narrowly, but after a moment, nodded.

‘She will live. As for the child . . .’ He made an equivocal motion of the hand. ‘I’ve done my best. She took a great deal of the—’

‘The child?’ The floor shifted under his feet, and the memory of the dream flooded him, that queer sense of something half-wrong, half-familiar. It was the feeling of a small, hard swelling, pressed against his bum; that’s what it was. Lillie had been only two months gone with child, but he remembered all too well the feeling of a woman’s body in early pregnancy.

‘It’s yours? I beg your pardon, I shouldn’t ask.’ The doctor put away his bowl and fleam, and shook out his black velvet turban.

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