Annabel had thought that Mavis, that horrible nightmare of a name, was beautiful. She’d given Mae that name because she thought it was beautiful.
— The Demon’s Covenant, p.435
Holding her daughter in her arms for the first time, Annabel Crawford felt not a surge of wild elation but instead a small nervous flutter of anxiety somewhere behind her breastbone. Her daughter was a small, red, scrunchy-faced thing, her eyes fixed blue and unblinking on Annabel’s face.
Annabel looked at her daughter’s tiny hands, her tiny feet, felt her daughter’s warm bird-weight in her arms and the futile floundering kick of her uncontrolled limbs, and felt such desperate love for her that it was quite terrifying.
She had to look after this miniscule human being, and she had never even been good with houseplants.
Somewhere in the hospital, a door slammed. In her arms, her daughter gave a tiny hiccough and began to cry.
It was the first time that Annabel Crawford had felt quite so helpless, although it would not be the last.
It was pleasant, to prepare the profile for a prospective client. Annabel enjoyed the language of her job and the numbers. They were orderly and they made sense. Annabel approved of order and sense. Consequently, she was very good at what she did.
Currently, because it was a very pleasant Saturday afternoon by the standards of English weather, she was working with the French windows ajar so that the faint breeze could occasionally whisper across her skin. The pen she used was thin-nibbed, hand-writing slanted and elegant. It was difficult not to seep the dark blue ink across the page, requiring a certain crook of her wrist and economy of motion which was pleasing indeed to master.
She had bought Mavis a pen much like this one for her sixteenth birthday. It been a beautiful, subtle piece of workmanship, lying couched against dark velvet. Pouring coffee for herself, Annabel had deliberately not watched as Mavis had opened it.
Thanks, Mavis had said, her expression slightly confused. Annabel turned away again from the dark gleam of her daughter’s eyes.
Penmanship is a skill worth cultivating, Mavis, she had replied, pushing away that hollow pang in her chest. I thought that this pen might encourage you.
She had never seen Mavis use it.
(Because she had turned away, turned from the incomprehensible mystery that was her daughter, she did not see her lift the pen and her confusion replaced by something else that shone in those eyes so unlike Annabel’s own.)
When she paused a moment for thought, she could hear the low murmuring of her children basking outside. Jamie had poked his head around earlier to inform her that they had made iced tea, that it was delicious, and that she was welcome to join them for a “refreshing beverage” if she felt like it.
Her son was really rather peculiar sometimes.
Annabel loved him so fiercely that there were no words or gestures to encompass it. The thought of trying made her feel stilted and false.
She had thanked him and gone back to her work.
Setting her pen down, she rose and checked her hands for any stray ink before stretching and walking out onto the porch.
Jamie was sprawled across several cushions stolen from indoors, gesticulating emphatically with his half-full glass. When he saw Annabel, his face brightened like a miniature sun.
“Mum!” He waved at her, lunging upright in an undignified scramble of limbs. “Did you want some tea?”
“Be careful, Mum,” Mavis looked amused, her nose crinkling. Annabel’s daughter sat striped by golden bands of sun, in an outfit that actually made her mother quail a little inside. “I think Jamie put an entire bag of sugar in there.”
“I did not!” Jamie was indignant. “It was bitter. I didn’t want it just to taste like cold tea, so I put more sugar in it. You should be glad that I didn’t just hand you cold tea and tell you to be grateful for it!”
“So now it’s just syrup,” said Mavis, giving her brother a warm, mischievous smile, “and you want us to be grateful for it.”
“Shut up,” said Jamie, “you have the tastes of a philistine and a pig.”
Mavis threw a cushion at him, which he ducked.
“Oh,” said Annabel faintly, accepting the glass which Jamie passed to her. She looked down at her daughter, who was painting the top of her foot with delicate brown swirls, brow furrowed. “Mavis, what are you doing?”
“Henna tattoo,” Mavis replied, sticking her foot out to admire her handiwork. She looked up and saw her mother’s expression. “Don’t worry, Mum, it’s not permanent.”
“Wonderful,” Annabel said, and Mavis got that amused look again. Annabel took a sip of her tea, which so sweet it actually made her teeth tingle a little. But Jamie was watching her with those huge, hopeful eyes that he got sometimes, so she smiled and said, “Delicious” with as much conviction as she could muster and put the glass aside as soon as she decently could.
She stood out there for a little longer, then slipped back inside to continue her work. After a few minutes, she heard the sound of their conversation starting up again, a low, warm murmur from which she was excluded.
Annabel sat down and bent her mind back to the task at hand, the taste of sweet tea still lingering cool and now pleasant in her mouth.
A little over a month later, Mavis and Jamie disappeared for far too long, and Annabel remembered what it was like to feel helpless again.
Names and rules were important. Annabel named her daughter Mavis because it was a clean, sharp, beautiful name, with its two elegant syllables: May-viss. A dignified, subtle name.
She thought that it would be a good name for her daughter to grow up into.
So, of course, as soon as her daughter was old enough, she started calling herself May instead. But May is a month, Annabel had protested, appalled, and more than that— ‘May’ was a vacillation.
Her daughter, dark-eyed and stubborn-faced, had said, Not M-A-Y, Mum. M-A-E. Like Mae West.
That was hardly any better, Annabel thought privately, and carried on calling her Mavis.
James she named for a great-uncle, because family names were important and family money was even more so. Annabel was in most ways a pragmatist, and an inheritance would do James the world of good.
Although Jamie was not so bad and Annabel would even use it on occasion, she worried that her children desired to abbreviate themselves in such a fashion. One day they would be grateful for the adult gravitas of their names, in comparison to those unfortunate children saddled with names like Trixie and Champagne and Darren, for goodness’ sake.
Running away was something she would expect from children whose names did not label them as individuals of whom any better could be supposed, but not from her own children.
Annabel was disappointed in them, and she was terrified for them, and there was nothing she could do about either of these things.
She was not just terrified, she was also angry. Of course, she only realised this when they both returned home and the white sharp heat of it flooded through her.
Annabel did not shout. She almost never did.
She told them both that she had been disappointed by their irresponsible actions and that they had caused a lot of trouble. Then she grounded Mavis and went upstairs to her room, where she sat for a long time in front of the mirror brushing out her hair and taking sharp, controlled breaths through her nose.
It occurred to her that she did not really know either of her children, and that she did not know how to begin now.
When she had brushed her hair into a sleek, shining sheet of pale gold, she pinned it all back up again and went to return the calls of several clients she had put off for the last week or so.
When she first met Nick Ryves, Annabel’s heart had sank like a stone. Mavis had said, He has a friend from school with him and Annabel, remembering the days when her son had more than one of those, had thought that at last this was something she could do.
She would make her son’s friend welcome in their home.
It was not that she had really imagined what this friend might look like. Only that, when she opened Jamie’s bedroom door, Nick was not it.
He had sat on Jamie’s bed, a knife sharp and shining in his hands and he had the same clean, deadly lines as that blade, his eyes shadows in his white face.
Oh dear, Annabel had thought, as her son said in a strange, stuffed up voice, “‘There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well,’” from his perch on the window seat.
She had never liked the dangerous types. They were too unpredictable, and then entirely too predictable, and they lacked any sense of order or purpose. Annabel did not feel that a leather jacket and dark smouldering charm made up for a deficit of career options and life ambition.
Later, though, she watched as this Nick cooked dinner for them and the way her children were with him, Jamie unfurling as if he were something growing after a long and difficult winter. Nick, it seemed, was not excluded from her children’s easy camaraderie even though he seemed distant from it.
Later still, he came to her in the garden and she met him with a sword in her hand, and thought that perhaps her children had not made such a bad choice this time.
It was this simple to turn a world upside down, after all. Her glass lifted from her hand like a bird and ice shone at its heart.
Annabel looked at it and at the glowing, unfamiliar face of her son and said, “Is this some kind of trick?” punching the words out as if their precision could restore the order of the universe.
This was unfair. She knew that absolutely. No mother could be expected to deal with something like this. So she ran.
It was only after she had been driving for several minutes that she calmed down enough for a new thought to strike through the buzzing, sick, helpless panic crowding her brain.
She was running away from her son’s claim of magic just as Roger had run from his son being gay.
Annabel span the car back around, for once ignoring the rules of traffic and then ignoring all the horn blasts that came with it.
She arrived home to find a nice, pleasant-faced young man trying to kidnap her son.
Annabel did not feel helpless at all just then.
She swung the golf club like a pro and then, because she believed in making sure and because she was truly furious, she swung it again.
“Get away from my son,” she snapped, stepping over him with immaculate, vicious poise.
Jamie flew to her, as he had when he was small and had hurt himself. Annabel could hear the hummingbird beat of his heart and feel the trembling warmth of his body in his fierce, frantic embrace. She loved him so, her strange, mysterious son, so familiar and so new.
“Mum,” said Jamie, voice breaking a little, and Annabel patted him on the shoulder and then left her hand there, feeling the angle of his sharp bones. Jamie had always seemed so fragile.
Over his shoulder, she saw her daughter, who held a knife as though she had intended to use it. Mavis told her that they needed to go to Cambridgeshire, of all places, because of something to do with Nick, of all people.
“I know this all seems crazy,” Mavis said quietly. “But if I don’t get there, people will die.”
She stood there, with her fierce, dark eyes, not fragile at all, and Annabel thought that she could know both her children after all.
Later she stood with her children and with the Ryves brothers, facing down the dead and the damned and the imaginations of those who did the damning.
There was blood on her blade and on her clothes and in her hair. This was not fencing, but she moved in sure, swift lines and cut through things which did not exist in this world and things which should not.
And then her son stilled the world.
“Drop the helpless act,” he said softly, eyes like silver coins resting on that dreadful Sid, Seb or Ben boy whom her daughter had brought home. “Isn’t that what you said to me?”
Annabel looked at her son, who shone with marvels, and her daughter, grimy with blood, and she was so very, very proud of them both.
They were neither of them helpless.
But then that sly, pleasant-faced weasel of a kidnapper said, “Now you’ve had power. All you want is more. Come with me.”
Jamie, tender and so young, said, “Okay.”
There had been so many moments in her children’s lives when Annabel had felt helpless.
This was not one of them.
She stepped between her son and this monster who walked like a man, and she faced him this time not with a golf club but with a sword, shining like the magic glowing in Jamie’s eyes.
“You’re not taking him,” said Annabel. “He’s mine.”