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JSAMN Minifics

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Since her resurrection, Emma had lived beneath two skies - two skies, and two distinct sets of stars. One was the natural pattern of stars of the English sky, with its well-known constellations and comets. The other stars were those she danced beneath each night, in the ruined hall of the brugh, stars unknown to any astronomer in the Christian world.

She had never taken particular note of the stars of her world before. Beautiful, but remote, they had had very little to do with her. But now, each night she found herself sitting at her window in her room at Starecross, studying them with an avidity worthy of Miss Herschel. Every night she sat late, her eyes growing heavier and her mind more disordered, resisting for as long as she was able her body’s urge to sleep, the inevitable call to the dance.

A knock at her door, and, tentatively, Mr Segundus entered. He peered at her in the candlelight and said, in his earnest, conciliatory manner, “Is there any thing I can get you, my lady? Are you quite all right?”

No! The cry rose in her breast, as it always did. I am enchanted, I am a prisoner, I have been bartered and sold. These magicians have betrayed us and opened a door they cannot hope to close again! But with the weight of the enchantment heavy across her mouth, it was all she could do to reply, “I am as well as I may be, thank you, sir.”

He bowed, and left her alone. She heard his light footsteps fade along the passage as he retired to his own bed. It was very late, and with that knowledge, she became sensible that she, too, was tired. Deeply, inescapably tired, with no strength left to resist. Somewhere in the darkness, a bell rang. She took one last look out at the stars of this world, taking what strength she could from their familiarity and constancy, their reassurance that this world would still be waiting for her; then, with weary resignation went to her bed, and returned to the dance.

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In many ways, his new situation suited him admirably. He had always had a nice eye for adornment, and he decorated the thorn-trees with the same discrimination which with he had once decorated his own house (for he thought he had once had a house, somewhere, at some time). He favoured contrasts: the quaint armour of the old mediaeval corpses alternated with the modern dress of his latest conquests. They hung together in neat formation, and when a chill wind blew through the grove, they would sway and dance together in a singularly pleasing fashion.

Added to the satisfaction in his collection, there was also the anticipation of adding to it. For it always happened, just as he was beginning to grow weary of it, that some new challenger would appear in the grove, he would issue his challenge, and very soon he would have one more body to hang upon the trees and refresh his interest.

Death, too, offered its own diversions. He delighted in the precision which with his pistol-ball struck its target. (How strange, but his pistol was always ready-loaded, though he could not recall ever changing powder or shot himself.) And he found great fascination in the moment of death, which came in such a variety of forms and moods. Some died defiant, some bewildered, some terrified, some bold. Some died cleanly, neatly, others in prolonged choking agony. And each time, their blood would spray the ground in its own pattern, distinct as a snowflake.

But they all died, and each time, he felt the unseen gaze of his Lady upon him, up there at her window, and felt her approval. How pleasant, to have one’s efforts properly appreciated!

He felt her eyes ever upon him, was aware of her presence in the very air of the grove, but he had never seen her, and this was his first cause for dissatisfaction. He had been obliged to fashion his own image of her in his mind: beautiful, naturally, her face dimly recalling one he rather thought he had known before, her elegant figure draped in red, her white skin ornamented with beads of jet. But the fact remained: he had never seen her, and although he felt her approval when he killed another challenger, the thought often came upon him that she would be no less pleased if it were his blood upon the ground, and his body hanging upon the thorns.

The thought also came upon him, sometimes, that it was really quite inconvenient, to have one’s sphere of existence limited to the space between the thorns and the brook (though he never seemed to find the inclination to venture beyond), with no society but the bloated serpents and the corpses and the lady whose face he had never seen.

Sometimes, when the chill wind blew through the grove and stirred the corpses, he would hear, distantly, a voice crying. At the same time, he would realise that his face was wet with tears, and realise too that the voice crying was his own. He would stand there in the middle of the grove, weeping, his whole being rent with the bitter pain of loss, but with no notion at all of what it was he was supposed to have lost in the first place.

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It was universally agreed by those who knew him that John Segundus was the mildest and gentlest of creatures, incapable of a single ill thought, let alone an ill deed. Indeed, his unrelenting modesty occasioned his friends not a little anxiety on his account. They would have been quite surprized to learn that Segundus considered himself capable of several very ill thoughts indeed.

It was not a habit with him, and he was certain that it was both ungracious and ungrateful, but there were times that he would reflect upon the restoration of English magic with no small amount of dissatisfaction. It might happen when he looked through a bookshop quite devoid of books on magic, they having been bought up by Mr Norrell years before. It might happen when he walked along Davygate or across King’s-square and saw the increased numbers of yellow-curtained booths, set up by those street-sorcerers who had been driven out of London by Mr Norrell and obliged to ply their trade elsewhere.

Or it might happen when he chanced to encounter some gentleman in the street, whom he recognised as having belonged to the old Society, before it was put down by Mr Norrell. Each time, the gentleman would invariably greet him with the same wan smile and look of resignation, and go sadly on his way.

Generally, Segundus was accustomed to reflect upon these things with a certain philosophical sadness, but there were times - very seldom, but memorable when they did come - that he would be seized by a flash of honest anger, so strong it startled even him with its vehemence. It was the bright, clamouring anger against injustice: the injustice of seeing men like his friend Mr Honeyfoot constrained and cast down, and the injustice of seeing magic so ill-used. Every day the newspapers were filled with some new account of Mr Norrell’s great exploits on behalf of the Nation, but alongside these would be accounts of his persecution of all other magicians. Magic was his life, he had always had the greatest confidence in its power to do good in the world, and it made him angry that it should be hoarded up and wielded so selfishly, so arrogantly by someone like Mr Norrell.

But it invariably happened that these flashes faded just as soon as they appeared, and within moments he was as mild as he ever was, all anger forgotten as he caught sight of some formation of birds in the sky, or ripple of wind upon grass, and wondered what magical secrets were written there.

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For a boy of his bookish disposition, the outdoors held few attractions, but even Gilbert could not deny that he was quite enchanted by the clearing when he stumbled across it. It lay in a secluded spot in the park, shielded from wind and weather by a steep rise, and hidden from view of the house by another, larger copse. Yorkshire was in the full flush of springtime, and when he stepped into the shelter of the trees, moving softly through the cool, leafy stillness, he was quite amazed by the sheer variety of living green all about him: the soft, fragile shades of new shoots as they shyly unfurled, and the rich, bright hues of mosses and full leaves. Even the light was green-and-gold, dappled as it was through the trees, as through a magic lantern. The air was rich and redolent with the scents of leaf-mould and new sap, and here and there the ground was bright with clusters of John’s Farthings.

Gilbert felt himself possessed by a deep thrill of excitement and fear. He could not have chosen a more perfect spot if he had tramped the whole of Yorkshire for a year. Here, on land that had once belonged to John Uskglass’ abbey, he had found a place where the green of the wild, living world met and mingled with the shadows of worlds unseen. Where better to encounter the King himself?

The words came effortlessly to his lips as he stepped fully into the clearing: “I greet thee, Lord, and bid thee welcome to my heart.”

He sat upon the ground, his back pressed against the spongy wood of a rotten log, cushioned by moss, and emptied the contents of his little bag upon the ground. A candle, a tinderbox purloined from his uncle’s desk, a garland of flowers and berries from the garden, a little flask of water from the beck, and a silver cup from the dining-room. And from his pocket, the slip of paper upon which he had written, in his best handwriting, the finished version of his spell, painstakingly composed after months and months of reading and fretting. All was in readiness.

Arranging the components of the spell in the pattern he had devised, he lit the candle - though his hands trembled so much it took several attempts with the flint and steel to light it, and when he at last succeeded he nearly dropped it in alarm - and read his spell aloud, confident and proud. Then, swiftly, he blew the candle out, and waited.

He was still waiting when the sun set, and cast the little clearing into cold shadow.