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Yet Another Shared-Bed Fic

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NIGHT 1 IN THE DARKNESS

Mr Norrell sat down at the silver dish and began to work. After five minutes or so of patient labour, he said, “Mr Strange! There is no sign of John Uskglass – nothing at all. But I have looked for Lady Pole and Mrs Strange. Lady Pole is in Yorkshire and Mrs Strange is in Italy. There is no shadow of their presence in Faerie. Both are completely disenchanted!”

There was a silence. Mr Strange turned away abruptly.

Mr Norrell sat dabbing with a handkerchief at the bloody scratches on his face caused by the earlier chaos of ravens. As he did so, he sensed the weight of his feelings of guilt fade away. His part in the burdensome enchantment of Lady Pole was at last balanced by his part in having saved her. Mr Strange now knew the terrible secret of his having summoned a Fairy, against all his beliefs and better judgment, and yet the other magician had worked together with him to right that dreadful wrong. They were friends again.

He thought back to the magic they had used. “It is more than a little odd,” he remarked in a tone of wonder. “We have done everything we set out to do, but how we did it, I do not pretend to understand. I can only suppose that John Uskglass simply saw what was amiss and stretched out his hand to put it right! Unfortunately, his obligingness did not extend to freeing us from the Darkness. That remains.”

Mr Norrell paused. This then was his destiny! – a destiny full of fear, horror and desolation! He sat patiently for a few moments in expectation of falling prey to some or all of these terrible emotions, but was forced to conclude that he felt none of them. Indeed, what seemed remarkable to him now were the long years he had spent in London, away from his library, at the beck and call of the Ministers and the Admirals. He wondered how he had borne it.

He remembered how earlier in the evening, when he had gone outside for the first time since the arrival of the Darkness, he had felt as though the world had fallen away, leaving him and Mr Strange alone, as if on a solitary island. That feeling returned to him now, and he thought with quiet delight that his isolation with Mr Strange was likely to last for quite some time.

He was a little worried, though, that Mr Strange remained silent. Perhaps he was feeling the fear, horror and desolation that had failed to grip Mr Norrell himself. He decided to distract him with talk of magic.

“I am glad I did not recognize the raven’s eye for what it was,” he said cheerfully, “or I believe I would have been a good deal frightened.”

“Indeed, sir,” said Mr Strange hoarsely. “You were fortunate there! And I believe I am cured of wanting to be looked at! Henceforth John Uskglass is welcome to ignore me for as long as he pleases.”

“Oh, indeed!” agreed Mr Norrell. He realized that Mr Strange had probably been a good deal frightened at having recognized the giant eye for what it was. He again tried changing the subject. “You know, Mr Strange, you really should try to rid yourself of the habit of wishing for things. It is a dangerous thing in a magician.” He began a long and not particularly interesting story about a fourteenth-century magician in Lancashire who had often made idle wishes and had caused no end of inconvenience to the village where he lived, accidentally turning cows into clouds and the cooking pots into ships, and causing the villages to speak in colours rather than words – and other such signs of magical chaos.

At first Mr Strange barely answered him and such replies as he made were random and illogical. But gradually he appeared to listen with more attention, and he spoke in his usual manner.

Mr Norrell had many talents, but penetration into the hearts of men and women was not one of them. Mr Strange did not speak of the restoration of his wife, so Mr Norrell imagined that it could not have affected him very deeply. Instead he seemed most impressed—and frightened—by the fact that John Uskglass had looked at them in such a terrifying way.

Eventually their conversation died away, and both sat looking around at the chaotic state of the library. Mr Norrell’s thoughts returned to John Uskglass. After all these many years of resenting the Raven King’s failure to respond to his youthful, decade-long, heart-rending efforts to contact him, he felt his bitterness over his idol’s silence fading, to be replaced by a growing joy. John Uskglass had taken his time about it, but he had finally paid attention to him … and Mr Strange, of course! He had even carried out their request! Perhaps their combined skills had been necessary to make the Raven King deign to help them. All the more reason that the two magicians should stay together, even if it meant being trapped in a pillar of Darkness forever.

Eventually Mr Norrell drew himself up. “Well, Mr Strange, we have much to do. The library must be put to rights, and we should explore how we can go about the daily requirements necessary to living here in Hurtfew, on our own and in the Darkness. It is probably late at night by now, if not dawn already—outside the Darkness. I am quite exhausted, and you must be as well. We should settle you into a bedroom of your own. Oh … I had dinner before your arrival, but I am beginning to be hungry again. How long has it been since you had any thing to eat?”

Mr Strange nodded wearily. “You are right. I cannot immediately face anything more after this momentous series of events. As to food, I cannot recall when I last ate. The excitement and fear about my approaching move to Hurtfew put all thoughts of eating out of my head. In general my madness did not allow me to take care of myself very well while in the Darkness.”

“A madness that I trust is now gone, Mr Strange, given that we have succeeded in our endeavours. I am afraid that you are much thinner than when I last saw you. Come, let us explore the kitchen. If the servants are still about, they must be quite frightened and in need of reassurance. And I wonder where Mr Lascelles is. He and Lucas were right behind me as I made my way through your labyrinth, but they suddenly disappeared.”

“Lascelles! My God, I hope he fled the moment the Darkness arrived and is still running!”

“Yes, I realize that he came to hate you and induced me to do a great many things that I now regret. You are right, it would be best if he were on his way back to London and—”

“And out of our lives forever. On the other hand, if any of the servants are still here, it would be a great help to us.”

The two magicians left the library. Once in the hallway outside, Mr Norrell looked around.

“Your labyrinth is gone, Mr Strange.”

“Yes, well, it was designed to force you to join me here, so it vanished when you entered the library. I certainly did not want to trap anyone else inside. That was why I added a provision to allow you to walk through a wall at one point, but no one else would be able to follow you. That would explain why Lascelles and Lucas disappeared.”

“I walked through a wall? Good Heavens! I did not notice, but of course, my eyes were closed in order to focus on making my way through the magic.”

“Naturally!” Mr Strange chuckled. “I wish I could have seen you walk through that wall. Perhaps when we have more leisure time, I could cast the spell again and watch you do so.”

“That would be very interesting. I should like to study your labyrinth in a situation where I was not utterly terrified.”

The smile faded from Mr Strange’s face. “Yes, I am sorry to have subjected you to such fear, but after all, I was not at all sure that you would welcome me as amiably as you did.”

“All’s well that ends well, I suppose,” Mr Norrell replied with a shrug.

Going downstairs, they saw and heard no one. They found the kitchen empty, and there was no sign of the servants in their rooms or anywhere else. Those rooms had been thoroughly emptied of the servants’ personal effects, as had Childermass’s.

Mr Norrell sighed. “They must have left when the Darkness arrived,” he said as they returned to the kitchen.

“Yes, and can you blame them? They must have been terrified. Ah, I see that we shall not go hungry, at least in the short term.”

The servants had departed the Darkness, early in the morning, at a quarter to eight. In their rush, they had not eaten breakfast, but the leavings of their supper from the evening before, as well as the dinners of Mr Norrell and Mr Lascelles, remained on the kitchen table and counters. Obviously under the circumstances the servants had given no thought to clearing the things away. There was bread, cheese, some fruit preserves, and the like. Mr Strange managed to cobble together a substantial meal for them both, and with his help Mr Norrell made some tea. They stayed in the kitchen to eat, where it was warmest.

Once finished, they filled two pitchers with water and went upstairs.

“Mr Lascelles occupied this bedroom, two doors down from mine.” Mr Norrell opened the door and went in. “As one might expect, he is not here, so I imagine he departed when the servants did. He does not seem, however, to have packed his belongings. That is fortunate for you.”

Mr Strange surveyed the room. “I suppose the lazy bugger could not be bothered to pack without a servant to do the work for him—or too frightened to come up here alone in the Darkness. Well, it looks pleasant enough, though I object to sleeping in a bed furnished with any linen that bastard has touched. Could we change the bedding?”

“Yes, I suppose … that is, if we can find the linen closet. I have no idea …”

The pair wandered along the corridor until they located the closet, which was full of sheets, blankets, quilts, and pillows, since most of the bedrooms had not been used since Mr Norrell’s uncle’s death twenty-seven years earlier.

After they had stripped and remade the bed, Mr Strange admitted that it looked very comfortable, despite its having been temporarily occupied by Mr Lascelles. The two searched the room for any thing that might be useful to Mr Strange. In the adjacent bathroom they discovered Mr Lascelles’ shaving kit, brushes, and other personal items.

“Well, if I wash them thoroughly, I suppose I can use them. I shall not, however, use his tooth brush under any circumstances!”

“Oh, no matter. I have a small supply of unused ones, and some powder.”

“Thank you! I am not surprised. You are obviously a most fastidious gentleman when it comes to personal cleanliness.”

Mr Strange turned and stared, shocked, as he saw himself in a mirror. “Dear God! I look dreadful! No wonder you feared that I had come to fight with you. I have been aware that prolonged madness certainly is not beneficial to one’s appearance, but the events of this night have made me look considerably worse! I’m surprised that you have been so welcoming to me.”

Mr Norrell smiled and thought that it was not all that surprising, given that he was deeply in love with the other magician. Aloud he said, “Your appearance may be rather intimidating, Mr Strange, but your voice is much the same. It was hearing you speak inside the library when I was at its door that gave me the courage to enter. It reminded me of our wonderful days together when you were my pupil. Once we started conversing in such a friendly fashion, I lost all the fear that I had initially felt, though the actual sight of you took me aback, I must admit. But I felt more pity than fear.”

“Good! I must admit that once I arrived here in your wonderful library, I lost all the animosity toward you that I had initially felt.” Mr Strange opened the wardrobe doors. “Well, Lascelles’ clothes are here but obviously too small for me.” He closed the doors again.

“No doubt, but I see that Mr Lascelles has left behind some newspapers. You might wish to read those.”

“Yes! I have lost all track of what has been going on in England. These should allow me to bring myself up to date a little.”

Mr Norrell went to his own room to fetch the tooth brush and powder. Once he had returned, he looked around. “I think you have everything you need. Do wash your face carefully, Mr Strange. Those cuts do not look particularly serious, but you have dried blood on your face and neck.”

“Thank you. Yes, I should get on all right for now. I presume tomorrow we can search further for what sorts of useful things we can find.”

As Mr Norrell was about to bid him good night, Mr Strange stepped forward and grasped his hands. “We should not let all these trivial things make us fail to acknowledge what amazing things we have accomplished today!”

Mr Norrell smiled. “Yes, all the magic, the contact with John Uskglass, the disenchantment of the two ladies, your remarkable journey from Italy … ” He squeezed Mr Strange’s hands. “ … and our marvelous reunion after so much acrimony. I am delighted to welcome you to Hurtfew Abbey at last!”

Mr Strange nodded. “Thank you. I am overjoyed that our differences and quarrels are finally behind us. No doubt we shall disagree often about matters of magic, but we shall do so in a friendly fashion, as we did in the happy years of my study under your tutelage.”

“No doubt, Mr Strange. Sleep well!”

“And you, sir.”

Mr Norrell returned to his bedroom. With difficulty, he struggled out of his clothes. He washed his own face carefully and brushed his teeth. Shivering a little with the cold by this point, he got into his night shirt and trousers, managing to fasten enough of the buttons to keep them from slipping off. He put on his night cap and climbed into bed with a sigh of relief.

Both men were exhausted and fell asleep rapidly. Mr Norrell’s last thought was that he now was not afraid at being alone in his bedroom, as he often has been in the past. This evening he had left a lamp burning because of the Darkness. More importantly, though, Mr Strange, brave and powerful, was only a short way down the hall. He felt quite safe. Both men slept soundly and apparently without dreaming.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning Mr Norrell woke up and briefly wondered why it was still so dark. He imagined that, having gone to bed so late, he had slept late as well. Even though it was February, surely there should be a little dawn light coming through his curtains. Then he noticed the lamp that he had left burning all night, and the previous day’s events came flooding back.

He washed and dressed and went along the hallway to Mr Strange’s bedroom. He could hear some splashing and off-key singing and suspected that his friend was bathing—something he badly needed. He went on down to the kitchen and managed to make himself some toast and hot chocolate.

Mr Norrell was exploring the pantry when he heard Mr Strange enter the kitchen. He stepped out and gazed with delight upon the other magician. Mr Strange had bathed, washed his hair, and shaved. Admittedly his hair was far too long, but it was beautifully curly, and it shone in the lamplight quite delightfully. How beautiful he was!

“You look so much better, Mr Strange!”

“Thank you! I feel so much better! Much less itchy.” He lifted his hands and wiggled his fingers. “I see you have broken your fast already.”

“Indeed, but I shall join you and have some more chocolate as you eat.”

Over breakfast the pair discussed their plans to try and get messages to the outside world, so that they might be able to buy things and possibly hire back some of the servants.

“They will need to be quite brave to venture back into the Darkness now that they have escaped it,” Mr Strange remarked.

“Yes, but the fact that we are both alive and unscathed should reassure them—as will an offer of higher wages, I would imagine.”

Having finished breakfast, they instituted a more thorough search of the cellars and pantry for edibles. There was fresh food that the cook had laid in for the household, enough for a few days. They also found less perishable items like chocolate, wine, considerable flour and sugar and so forth, as well as cured meat and dried fruit and vegetables. Exploring outdoors, they discovered that although the servants had taken the horses and most of the other livestock, the chickens remained; they fed them and gathered the eggs. Clearly they would not starve in the short run.

Once back inside, Mr Strange washed his only shirt and set of smallclothes. He deigned to use Mr Lascelles’ banyan during this procedure, but it was so small that he looked quite ludicrous in it. He grinned and shook his head as Mr Norrell smiled in amusement. His smile had more than a trace of pleasure as well, since he could survey Mr Strange’s long, beautiful legs and imagine what was concealed just a short way above the bottom hem of the banyan.

Over lunch, Mr Strange told the older magician the entire tale of the events that had led up to his moving the Darkness to Hurtfew: his successful summoning of the Fairy, his visit to Lost-hope and discovery that Arabella was alive and enchanted, the consequent curse cast upon him by the Fairy and his ultimate determination to go to Hurtfew to try and research ways of defeating the Fairy. Mr Norrell sat enrapt by all this, and after the tale was finished, he asked many questions about the magic involved, leading the pair to linger at table long into the afternoon.

Returning to the library, they looked around and began to pick up and sort the books. Mr Norrell was pleased to find that relatively few of the volumes had suffered much damage. Most of them simply needed to be wiped with a slightly damp cloth and put upright on their respective shelves. The rest he set aside to have their binding reinforced and, in a few cases, loose pages fastened back in.

++++++++++++++++++++++

NIGHT 2 IN THE DARKNESS

That night Mr Norrell went to bed and lay awake for a while, thinking of how delightful it was to have Mr Strange with him again. He marveled at how quickly they had fallen back into their old relationship as friends and fellow magicians. The only difference was that now Mr Strange was no longer his pupil but his equal, or nearly so. They could go on and on, clearing up the mess in the library, reading together, discussing magic, and ignoring the rest of the world beyond trying to purchase the means to re-establish a relatively normal life within the Darkness. Being as wealthy as he was, he reflected that he could probably lure merchants and servants to visit Hurtfew.

As on the first night, he thought about how safe he felt with his friend nearby, and he soon was fast asleep.

Mr Norrell’s peaceful slumbers were abruptly interrupted in the middle of the night when he heard loud moans and shouts coming from down the hallway.

Mr Strange seemed to be having some sort of nightmare. Mr Norrell could not make out everything that the other magician said, though he caught part of it: “Don’t blow it out! For God’s sake, don’t blow it out!” There followed a loud shriek.

Perhaps, Mr Norrell thought, Mr Strange was dreaming of a magical experiment gone wrong, which would certainly qualify as a nightmare. He rose hastily, assuming his banyan and padding quickly down the hallway.

He knocked at Mr Strange’s door but received no response. The shouts and moans did not diminish. Clearly Mr Strange could not hear him. He opened the door. By the light of a lamp, kept, similarly to his own, burning all night, he saw his friend thrashing in his bed, still asleep. His face was twisted in an expression of the utmost terror.

Mr Norrell went over to the bed and tried to shake Mr Strange’s shoulder, though the man’s thrashing made this difficult. He said loudly, so as to be heard over the shouts, “Mr Strange, please—calm yourself!” He finally managed to grab Mr Strange’s shoulder and shake it.

At first this had no discernible effect, but Mr Norrell persisted, and Mr Strange slowly woke up. He stopped shouting and sat up, looking around wildly. His gaze finally fixed upon Mr Norrell, who had taken a step backward and was watching him, wringing his hands in anxiety.

Mr Strange stared at him for a moment, obviously confused and incredulous. “Mr Norrell! What in the world are you doing in Venice?” He grinned maniacally. “You never liked to travel, even a short distance by coach. I suppose you have heard rumours of what I have accomplished here and felt compelled come and see for yourself? Perhaps you hope to gloat over my failures. Well, let me tell you, you will instead be astonished at my success!”

Mr Norrell’s heart sank. It had not occurred to him that Mr Strange’s rumoured madness might reassert itself. He had simply assumed that his friend’s arrival at Hurtfew Abbey, their successful use of magic to defeat the Fairy and the freeing of Mrs Strange would banish all such dark and wild thoughts from Mr Strange’s mind altogether. He really had no idea what to do. As he had always said, magic could not cure spiritual disorders, such as madness, and it was true. He would have to help Mr Strange by other, normal means. What, however, could those possibly be?

Mr Norrell tried to speak soothingly, “I am not in Venice, my dear Mr Strange. I am here in Hurtfew Abbey, in the Darkness. The Darkness which has cursed you and in which you traveled here. Now you are in Hurtfew as well.”

Mr Strange stared at him with a baffled frown. “The Darkness? Yes, I know it well. Good Lord, how well I know it! But Hurtfew? Do not jest with me. I have never been there. You never let me go there. You never let me see the library. You let Drawlight and Lascelles visit you there, but not me. Why?”

Mr Norrell began, “You have seen the library—”

“I could never visit Hurtfew, but now you have visited me! I assure you, I am ready for you! I have done fairy magic to marvelous results! I—”

Mr Norrell tried again, speaking more loudly. “Mr Strange, I assure you, I am not in Venice! I—”

Mr Strange gave a wild laugh. “Oh, I suppose you have sent a magical vision of yourself to communicate with me, to try and dissuade me from doing magic you consider dangerous. Well, I may tell you that it is too late! I have summoned a Fairy, the self-same Fairy that you conjured to resurrect Lady Pole! Aha! You did not know that I am aware that you resorted to fairy magic yourself, did you?”

Mr Norrell was becoming increasingly terrified. When Mr Strange paused to gasp for breath, he said in a tremulous voice, “B-but this truly is Hurtfew, Mr Strange. You came here, bringing the Darkness with you. Don’t you remember how we cast our spells and summoned the Raven King and freed Mrs Strange and Lady Pole from their enchantment? How we defeated our Fairy enemy? You are most welcome to stay in my house and to see everything in my library. Look around you. This is not your room in Venice, is it? There is Mr Lascelles’ shaving kit, which we found last night, and here is the English newspaper you were reading before you went to sleep.”

Mr Strange looked frantically around the room, but his eyes did not seem to see what Mr Norrell’s did.

“Where … where is my equipment? Where is my little wooden companion?” He turned to stare accusingly at Mr Norrell. “What have you done? Have you used magic to take them from me? You seek to turn me aside from my experiments, but you shall not deter me, sir! I am far more powerful than I was when we parted ways.”

He spoke so aggressively that Mr Norrell backed up further toward the door, poised to run from the room if necessary. He had been so happy at his reunion with Mr Strange, and now this!

He tried again. “M-Mr Strange, you truly are in Hurtfew. Do look about yourself more closely. Is this not the same bedroom that you and I made up for you less than twenty-four hours ago? You remarked on how comfortable the bed looked. Just now you have been dreaming about the period of your madness, and that has brought on a bout of actual madness.”

Mr Strange looked around again. His face slowly drained of its fearful anger, and he seemed more puzzled than anything. Finally he spoke. “Oh. Oh, yes. Hurtfew. Thank God! I feared … That is, I saw … the candle … it was dreadful.” He looked around again. “You are right. Yes, it all comes back to me now. I … I fear that I awoke you, sir, and in a most unpleasant way. I am sorry for it.”

Norrell sighed in relief and approached the bed again. “Not at all, not at all, though you gave me quite a fright! I had not realized that you were still so plagued by your time in Venice. Everything seemed to have resolved itself so well. If you are feeling more yourself, I shall leave you to sleep.” He chuckled. “My feet are beginning to be quite cold. I forgot my slippers in my haste. As you no doubt remember, I am quite subject to feeling the cold.”

Strange still appeared pale and dazed. He nodded slightly. “My fault. I am sorry for that as well.”

“Oh, not at all, Mr Strange, not at all. I am just relieved that you have come back to your senses. Good-night!”

As Norrell turned to leave, fear crept into Strange’s face. “Sir, would you care to join me? The bed is large, and you would be warm. I … I would feel calmer, I doubt not, with you here to … to protect me. I recall that last night I slept quite well because I was here in your home and all seemed, as you say, to have ended well—apart from our remaining trapped in the Darkness. I was so … so lonely in Venice. I thought of you constantly. Not, I must admit, in a friendly way, but still … I could not forget you … could not dismiss you from my thoughts.” He lifted the blankets. “Please, join me.”

Mr Norrell hesitated. He deeply loved Mr Strange and had long dreamed of sharing a bed with him—but not in this fashion. It briefly crossed his mind that Mr Strange might yet grow mad again and even violent. Still, he could hardly refuse. Mr Strange needed him; that was the important thing. Moreover, the idea of being the one doing the protecting for once appealed to him. He doffed his banyan and climbed into the bed. The covers were much disarranged, and the two spent some time in untangling them and making sure that Mr Norrell was sufficiently tucked in to keep him warm through the night. They carefully settled far enough apart that they were not likely to roll into each other and wake up, but Mr Strange lay facing Mr Norrell, looking calm and comforted. He was smiling a little as he drifted off.

Mr Norrell lay awake for a time. Here he was, in bed with the man he loved, but he felt no arousal or desire. Instead he was alarmed about the return of Mr Strange’s madness. He had been so happy over the day just past to be reunited with his dear, beloved friend. He had envisioned life in the Darkness as stretching on, with he and Mr Strange working in perfect harmony. Now, though … He wondered how long it would take for the effects of the newly surfaced madness to disappear—if indeed they ever would. Life in the Darkness would be difficult enough, but with such a dreadful problem, could they even manage it at all? Whatever happened, he swore to himself that from now on and for as long as it took, he would help his friend however he could. Purging the madness, if it was at all possible, must be his highest priority. He tried to put such thoughts aside for now. He curled up on his side and watched Mr Strange sleeping. He looked for any sign of fear or anger, but Mr Strange looked utterly peaceful now. Perhaps, Mr Norrell thought, his own presence was reassuring to Mr Strange, even in his sleep. That suggested that he might indeed help his friend overcome his madness. With that optimistic thought, he, too, finally fell asleep.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

The second full day in the Darkness was partly occupied in the various routine tasks that were necessary to life alone in the Darkness. It was apparent that they could not subsist on their own indefinitely. They spent part of the day leaving messages at various points near the roads and paths around the edges of Hurtfew’s park, where they might be found by passersby or farmers. Their hope was to re-establish contact with the outer world, so that they could purchase necessities and possibly re-hire some of the servants. As they walked about, the Darkness shifted with them, though they were never aware of that fact. Its movements, however, did them the favour of attracting the attention of people who witnessed the shifting Darkness, and ultimately some of these people did venture close enough to its limits to find the missives left by the two magicians.

Once all these chores were accomplished, the two resumed their sorting and cleaning of the books. They made slow but distinct progress, with Mr Norrell frequently showing Mr Strange volumes that had remained in the Hurtfew library when Mr Norrell had lived in London. He told his friend something about each book, often recommending that he read it as soon as might be. These books were set aside on a special shelf .

During the entire day, Mr Strange showed no signs of recurring madness. Mr Norrell watched closely for any such signs, but he decided not to probe his friend concerning the nature of the madness he had experienced in Venice and how it manifested itself. The less that Mr Strange was led to recall that episode in his life, the better, he reasoned.

For lunch they ate rather sparingly of the cold remains from the night before. These had lost much of their freshness and savour, however, and for dinner, Mr Strange decided to kill one of the chickens. He found in the pantry the means to stew it, with some potatoes and other root vegetables to round it out into a complete meal. The magicians hoped that their messages would soon result in their being able to acquire fresh food from local purveyors.

While the food was cooking, Mr Norrell brought some sherry into the kitchen, and the two sat at the kitchen table drinking toasts to their accomplishments. At intervals Mr Strange rose to taste the gravy and to add seasonings that he felt would liven up the taste of the dish. He discovered that the kitchen possessed an impressive array of spices and dried herbs. When he remarked on this, Mr Norrell explained that he occasionally needed obscure examples of such plants in doing his magic. Mr Strange in turn reminisced about how he had learned simple cooking during his wartime experiences in the Peninsula.

Mr Norrell listened to his tales, utterly charmed by Mr Strange’s ability to narrate them in an entertaining way. He sighed as he listened. How could any one resist loving such a man? he wondered.

Once the meal was served and the two men began to eat, they discovered that the bread, though not mouldy, had become too dry and hard to chew.

Mr Strange frowned and said, “I suggest that we dip the bread in the stew to soften it.”

“Oh, but that seems terribly impolite and … rustic, Mr Strange. As a gentleman, I could not—”

Mr Strange shook his head impatiently and interrupted, “Sir, we are here alone in the Darkness! You are obviously having trouble chewing the bread, as am I. No one will see us, even if we do eat a bit messily.”

He went ahead and soaked his bread in the gravy and ate it with evident relish.

Mr Norrell broke off a small piece of bread and similarly soaked it before tentatively chewing it.

“Well, I must admit that it is much easier and even tastes quite good.”

“I’m glad you think so. The bread will only get harder, and that is one thing that I never learned to make. Your cook seems to have had all her receipts in her mind, since there are no cookery-books to be found.”

They shared a bottle of claret over dinner and another of good port afterward when they returned to the library. They continued to sort the books, and Mr Norrell showed Mr Strange some of the rarer volumes and told stories about how they had come to be written and how he had acquired each one. Now that Mr Strange had full access to the books, Mr Norrell was not upset at revealing such information. Indeed, Mr Norrell, whom people thought as dull a lecturer as one could imagine, became surprisingly animated when talking more casually about his books, for he clearly loved them all. Mr Strange was quite enthralled by his stories.

Between the unaccustomed quantity of drink (unaccustomed to Mr Norrell, at any rate) and the progress the pair had made during the day, both magicians were in quite good spirits by the time they began to contemplate retiring to sleep. Mr Strange seemed so much his old self that it did not occur to Mr Norrell to offer to sleep in his bed again, and Mr Strange did not ask him to do so. The two again parted in a friendly fashion between the doors of their two rooms and retired individually to sleep.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

NIGHT 3 IN THE DARKNESS

Mr Norrell took some time over getting into his bedclothes, being still a little tipsy from the wine and consequently even less adept then usual with his fingers. He carefully did up the buttons until after numerous attempts they were nearly all fastened. He drifted off quite readily but did not sleep as soundly as usual, perhaps because deep down he was worried that Mr Strange might have another nightmare.

Sure enough, an hour or so later he again heard Mr Strange groaning and shouting. Mr Norrell hurried into the other magician’s room and over to the bed. He shook Mr Strange’s shoulder, as he had the night before, and the process of awakening him seemed to take less time than it had on the previous night.

Mr Strange sat up and stared at him, his eyes wide and confused—and frightened. “Mr Norrell!” He looked around, struggling briefly to think. “But this is Hurtfew Abbey … the Darkness. How have I come here? Just moments ago I was in Lost-hope … dancing … Belle was there. Oh, but I suppose … Here I am in bed. It must have been a dream, but it seemed so … But … what are you doing here in my bedroom? Was I shouting in my sleep again?”

Mr Norrell, concerned though he was, noted that this was a distinct improvement over Mr Strange believing that he himself had come to visit Venice. Still, the man continued to look confused and anxious.

Ordinarily Mr Norrell was not able to discern other men’s thoughts and feelings or to understand how to deal with them. When with Mr Strange, however, he gained the sort of insight that he had never experienced with any one else. As he had once said to the man, he understood him completely.

Right now he did not want to worry Mr Strange unduly about the nightmare or to reveal how concerned about it he himself was. He thought briefly and replied, “I … I must confess that I was afraid. I thought I … um, heard mice in my bedroom. You know how they terrify me! I hoped you would not mind if I came and joined you here. When you were my pupil, you helped protect me from such things, and … here in the Darkness ... Would it be possible … could I ask once again to share your bed?”

Mr Strange stared at him, and gradually the worried look faded from his face. He finally nodded. “Mice. Yes, I remember.” He chuckled faintly. “I suppose mice are to you what pineapples are to me.”

Mr Norrell was taken aback, but he said soothingly, “Pineapples? Uh, yes, I suppose they are, yes. May I … may I stay?”

Mr Strange looked relieved. “Yes, yes, do! I shall protect you from any mice that may appear, Gilbert. Oh! If I may call you that.”

“I should be most happy if you were to call me Gilbert, Mr Strange.”

Mr Strange sighed. “I am so very tired. May I sleep now?”

Mr Norrell climbed into the bed and covered himself gratefully with the warm blankets.

“Yes, of course, Mr Strange. Thank you for your protection. And I shall, um, protect you from any pineapples that may appear.” That, he thought, was a safe enough promise to make. Mice were far more common pests in country houses than pineapples were. Far more ambulatory as well. Then it occurred to him that Mr Strange might be referring to madness-induced, imaginary pineapples. It would be very difficult to protect the other magician from those. Perhaps, he thought hopefully, Mr Strange would not dream of such a thing now that the two were together and protecting each other.

Mr Strange was already asleep, and Mr Norrell lay on his side, gazing fondly at his beloved friend in the lamp-light until he also drifted off. Both slept peacefully through the night, with no further nightmares disturbing their quiet companionship.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

Given that Mr Strange was far more adept at cooking than Mr Norrell was, the latter had taken on the humble task of washing the dishes, which he did each day in one large batch after breakfast.

At first he had been afraid that he would break some of the fine china. Mr Strange, however, had suggested that he pretend that the dishes were some implements he was preparing for a magical experiment—implements that had to be perfectly clean and intact in order to function correctly. That seemed logical enough, so Mr Norrell did so and found that he was able to accomplish the job quite safely, if rather slowly. Really, Mr Strange was remarkably sensible—in some situations.

On the morning after the pair’s third night in the Darkness, Mr Norrell thought about Mr Strange’s lingering madness as he performed his chore. He decided that he had been wrong in not questioning Mr Strange about his time in Venice and the forms that his madness had taken. Clearly there was some sort of significance about pineapples that he should probably be aware of if he were successfully to help Mr Strange in his recovery. Perhaps there were other fruits that worried his friend as well. There were several varieties of dried fruit stored in the cellar, and Mr Norrell did not wish to spring them on Mr Strange unexpectedly.

Once the two magicians had rejoined each other in the library, Mr Norrell said, “Mr Strange, might you be willing to tell me about your madness in Venice? How you induced it in yourself and what the effects were? I am sorry to stir up unpleasant memories, but I believe that I need to understand what you suffered in order to help you in your recovery from it.”

Mr Strange paused in thought for a very long time. Mr Norrell was struggling to think of something to say to encourage him, but at last the other magician said, “You are probably right. I try to avoid thinking of that terrible aspect of my life, but you should know what form my madness took. You must have been terribly confused by my ravings on those first evenings when you came to my room and heard them.”

“Exactly, Mr Strange. There was something that first night about candles and last night you mentioned pineapples as something terrifying to you.”

Mr Strange launched into an account about how he had been haunted by pineapples while in Venice, even seeing an entire one inside his landlord’s mouth at one point, He also spoke of seeing candles inside people’s heads and being terrified that they would go out. He mentioned the little wooden figure whom he had talked to as if it were a real companion. These and other incidents he related so vividly that Mr Norrell was able to realize all the horror that Mr Strange must have felt at such visions. After all, if Mr Strange, who was so brave as to have defied the Fairy and travel from Venice to Yorkshire in the Darkness, had been so frightened by these apparitions, they must have been dreadful indeed.

At last Mr Strange fell silent, looking pale and gazing into the fire. Mr Norrell fetched him a glass of sherry, and he drank it gratefully.

Mr Norrell sat down beside him and took his hand. “You have suffered a great deal, Mr Strange! More than I could have imagined, given how little news I had about you during that time. I can see why such visions would haunt your dreams.”

They were silent for a while, and then Mr Norrell resumed. “I am not sure how we should proceed from now on. Should I continue to sleep in your bed, hoping that my presence would prevent such nightmares and recurrences of your madness? If I did so, how could we ever know that such remnants of that dreadful time have finally faded from your thoughts? If you wish, I shall continue to share your bed, but I think it would be more helpful for me to leave you on your own so that we can detect whether the nightmares are ceasing. Of course, if you do have nightmares and mad visions, I could join you in your bed for the remainder of those nights during which that occurs. What is your opinion?”

“I believe you are right, Gilbert. Having you present is most reassuring, but it is more important to know whether I am recovering from the madness. Let us proceed as you suggested, with you sleeping in your own bed unless my nightmares cause you to wake.”

++++++++++++++++++++++

NIGHTS 4 TO 9 IN THE DARKNESS

The two magicians kept to this policy for the next six nights. On the fourth night, Mr Strange did not have any nightmares—or at least, not ones that he remembered or that caused him to cry out and awaken Mr Norrell. That morning they expressed hope that Mr Strange was recovered. But on the very next night, Mr Strange cried out again, and when Mr Norrell entered his bedroom, he had reverted to believing that Mr Norrell had come to Venice to try and stop him from summoning the Fairy. To Mr Norrell’s consternation, he had considerable trouble in talking him out of that belief, and he again slept the remainder of the night in Mr Strange’s bed.

Over the next three nights, however, Mr Strange seemed once more to improve. He had nightmares twice, but he was not as delusional or confused as before, and only on one of these occasions did he cause Mr Norrell to awaken and join him.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

NIGHT 10 IN THE DARKNESS

Each night Mr Norrell was finding it increasingly difficult to fall asleep. Whether or not Mr Strange would have nightmares was so unpredictable, and whether or not he would wake up suffering from some degree of recurring madness was as well. Consequently each night Mr Norrell lay awake worried about Mr Strange. Finally on the tenth night he managed to doze fitfully for a few hours before waking up in the wee hours of the night.

Everything was quiet, and yet for some reason he felt anxious about Mr Strange. He rose and donned his banyan and slippers, walking as quietly as possible down the hallway and looking into Mr Strange’s bedroom. The other magician appeared to be soundly and peacefully asleep. Mr Norrell looked regretfully at the space beside Mr Strange in the bed, thinking about how wonderful it had been to occupy that space for a few nights. He chided himself, realizing that it was far better if his friend was not having nightmares and could perhaps once more sleep peacefully again through the entire night. Perhaps by this point the lingering consequences of the madness truly were things of the past. He realized that allowing Mr Strange to sleep alone was the best approach. Even if he were to share Mr Strange’s bed, he would feel terribly frustrated at not being able to take the man in his arms and become his lover. Sighing regretfully, he went back to his own bed. Once there, he felt terribly lonely but eventually fell asleep.

Later that night, Mr Norrell woke up with a start. He wondered if he really was hearing mice this time. Looking around, he realized that Mr Strange was at the half-open door, holding a candle and looking into his room.

“Yes, Mr Strange?” Mr Norrell said.

The other magician came over to his bed.

“I am sorry, but you were not in my bed and I wondered where you were.” He looked puzzled for a moment and shook his head slightly before resuming. “But no, we agreed that you would sleep here unless I had a nightmare—which fortunately I have not done tonight. I’m sorry to have awoken you.” He hesitated, looked around and then said heartily, “So there are no mice about? I’m … glad to hear that. I shall go back to bed, shall I?”

Norrell was about to say, “No, there are no mice, but thank you for asking. Do go back to bed.” He quickly realized, however, that Strange might be doing the reverse of what he had done on the second night he had shared his bed—pretending to be concerned about his friend’s fears when he is in fact worried himself.

He said instead, “I must admit, I did hear something a little while ago that sounded like mice. I would feel much safer if you were to stay with me for the rest of the night.” He slid over and held up the edge of the blankets.

“Thank you, Gilbert, I would be happy to defend you from the little demons.” He seemed quite relieved and, blowing out his candle, he slid quickly into the bed. The two smiled at each other and settled down under the bedclothes with a chaste distance between them.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning, Mr Norrell work up to find Mr Strange staring at him, smiling.

“Good morning, Mr Strange. Did you have any nightmares last night? Perhaps small ones, so that you did not make enough noise for me to notice? If so, I apologize.” He stopped, because Mr Strange was staring at him so fondly.

“No. I dreamed, but it was not about Venice. It was about some sort of spell that we were struggling over and repeatedly failing at. Not pleasant, but at least the sort of dream one might expect. Thank you for being so patient and kind with me all this time. You are making this whole process so much easier to face than if I were alone.”

He grasped Mr Norrell’s hand, lifted it to his lips and kissed it. Afterwards he continued to hold it.

Mr Norrell froze. He wished that this might be a sign of affection on Mr Strange’s part, but he knew so little about social etiquette. Perhaps Mr Strange was simply expressing gratitude for his help over the past several nights. Perhaps it was proper for one man to kiss another’s hand in a polite fashion in certain circumstances. In that case … He twisted his hand so that Mr Strange’s was more accessible to him and pressed his lips to the back of that hand. He took care not to linger over the kiss, pulling back to lay his head back against the pillow and looking with a restrained smile at his beloved friend.

Mr Strange looked back at him more passionately than he would have expected and suddenly moved forward to press his lips against those of Mr Norrell. The sweet, gentle kiss went on for some time, and Mr Norrell could have wished it to go on forever. He could hardly believe that this was a customary way for one man to thank another for a favour, but he could not bring himself to draw away.

When the kiss threatened to become more intense, however, Mr Norrell finally pulled back reluctantly.

“Mr Strange, I must admit, I should like nothing more than that we become more intimate with each other. Still, I believe that we should not do so while you are still perhaps suffering the lingering effects of your madness. We should wait until we are sure you are utterly sound of mind. After all, what if this sudden passion is part of the madness itself? You might come to regret our intimacy once you do fully recover.”

Mr Strange looked disappointed, but he moved slightly away on the bed. He continued, however, to hold Norrell’s hand. “You are probably right. Yes, I see your point. I am feeling quite well now, and I am becoming more convinced that I have finally come out of my madness. Still, I have thought that before and found that it returned. Each time less intensely, so I have hopes that it is nearly or completely gone from my mind by now.”

He squeezed Mr Norrell’s hand. “Yes, let us wait. I assure you, though, that I am most grateful for all your help and patience.”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Somehow this agreement reassured them both. Mr Strange seemed calmer, and during the days as they worked, he would turn and gaze at Mr Norrell with a quiet affection and respect that lent credence to the idea that his desire for his fellow magician was not in any way motivated by madness.

For his part, Mr Norrell struggled not to have his hopes raised that Mr Strange truly desired him, but as his friend’s madness seemed to continue fading away, he could not help but feel that those affectionate looks might be quite genuine. He was content to wait and let Mr Strange continue to recover from his Venetian experiences.

Three more nights passed without any nightmares or other traces of madness in Mr Strange. The two slept in separate beds and missed each other, and yet there was an increasing sense of peace between them, as well as a cautious anticipation of a joyous outcome to their waiting.

On the morning after the thirteenth night in the Darkness, the two went to the dining room and were served their breakfasts. They sat opposite each other, calmly talking of the success they had made in settling into the Darkness, in establishing contact with the outside world and in rehiring some of the servants. They had begun making plans for possibly travelling about the world in the Darkness, starting with a visit to Mrs Strange in Italy. Mr Norrell was quite nervous about that visit, for it would reveal whether Mr Strange intended to invite his wife to join them in the Darkness and travel with them. He did not particularly care for Mrs Strange nor she, he suspected, for him. Still, if it meant that he and Mr Strange could continue doing magic together, he would accept such a situation.

The two lingered at table after they had finished eating, Mr Strange sipping his tea and Mr Norrell his chocolate. There was for a time a comfortable silence between them.

Finally Mr Strange put down his cup and leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “Gilbert, I think I am not being overly confident when I say that I believe my madness has finally disappeared entirely. These three nights I have had no nightmares and felt no irrational thoughts. And during all that time I slept alone, without your comforting presence beside me.”

Mr Norrell pressed his lips together, struggling to control his emotions. “Oh, Mr Strange! I am overwhelmed with joy to hear you say so. I was so afraid that I had lost you! Oh, not lost you exactly, but I feared that there would always be something not quite complete about you. That you would never again be quite the man that I …” He trailed off abruptly and avoided looking into Mr Strange’s eyes.

Mr Strange grinned. “Not quite the man that you … what? Pray, do not be afraid to say it, Gilbert. I think I know what you mean, and I would not be even slightly offended if you did say it.” He stretched his arm across the table and took Mr Norrell’s hand in his.

Mr Norrell hesitated but finally looked up at him. He said quietly, “The man that I loved. That I have loved ever since you became my pupil. Indeed, if you are truly free of your venture into madness, then you are more than the man I loved in those days. You have become the great magician that I wished you to be from the start.”

Mr Strange gulped and struggled to speak. “Oh, I think I have some things to learn still. I am quite willing to go on having you teach me.” He smiled and waggled his eyebrows. “I think I have a few things I might teach you as well. At any rate, I hope I can entirely be the man that you have loved. I am certain that you are entirely the man that I love.”

Mr Norrell stared into his eyes, almost afraid to believe this. “Are you? Can you be certain that this is not simply friendship or, dare I say it, a trace of lingering madness?”

“Yes, I am quite sure. I do not believe that I was exactly in love with you from the beginning. Still, I have begun to understand why Arabella was so jealous of the time I spent with you and so annoyed—though she usually hid it well—at the extent to which I talked about little but you in my early years as your pupil. Even in Venice you occupied my thoughts to a great degree. I dimly remember saying to my little wooden companion that I was there in Venice, doing great magic, and it was all aimed at you. Everything I did was, I thought, to revenge myself upon you and become your superior—at least in the public eye. Now, though, I realize that I was still trying to impress you, as I said recently.

“But that was not love, not yet. What happened to me in Venice changed my desires and needs. As I made myself mad, all thoughts of love and intimacy faded. For months I have felt no need for intimacy, even simply that administered by my own hand. Just three months ago, I met quite a lovely girl. Flora Greysteel. Kind, fascinated with magic, very attractive. I am fairly certain that she fell in love with me. It had been nearly a year since Arabella’s apparent death, and I might very well have reciprocated Flora’s affection, had I not been intent on using madness as a way to summon a Fairy. I am delighted that I met her and her family, since it was to them that I sent Arabella when we did our magic and saved her and Lady Pole from their enchantment. I am sure that they have taken her into their hearts and have comforted her. But I never felt the slightest desire for Flora.

“When I came here to Hurtfew and started suffering bouts of recurring madness at night, you kindly slept beside me to reassure me and keep my nightmares at bay. Despite our being together, I still felt no arousal or desire. And yet, as soon as my madness seemingly disappeared, I began to experience a passionate interest in you!”

Mr Norrell blinked and thought about this for a while. Eventually he said, “So, you conclude that such returning desire is a sign that the madness that destroyed your, um, interest in intimacy has entirely deserted you?”

“Exactly!” Mr Strange squeezed Mr Norrell’s hand.

Mr Norrell smiled. “I suppose that is somewhat logical … but are you sure that your sudden desire for me in particular is simply because …” He looked around at the dimly lit room and shrugged. “… well, who else is there?”

“Not at all! I thought for months that I hated you, but the moment when you came into the library at Hurtfew, I felt such a tremendous relief! I knew I could not hate you, that I was thrilled to be back with you, to be introduced at last to the lovely haven of magic that you had patiently created since childhood. I knew I could work with you again and be the friends we had been before. In the days since then … I have realized that we could be even more to each other.”

Mr Strange stood up and swiftly moved around the table, grasping Mr Norrell’s hands and pulling him up out of his chair and embracing him. “You and I were meant for each other, and though it has been a long and torturous path, we have found each other at last. Why else would the Raven King have left us together in the Darkness but to discover that very thing?”

“Oh, I hope what you say is true! But … what about your wife, Mr Strange? You—”

“Jonathan.”

“Well, J-Jonathan then. You wish to go and meet her in Italy, and …”

“My desire to visit Belle is for the purpose of telling her that I intend to travel about the world—and beyond—with you. I know she would not wish to go with us. I plan to encourage her to find some one else to love. I doubt that she would be much surprised, or indeed upset, at my doing so. I love you, dearest Gilbert, and I promise that I shall never have the temerity or the presumption to part with you again, inside the Darkness or outside it. Will you promise the same?”

He hugged Mr Norrell tightly against himself.

“Of course I shall, Jonathan! I already had magic, and you are the only thing I have ever wished for beyond it.”

Though it was still early in the day, the two magicians retired to Mr Strange’s room and shared a bed in the best possible way.