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Life Amongst the Ghosts

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The dead boy keeps asking for his mother, who is gone - gone gone, Sophie is fairly sure, not dead gone like the rest of them.

She's gotten to know all of them by now, all the members of their little group.

Ordinary people, the sons of cabinet makers and butcher and bakers. The daughters of dukes and seamstresses and serving girls.

 

You think one man cannot bring down an empire? Eduard asks her, before.

I think that if that one man is the Crown Prince, he stands a fair chance, she replies, and he smiles, shakes his head. (She's still getting used to his beard, to the feeling of his hands, less calloused than before, but stronger, somehow, surer in their touch.)

That was not the man I was speaking about.

Good, she says. I don't want to talk about him any more anyway.

 

"I like oranges," Pedr tells her. He is seven years old, rather clever for his age and dead. "When I'm older, I'm going to grow them in an orchard."

"You'll have to go to a place very far away from here." She's never been to the place where oranges come from, herself. She's been to Budapest, and Prague, and Paris, once, for only a few days.

Travel requires money, knowledge and freedom of movement. She possesses the first, has acquired the second where she was able to do so (you're a woman, her mother used to tell her, what need do you have of knowing what people do in Africa? in Asia Minor? but her father would smile at her and say, well, you never know when it'll come in handy - you might marry someone important). She's never possessed the third, nor expected to.

 

Will you take me there? she asks, tracing an old scar that is new to her.

So many things about Eduard are like that: familiar and yet unknown. He hasn't changed at all, and yet she thinks she might spend the rest of her life uncovering all of his secrets, hearing all of his stories.

Perhaps it was all for the best, really, that they haven't gotten to run away together after all. What would two people who've spent all of their lives together have left to talk about, aside from everything?

Where? he says.

The place where you got this. She doesn't know what sort of injury would leave this shape of scar. Few men in her acquaintance had inspired those sort of confidences.

None of them had set the room ablaze with a simple smile.

It's not a very nice place, he says. I don't think you'd enjoy visiting there.

Somewhere else, then. There's a whole world out there, now. Hers.

I'll take you anywhere you wish to go, he promises. Not hers, then. Theirs.

 

Pedr and Franz and Rudi and Frenkel and Annifrid and Gretchen and Liesl.

They don't quite dare address her as 'Sophie' at first; if they address her at all, it's as 'Your Grace' or 'Your Highness' or 'my lady'. More usually, they pretend she's not there, the way most aristocrats will act as if the servants have neither ears nor eyes nor any significance.

Death is the great equalizer. Death and Eisenheim, who kisses her until she's breathless in front of all of them, before he grows an orange tree for Pedr, distributing the oranges among all of them.

Her face is still flushed when he hands her half of an orange, and she feels people's eyes on them, watching. Judging her, but kindly. Gently.

"Mr Li tells me it won't be long now," Eduard says - to all of them. "Only a few more days."

Being dead should not, Sophie thinks idly, require quite this many rehearsals.

 

Pedr's mother -

- dead, he says. But you knew that. She's why we're doing this. Why we must do this. So that things like what happened to Pedr's mother don't keep happening.

We're not an army. She's studied Napoleon. Alexander the Great.

Thermophylae. This isn't a war, Eduard tells her, kissing the hollow of her throat where, by rights, there should be a scar. (There isn't.) This is a revolution.

A lot of people die in revolutions. She's read about the one in France. The storming of the Bastille. The reign of Terror. Robespierre and Desmoulins and Danton.

A lot of people already have died, he says. I'm just going to make sure they didn't die for nothing. That something is going to change - for the better, this time.

How? Leopold has shared his ends, but little of the means. She has names, places, dates.

She wouldn't know where to begin if she were to try to stop him on her own, either as a dead woman or as his fiancee, the one who stands by his side and smiles and wears long gloves to hide the bruises around her wrists.

Magic, Eduard says. Teasing her a little, before he tells her the real answer, which is much more complicated and yet much easier to wrap her mind around; she lies awake when he is gone, turning things over in her head, studying all of it like a many-faceted gem caught in the light of many candles and she thinks to herself:

Yes. This will work very nicely. She wonders what books Eduard has read.

 

"It actually did come down to one man, in the end," he says. The horses have been rubbed down and he's unpacked his luggage - for now, they are home.

"The Chief Inspector." She's met him only briefly; he always seemed a little cold, a little distant. A little ambitious, although Leopold would always maintain that was not a bad thing.

Sons of butchers do not usually go far in this world.

Eduard assents with a gesture of his hand. "Never underestimate the power of a righteous man in the right place at the right time."

"You manipulated him," she says. "You tricked him."

"If I tricked him, it was only because he wished to be tricked. To be manipulated into doing what he knew was right all along. Is that trickery? He will lead a happier life now."

"And Pedr and the others?"

"Miraculously brought back to life. Of course. Who knows, perhaps it will teach people to be more cynical, less inclined to believe things they know deep down inside to be impossible. Such as one man being divinely appointed to rule over everyone else."

She'd have heard, Sophie thinks, if any such thing had happened in Vienna. "I think that's going to take some time."

"Probably. Still, some things are worth waiting for, don't you agree?"

"Yes," she says, leaning in closer to kiss him as she plans on kissing him many more times. "They are."