Work Header

Lady Pole in Venice - An Excerpt

Work Text:

In the spring of 1821 Venice was experiencing a minor fad for Englishness and English magic, which took its fascination less from those men and women who flocked from those shores to Italy for its poetry and history and more from the delightfully subversive idea that any country other than Italy could have anything of cultural interest to offer. At the heart of this fad was the romance of Lady Pole.

"Pay it no mind, my love," said Arabella and pulled Emma into an arched passageway as a gondola filled with revelers floated by. Venice's once-famous carnival had been forbidden more than two decades ago, but who can order young people not to celebrate? The party in the gondola had put on feathers and cloth-flowers, beaded dresses and glittering jackets, and thus created their own small pleasure garden within the narrow oblong of the boat. The women - three of them - all wore serene white masks with a red glass rose glued at the mouth.

"Must my history follow me everywhere?" Emma exclaimed, her fists clenched in the folds of her dress. "If only I could make the world forget what others did to me and listen to what I have to say now that I have my voice. My publisher in England is still sending me requests for revision. Obstinate man!"

"I doubt very much anyone can ever silence you again," said Arabella, and began to speak of other things, as she had when they had been friends in London and she had taken Emma for a madwoman - of the Lent mass, the arrangements of flowers outside the church, of Henry's English garden and the maples he intended to plant, and the peculiarities of American weather patterns that created such diverse climes. She lamented that there was no accurate weather magic available(1), and thus found herself back on the sorest of subjects. Emma, however, was placated enough to allow it, and the two friends made their way to her house. The wind was giving Emma a headache.

"Will you not return to England this summer?" asked Arabella as a maid set down their tea and refreshments. "Flora and I would be happy to receive you at our cottage, as of course would Dr Greysteel at his house. Flora has become an excellent writer with several articles published under her nom de plume, and if she, Mr Segundus and Miss Grey all apply their pens in your favour, I dare say your publisher will accept whatever manuscript you choose to give him."

Emma smiled over the rim of her cup. "Would that not be awkward? I understand she is once more your particular friend."

"Oh!" Arabella coloured. "As to that... It does not do to be a selfish friend. I love you both very dearly. I see no reason to apply the jealousies of common love affairs to... our friendships."

"What an admirable sentiment," said Emma with a wicked smile and lay her hand lightly upon Arabella's. "And after all, three can lie in a bed quite as comfortably as two, can they not?"

Arabella laughed. In the years since their imprisonment, her sparkle and life had returned to full bloom, while Emma's character had turned first into towering fury, then forged to a will of steel before which even her mother quivered. Her desire was a hard and jagged thing, while Arabella's sang, played, enticed.

"I can think of a second metaphor for a rose at a woman's mouth," said Arabella, and it was Emma's turn to laugh.


(1) Before Vice-Admiral Fitzroy's work with weather barometers in the 1850s, the world had no better system of predicting the weather than the ancient knowledge of fishermen and farmers, who of course were not gentlemen and therefore not considered reliable. As Mr Norrell had concluded during his long seclusion before the Magical Restoration in England, magic cannot predict the future unless, as with the Raven King's "prophecy" of the two magicians, it causes that future to unfold. By 1820, the prohibition against weather magic was already included into English magical law.

The problem of weather prediction therefore continued to stump magicians. What was needed was an experienced naval man with a technologically adept mind to engineer a system by which storms could be predicted, based on the working of the climes and the transmittance of information from various points to create a larger picture of a weather already in motion. Even today, magical weather prediction rests more on the natural science of Fitzroy than on the magic itself, which consists of the simplest transmitting and balancing spells.

Robert Fitzroy is, of course, also remembered as a devout Christian and the man who so aptly described to the Royal Geographic Society the remarkable motions and formations of earth in South-America.