Check out Emerald Green, the conclusion to Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red Trilogy, available October 8th from Henry Holt and Co.!
Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is.
She’s only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-German, is up to something nefarious, but nobody will believe her. And she’s just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along…
3 July 1912
“That’s going to leave a nasty scar,” said the doctor, without looking up.
Paul managed a wry smile. “Well, better than the amputation Mrs. Worry-guts here was predicting, anyway.”
“Very funny!” Lucy snapped. “I am not a worry-guts, and as for you… Mr. Thoughtless Idiot, don’t go joking about it! You know how quickly wounds can get infected, and then you’d be lucky to survive at all at this date. No antibiotics, and all the doctors are ignorant and useless.”
“Thank you very much,” said the doctor, spreading a brownish paste on the wound he had just stitched up. It burned like hell, and Paul had difficulty in suppressing a grimace. He only hoped he hadn’t left bloodstains on Lady Tilney’s elegant chaise longue.
“Not that they can help it, of course.” Lucy was making an effort to sound friendlier. She even tried a smile. Rather a grim smile, but it’s the thought that counts. “I’m sure you’re doing your best,” she told the doctor.
“Dr. Harrison is the best,” Lady Tilney assured her.
“And the only one available,” murmured Paul. Suddenly he felt incredibly tired. There must have been a sedative in the sweetish stuff that the doctor had given him to drink.
“The most discreet, anyway,” said Dr. Harrison. He put a snow-white bandage on Paul’s arm. “And to be honest, I can’t imagine that the treatment of cuts and stab wounds will be so very different in eighty years’ time.”
Lucy took a deep breath, and Paul guessed what was coming. A lock of hair had strayed from the ringlets pinned up on top of her head, and she put it back behind her ear with a look of spirited defiance. “Well, maybe not as a general rule, but if bacteria… er, those are single-celled organisms that—”
“Drop it, Luce!” Paul interrupted her. “Dr. Harrison knows perfectly well what bacteria are!” The wound was still burning horribly, and at the same time he felt so exhausted that he wanted to close his eyes and drift away into sleep. But that would only upset Lucy even more. Although her blue eyes were sparkling furiously, he knew her anger only hid her concern for him, and—even worse—her fears. For her sake, he mustn’t show either his poor physical state or his own desperation. So he went on talking. “After all, we’re not in the Middle Ages; we’re in the twentieth century. It’s a time of trailblazing medical advances. The first ECG device is already yesterday’s news, and for the last few years, they’ve known the cause of syphilis and how to cure it.”
“Someone was paying attention like a good boy in his study of the mysteries!” Lucy looked as if she might explode any minute now. “How nice for you!”
Dr. Harrison made his own contribution. “And last year that Frenchwoman Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.”
“So what did she invent? The nuclear bomb?”
“Sometimes you’re shockingly uneducated, Lucy. Marie Curie invented radio—”
“Oh, do shut up!” Lucy had crossed her arms and was staring angrily at Paul, ignoring Lady Tilney’s reproachful glance. “You can keep your lectures to yourself right now! You! Could! Have! Been! Dead! So will you kindly tell me how I was supposed to avert the disaster ahead of us without you?” At this point, her voice shook. “Or how I could go on living without you at all?”
“I’m sorry, Princess.” She had no idea just how sorry he was.
“Huh!” said Lucy. “You can leave out that remorseful doggy expression.”
“There’s no point in thinking about what might have happened, my dear child,” said Lady Tilney, shaking her head as she helped Dr. Harrison to pack his instruments back in his medical bag. “It all turned out for the best. Paul was unlucky, but lucky as well.”
“Well, yes, it could have ended much worse, but that doesn’t mean it was all for the best!” cried Lucy. “Nothing turned out for the best, nothing at all!” Her eyes filled with tears, and the sight almost broke Paul’s heart. “We’ve been here for nearly three months, and we haven’t done any of the things we planned to do, just the opposite—we’ve only made matters worse! We finally had those wretched papers in our hands, and then Paul simply gave them away!”
“Maybe I was a little too hasty.” He let his head drop back on the pillow. “But at that moment, I felt it was the right thing to do.” Because at that moment, I felt horribly close to death. Lord Alastair’s sword could easily have finished him off. However, he mustn’t let Lucy know that. “If we have Gideon on our side, there’s still a chance. As soon as he’s read those papers, he’ll understand what we’re doing and why.” Or let’s hope so, he thought.
“But we don’t know exactly what’s in the papers ourselves. They could all be in code, or… oh, you don’t even know just what you handed to Gideon,” said Lucy. “Lord Alastair could have palmed anything off on you—old bills, love letters, blank sheets of paper.…”
This idea had occurred to Paul himself some time ago, but what was done was done. “Sometimes you just have to trust things will be all right,” he murmured, wishing that applied to himself. The thought that he might have handed Gideon a bundle of worthless documents was bad enough; even worse was the chance that the boy might take them straight off to Count Saint-Germain. That would mean they’d thrown away their only trump card. But Gideon had said he loved Gwyneth, and the way he said it had been… well, convincing.
“He promised me,” Paul tried to say, but it came out as an inaudible whisper. It would have been a lie, anyway. He hadn’t had time to hear Gideon’s answer.
“Trying to work with the Florentine Alliance was a stupid idea,” he heard Lucy say. His eyes had closed. Whatever Dr. Harrison had given him, it worked fast.
“And yes, I know, I know,” Lucy went on. “We ought to have dealt with the situation ourselves.”
“But you’re not murderers, my child,” said Lady Tilney.
“What’s the difference between committing a murder and getting someone else to do it?” Lucy heaved a deep sigh, and although Lady Tilney contradicted her vigorously (“My dear, don’t say such things! You didn’t ask anyone to commit murder, you only handed over a little information!”), she suddenly sounded inconsolable. “We’ve got everything wrong that we could get wrong, Paul. All we’ve done in three months is to waste any amount of time and Margaret’s money, and we’ve involved far too many other people.”
“It’s Lord Tilney’s money,” Lady Tilney corrected her, “and you’d be astonished to hear what he usually wastes it on. Horse races and dancing girls are the least of it. He won’t even notice the small sums I’ve abstracted for our own purposes. And if he ever does, I trust he’ll be enough of a gentleman to say nothing about it.”
“Speaking for myself, I can’t feel at all sorry to be involved,” Dr. Harrison assured them, smiling. “I’d just begun to find life rather boring. But it isn’t every day of the week you meet time travelers from the future who know your own job better than you do. And between ourselves, the high-and-mighty manner of the de Villiers and PinkertonSmythe gentlemen among the Guardians here is quite enough to make anyone feel a little rebellious in secret.”
“How true,” said Lady Tilney. “That self-satisfied Jonathan de Villiers threatened to lock his wife in her room if she didn’t stop sympathizing with the suffragettes.” She imitated a grumpy male voice. “What will it be next, I wonder? Votes for dogs?”
“Ah, so that’s why you threatened to slap his face,” said Dr. Harrison. “Now that was one tea party when I was not bored!”
“It wasn’t quite like that. I only said I couldn’t guarantee what my right hand might not do next if he went on making such remarks.”
“ ‘If he went on talking such utter balderdash’… those were your precise words,” Dr. Harrison set her right. “I remember because they impressed me deeply.”
Lady Tilney laughed, and offered the doctor her arm. “I’ll show you to the door, Dr. Harrison.”
Paul tried to open his eyes and sit up to thank the doctor. He didn’t manage to do either of those things. “Mmph… nks,” he mumbled with the last of his strength.
“What on earth was in that stuff you gave him, doctor?” Lucy called after Dr. Harrison.
He turned in the doorway. “Only a few drops of tincture of morphine. Perfectly harmless!”
But Paul was past hearing Lucy’s screech of outrage.
The end of the sword was pointing straight at my heart, and my murderer’s eyes were like black holes threatening to swallow up everything that came too close to them. I knew I couldn’t get away. With difficulty, I stumbled a few steps back.
The man followed me. “I will wipe that which is displeasing to God off the face of the earth!” he boomed. “The ground will soak up your blood!”
I had at least two smart retorts to these sinister words on the tip of my tongue. (Soak up my blood? Oh, come off it, this is a tiled floor.) But I was in such a panic that I couldn’t get a word out. The man didn’t look as if he’d appreciate my little joke at this moment anyway. In fact, he didn’t look as if he had a sense of humor at all.
I took another step back and came up against a wall. The killer laughed out loud. Okay, so maybe he did have a sense of humor, but it wasn’t much like mine.
“Die, demon!” he cried, plunging his sword into my breast without any more ado.
I woke up, screaming. I was wet with sweat, and my heart hurt as if a blade really had pierced it. What a horrible dream! But was that really surprising?
My experiences of yesterday (and the day before) weren’t exactly likely to make me nestle down comfortably in bed and sleep the sleep of the just. Unwanted thoughts were writhing around in my mind like flesh-eating plants gone crazy. Gideon was only pretending, I thought. He doesn’t really love me.
“He hardly has to do anything to attract girls,” I heard Count Saint-Germain saying in his soft, deep voice, again and again. And “Nothing is easier to calculate than the reactions of a woman in love.”
Oh, yes? So how does a woman in love react when she finds out that someone’s been lying to her and manipulating her? She spends hours on the phone to her best friend, that’s how, then she sits about in the dark, unable to get to sleep, asking herself why the hell she ever fell for the guy in the first place, crying her eyes out at the same time because she wants him so much… Right, so it doesn’t take a genius to calculate that.
The lighted numbers on the alarm clock beside my bed said 3:10, so I must have nodded off after all. I’d even slept for more than two hours. And someone—my mum?— must have come in to cover me up, because all I could remember was huddling on the bed with my arms around my knees, listening to my heart beating much too fast.
Odd that a broken heart can beat at all, come to think of it.
“It feels like it’s made of red splinters with sharp edges, and they’re slicing me up from inside so that I’ll bleed to death,” I’d said, trying to describe the state of my heart to Lesley (okay, so it sounds at least as corny as the stuff the character in my dream was saying, but sometimes the truth is corny). And Lesley had said sympathetically, “I know just how you feel. When Max dumped me, I thought at first I’d die of grief. Grief and multiple organ failure. Because there’s a grain of truth in all those things they say about love: it goes to your kidneys, it punches you in the stomach, it breaks your heart and… er… it scurries over your liver like a louse. But first, that will all pass off; second, it’s not as hopeless as it looks to you; and third, your heart isn’t made of glass.”
“Stone, not glass,” I corrected her, sobbing. “My heart is a gemstone, and Gideon’s broken it into thousands of pieces, just like in Aunt Maddy’s vision.”
“Sounds kind of cool—but no! Hearts are really made of very different stuff, you take my word for it.” Lesley cleared her throat, and her tone of voice got positively solemn, as if she were revealing the greatest secret in the history of the world. “Hearts are made of something much tougher. It’s unbreakable, and you can reshape it anytime you like. Hearts are made to a secret formula.”
More throat-clearing to heighten the suspense. I instinctively held my breath.
“They’re made of stuff like marzipan!” Lesley announced.
“Marzipan?” For a moment I stopped sobbing and grinned instead.
“That’s right, marzipan,” Lesley repeated in deadly earnest. “The best sort, with lots of real ground almonds in it.”
I almost giggled. But then I remembered that I was the unhappiest girl in the world. I sniffed, and said, “If that’s so, then Gideon has bitten off a piece of my heart! And he’s nibbled away the chocolate coating around it too! You ought to have seen the way he looked when—”
But before I could start crying all over again, Lesley sighed audibly.
“Gwenny, I hate to say so, but all this miserable weeping and wailing does no one any good. You have to stop it!”
“I’m not doing it on purpose,” I told her. “It just keeps on breaking out of me. One moment I’m still the happiest girl in the world, and then he tells me he—”
“Okay, so Gideon behaved like a bastard,” Lesley interrupted me, “although it’s hard to understand why. I mean, hello? Why on earth would girls in love be easier to manipulate? I’d have thought it was just the opposite. Girls in love are like ticking time bombs. You never know what they’ll do next. Gideon and his male chauvinist friend the count have made a big mistake.”
“I really thought Gideon was in love with me. The idea that he was only pretending is so…” Mean? Cruel? No word seemed enough to describe my feelings properly.
“Oh, sweetie—look, in other circumstances, you could wallow in grief for weeks on end, but you can’t afford to do that right now. You need your energy for other things. Like surviving, for instance.” Lesley sounded unusually stern. “So kindly pull yourself together.”
“That’s what Xemerius said, too. Before he went off and left me all alone.”
“Your little invisible monster is right! You have to keep a cool head now and put all the facts together. Ugh, what was that? Hang on, I have to open a window. Bertie just did a disgusting fart. Bad dog! Now, where was I? Yes, that’s it, we have to find out what your grandfather hid in your house.” Lesley’s voice rose slightly. “I must admit Raphael has turned out pretty useful. He’s not as stupid as you might think.”
“As you might think, you mean.” Raphael was Gideon’s little brother, who had just started going to our school. He’d discovered that the riddle my grandfather had left behind was all about geographical coordinates. And they had led straight to our house. “I’d love to know how much Raphael has found out about the secrets of the Guardians and Gideon’s time traveling.”
“Could be more than we might assume,” said Lesley. “Anyway, he wasn’t swallowing my story when I told him the coordinates were only because puzzle games like this were the latest fad in London. But he was clever enough not to ask any more questions.” She paused for a moment. “He has rather attractive eyes.”
“Yup.” They really were attractive, which reminded me that Gideon’s eyes were exactly the same. Green and surrounded by thick, dark lashes.
“Not that that impresses me. Only making an observation.”
I’ve fallen in love with you. Gideon had sounded deadly serious when he said that, looking straight at me. And I’d stared back and believed every word of it! My tears started flowing again, and I could hardly hear what Lesley was saying.
“. . . but I hope it’s a long letter, or a kind of diary, with your grandfather explaining everything the rest of them won’t tell you and a bit more. Then we can finally stop groping around in the dark and make a proper plan.…”
Eyes like that shouldn’t be allowed. Or there ought to be a law saying boys with such gorgeous eyes had to wear sunglasses all the time. Unless they canceled out the eyes by having huge jug ears or something like that.
“Gwenny? You’re not crying again, are you?” Now Lesley sounded just like Mrs. Counter, our geography teacher, when people told her they were afraid they’d forgotten to do their homework. “Sweetie, this won’t do! You must stop twisting the knife in your own heart with all this drama! We have to—”
“Keep a cool head. Yes, you’re right.” It cost me an effort, but I tried to put the thought of Gideon’s eyes out of my mind and inject a little confidence into my voice. I owed Lesley that. After all, she was the one who’d been propping me up for days. Before she rang off, I had to tell her how glad I was that she was my friend. Even if it made me start to cry again, but this time because it made me so emotional!
“Same here,” Lesley assured me. “My life would be dead boring without you!”
When she ended the call, it was just before midnight, and I really had felt a little better for a few minutes. But now, at ten past three, I’d have loved to call her back and go over the whole thing again.
Not that I was naturally inclined to be such a Moaning Minnie. It’s just that this was the first time in my life I’d ever suffered from unrequited love. Real unrequited love, I mean. The sort that genuinely hurts. Everything else retreated into the background. Even survival didn’t seem to matter. Honestly, the thought of dying didn’t seem so bad at that moment. I wouldn’t be the first to die of a broken heart, after all—I’d be in good company. There was the Little Mermaid, Juliet, Pocahontas, the Lady of the Camellias, Madame Butterfly—and now me, Gwyneth Shepherd. The good part of it was that I could leave out anything dramatic with a knife, as suggested by Lesley’s remark, because the way I felt now, I must have caught TB ages ago, and dying of consumption is much the most picturesque way to go. I’d lie on my bed looking pale and beautiful like Snow White, with my hair spread out on the pillow. Gideon would kneel beside me, feeling bitterly sorry for what he had done when I breathed my last words.
But first I had to go to the toilet, urgently.
Peppermint tea with masses of lemon and sugar was a cure for all ills in our family, and I must have drunk pints of it. Because when I came in yesterday evening, my mother had noticed right away that I wasn’t feeling good. It wasn’t difficult to spot that, because crying had made me look like an albino rabbit. And if I’d told her—as Xemerius suggested—that I’d had to chop onions in the limousine on the way home from the Guardians’ headquarters, she’d never have believed my story.
“Have those damn Guardians been doing something to you? What happened?” she had asked, managing to sound sympathetic and furiously angry at the same time. “I’ll murder Falk if—”
“No one’s done anything to me, Mum,” I’d said quickly, to reassure her. “And nothing has happened.”
“As if she was going to believe that! Why didn’t you try the onion excuse? You never take my good advice.” Xemerius had stamped his clawed feet on the floor. He was a small stone gargoyle demon with big ears, bat’s wings, a scaly tail like a dragon, and two little horns on a catlike head. Unfortunately he wasn’t half as cute as he looked, and no one except me could hear his outrageous remarks and answer him back. There were two odd things about me, by the way, and I just had to live with them. One was that I’d been able to see gargoyle demons and other ghosts and talk to them from early childhood. The other was even odder, and I hadn’t known about it until under two weeks ago, when I found out that I was one of a strictly secret bunch of twelve time travelers, which meant going back to somewhere in the past for a couple of hours every day. The curse of time travel—well, okay, so it was supposed to be a gift—ought to have affected my cousin Charlotte, who’d have been much better at it, but it turned out that I’d drawn the short straw. No reason why I should be surprised. I was always left holding the last card when we played Old Maid; if we cast lots in class to see who bought Mrs. Counter’s Christmas gift, I always got the piece of paper with her name on it (and how do you decide what to give a geography teacher?); if I had tickets for a concert, you could bet I’d fall sick; and when I particularly wanted to look good, I got a zit on my forehead the size of a third eye. Some people may not understand right away how a zit is like time travel—they may even envy me and think time travel would be fun, but it isn’t. It’s a nuisance, nerve-racking and dangerous as well. Not forgetting that if I hadn’t inherited that stupid gift I’d never have met Gideon and then my heart, whether or not it was made of marzipan, would still be just fine. Because that guy was another of the twelve time travelers. One of the few still alive. You couldn’t meet the others except back in the past.
“You’ve been crying,” my mother had said in a matterof-fact way.
“There, you see?” Xemerius had said. “Now she’s going to squeeze you like a lemon until the pips squeak. She won’t let you out of her sight for a second, and we can wave good-bye to tonight’s treasure hunt.”
I’d made a face at him, to let him know that I didn’t feel like treasure hunting tonight anymore. Well, you have to make faces at invisible friends if you don’t want other people to think you’re crazy because you talk to the empty air.
“Tell her you were trying out the pepper spray,” the empty air had answered me back, “and it got into your own eyes by mistake.”
But I’d been far too tired to tell lies. I just looked at my mum with red-rimmed eyes and tried telling the truth. Here goes, then, I’d thought. “It’s just… no, I don’t feel too good. It’s… kind of a girl thing, you know?”
“If I phone Lesley, I know I’ll feel better.”
Much to the surprise of Xemerius—me too—Mum had been satisfied with this explanation. She made me peppermint tea, left the teapot and my favorite cup with its pattern of spots on my bedside table, stroked my hair, and otherwise left me in peace. She didn’t even keep reminding me of the time, as usual. (“Gwyneth! It’s after ten, and you’ve been on the phone for forty minutes. You’ll be seeing each other at school tomorrow.”) Sometimes she really was the best mother in the world.
Sighing, I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and stumbled off to the bathroom. I felt a cold breath of air.
“Xemerius? Are you there?” I asked under my breath, and felt for the light switch.
Emerald Green © Kerstin Gier, 2013