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To Reign in Hell

A reader asks, "Did Elza ever see Victor again? What happened?"

Yes, she did. Victor will appear more than once in the upcoming books. Here's the next time, from The Emperor's Agent, which will be out on August 1! Victor has been convicted of conspiring against the government, and is being sent into exile.

That day was a day of rain, with fitful summer squalls racing across the sky. I stood in the Blvd. Madeleine fully half an hour, waiting for him. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was cloaked against the rain, his hat pulled low on his head, his steps quick and abstracted. When he lifted his face, I drew in a breath of surprise. His hair which had been ebony only touched with gray was now almost white, startling with his dark, sharp eyes. He looked so much older. I had thought he would be as he had been, when we had begun almost eight years ago, but he was nearly fifty and looked it.

"Ida," he said, and once again I started. He had never called me that. It was not my real name, and he had never called me by it.

"Victor," I said.

His eyes looked me over, and I saw a hint of that old amusement there. "You haven't changed."

"You have," I said.

"Misfortunes," he said, and shrugged.

"You should have known better," I said.

He shrugged again and offered me his arm. "Probably."

I took it and we walked together, not going anywhere in particular. "You had papers for me?"

"Yes." He dug a packet from his pocket and gave them to me. "I thought you might need them."

"You might have thought that six years ago," I said. "Why did you keep them?"

"One of life's mysteries," he said, and I took his arm and we walked again.

I glanced sideways at him. "Where do you go?"

He laughed, a short laugh like a bark. "New Jersey."

"New Jersey?"

"New Jersey, in the United States," he said. "A pleasant enough place, I'm told. It lacks palaces, but I understand that it at least has restaurants."

"Why ever in the world?" I would have expected London, or Rome, or even Cairo.

"Why not?" I was getting tired of his diffident shrug. "Are you going to ask me now if I am guilty of all I was charged with? A present for a new master?"

"I know you're guilty," I said evenly, "and I expect I would have a harder time proving it than the prosecutor. You forget how well I knew you, Victor."

"I suppose you did." He stopped and we stood facing one another in the rainy street. His eyes roved over my face as his hands once had. "I should have expected you to be coarsened by now."

"From the life you left me to?" My voice was bitter, but not as much as I had expected. "You underestimate me. You always have."

"I never have," he said mildly. "Did I not say that when a man makes a pet of a tiger he should not be surprised when one day it bites his hand off?"

"It was you that bit my hand," I said.

"And it was you who loved Ney." He took my arm again and we walked, stepping carefully on the slick stones. "I saw you together in Munich, you know. I knew you were there."

"And said nothing?"

"I had other things on my mind," he said. His profile was gray and impassive. "You are a tiger, and you will outlive us all."

"I hope so," I said. "But if I do, it will be no thanks to you."

He smiled as though at some pleasant memory. "You can still thank me for delivering you from that odious marriage, and for seeing to your education. That, I think, I did well."

"Yes," I said. "You did. But I am not done with it yet. My husband's family is still trying to get me back to Holland and lock me away."

"My dear, if I could I should intervene," he said. "I did all those years, while I could."

"Did you?" This time it was I who stopped and faced him. "Until your arrest?"

He nodded, one eyebrow rising. "Who else did you think? But I have no more power to do anything of the kind."

I put my gloved hand on his arm. "Victor, why would you do that?"

"Tigers don't belong in cages," he said, and steered us around a boy taking dustbins out.

I said nothing. The rain dripped down from my bonnet.

"I do not think I will see you again," he said conversationally.

"I don't imagine so," I said, trying to make light of it. "I am seldom in New Jersey."

"I wouldn't think you're missing much." The corner of his mouth quirked. "How will you remember me, I wonder? An ogre? A failed conspirator? A general not quite as good as Bonaparte or a lover not quite as dear as Ney?"

I stopped and took both his hands in mine. "As my Valmont," I said. "My dark seducer, dangerous and fascinating, cruel and lost. That is what I will remember of you, Victor. That is the story I will tell about you in years to come."

For a moment he smiled. "Better to reign in hell, then?"

"Much better," I said, and kissed him goodbye in the rain for the last time.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 14th, 2013 02:14 pm (UTC)
I love her lines about how she'll remember him. Beautiful. It almost reads like poetry.
Jul. 15th, 2013 08:18 pm (UTC)
Oh thank you!

And of course it's true. That is the story she tells.
Jul. 14th, 2013 09:17 pm (UTC)
I love every single thing about this. I love how honest it is and how they understand each other and just all of it. I didn't even realize I needed this scene in my life, but I did and it is perfect.

"You are a tiger, and you will outlive us all."

Jul. 15th, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC)
They do understand each other. Though I don't think Elza entirely realizes that Victor did love her as much as he's ever loved anyone. Therese was telling her the truth about that, only she said it in the middle of so many lies that Elza didn't believe it.

She is a tiger, and he's right. :)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )