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Time for some Elza!

It's time for some Elza! This piece is from the next book, The Marshal's Lover, which will be out next year. I'd love to hear what you think of this!

Thus I took up my apprenticeship with Dr. Mesmer, though it was certainly not the only thing I did that summer. As studiously as I had applied myself to pistol shooting in the past, now I applied myself to the study of the esoteric, which was rather more difficult. To begin with, one could not simply seek out a well thought of instructor. Those who publicized themselves, like Lebrun, were charlatans, and those who did not were not easy to find. There were any number of books for sale, and I bought a few with high hopes.

However, one June afternoon, sitting beside the open window in my little parlor looking out at the garden, I put the book of the day by with disgust. "The Book of Fate," I said aloud. "What a load of shit! 'Signs for foretelling the weather: if there be large masses of heavy cloud upon the horizon and the weather is cold, snow is portended.' Surely any idiot can guess that!" I could only imagine the young lieutenant consulting the Book of Fate from his saddlebags, concluding that the snow clouds rolling in would lead to snow.

I put the book down and got out my cards instead, which had finally arrived from Warsaw care of Claudine. I shuffled them and turned the first up, bright paper against my white tablecloth. The emperor sat enthroned, the orb of the world in his hands.

"Clear enough," I said, and turned the next card across it.

The female pope stared up at me, the veil stretched between two pillars behind her, the horned moon on her brow. Across the base of her throne there were carven letters half covered by the hem of her flowing robes, Isis Invicta.

"I don't understand," I said. "Truly I don't. Show me what this has to do with me. Show me what oaths bind me."

A turn of the card. The Sun, boy and girl twins playing in a garden beneath a cloudless sky.

"I am bound by happiness?"

No, I thought. Not by the metaphorical meaning of the card, but by the literal meaning. By the twins, brother and sister. There was something dark there, some tale of murder and danger, some oath left unfulfilled. A child I had promised to guard? And yet I had failed. I was certain of that. I had failed and that promise bound me still.

I laid the cards aside. Perhaps I was going about it wrong. I should learn the thing that no one else in the lodge knew, not the thing that they all knew. I should learn history. What use to know the words to open the doors to the past, as Noirtier had in that ritual in Boulogne nearly two years ago, if no one had the wit to understand what it meant? Of all of us, only Max and Honoré had enough formal education to be able to trace the path of this Great Story at all. At least a career on the stage had given me a passing familiarity with Classical history, as the plots of so many plays were drawn from the myths and history of antiquity. Perhaps what I should read was not The Book of Fate, but Pliny and Suetonius, Diodorus and Arrian. Perhaps I should read Caesar. Perhaps I should read that new work by Vivant Denon, the director of the new Museé Napoleon housed in the old palace of the Louvre, A Journey Through Upper and Lower Egypt. I should undertake the study of the Story.

Ludicrous, of course. I was no scholar, but a woman and an actress and a courtesan. I knew no Latin or Greek, had not attended school so much as a day. And yet stories ought to belong to those who claimed them. If I should not be turned from war because of my sex, why should I be turned from scholarship? There were Latin tutors aplenty in Paris, and I should not need Latin to read Denon. I could probably track down an introduction to the man himself, but first I would need to become conversant enough with his work to know what to ask.

Yes, I thought, with a strange stirring of excitement, Egypt was where I would begin.

I went into town that very afternoon to seek out an expensive bookshop that would carry Denon's work, two volumes with numerous illustrations and a price to match. Dear, but I could not resist. I opened the first reverently, letting the pages fall where they would, an engraving of strange carved animals and beast-headed men, a boat floating on a sea of night. Below the caption read, "A likeness of the astrological ceiling of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, rendered in the era of the great Cleopatra."

The bookstore owner had been regarding me suspiciously, and now he came over. "Do you wish to purchase this book as a gift, Madame?"

"Oh yes," I said airily. "Hold it for me a moment. I'd like to look a little longer."

While he carried it away I closed my eyes. Isis Invicta, I said in my mind, if that is your name, show me what you want me to learn. I turned about, eyes closed, and took a few steps until my hand touched a leather clad spine. I opened my eyes. Beneath my fingers the title was picked out in gold, The Aeneid of Vergil.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 3rd, 2013 11:53 am (UTC)
Hello Gull, hello Charmian, we've missed you :D
Dec. 3rd, 2013 05:36 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! That's Dion's ceiling. I don't know if you remember that minor detail, but Dion was overseeing the ceiling. Seeing it is like getting a card from Dion suddenly and unexpectedly.
Dec. 3rd, 2013 08:07 pm (UTC)
Dec. 3rd, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
All the memories, found again.
Dec. 3rd, 2013 05:38 pm (UTC)
All the memories, all the stories. Now she's actively looking for them instead of running from them. And it's amazing what she can find.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )