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Numinous World story

I've been crazy busy lately, so I haven't been on much. But! I'll make that up with an entirely new Numinous World story! Perhaps one day it will be part of the next anthology, but I don't have nearly enough stories for an anthology next. I wrote this in 2007.

In some ways this bridges the gap between the Numinous World and the world of The Order of the Air. So here is this small gem for you, a gift to take apart and enjoy!



Paris, 1949

I saw him from behind first, a stooped man in an old black overcoat, his hat pulled low on his brow, saw him from behind as my car came up beside the arcades of Rue de Rivoli in heavy traffic. I would not have thought it was him, so different from the proud bearing I remembered, the ramrod straight-heels together gallantry of another era, of that lovely summer at Saumur before the War. But then as we passed, he made the mistake of glancing up, and I knew him, that profile still cut cameo handsome. Age might bow him, but it could never render him ugly.

“Stop,” I told the driver, and mystified baby GI that he was, he stopped on a dime so that I could cast myself out of the car not quite with a flapper’s grace.

He saw me and tried to take evasive action into a Tabac, but I called out loud enough for the entire street to hear, “Victor! How wonderful to see you!”

At that he stopped, swaying, umbrella in hand, like a thousand arrests.

I clambered as swiftly over the cobblestones as my joints would allow, which I think was still pretty damn quick. “Don’t you try to get away,” I said, attempting to make it sound more flirtatious than arresting officer. “I’ve been enquiring about you all over town.”

He looked at me out from under the brim of his hat, and the ghost of a smile played around his lips, something of the old Victor in his eyes. “Then I’m sure you’ve already heard all the reasons you shouldn’t speak to me.”

“I’ve heard a lot of things,” I said, “but none of them are reasons I shouldn’t speak to you.”

He shook his head. “You are a force of nature.” With a shrug, he drew himself up and then bent over my hand. “Enchanté, madame.”

“That’s more like it,” I said, turning and taking his arm, mindful of my poor driver stuck in traffic and having to move slowly up the street. If we walked, we would more or less keep pace with the boy. “I called at your house, but it wasn’t yours anymore.”

Victor tucked my hand over his arm quite properly. “I had to sell it,” he said. “I’ve lost my pension. And beside, it was rather too big to live in alone.” He glanced sideways at me. “Claudine and I divorced during the war. Laure is married and has children of her own. And Charles….” He gave me a rueful smile. “Charles is wiser than you. He does not speak to me, Hero of the Resistance as he is.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. I did not ask about Adrian. I knew better. Adrian had died in that brief, hopeless campaign in 1940, while I fretted and held back the reins of a blood horse who smelled carnage.

“I suppose I should thank you,” he said, and did not look at me, just ahead at Place Jeanne d’Arc beyond the arches, a different sort of touchstone to a different sort of pain. “It would have gone far worse for me without him. He quite got me out of prison, did you know that?”

I did, of course, but I smiled. “I suppose he felt he owed you a prison break.”

“I was guilty,” Victor said flatly.

“So was he,” I said.

“That was only treason,” Victor said.

“So was this.”

“No, my dear,” Victor said. “This was crimes against humanity.” I looked at him and saw its ravages in his blue eyes, not flinching from mine. “I am perfectly guilty,” he said. “I offer no excuses. I knew precisely what was in every rail car, precisely what each arrest might mean, precisely what happened at Drancy. It was hardly fair of him to rob me of my just punishment.” He let go of my arm. “Now will you leave me alone?”

“No,” I said, and took his arm again. I swallowed. “I will not.”

Victor sighed. “You are as stubborn as he is.”

“I’m stubborner,” I said.

He looked in my face, and I don’t know what he saw there. “You have no idea,” he said.

“I know you,” I said. “And when I say that we have been friends for a long time, I mean a very long time. I have an exceptionally long memory.”

He looked away, and I saw his lips tighten, as though he would suppress some stronger emotion. “You still believe those things.”

“Of course I do,” I said. “Round and round fortune’s wheel. Last time I was a whore and a traitor to the king, and you a count and a marshal. This time….”

“You’re a hero’s widow, and I’m a war criminal.” Victor smirked. “Nicely ironic, don’t you think? Round and round in circles since the Iron Age.”

“Bronze Age, actually,” I said, smiling, and could not help seeing him in my mind’s eye, a dark, nimble sailor with long black hair and eyes like mine. “And you’re having lunch with me at the Ritz.”

“I am not,” he said. “Have you lost your mind? Paris is full of Americans. Someone will recognize you. All those War Bonds.”

“So what if they do? I’m old enough to do as I want, I think.”

“My dear, please,” he said, and I saw that it was not me he feared for, but the endless whispers, the ones that had already ground him to the bone.

I shrugged. “There’s a café across Place Jeanne d’Arc. How about there then? Or do I have to take you to Pigalle or somewhere?”

“You wouldn’t dare,” he said.

“I certainly would,” I said. “Do you think my husband left me in utter ignorance?”

Victor laughed. “Is there no sin that frightens you?”

“No,” I lied.

It carried us all the way into the café, my driver told off to go get some lunch of his own, a nice boy from St. Joseph, Missouri who theoretically was supposed to protect me but had absolutely no idea what I would need protecting for and from whom. Old friends and old stories. No one had told the boy there is no protection from story.

Victor saw me in my seat very properly, unfolded his napkin. “You look very well,” he said. “Good color.”

“I’ve just come from Panama,” I said. “My daughter and her husband are stationed there, and I went to see them and also give them a bit of a break from the children.”

“Which daughter?” he asked, and I felt it like a physical wound throbbing.

I smoothed my napkin across my lap, the linen soft from many washings. “The younger. I don’t suppose you know that Boo is dead.”

“Ah,” he said, and I knew that he hadn’t. Why should he? It wasn’t in the news. “I am so dreadfully sorry. What happened?”

I met his eyes across the table, and for once answered the question honestly. “She drank herself to death. Too much drink, and too many pills for her nerves. She was never…was never happy.” He should know what that meant. Victor had been wonderful, that summer I had brought Boo to France, had guessed why. If he had ever inclined that way himself we had never spoken of it, but there was more than one kind of club in Pigalle.

He took my hand on the tablecloth. “My dear, I am truly terribly sorry.” His eyes were as warm and kind as ever.

“It was more than a year ago,” I said briskly. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not,” he said.

“No,” I said, “I suppose not.” I waited while there was the ritual of the waiter arriving with our wine, Victor approving. I have definite opinions about wine, but I should never dream of arguing with Victor over the wine selection.

“It was my fault,” I said. “Our fault, I suppose, but he’s dead and can’t take the blame. She shouldn’t have married Johnny. She shouldn’t have married anybody, really. But we both thought…I thought…she wasn’t strong enough to handle the life she would have had.”

“Not everyone has your strength of will,” Victor said kindly.

I felt my eyes filling, and glanced out the window at the busy street. “Who can credit it? A child of ours without the strength of will. I don’t think he ever accepted that.”

“My dear, she was a soul on her own path. There is only so much we can give our children, and escape from their own karma is not one of those things.”

I glanced back at him, at those eyes I had known for so long. “So you are still building the Temple.”

Victor laughed ruefully. “I’ve gone a fair way toward dynamiting the Temple, I think. My next life will doubtless be as a flea. Or perhaps a Palestinian in Israel. That would be suitable, I think.”

I put my hand over his, and asked him the question I doubt anyone but my husband would have asked. “Victor, why?”

He sighed. “Because I believed in Pétain. Because I could see no way of winning, just a chance of avoiding total destruction. Because Adrian was dead and I didn’t care anymore. Because I could not take responsibility for that kind of fatal throw again.”

“Not the ghosts of the Somme, but of Waterloo,” I said. “Mon vieux….”

“Waterloo and the Somme both,” he said. “And Ciudad Rodrigo, and possibly Bohemia and Grenada as well. I may have a case of combat fatigue dating to the Reconquista.” He smiled, but he was serious as well. “I think they give you pills for that. And a nice soft ward.”

“You’re no madder than I am,” I said.

Victor laughed. “My dear, you’re certifiable! You and he both, utterly mad! And when I wander into your orbit I start believing in the most incredible things.”

“Believe,” I said, and squeezed his hand. “Believe. God is more compassionate than you give him credit for.”

“I’ve seen very little evidence of that,” he said.

“But you are still building the Temple,” I said.

“What else am I to do?” Victor shrugged, and there was a shadow of the old gaiety behind it, that gallantry in the face of doom that had died in 1914. “I must end as I began. If it’s a long penance I may as well get started.”

“You were always the pious one,” I said.

Victor started. “I hate it when your eyes do that – go dark as midnight, like you’re looking into distant galaxies.”

“Sorry,” I said, “I can’t help it. It just happens sometimes. I’m not as good at it as I used to be. I wish we understood better the relationship between genetics and the soul in terms of psychic gifts.”

Victor lifted his wine glass. “Only you would ever speak a sentence like that.”

“Probably,” I said, smiling. “It’s deep water. But you always follow me.”

“I do,” he said.

Angel of Hosts,, I thought with a thought that was not quite a prayer, if I have a karmic to-do list, please put this on it – do not leave Victor alone.

Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
tricksterquinn
Mar. 11th, 2014 02:27 pm (UTC)
I love this. Very much.
jo_graham
Mar. 12th, 2014 09:55 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you like it! :)
cypherindigo
Mar. 11th, 2014 04:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
jo_graham
Mar. 12th, 2014 09:56 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome. What did you think of her?
cypherindigo
Mar. 13th, 2014 12:40 am (UTC)
I think she is wonderful. I hope we can see for of her.
jo_graham
Mar. 14th, 2014 12:01 pm (UTC)
I couldn't resist a crossover, and she appears as a major character in the next Order of the Air book, Wind Raker, which is set in 1935. I couldn't resist! :)
cadenzamuse
Mar. 14th, 2014 04:14 pm (UTC)
Who is he? (Both in this incarnation and previously; I think I'm a little confused.)

She is as stubborn and slippery as she ever has been, in the best possible way.
jo_graham
Mar. 14th, 2014 05:33 pm (UTC)
In the present of this story he's Victor Massu. In the past he was Xandros.

Oh yes, she's stubborn and slippery! :) She always is, even if she shocks more genteely.
sockich
Mar. 20th, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC)
I've had this open in a tab since the day you posted it and read it at least once a day trying to figure out how to comment and I still don't really know but at this point it's just ridiculous, so here I go.

This is way, way more heartbreaking than it has any right to be, considering how short it is. Which I guess is a testament of how much you've made me love these characters no matter their current incarnation. She is wonderful as ever and I'm glad for that, but mostly I'm just really, really sad for him. (this is Xandros, yes? who was a police inspector in The Order of the Air, I think?)

I put my hand over his, and asked him the question I doubt anyone but my husband would have asked. “Victor, why?”

He sighed. “Because I believed in Pétain. Because I could see no way of winning, just a chance of avoiding total destruction. Because Adrian was dead and I didn’t care anymore. Because I could not take responsibility for that kind of fatal throw again.”

“Not the ghosts of the Somme, but of Waterloo,” I said. “Mon vieux….”

“Waterloo and the Somme both,” he said. “And Ciudad Rodrigo, and possibly Bohemia and Grenada as well. I may have a case of combat fatigue dating to the Reconquista.”


No matter how many times I read it (and as I said, I've read it A LOT), this part kills me every single time.

PS: Charles = Charles de Gaulle? And if so, have we met him before?
jo_graham
Mar. 27th, 2014 02:58 pm (UTC)
Wow. Thank you. Thank you so much.

I'm really, really sad for Victor too. Yes, this is Xandros, who was indeed a police inspector in Lost Things. (I think the "real" Victor is Georges-Victor Massu, but while he very well might have, I have no proof he knew Beatrice, so I have fictionalized him.) In addition to Xandros, he's also Honore in The Emperor's Agent.

But you know her karmic to-do list is for real, and she would never leave him alone!

(No, this is his son Charles, who is no longer speaking.)
linneasr
Aug. 19th, 2014 04:22 pm (UTC)
Just flying by...
Hello

Ah, this is lovely. I have just been re-reading the first three Numinous World books, and sent Hands of Isis off to a friend for a graduation gift, so thought I would drop by your website. I'm so pleased to read this little piece! And shall definitely catch up with Order of the Air books to meet Gull and Neas again.

You've posed a good question, here, implicitly: what happens when the warrior is, finally, exhausted? What does he do then? Answering that could, perhaps, become the core motif of a new paradigm.

Cheers.
jo_graham
Aug. 28th, 2014 05:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
Oh thank you! Thank you so much! (I just found this comment.)

What does happen when he's exhausted? Of course we've seen Emrys exhausted. But this is much worse.

I hope you enjoy the Order of the Air. The one with Gull and Neas is the fourth one, the one that's out this fall -- Wind Raker. That's this version of Gull, fifteen years earlier.
linneasr
Aug. 29th, 2014 10:47 am (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
I was just thinking... Noone would accuse Lydias of not being a warrior - nor Elza, for that matter. Is the spirit we know as Gull \ Lydias \ Charmian \ Elza so multi-faceted because of sometimes incarnating as a woman? Is Emrys always male? Always a warrior? Doesn't that soul ever consider another aspect of life as worth knowing? What would a female Emrys be like?

jo_graham
Aug. 29th, 2014 12:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
I think it's Elza/Lydias/ect's nature to fight for what they believe in, whether that's as a warrior or not. Charmian is also fighting, but with different weapons -- her mind, her skills, her knowledge of bureaucracy and governing. She's very explicit about that. I think that this person is very multi-faceted though, and the twin pulls to the spiritual and to temporal power play out differently -- and that does have to do with her sex. Charmian can't be Lydias. Had she been born a boy, she'd be a lot more like Lydias. She'd be Cleopatra's strong arm.

We've seen Neas genderswapped in The Ravens of Falkenau, when he was Izabela. Which he certainly learned something from! And Georg -- to my mind, Georg is Dark Lydias. You know?

Emrys has been female and has not been a warrior. In the story of Kadis, in that lifetime, Emrys is a priest of Asherat, taking up the place he removed Ashterah from, paying with his own service as a eunuch priest. In a book I've sketched, in 19th Dynasty Egypt, Emrys is female and our main character is male -- sister and brother.

I think a female Emrys answers to the same twin impulses too -- to fight and to study. But a woman is more likely to be encouraged and have the opportunity to turn to scholarship rather than war. So I think that's the facet that comes out more clearly. Certainly that's true of the eunuch priest too.
linneasr
Aug. 29th, 2014 12:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
Yes, Georg is Dark Lydias, living in a harsh place at a harsh time (the late 15th C and early 16th C Upper Rhine Valley is the focus of my PhD, believe it or not).

Kadis sounds like a brilliant story; I'd love to read it.

Fighting, fighting, fighting... What I understand you to mean is the endeavour to impose the enlightened social conditions envisioned by our heroes, which I like, but I have reservations about framing it as a fight (which you know). There must be other ways to bring it about, as I have difficulties imagining a culture imposed through violence as able to create a genuine peace. Heh. Ever consider including a trickster spirit in the Numinous World?
jo_graham
Aug. 29th, 2014 04:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
Is it really? I hope I did it well enough.

I think Gull sees life as struggle, whether that's to bring a baby into the world alive or to argue your way through bureaucracy to get a water supply project funded, or to prevent someone from killing people. There is nothing zen about her. She does not seek enlightenment by withdrawing from the world, but from engaging with it. It's not about perfecting herself or perfecting her spirit, but perfecting the world. I think she frankly sees perfecting one's own spirit as being selfish, a way of turning your back on the problems of the world rather than trying to solve them with your blood, sweat, and tears. Better to try and fail than sit and examine your own soul!

Which is Jauffre's story, the Templar. He's a priest, and as the woman he loves accuses, a very worldly priest. But, he thinks, how can he not be given all the sorrow in the world? Isn't it better to do what he can about it than retire to a monastery and sing praises? Life is struggle. Peace is the reward of the dead. As long as there is work to be done, it's her job to do it.

I have definitely thought about a trickster. That may turn up!
linneasr
Aug. 29th, 2014 10:47 am (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
PS Have just ordered Steel Blues and Silver Bullet :-)
jo_graham
Aug. 29th, 2014 12:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
Oh awesome! I hope you enjoy them so much!

What did you think of Lost Things?
linneasr
Aug. 29th, 2014 12:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
I enjoyed it, but missed the direct contact with the Divine of the Numinous World series and the first person perspective. Also, maybe I'm not so fond of the 20th century. :-P I'm just picking it up again today, actually, to be ready for the next two.
jo_graham
Aug. 29th, 2014 04:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Just flying by...
The twentieth century isn't as.... It's dark. It's very dark, just like the 17th. I can't say Gull and Neas like it much either. But there's more need for them than ever. More need for the builders of the temple.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )