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Dark Souls

Dark Souls

Dark Souls 11


  The orchestra was playing the overture now, mournful at first, but then faster, more frantic, the urgent song of the violins sailing up into the Minster’s cavernous spaces. After a few minutes, Peggy stopped them, tapping with her baton on the music stand. It was always strange watching her mother in this mode as opposed to wife-and-mother mode. Even though Miranda could see her only from the back, her mother seemed so relaxed and happy. She held her arms in the air in an expansive gesture, her wavy hair bouncing as she moved her arms down. The stop-start went on for a while, her mother singling out various sections of the orchestra and asking them to play a few phrases.

  Nick padded up the tiny wooden staircase leading to Miranda’s corner and slid onto the pew next to her. He must have come in a different entrance — through the gates in the Screen of Kings, maybe. Everything he did had to be secretive, thought Miranda.

  “So that’s your mother?” he asked in a low voice. Miranda nodded. “If she sees me with you and asks who I am, tell her I’m one of the beadles here.”

  “What’s a beadle?”

  “No idea,” said Nick. Miranda smiled.

  “What makes you think I haven’t told her all about you already?” she whispered.

  Nick gave her a long, disbelieving look.

  “I’m not the kind of boy you take home to Mummy and Daddy,” he said. “You took off as soon as your father turned up yesterday, didn’t you? I bet you’ve never told them that you can see ghosts.”

  “No,” Miranda admitted, hanging her head.

  “So how are you going to tell them about us meeting, and what we’ve been up to since?”

  The music soared again and stopped. The musicians riffled through the pages of their scores. One of the singers — tubby, balding, wearing a too-tight red sweater — stood up and sat down again. There was laughter. Nick sat in silence, brooding, one foot up against the woodwork.

  “It’s so beautiful in here,” said Miranda. The brass-mounted candles — which were electric but looked real — cast a golden glow against the honeyed wood of the choir stalls. “I’ve never been in so many medieval buildings before. All this carving must have taken them years.”

  “Originally,” said Nick. “But everything you can see in here, in the Quire, is a replica.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “There was a fire in here, in 1829. Brought down the roof of the Minster, destroyed the organ. Most of the woodwork in here burned as well. They did their best to copy the medieval work, but it’s all nineteenth century.”

  “That’s a shame,” she said, disappointed.

  Nick shrugged.

  “Doesn’t matter much one way or the other,” he said. “People build temples, or churches, or forts, and other people come and sweep them away. The Vikings had a palace where King’s Square sits today — that’s why it’s called King’s Square. No trace of it now. One day there’ll be no trace of this place. It doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

  “It must, to some people.”

  “This isn’t a very religious country, in case you hadn’t noticed. This place,” Nick said, with a dismissive wave, “is all about tradition and prestige and empty rituals. Dressing up and incantations. People come here to take pictures, and they don’t even do that so much anymore, now it costs eight pounds to get in.”

  “You pay eight pounds every time you come here?” Miranda whispered. “Every day?”

  “Not me,” said Nick, pushing his coat open and slumping back in the seat. The hem of his gray sweater was frayed. “I’m a beadle, remember?”

  One of the female singers, a very pretty young woman, stood up, and Peggy was telling the orchestra they were going to run through Dido’s Lament.

  “You’ll like this,” Miranda told Nick, though she really had no idea whether he would or not. She liked it when her mother played the CD at home. “It’s a very sad and beautiful aria. Dido’s asking everyone to remember her, but to forget her fate.”

  “What does that mean?” Nick leaned his head close to hers. They were so close, Miranda thought their foreheads were about to brush.

  “I guess it means to remember her as she was when she was alive,” Miranda whispered, “and not the way she died. She’s about to …”

  Dido was about to commit suicide, but Miranda felt uneasy about bringing up the subject around Nick.

  “That’s not possible, though, is it? Forgetting the way people died.”

  Miranda said nothing. She was thinking of Jenna, crushed and lifeless in the car. Like Nick said, it was hard to forget. But she couldn’t keep going over that night again and again in her head — thinking if only they’d left five minutes earlier or later, if only they hadn’t gone at all. If only she’d done something, anything, to save Jenna. Eventually, Miranda’s mother had told her, she’d think more about her friendship with Jenna and less about the way it ended. One day, Miranda thought, that might be possible.

  The strings started playing, until Peggy rapped her music stand.

  “So — what’s the opera about, then?” Nick asked.

  “Um … it’s about a queen named Dido,” said Miranda, trying to shake all the awful thoughts out of her head. “She’s the queen of ancient Carthage. She’s in love with a handsome Trojan prince named Aeneas.”

  “Fatty over there?” Nick smirked.

  “I think so. And he’s tricked into dumping Dido by the Sorceress and various Witches who want to destroy Carthage. Someone dresses up as a god and persuades Aeneas that the will of the gods is for him to leave Carthage forever. He’s completely duped by this guy. But just as he’s about to go, Aeneas sees Dido again and changes his mind. It’s too late, though.”

  “Why?”

  “She can’t forgive him. You know, for listening to the fake god and betraying her. So she sends him away. And then she kills herself.”

  It just slipped out. Miranda could have kicked herself. She snuck a look at Nick, wondering if she’d upset him, furious at herself for being so insensitive. But it was almost as though he hadn’t heard her. He was staring at one of the singers, the one dressed in a gray hoodie, her auburn hair piled on her head in a messy bun. When she started singing without any accompaniment, Nick nudged Miranda.

  “She’s got the same color hair as you,” he said.

  Miranda felt herself blushing again. Luckily, she didn’t have to reply because the strings started playing, soft and melancholy. It might sound too restrained to Nick, Miranda thought. Too pretty or old-fashioned.

  “When I am laid, am laid in earth,” the soprano sang, her voice pure and clear. “May my wrongs create no trouble.”

  Miranda closed her eyes. Something about the Minster’s acoustics made the aria’s simplicity and sadness even more intense, much more moving than on the stereo at home — even though they had a good stereo, according to her father, who could be a boring techie about these things. But hearing the soprano’s yearning voice soar in this cavernous, resonant space was something else. No wonder people wanted to give concerts in the Minster. This place had magical powers.

  “Remember me, remember me,” sang Dido, and the Quire seemed to fill with the aching strings. “But ah! Forget my fate.”

  The last notes faded, and Miranda opened her eyes. The redheaded soprano was sitting down. Peggy was talking to one section of the orchestra, humming to show them how she wanted them to draw out a particular phrase.

  Miranda snuck a look at Nick, trying to figure out if he’d liked it.

  “Sad,” he said, resting his head against the back wall. “Like you said. Dido was probably better off without Aeneas. You know, if he couldn’t be trusted.”

  “It wasn’t his fault, though. Aeneas gets tricked by the Sorceress and the Witches. By evil spirits.”

  “Evil spirits.” Nick wriggled lower in his seat. “People are always talking about evil spirits, aren’t they? Why are spirits always evil, and people always good?”

  Miranda shrugged. She didn’t know what to say.

>  “All spirits really want,” said Nick, leaning toward her again, “is to rest in peace. And the reasons they can’t can all be traced to their lives. The real world. The one full of ‘good’ people.”

  “Listen,” Miranda said. The singer was standing up again, holding her score.

  “Should I close my eyes, the way you did?” Nick asked, and Miranda thought he was teasing her. But when she looked at him, the usual sardonic smile wasn’t there. The gaunt angles of his face looked less severe in this light. And there was something in his eyes she’d never seen before — an uncertainty, perhaps.

  “If you like,” she said. She closed her eyes, but this time she wasn’t facing the orchestra. Her head was turned toward Nick, her hands resting on the soft cushion of the pew.

  “Remember me, remember me — but ah! Forget my fate.”

  Nick’s hand brushed hers. His touch was gentle, tracing soft lines down her fingers. Miranda kept her eyes closed. She held her breath. His hands didn’t feel as cold as they had on Monday, when he helped her down from the city walls. Nick’s skin was rough, but there was a tenderness to the touch, the movement. Goose bumps prickled her arm — not the brain-freeze cold of the ghosts, just the hint of a thrill.

  The music stopped abruptly. The singer asked Peggy a question; the musicians were rustling pages again. Nick withdrew his hand. Miranda opened her eyes.

  “You know, you could come to the performance on Sunday night,” she said quickly, trying to fill up the awkward silence. Nick stared straight ahead. “I could get you a ticket.”

  “No,” he said. There was no softness in his voice or expression now. “I can’t.”

  “Oh,” said Miranda, regretting that she’d even made the suggestion. He was always the one who made the plans, the one who told her when they’d meet again. She’d said the wrong thing.

  “I shouldn’t even be here now, mucking around,” he said, restlessly shifting in his seat. “Got things to do.”

  “Oh,” she said again. She tried not to feel offended by the “mucking around” comment. Was that how Nick saw the time they spent together? Miranda felt like a stupid little girl who’d been fawning over an older guy, deluding herself that he liked her. All he was interested in was ghosts, she reminded herself. That was the thing they had in common. When he’d stroked her hand just now, it didn’t mean anything. Or whatever it did mean, she didn’t understand. Miranda really didn’t understand guys at all.

  Nick stood up as though he’d just remembered something, and then, without looking at her or saying another word, he swooped down the stairs and around the corner. Gone, just like that — no good-byes, no talk about meeting again. That’s it, Miranda thought. She’d pushed things too far by asking him to go to the concert with her. Going to hear an opera in a cathedral wasn’t the kind of thing other kids did, especially not guys like Nick. Miranda would never dream of asking a boy back home to go to one of her mother’s concerts. She was a fool to think that Nick would be different.

  When she left the rehearsal, Miranda wandered around the Minster for twenty minutes, hoping to find him. But all she saw were tourists, and tour guides, and ushers arriving for that evening’s concert. The ghost stonemason was hard at work at a different column, his wiry little dog visible now, too, lying half asleep at his master’s feet.

  If Nick was still in here somewhere, she couldn’t see him. Maybe he didn’t want to be found by anyone — especially not Miranda.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  Sorry, buddy,” said Jeff, zipping and unzipping his fleece as he always did when he was preoccupied. “There’s just no way to get there on the train. The house is way up in the Yorkshire Dales.”

  “That’s okay,” said Rob. He was seated precariously on a window ledge in the living room, looking down onto the Shambles. “I was just planning to hang out today anyway.”

  Miranda was just planning to hang out today as well. She’d thought that she’d wander around for a bit by herself, sticking to busy streets where ghosts were less likely to bother her. Maybe Nick would find her, the way he always did. He might have gotten over his little freak-out by now. They could just pretend the hand-holding thing and her embarrassing request for a date — because that must have been how it sounded — had never happened.

  But no, her father had other plans. Lord Poole was taking time out of his busy schedule of foxhunting or boar baiting or however else elderly nobles spent their twilight years. He was driving into York in his ancient Land Rover to collect Jeff and take him out to Poole Castle, or wherever it was that he lived. Peggy was busy all day today — “Singers!” she exclaimed with irritation on her way out of the flat that morning — but Miranda and Rob were invited. The difference was: Rob had an excuse. They could get to the Land of Poole only in a car, and Rob didn’t do cars. Miranda had no excuse.

  “You’ll come — won’t you, honey?” Jeff asked. “He’s been so nice to us. And he gave you that book, which is obviously a first edition and probably worth a fortune.”

  “I think he just lent it to me,” said Miranda, wishing that everyone would leave her alone. Rob was allowed to do anything he wanted, but she was always at the beck and call of everyone else in the family.

  “He has an amazing library out there, which you’ll love. And a maze, I think. Really, an actual maze. It’s a genuine English stately home, and you’ll get the insider’s tour.”

  “Can’t I just stay here?” Miranda moaned.

  “To do what?”

  “Stuff. You know. Look after Rob.”

  “I don’t need anyone looking after me, thank you.” Rob sounded affronted. Couldn’t he tell she was just saying anything to get out of going? If it weren’t for Miranda, Sally and her parents and the entire police force of York would know about his claustrophobia by now. As usual, he wasn’t remotely grateful.

  “Verandah, this is going to be great. You can sit around reading at home anytime. Now, I’m going to go get organized, because we have to wait for Lord Poole at the corner. Grab your coat and whatever else you need.” Jeff headed up the stairs. End of discussion.

  “I’ll probably go along to Mom’s rehearsal this afternoon,” Rob called after him.

  “Liar,” muttered Miranda.

  “Whatever,” he said, breathing on the window and drawing a smiley face with his fingertip. “Sally’s parents gave her a couple of hours off this afternoon to show me around. We’re going to take a walk along the river.”

  “It’s freezing outside today,” Miranda pointed out. “But then, I suppose you two will be all snuggled up together. Don’t fall in and get swept out to sea.”

  Rob bared his teeth in the fakest of smiles.

  “Your ignorance of British geography astounds me,” he said smugly. “Have fun in the maze. Make sure you ask Dad and Lord Poole lots of questions about the rise and fall of the Plantagenet dynasty. That conversation is sure to be fascinating.”

  Yorkshire was a much bigger county than Miranda had realized — if she’d ever given the subject more than five minutes of thought — because it took Lord Poole over an hour to drive them back to his house. At first, there was nothing to see but gas stations and supermarkets, glimpsed through the mist that had settled like a sodden blanket. But eventually they left the highway, driving up into hillier country where snow still lay in patches. On high fields hemmed in by rugged stone walls, black-faced sheep grazed. The roads were narrow, crossing streams via small arch-shaped bridges. They passed cottages with low windows, their walls rammed right up against the lane, and farms with vast stone barns and big muddy yards. There was a bleak beauty to all this, Miranda thought, just as she’d imagined when she first read Wu the ring Heights.

  Lord Poole’s place wasn’t called Poole Castle at all: It was Lambert House. The driveway was very long, lined with sturdy trees. On one side, there were more trees, like some kind of rambling dark forest, and on the other stretched miles of rolling countryside, flecked with snow and sheep, divided into a rough grid b
y stone walls.

  “I warn you — this isn’t one of those elegant Georgian estates with a gatehouse and a folly and a mansion built by Vanbrugh,” Lord Poole said over his shoulder to Miranda, who had no idea what he was talking about. She was concentrating on staying upright in the backseat as the Land Rover made a sharp turn from the rutted drive onto a lower road spread with gravel. “It’s largely a Jacobean house with various poorly executed additions. Stairs all over the place, and it’s rather cold, I’m afraid. The maze is that way.”

  Lord Poole jabbed a finger to his right, and Jeff and Miranda looked out their windows. All she could see in the distance was a thicket of scruffy bushes and someone driving a beaten-up tractor.

  “On sunny days,” continued Lord Poole, “the walk to the local village and the churchyard is very pleasant, but I don’t like the look of that sky.”

  “Snow,” agreed Jeff, who, Miranda had to admit, was a weather expert. Back home, watching the Weather Channel was one of his major hobbies, along with making turkey chili and piling towering stacks of books and papers on the Ping-Pong table in the basement.

  “I hope you won’t be bored, stuck in the house,” Lord Poole said apologetically, peering at Miranda in the rearview mirror.

  “Oh no,” she reassured him, trying to sound more positive than she felt, leaning as the car rounded a corner. “I’ll just — wow!”

  Whatever Lord Poole said about the house being cold and ordinary was British understatement. The house was nowhere near ordinary. It soared three stories high, reddish-brown, with what looked like a massive oak front door, and windows made up of dozens of tiny diamond-shaped panes of glass. Miranda half expected someone in a long velvet gown to come sweeping out to greet them, and maybe the Brothers Grimm to drop by later for tea.