A Love Story and A Captive Freed

I woke early and pulled on the lovely dressing gown which was still in my room in order to hurry down the corridor and use the water closet, and found Zebediah asleep in front of my door, his dirty coat pulled over him as a blanket, and a pillow filched from his bed beneath his head. He woke the moment I opened the door and looked up at me confused for a moment, then he sat up and looked around a little wildly, perhaps somewhat disoriented. "What are you doing here?" I asked him.

He blinked and rubbed his eyes, then stood up and gathered his coat and pillow. "Did not trust Troxill," he spelled on my palm.

"Zebediah," I chided. "He gave us his word."

"As he did last time," he spelled.

"I suppose you have a point," I muttered. "Why did you not come inside? I hardly think the same rules of propriety apply to us, after all we have been through, all we are still going through."

"Did not want you to worry."

"Now I am worried in... retrospect," I said with a little smile. "So it did not work." He returned my smile to a lesser degree, though he did seem a little ashamed of himself. "Do you think we should stay?" I asked.

He shrugged, looking a little worried.

"I do want to know all about Violet and Mr. Troxill. I never would have dreamt they were married!"

"Curiosity," he spelled on my hand, "killed the cat."

"Hmm, yes. I suppose it has nearly killed me a time or two."

For this, Zebediah could use hand gestures. "But here you are," he told me.

I began to reply with something or other, but suddenly realized I was standing before him barefoot and in my dressing gown. "Forgive me," I muttered, squeezing past him through the doorway and shutting the door behind myself, then scurrying down the corridor to the WC.

I didn't see him again until we were both seated at the dining table downstairs for breakfast. As usual, I was the last to arrive. Mr. Troxill looked as though he hadn't slept at all, though he had at least combed his hair. Indeed, the knot in his tie looked so sharp and tight it had to be almost painful. His collar was as crisply starched as I had ever seen a collar be. Everything about his appearance, other than his expression, was absolutely perfect. Perhaps the small habits of personal grooming gave him some peace in this difficult time so soon after his beloved wife's death.

"I suppose I owe you an explanation," he began once the food had been set on the table. He moved to pour himself a cup of coffee, but noticed neither Zebediah nor I touched a thing. "It is safe, I swear to you." I looked at Zebediah and he looked back at me, then I glanced at Mr. Troxill, still a little uncertain, though I wanted to believe him. "I swear... on my dear Violet's life and death," he said, looking unutterably tired.

That was enough for me, so I took some toast and some sausage, though when I looked up to reach for the coffee pot, I saw that Zebediah had already taken a few bites of his bacon and toast. As he sipped his black coffee, he subtly held up one finger, meaning I should wait a little bit before eating anything; he was (possibly) sacrificing himself for my sake, should Mr. Troxill be lying. I took my time buttering my toast and adding cream and sugar to my coffee, though once that was done I had become so lost in what Mr. Troxill was telling us that I began to eat without even thinking. No harm did come of it, though, thank goodness.

"I was rather young when I married Violet," Mr. Troxill said to start his story. (I have put it down here in as close an approximation of his wording as possible. One thing I can say about this diary is that it has improved my powers of memory greatly.) "I was only twenty-four, and she eighteen. About a year after our wedding, she was crossing the street while doing her week's shopping, and was trampled to death by the horse pulling a cabriolet. I was a broken man, for I was very much in love with her. We were very happy." He paused a moment, and I realized he had taken only a bite or two of his breakfast, and had not touched his coffee. If my beloved spouse had died--for a second time, apparently--I do not think I could eat, either.

Then he took a deep breath and continued. "I say I was a broken man, but only for a few days. Once the worst of the shock had worn off, I was angry. Furious. How could fate allow such a terrible thing to happen to two young people so much in love? My grandfather and my father had told me stories about how Illumination used to be in the old days, and I had done some reading on it in my youth. So I got it into my head that I would find the Gift for myself, and use it to bring back Violet.

"I searched everywhere. I read everything, talked to everyone who might know even a shred of information about Illumination, or its history, or famous figures who were Gifted. I traveled far from home for months on end. I shall not go into detail of how, nor, I think, do I have the time just now, but I did eventually come upon a sliver of an ancient Sacred Crystal. I had by that point learned much of the theory of Illumination, so it was only a matter of training myself to make use of the new powers with which I was imbued. I did so on my journey back home.

"Violet was... not in the best condition when I returned. I had done all I could to preserve her mortal body, but certain things... needed replacing. I had been counting on this, given the length of time I had been away, and thought the best course of action, before bringing her back, would be to replace her insides, to put it very simply, with mechanical parts. While I built these parts, I used Illumination to keep her body... in stasis, shall we say? For years. I had much to learn, still, before I could rebuild to perfection what Violet needed to survive."

Here he paused and smoothed his mustache and beard, staring at nothing, deep in thought. As I had begun eating some little time ago, I paused as well so as not to make undue noise with my utensils. But then he continued: "She was disoriented, to say the least, when at last she awoke. Copper-novels may have you believe that one must wait for a lightning storm, and throw a great switch, and cackle madly, but I assure you, nothing of the sort happened. One moment she was cold and dead, the next, due to my efforts and determination... she was alive. Looking at me, sitting up." Mr. Troxill seemed to live the scene again, to imagine himself a young man greeting his wife for the first time in years, having brought her back from the dead.

"For a while, all was well. I told her of all I had seen and done since she left me, and while she never seemed... quite the same... she did express her gratitude for her new life. As I said, we had been very much in love, and were overjoyed to be together again.

"But soon enough--too soon--things grew worse and worse. I should have seen it coming, but I was foolish and rash, selfish. Of course Violet could not venture out of the house, for if she did, there would be an uproar! I would have to explain how I brought her back, and if people knew I was Gifted with Illumination, as well as possessed a piece of a Crystal... You can only imagine." It was for the very reasons Professor Eberhart warned me against making my Gift known. It could be used for ill, I could become a target. To actually have a shard of a Crystal endangered Mr. Troxill tenfold! "So she was required to remain indoors," he went on, "away from the windows, locked up. She could not visit her old friends, she could not go shopping, she could not accompany me to dinners and balls. I had given her back a life, yes, but not her old life. It was... but a half-life. And as you, no doubt, realized... she came to resent me for it.

"I did my best to make her life here as comfortable as possible. All manner of private amusements were brought in, and anything she wished for, she had only to ask. But what I think she really missed... what she really desired but could not have... was companionship. She had been quite the social butterfly in her former life, and that had been torn from her. She was never the same after I brought her back. And perhaps I resented her as well. I had a beautiful, forever-young wife, but I could never show her off in society, I could never enjoy her company outside the confines of our home. I was not even allowed to act as though I had a wife.

"So you see...." He paused to rub a hand over his chin. In all this time, he had not looked at either Zebediah or me, merely stared at whatever happened to be in front of him without really seeing it. "You see... this was a prison, to her. And when at last I finally allowed her to die... it was a relief. It was... what she had been wanting for quite some time. I was simply... too blind, too selfish, to realize that it was what was best for her."

All was very silent for several long moments. I dared not even set down my fork for fear of the noise it would make against the china. After what seemed an age, Mr. Troxill picked up his coffee cup and took a sip, and that broke the tension somewhat. Zebediah finished his eggs, and I took another bite of sausage.

"I am very sorry for your loss," I murmured, looking down at my plate but glancing up briefly at our host.

"Thank you," he replied softly. Then, at last, he looked at me. "Do you understand, now, why you may trust me? If you had not brought her back to me... indeed, if she had never run away with you in the first place... I would never have had a chance to say goodbye to her. She could have died alone in... in an alley. Or in the middle of the street, and then where would that leave us? No, my friends, my dear, dear friends." He looked between us, back and forth. "You saved my heart from a more terrible grief than what it is presently enduring. And for that, I owe you... anything you might ask of me."

I was not quite sure how to respond to such heartfelt gratitude, so I merely nodded and thanked him again. We ate in silence another minute, then a half-stifled sob burst suddenly from Mr. Troxill's mouth. "Excuse me," he breathed, his hand over his mouth, tears in his eyes, and hurried from the room.

I am in my bedroom now, and contemplating our next move. I think I shall ask Mr. Troxill, once he is feeling a little better, if he would be able to arrange a discreet conveyance for us so that we might return to the academy soon. I feel sure that Professor Eberhart will know the best course of action, though I dearly hope he decides we should stay at the school for a while. I am quite ready to remain in familiar settings, and I would so dearly love to keep the same bed for more than five or six nights in a row!

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