Living shadows, p.1

Living Shadows, page 1

 part  #2 of  Reckless Series

 

Living Shadows
 


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Living Shadows


  Inspired by a tale discovered and explored with Lionel Wigram.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2016 by Cornelia Funke

  English translation copyright © 2016 by Cornelia Funke

  Map © 2012 Raul Garcia

  All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at permission@breathing-books.com. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

  First Edition under New Title: September 2016

  Book design by Mirada

  For Ben, who is both

  Jacob and Will.

  -C.F.

  To Paula, my Fox, who always has my back.

  -O.L.

  WAITING

  He still wasn’t back.

  ‘I won’t stay long.’ Fox wiped the rain off her face. With Jacob, this could mean anything. Sometimes he stayed for weeks. Sometimes months.

  The ruin lay deserted as usual, and the silence between the scorched walls made her shiver nearly as much as the rain. The human skin warmed so much less, yet Fox now shifted into the vixen ever more rarely. All too clearly she had begun to feel how the fur stole the years from her—even without Jacob reminding her.

  He’d held her so close before he left, as if he wanted to take her warmth with him into the world where he was born. Something frightened him, though he didn’t admit it, of course. He was still like a boy who thought he could outrun his own shadow.

  They’d been way up in the north, in Sveriga and Norga, where even now the forests were still buried in thick snow and where hunger drove the wolves into the towns. Before that they’d traveled so far south that the vixen still found desert sand in her fur. Thousands of miles...cities and countries she’d never heard of before, and all supposedly to find an Hourglass. But Fox knew Jacob too well to believe that.

  At her feet, the first wild primroses were springing up between the shattered flagstones. She snapped off one of the delicate stalks, and the dew rolling off the flowers was still cold. It had been a long winter, and Fox could feel the past months like frost on her skin. So much had happened since the previous summer. All that fear for Jacob’s brother...and for Jacob. Too much fear. Too much love. Too much of everything.

  She tucked the pale yellow flower into her lapel. Hands...they made up for the chilly skin her human body came in. Whenever she wore her fur, Fox missed reading the world with her fingers.

  ‘I won’t stay long.’

  With a quick movement, she grabbed a Thumbling who’d pushed his tiny hand into her jacket pocket. He only let go of the gold coin after she shook him as hard as the vixen would a captured mouse. The little thief bit at her fingers before he dashed off, muttering insults. Jacob always tucked a few coins into her pockets before he left. He hadn’t adjusted to the fact that she now managed quite well in the human world—even without him.

  What was he afraid of?

  Fox had asked him, after they’d ridden for days from one wretched village to the next, only to end up standing beneath some dead sultan’s dried-up pomegranate tree. She’d asked him again, when Jacob had gotten himself drunk three nights in a row after they’d found an overgrown garden with nothing but a dried-up well in it. ‘It’s nothing. Don’t worry.’ A kiss on the cheek and that careless smile she’d been able see right through since she was twelve. ‘It’s nothing...’

  She knew that he missed his brother, but this was something else. Fox looked up at the tower. The charred stones seemed to whisper a name. Clara. Was that it?

  Her heart still tightened whenever she thought of the brook and the two dead larks. Jacob’s hand in Clara’s hair, his mouth on her mouth. So ravenous.

  Maybe that was why she’d nearly gone with him—for the first time. She’d even followed Jacob up into the tower, but in front of that mirror her courage had deserted her. Its glass seemed to her like dark ice that would freeze her heart.

  Fox turned her back to the tower.

  Jacob was going to come back.

  He always came back.

  THE WRONG WORLD

  The auction room was on the thirtieth floor. Wood-paneled walls, a dozen rows of chairs, and a man by the door who ticked Jacob’s name off a list with an absentminded smile. Jacob took the catalog the man offered him and went to stand by one of the windows. A thick forest of towers; beyond them, like watery mirrors, the Great Lakes. He’d only arrived in Chicago from New York that morning, a distance that would have taken a week by stagecoach. Beneath him, the sunlight glinted from countless glass walls and gilded roofs. When it came to beauty, this world could easily compete with the one behind the mirror, and yet Jacob felt homesick.

  He sat down on one of the chairs and surveyed the faces around him. Many were familiar: antiques dealers, museum curators, art collectors. Like him, they were all treasure hunters, even though the treasures of this world possessed no magic beyond their age and beauty.

  The bottle, which Jacob had tracked all the way to this room, was listed in the auction catalog between a Chinese emperor’s teapot and the silver rattle of an English king’s son. The bottle looked so innocuous that hopefully it wouldn’t attract any other bidders. Its dark glass was protected by a much-handled sheath of leather, and the neck was sealed with wax.

  BOTTLE OF SCANDINAVIAN ORIGIN, EARLY 13TH CENTURY, read the caption beneath the picture. Exactly the description Jacob had given when he sold the bottle to an antiques dealer in London. Back then he’d thought it an amusing move to render its inhabitant harmless that way. On the other side of the mirror, releasing him would have been deadly, but in this world he was as harmless as bottled air, a bubble of nothing behind brown glass.

  The bottle had changed owners several times since Jacob had sold it. It had taken him nearly a month to trace it—time he didn’t have. The All-Healing Apple, the Well of Eternal Youth...he’d already wasted many months searching for the wrong objects. And death was still embedded in his chest. Time to try a more dangerous remedy.

  The moth above his heart was growing darker every day: the seal on the death warrant issued by the Dark Fairy for uttering her name. Her sister had whispered that name to Jacob between two kisses. No man was ever executed more tenderly. Betrayed love. The black moth’s blood-red outline was a reminder of the crime he was actually dying for.

  A dealer to whom he’d sold a carafe of elven glass many years ago smiled at him from the first row. (She’d taken it for Persian crystal.) Jacob used to bring many objects through the mirror, to pay for Will’s school or his mother’s doctor’s bills. Of course, none of his clients had ever suspected that he sold them objects from another world.

  Jacob glanced at his watch and looked impatiently at the auctioneer. Get on with it! Lost time. He didn’t even know how much he had left. Half a year, maybe less...

  The emperor’s teapot fetched a ridiculously high price, but, just as he’d expected, the bottle didn’t arouse much excitement as it was placed on the auctioneer’s table. Jacob was certain he’d be the only bidder, when suddenly another hand rose a few rows behind him.

  The other bidder had the delicate build of a child. The diamonds on his short fingers were certainly worth more than all the items in the auction combined. His short hair was as black as a raven’s feathers, but he had the face of an old
man. And the smile he gave Jacob seemed to know a little too much.

  Nonsense!

  Jacob had sold a handful of gold coins for the auction. The wad of banknotes he got for them had seemed more than enough. After all, he hadn’t sold the bottle for that much in the first place. But each time he raised his bid, the stranger also raised his hand, and Jacob felt his heart grow angrier with every number the auctioneer called. A whisper went through the room as the bids surpassed the price for the imperial teapot. Another dealer joined the bidding, only to drop out as the price kept climbing ever higher.

  Give up, Jacob!

  And then what? He had no clue what else he should look for, be it in this world or the other. His fingers instinctively searched for the gold handkerchief in his pocket, but its magic was as powerless here as the creature imprisoned in that bottle. Nevermind, Jacob. By the time they realize you can’t pay, you’ll be long gone through the mirror.

  He raised his hand again, though the amount the auctioneer had called made him nauseous. It was a steep price, even for his own life. He glanced back at his opponent. The eyes looking back at him were green, like freshly cut grass. The small man adjusted his tie and gave Jacob another smile, and then he lowered his ringed hand.

  The auctioneer’s hammer dropped, and Jacob felt dizzy with relief as he picked his way through the row of chairs. A collector in the first row bid ten thousand dollars for the silver rattle. Treasure, on both sides of the mirror.

  The cashier was sweating through her black jacket, and she’d put too much powder on her pasty skin.

  Jacob gave her his most winning smile as he pushed the wad of money toward her. “I hope this will do for a deposit?”

  He added three gold coins, which were usually a welcome currency even on this side of the mirror. Most dealers took him for a fool who didn’t know the value of antique coins, and he always had some preposterous story ready for those who quizzed him about the Empress’s head on them. The sweating cashier, however, just cast a suspicious look at the three coins and called over one of the auctioneers.

  The bottle stood barely two steps away, together with the other sold items. Even from this close, the glass didn’t reveal anything about the creature hidden inside. Jacob felt a brief temptation to grab it, despite the guards by the door. But then a quiet cough interrupted this far-from-sensible train of thought.

  “Interesting coins, Mr....I’m sorry, your name is...?”

  Green eyes. His competitor barely reached up to Jacob’s shoulder. His left earlobe was studded with a tiny ruby.

  “Reckless. Jacob Reckless.”

  “Ah, yes.” The stranger reached inside his tailored jacket and gave the auctioneer a smile. “I will vouch for Mr. Reckless,” he said, offering Jacob a card. His voice sounded hoarse, and it had a slight accent Jacob couldn’t quite place.

  The auctioneer bowed his head reverently.

  “As you wish, Mr. Earlking.” He looked at Jacob. “Where shall we send the bottle?”

  “I’ll take it now.”

  “Of course.” Earlking smiled. “It’s been in the wrong place far too long, hasn’t it?”

  Before Jacob could reply, the small man made a quick bow. “Please give my regards to your brother,” he said. “I know him and your mother very well.” With that he turned and disappeared into the well-dressed throng.

  Jacob looked at the card in his hand.

  NOREBO JOHANN EARLKING

  Nothing else. The auctioneer handed him the bottle.

  GHOSTS

  The wrong world. The security man at the airport scrutinized the bottle so intensely that, had this been the other world, Jacob would have put a pistol to his uniformed chest. His flight was late arriving into New York, and his taxi got so held up in Manhattan’s evening traffic that he longed for a carriage ride through the sleepy streets of Schwanstein. The moon shone from the grimy puddles in front of the old apartment building. Staring down at him from the brick walls were the grotesque stone faces that used to frighten Will so much as a child that he ducked his head every time he stepped through the door. Since then, the exhaust had eaten away at them, and they were now barely distinguishable from the stone vines that grew around them. Yet as he climbed the steps to the front door, Jacob felt their stony stares more intensely than ever before. His brother probably felt the same way. The contorted faces contained a whole new kind of terror since Will himself had grown a skin of stone.

  The doorman in the entrance hall was the same man who had always dragged him and Will out of the elevator when they were children, riding it up and down too many times. Mr. Tomkins. He’d grown old and fat. On the counter where he kept the mail was the same jar of lollipops he’d used to bribe them to run his errands. At some point, Jacob had managed to convince Will that Tomkins was a man-eating Ogre, and for days his brother had refused to go to preschool because he was afraid to walk past the doorman on the way.

  The past. It lurked in every corner of the old building: behind the pillars in the entrance hall, where he and Will used to play hide-and-seek; in the dark catacombs of the basement, where he’d gone on his first (and unsuccessful) treasure hunts; and in the elevator, which would transform into a spaceship or the cage of a Witch, whatever their adventures required. Strange, how the prospect of death brought back the past. It was as though every moment he’d lived was suddenly back, whispering, Maybe this is all you get, Jacob.

  The elevator door still jammed a little when it was pushed open.

  Seventh floor.

  Will had left a note for him on the door. WE’RE OUT SHOPPING. FOOD IN THE FRIDGE. WELCOME HOME! W.

  Jacob tucked the paper into his coat pocket and unlocked the door. He was paying with his life for this welcome, and he would do it again, just for the feeling of having his brother back. They hadn’t been this close since the time when Will used to crawl into his bed every night—when he still believed that doormen sometimes liked to eat human flesh. Love was lost so terrifyingly easily.

  The darkness that met Jacob behind the door was strange and yet familiar. Will had painted the hall, and the smell of fresh paint mingled with the scents of their childhood. Jacob’s fingers still found the light switch, but the lamp was new, as was the sideboard by the door. The old family photographs had disappeared, and the yellowed wallpaper—which, even years later, had shown the spot where his father’s portrait had once hung—had been covered by white paint.

  Jacob dropped his bag on the well-worn parquet floor.

  Welcome home.

  Could it really be home again, after all those years during which all he’d wanted from this place was the mirror? A vase with yellow roses stood on the sideboard. Clara’s signature. Before coming through the mirror, he’d felt slightly nervous at the prospect of seeing her again. He couldn’t be sure whether the Lark’s Water was still affecting him or whether it was just the memories that set his heart racing. But all was well. It had been good to see her, with Will, in the world Jacob hadn’t belonged to for an eternity. She had obviously not told Will about the Lark’s Water, but Jacob felt how the shared memory bonded them, as though they’d gotten lost in the woods and had found their way out together.

  ***

  Their mother’s room, like their father’s study, was still mostly unchanged. Jacob hesitated before he opened the door. A few boxes full of Will’s books were piled up next to the bed, and the family photographs that had hung in the hallway leaned against the wall beneath the window.

  The room still smelled of her. She had sewn the patchwork quilt on the bed herself. The pieces of fabric used to be all over the apartment. Flowers, animals, houses, ships, moons, and stars. Whatever the quilt said about his mother, Jacob had never been able to decipher it. The three of them had lain on it together many times, when she’d read to them. Their grandfather told them the fairy tales he’d grown up with in Europe, full of the Witches and Fairies whose kin Jacob would meet later behind the mirror. Their mother’s stories, however, were American. T
he Headless Rider, Johnny Appleseed, the Wolf Brother, the Magic Lady, and the Stone Giant of Seneca. Jacob hadn’t come across any of them behind the mirror yet, but he was sure they existed there, just as his grandfather’s fairy-tale folk did.

  The photograph on the nightstand showed his mother with Will and him in the park across the street. She looked very happy. And so young. His father had taken the picture. He must have already known about the mirror back then.

  Jacob wiped the dust off the glass. So young. And so beautiful. What had his father sought that he hadn’t been able to find with her? How often Jacob had asked himself that question as a child. He’d been certain she must have done something wrong, and he would get so angry. Angry at her weakness. Angry that she could never stop loving his father; that, against all better judgment, she had always waited for his return. Or maybe she’d just waited for the day her older son would find him and return him to her? Wasn’t that what Jacob had fantasized about all those years? That one day he’d return with his father and wipe all that sadness off her face?

  Behind the mirror were Hourglasses that stopped time. Jacob had long searched for one for the Empress. In Lombardy, there was a carousel that could turn children into adults, and grown- ups back into children. And there was a Varangian count who owned a music box that, if you wound it up, would transport you back into your own past. Jacob had often wondered whether such items changed the course of events or whether one ended up doing things the very same way one had already done them: his father would still go through the mirror, and he’d still follow, and Will and his mother would be left behind again.

  Heavens, Jacob! The prospect of his own death was making him sentimental.

  He felt as though, for months now, someone had kept throwing his heart into a crucible over and over again, like a lump of ore refusing to take the right shape. If that bottle proved as useless as the apple and the well, then all of his efforts would have been in vain, and soon he’d be nothing but a picture in a dusty frame, like his mother. Jacob returned her photograph to the nightstand. Then he straightened the bed, as though at any moment she might step into her room.

 
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