Philip was dying. His Pip was dying, his son was dying and he could not let it happen. His skills as a Practitioner had grown since he had had time to study, and since he had begun instructing little Angie in her own powers. He knew his life would be poor recompense for his son’s, when he himself had already done so much, was already half-way through his life.
Still, he made the preparations from the stores he kept in his office; mint and pokeweed berries and a vial of his own blood. Seeds from a banyan tree and a silver knife. Lotions made grey by the cleansing charcoal.
For this, for his child, Alexander wondered if he would even need to find that dark place inside himself where his life and never mattered to him. Philip would always matter more than his own life, but maybe the soul-keeper would not come if she (always a she to Alexander, despite his knowledge of their androgyny, forever appearing to him with the voice of his mother) if he still held any value to his own life.
So, staring deep into the woodfire in his office, he meditates. Finds the part inside himself that was still an orphan on an island destroyed by a hurricane, the part of himself that was a soldier in a doomed war, the part of himself that craved death. It is only in this mind-space that he is able to gather the magics to work his spell-casting in the way he needs to.
It is only the doctor with his Philip when he arrives back at Angelica’s residence; hopefully Eliza was with the children and her sister and will not interrupt him. Hopefully young Angie was too distraught to feel what her father would be doing and try to stop him. “I would have a moment alone with my son,” he says quietly to the doctor, and the man nods and steps away.
The first thing Alexander does is blow out the tallow candles. They would only interrupt the spell-casting, and nothing can go wrong here.
Philip’s breathing was shallow, and he groaned lowly when Alexander put his hand on his forehead to check his fever.
Alexander worked quickly to spread the banyan seeds around the bed and attending chair. He worked quickly to cover the wounds (from his right hip through the left and into his left arm. So much damage . . . ) with the creams and lotions, letting the cleansing charcoal work to clean his son of the infection that had set in. Still more quickly he works, well aware of the fact that doctor Hosak could come back at any moment, or Eliza could decide that she wanted to see her (their) son again, before he died.
He draws the trefoil symbol on his son’s forehead, his left shoulder, and his right hip with the blood from the vial. A bit overboard on the symbol of the living, perhaps, but it was not only Philip he was saving. Little Angie had practiced her protection spell-craft on her elder brother, despite Alexander warning her against it. If Philip died, some part of Angie would die as well. The symbol on Pip’s forehead was for her and the connection they shared.
Then, settling himself in the chair Alexander takes the mint and pokeweed berries into his mouth, and slides the silver knife across his lower left arm. Blood pools deep and red, and Alexander spares a thought for Angelica’s upholstery, before he bites into the bitter poisonous fruit and jaw-tingling mint.
She comes quickly, the Soul-Keeper. Flash of shadow and the tattered curtain from Nevis in the corner of Alexander’s eye tells him she is there.
“Your line has a habit of calling on me in this manner,” she says, and sounds amused. Alexander hopes with a desperation he did not know he could feel in this mind-space that the amusement means that she is in a giving mood.
“My line has a propensity for trouble,” he rasped through his closing throat, the bright spots dancing in front of his eyes.
“You want me to save your son, as your mother wished for me to save you. But your son means not nearly as much to me as you did.”
“It is not only Philip,” he said, desperately hoping she would believe him. “The feminine child to whom I taught the arts has tied herself to her brother, she would not survive his death.”
“True.” The shape tilted it’s head, gazing around the room. “Her mind will break if he goes,” the soul-keeper says, as if to itself. “She has a future ahead of her.”
“I have brought seven souls into this world for you,” Alexander said, pulling her attention back to him. She glides closer, clouds like dark hair wafting behind her. “I ask that you take mine and allow them to live their lives, allow my daughter to truly devote herself to You and her studies.”
“I agree,” the soul-keeper said, and Alexander’s heart near swelled with joy before a shadowy hand reached inside his chest and stopped it. “I was always going to agree, little one,” she said, and disappeared.
Eliza was the first person into the room, once the trade had been made. Little Angie had been near inconsolable for the last few minutes, crying that death had come for her brother, and, knowing of her daughter’s unearthly powers (inherited from her husband, as if Alexander was not a mystery enough without powers of life and death), Eliza had hurried to see to her son.
It was not Philip who was dead. Eliza learned later that she screamed, that the scream brought the doctor and Angelica and the children to the room, that the scream startled Philip awake, suddenly revitalized as if new life had been blown into him. But all Eliza could see was her dead husband, gazing unseeing at the sickbed.
Angelica later told her how Angie had taken charge of the situation, shepherding the doctor to check Philip’s wounds, which were already scarred over with pink flesh, shooing the other children away from the room before they saw anything, and informing her aunt that her father had traded his life for Philip’s. But that was later. When small hands tried to pull her away from her husband, whom she had pulled out of the chair so she could hold (because he was cold, he so hated being cold), Eliza only wrenched herself away, clinging to a dead man’s jacket because no. She thought she might be pregnant and hadn’t even told Alexander yet, and that child would grow up without a father, her children were fatherless now. What would they do? What would become of them, of the world, with her Alexander gone?