I'm not going to lie--I'm going to spend the entire day being jittery about the election. On the one hand, in my core, I'm confident that Clinton will not only win but win decisively. On the other hand, I'm horrified and terrified that the political climate of my country has made it possible for someone like Trump to get this far. Not that I have any illusions that our political past was any less horrifying and terrifying for marginalized people, but I hold onto the belief that year by year we are coming to a better, deeper, more inclusive understanding of the ideals our nation was founded on. There are so many political parallels around the world where a nation or a society that seemed to be raising itself up to embrace greater openness, greater equality, greater opportunity for all, unexpectedly loses its grasp on that dream and turns to squabbling, back-biting, me-firstism. And beyond my own vote and some substantial campaign donations, I've been left feeling useless to address that possibility.
* * *
Useless: that was what Serafina's husband Paolo had called her when she was unable to turn her mystic visions into the practical help he'd married her for. Useless: the echo of it had followed her in her thaumaturgical studies with Margerit Sovitre. She could see the forces at work, but invoking them to do her will had so far eluded her. But that was all that the Austrian spy Kreiser had asked her to do: to see, and tell him what she saw. In their first sessions, she thought she would fail even at that small task. But as the summer wore one, Kreiser summoned her--no, summoned was not the right word. He simply indicated that he expected her to come and scry for him once more. They were to meet in the public gardens in Urmai, just outside the city of Rotenek. But many people visited the gardens there in summer, including one that Serafina was not yet ready to meet again.
* * *
Chapter Nineteen - Serafina
She knew the monument Kreiser had specified. The gardens were not as full as the time she visited with Luzie and the boys. The children that played along the hedge-bordered paths today lived here, as did the shop girls out on a midday break. The visitors were a different mix as well: courting couples of respectable families, attended at a safe distance by maids or governesses, clumps of students from the university who hadn’t escaped the city for their more abbreviated summer season, walking with heads together in argument.
Serafina settled herself on a bench and looked around to see if Kreiser were in view. Her heart skipped. An achingly familiar figure was winding through the paths with an awkward case in hand.
Olimpia Hankez noticed her, hesitated, then shifted her path. “It’s a lovely day,” she offered.
It was what one said in Urmai. One praised the cool breezes that had first made the spot popular so many years ago. One admired the gardens and made note of whether the crowds were thick or thin. One didn’t exclaim in surprise at the sight of a former lover.
“You’ve come for work?” Serafina asked, nodding at the art case under her arm.
“I thought I’d set myself up and sketch. I need new faces,” Olimpia said, with a rueful twist of her mouth. “And you?”
“I’m meeting someone,” Serafina returned, trying to keep the answer as uninviting as possible. She could still be moved by Olimpia’s energetic grace. The betrayal hadn’t changed that. Luzie hadn’t changed that. Luzie filled a different place in her life, in her heart. A quieter place. Other spaces were still empty. Olimpia had filled one of them for a time. There had never been any word of forever between them. How could there have been? Olimpia dealt in bodies—explored them, appreciated them, immortalized them and then moved on. And for her? She barely knew what she was searching for.
From the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of Kreiser’s ruddy face. Olimpia saw the movement and followed it. Her eyes widened slightly. Had she recognized the Austrian? Or did she think it an assignation? Or both perhaps?
She said only, “It was good to see you again,” and moved on.
If Kreiser had noticed Olimpia he said nothing when he settled himself on the bench and placed a well-worn atlas in her lap. Even before she opened the covers she could feel the tingle of some mystic residue within the pages. There were no preliminaries this time.
“I thought this might help. Open to the marked page,” he instructed.
She found the ribbon and spread the book across her lap. It was only a section of land, taken out of context, with little markings for roads and rivers, tiny buildings indicating towns, and a faint glow perceptible only to the sensitive where Kreiser had marked a pattern of symbols across one part.
Next he opened a small case that shone brightly with fluctus and unwrapped layers of cloth to lay a frozen lump in her outstretched hand. It became slick with melt and made her fingers ache with the cold.
“Don’t worry about where the ice itself came from,” he said. “Follow the cold. Trace it back to its origin. Use the map.”
Serafina clenched her fingers around the ice, holding it away from the atlas and hoping that she could find the thread before it had melted away.
* * *
Only another week until Mother of Souls is released! (The original date I was given was the 14th, but the publisher's website is now saying the 17th.) Pre-order from Bella Books. Or ask your local bookstore to carry it. Or put a request in at your library. Or show up at the release party at Chessiecon and get your copy signed, along with other cool swag! And I've pledged that if (when) Clinton wins the election, I'll give away five e-books of Mother of Souls on Twitter, so if you're active there, keep your eyes peeled on Wednesday. (For non-Twitter folk, I periodically do platform-specific giveaways. Don't worry.)