1: The General's Greatcoat
Tonight, no matter what the voice said, Madeleine Lavoie would not listen to it, she would not sympathize with it and, most importantly, she would not obey it. She gripped her sheets in tight fists and promised herself tonight would be different. These affirmations had become the bedtime prayer she repeated every night, while her mother extinguished the gas lamps and her brother tied her hands and feet to her bedposts.
The restraints were for her own good. Maddy understood that well enough. How could she expect to survive in the world, if she ever managed to escape? She was the secret disgrace of her family. Her mother refused to bring her out into society, not for cruelty's sake, but to spare Maddy the humiliation of failing to attract a suitor, wealthy as the Lavoie family was. "Madeleine the Mute" was what people called her when they were being kind; they called her "Madeleine the Mad" when they were not. They were right.
To ward off her loneliness, she had developed the bad habit of chattering on to herself. And though everyone assured her she was mute, Maddy could hear her own voicetimid and small with an almost childish lispjust as though she actually had one. That was the most harmless symptom of her madness. She'd also forgotten all but the last three years of her life; she'd completely failed to grieve when she learned her father was dead; and she often found scrapes and bruises on her body with no recollection of how they had gotten there. Worst of all was the strange, commanding voice she heard every night when she ought to have been sleeping. Though this voice was no louder than the rustling of her mother's skirts, Maddy could never quite block it out.
Hear me, it began. I can't find you.
Maddy covered her ears with the heels of her hands and felt immediately guilty for being rude. The voice never hurt her. It only repeated one simple request. Surely, she could just refuse to oblige it. But she couldn't, and that terrified her more than all the rest put together.
She closed her eyes and imagined her brother was sitting beside her, whispering stories into her ear. "Once upon a time," she tried to imitate his confident voice, "a poor woodcutter lived with his wife and two children. They were so poor, they couldn't even afford to eat..."
Where are you?
Maddy went on louder. "One day, the woodcutter's wife convinced her husband to take their children into the forest and abandon them."
"But they were clever children..."
Look for me.
"They were clever children..." Maddy couldn't seem to recall the rest of the story. Her whole body pulled against her bonds and she chanted, "It's in my head, it's in my head, it's all in my head," as the cords snapped.
Come and find me.
"Don't listen to it," she ordered herself, but she did listen, as always. And she obeyed. The room was locked, so she pushed off the far wall, ran full speed toward the door, past her mother who had just opened it, and right into the stony arms of her brother.
"That's enough, Maddy," her mother said, as Maddy kicked and struggled against him.
Marcus Lavoie spent every night outside his sister's door, but Maddy couldn't decide whether he did it because he loved her or hated her. A year ago, he would have kept guard beside her and there would have been no need for restraints. A year ago, he would never have left her alone.
"I'll never sleep through another night," he muttered, and he pulled her back into her room with one arm as though she were no trouble at all.
Though fully grown, Marcus was only a little taller than his sister, with feathery black hair and quicksand eyes that seemed to consume the world rather than see it. To Maddy, he was a riptide. His wisp of a body had an undercurrent that took her breath away. He pinned her arms to her sides, fought her all the way to the bed, and pushed her down onto it without another word.
"I know it isn't comfortable, darling," her mother said as Marcus tied his sister down again. "I just can't bear to lose you. You're my only baby girl."
"You're not my mother," Maddy said, though she didn't know why she said it.
"What was that, honey?"
Maddy narrowed her eyes and slowly mouthed the words: you, are, not, my, mother.
"Of course I am." Her mother smiled and brushed the stray hairs from Maddy's face. "You're just in a state right now. All this will be like a dream in the morning."
"It won't." Maddy shivered. "I don't think I know who either of you are."
Maddy's mother tucked her in and kissed her forehead. "If you have something to say to me, you can write it down in the morning. Now try to go to sleep."
Where are you? I can't find you. Come and find me.
"I'm trying," Maddy answered the voice, after her mother had gone. "Believe me, I'm trying."
Eventually, every night, Maddy stopped telling herself the voice was in her head and spoke back to it. And every night, when she stopped fighting herself, she began to feel her daytime life was a fantastically organized lie.
The wind drove the rain against the walls, and the chair Marcus pushed to Maddy's bedside grated on the floor with a terrible whine. When he finally closed the door and settled down beside her, Maddy felt her insides crumble to pieces. "Disappear," she told herself as he lit the oil lamp she kept beside her bed. "Just close your eyes and fade away."
Secretly, Maddy admired her brother more than anyone in the world. In her three years of memory, she'd never known another person like him. He never slouched or said too much. He rarely smiled or wept. He was a shadow king, strong and cold. And he was clever. He collected so many stories, illustrated and bound them into pretty books, which he often gave to his sister. Maddy, who never left her mother's property, lived on those stories. She used to slip one under her pillow every night, hoping to dream of it. But everything changed the day their mother gave her the general's greatcoat.
The general was their father. Maddy couldn't remember him at all, but she imagined he looked like her brother, only tallerlike Ramesses the Great in her storybooks. One day, Charlotte Lavoie had pulled her daughter aside and pressed the greatcoat into her arms. "This was your father's," she had said. "Keep it safe and never give it to anyone else. I know I can trust you to protect it."
After that, Marcus wouldn't even look at his sister. More than once, she heard him sobbing in his room, fighting with his mother, slamming the doors of their house. He started waiting in Maddy's boudoir instead of sitting at her bedside while she slept. He stopped making her those precious storybooks, stopped speaking to her altogether. All his indifferent strength had burned away in what she could only imagine must have been a furious jealousy.
Now he sat in his chair and laughed like the devil was in him. "Maddy, Maddy, Maddy the Mute, Maddy the Mad. You must be even more tired of this than I am."
From the pocket of his dressing gown, Marcus produced a small, oblong box, and laid it on the bed beside her. "I have a present for you." He unlatched two tiny hooks and pushed the lid back on its hinges. "It's a fantastic contraption. The ink is kept in a little vial inside. It fills the nib as you write with it. A friend of mine loves building rare treasures like this. What do you think of it?" He held the pen in front of Maddy's face so she could examine it before he returned it to its box. "There are three extra nibs, and a device for filling the ink when you run out. It should be helpful when you're out in the world.
"Also," he reached into his other pocket and pulled out a little book, "I made this for you. You can write in it. See?" He opened to the first page, which read, My name is Madeleine the Mute, in his handwriting. The rest was blank. "They'll both fit into the pockets of Father's coat. I filled a purse for you, too, so you won't be destitute." He leaned in and began to untie the cords around Maddy's wrists.
When her hands were free, Maddy took the pen and book from her brother and scratched out the Mute.
"You don't like that, do you? Suit yourself. I suppose it will be obvious to those who meet you, anyway. Now for the truth." Marcus sat on the bed and began working at the cords around her ankles. "Mother named you Madeleine three years ago, the day the duke first brought you to our doorstep. His Grace told us that you would remember nothing of your former life and that you were mute. He told us to keep you alive, but never to let you leave the grounds or be seen by anyone outside the employ of this family. It was Mother's idea to treat you like a daughter. She always wanted a daughter."
He was lying. He had to be.
Marcus rubbed his sister's freed ankles while she scribbled, Why are you doing this? in her new book and showed it to him.
He collected the general's greatcoat and pulled it over her shoulders. "I could give you a number of reasons, but I don't want to lie anymore." Then he reached into the pockets of his dressing gown and retrieved an object about the size of a coin. "This is also for you." He pressed it into her hand. Maddy considered not taking the thing from him, but when he told her, "It's a storybook, like your others," she could no more resist it than a person dying of thirst can resist a cup of water.
She turned the thing over in her hands. It didn't look like a book. It was a rectangular locket on the end of a gold chain with what appeared to be a little, round window in it.
"It's a miniature," Marcus said, "so you can easily hide it when you need to. There's a magnifying glass built into the case." He took the locket from her and slipped the chain over her head. "The story in it contains a message and a warning. Read it carefully. Don't read it in public, and for god's sake, don't open it in the rain or you'll ruin everything." For a moment, he seemed almost like his old self again. "Please don't look at me like that, Maddy. Just keep it hidden."
Maddy tucked the locket under her chemise. Then she underlined, Why are you doing this? and showed him again.
"Why?" When Maddy heard the tremor in her brother's voice, she instantly regretted asking him. "Because you're not my sister. You never were. I can't stand living another day with you like this, when what I want is... what I want is..." His voice crumbled away. He snatched the book and pen from her, stuffed them into her greatcoat pockets and buttoned it for her with shaking hands. Maddy's arms barely filled the sleeves, but Marcus found her wrist easily enough and yanked her to her feet. "Come with me," he snapped.
He dragged her through their home as though he could not eject her fast enough. They stormed through the long, upper hallway and down the stairs, two at a time. As they passed her mother's piano, Maddy winced, fearing she would never play it again. They exited the parlor, with all its deep reds and shadowy corners, and marched straight to the house's heavy, oak doors. Then Marcus lifted the latch and threw his sister into the storm. "Now go find your voice!"
She stood still. Marcus rushed toward her. She flinched, expecting him to hit her or shove her. Instead, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
Maddy had never been kissed beforenot that she could remember. Still she knew this was no proper kiss. She knew by the way his fingers snaked into her hair, by the way he simultaneously clung to her and struggled to escape. He kissed her the way a starving man would eat: not savoring it, not enjoying it at all, just needing it and hating that need.
She waited, her arms limp at her sides.
"Go!" He shoved her away so roughly she slid in the mud and fell backward. "Leave before I do something terrible!" Then the boy who had been her brother for three years walked back into his house and locked the door.
Maddy sat in the mud several seconds longer, her mouth hanging open as the rain rolled down her hair and mud seeped into her petticoat. She made several attempts to push herself from the slippery ground before she gave up, crawled back to the front door, and pressed her ear to it. Marcus sobbed on the other side. She wondered what he looked like when he cried. Then she opened the little book he had given her and scribbled, I won't forgive you. She ripped out the page and slid it under the door, though she knew it would not change a thing.
Where are you? I can't find you. Come and find me.
When she heard the familiar command, Madeleine Lavoie turned and ran from her home without a thought for where she would go or who she was looking for.