There Must Have Been Some Magic
Author's note: Spoilers for pretty much the whole game.
Valant Gramarye stood in the wings, looking out at the Sunshine Coliseum stage. It was a familiar sort of view: the shape of the stage from behind, the entrances, the exits, the probable places for trap doors or elevated lifts. How many years had it been? A pleasant surge of adrenaline shimmied along his veins, making his step feel light and his head feel clear. Too long, he thought, too long since I have put on a show.
Behind him he heard footfalls, quiet and slow. He turned to see, his eyes spotlight-blind. By the sound of the step, he knew it was not LeTouse, the enormous manager, nor Prosecutor Gavin with his distinctive heeled boots. His eyes adjusted; by the silhouette it was not the bassist with the improbable hair, and not the tiny blind pianist.
Gavin's songstress, then? There had been a promotonial postcard in the press kit Gavin sent him: Lamiroir, Siren of the Ballad, somesuch. The Gavinners were pulling out all the stops for this concert, it seemed, gathering talent from all over the world. Perhaps the Borginian beauty would be a fitting player in the evening's Gramarye magic! He'd heard her demo recording, and it was no exaggeration that she had a lovely voice.
All the same, Valant was utterly unprepared for the sight of her face.
She stepped into the spotlight, and what had been the little thrill of nerves turned somersaults in his stomach. A decade of guilt, regret, shame. Loneliness. Her eyes were the color of a calm ocean, and even under the Borginian veil there was nothing of her not familiar. Magic was his stock-in-trade, but he had long abandoned miracles.
"Thalassa," he breathed.
The name hung between them for a moment, his hand outstretched to push away her veil and look at her-- look at her!-- so beautiful for the years that had passed, alive and here--
And too late he realized that her face (her long-familiar face, beloved and distant still) was oddly unmoved.
She spoke a word in Borginian, needing no translation: confusion, bewilderment. The brightly-colored handkerchief of his hope vanished into thin air.
"My apologies, dear lady," Valant said, too quickly, interrupting her. (The show, after all, goes on.) Lightly he took up her hand, though he found himself unable to touch his lips to her fingers, as otherwise he might have. "I am Valant Gramarye, and will be orchestrating tomorrow's magic. Please do forgive my importunity. I was merely flummoxed by your mellifluous voice, and surely you must be accustomed to having this effect on people."
She shook her head, veil falling across her cheek. Her smile was sad. "I have no... English."
He laughed, though he could see the sound made her wince. "Of course! Just as well my bottled bitterness not be a blight to burden you, then. You deserve far better than I could ever give."
Lamiroir stepped closer to him, lowering her voice (and oh but she smelled the same, like honeysuckle and the sea, like the olive leaves from a branch that never offered peace). He felt a fool, a child, but could not stop his pulse from racing. "It is a secret," she confessed. "But I do speak your language, a little."
"A secret I shall never spill." This time, he did kiss her hand, though she pulled her fingers away. As she ever would, before; never letting him touch her when her father or her husband might see-- not even when his gestures were only innocent affection. He surprised himself; he did not know he could feel such bitterness, still. "But why take this co-conspirator into your confidence?"
"I do not know... what I said. But I have... upset you."
Valant flinched. "Not at all, my dear. You--" honesty wrung itself out of him, struggle with it though he tried-- "your face is familiar, I fear. That is all; a memory of my past. Do not concern yourself with it."
"My face?" She sounded genuinely startled. "Do I-- look like someone you know?"
"Merely an echo," he said. "You resemble a... friend. A friend that I have lost."
"What was her name, the one you spoke when you saw me?"
"It is as I said: she is gone; she died years ago. Do not trouble yourself."
"I am sorry. It was a lovely name."
"She was-- a lovely woman." There was more, so much more, that he would speak, but the words he held in check.
"There is little of my past that I remember," she was saying, thoughtful. Something in the angle of her eyelashes, then, something-- odd-- and he realized he was holding his breath. Thalassa, not-Thalassa, standing before him, would not meet his eyes. The woman he had known, Gramarye's daughter, would not have looked away, no matter the object.
Perhaps she was a stranger, after all.
How much of his life spent in waiting, and grief, and now this? Cruel fate, to taunt him so. In apology, or supplication, he raised his hand to touch her veil. Though his gloves moved near her face, she did not blink-- and in a flash-cotton flare, it came to him: she was not looking away, he thought.
She was blind.
(Thalassa, what have we done to you?)
He shook himself. "Come then, my dear. We must craft our illusion together, must we not? Mr. Gavin has requested my finest magic, and my finest magic I shall give him! The audience will not soon forget your 'Guitar's Serenade.'"
Her head tilted in the direction of the spotlights, and Valant knew his intuition to be correct; she could not see. He could not repress the instinct, so he touched her shoulder. "Would you allow me to escort the Siren to the splendid stage?"
Tense under his hand, Lamiroir said, "I will do what I can, to assist your tricks. But you should know--"
He interrupted, not wanting to hear the confession in that voice (not wanting her to talk about the magic as if it were not her life's blood, too). "I will make this simple for you as I possibly can. Your limited sight, shall we say, shall not trouble us." She gasped. He ventured, "It seems this, too, is a secret of yours?"
"You would have my secrets out of me, Mr. Magician," she said, and the words were coy but her accented voice was quite serious.
"Forgive my infelicitous behavior." He bowed, though he knew she could not see. "But you will have the better of me, for I must divulge to you a secret, as well."
"The magic," she said-- with respect, with business-like, impassive understanding. He felt his chest contract. She said: "I will swear any oath you choose; I would not endanger your livelihood."
"It is a simple trick; child's play, really. The art of it is not fooling the mind into believing, but fooling the mind into wanting to be fooled."
Lamiroir nodded, not smiling. "I understand," she said.
With a gesture, he encompassed the stage, the empty seats, the coliseum. "I will be you," he said. "I will borrow your voice and enchant the audience."
"I cannot promise to enchant. I... can only sing."
"Ah, dear lady, did you not know? Every woman has a magic within her. I will merely allow the audience to apprehend this."
Lamiroir's laugh was low and melodic, and self-deprecating. "You flatter, but I-- I am no magician."
Valant Gramarye forced a smile against the tightness in his throat, wondering what she could hear in his voice: the smile, or the pain, or both.
"We shall see."
It was over. In spite of all his efforts-- or perhaps, because of them. The leaves would fall, the year would turn, and some things were too far lost to be reclaimed. Valant should have recognized it ages ago; pretending was a bittersweet game, best left in one's youth.
He took off his hat (careful of Marli, who nibbled at his fingernails), held it to his chest. His reflection in the mirror did the same; they bowed at one another, formally, from the waist. It was for the best, in the end. But he could not meet the eyes of his reflection when he said, "Good-bye, Gramarye."
"Are you going somewhere?"
He spun around, Marli very nearly jumping from his hat as he whirled. "La-Lamiroir?"
She wore no veil-- and her sea-colored eyes flicked from prop boxes to his clothing trunk to his bared head, before lighting on his face. She was alone, he saw, and she navigated the clutter to the dressing room mirrors without the hesitation of the unsighted. "No," she said softly. "Well, my publicist still calls me that, yes. But Lamiroir has gone to sleep."
He held his hat and cane so tightly that his hands tried to shake. His voice, he found, had exited stage left.
"Or rather," she said, "Should I say that Lamiroir has awakened?"
Valant shook his head. "I would recognize you by your timing alone," he said, ruefully. "I was about to quit this place, and close the final curtain."
Thalassa-- for Thalassa it was, Thalassa it must be-- bit her lip. "I did suspect as much. But-- the day before your greatest--"
"It is not mine," he said, and made no pretense to hide the bitterness now. He set down his things on the dressing room table, Marli curling contentedly in the lining of his hat. "And it never was. You should know that better than anyone. I am... too old for this facade."
For a moment, she didn't speak, running a hand along the edge of his trunk, touching a pile of scarves as though she were blind again, and thirsty for tactile sensation. He thought of her skin, and the silk of those scarves, and wished he hadn't.
"The Valant I knew would not have said such things," she said, at last.
"The Valant you knew--"
"Worked hard," she spoke over him, looking not at him but at all the periphery of the magic (their magic, Troupe Gramarye's lifeblood, now spent). She righted a fallen ring, lifting the golden circle like a halo, leaning it against the dresser. "Maybe harder than any of us."
"Ha!" He tried to catch her eye in the mirror. How could she see, and yet not see? "Because I had to. You know this. Because I had the least talent."
She did meet his gaze, then, and it had nearly the force of a blow, though the mirror refracted it between them. Thalassa glanced from his eyes to his chest-- to his brooch, holding fast his cape-- and the way she was not smiling made it hard for him to breathe. "Because you had the biggest heart?"
He looked away first, scowling at the mirror-image of himself: greying and frayed. "Thalassa," he said, but could find no further words than: "Please."
"You were the first person to call me by my name," she said, "in all those years."
I could no sooner forsake my own name, he did not say. You have haunted me these years; my memory and my shame. "None of this is mine," he said again. With a gloved hand he gestured: mirror and cape, hat and cane, dressing room and trunks of tricks; all of it magic unwrought, untenanted dreams. "By birth and by right it is all your daughter's. You should be proud, already Trucy's talent is tremendous--"
"Cottontail is yours," she suggested.
A nameless spell was broken; something happened in his chest, shimmery and breathless, feeling almost like laughter. "Cottontail!" Marli hopped from his hat into Thalassa's proferred hands, pressing her soft nose into Thalassa's sleeves, looking for treats. "Alas, Cottontail died some years back, of venerable old age. This is his grand-daughter, Marli."
"Ah! Marli, then." She lifted the bunny with practiced grace, just so, a magician's daughter herself. "She is obviously one of yours; just look at that face. Was Flopsy her grand-dame, or was it Mopsy?"
Thalassa's smile was all that he remembered; Valant felt a much younger man as he watched them, the woman and the rabbit, such a familiar tableau. Something of softness, something of strength, all of it unselfconscious. For a moment he believed (as an audience must) that a magician can bring magic from an old silk top hat. "Flopsy," he stammered. "You can see it in--"
"The ears," they said, at the same time, and when Thalassa smiled again it was not so hard for Valant to echo it with one of his own.
"It seems you remember everything," he said.
"It seems you haven't forgotten anything," she countered, and before he could reply, she said: "With your help we may yet be Troupe Gramarye again."
Valant shook his head against an aching surge of hope. It was too easy: the magic he still strove for, the spotlight he still craved, the woman he still loved, and the last of his rabbits nibbling on her fingernails. He had to believe that he was not too old to change, that the rest of his days were not doomed to spiral along these same paths. "They say you can kill a man with kindness; I believe it is true. Don't offer me dreams, Thalassa, when mine have all been spent. Jacob cheated Esau of his birthright, fooled their father, stole their name. But the story doesn't say how he lived with himself after. The magic-- is Trucy's."
Tenderly, she set Marli back in the silk-lined hat. "And if I told you Trucy was the one who told me where you would be tonight?"
His eyes went wide.
"And Trucy the one who asked me to make sure you stayed?"
Valant swallowed, sagging back against the dressing table. Never-- not once-- had it occurred to him that the youngest Gramarye might ask. Might be greater than the sum of her parentage, might set them on a new path, untainted by their painful past. Testament to his own fears and yearnings, he supposed, that he had thought only of conflict and never of cooperation. "Trucy said that?" he said, with uncharacteristic hesitation in his voice.
"'Don't let Uncle Valant skip town!'" she said, her hands in slender fists, sounding so serious as only the young can. Valant drew a shaky hand across his eyes. She went on, in a perfect imitation of her own daughter's voice (of herself, as a young woman): "'He's stubborn, but he should listen to you, Miss Lamiroir!'"
Miss Lamiroir? "She... does not know?"
Thalassa's smile faltered for the first time, her eyes vague and cloudy as they had been when she was blind. "No. Not yet."
"My apologies, dear lady," he said, as he had said to Lamiroir, and in the face of her own pain instead of his own, he felt nearly gallant enough to take her hand. "It must be difficult for you."
She rallied quickly, and met his hand halfway, clasping it tight. "As it has been difficult for all of us. I would not have you-- none of us should suffer alone, Valant."
And for the first time in many years, Valant Gramarye thought perhaps he believed in magic again.