To be weak is miserable
Lightning clawed across the sky, tracing veins through the clouds and marking the pulse of the universe itself.
I sighed happily as rain slashed the carriage windows and thunder rumbled so loudly we could not even hear the wheels bump when the dirt lane met the cobblestones at the edge of Ingolstadt.
Justine trembled beside me like a newborn rabbit, burying her face in my shoulder. Another bolt lit our carriage with bright white clarity before rendering us temporarily deaf with a clap of thunder so loud the windows threatened to loosen.
“How can you laugh?” Justine asked. I had not realized I was laughing until that moment.
I stroked her dark hair where strands dangled free from her hat. Justine hated loud noises of any type: Slamming doors. Storms. Shouting. Especially shouting. But I had made certain she had endured none of that in the past two years. It was so odd that our separate origins--similar in cruelty, though differing in duration--had had such opposite outcomes. Justine was the most open and loving and genuinely good person I had ever known.
And I was--
Well. Not like her.
“Did I ever tell you Victor and I used to climb out onto the roof of the house to watch lightning storms?”
She shook her head, not lifting it.
“The way the lighting would play off the mountains, throwing them into sharp relief, as though we were watching the creation of the world itself. Or over the lake, so it looked like it was in both the sky and the water. We would be soaked by the end; it is a wonder neither of us caught our death.” I laughed again, remembering. My skin--fair like my hair--would turn the most violent shades of red from the cold. Victor, with his dark curls plastered to his sallow forehead, accentuating the shadows he always bore beneath his eyes, would look like death. What a pair we were!
“One night,” I continued, sensing Justine was calming, “lightning struck a tree on the grounds not ten body lengths from where we sat.”
“That must have been terrifying!”
“It was glorious.” I smiled, placing my hand flat against the cold glass, feeling the temperature beneath my lacy white gloves. “To me, it was the great and terrible power of nature. It was like seeing God.”
Justine clucked disapprovingly, peeling herself from my side to give me a stern look. “Do not blaspheme.”
I stuck my tongue out at her until she relented into a smile.
“What did Victor think of it?”
“Oh, he was horribly depressed for months afterward. I believe his exact phrasing was that he ‘languished in valleys of incomprehensible despair.’ ”
Justine’s smile grew, though with a puzzled edge. Her face was clearer than any of Victor’s texts. His books always required further knowledge and intense study, while Justine was an illuminated manuscript--beautiful and treasured and instantly understandable.
I reluctantly pulled the curtains closed on the carriage window, sealing us away from the storm for her comfort. She had not left the house at the lake since our last disastrous trip into Geneva had ended with her insane, bereft mother attacking us. This journey into Bavaria was taxing for her. “While I saw the destruction of the tree as nature’s beauty, Victor saw power--power to light up the night and banish darkness, power to end a centuries-old life in a single strike--that he cannot control or access. And nothing bothers Victor more than something he cannot control.”
“I wish I had known him better before he left for university.”
I patted her hand--her brown leather gloves a gift Henry had given me--before squeezing her fingers. Those gloves were far softer and warmer than my own. But Victor preferred me in white. And I loved giving nice things to Justine. She had joined the household two years earlier, when she was seventeen and I was fifteen, and had been there only a couple of months before Victor left us. She did not really know him.
No one did, except me. I liked it that way, but I wanted them to love each other as I loved them both.
“Soon you will know Victor. We shall all of us--Victor and you and me--” I paused, my tongue traitorously trying to add Henry. That was not going to happen. “We will be reunited most joyfully, and then my heart will be complete.” My tone was cheery to mask the fear that underlay this entire endeavor.
I could not let Justine be worried. Her willingness to come as my chaperone was the only reason I had managed this trip. Judge Frankenstein had initially rejected my pleadings to check on Victor. I think he was relieved to have Victor gone, did not care when we had no word. Judge Frankenstein always said Victor would come home when he was ready, and I should not worry about it.
I did. Very much. Particularly after I found a list of expenses with my name at the top. He was auditing me--and soon, I had no doubt, he would determine that I was not worth holding on to. I had done too well, fixing Victor. He was out in the world, and I was obsolete to his father.
I would not let myself be cast out. Not after my years of hard work. Not after all I had done.
Fortunately, Judge Frankenstein had been called away on a mysterious journey of his own. I did not ask permission again so much as . . . leave. Justine did not know that. Her presence gave me the freedom I needed here to move about without inviting suspicion or censure. William and Ernest, Victor’s younger brothers and her charges, would be fine in the care of the maid until we could return.