A Spirit Too Delicate
by Toni Lichtenstein Bogolub

Prologue


Mouse peered out of the culvert into the salvage yard. Junk in various stages of rusting stretched as far as he could see, but nothing moved. He waited in silence until he was certain no one lurked above to watch. Once assured, he hissed over his shoulder, “Come on, ’Randa! All safe!”

Crouched behind him, hugging the side of the concrete pipe, was a terrified teenage girl. Her blonde hair was pushed roughly back behind her ears, the ends dark with sweat despite the cool night. She was whiter than the moon lighting the salvage yard, her eyes enormous and dilated in fear. She didn’t budge as Mouse called to her.

Already out in the yard, Mouse hailed her softly again. In the space of an instant, all the terror vanished. Her hysterical breathing slowed, as her face became older, knowledge and resignation plain in her eyes. She stood then, her back straight and shoulders squared, as if this was the only way she knew to stand. For a moment she remained, almost posed, within the culvert. No one who hadn’t witnessed the transformation would have identified the terrified girl with the regal young woman who walked defiantly out into the moonlight. Only the sweat-dampened clothes connected the two.

Mouse was already halfway to the barbed-wire-topped fence designed to repel possible intruders. He assessed and dismissed items all around him, plainly in search of something specific.

The girl Mouse had called ’Randa walked past the piles of decomposing junk without a sideward glance. Purposeful and determined, she reached Mouse’s side. “Now, what are we looking for?” Though she was keeping her voice low, the rich strong tones carried in the open air.

“Pump,” the young man replied. He moved his hands to indicate something approximately square, perhaps 2’ x 1’. “Good gizmo. Need it for flooding in lower chambers.” Continuing his search as he spoke, he went on, “Stop acting. Be ’Randa.”

She shook her head. “Not tonight, Mouse. If this is what I must do—and I know it is—it has to be this way.” There was resignation in her voice.

“’Randa said she wanted to come along—go Up Top.”

“It was time, Mouse.”

“Didn’t have to ever come Above again. Unless you wanted.”

“You cannot be ruled by fear. Not forever.”

Mouse stopped his quest long enough to turn to her. “Maybe. Maybe wait until ’Randa can come Above.” He shook his head. “Not ’Randa now.”

“It was time. Six months should be long enough to cower. And Miranda—well, I’m always Miranda, somewhere. Just maybe not on the surface, where everyone can see.”

Mouse had returned to his hunt before she finished, but he shook his head again as he searched. “No. If ’Randa can’t take it, not time.”

She started to reply, but was pre-empted by a sudden noise. Barks and snarls, from the furthest corner of the yard, coming ever closer and closer—“Guard dogs!”

Both turned toward the great concrete path to the river they had entered through. But it was back in the direction the noises came from. Without a word the two sprinted by mutual agreement to the fence, some twenty yards away.

Mouse observed certain cautions on his raids Above; the fence was not electrified, he’d made sure of that. Never knew when you might need a quick way out. He started up, only a foot or two before his companion—and the two great Dobermans burst into view, hot on their trail.

Slimmer and lighter, Miranda swarmed up the fence, bypassing Mouse. The chain link swayed as Mouse scrambled up, his greater weight making his climb more difficult. As Miranda surmounted the top, picking her way over the two strands of barbed wire, the dogs arrived below Mouse, leaping and snapping. Bright beams burst from strategically placed floodlights, as the human guard finally reacted to the dogs’ commotion. Cursing and yelling, the uniformed man came running tardily through the yard, his gun at the ready. 

But it was too late—his intruders were gone, leaving only bits of cloth on the barbs to show they were not phantoms of the dogs’ imaginations.

Across the fence, Mouse and Miranda were putting distance between themselves and the irate guard and angry dogs. Finally they slowed to a walk. It took a moment to catch lost breath; Miranda recovered first. “Now what?”

“We walk. No other entrances near here.”

“Of course.” They proceeded in silence for several more minutes. The cold fetid breeze from the nearby river chilled as it blew by. Quick shivers passed through Miranda. “How far, Mouse?”

“Far.”

“ ‘Do you think that if a person got up every morning like this, it would be just as thrilling every morning to be the first girl out-of-doors? Don’t you think it’s marvelous; to be the first person who is aware that it is morning?’ ”

Mouse ignored her words; ’Randa was retreating further and further into her character. He apologized quickly. “Sorry, ’Randa. No dogs when Mouse was here before.”

“ ‘When your name is Antigone, there is only one part to play; and I must play it through to the end.’ ”

Mouse frowned. It disturbed him when she hid like this. It was not his quiet friend ’Randa speaking; it was one of her many characters. It never bothered him when she rehearsed, but living her parts in real life wasn’t right. Now was not the time to argue about it, though; he felt guilty enough. A quick trip Above and then straight back Below was all she’d wanted; to go along on a quick “finding”. He couldn’t blame her now for hiding. Sometimes he wanted to hide too. But she could do it too easily.

They continued their long journey by foot; the moon set, and then the sun rose pink and orange as they made their careful way back to their home—beneath the crowded noisy streets of New York.

Chapter I

Five Weeks Later


The bright lights of the city illuminated the balcony, overcoming the handicap of a moonless night. Its lone occupant was seated at a glass-topped table. Although an open book proclaimed her occupation, her attention was drawn over and over to the balcony rail. Finally soft sounds blew to her on the breeze. Before she could do more than smile, he was there with her. She rose and threw her arms about him, pulling his great body to her, feeling the peace of her heart within his arms. 

His great black cloak moved slightly with the small winds. He returned the embrace, and allowed the shadowing black hood to fall from his face. A stranger would have gasped, started at the strange, leonine features, the furred cheeks; but this was the face of her love. Catherine Chandler clung to him, oblivious of everything outside of his presence.

Sweet peace flowed through Vincent as well. But the problems from his home followed him; even Catherine’s intoxicating nearness could not block out his worries. She sensed it from him within moments of his arrival. She drew back slightly, to look into his eyes. “Mouse and Miranda again?” His almost imperceptible nod told her he did not wish to speak of it, to bring his troubles to their time together. But love was not only in the shining moments; it dwelt even more in sharing fears and worries, helping to ease the pain.

“What have they done now?” Catherine had heard the accounts before; the raids for tools and parts by the eccentric young engineering genius Mouse were legendary in the world Below, where Vincent belonged. Often in the past Vincent’s retellings had been tinged with humor. Today, and in recent weeks, though, when Vincent spoke about Mouse and his friend Miranda, distress and anxiety colored his words. 

“Last night, the two of them ‘found’ and ‘took’ some electronic parts from an abandoned warehouse. Apparently Miranda knew the items were there; she also knew they had been untouched for a year. A security service that guards many such properties belonged to one of her former…clients.”

Catherine frowned. “Didn’t you tell me that she was terrified to go back Above? That was why you and Father refused to let me talk to her, about—”

“Yes, that is true. That’s one thing that is so troubling. Until all of this began, she would not even accompany the children on errands that might lead Above. Then suddenly, she and Mouse are running to danger.”

“Would you like me to talk to her, Vincent? See if she’ll open up to me?”

“You’ve helped so many in the past. Perhaps Miranda will be able to confide in you. She’s certainly not talking to Father or to me.”

“I’ve heard so much about her, but I still haven’t met her. Tomorrow isn’t possible; how about Wednesday?”

“It can’t be too soon. Father is going to be forced to take some action. The two of them are increasingly reckless; if Jamie and Kipper hadn’t followed them last night. . .”

“Wednesday it is, then.”

“Thank you, Catherine.” Sharing his worries lessened their severity, even if it could not eliminate them. Taking a deep breath, Vincent banished the unpleasantness from his attention. Catherine moved to the table and picked up her book. “This one was one of my favorites when I was 9 or 10, Vincent.” She sat at the table, inviting him to follow suit, then opened the book to a marked passage and began to read aloud.

“ ‘While Meg thought, the beast murmured to her gently. “No, mother is a special, a one-name; and a father you have here. Not just friend, nor teacher, nor brother, nor sister. What is acquaintance ? What a funny, hard word. Aunt. Maybe. Yes, perhaps that will do. And you think of such odd words about me. Thing , and monster ! Monster , what a horrid sort of word. I really do not think I am a monster. Beast . That will do. Aunt Beast .”

“Aunt Beast,” Meg murmured sleepily, and laughed.

“Have I said something funny?” Aunt Beast asked in surprise. “Isn’t Aunt Beast all right?”

“Aunt Beast is lovely,” Meg said. “Please sing to me, Aunt Beast” ’ ”

Deep within, Vincent began to relax, truly leaving the concerns of his life behind, as he listened to her beloved voice and the wonderful familiar tale.


Chapter II


“ ‘I don’t have to listen to you if I don’t want to. There is nothing more you can tell me that I don’t know. Why is it you don’t call out your guards?’ ” Miranda was in full voice; as a result, the person at whom she was yelling winced as her words rang from the stone walls. She stood halfway up the stairs in Father’s chamber, looking down. Father sighed in exasperation. “Miranda Juliet, speak for yourself. I know better than to expect discretion from Mouse. But you should have thought.” 

Miranda bit her lip, tossed her head, and descended the stair to stand scornfully before him, still in character. “ ‘Sometimes it is better not to think too much.’ There was no danger, Father. Mouse needed the stuff. And that warehouse has been sitting there, untouched, for more than a year!”

“I don’t care if it’s been sitting there for a decade, that is stealing, Miranda. Despite my best efforts, I know I cannot always control Mouse. But your part in this is inexcusable. You know better.”

Her voice turned bored and hard; a perfect “hit man” portrayal. “Really, Father; all this fuss for a few bits and pieces.” Father wondered briefly what play she’d pulled this characterization from, as his anger and fear for their safety dictated his words.

“Miranda, if you don’t care about yourself, think about Mouse. Do you want him to be caught?” 

Even as he spoke the words, he winced inwardly. Hadn’t he learned anything in the 20 years since Devin had flown? Father marshaled all his resources, and tried to sound earnest but not scolding. “I don’t want to convene a Circle. But if you cannot control yourself, I’ll have no choice.” 

He couldn’t tell if his words had any effect on her. Her extraordinary acting skills had been her refuge from her life Above; she still lived most of her life as one character or another, even after months spent in the safety of Below. And lately she was defying him at every turn. Even the simplest request set up a battleground; and she was acting in a manner that seemed calculated to bring out the worst in him. 

“May I go now? I have a class to teach.” The insolence in her voice set his teeth on edge. He bit back a sharp retort and nodded, unwilling to trust his voice to obey him. She sauntered out, leaving Father literally seeing red.


Chapter III


“Vincent, I don’t know what’s in her head. She seems to delight in defying me. She’s playing another part; I cannot quite place the play yet. And she’s settled almost exclusively into one character for quite some time. That’s unlike her.” Father gestured toward the forest of open books covering his desk. “Somewhere on my shelves there’s a clue to her behavior. I must say, my collection of drama is getting quite a workout lately.”

Seated across the chessboard from Father, Vincent contemplated the next move with only half his attention. “This problem has been growing for over a month. But in the last week Miranda’s been ... out of control. Something is definitely wrong, Father; her characters have never stayed so well within their scripts before.” The image of “Madame Sarah”, Miranda’s teacher persona, carrying on her classes easily and freely came quickly to him. “Catherine has agreed to come Below, to see if Miranda will confide in her. In the meantime, perhaps Mouse will have some answers.”

“Mouse is part of the problem. The two of them together are capable of heights of mischief neither would dream of alone.” Father sighed. “This cannot go on, Vincent. Heaven knows it will be bad enough if Miranda is caught Above; I shudder to think of it. But Mouse’s wild spirit could not survive a prolonged captivity; and it is very possible he could indirectly reveal us to the authorities Above.” The thought of Mouse or Miranda in the hands of the police was like a knife through him. “If only I had some clue as to why she’s behaving like this!”

Vincent was as troubled as Father. The forays that he had heard of over the pipes during the past month were daring and dangerous; he had the uneasy feeling that he was being spared knowledge of others even worse. Jamie was almost beside herself; Mouse’s chief protector and apologist, she felt Miranda’s influence over her friend was evil incarnate. Vincent still stared at the chessboard, but the pieces and the game did not register. Jamie’s earnest voice rang in his ears.

“She’s going to get him trapped Above, Vincent! That girl is—she’s dangerous!”

“Miranda cares about Mouse too. They are friends…”

“Friends don’t put their friends in danger. That girl is a menace. Can’t we do something?”

“Jamie, Mouse has never been discreet. And he has the right to choose what he wants to do, and with whom he wants to do it.”

“But he doesn’t understand , Vincent,” she moaned. Her fear for Mouse was very real. “And that girl—he spends all his time with her now.” Jamie had the grace to blush as she heard what her words sounded like. “I’m not jealous, really I’m not!” She paused, honestly surveying her inner turmoil. “Well, maybe a little. But she’s bad for him. And she knows it! She encourages him to do all sorts of crazy things. She thinks of things he wouldn’t have dreamed of without her!”

 “Your move, Vincent.” Father’s voice intruded, bringing him back to the chess game at hand.

“Sorry, Father. I was just thinking of Jamie.”

“Yes, she is taking this new friendship between Miranda and Mouse very hard.”

“She’s worried too, Father. For so long she was able to dissuade Mouse from some of his more impractical plans. She feels helpless now, and afraid for his safety.”

“And rightly so. The way the two of them are going, it’s only a matter of time. They are bound to be caught.”

Vincent shook his head, and pushed himself back from the board. “My mind is not on the game, Father. I’m sorry.”

“Frankly, neither is mine. Shall we save it for another day?”

“Yes. I think that’s best. I’m going to try to talk to Miranda again—or failing that, to Mouse. Maybe I can discover what’s going on.”

“Anything is worth a try, Vincent. I'm at my wit’s end over this.”

“I shall tell you whatever I find, Father. And Catherine will speak to her tomorrow. I’m sure there is some reason behind Miranda’s behavior. And perhaps Mouse just needs reminding about ‘finding’ and ‘taking’ again.”

“Perhaps.” Father did not look convinced. Vincent put his hand on the older man’s shoulder, and squeezed gently. “Don’t fret so much, Father. I’m sure that we will find a solution.”

“I can’t bear to think of those two children in the hands of the authorities Above, Vincent. They are both so innocent, despite their ages and experience. Neither of them lives in the real world. And they are tempting the Fates every day.”

“I’ll do my best, Father.”

“No one could expect more.”


Chapter IV


Inside the Mousehole, Mouse was scrunched over a complex plan detailing yet another digging machine. Sprawled on her stomach on two pillows she’d grabbed from the pile below the entrance chute, Miranda rested her head in her hands, elbows on the floor, as she studied one of her inevitable scripts. From time to time she shivered, almost unconsciously. Despite her layers of clothing, Miranda was always cold.

Arthur chittered contentedly from his perch on the small of her back; every few moments she reached absently around and patted the fuzzy raccoon. 

Mouse muttered to himself as he puzzled over his schematics. With the ease of familiarity, Miranda ignored him completely. In a moment, she, too, began to speak aloud; but her words were no more directed to Mouse than his had been to her.

“ ‘What should I do, all alone on the earth, if you were to leave me? Swear you’ll never leave me?’ ” She listened to her own voice, then repeated the words several times, trying different inflections, different interpretations. Mouse paid her no heed. This was a standing routine; several mornings a week, the two of them spent hours doing their individual work together. 

“ ‘That’s so easy to say. I hope you don’t really mean to leave me. If you really want to make me happy, swear you’ll never even want to leave me, even for a minute, even if the prettiest girl in the world looked at you.’ ”

Vincent arrived outside the Mousehole as she continued. “ ‘You see how false you are! You swear that even if the prettiest girl in the world looked at you, you wouldn’t want to leave me. But to know that she looked at you, you’d have to look at her. Oh, dear God, how unhappy I am! You’ve only just begun to love me, and already you’re thinking of other women. Swear you wouldn’t even see the idiot, my darling...’ ”

He stayed outside, to listen, as he had the first time they’d met. She tried the set of speeches four times. Coquettish, earnest, vapid, frightened, despairing—all appeared and were blended smoothly into the final recital. She repeated it once more, the interpretation solidifying into a human being, built as he listened. Then he stepped through the entrance, making his usually noiseless tread loud enough to attract attention.

Arthur was the first to notice him; he chittered a welcome without moving from his cozy perch. Mouse and Miranda both looked up, and Mouse smiled at his oldest and most trusted friend. The expression on Miranda’s face was not clear. Vincent knew that alone meant that Miranda, for the moment at least, wasn’t hiding in a character.

“Hello, Mouse, Miranda. I’m glad to see you together. I came to speak to you.”

Instantly the vagueness of Miranda’s expression settled into quiet, studied contempt. Inwardly Vincent sighed. She’d retreated again; reaching her would be difficult, perhaps impossible.

Mouse looked a little guilty, a bit ashamed; Vincent addressed his words more to the blond youth than to Miranda. “Father is very worried. The news of your adventure last night has reached him.”

“We heard where there were parts, Vincent; electronic gizmos, little bits, pieces.”

“I know, Mouse; the details have traveled over the pipes. I understand that if Jamie and Kipper hadn’t been able to distract the guard, both of you would have been captured.”

“Wasn’t that bad, Vincent. We would’ve got away.”

Vincent’s voice, as usual, was gentle. “Miranda? Do you agree with Mouse?”

“ ‘Stop feeling sorry for me. Do your job. But...do it quickly. That is all I ask of you.’” Miranda’s voice was passionate, controlled, rich and compelling. Vincent knew those elements meant that it was not Miranda speaking. Her own voice, seldom heard, was quiet and hesitant, never decisive and strong. 

“What you are doing is dangerous—for all of us. If you are caught, our world might be revealed through you. I know neither of you wishes this to happen.”

Mouse was torn between his usual bravado, and the knowledge that somehow things were out of control. He felt nearly as helpless as when he had been sentenced to a month’s silence. “Okay good, okay fine,” he muttered, not meeting Vincent’s eyes.

Miranda was regally silent, somehow exuding nobility while lying on her stomach with a raccoon on her back. Somewhere within, Vincent marveled again at her talent. More immediately, he was annoyed at her ability to hide from his words; from the reality of what she was doing.

“Do you agree with Mouse, Miranda? To try to restrain yourselves; perhaps go so far as to ask advice in the future?” The sarcasm surprised even Vincent; he very seldom resorted to such tactics. Mouse looked startled; Arthur chittered at the unexpected note in Vincent’s voice. But Miranda never lost the cool scorn of her expression, the quiet contempt in her eyes. “ ‘You’re going to a lot of trouble for no good reason. You must know that I’ll do it all over again tonight.’ ”

“Miranda, you must listen to me.” Vincent crouched directly in front of her, trying to break through to the actress beneath the character. “You cannot go on as you have been. A Circle will be called the next time. You are not only foolishly endangering yourself, you are risking the safety of every man, woman, and child in our world.” He stared straight into her eyes, trying to break through by sheer force of will.

Her eyes met his steadily—cool, scornful, hard. He might as well have recited the Gettysburg address or explained pipe codes. Vincent felt anger rise within him, an anger rarer than his sarcasm. “You know the punishment if you continue, Miranda.”

“ ‘Yes, I knew the punishment.’ ”

Vincent was seized by a desire to shake her. Whoever she was playing had all the answers. She still spoke directly from a script, he noted; that was unusual. Father had to be right; if they could figure out the play she was pulling herself from, there might be a clue as to why she was behaving so—out-of-character.

Frustrated, he stood up, turned back to Mouse. “Remember what I’ve said, Mouse.”

“Yes, Vincent. Mouse will remember.”

Perhaps Mouse could control Miranda, Vincent thought as he left the deep chamber. A reluctant smile tugged at his lips as he contemplated the reversal of roles. Who would have imagined hoping that Mouse would be the restrained one? 

He stopped and looked back to the illuminated entry to the Mousehole. “I don’t know how to reach you, Miranda,” he murmured aloud. “I hope Catherine can. But something must. This cannot be allowed to continue.”

Then he strode away to tell Father of his failure.


Chapter V


In the chamber Vincent had so recently left, Mouse, too, was trying to reach Miranda. Since she’d ventured Above with him that first time, she’d been—different. And for the last week, she was frenzied, yet calm; as if awaiting but dreading an inevitable stroke of doom.

Mouse had watched Miranda with other people; he was aware that the Miranda they saw was not the girl he knew, the one he spent his time with. For five weeks Miranda had been reckless, not like herself; but exactly a week ago, the last time they’d visited the Burch Tower site, something had abruptly changed.

That had been another close call. There were too many close calls lately, even for Mouse.

Miranda’s attention had returned to her script. Mouse walked slowly over, knelt on the floor in front of her, where Vincent had crouched. “’Randa—”

She glanced up, saw the somber look in his eyes. It was unusual for Mouse to look truly serious, but that he certainly was now. “ ‘Et tu, Mouse?’ ” she muttered under her breath. 

“No, ’Randa—no pretending. Just me and you.”

“Okay, Mouse.” Her voice was not the same one Vincent had listened to, Mouse noted happily. This was his friend ’Randa. “Listen to Vincent, ’Randa. Not safe. No more going Up Top—for a little while.”

Miranda gazed back at him, meeting his solemn regard, for a long, still moment. The expression on her face was a little sad, a little wistful. It reminded Mouse of a week ago, when they’d returned from the failed foray to the Burch Tower.

* * *


Miranda shook with reaction. Her hands trembled; she was very pale. Mouse was just glad the guard was slow; slow and unarmed. Visiting the Tower site was never safe, but tonight was worse than any time since they’d caught Mouse while the building was still under construction. It was odd, too; the guard there had recognized Miranda, called her by a strange name. Mouse pondered it as the two slumped in silence in Mouse’s vast chamber. Then Miranda spoke. Her face had been sad and wistful—as it was now. 

 “Mouse—do you ever wonder if everyone likes you for what you can do, and not just for being Mouse?” Her voice, always soft around him, was almost inaudible.

Mouse was puzzled. “Mouse is what Mouse does.”

“No, no. I mean, don’t you ever think people might just want you around for your machines?”

Mouse struggled to understand. Of course the Tunnel dwellers liked his machines; but they liked Mouse, too. The bewilderment on his face answered her question. The stillness had been broken only by Arthur’s foraging through the clutter, in search of an overlooked snack. Then Miranda turned away from him, and asked, “What’s it like to be loved, Mouse?”

 This was even more baffling. “Ask Vincent—not Mouse.”

“No, not like that. Everyone here loves you—Father, Vincent, Mary, Jamie, William; everyone. What’s it like?”

Mouse still did not understand. After another long silence, Miranda had changed the subject. She’d never mentioned love—or what had happened that evening at the Tower site—again.

 All of this flew through Mouse’s mind as she sat, melancholy once more, in silence. Finally she spoke. “I’m going back Up Top tonight, Mouse. To the Burch Tower. You don’t have to come if you don’t want to.” She looked forlorn. “I have to go, Mouse. It’s my fate. But this should be the last time.”

“No , ’Randa. Up Top can wait. Still be there later. Listen to Vincent; listen to Father; listen to Mouse. Stay Below, where you belong.”

Miranda lowered her eyes as Mouse finished his plea. To his astonishment, he saw tears dripping onto her open script. “Thank you, Mouse,” she whispered, her voice still small and familiar. “But I don’t think most people believe that.”

Mouse was confused. Before he could question her, though, she stood up, carefully sliding Arthur onto the floor. The raccoon chittered in annoyance and plodded back to his water dish as she said, “You win. I’ll stay Below.” Her voice was strong and resonant. She didn’t look at him as she gathered her script from the floor, and started out the door. “Goodbye, dear Mouse, my best friend.”

“Wait—’Randa—wait!” Mouse called after her, but she’d slipped into the stone tunnel, and then out of sight. Mouse shook his head. He would have to find her before tonight, and be sure he stuck with her. She was acting very strangely indeed—even for his friend ’Randa.


Chapter VI


“Christine—she doesn’t belong here. She’s a troublemaker. Didn’t you hear about what she dragged Mouse into again last night?” Jamie’s voice was impatient. Christine had been one of her good friends, but all they’d done lately was argue, and on only one topic.

“Mouse wasn’t noted for his restraint even when he spent all his time with you. And Madame Sarah is…”

“ ‘Madame Sarah’ indeed!” Jamie interrupted. “Her name is Miranda. At least that’s what she told the Council.” 

 Christine was one of Miranda’s original acting students; it was she who’d first proposed her for residency Below. No one was more fiercely loyal. However, lately even Christine had to acknowledge Miranda had a penchant for trouble. But when Jamie sneered, she always leapt to her teacher’s defense.

“Madame Sarah is just another name she uses, for the teacher part of her,” Christine explained yet again, with the air of one speaking to a backward child. “And I think of her that way. It was the first name I knew for her.”

Jamie, always straightforward, could not comprehend the layered labyrinths of Miranda’s personality. To her, it seemed like so much make-believe; just a way out of being responsible for what she did.

“Yeah—well, if it wasn’t for Kipper and me, your precious ‘Madame Sarah’ would be in jail—and she’d’ve taken Mouse with her!”

Christine had no answer. Even in class, Miranda had been acting erratically. “Madame Sarah” was distracted; for the first time Christine could remember, Miranda had fallen out of character. It was a small lapse, but even a small raindrop is a surprise in a desert.

Sensing she’d won a rare victory, Jamie immediately changed the subject, and the two left the fate of Miranda and Mouse in the air.


Chapter VII


“Aha!” Father looked down triumphantly at the open volume on his desk. “So that is who you’ve been this past week, Miranda! Anouilh’s Antigone; the doomed tragic heroine.” The triumph fled, to be replaced by a scowl. “But what does it mean?” Father pulled off his glasses, rubbed his always-tired eyes. Before he could replace the spectacles, Mouse burst into the chamber, looking frighteningly disheveled, even for Mouse. 

“Father—” he scanned the chamber, his eyes darting desperately, seeking, fearing not to find. “Vincent—where’s Vincent?”

“What is it, Mouse?” Father closed the volume without looking. “Vincent, I believe, is in the chambers below the lower caverns.”

“Too far, too far,” moaned Mouse, turning as if to dash away again, in search of Vincent.

Father rose, catching Mouse by the shoulders. “What is it, Mouse? What’s wrong?” He had a sinking feeling he knew.

“’Randa—gone Up Top.” He gestured vaguely toward the ceiling. “Mouse knows. She said she wouldn’t, but she did!” 

“Where , Mouse? Do you have any idea?” Father kept his hands on the young man’s shoulders.

“’Randa said—the Burch Tower. Don’t know why. Almost caught there last week.” Mouse colored at Father’s quick start of surprise. “Mouse promised ’Randa not to tell. Guard saw her—called to her. Called her—Emjay?”

“M.J.?” A flash of conversation sounded in Father’s head; Miranda, only Below a matter of weeks, telling him, “No one’s ever called me Miranda before. It’s my name; but in school I was Julie; and—he called me M.J.” “He” was her father—the man from whom she’d fled.  

“Yes, Father—M.J.” Mouse was puzzled, and bursting with impatience and fear for his friend. 

Father rose, started out of his chamber. As he limped out, Mouse trailing him, he said, “Summon Vincent over the pipes. Tell him to meet me at the Tower site. And stay here , Mouse; don’t go Above!”

Mouse, looking frightened and worried, hastened to obey. He scrambled away, as Father, stick in hand, moved as rapidly as he could toward the long-abandoned foundation intended to be the Burch Tower.


Chapter VIII


Father emerged from the pipe to see the back of a tall man with lightish hair, who had a firm grip on Miranda’s wrist. He was leading her toward the double gates, now flung open, to a waiting car. Miranda did not seem to be resisting; maybe she had learned a little discretion. Father cursed silently. If the police had her, perhaps Catherine could help; Miranda was in for a rough time no matter what.

Then the man leading Miranda turned, and Father saw his face. The resemblance was astounding; Vincent had spotted it from 20-year-old mug shots. The man whose grip on Miranda’s wrist never slackened was Thomas Keithley, her father—and the man who’d sold her body for four years, the man from whom she’d escaped to the Tunnels.

Keithley saw Father in the shadows; he stopped, jerked Miranda around until she was behind him again. “This is private property, mister.” His voice was rich but soulless; a masculine caricature of his daughter’s. 

Miranda stiffened as she peered into the darkness, trying to see to whom Keithley spoke. “Someone you know, M.J.?” He dragged her closer. “Maybe the man you ran away for?” He surveyed the older man with Miranda’s insolence. “Doesn’t look like much of a bargain to me.” 

Miranda remained silent, but her eyes were speaking to Father. In them he read the fear and desperation she did not show. He took a step closer to the two. She focused completely on him; all her being tried to communicate without Keithley’s knowledge. Father could read the message as clearly as if it were displayed on the sign in Times Square; but he could not leave her to the mercies of the monster who had sired her.

Miranda seemed to sense what she was doing would not work; suddenly her look was as insolent as Keithley’s. In a loathsome way, it fascinated Father; parent and child, as she mirrored the evil within Keithley back to him, wearing it as a disguise. When she spoke, it was in the tone that drove Father mad; now he knew exactly where it came from.

“No bargain is right; just some old jerk. I was coming back, to try to find you; I got sick of living like a dog.” She jerked her head toward Father, the picture of a ruthless bitch.

Keithley laughed; it was not a pleasant laugh. “M.J., your mother pulled the same tricks. I’ve told you before; they don’t work on me.” He backhanded her casually, without releasing her wrist; she staggered and bit her lip against the pain.

Father took a step closer. They now stood some fifteen feet apart. “Why don’t you let her go?” He strove to keep the burning rage out of his voice. He was stalling for time; time for Mouse’s message to summon Vincent.

“Make me, old man.” Keithley’s free hand dipped into his jacket and returned with a gun. “Make me.”

The sight of the gun galvanized Miranda; she began to struggle frantically, trying to free her wrist. But Keithley’s grip was iron; all her struggles were of no avail.

“Anyone she’s so scared for has to be trouble.” The gun pointed unwaveringly at Father.

From the opposite end of the construction site came a familiar roar; Keithley jerked toward the sound. The motion was just enough for Miranda; she yanked free. Keithley’s attention returned to the business at hand. Then everything happened at once.

Later it seemed to Father that he’d watched through the wrong end of binoculars. Everything was sharp and clearly focused and remote.

First there was Vincent, looming huge and powerful some hundred yards away. Another great roar escaped him. Keithley glanced over, decided to protect his flank first. He leveled the gun at the older man; Miranda screamed “Father!”, then something heavy struck the older man squarely in the middle of the chest. The gun went off, Vincent pounced, and Father fell beneath the weight; all in what he later swore was the same instant. Within seconds Keithley, too, lay on the ground. 

The fall stunned Father for a moment; whatever had struck him lay across his body. He was dimly aware of Vincent dropping to his knees next to him, as he caught his breath. His son’s eyes were just becoming human again; blood still dripped from the claws at the ends of his fingers. Vincent peeled the weight from him, and helped him to a sitting position. 

The weight, otherwise known as Miranda, still dazed but basically unharmed, lay where Vincent had left her. This was the first time she had witnessed Vincent’s Beast. The observant player within her was fascinated, noting every motion. But her eyes were drawn away from him, to the bloodied form lying still only a few feet away. No one could make her return to what she had been now; Keithley was dead.


Chapter IX


“What happened then?” Cathy was totally involved in Vincent’s tale of the misadventure at the Burch Tower site.

“Nothing happened then, Catherine. What troubles me is what will happen now.”

“What do you mean nothing happened then, Vincent?”

“Father got up, and read Miranda a very stern lecture all the way back to his chamber. He was not hurt; except for a few uncomfortable bruises, incurred when Miranda knocked him down. A small price to pay; she saved his life. Miranda herself had a cut on her head, bruises on her face and wrists. I was—unharmed.” Catherine knew that was not strictly true. Vincent suffered the actions of his wild, dark side, his Beast, as incidents that proved he was not truly human. And he’d been forced to kill again; that took a great toll upon him as well. There was very little sympathy within her for this Miranda now. Lost child or not, she’d risked Vincent’s life, and hurt him in deep ways, by forcing the wild side to defend her.

Vincent sensed her emotions through their bond. The anger he felt within her troubled him. “What you are feeling, Catherine, seems to be the feeling of the Council and the community as well.” Catherine was not surprised; those Below knew Vincent’s worth, and Father’s, and prized the two of them. Anything that would cause them to be at risk would not meet with favor.

“Catherine, Miranda did not wish either Father or me to follow her; to rescue her. She believed she was fated to return to her former life. If Mouse had not realized where she had gone, and come to Father, she would be selling her body on the streets again.” Vincent’s words were intended to be harsh, painting a picture to haunt Catherine’s dreams. But even so, Cathy’s anger remained. This girl—surely she knew that Mouse would fetch Father and Vincent. 

Vincent sighed. If he could not convince even his great-hearted Catherine, what chance did he and Father stand of convincing the Council?

Catherine saw Vincent’s melancholy, but could not understand it. “She’s safe now, isn’t she, Vincent? You said...”

“She is Below now, that is true. But a meeting of the Council has been called; I must leave in just a few moments to attend.” He paced away from her, not seeing the lighted vista of the city and the park that spread out below him. “Catherine, I know that William at least intends to call for a Circle, to ask that Miranda be given the Silence.”

Cathy knew that Mouse had been similarly sentenced, not all that long ago; but his term had been broken by the cave-in that trapped Father and Vincent inside the Maze. Even then—it did not seem like such an unjust punishment to her. Maybe it would teach Miranda.

 Once again the tenor of her thoughts reached Vincent through their bond. He spun to face her, rare anger gleaming in his oh-so-blue eyes. “This is not worthy of you, Catherine. We are speaking of a child here; an abused child, who is just beginning to trust. And Miranda lives within her words; if no one will speak or listen, she is—not.”

Catherine could not be persuaded. Vincent had risked his life for that girl, to save her from something she had been warned against. Some kind of punishment was in order.

Vincent was struck then by a grave foreboding—the sure knowledge that if—no, when, Miranda was Silenced, something was going to happen to her. He did not know what, or why, but she would not come through this unscathed.

“I must return for the Council meeting, Catherine. Consider this, though—the reasons you have just advanced for Miranda’s punishment, are exactly the reasons Father did not wish me to remain involved with you.” 

Then he was gone, leaving her to reject his words—except for the small voice at the edge of her mind that whispered that he was right.


Chapter X


“You have broken our rules...” Father heard his own voice speaking the formula he had spoken before. It was but 36 hours after the events of the Burch Tower; the bruises in unmentionable places were still stiff and tender. But he sat behind his desk, the symbol of his position, and continued.

He always regretted the need for such a gathering; but never had he felt so wrong as he spoke. His measured words fell more heavily than they ever had. He wanted to call back each syllable as it sounded in his chamber. Nonetheless, it was his place to conduct this, and so he proceeded, each word wrung from him over the vehement protests of his sensibilities.

Vincent heard the familiar sentences ringing out over the gathered Tunnel dwellers. He looked toward Miranda, standing in the center of the group. Her chin was proudly erect. Her eyes were filled with resolve and a trace of pity for those who would sentence her. Her body was held square and her feet were set apart, as though she were more accustomed to sitting astride a horse than standing. It was Joan of Arc who faced those who would martyr her. Vincent recognized the unique stamp of that favorite character of Miranda’s. Perhaps she could come through the days ahead unscathed, if she could hide so well inside her characters. But he doubted Miranda had the strength within required. Even Mouse, solitary by nature, had suffered during the abbreviated term of his own sentence of Silence. And Vincent had no doubts that this group would impose the same sentence on Miranda now.

He remembered the Council meeting that had preceded this Circle. He and Father had pleaded; Father had gone so far as to try to dismiss William’s call for the Circle. But the other members of the Council, led by the adamant cook, had refused to budge.

It was flattering and warming to know they were so concerned for Father and for him; but the weight of their anger against Miranda decreed the outcome. 

Father had finished with the charges. “All those in favor of imposing the punishment...” His voice trailed off, his face aging before Vincent’s eyes as he began the pronouncement of Miranda’s fate. He took a deep breath, and continued, “...please so indicate.”

Vincent looked around him. There were upwards of 50 people crowded into Father’s chamber; one by one, he saw them turn away. Mouse’s voice rang out then, pleading. “No—can’t do this! Not to ’Randa!”

“Mouse—” Father spoke sternly. He secretly wanted to applaud, but he also knew that Mouse’s support would not further Miranda’s cause. If anything, it could hurt. Inside his head, there was a grim laugh at that. There was no way to further hurt Miranda’s case. Father had known from the moment he’d been unable to derail the Council that this was inevitable. He’d feared it for weeks now. And he would have to speak the sentence to her; he would have to turn away from those ever-changing eyes, to know that beneath her surface characters, Miranda was weeping.

He looked around his chamber. Of the 56 people present, he saw only 11 faces—her first group of 9 students, Mouse, and Vincent—and 44 backs. As much as he knew he should, he could not add his own vote to impose Silence on her. But the moment had come.

“Miranda—since you won’t listen, perhaps our silence will teach you the lesson that our words could not. For one month…” He looked directly at her—at Joan of Arc before the Tribunal. Just as Joan must have, there was fear behind the pride, faith and pity in her eyes. Father knew the fear was there whenever Miranda played Joan. But this time, it struck a more personal note. He had to clear his throat to finish.

“...no man, woman or child will speak to you. The sentence will begin—now.”

Father had averted his eyes at the last moment, unable to look at her as he pronounced the devastating words. Her students were watching Father; only Vincent saw the shudder that ran down her. And he was not sure; had Joan of Arc shivered, or had Miranda been forced to react?

The assembled crowd began to file from the chamber, all studiously not looking at Miranda. Mouse moved to her side, and determinedly, defiantly, began to talk to her. Miranda turned to him with a quick shake of her head. Joan to the last, she murmured, “No, my friend. You must abide by the rules.” She turned from him then, leaving Jamie to impatiently and disapprovingly tug him away.

Miranda stood utterly still until the chamber was empty except for Father and Vincent. 

Vincent turned his face from her, as she had turned from Mouse. But he could not leave so—just loud enough for her to hear, as he left, he whispered, “Be strong, Miranda.” Then he was gone, leaving Father and Miranda alone.

The man who was truly the father of all the many Tunnel children steeled himself, and met the eyes of his newest child. Joan of Arc still looked back. Not even her gaze reflected anything but what the Maid of Orleans felt. Father wanted to reach out to her, to touch her one time before he began the sentence; but he could not. With a heavy heart, he turned away from her, and left his own chamber. 

No one saw Miranda cross the room to Father’s desk. Joan of Arc had vanished with her audience. Miranda seemed to have shrunk, gathered in on herself; her own presence did not take up the space her characters did. 

She looked younger than her years now, small and lost and scared. She reached out to touch the leather box with the silver rose—Father’s beloved chess set. Her fingers barely grazed it. She lifted the box, and hugged it to her for a moment. She brushed her cheek against the rose, tears welling in her eyes. Then, carefully, she replaced the leather box exactly as she had found it, and slipped out of the vast chamber.


Chapter XI


Father never knew what had roused him an hour early that morning. Perhaps it had been some small sound; his sleep had been disturbed, full of unpleasant dreams, in the week since the Circle had Silenced Miranda.

The alarm in his head was usually quite reliable; he always awoke at seven, give or take five minutes. But this morning, it was before six when he found himself awake, and unable to sleep any longer. 

Determined to make use of this extra time, he headed for his entryway, inspection-tour bound. He stepped into the cool, torchlit corridor, when a flash of something white caught his eye. He turned around, looking at the curved, cold stone wall.

Next to the opening that led into his chamber, there was what looked like a bundle of cloth. He looked at it in curiosity, wondering who had left it, when he realized it was a thin blanket, patched and repatched, from one of the sleeping chambers. And it was wrapped around a sleeping form.

Father had long ago lost count of the children who had sought comfort in the night in his chamber. Many of the troubled children found a mother in Mary, but night fears seemed to call for a father. For a long time, seldom had a week gone by without at least one small voice in the night seeking the security of his presence.

For the past few years, most of the children had turned to Vincent for nightmare comfort. A few still sought him out, but it was not such a frequent occurrence nowadays, and his now-older body thanked Vincent for the undisturbed nights. 

The sleepy children who came seeking in the night sometimes didn’t make it all the way to their destination, so it was never unusual to find a youngster asleep somewhere between the children’s sleeping chambers and his own rooms. It was sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant, depending on the child.

But the blanketed figure today seemed rather big for one of the children. Father leaned silently down, not wanting to awaken the child too abruptly.

He saw tousled brown-blonde hair, and the soft curve of a young woman’s cheek. He was staggered by the pain as he realized this lost child was Miranda.

He stumbled back into his chamber, trying to decide what to do. He was bound by the Circle’s ruling; he should not speak to her. Traditionally, this meant a general avoidance as well. But Miranda’s presence outside his door bespoke great need; how could he let her go without the comfort she sought?

The two sides of his nature battled. He was a nurturing man, who believed in the power of the heart. But he was also a law-giver, a rule-maker, who knew even the closest, most loving communities had to have rules. He felt the weight of his position again. More than others, he must lead by example.

But which example—the law or the heart?

In the end, the decision was easy. Where there was need, there must be giving. His choice made, Father returned to the corridor, ready to break the Silence—for at least the time it took to let Miranda know she was loved—when he found there was no decision to be made. Miranda was gone.


Chapter XII


With the skill of long practice, a man now known as John Delancie made his way stealthily down the slope to the great drainage pipe, and slipped into its mouth. As he entered, his hand went automatically to his cheek, touching the parallel scars there beneath the light growth of beard. He moved toward the iron gate guarding the secret door, wondering how he could make his way through if there was no one who knew him on sentry duty.

He needn’t have worried; before he reached the iron bars, a figure stepped in front of him, black cloak making him no more than an immense dark presence. John smiled. It never ceased to amaze him how his baby brother had grown up.

“Hello again, Vincent.”

“Devin?” Vincent pushed back his hood, took a step toward the intruder.

“I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop in. How’s the Old Man?”

Vincent stared for a short moment, then swept his brother into a tight embrace. “He is well. It’s good to see you again, Devin. We did not expect you.”

“I didn’t expect to be here, Vincent. I was just passing through the city, planning to spend a few days, then move on.” He didn’t need to add that he had not been planning to visit them Below; there was a slightly embarrassed edge to his words that Vincent could read quite clearly.

The cloaked man moved to open the great iron gate, and swing away the door behind it. “Do you have time to visit Father? I am sure he will want to see you.”

Devin fell in step beside him. “As a matter of fact, Vincent, that’s why I came. I think I’ve met someone who should come Below. She needs a safe place, and a lot of love, I think.” He turned to his brother. “What were you doing hanging around the gate again? Chandler can't've told you I was coming this time.”

Vincent’s velvet graveled voice was troubled. “One of our…children…has run away. We have been searching for her for more than two weeks now.”

“A run-in with the Old Man?” Devin harkened back to his own childhood escape.

“She was Silenced, Devin.”

Devin whistled low between his teeth. “Good grief, Vincent. That only happened twice while we were growing up.”

“And but once more since then. Father and I fought this, but we could not prevent the Council from bringing it before the community.” The two men were deep in the tunnel world by then, approaching Father’s chamber.

“You said she was a child, Vincent. A child Silenced?”

“She is nineteen, Devin, but still a child.”

“What did she do?” The punishment was so rare; it must have been quite an exploit.

“Many things.” Vincent was reluctant to discuss it further, but Devin pressed him, and at last he said, “The final impetus was a foray Above she knew was—dangerous. Father heard of it and went to her aid.”

“The Old Man went Above?” Devin’s jaw dropped.

“Yes, Devin. He has been Above several times in recent years.”

“So he went up to save this girl. Then what?”

“Father had word sent to me. I came as quickly as I could, but I was far away.”

“What happened , Vincent?” Devin was spellbound.

“It is a long story. And here we are at Father’s chamber.” Vincent was trying to avoid the rest of the tale.

“You can’t leave me hanging like this, Vincent.” Devin stood his ground at the entry to the vast book-lined chamber. “You have to finish.”

“Perhaps later.” Vincent stepped into Father’s chamber, seeking their parent.

The older man was reading at his desk—or trying to. For two weeks, every sound outside his chamber had raised hope in his heart. Vincent’s voice in the tunnel had given him a moment of possibility.

“Father—look who’s come.”

“Devin!” All the delight he felt at the unexpected sight of his son almost covered the flicker of disappointment that Miranda had not yet been found.

“Hello, Father.”

“What brings you to New York?”

“Just passing through. But Father, I met someone I think you could help.”

“Help, Devin?”

The younger man explained, as he had to Vincent. “A girl. I think she needs a safe place and a lot of love.”

“And where did you meet her?”

“She tried to pick me up. And a more pitiful pick-up attempt I’ve never seen. She stammered, Vincent.” He turned to face his brother. “She looked hungry and tired—and terrified. She knew all the words, but she didn’t know how to make them mean anything.” He looked back to Father, to plead her case further. “She’s only a baby; she should be in school, not out picking up old men like me.”

Father nodded, but his eyes did not see either of his sons. The image of Miranda, playing the hardened whore to her father’s unimpressed audience, unfolded before him. “Very well, Devin. You may bring her Below for sanctuary. Her final fate is up to the Council, though.”

“Vincent was telling me you’ve had some excitement here.”

“Excitement?”

“He told me you went Above to rescue one of the children.”

“In a sense.” Despite having reached her presumptive majority, Miranda was still a child. He again saw her curled up by the doorway to his chamber, seeking the security she craved. He bit his lip and looked away, determined not to break down. How had this defiant, talented, willful, needy girl gotten so far into his heart? He loved all the children, and tried to do so equally, but, despite his best efforts, some were just special. Vincent, Devin, Johnny, Samantha, Eric, Caitlin, Jamie, Mouse—and Miranda, among others. If he could pick which children to let his heart ache for, who to cherish especially, he would choose differently—or would he?

The moment of philosophical reflection had calmed him enough to turn back to Devin. His son was astonished at the sparkle of moisture, the pain his off-hand remark had brought to those wise grey eyes. 

It made him even more eager to hear this tale. He resolved to corner Vincent on the way out, and force it out of him. 

It also set him back. For a moment, he saw a younger Father, a still-childish Vincent, searching for a vanished boy—himself. Despite their words at his last visit, his first in 20 years, he hadn’t understood what they meant by pained references to the search for him, after he had run away.

He was suddenly ashamed again—ashamed, as always, of having to leave Vincent behind—but also, for the first time, ashamed of the pain he’d brought to his father.

“Well, I guess I’d better be going. Miranda might be wondering where I went to.”

“Miranda?” Father and Vincent chorused the name. Father was on his feet, coming toward him; Vincent had closed in as well.

“My waif. Miranda Juliet Stewart Keithley. Quite a mouthful for such a plain little thing.”

“You say she’s safe?”

“I left her asleep in my hole-in-the-wall transient apartment.” Devin was utterly confused, then abruptly he knew. “So my waif is your runaway.” It was briefly amusing, but then he pictured the stammering, frightened child he had taken in Silenced.

An enormous righteous anger began to build in him. He had not felt its like since Mitch had convinced some of the other boys not to play with Vincent because he was “different.”

“You’re going to finish that story now, Vincent, whether you want to or not. I want to know what that poor terrified girl did that was so terrible it got her Silenced.” His anger encompassed both of them. 

Father looked relieved, and yet ten years older. “Devin, your ‘poor terrified girl’ is the finest actress it has ever been my privilege to see; both on and off the stage. Yet from what you’ve said, you’ve never seen any sign of her talent; seen her change characters, speak in Shakespearean quotations?”

“Are we talking about the same girl? Medium height, medium hair, right between brown and blonde, most average-looking girl you’ve ever seen?”

“That is Miranda.” Vincent spoke now. 

“And you’re telling me she’s an actress? Vincent, she can’t say three words without stammering! You can barely hear her when she talks.”

A new worry entered Father’s eyes. He remembered Devin’s words about their first meeting, and also what Miranda had been before she came Below. The two did not match. Something was very wrong. And the name—Miranda had always steadfastly refused to be known by her father’s surname. Identifying herself to Devin with that name meant frightening things.

“Father—you, and I, and Mouse all know Miranda from her characters by her voice.” Then Vincent turned to his older brother. Devin’s eyes were bright with anger. “Devin, Father is right; Miranda has a power that is beyond mere talent. The first time I met her, we played a scene from Romeo and Juliet together.” Vincent’s eyes had become distant as he remembered entering Miranda’s “theatre chamber” and joining in the scene she rehearsed alone.

“It was the lark and nightingale scene, Devin. Juliet insists it is the nightingale, and Romeo knows it for the lark, heralding morn and his departure.” 

Devin nodded, knowing what the scene meant.

“She was Juliet, pleading with an invisible Romeo, when I joined her. For those brief moments, Devin, I was no longer Below—I was high in a castle, seeing the first rays of sun shine in the balcony window. And I was no longer what you see here before you—I was Romeo.” Vincent was silent then, reliving the moments he spent under her spell, believing himself to be the romantic hero of the great tragedy.

Father added his own words to Vincent’s; the two of them told Devin how Miranda had first come Below. How could this be the same girl? 

If any of them had looked toward the entryway to Father’s chamber, they would have seen a shadow and a glimpse of shaggy blond hair. As silent and as furtive as his namesake, Mouse listened as they talked of his friend.


Chapter XIII


Miranda sat at the small scarred formica table in the tiny kitchen. Hardly even daring to breathe, she clutched her prize tightly in her hand. She hadn’t turned on the light; John might return at any moment.

She didn’t think; there was no room inside her head for thought. There was no room for anything except the gathering pressure, pushing outward so she was sure she would explode. Her characters were gone; she could not find someone to be now. They had vanished Below, somewhere within the Silence. If John hadn’t picked her up and taken her in, she didn’t know what she would have done. She couldn’t even hook anymore—no one looked twice at her.

The stray thoughts around the edge of her mind remembered, but her entire force was bent upon the small object in her hand. Without knowing how or why, she knew this was the answer to her problems. She held it in her left hand, and pressed the lever with her thumb; a red and blue flame sprang to a height of two inches. She stared at the flickering fire for a moment, seeing release and help in its bright depths.

This was it. She rolled up her sleeve, held out her right arm, and raised the lighter until the flame caressed her flesh. The sensation did not feel like pain. She remembered a book she had read, long ago, before she came to New York. Like the girl in the book, this was a backfire; it didn’t burn, it was a safety valve, to let the pressure dissipate before it destroyed her.

She watched the flame touching her arm. The sight was hypnotic; she was totally absorbed in her own destruction. She didn’t hear the door open, or the nearly silent entrance of the man she knew as John.


* * *


John/Devin opened the door as quietly as possible. Miranda was probably still asleep; he didn’t want to disturb her. He needed time to digest this new knowledge; who she was, what she was, what she had been before. 

He shook his head; how could Vincent have allowed something like that to happen to her? The Old Man he could almost understand. That was his way. He was the voice of order Below; what the Council decided, he felt honor-bound to obey.

But Vincent’s complicity, and the failure of the two of them to ward off this fate for Miranda, still had the power to enrage him. She was such a fragile thing; there seemed to be nothing to her. 

Their descriptions of her magical acting abilities ran through his mind. At first he had been unwilling to believe this was the same girl. He’d never seen the switches of persona, the quotations they spoke of. He saw only the timid, average girl who had stammered as she tried to pick him up in the park, looking woefully inexperienced. It seemed impossible that this plain, soft-spoken creature could be the high-priced call girl, so in demand for her abilities. But the name was the same, down to the last syllable; she fit the description Father and Vincent had given of their Miranda. And the trade she’d been practicing, or trying to—surely there couldn’t be two teenaged prostitutes with that name!

She belonged back Below. In Father’s eyes, in Vincent’s voice, he’d learned how much they cared. Below had been a prison for him; for Miranda, it could be a haven. He knew it. But he was confused and worried by the change in personality from the girl they had told him of to the one he knew now. 


* * *


All these thoughts passed through his mind as he entered the small flat. Everything was in darkness, as he had expected. Then he saw the tiny flame in the kitchen. 

He approached the little room soft-footed, curious. At first he could not comprehend the scene before him. The flickering flame was the only illumination, and everything looked unreal in its wavering light.

But the smell of seared meat brought home to him how very real it was. He snapped on the light and stepped into the kitchen. With one smooth motion, he took the lighter from her and set it on the formica surface.

He stood for a moment, just looking at her. She sat absolutely still as if frozen, a deer caught in oncoming headlights. Her gaze was fixed on the tabletop, her neck bent, waiting for the harsh words, the horror to spring from him.

Devin took hold of her wrist, and turned her arm up to see the damage. The burn was about two inches in diameter, round, and angry red, already blistering. Devin’s stomach turned at the sight, but he controlled himself with an effort. Miranda still hadn’t looked up or moved.

Devin used his free hand to gently grip her chin, and turn her face until she looked into his eyes. What she saw there was not horror or disgust, but an enormous sadness, and understanding. Very quietly, he said, “They’re so hard to live up to, aren’t they, Miranda?”

She stared at him, wary puzzlement shading her expression. “Who?” Her voice was shallow and shaky; she hated the sound, as she’d hated it ever since all of her talent had fled.

Devin drew her to her feet, leading her toward the bathroom and the medicine cabinet. “Father and Vincent, of course,” he replied, shaking his head as he contemplated the burned patch again. Despite his forays into the medical profession, treating friends was difficult for him.

Holding her arm in cool running water, he continued, “But they can’t help it.” He opened the medicine cabinet to hunt for bandages, and found it empty. “Never mind; come on, I have a first aid kit in my suitcase.”

When he had seated her on the battered sofa in the “living room”, Devin drew his baggage from the closet, hunting until he found the square white box. It was twice the size of normal first aid kits. Devin smiled at it, seeing fond memories, then dug out gauze, tape, burn ointment, scissors. Thus equipped, he returned, and turned her burned arm so he could cover the wound.

He continued to talk about Father and Vincent as he spread the ointment, wrapped the gauze and cut the tape. She just let him go on. Finally he was finished with his chore. He sat beside her, and said gently, “I went to see them tonight.”

She shied away then, guilt and fear in her movements. She still wouldn’t look at him.

“Miranda, my name isn’t really John. It’s Devin; Devin Wells.”

“Wells?”

“Yes, Father is my father—my real father. Vincent and I are brothers. We grew up together.”

“Why are you speaking to me? If you went to see them, I’m sure they told you about the Silence.” It should have been an angry statement, or at least defiant; it was said haltingly—without expression, flat. Devin wondered again how this could possibly be the voice of a gifted actress.

“Miranda, Father and Vincent were frantic. They’ve been searching for you.”

“Oh.” Miranda was uneasy, uncomfortable. Devin tried to understand why. Then a small sound from the dank hallway outside the door pulled his attention. He rose, opened the door—and dodged as Mouse fell into the room.


Chapter XIV


The blond youth had followed Devin from Father’s chamber. Lurking in the semidarkness of the corridor, he was not sure what to do. 

Mouse had been frantic with worry for the past two weeks, just as Father and Vincent had. His own unceasing efforts to find his friend had finally led him to the conclusion that his best hope lay in watching Vincent. Vincent would find her. But he was still angry with his hero, and with Father; they should have kept this from happening to Miranda. When he saw Vincent bringing Devin down to Father’s chamber, he had followed, not sure if this had anything to do with Miranda, but unwilling to trust it did not. He’d almost given up halfway into the conversation; but for some reason he’d stuck it out, listening in the flickering torchlight outside Father’s chamber, until he’d known she was found.

Jamie had been acting strangely the last few weeks as well. When the Circle had sentenced Miranda, Jamie had been—pleased. It puzzled Mouse; why would Jamie be glad about such a terrible thing? He could not understand why Jamie didn’t seem to like Miranda.

At least Jamie had been upset when Miranda ran away. More than upset; when she’d heard, when Vincent had come to Mouse to ask if he knew where Miranda was, and the conclusion had been reached, Jamie had whispered, “I didn’t mean it, I really didn’t.” She hadn’t seemed to know she was speaking out loud. When Vincent had asked her what she meant, Jamie hadn’t answered. But she had joined in the search; no one had worked harder trying to find Miranda, except Vincent—and Father.

After the Circle, Mouse had tried again and again to speak with Miranda, but she ignored him, the way the others ignored her. He stopped trying after three days, but he’d watched her, from a distance. At first, she was always in character; he could pick out who she was just from the way she walked, the way she stood. He saw her favorites, Saint Joan, Antigone, and Juliet, over and over. Then he started to see Miranda, just his quiet, timid friend Miranda, more and more. He worried; Mouse knew his friend. It was not like her; she should be a character now. As much as her hiding in her roles bothered him, he knew it for her strength. Remembering his own Silence, he knew how much she needed to be strong. Now was not the time to be vulnerable. He tried to approach her again, the day before she left, but she backed away from him, then turned and fled. He had not been very surprised when Vincent could not find her. 

Waiting outside Devin’s dingy apartment, trying to hear the conversation, it all moved through his head. He heard murmurs within; mostly Devin’s voice, but he could make out no words. There had been running water, and for a second he thought he heard Miranda. He moved closer to the old wooden door, and pressed his ear against it. The sounds were a little clearer, but he still could not make out words. He shifted position, and his hip bumped the doorknob, causing it to rattle. He returned to listening—and then the door opened, and he fell into the room.



Chapter XV


It was very, very late; Cathy Chandler took one last look around her balcony, then reluctantly closed the French doors, preparatory to settling into bed. Another evening passed without Vincent; no word on the child he was searching for. Vincent had set Catherine on the alert as well; she had all of her police contacts watching for the return of that particular high-priced call girl to the market. Her mind wandered to the other nights she had waited, when Vincent had brought no good news about Miranda.

* * *


When he had returned to her balcony, saddened and troubled, following the Circle that sentenced Miranda, Cathy had attempted to comfort him. She tried to reassure him, to tell him that a month was soon passed, that the stubborn strength Miranda had shown in her treatment of Mouse proved she would make it.

 Vincent had listened to her bright words, but the melancholy would not leave his eyes. When Cathy had finally run out of things to say, all he would answer was, “Perhaps you are correct, Catherine. But I think not.” 

She had put her arms around him then, trying to comfort with her body. He had leaned his head down onto hers, and rested it there, his eyes not seeing the beauty of the urban light show that spread before him.

He had stayed with her that night for only an hour, before he returned to his home Below. His next two visits, over the ensuing week, had been equally brief. Despite the pull of his lovely Catherine, Vincent felt compelled to remain Below. There was no sense, no purpose to this compulsion—he could not speak to Miranda, he could not undo her sentence. Still, he had the urgent need to be nearby. His foreboding of before the Council meeting was with him always now. There was the hope in the back of his head that if he stayed close to home, he could forestall whatever lay in wait for the child whose fate he’d been unable to avert.


* * *


The night he had come to tell her of Miranda’s disappearance, she had known the news was bad before he arrived. Her sense of him through their bond was a tenuous thing, often only activated by strong emotion. This time, the feeling had come to her in the early morning, as she entered the D.A.’s office to begin her workday—a pervading worry, a deep concern and fear. It had nagged at her continually, turning a prosaic day into a nightmare of second looks at familiar cases and increasingly desperate glances at clock hands that seemed to be glued to their face. When she at last could flee at four o’clock, her day did not improve; she merely transferred her worry to her balcony, where she had paced and watched the sun refuse to set as speedily as she needed it to.

The darkness finally covered her balcony; she’d known he would come to her. She’d waited and waited; hours passed. Finally she had dozed at her table, unable to retire into her cozy living room, waiting still for the man she loved.

He’d come silently, and seen her asleep there, shivering a little unconsciously in the cool breeze. Covering her with his cloak, he’d sat at the table with her, watching her sleep. Everything that could be done, had been done this day; there were no avenues he hadn’t explored. He could spend the time with her now, as he had not been able to do in the previous week.

His gaze had been tender as it rested on her, but behind his love the worry had never left him. When Catherine had finally blinked and sat up, feeling the familiar cloak, and knowing of her love’s presence, he had waited for her to speak. 

“It’s about time!” The anxiety of knowing something was amiss, without knowing what, had spoken first. 

“I am sorry, Catherine. I would have come earlier, but Miranda is gone.”

“Gone?” Cathy had expected something like this, but hearing the actual words was still a shock. 

Then Vincent told her, in simple words, the story Father'd told him, early in the morning, when the patriarch had summoned his son over the pipes. “We have searched for her both Below and Above; no one has seen her, no one knows where she might have gone.”

“There are so many places within your world to hide, Vincent. Are you sure she isn’t just in some deep chamber or cavern, waiting the time out alone?”

“Anything is possible, Catherine; but we do not think so. She has not been with us long enough to feel comfortable in the lower caverns and the greater depths. Father and Mouse are both sure she has run away Above.”

“What would she do?” Catherine had known the answer to her question before she spoke. 

She recalled how Vincent had looked into her eyes, recalling how he’d spoken to her a week ago. “Like Lena, I imagine she has returned to the streets.”


* * *


 Her thoughts having quieted, Cathy looked through her French doors one more time, then moved to change for bed. 

A whisper of silk glided around her legs as she made one last pilgrimage to the French doors. She stared out into the night for moments on end, willing him to appear. At last, she turned away. 

At the edge of her field of vision she caught a glimpse of black and gold; Vincent’s great cloak and glorious mane. She flew back to the doors, and flung them open, heedless of the chill of the outdoor air. She stepped through to the balcony, and he caught her up in his arms. 

“We’ve found her, Catherine—or, at least, Devin has.”

“Devin?”

“Yes, of all people, Devin.” He held her as he related the tale of his brother’s reappearance. “Devin has told us she is safe.”

“I’m so glad, Vincent!” Catherine leaned against him. His posture did not speak of glad relief, though; she felt the tension of continued worry, both in his strong body and through her heart. “There’s still something wrong, though, isn’t there?”

Her perception, as always, pleased him. She was so wise, so sensitive. He took a few seconds to marvel that this woman could possibly care for him. It was then he noticed her state of undress. Sweet torment flowed through him, as he realized what gossamer separated them. He swallowed, then answered her question.

“Yes, Catherine. Devin has found her; that much we know. She is unharmed physically.”

“But—?” Cathy prompted.

“But, Catherine, she seems to be without her talent. Devin described to us the shy, soft-spoken child who is Mouse’s friend. There is no sign of the characters through which she lives her life.”

“Vincent, you told me that she was her talent; you said she didn’t seem to exist outside her characters.”

“That is what concerns us. I am on my way to Devin’s now, to see her, speak to her. The Council has agreed to drop her sentence; even William feels he acted in the heat of anger, and perhaps not logically.”

The understatement sent a flash of amusement through Cathy. Her own anger at Miranda’s actions had faded as Vincent’s parting words before the Council meeting registered. She sometimes wondered if her own actions were careless, because she knew of Vincent’s protective watch over her. But even knowing of this did not mean every time he came Above to her, she was to blame. And Miranda…the more Cathy thought about this unique troubled girl, the more she realized that there had been no thought of rescues in her mind that night—that ubiquitous teenage emotion of “They’ll be sorry when they see I’m gone!”, perhaps—but fate weighs heavily on teenagers as well, and the knowledge of the man, her father, who still searched for her Above had to have haunted her.

“Vincent, let me come with you.”

“Come with me?” He was still under the spell of her closeness, the silk merely a breath between them.

“I’ll change; let me come with you, to see Miranda. You wanted me to speak to her before. Sometimes a girl can talk to a woman better than to a man—especially a girl whose experience with men has been like Miranda’s.”

Vincent was so proud of this woman who was his love. “Thank you, Catherine. If you wish—”

“Tell me where Devin’s staying; I’ll meet you there. Just give me a couple of minutes to change.”


Chapter XVI


“Well, well, what do we have here—a little Mouse?” The amusement in Devin’s voice did not reach his eyes. Mouse scrambled to his feet, and looked around the room to locate Miranda. She still sat on the old couch, her gaze solidly rooted to the floor. She didn’t look up, even when Mouse came over to her.

“ ’Randa?” He spoke hesitantly. 

She didn’t answer him.

“ ’Randa—Arthur misses you. Looks for you all the time.” 

She still wouldn’t lift her head. Mouse crouched in front of her, trying to look into her eyes. “Come home, ’Randa—everyone misses you. Mouse, Christine, Vincent, Father—everyone.”

Devin said gently, “It’s true, Miranda.” The only reply was silence.

The shame Miranda felt sealed her within herself. They had all been right; she didn’t deserve to have anyone speak to her. She didn’t deserve her talent. How could anyone miss her—how could anyone love her?

Mouse was just wrong about her; she knew his point of view was unique. He thought she was worth the trouble, but Mouse didn’t even know the difference between “stealing” and “finding”!

The gauze bandage across her forearm was a weight on her mind as well. Another proof of her unworthiness.

Mouse moved from his crouch, to pace across the floor. He was at a loss—what to do, what to say, to reach his friend?

The silence was quickly broken by feminine voices in the hallway. Mouse stared at the door, as if trying to see to the other side. “Jamie—?”

“And, if I’m not mistaken, Chandler.” Devin’s voice was dryly amused. He went to open the door to admit these next callers.


Chapter XVII


Cathy had taken a taxi to the semi-respectable address Vincent had given her. Upon alighting, she’d walked toward the old, beat-up building. Just before she opened the door, she saw a flash of blonde lurking in the shadows near the entrance.

The color was too dark, the height too small for Vincent. Still, it seemed familiar. Cathy took a step toward the shadows. The flash resolved itself into Jamie.

Jamie’s eyes were red, as though she’d been crying. Cathy diplomatically ignored that; Jamie's pride would not like to be reminded of such things.

“Cathy?”

“Jamie. Vincent’s on his way. What are you doing here?”

“I followed Mouse. Cathy—is it true? Did they find Miranda?”

“Vincent told me Devin found her.”

“Is she all right?”

Cathy sighed. “We don’t know, Jamie. Devin says she’s not hurt; but she doesn’t seem to be herself, either.”

Jamie snorted. “How could you tell?”

Cathy smiled a little. “I was angry with her, too, Jamie—for risking Father—and Vincent.”

“Cathy, she almost got Mouse caught Above! That was why I…” Jamie broke off abruptly, not meaning to have said even this much.

“Why you what, Jamie?” A gravel-soft voice joined the conversation. Vincent emerged from a nearby shadow to join Jamie and Cathy in theirs.

“Vincent ....” Jamie looked at him, guilt showing in her expression and through her eyes.

“Why you did what , Jamie?” he prompted again. His voice was stern, but in his blue gaze waited wisdom and understanding.

“I…I told her she wasn’t wanted, Vincent. I told her she didn’t belong Below, that we’d all be better off without her.” Jamie’s rush of words had evidently been waiting for a trigger. “I really didn’t mean for any of this to happen, Vincent! I thought—maybe the Silence would show her. I was so scared for Mouse!” The tears had returned to Jamie’s eyes, but she met Vincent’s gaze steadily, glad to confess what had been preying on her mind.

Another level of understanding layered Vincent’s knowledge of Miranda’s motives. He shook his head, the heavy mane tossing across his shoulders. “Do you think what you did was right, Jamie?”

She hung her head. “No, Vincent. But—”

“No buts, Jamie. What is wrong is wrong. We are supposed to help and support one another.”

“But she was hurting Mouse—”

“Mouse has his own choices to make. Your disapproval does not give you the right to make him over in your image.”

“Yes, Vincent.”

“You must tell Father what you have just told me.”

“Yes, Vincent.” They all knew Vincent’s lecture was nothing compared to what Father would have to say.

“Let us go in. I think you need to come along, Jamie, don’t you?”

“Yes, Vincent.” There was a little silence. “I want to apologize.”

Vincent gave her a quick, reassuring hug. Then, pulling his hood forward, he led the two women into the darkened vestibule.


Chapter XVIII


When Devin opened the door, he saw Jamie and Cathy, as he had expected. The shadow that was his brother also slipped into the tiny apartment, dwarfing the already small room with his massive presence. Devin shut the door behind them, and turned to the gathering. There were too many people for the size of the room. “If I’d known there was going to be a party, I’d’ve gotten a bigger place.” 

The humor was lost on this assembly; all eyes were focused on Miranda, who still seemed fascinated by the worn linoleum floor. Not even Vincent’s smoky voice could penetrate the humiliation and disgust with herself that filled her.

Mouse looked in wonder at Jamie. “Why is Jamie here?”

“Mouse, I—” Jamie turned from her friend, and faced Miranda. “Miranda, I want to apologize for what I said. I’m sorry I said you didn’t belong Below. I didn’t really think that we’d be better off without you—”

“Why, Jamie?” Mouse interrupted, sounding puzzled and pained. “ ’Randa never hurt you; never hurt anyone.”

“She was hurting you , Mouse,” Jamie cried, turning to him. “You were going to get caught Above, or sentenced to another Silence! I couldn’t just watch that happen.”

“ ’Randa is my friend, Jamie. I thought you were my friend too. Why were you so mean to her?”

“I am your friend, Mouse; I always have been! But she’s been making you do such dangerous things—”

“No one makes Mouse do things. Mouse does what Mouse wants. Sometimes ideas were ’Randa’s, some from Mouse. We decide together what we do. Same with Mouse and Jamie. Friends decide together.”

“Mouse, I was scared. I saw you taking such crazy chances; you hadn’t done any finding or taking Above for the longest time until she dragged you out all night!”

“Wasn’t ’Randa’s fault; Mouse’s idea. ’Randa wanted to go along, go Up Top, just for a little. Wasn’t her fault about dogs; not there first time Mouse was there.”

Vincent, who had been watching Miranda while Jamie and Mouse argued, stepped in to stop the wrangling. “Enough. This is not the time or place for such arguments. These things will be settled later, with Father.” He turned to the silent girl on the couch. “Miranda, we have been searching for you since you left. Our society is based on free choice; we cannot force you to come back to us. But all of us—even William, even the Council—would like you to return.” His glance turned to Cathy, who had been listening quietly, watching Miranda’s reactions—or lack of them—as Mouse and Jamie fought about her. Cathy moved across the room, to sit on one side of Miranda on the old sofa. 

“Miranda, we haven’t met. My name is Cathy Chandler. I’m a friend of Vincent’s.” Cathy tentatively put a hand onto Miranda’s shoulder. She felt the girl shrink away, and pulled back, not wanting to press too much or make Miranda uncomfortable.

“Vincent has told me all about you.” Cathy was trying to make contact. She could feel no interest, no response, though.

Devin spoke again, “Miranda, you have to look up sometime.” There was another silence. Cathy felt a great helplessness. Miranda looked so small, so sad—so lonely. She wanted to put her arms around the girl and hold her; but the reaction to her earlier touch was not encouraging.

Vincent unknowingly assumed the position Mouse had tried earlier. He crouched in front of Miranda, trying to fold his great height small enough to look into her eyes. “Miranda, we can’t do anything if you won’t talk to us.” The gentle compulsion of his voice brought her head halfway up, then she caught herself, and looked back down. She had flushed red, and her movement was awkward. Somehow, that hit Vincent harder than any of the other signs he had heard of or seen. She was not just playing another role; Miranda could not touch the part of herself that gave her animation— that gave her life.

There was another silence. There were five minds all scrambling for something to do, something to say, that might reach in and drag at least some response from Miranda. Then into the silence, from beyond the door, came a familiar sound—an uneven step, the tap of a cane as support. 

Every ear recognized the sound. Devin was shocked to realize what he felt—a vast, consuming wave of jealousy. Why hadn’t the Old Man ever come Above after him? Even as the emotion engulfed him, though, came the picture of Father as he had seen him on his last visit—at the Carousel, come to hear the truth of the incident so long ago, from which Devin had made the decision to flee. The Old Man had come Above for him—twenty years later than Devin would have liked—but he had come.

Vincent’s older brother went to open the door for his father. As he did so, he glanced toward Miranda.

He saw her face now. She was staring at the door, showing the first emotion he had seen from her besides fear. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it wasn’t fear.

Cathy knew that look. Her friends’ young children, forcing themselves to stay awake to await their parents’ return on a night when Cathy babysat, turned eyes like Miranda’s to the sound of Mommy or Daddy’s footsteps. The door opened, to reveal Father, dressed in his Tunnel clothes, the well-worn brown cloak covering the layers beneath. The older man looked around the tiny room, and acknowledged the presence of each occupant, as he limped to the couch. 

Cathy stood then, and went to Vincent’s side. Father sat in the space she had vacated, next to Miranda. The still-silent girl looked into Father’s face, into his grey eyes. She had looked younger than her 19 years; now, more years seemed to peel away. Like the child Cathy had seen in her eyes, she moved then. She went into Father’s lap, curling her body so that she fit, her head against his shoulder, her legs folded beneath her. It was as if a four-year-old had been enlarged to adult size.

Father held her, his lost child, as he had wanted to since before the fiasco at the Burch Tower. There were still no words spoken. The other five occupants of the tiny room all tried to look away, to respect the intense privacy of the moment, and to guard suspiciously moist eyes. But there was nothing to focus on, except each other and the tableau on the sofa.

At last Miranda broke the silence. “You came,” she whispered. Small, hesitant—her voice matched the picture created by her position.

“Yes, Miranda, I came.” Father was unable to speak other than gruffly, but no one in the room could be unaware of his emotion.

Miranda barely seemed to hear his words. She snuggled against him, and closed her eyes. Cathy’s vision was completed; the child fell asleep in her father’s lap.


Chapter XIX


It was somewhat later. Miranda, the cause of it all, still slept curled in Father’s lap. He had tried to wake her, but she slept the sleep of emotional exhaustion, and he could not rouse her to anything resembling consciousness.

Mouse and Jamie had been sent back Below, with the promise of interviews with Father in his chamber tomorrow. Vincent was still trying to convince Catherine to return to her apartment, for as much sleep as possible before morning. Devin came over to Father, and sat in the place Miranda had formerly occupied.

He had to remind himself again that he was a grown man. Something in Father’s manner still made him feel young and stupid. And that tiny niggle of jealousy; that feeling of “why couldn’t Father have done this for me?”, played at the edges of his emotions. He squashed it down firmly, and reached a finger to gently indicate the dressing he had placed on Miranda’s arm. 

“When I got back, Father—she was burning herself. With a lighter.” It was important that Father know, that was true; but some level of his mind was caught up in playing games again. It wanted Father to be horrified, revolted. 

Something within him was pleased when his wish was not granted. Father’s face had been peaceful and serene, as if worry was a foreign idea, not clearly understood. He saw the bite of care return, as Father’s eyes darkened with pain. Devin did not know it, but the expression he saw now on his father was what Miranda had seen upon his own discovery of her burning—understanding, sadness, pain for her pain, that drove her so far. Perhaps that was why Miranda had come with him, 10 days ago, had accepted his caring; she saw something of his father in him, without either of them knowing.

Father turned his gaze to the young woman who still slumbered in his lap. “ ‘For thou wast a spirit too delicate...’ ” he murmured, quoting from the play of Miranda’s namesake. “What pressures you put upon yourself, Miranda.” He raised his eyes then to Devin. “Thank you for taking her in, Devin.” He raised his voice slightly, to call his other son. “Vincent!”

Vincent rose from the table, held out his hand, and brought Catherine to her feet as well, then went to answer the summons. “Yes, Father?”

“We should be going Below now, Vincent.” The older man indicated the still profoundly sleeping girl. “We need to take Miranda home.” His leonine son nodded; Miranda’s actions had made her choice quite clear. With the ease of his great strength, he lifted the average young woman, and held her as he’d hold any other of the children. 

“Catherine?” 

“You’re right, Vincent; I’ve got an important court appearance tomorrow, I should try to get some sleep.” She yawned then, the thought of sleep reminding her that the hour was beyond late.

“I’ll see you home.” It was Devin who made the gallant offer, knowing his brother would worry about her safety in this neighborhood, at this time.

Cathy nodded her acceptance, took a step toward the door, then stopped. “Father—what about Miranda? Do you think…?”

In the act of forcing himself to his feet, stiff from the weight that had rested in his lap for so long, Father turned toward her. “I don’t know, Catherine. I hope she will be able to return to what she was; with love and support, all things are possible.” He faced his younger son then. “Take her to my chamber, Vincent. I don’t want her to wake up alone.” Shaking his head, he murmured, “I hope we can free Miranda and her talent; so that she may perform, and still be able to be Miranda.” He limped to the door, opened it, and gestured to Vincent, who preceded him through the door. The black-cloaked man’s parting glance filled Cathy with the warmth of his love; Father’s eyes had left the other occupants of the room, and were fastened again on Miranda. First the two men were gone; then Devin snagged his leather jacket from its resting place on the back of a chair, and escorted Cathy from the tiny room, closing the door behind him.




Epilogue

Five Weeks Later


Miranda stood outside the entrance to her theatre chamber. The morning class was already inside; she could hear the jumble of voices. Listening, she frowned. It was awfully loud for only twelve people.

This was the first of her classes she had held since her return. When she had awoken in Father’s bed, in his chamber, her last memory of climbing into his lap, she’d known immediately she could reach her talent—at least some of it. She had spoken to Father, who had been dozing in a chair at the bedside, as “Madame Sarah” then. He’d frowned at her, his expression stern, his voice as gruff as ever. “Rehearse being yourself, Miranda. You are more valuable than all of your characters.” Then Mouse’s voice had come through the doorway, into the chamber from the tunnel; and it was as if the past two months had not existed at all.

Still—it had taken her until now to decide to start classes again. She was frightened; her abilities returned a little more each day, but could she ever truly be what she was before? 

She squared her shoulders, preparing to walk into the chamber to face her waiting students. “Madame Sarah” started to reshape her walk, her voice, but Miranda caught herself in time to fight the character down. “No—today it’s Miranda or nothing,” she muttered, trying to gather the courage to walk in. Without a character to hide in, she felt as though she were stark naked. Hovering outside the door, she peeked around the corner into the room.

Twenty-nine people filled the chamber. All of her students were there, along with Vincent. Most of them were chatting to each other, but Christine had half an eye on the door, and saw her.

“Madame’s here!” Her words quieted the crowd. Trembling, Miranda closed her eyes, pushed away her “Madame Sarah” mannerisms once again, and stepped tentatively into the room. Vincent moved to her side, and led her to a centrally placed chair, then seated her.

Everyone else had settled onto the floor, in her familiar semicircle. Christine walked over to her. “Madame, we all got together and decided we want to do a show—a whole play—for the community.”

Miranda nodded numbly. She made an effort to think. “How should we decide which play? Vote, or...”

“Oh, we’ve decided already,” Christine went on with mock carelessness. “We thought we’d do something a lot of us have already worked on—‘Romeo and Juliet’. And we thought, as our teacher, you should direct.”

The thought of working with one of her favorite plays put a light into Miranda’s eyes. Animation sparked her voice for the first time. “A hard play to do—but well worth it!” She looked over the ranks of faces. “Should we hold auditions, or should I assign roles?” Patrick stood, and came to Christine’s side. “We thought for this first time, we’d just go with the people who’ve been working on parts in class.” 

Christine nodded. A smile was trying to spread over her face, but she resisted it. “Madame, we thought Patrick for Romeo, Luke as Benvolio, me as the Nurse, Vincent for Mercutio...” As she ran down list of characters, nods from the waiting students told this had been well-discussed. Miranda listened carefully, placed each named student on a character role in her mind, seeing the faces amid their respective scenes.

“And the rest can fill in during the crowd scenes,” she finished.

Miranda frowned. “You didn’t name a Juliet, Christine.” She looked over the semicircle. “Maybe Samantha.... or Rebecca could play the nurse, and you could...” Everyone she looked at was smiling, and all eyes went to Christine.

“We thought, Madame—if it wouldn’t be too much for you—you could play Juliet.”

Miranda was stunned. They all knew this was her favorite play; and to be Juliet, to really be Juliet, in front of an audience ...

“I don’t know,” she started, then stopped. It was an actor’s dream. And each and every one of them knew it. She could see that now. It was overwhelming.

“Please, Madame!” Christine added.

Samantha was the first to start clapping. Jonathon, Luke, Christine and Patrick joined in instantly. In less than a moment, the chamber echoed with applause from 29 pairs of hands. Luke was the first one to scramble to his feet. Once again, the entire group followed suit enthusiastically.

Tears came to Miranda’s eyes. The strength of the emotion reawakened her “Madame Sarah” persona for a moment. She sat straighter, then consciously slouched and let the tears drip.

“Thank you.” Her voice was almost lost in the huge chamber. Making a mental note to work on her own voice, she repeated, more forcefully, “Thank you so very much.” She looked again at the eager smiling faces. “And you may call me Miranda.”