With Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal returns to the fascinating world of her debut novel Milk and Honey, blending Regency England with magic. As she explained in our exclusive interview in March, this book takes place in 1815, on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, and our unlucky Honeymooning magicians get caught in a spot of bother. Here's an exclusive excerpt from Glamour in Glass, chapter 3. You can read chapter 1 at Tor.com and chapter 2 at RT Book Reviews.
Flattery and Letters
As Jane waited for her husband at Carlton House, she eventually received word that she was to return to their apartments without him. The rest of the guests had long since departed, leaving her with only the company of Prinny and Lady Hertford. The gentlemen had been too much in their cups for conversation, and only Lady Hertford had made the hours tolerable.
Jane's concern that she had caused some major damage to the glamural gradually changed to discomfort that she was keeping their hosts up so late, then to annoyance with Vincent for placing her in such an unpleasant position. The Prince Regent had been beyond gracious, even in his inebriated state, and had arranged for her to be returned home in his own carriage. The use of the Prince's equipage would have been a matter of some excitement under other circumstances.
As it was, Jane returned home in a less than pleasant mood. Though she had every expectation of seeing her family on the morrow, as they had come to London for the express purpose of taking in the Vincents' glamural with the rest of the public, she wished very much for her sister's company. When she was home at Long Parkmead, Melody had long been her confidante, and understood Vincent the best out of Jane's family. But, as the hour was far too late to call upon her relations, Jane began a letter to Melody in an attempt to ease her mind.
She was on her third draft when Vincent returned to their rooms. His cheeks were drawn and his face had the unhealthy flush which so often marks the remnant of exertion. Jane abandoned her letter, alarm replacing her upset, and sprang from her chair. "Vincent?"
He sighed heavily. "I am quite well."
"I do not believe you for a moment." Jane took him by the arm, and, despite her smaller stature, led him easily to a wingback chair by the tall casement window. Despite his protestations, the memory of his brush with death from an over exertion of glamour remained strong in her mind.
Leaving him for a moment, she flung open the window to let in the night breeze, and wove a simple glamour to help the breeze along, hoping that it would cool the fever evidenced by the ruddiness of his cheeks. So long as his art beckoned, Vincent would push himself too hard, like a race horse, without a care for his health.
He dropped without complaint into the chair, and stretched his legs out in front of him, leaning his head against the chair back with a sigh. Jane stood behind him and leaned over to tug his cravat loose. Vincent reached up and caught her hand, bending his head to kiss the inside of her wrist.
The warmth of his fever seemed to pulse through her veins and, of a sudden, the room was too warm for her as well. "My love, you must not work yourself so."
"You have told me so before." He kissed her wrist again. "But this was entirely your fault."
Jane snatched her hand out of his grasp. "I am sorry. You may be certain it is not an error I will make again." As unaffected as he was, she had not expected him to be so blunt in his response.
"Jane, Jane..." Vincent was out of his chair in a moment and had her by both hands again. They trembled in his grasp, but Jane would not let herself cry when she had cause to be angry. "What are you going on about?"
"The — the knot that came untied on the fish." Her throat raw with swallowed tears. "That is what you were correcting, is it not?"
"No! My love, no." Vincent pulled her closer despite her resistance and folded her into his arms. His voice rumbled against her cheek. "Prinny loved your fish. He wanted me to make more of them. If you have a fault, it is in being too clever."
She pushed herself out of his arms. "Then why did you do it alone instead of calling me?"
Vincent frowned, brows rising in confusion. "Prinny asked me. You were with the ladies."
"I had no choice in that!"
"Nor did I." Vincent rumpled his hair so that it looked as if he were a madman. "I could hardly call you back in. The room was filled with cigar smoke, and you witnessed the state of the Prince."
"Yes. I endured the state of the Prince for the next several hours. I am quite aware of it and would have been more than happy to have had some reason to leave the drawing room."
"But you must see that it was the simplest course. Prinny explained what he wanted to have added and it was not a task which required two glamourists."
"Since I created the fish, it should have fallen to me."
"I do not understand you."
All the upset she had felt transformed as it became clear that Vincent did not recognise how he had slighted her by altering her design without consultation. "I am — yes, I am vexed that you did not even do me the courtesy of telling me what the Prince Regent wanted. I might have lost your trust, but you could at least have told me so directly instead of leaving me like a bauble in the drawing room."
"My trust? I — I had no intention of slighting you, just thought to spare you the effort. Indeed, it would have been more complicated to repeat his instructions. I could weave the fish with ease"
Her mind fixed on the word "ease." Of course, a task which took her hours of concentration was of no difficulty to him. Jane knew she was being unjust in guessing his intentions, and yet the upset she felt was no less real for it.
The flush of anger heated her cheeks, and Jane railed against that fault of her complexion which so easily laid bare her emotions. She pinched her lips together and made some effort to slow her breathing.
"Jane..." Vincent's voice trailed away, at a loss. Hands held outward, half in entreaty, half in surrender, he said, "Tell me what I have done."
Jane resolved to make some effort to explain, but her words came out more clipped and forceful than she had intended. "The ballroom was our collaboration. To have you decide upon and make changes yourself makes me feel as though you have little regard for my skills or opinions. That the glamour you changed was one which I created makes..." She crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly cold. "I must assume that you have lost trust in me because the knot came untied."
"Knots do that!" He buried his hands in his hair, staring at her as if she were a perplexing strand of glamour. "I have not lost trust in you, and certainly not for something so small as that. For Heaven's sake, Jane, I corrected an error during dinner myself."
"You never left the table."
"Well. No." He had the grace to shift uncomfortably.
"I have some practice at repairs from the dinner table." The way he dug his toe into the carpet put her in mind of a schoolboy caught out, and it quite undid her.
Jane glared at him with mock severity. "I heard from Lord Lumley about your exploit with the clock tower, so I do not know why I pretend surprise."
"Yes, well. Well. I was not a nice boy."
"I might vouch for that."
This prompted a hurt expression, so at odds with his usual gruffness that Jane softened and slipped her hand in his. "I did not mean it."
"No, you are correct. I should have spoken with you about the changes. I am used to working alone and have no practice at sharing responsibility." Shaking his head, Vincent returned to the chair, drawing Jane down to sit upon his knee. "I will amend that."
"Thank you." Jane kissed him on the forehead, which was still too warm for her liking. "You should always call me, if for no other reason than that I might stop you from overworking yourself."
Smiling, Vincent leaned back against the chair. "I work harder to try to match you than I do on my own."
"Stop." She tweaked his nose. "I will not listen to false flattery."
"It is true!"
"Hm." She did not believe him, for all that she was un- willingly pleased by his praise. "But how did you learn to work glamour from so far?"
He cleared his throat. "Remembering that I was not a nice boy, and bearing in mind that you love me now..." He paused to kiss her on the cheek. "You do love me now?"
"Very much." She leaned against his chest. "Now continue."
"When I was at home, my father forbade me to practice glamour, because it was a woman's art. So, I watched my sister's lessons and learned what I could from them, simple as they were. But what I delighted in was to learn by unstitching glamours, so that I could get at their parts. I would take them apart and then slowly learn to put them back together again, not always with success."
"That must have brought you into terrible trouble."
"It did." He grew quiet for a moment and carressed her hair, lost in a memory. "I taught myself to work glamour from a distance so that I could unstitch things while my sisters were standing near them. If I were stealthy, one of them would get the blame."
Jane pushed herself up and stared at him in astonishment. "You did not."
"I told you I was not a nice boy."
"You did not say you were wicked."
His voice roughened. "I would have thought you had learned that by now."
They were occupied for some minutes, then, with duties marital. To disturb their privacy would be indecorous. Suffice to say: the Vincents were a healthy couple, and with their differences settled, they were happily matched in temperament.
* * *
Some time later, Jane nestled her head in the space between her husband's neck and shoulder, that tender region usually shielded from view by high starched collars and cravats. "Vincent. At dinner, the Prince Regent seemed quite convinced we were going to the Continent. Had you said something to him?"
His hand, which had been stroking her hair, stilled. "I might have. The Continent is all the conversation allows, these days." Resuming his motion, he traced her hair where it lay unbound across her shoulders. "Would you like to go?"
"I hardly know. I have not given it any thought until to night. I suppose we could, as I am not certain what we shall do with ourselves now that this commission is over." Though she had no real hope that her next gambit would work, she kissed his cheek. "You recall that Papa invited us to return to Long Parkmead with them."
As she suspected, Vincent grunted, but did not otherwise answer. A natural hermit, the confines of her home and the constant society which her mother pressed upon him sometimes overwhelmed his senses. At court, in the role of the Prince Regent's glamourist, he was given leave to be taciturn, and it was deemed an eccentricity. At Long Parkmead, in his role as son-in-law, that same silence caused her mother to think that Vincent did not like her.
It was a difficult boundary for him to walk.
"Did you want to go to the Continent?" she asked him.
He shifted in the bed and resettled with his arm around her back. "I have a colleague, M. Chastain, whom I have not seen for years. We were both apprentices with Herr Scholes, but the war has kept us apart since then. With Napoleon abdicated, I will admit that I had entertained thoughts of visiting him. From our correspondence, he is doing interesting work with double-weaving glamours into something he is calling a jacquard."
"After the new looms? Has he found a way to mechanize glamour then?" Jane sat up on her elbow so she could see his face better. It would be a tremendous breakthrough if he had found a way to record glamour as M. Jacquard had used cards to record the patterns for weaving on looms.
"No. He was merely inspired to the technique after seeing a demonstration of M. Jacquard's looms in Paris. From what he describes it is akin to a damask weave and creates variations based on one's prospect."
"What is the benefit to this method?" Jane sank back onto the bed, disappointed. Since the current trend in glamours dictated that they be created with full dimensions, walking around a tree of glamour had no difference from walking around one of wood.
"I am unclear in my description." He sat up and inclined his head toward his writing desk. "I had one of his letters this morning."
"Stay. I will get it for you." She hopped out of bed and fetched the small oak travel desk. When in transit, it folded neatly in half to present an unassuming box. Once opened, it contained a comfortable sloped surface, faced in red leather. Cunningly concealed within were compartments to store correspondence and writing supplies. The battered wooden sides attested to the constant travelling Vincent had done in his life as an itinerant glamourist.
While she was up, Jane also collected a clean handkerchief and the bottle of lavender water that her mother had sent up in case she was afflicted with "vapours." Handing Vincent the desk, Jane once more slipped into bed.
She dampened the handkerchief with a small amount of the lavender water, the scent immediately bringing back the memory of her mother and the countless ailments which plagued her. Jane patted Vincent's brow with the dampened handkerchief, wishing that he took a tenth of the care with his health that her mother did with her various nervous conditions.
He sighed in contentment, sinking into the pillows, his letter momentarily forgotten. The lines of fatigue eased and his breathing slowed. Jane continued to stroke his brow, commending his features to memory yet again. His face, when relaxed, always surprised her with its youth. When alert, his intelligent eyes flashed beneath a heavy, brooding brow. The guarded and constant thought which went into even the most casual of conversations made him seem older than his years. That very fact, that he did not utter phrases devoid of meaning just to fill the air with the sound of conversation, was one of the things Jane most loved about him.
He sighed again and opened his eyes, lifting the lid of his desk to rummage through it. Amid his other correspondence lay a letter written in French with another layer of tiny script crossed over it.
Holding it close to his eyes so he did not need to lift his head from Jane's ministrations, Vincent scanned the page.
Marking his place with his index finger, he said, "Here. Chastain says, and forgive my translation, 'The effect of the double-weave is such that from one position in a room, the glamour appears to be, let us say, a tree, and from the other a woman. The transition from one to the other happens without a seam so that the tree seems to become the woman as the viewer walks about it. At the moment, these are but rough glamours. However, if I can perfect the technique, then one might have two glamours, complete in their own right, and merely by changing one's relationship with the illusion, one can completely change its nature.' He goes on with some unsatisfying descriptions of the weaves he is using, without enough exactness to duplicate." He peeked up through his eyelashes at Jane.
"Does that remind you of anything?"
Jane shook her head. "I am afraid you have the better of me."
"My Sphere Obscurcie. On the exterior it bends the light around so that viewers believe they have an unobstructed view of what ever lies opposite, while masking that which lies in its interior. But the view to a person within the bubble is unobstructed."
Jane nodded, as she followed his train of thought. "The twist in the glamour creates, in essence, two layers of fabric like a damask, which keep the interior from being either a mirror or a dark sphere. And you think his jacquard would enhance the effect?"
"I do not know, but I am curious to see what it is that Chastain has created, and with the war against Napoleon there has been no opportunity before this." He traced a finger across her wedding band. "Besides. I have never given you a proper honeymoon."
Jane laughed and caught his hand. "Oh, love. Yes, let us go to the Continent. But you do not need to tempt me with any more reason than that there is a glamourist whom you wish to visit." She rubbed his temples, inducing him to shut his eyes once more. The Continent sounded like a grand adventure. The only cause for chagrin was that she had counted on visiting her family once their work here was finished. Her mother would be so distraught to hear that they were not coming.
"What is the matter?" Vincent lifted his head, seeking a better view of her.
"I did? I have no recollection of that."
"Nevertheless, you sighed just now." He waited and Jane wished for a moment that he might not know her moods quite so well.
"I was only thinking about the diffculty of telling my parents. We should have them to dine with us on Monday."
He lowered his chin, and, with only the slightest compression of his lips, expressed his lack of enthusiasm for this suggestion. "Of course."
Jane sighed in earnest now. "Is it really that distasteful for you to visit my family?"
"It is not distasteful." Vincent worked his jaw, and then blew his breath out in a groan. "I esteem your family, but I will own that I am not comfortable with them. There is no place where I fit."
"You are my husband. My parents look on you as family."
"Yes, but... but your family has practice at being with one another." He picked a loose thread off the sheets, examining it rather than her. "I do not even have practice being with my own family."
Jane felt heartbreak for him. With all of her family's faults, Jane could not imagine a world in which she was not intimately connected to each of them, or doing without all the benefits of family, which only one who has been truly loved as a child can appreciate. Chief among her wishes was that Vincent might appreciate her family as she did, and likewise, that they would begin to see those qualities in him that she esteemed. "Perhaps rather than avoiding time spent with them we might practice together?"
Holding back another sigh, Jane stroked away the new furrow that had appeared in his brow. This was another type of knot to learn to tie.