Now I Rise Page 83

Radu nodded, rubbing his eyes and leaning back. “I know. I feel sorry for them. To see your own destruction reflected in everything around you—the moon, the weather, the shaking of the earth itself—I am amazed that anyone remains in this city. Why could they not leave?”

Nazira smiled sadly. “I persuaded Helen to. I know there was no reason for me to continue my friendship with her, but she was so sad and lost. I gave her the last of our money. Yesterday she slipped into Galata, where she has distant relations who can help her get to Athens.”

“That was a good thing.”

The door opened and Valentin appeared with a bowl of water and some clean rags. Nazira took them; then Radu held up a hand to keep Valentin from leaving. “Do you have any family in the city?”

Valentin shook his head. “My parents died two years ago. My sister, too.”

“Aunts? Uncles?”

“No, sir.”

“What about outside the city? Do you have anywhere to go?”

Valentin stood straighter, puffing up his chest. “No, sir, and if I did, I would not go anyway. My place is serving Cyprian, and I will stay where he is until the end.”

“What if I needed to send a letter to my sister in Hungary? One that I could send only with someone I trust absolutely?”

Valentin smiled, with an expression too knowing and weary for a boy as young as he. “Then I would say I suspect you of tricking me, and anyway, I have heard your stories of your sister and would rather take my chances here.”

Radu laughed, shocked at how much the boy had picked up on. “Very well. But promise me one thing: If the city is falling around you, you do everything you can to get out. Do you understand? And if I am not here, you help Nazira and Cyprian get out.”

Valentin stood even straighter, giving a dignified nod. “I will protect them with my life.”

“Good boy.”

Valentin left, closing the door softly behind him.

Cyprian moaned. Radu rushed to the bedside. “Cyprian? Can you hear me?”

Cyprian tried to lift a hand to his head, his eyes squeezed shut. “Radu?”

“Yes! You are safe, at home.”

“I think—” he croaked, his voice cracking.

“I will get him something to drink!” Nazira hurried from the room.

Cyprian swallowed, still not opening his eyes. “I think the city fell down on my head.”

Radu laughed in relief. “It did. But you Byzantines are remarkably hardheaded.”

Squinting, Cyprian looked at Radu. “Radu! You are here!”

“Yes. I am right here.”

Cyprian lifted a hand, searching in the air. Radu took it in his own.

“I went back for you.” Cyprian’s eyes drifted shut again.

“No,” Radu said, gently. “I was not hurt. I brought you home. Remember?”

Cyprian shook his head, then cringed, crying out in pain. He squinted again. “No, I went back to Edirne for you.”

What if the blow had permanently damaged Cyprian’s mind? “We are not in Edirne. We are in Constantinople.”

“I know that,” Cyprian snapped, rolling his eyes. “You are very confused.”

Radu tried not to smile. “You are right. I am the confused one.”

“We never spoke, but your face … The look you shared with him about the book. I never stopped thinking of you.”

“What book?” Radu wanted to keep Cyprian awake and talking, even if it was nonsense.

Cyprian waved his free hand. “The book we gave the sultan. You understood how funny it was. The dragon book. I wished so much I could laugh with you. Even then I knew you would have a wonderful laugh. He did not want me to go back, you know.”

Radu searched his memory, trying to figure out what Cyprian was talking about. Books and dragons? And then it rushed back. Last year. The delegation from Constantinople after Mehmed’s coronation. It was the first time Radu had seen Cyprian. Back when Cyprian was a nameless ambassador delivering a book on Saint George and the dragon as a gift. Radu remembered that moment perfectly, too. That startling jolt when he had met Cyprian’s clear gray eyes and seen the hidden laughter there.

“Who did not want you to go back to Edirne?” Radu asked, suddenly very interested in the conversation.

“My uncle. Too dangerous. I insisted, though. I wanted to speak to you.”

Radu’s heart was racing. “To ask me to come here and give information on Mehmed?”

“No.” Cyprian’s voice went far away and quiet. “I just wanted to speak to you. I wanted to hear you laugh.” He smiled, lifting their clasped hands toward Radu’s cheek. Radu leaned his head down, letting Cyprian’s fingers brush against his skin. Though his fingers were cold, the touch felt like fire.

“I regret nothing,” Cyprian murmured, and then his face relaxed into sleep.

The door clicked shut and Radu startled, looking up guiltily.

“Oh, husband.” Nazira sighed, already in the room, for how long Radu did not know. “You almost make me believe in fate, for how unfortunate yours is.”

She set down a bowl of broth and a mug of watered-down wine. Adjusting Cyprian’s blankets, she knelt across the bed from Radu and looked up at him. “First a man with no heart to give you, and now a man who can never know your truths.”

Radu stood, his pulse still racing, his cheeks flushed. “I— He was— I am not—”

Nazira looked tenderly at Cyprian, brushing some hair from his forehead. “I suspected, but I hoped I was wrong. It seemed too cruel, too absurd an irony.”

“You know I am loyal to Mehmed!”

Nazira’s face darkened faster than the tempest in the streets. “You owe him nothing more than your loyalty. Certainly not your love. Normally I would rejoice that your heart had stirred in another direction. But this …” She lowered her head onto the bed, hiding her face from him. “Oh, Radu. What will we do?”

A bell in the distance tolled doom, doom, doom.


Radu could not sit at Cyprian’s bedside. He wandered the streets until nightfall. The storm had disappeared as suddenly as it came, the clouds taking residence on the earth instead. The air was still and dead, the city shrouded as if for burial.

As night fell, the fog thickened, masking all lights and making the city as dark as a cave. Radu had started toward home when muted cries of “Fire, fire!” broke through the fog. He turned, running in their direction, wondering if this was it, if the wall had finally fallen. Instead, he saw the roof of the Hagia Sophia flickering with light.

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