Raoul dug his heels into the side of the horse to spur it into galloping faster. There was dust kicking up everywhere as the animal drew nearer and nearer to the construction site. His goal in sight, the boy pulled it up short and jumped off, running towards a figure standing on a block as fast as he could.
"Erik!" He tugged his brother's sleeve. "Erik, you must come as quickly as possible!"
He looked down at the twelve-year-old boy. "Father?"
"Yes. He is calling for you." Raoul was pale, a rare sight. "It isn't good, Erik."
"Keep working!" He called out to the men in his Voice. "I don't want to hear of you slacking when I return." Another time years ago and he might have hesitated; another time and the men would have been unwilling. But it had been years since the mason had taken them in an gradually given Erik more and more responsibility, gradually looked for men who would see his genius and not what he was hiding.
He jumped on to the back of the horse and held on to Raoul as the boy drove the animal home, both keeping their silence. When they reached the house, it was more of the same, the place already still as a tomb. Raoul lagged behind his brother as they walked up the steps to the room where Giovanni was laying down in his bed."
"Father?" Erik knelt beside him as the old man lifted his hands to wave the nurse away. Erik slipped off the mask and looked at him. "I wish you would let me tend to you, father."
"Nothing you can do, Erik. We both know that. Better that you remain on the site, where you can use your skills and be of use to the men and to me."
"I have been for a while," he replied with a wry smile. "But yes, it is nearer now I think." He took Erik's hand. "You've been a good boy, Erik. I'm proud of you, though I suspect you don't need me to tell you that. And Raoul," he said looking beyond Erik to the younger boy who then drew closer, "you are growing into a fine young man."
"You aren't dying!" Raoul teared up. "You can't be!"
"I am afraid it is not me decision," he replied with a cough.
"Erik can fix you, he knows wonderful cures!"
"He has done all he can to make me comfortable, but some matters are beyond even Erik." He took Raoul by the hand. "Promise me you will continue to be diligent in your studies, that you will listen to Erik. Can you do your best?"
"Yes papa," the boy murmured as he wept.
Giovanni nodded. He was afraid that, even after all of his years of education and attention, the boy still had a streak in him that would not be tampered or tamed. But he had done all he could and it was out of his hands now.
"Take care of each other," he said softly. "As you did when I found you. You have been the twin lights of my life in my final years. I could not have asked for better sons, for better heirs." Luciana went unmentioned; her tragedy had no place in their goodbye.
"I will always make you proud, father," Erik affirmed. "Such buildings as you would have wept to see."
"I will see them Erik." He squeezed both of their hands. "I will watch over you always." Then he closed his eyes and a great stillness settled over his flesh.
"Is father gone?" Raoul asked.
Erik reached a spindly hand down and felt for a pulse that he knew wouldn't be there. "Yes Raoul. He's gone."
The younger boy lowered his head onto the silent chest and sobbed while Erik straightened up and replaced his mask. "I will go and tell the men. They will have to be informed. And after that…" He shook his head. "I will play you a mass, father, such as mass as has never been heard, as would make the angel weep to hear it in Heaven."
"Father would have loved it," Raoul said, tears still dripping. "Father always loved your music." He lifted his hear and looked at Erik. "Will we be alright, Erik, with father gone? Are we going to have to begin moving again?"
Erik shook his head. "Not this time Raoul. I do not believe so."
"But the men…"
"The men we have now have come to trust me." He smiled. "It does no harm that they are some of the most highly paid men with the best care that can be afforded in the business. If there is an incident we might have to. But I do not believe there will be one."
"What of the customers? You know how they have balked at dealing with you in the past."
"That is what I have you for." He stroked his brother's hair softly. "In a few years, regardless. I will have to find somebody I can trust in the meanwhile to help me operate the front of the business. But I believe that we will be able to manage. Now come." He made sure the dead man's eyes were firmly shut. "We must dress the house for mourning and make the funeral arrangements.
The preparations only took a few days, but to Raoul they felt like weeks. Everything had been draped in black and Erik was constantly away. When he was not speaking to the priest or writing letters to let other architects who had been close to Giovanni, he was down in the basement feverishly working away at the requiem which he'd mentioned.
Raoul heard snatches of it late at night, drifting up the stairs, and he cried into his pillow when he heard them. Their father, their rock, their stability was gone and in spite of all of Erik's assurances, he feared their own tragedy and separation.
He feared all through the thundering mass that elicited sobs from all present. He feared it as they lowered his adoptive father's coffin into the ground. He feared it as he lay flowers across the magnificently hewn headstone that had been carved by Erik himself. It kept him up at night and distracted him from his studies, instead wanted to listen to the whispers of the men, always fearful of a change in attitude against them.
Nothing, however, happened to warrant his fears. Giovanni's remaining daughter came but briefly with her husband, took her share of the will and vanished without further lingering. The bulk of the estate went to Erik, with Raoul in his charge, and the business continued on much the same as it ever had before Giovanni's death. Erik's ambition gradually stretched, his reputation gradually grew, but nothing happened that indicated any sort of immediate jeopardy.
Little by little, Raoul relaxed and grew used to life without Giovanni, just as he'd grown used to life under him. Weeks rolled by, then months, then a year and then two. And despite the changes that had happened, Giovanni's house – Erik's house – was still their home.
But it was always brightest, right before the night.
"Working on a new commission?" Raoul looked at the myriad papers spread across Erik's desk. "Something exciting? Something wonderful?" His eyes were shining. "Or something merely routine?"
"Routine, I'm afraid," Erik said with a knowing smile.
"Oh." He said down, looking disappointed.
"But, while I must unfortunately occupy myself with routine work, your summer has the potential to be a little more exciting."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well," Erik went on as he continued to scrawl plans, "as you are nearly fifteen, and as I have matters well in hand here, I thought you might like to strike off on your own for a while. Do you own explorations, your own soul searching. It has been a long time since either of us traveled on a trip of any length and I know you have been restless."
"You would let me?" Raoul jumped up. "You trust me?"
"I know you are more than able to take care of yourself. You have been for a long time. Keep in mind that I will expect you to write, however. Else I would grow far too worried."
"Yes, yes of course." His head bobbed up and down. "So where could I go? Where will you let me? Any ideas? Italy? Switzerland? England?"
"Anywhere you please, within reason," Erik laughed. "I'm afraid I draw the line at Russia."
"The north, then, I think," Raoul said with a clap of his hands. "We traveled through the south of Europe so extensively as children. I do love it, but I think I would like to see something new. Old castles, ancient ruins, the ocean up north where it's grey and rocky…"
"Of course," Erik teased. "What is the shimmering Mediterranean compared to that?"
"You said I could go where I pleased within reason," Raoul retorted in a confident voice. "And that's where I want to go."
"And so I did and so you shall," said Erik with a nod.
From that point on, Raoul packed and prepared incessantly until his moment of departure. Letting go of his brother for the first time was a wrenching moment, frightening in some ways but also tremendously exciting. As he left, he looked back every so often until the house was completely out of site. After that, his attention was fixed ahead on the road, looking forward to see what would come next.
It was nature he chose to explore, rather than the architectural marvels he and Erik had looked at of old. Cliffs and breakers were substituted in place of cathedrals and aqueducts. Though it was summer, the weather hap rapidly grown chilly the further north he ventured and he felt glad he'd thought to bring along heavier clothing. At first he wrote assiduously, but thoughts of his brother grew fainter and he lapsed in his duties, sending letters only every so often. He meandered alone, feeling independent and excited to be so.
The lack of human contact did not last, however. As he was riding along the shore one morning, a splash of bright red bobbing on the surf caught his eye. On a whim, he spurred the horse he was riding into the water after the object. Upon retrieval, he found it was a scarf, and when he returned to the shore there was a young girl looking relieve.
"Thank you, monsieur!" She blushed and reached for the fabric which he duly handed over with a stiff nod. "I feared that it was gone forever!"
She did not sop thanking him and, to his irritation, continued to follow him, chattering all the while. After a short time and older man, who he soon learned was her father, joined them and the girl launched into a rapturous and quasi-heroic account of the rescue of her scarf. The man glanced at Raoul who tried to smile and remain polite.
"…and we must invite him over for dinner, papa!" She begged. "Please?"
"I have no objections, so long as he agrees, Christine. Do you mind, sir?" The man, who had introduced himself between his daughters raptures as Charles Daae, directed the request to Raoul, who shrugged.
He had gone without company for a while, so he felt it couldn't be so bad to spend the occasional evening in human company. He finished exercising his horse, returned to the room he'd rented to change and then went back to the address the older gentleman have given him, hoping all the while that the girl would not chatter all night.
When he reached the home, he found a table set with several places.
"Is someone else joining us?" He asked the older man.
"Yes," he said as the servants began to set out the dishes. "Another French family is vacationing near here, a wealthier family. The De Chagnys. I hope you do not mind?"
A memory stirred in Raoul's mind and he felt his stomach drop, but he shook his head. "Not at all."
A/N: Updated in honor of my 8-year anniversary on the site. Hopefully it will be a positive indication of updates to come, now that the plot is finally moving forward once more. And if you like it, drop a review. :)