Agatha was working in her laboratory when the modified Fun Sized Mobile Death and Agony Dispenser that contained Ottilia entered. The Hetereodyne might not be as young as she once was, but she could certainly put in a good day's work at the lab.
"Mistress?" The clank prompted her gently, sounding almost... sad? "You should come now. My sisters... they say it's nearly time."
Agatha braced herself against the buffeting of her emotions. "Does Gil know?" Probably, she thought. That's what the spy network was for.
"Yes, Mistress. He is having an airship prepared. He regrets he cannot come, but Lars will go with you." She hadn't really expected Gil to be able to get away. Keeping the Pax Transylvania, even- or perhaps especially- with the help of Agatha's clanks and the Heterodyne Jagerforces, was no sinecure. Both of them leaving the Empire at once, especially for such an emotional reason, would be the height of folly. Their second son Lars was as much of an escort as they dared send.
Gil had, of course, known where they should go.
It was a familiar clank who answered the door of the small cottage in Norway, but her graceful motions seemed slowed and bowed down. Tinka showed her into the small, plainly furnished main bedroom, and Agatha bent over the gaunt and restless figure on the bed. It was hard to imagine the elegant plotter, the skilled clank builder, who was always so flamboyant, so richly dressed- living the simple life this house represented.
"Agatha?" The hair was prematurely gray, but the eyes that looked incredulously into hers were still that clear, sharp brown. "Agatha! I didn't think I'd ever see you again. You're as beautiful as ever. And.." he struggled to sit up, "How is the lucky Gil? Still striding back and forth and shouting in place of thinking?"
She almost could not speak past the lump in her throat. "Gil is fine. The children- I know Ottilia has told you all about the children- are all fine. The Kastel is crochety as ever. . . . "
"Ah, now that it has a new crop of Heterodynes, I would think it would be pleased!"
"It's planning for the long term. I had to stop it from dumping a very nice young ambassador in Annis's bedroom the other day- and she's only twelve!"
"Up to its old tricks again!" he said, starting to laugh but cut off by a wince of pain.
The door swung open to admit a shabbily-dressed woman of about Agatha's age, with lines of worry plain on her face. She moved quickly to the bed and slipped an arm behind Tarvek's shoulders to support him. "Dearest, I'm sorry I was not here... the apothecary was out of your mixture and had to make some up, and it took the longest time. " She turned to Agatha, "Madame, you are very welcome here, though our hospitality is somewhat limited."
"Thank you Madame. Please do not trouble about me, my husband makes me travel with a fully-equipped airship whenever I am out of his sight. And my son is very like him..."
"Ah, yes, the charming young man who helped me with my packages! If the photographs in the papers we get here are anything to go by, he is very like his father indeed! Hopefully not so troublesome to a mother's heart?"
Agatha laughed, "At the moment, he is rebelling by being very well behaved."
Tarvek stirred. "What on earth have you been telling him, Agatha? Gil was always the good boy!"
"Wellll... it may be that the Jagers and Zeetha made up some stories …but our adventures refurbishing the Kastel were bad enough."
"True. Romantic, though. We had such fun, didn't we? " He shut his eyes, and sighed. "Please tell Gil there is a last batch of syrup in my work-room. You should take all the equipment with you when you go. And my assistant, Kirsten, she's very promising...Eloise will give you her direction..."
"Tarvek, there will be time enough to discuss this later. And besides, you're not going to leave us yet."
"My beautiful madgirl, I know perfectly well how much time I have. And I want to spend it hearing all about you and the family. But I may not be clearheaded enough later to tell you. Eloise, I'm afraid it's time for my dose. Agatha, will you excuse us for a little bit?"
Agatha waited on the hard horsehair sofa in the sittingroom while Eloise and a clank- was that one of the muses? Which one?- ministered to Tarvek's needs. She'd been a good student of medicine, but she was better at treating wounds- especially Jager wounds- than something like this. This just horrified her.
The woman- Eloise- came out the door of his room and shut it behind her. "He'll sleep for a short while. Perhaps half an hour. It's all invalid cat-naps now. He's been skimping on the morphine since Tinka said you were on your way, to be lucid for you. I'm glad you came at last."
"This... must be awkward for you. I'm sorry." Agatha had noticed the ring on her finger, and the distinctive headdress of a local matron on her head. Tarvek's wife looked as little like Agatha as it was possible to look while still being visibly female.
"My lady Hetereodyne, you have nothing to apologize for. Are you thinking I will be jealous? No, no indeed. I have been married to him these twenty years and more, and him loving you all the time, but this is no English fairy-story, like Lancelot! You are not Guenivere, and despite my name, I am no brainless Eloise. He loved me, too, and I had him, and you did not. I am only glad you can be here with him, when he goes."
"You have no children?"
"No, of course not." The woman smiled, suddenly, her tired eyes alight with the joke. "My lady, you are the only Spark who has ever made clanks who could create more of their own!" And suddenly Agatha knew why this woman looked familiar- she must be built on the same plans as Tinka. But the skin... oh, he had done wonders. Who would ever know?
Agatha sat with Tarvek for several hours, afterward. But she could see that the pain was bad, and it tired him, and watching him struggle wrung her heart. There were Sparky gadgets that could help with some kinds of pain, but this was not one of them. Finally, he took more of his medicine, and when he awoke, he was not quite himself. She helped Eloise tend him, and sent Lars' men out for supplies... but it was clear that what was wrong with him could not be cured. The political exile, the reviled 'terrorist', the gifted scientist, the betrayer-and- suitor who had cured her from her mother's curse and saved uncounted people from the revenant-effects, was dying, of a spreading malignancy of the liver. Gil's sources said it was not possible to operate.
She talked with him, and with Eloise, and with the Muses, but time was running out. It was really only about three days, much of the last in a twilight state where he forgot where he was, drifting in and out and asking for Gil, or Violetta, or Anevka. Once, terrifyingly, he panicked, looking at her face: "Lucrezia?" Mostly, however, he clung to her hand- and Eloise's. When he woke, he whispered, "I love you," looking, she thought, at both of them. And she told him, again and again, that she loved him. Sometimes, he roused at that, mostly to murmur, as he had done all those years ago, "Gil.. Gil can protect you..." It was better, actually, when he didn't rouse. Eloise seemed to be praying, but to what God or Gods, Agatha could not imagine.
At last, it was over with, between one painful breath and the next... that didn't come. Agatha dropped her face onto the hand she was holding and sobbed in earnest. Some part of her wondered if he had given Eloise the luxury of tears.
She hadn't cried herself out, but she found herself stopping. She wiped her eyes and looked up. Eloise sat in a chair on the opposite side of the bed, eyes closed. Even though she knew the woman was a clank, all she could see was sorrow and exhaustion on her face. Eloise looked up, and said, "My lady. If you could excuse me? There are things to be done... with the body? And he wanted you to look in his lab, as soon as.. it was over." Agatha decided not to argue. She could send Lars's team in after giving the woman some time, for decency's sake. Tarvek would have hated to have his body tended by strangers, anyway.
The lab was separate from the house, much better maintained. (Most people would be surprised to know how much Wulfenbach-Heterodyne money was carefully laundered through many channels to make it so). She knew some of the equipment wasn't safe to keep, and would have to be destroyed. The rest would be packed up and removed. On the first worktable she came to, she saw a large envelope with Tarvek's flamboyant script on it: To Agatha Heterodyne...
My Beloved Agatha,
If you are reading this, it is over. Thank you for coming to me. Please, please do not try to bring me back. I may not be as good with constructs as Gil is, but I can tell that both body and brain are nearly unusable, and if I wanted to wake up in the body of a pet ferret I've have let Theo do it before I left the Castle all those years ago. I've taken measures to be sure, but please don't try to override them.
I have always loved you, but I knew you were safe with Gil, or as safe as anyone can be who commands the powers we do, and that was the most precious gift you could give me. We saved the world from the Other, and it seems that peace continues to break out under Wulfenbach's rule. (Your Jagers must be bored to death.) That is enough for any man. Even if I had to be wasped to do it safely.
Please take care of the muses- and Eloise, if she will let you. The cottage is hers to do with as she pleases. I beg you to keep her secret.
Machines 3, 5, and 19 are the ones to destroy. The notes in the grain booklet are the ones you should protect.
Give my love to Gil, Violetta, Zeetha and the rest of our little troupe.
She had barely finished reading it when she heard a muffled *boom* behind her. Sprinting out the door, she nearly collided with Lars and two Jagers looking for her. She could see flickering fire through the windows of the cottage bedroom where Tarvek's body lay, and she knew what his "measures" had been. Eloise stood outside the cottage, chivvying a group of clanks toward the lab. Lars ran to Tarvek's widow, but she turned away, seeing the clanks in safe hands.
Agatha knew what was about to happen, and could not bring herself to move. Eloise rose to her toes and danced- twirled- spun back to the cottage, and with one final jete', leapt into the blaze. The light flickered on her skin and twinkled as she disappeared. The flames roared higher, becoming an inferno.
There were already a crowd of townsfolk gathering at the front gate, and between the excited shouts of the fire company and assorted small boys, she heard them say "It's that writer-fella's house!"
"Writer?" she asked a neighbor woman at the gate. "Oh yes, he wrote stories for the children, very fanciful, but many of them were dreadfully sad... I think he sent them to someone in Denmark. But the children liked him... How dreadful about his wife. She must have lost her mind entirely. I hope she died quickly- no one could survive that!"
It was true. Not even a clank could survive that. And in the morning, as the wreckage cooled, Lars reported that all that was found was a lopsided lump of Eloise's metal, with a bit of a Valois badge embedded in it. Nobody noticed it, though, for the badge was burnt black.