The bas-reliefs along the sides of the temple were darkened by rain and clinging green plants, but Etta could still make out the carved panel of what looked to her like a market—people bartering and selling, with fish swimming above them. They walked quickly past images of warriors marching alongside elephants to war, a scene of an enormous fish swallowing a deer, and what had to be a royal procession, following the barest hint of a footpath through the mud. The rain had washed away any evidence that the monks had ever been there, but Nicholas didn’t relax, didn’t lower his guard, until they spotted the passage’s glimmering wall of light floating above what Etta knew was the Elephant Terrace.
The same one her mother had painted and hung above the couch in the living room.
The Elephant Terrace stood a short distance away from the—her mind reached for the name—the Phimeanakas, the city’s first temple. The one that housed a sacred tree buried within it, where her mother had actually done her dig. She eyed the steep stairway that hugged the stacked layers of the temple; the stone seemed almost red compared to the elaborate gray structure that sat on top of it.
What was her family’s connection to this place?
She turned back toward the raised platform in front of them, accepting a hand up from Nicholas as he climbed it. The king had used this terrace to survey the march of his victorious army, and carved around it, chipped away from the supports, were elephants. The platform looked as if it was resting upon their backs.
“Stand on the shoulders of memory,” Nicholas breathed out. The clue made sense to Etta now—elephants were celebrated for their memories—but it didn’t explain the way the passage made the air feel like it was hiccupping. The sound coming off it, its usual bellow of thunder, almost drowned out a second, lower beat. It reminded Etta of the way that you could sometimes feel your pulse in another, unexpected part of your body.
“Whatever is the matter?” Nicholas asked.
“Nothing, just…” Etta looked back at the city, slowly turning to take in the sight of the trees that seemed as if they were stepping over the walls, the faces on the Bayon that watched her with tranquil, serene smiles. When in her life would she see this again—see the city at this moment, before humanity came flooding back into it?
This was the danger, the seduction of time travel, she realized—it was the opportunity, the freedom of a thousand possibilities of where to live and how to start over. It was the beauty open to you in your life if you only stopped for a moment to look. Those things drowned out even the most basic dangers of collapsing passages, of being lost, of finding yourself in an unfriendly time.
“It’s time,” Nicholas said quietly, offering his hand.
Again, she felt her desire for music swelling in her like an ache. Her fingers pressed against her side, and she imagined how she would try to coax a song of hidden depth, and warm, wild life, from the strings. And when she passed through the damp jungle air into the electric, shivering fingers of the passage, she mourned the fact that she would never see this place again.
ETTA FOUND HERSELF AWAKE, SPRAWLED out on the grass beneath a generous cover of shade, ears ringing, head throbbing—but awake. And not just awake, but also free of the sickening swoop of dizziness that had come hand in hand with the last passages.
She sat up, brushing a red leaf out of her hair. The crisp autumn air was practically golden as it came down through the fiery shade of the leaves overhead. When she turned, Etta wasn’t the least bit surprised to see the Luxembourg Garden laid out in front of her, a vision in the warm afternoon light.
“You were correct.” Nicholas was sitting with his back against the same tree, rubbing his face. “C’est le Jardin du Luxembourg.”
Etta couldn’t stop her small, ridiculous smile. “Say it again.”
“Pardon?” he asked.
Say it again, she thought. His voice did something incredible to the French language. The words moved through her like warm honey.
“C’est le Jardin du Luxembourg,” he repeated, visibly bewildered.
“So…what day do you think it is?”
“The same day as when we woke up in London,” he answered. He knew what she was thinking.
Etta’s dress had torn in several places at the hem, and had turned from sky blue to a brown usually reserved for muddy rivers. Her boots were crusted with dried dirt and mulch, and she didn’t need to touch her hair to know that it was standing straight up in several places.
Nicholas took a quick look around—to make sure they weren’t being watched?—and began to smooth her wild waves down, collecting her hair at the nape of her neck. He was careful not to touch her skin as he pulled a ribbon from their bag and used it to tie the mass of it back. Etta was careful not to give in to the urge to lean against his shoulder and wrap her arms around his narrow waist.
Seven days. Less.
“Shall we?” she asked.
“Let’s make a slow and careful approach of this,” he said. “I want to make sure we don’t raise too much alarm.…”
And she wanted to make sure that it would be safe for him.
The odd thing was, as they passed through the last of the trees and stood on the edge of the path, Etta couldn’t get a sense of where they were in time. The women’s fashions were somewhere between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—brightly colored, finely tailored jackets with long skirts that were bustled up in the back or decorated with layers of ruffles, exaggerating the natural curves of their bodies. Hair was hidden beneath bonnets and hats, all decorated with flowers and ribbons.