فصل 16

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فصل 16

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Chapter 16

The sky was dark outside Diana’s windows before Matthew could leave her side. Restless at first, she had at last fallen into deep sleep. He noted the subtle changes of scent as her shock subsided, a cold fierceness sweeping over him every time he thought of Peter Knox and Gillian Chamberlain.

Matthew couldn’t remember when he’d felt so protective of another being. He felt other emotions as well, that he was reluctant to acknowledge or name.

She’s a witch, he reminded himself as he watched her sleep. She’s not for you.

The more he said it, the less it seemed to matter.

At last he gently extracted himself and crept from the room, leaving the door open a crack in case she stirred.

Alone in the hall, the vampire let surface the cold anger that had been seething inside for hours. The intensity of it almost choked him. He drew the leather cord from the neck of his sweater and touched the worn, smooth surfaces of Lazarus’s silver coffin. The sound of Diana’s breathing was all that kept him from leaping through the night to hunt down two witches.

The clocks of Oxford struck eight, their familiar, weary tolling reminding Matthew of the call he’d missed. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked the messages, quickly thumbing through the automatic notifications from the security systems at the labs and the Old Lodge. There were several messages from Marcus.

Matthew frowned and punched the number to retrieve them. Marcus was not prone to alarm. What could be so urgent?

“Matthew.” The familiar voice held none of its usual playful charm. “I have Diana’s DNA test results. They’re . . . surprising. Call me.”

The recorded voice was still speaking when the vampire’s finger punched another single key on the phone. He raked his hair with his free hand while he waited for Marcus to pick up. It took only one ring.

“Matthew.” There was no warmth in Marcus’s response, only relief. It had been hours since he’d left the messages. Marcus had even checked Matthew’s favorite Oxford haunt, the Pitt Rivers Museum, where the vampire could often be found dividing his attention between the skeleton of an iguanodon and a likeness of Darwin. Miriam had finally banished him from the lab, irritated by his constant questions about where Matthew might be and with whom.

“He’s with her, of course,” Miriam had said in the late afternoon, her voice full of disapproval. “Where else? And if you’re not going to do any work, go home and wait for his call there. You’re in my way.”

“What did the tests show?” Matthew’s voice was low, but his rage was audible.

“What’s happened?” Marcus asked quickly.

A picture lying faceup on the floor of the bathroom caught Matthew’s attention. Diana had been clutching it that afternoon. His eyes narrowed to slits as he took in the image. “Where are you?” he rasped.

“Home,” Marcus answered uneasily.

Matthew picked the photo off the floor and traced its scent to where a piece of paper had slid half under the couch. He read the single word of the message, took a sharp breath. “Bring the reports and my passport to New College. Diana’s rooms are in the garden quadrangle at the top of staircase seven.”

Twenty minutes later Matthew opened the door, his hair standing on end and a ferocious look on his face. The younger vampire had to school himself not to take a step backward.

Marcus held out a manila folder with a maroon passport folded around it, every move deliberate, and patiently waited. He wasn’t about to enter the witch’s rooms without Matthew’s permission, not when the vampire was in this state.

Permission was slow in coming, but at last Matthew took the folder and stepped aside to let Marcus enter.

While Matthew scrutinized Diana’s test results, Marcus studied him. His keen nose took in the old wood and well-worn textiles, along with the smell of the witch’s fear and the vampire’s barely controlled emotions. His own hackles rose at the volatile combination, and a reflexive growl caught in his throat.

Over the years Marcus had come to appreciate Matthew’s finer qualities—his compassion, his conscience, his patience with those he loved. He also knew his faults, anger chief among them. Typically, Matthew’s rage was so destructive that once the poison was out of his system, he disappeared for months or even years to come to terms with what he’d done.

And Marcus had never seen his father so coldly furious as he was now. Matthew Clairmont had entered Marcus’s life in 1777 and changed it—forever. He had appeared in the Bennett farmhouse at the side of an improvised sling that carried the wounded Marquis de Lafayette from the killing fields at the Battle of Brandywine. Matthew towered over the other men, barking orders at everyone regardless of rank.

No one disputed his commands—not even Lafayette, who joked with his friend despite his injuries. The marquis’s good humor couldn’t stave off a tongue-lashing from Matthew, however. When Lafayette protested that he could manage while soldiers with more serious injuries were tended to, Clairmont released a volley of French so laced with expletives and ultimatums that his own men looked at him with awe and the marquis subsided into silence.

Marcus had listened, wide-eyed, when the French soldier railed at the head of the army’s medical corps, the esteemed Dr. Shippen, rejecting his treatment plan as “barbaric.” Clairmont demanded that the doctor’s second in command, John Cochran, treat Lafayette instead. Two days later Clairmont and Shippen could be heard arguing the finer points of anatomy and physiology in fluent Latin—to the delight of the medical staff and General Washington.

Matthew had killed more than his share of British soldiers before the Continental Army was defeated at Brandywine. Men brought into the hospital spun impossible tales of his fearlessness in battle. Some claimed he walked straight into enemy lines, unfazed by bullets and bayonets. When the guns stopped, Clairmont insisted that Marcus remain with the marquis as his nurse.

In the autumn, once Lafayette was able to ride again, the two of them disappeared into the forests of Pennsylvania and New York. They returned with an army of Oneida warriors. The Oneida called Lafayette “Kayewla” for his skill with the horse. Matthew they referred to as “atlutanu’n,” the warrior chief, because of his ability to lead men into battle.

Matthew remained with the army long after Lafayette returned to France. Marcus continued to serve, too, as a lowly surgeon’s assistant. Day after day he tried to stanch the wounds of soldiers injured by musket, cannon, and sword. Clairmont always sought him out whenever one of his own men was injured. Marcus, he said, had a gift for healing.

Shortly after the Continental Army arrived in Yorktown in 1781, Marcus caught a fever. His gift for healing meant nothing then. He lay cold and shivering, tended to only when someone had the time. After four days of suffering, Marcus knew he was dying. When Clairmont came to visit some of his own stricken men, accompanied once again by Lafayette, he saw Marcus on a broken cot in the corner and smelled the scent of death.

The French officer sat at the young man’s side as night turned toward day and shared his story. Marcus thought he was dreaming. A man who drank blood and found it impossible to die? After hearing that, Marcus became convinced that he was already dead and being tormented by one of the devils his father had warned him would prey on his sinful nature.

The vampire explained that Marcus could survive the fever, but there would be a price. First he would have to be reborn. Then he would have to hunt, and kill, and drink blood—even human blood. For a time his need for it would make working among the injured and sick impossible. Matthew promised to send Marcus to university while he got used to his new life.

Sometime before dawn, when the pain became excruciating, Marcus decided he wanted to live more than he feared the new life the vampire had laid out for him. Matthew carried him, limp and burning with fever, out of the hospital and into the woods, where the Oneida waited to lead them into the mountains. Matthew drained him of his blood in a remote hollow, where no one could hear his screams. Even now Marcus remembered the powerful thirst that had followed. He’d been mad with it, desperate to swallow anything cold and liquid.

Finally Matthew had slashed his own wrist with his teeth and let Marcus drink. The vampire’s powerful blood brought him back to startling life.

The Oneida waited impassively at the mouth of the cave and prevented him from wreaking havoc on the nearby farms when his hunger for blood surfaced. They had recognized what Matthew was the moment he appeared in their village. He was like Dagwanoenyent, the witch who lived in the whirlwind and could not die. Why the gods had decided to give the French warrior these gifts was a mystery to the Oneida, but the gods were known for their puzzling decisions. All they could do was make sure their children knew Dagwanoenyent’s legend, carefully instructing them how to kill such a creature by burning him, grinding his bones into powder, and dispersing it to the four winds so that he could not be reborn.

Thwarted, Marcus had behaved like the child he was, howling with frustration and shaking with need. When Matthew hunted down a deer to feed the young man who had been reborn as his son, Marcus quickly sucked it dry. It sated his hunger but didn’t dull the thrumming in his veins as Matthew’s ancient blood suffused his body.

After a week of bringing fresh kills back to their den, Matthew decided Marcus was ready to hunt for himself. Father and son tracked deer and bear through deep forests and along moonlit mountain ridges. Matthew trained him to smell the air, to watch in the shadows for the smallest hint of movement, and to feel changes in the wind that would bring fresh scents their way. And he taught the healer how to kill.

In those early days, Marcus wanted richer blood. He needed it, too, to quench his deep thirst and feed his ravenous body. But Matthew waited until Marcus could track a deer quickly, bring it down, and drain its blood without making a mess before he let him hunt humans. Women were off-limits. Too confusing for newly reborn vampires, Matthew explained, as the lines between sex and death, courtship and hunting, were too finely drawn.

First father and son fed on sick British soldiers. Some begged Marcus to spare their life, and Matthew taught him how to feed on warmbloods without killing them. Then they hunted criminals, who cried for mercy and didn’t deserve it. In every case Matthew made Marcus explain why he’d picked a particular man as his prey. Marcus’s ethics developed, in the halting, deliberate way that they must when a vampire comes to terms with what he needs to do in order to survive.

Matthew was widely known for his finely developed sense of right and wrong. All his mistakes in judgment could be traced back to decisions made in anger. Marcus had been told that his father was not as prone to that dangerous emotion as he’d been in the past. Perhaps so, but tonight in Oxford, Matthew’s face wore the same murderous expression it had at Brandywine—and there was no battlefield to vent his rage.

“You’ve made a mistake.” Matthew’s eyes were wild when he finished poring over the witch’s DNA tests.

Marcus shook his head. “I analyzed her blood twice. Miriam confirmed my findings with the DNA from the swab. I admit the results are surprising.”

Matthew drew in a shaky breath. “They’re preposterous.”

“Diana possesses nearly every genetic marker we’ve ever seen in a witch.” His mouth tightened into a grim line as he flipped to the final pages. “But these sequences have us concerned.”

Matthew leafed quickly through the data. There were more than two dozen sequences of DNA, some short and some long, with Miriam’s tiny red question marks next to them.

“Christ,” he said, tossing them back at his son. “We already have enough to worry about. That bastard Peter Knox has threatened her. He wants the manuscript. Diana tried to recall it, but Ashmole 782 has gone back into the library and won’t come out again. Happily, Knox is convinced—for now—that she first obtained it by deliberately breaking its spell.”

“She didn’t?”

“No. Diana doesn’t have the knowledge or control to do anything that intricate. Her power is completely undisciplined. She put a hole in my rug.” Matthew looked sour, and his son struggled not to smile. His father did love his antiques.

“Then we’ll keep Knox away and give Diana a chance to come to terms with her abilities. That doesn’t sound too difficult.”

“Knox is not my only concern. Diana received these in the mail today.” Matthew picked up the photograph and its accompanying slip of paper and handed them to his son. When he continued, his voice had a dangerous, flat tone. “Her parents. I remember hearing about two American witches killed in Nigeria, but it was so long ago. I never connected them to Diana.”

“Holy God,” Marcus said softly. Staring at the picture, he tried to imagine what it would be like to receive a photo of his own father ripped to pieces and tossed into the dirt to die.

“There’s more. From what I can piece together, Diana has long believed that her parents were killed by humans. That’s the chief reason she’s tried to keep magic from her life.”

“That won’t work, will it?” muttered Marcus, thinking of the witch’s DNA.

“No,” Matthew agreed, grim-faced. “While I was in Scotland, another American witch, Gillian Chamberlain, informed her that it wasn’t humans at all—but fellow witches—who murdered her parents.”

“Did they?”

“I’m not sure. But there’s clearly more to this situation than a witch’s discovery of Ashmole 782.” Matthew’s tone turned deadly. “I intend to find out what it is.”

Something silver glinted against his father’s dusky sweater. He’s wearing Lazarus’s coffin, Marcus realized.

No one in the family talked openly about Eleanor St. Leger or the events surrounding her death, for fear of driving Matthew into one of his rages. Marcus understood that his father hadn’t wanted to leave Paris in 1140, where he was happily studying philosophy. But when the head of the family, Matthew’s own father, Philippe, called him back to Jerusalem to help resolve the conflicts that continued to plague the Holy Land long after the conclusion of Urban II’s Crusade, Matthew obeyed without question. He had met Eleanor, befriended her sprawling English family, and fallen resolutely in love.

But the St. Legers and the de Clermonts were often on opposite sides in the disputes, and Matthew’s older brothers—Hugh, Godfrey, and Baldwin—urged him to put the woman aside, leaving a clear path for them to destroy her family. Matthew refused. One day a squabble between Baldwin and Matthew over some petty political crisis involving the St. Legers spiraled out of control. Before Philippe could be found and made to stop it, Eleanor intervened. By the time Matthew and Baldwin came to their senses, she’d lost too much blood to recover.

Marcus still didn’t understand why Matthew had let Eleanor die if he’d loved her so much.

Now Matthew wore his pilgrim’s badge only when he was afraid he was going to kill someone or when he was thinking of Eleanor St. Leger—or both.

“That picture is a threat—and not an idle one. Hamish thought the Bishop name would make the witches more cautious, but I fear the opposite is true. No matter how great her innate talents might be, Diana can’t protect herself, and she’s too damn self-reliant to ask for help. I need you to stay with her for a few hours.” Matthew dragged his eyes from the picture of Rebecca Bishop and Stephen Proctor. “I’m going to find Gillian Chamberlain.”

“You can’t be sure it was Gillian who delivered that picture,” Marcus pointed out. “There are two different scents on it.”

“The other belongs to Peter Knox.”

“But Peter Knox is a member of the Congregation!” Marcus knew that a nine-member council of daemons, witches, and vampires had been formed during the Crusades—three representatives from each species. The Congregation’s job was to ensure every creature’s safety by seeing to it that no one caught the attention of humans. “If you make a move in his direction, it will be seen as a challenge to their authority. The whole family will be implicated. You aren’t seriously considering endangering us just to avenge a witch?”

“You aren’t questioning my loyalty, are you?” Matthew purred.

“No, I’m questioning your judgment,” Marcus said hotly, facing his father without fear. “This ridiculous romance is bad enough. The Congregation already has one reason to take steps against you. Don’t give them another.”

During Marcus’s first visit to France, his vampire grandmother had explained that he was now bound by a covenant that prohibited close relationships between different orders of creatures, as well as any meddling in human religion and politics. All other interactions with humans—including affairs of the heart—were to be avoided but were permitted as long as they didn’t lead to trouble. Marcus preferred spending time with vampires and always had, so the covenant’s terms had mattered little to him—until now.

“Nobody cares anymore,” Matthew said defensively, his gray eyes drifting in the direction of Diana’s bedroom door.

“My God, she doesn’t understand about the covenant,” Marcus said contemptuously, “and you have no intention of telling her. You damn well know you can’t keep this secret from her indefinitely.”

“The Congregation isn’t going to enforce a promise made nearly a thousand years ago in a very different world.” Matthew’s eyes were now fixed on an antique print of the goddess Diana aiming her bow at a hunter fleeing through the forest. He remembered a passage from a book written long ago by a friend—“ for they are no longer hunters, but the hunted”— and shivered.

“Think before you do this, Matthew.”

“I’ve made my decision.” He avoided his son’s eyes. “Will you check on her while I’m gone, make sure she’s all right?”

Marcus nodded, unable to deny the raw appeal in his father’s voice.

After the door closed behind his father, Marcus went to Diana. He lifted one of her eyelids, then the other, and picked up her wrist. He sniffed, noting the fear and shock that surrounded her. He also detected the drug that was still circulating through her veins. Good, he thought. At least his father had had the presence of mind to give her a sedative.

Marcus continued to probe Diana’s condition, looking minutely at her skin and listening to the sound of her breath. When he was finished, he stood quietly at the witch’s bedside, watching her dream. Her forehead was creased into a frown, as if she were arguing with someone.

After his examination Marcus knew two things. First, Diana would be fine. She’d had a serious shock and needed rest, but no permanent damage had been done. Second, his father’s scent was all over her. He’d done it deliberately, to mark Diana so that every vampire would know to whom she belonged. That meant the situation had gone further than Marcus had believed possible. It was going to be difficult for his father to detach himself from this witch. And he would have to, if the stories that Marcus’s grandmother had told him were true.

It was after midnight when Matthew reappeared. He looked even angrier than when he’d left, but he was spotless and impeccable as always. He ran his fingers through his hair and strode straight into Diana’s room without a word to his son.

Marcus knew better than to question Matthew then. After he emerged from the witch’s room, Marcus asked only, “Will you discuss the DNA findings with Diana?”

“No,” Matthew said shortly, without a hint of guilt over keeping information of this magnitude from her. “Nor am I going to share what the witches of the Congregation might do to her. She’s been through enough.”

“Diana Bishop is less fragile than you think. You have no right to keep that information to yourself, if you are going to continue to spend time with her.” Marcus knew that a vampire’s life was measured not in hours or years but in secrets revealed and kept. Vampires guarded their personal relationships, the names they’d adopted, and the details of the many lives they’d led. Nonetheless, his father kept more secrets than most, and his urge to hide things from his own family was intensely aggravating.

“Stay out of this, Marcus,” his father snarled. “It’s not your business.”

Marcus swore. “Your damned secrets are going to be the family’s undoing.”

Matthew had his son by the scruff of the neck before he’d finished speaking. “My secrets have kept this family safe for many centuries, my son. Where would you be today if not for my secrets?”

“Food for worms in an unmarked Yorktown grave, I expect,” Marcus said breathlessly, his vocal cords constricted.

Over the years Marcus had tried with little success to uncover some of his father’s secrets. He’d never been able to discover who tipped Matthew off that Marcus was raising hell in New Orleans after Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase, for example. There he’d created a vampire family as boisterous and charming as himself from the city’s youngest, least responsible citizens. Marcus’s brood—which included an alarming number of gamblers and ne’er-do-wells—risked human discovery every time they went out after dark. The witches of New Orleans, Marcus remembered, had made it clear they wanted them to leave town.

Then Matthew had shown up, uninvited and unannounced, with a gorgeous mixed-race vampire: Juliette Durand. Matthew and Juliette had waged a campaign to bring Marcus’s family to heel. Within days they’d formed an unholy alliance with a foppish young French vampire in the Garden District who had implausibly golden hair and a streak of ruthlessness as wide as the Mississippi. That was when the real trouble began.

By the end of the first fortnight, Marcus’s new family was considerably, and mysteriously, smaller. As the number of deaths and disappearances mounted, Matthew threw up his hands and murmured about the dangers of New Orleans. Juliette, whom Marcus had grown to detest in the few days he’d known her, smiled secretively and cooed encouraging words in his father’s ears. She was the most manipulative creature Marcus had ever met, and he was thrilled when she and his father parted ways.

Under pressure from his remaining children, Marcus made devout assurances to behave if only Matthew and Juliette would leave.

Matthew agreed, after setting out what was expected of members of the de Clermont family in exacting detail. “If you are determined to make me a grandfather,” his father instructed during an extremely unpleasant interview held in the presence of several of the city’s oldest and most powerful vampires, “take more care.” The memory still made Marcus blanch.

Who or what gave Matthew and Juliette the authority to act as they did remained a mystery. His father’s strength, Juliette’s cunning, and the luster of the de Clermont name may have helped them gain the support of the vampires. But there was more to it than that. Every creature in New Orleans—even the witches—had treated his father like royalty.

Marcus wondered if his father had been a member of the Congregation, all those years ago. It would explain a great deal.

Matthew’s voice sent his son’s memories flying. “Diana may be brave, Marcus, but she doesn’t need to know everything now.” He released Marcus and stepped away.

“Does she know about our family, then? Your other children?” Does she know about your father? Marcus didn’t say the last aloud.

Matthew knew what he was thinking anyway. “I don’t tell other vampires’ tales.”

“You’re making a mistake,” said Marcus, shaking his head. “Diana won’t thank you for keeping things from her.”

“So you and Hamish say. When she’s ready, I’ll tell her everything—but not before.” His father’s voice was firm. “My only concern right now is getting Diana out of Oxford.”

“Will you drop her off in Scotland? Surely she’ll be beyond anyone’s reach there.” Marcus thought at once of Hamish’s remote estate. “Or will you leave her at Woodstock before you go?”

“Before I go where?” Matthew’s face was puzzled.

“You had me bring your passport.” Now it was Marcus who was puzzled. That’s what his father did—he got angry and went away by himself until he was under better control.

“I have no intention of leaving Diana,” Matthew said icily. “I’m taking her to Sept-Tours.”

“You can’t possibly put her under the same roof as Ysabeau!” Marcus’s shocked voice rang in the small room.

“It’s my home, too,” Matthew said, jaw set in a stubborn line.

“Your mother openly boasts about the witches she’s killed and blames every witch she meets for what happened to Louisa and your father.”

Matthew’s face crumpled, and Marcus at last understood. The photograph had reminded Matthew of Philippe’s death and Ysabeau’s battle with madness in the years that followed.

Matthew pressed the palms of his hands against his temples, as if desperately trying to shape a better plan from the outside in. “Diana had nothing to do with either tragedy. Ysabeau will understand.”

“She won’t—you know she won’t,” Marcus said obstinately. He loved his grandmother and didn’t want her hurt. And if Matthew—her favorite—brought a witch home, it was going to hurt her. Badly.

“There’s nowhere as safe as Sept-Tours. The witches will think twice before tangling with Ysabeau—especially at her own home.”

“For God’s sake, don’t leave the two of them alone together.”

“I won’t,” Matthew promised. “I’ll need you and Miriam to move into the gatehouse in hopes that will convince everyone Diana is there. They’ll figure out the truth eventually, but it may win us a few days. My keys are with the porter. Come back in a few hours, when we’ve gone. Take the duvet from her bed—it will have her scent on it—and drive to Woodstock. Stay there until you hear from me.”

“Can you protect yourself and that witch at the same time?” Marcus asked quietly.

“I can handle it,” Matthew said with certainty.

Marcus nodded, and the two vampires gripped forearms, exchanging a meaningful look. Anything they needed to say to each other at moments like these had long since been said.

When Matthew was alone again, he sank into the sofa and cradled his head in his hands. Marcus’s vehement opposition had shaken him.

He looked up and stared again at the print of the goddess of the hunt stalking her prey. Another line from the same old poem came into his mind. “‘I saw her coming from the forest,’” he whispered, “‘Huntress of myself, beloved Diana.’”

In the bedroom, too far away for a warmblood to have heard, Diana stirred and cried out. Matthew sped to her side and gathered her into his arms. The protectiveness returned, and with it a renewed sense of purpose.

“I’m here,” he murmured against the rainbow strands of her hair. He looked down at Diana’s sleeping face, her mouth puckered and a fierce frown between her eyes. It was a face he’d studied for hours and knew well, but its contradictions still fascinated him. “Have you bewitched me?” he wondered aloud.

After tonight Matthew knew his need for her was greater than anything else. Neither his family nor his next taste of blood mattered as much as knowing that she was safe and within arm’s reach. If that was what it meant to be bewitched, he was a lost man.

His arms tightened, holding Diana in sleep as he would not allow himself to do when she was awake. She sighed, nestling closer.

Were he not a vampire he wouldn’t have caught her faint, murmured words as she clutched both his ampulla and the fabric of his sweater, her fist resting firmly against his heart.

“You’re not lost. I found you.”

Matthew wondered fleetingly if he’d imagined it but knew that he hadn’t.

She could hear his thoughts.

Not all the time, not when she was conscious—not yet. But it was only a matter of time before Diana knew everything there was to know about him. She would know his secrets, the dark and terrible things he wasn’t brave enough to face.

She answered with another faint murmur. “I’m brave enough for both of us.”

Matthew bent his head toward hers. “You’ll have to be.”

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