فصل 18

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فصل 18

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Chapter 18

Ysabeau stood in the doorway of her enormous château, regal and icy, and glared at her vampire son as we climbed the stone stairs.

Matthew stooped a full foot to kiss her softly on both cheeks. “Shall we come inside, or do you wish to continue our greetings out here?”

His mother stepped back to let us pass. I felt her furious gaze and smelled something reminiscent of sarsaparilla soda and caramel. We walked through a short, dark hallway, lined in a none-too-welcoming fashion with pikes that pointed directly at the visitor’s head, and into a room with high ceilings and wall paintings that had clearly been done by some imaginative nineteenth-century artist to reflect a medieval past that never was. Lions, fleurs-de-lis, a snake with his tail in his mouth, and scallop shells were painted on white walls. At one end a circular set of stairs climbed to the top of one of the towers.

Indoors I faced the full force of Ysabeau’s stare. Matthew’s mother personified the terrifying elegance that seemed bred to the bone in French-women. Like her son—who disconcertingly appeared to be slightly older than she was—she was dressed in a monochromatic palette that minimized her uncanny paleness. Ysabeau’s preferred colors ranged from cream to soft brown. Every inch of her ensemble was expensive and simple, from the tips of her soft, buff-colored leather shoes to the topazes that fluttered from her ears. Slivers of startling, cold emerald surrounded dark pupils, and the high slashes of her cheekbones kept her perfect features and dazzling white skin from sliding into mere prettiness. Her hair had the color and texture of honey, a golden pour of silk caught at the base of her skull in a heavy, low knot.

“You might have shown some consideration, Matthew.” Her accent softened his name, making it sound ancient. Like all vampires she had a seductive and melodic voice. In Ysabeau’s case it sounded of distant bells, pure and deep.

“Afraid of the gossip, Maman? I thought you prided yourself on being a radical.” Matthew sounded both indulgent and impatient. He tossed the keys onto a nearby table. They slid across the perfect finish and landed with a clatter at the base of a Chinese porcelain bowl.

“I have never been a radical!” Ysabeau was horrified. “Change is very much overrated.”

She turned and surveyed me from head to toe. Her perfectly formed mouth tightened.

She did not like what she saw—and it was no wonder. I tried to see myself through her eyes—the sandy hair that was neither thick nor well behaved, the dusting of freckles from being outdoors too much, the nose that was too long for the rest of my face. My eyes were my best feature, but they were unlikely to make up for my fashion sense. Next to her elegance and Matthew’s perpetually unruffled self, I felt—and looked—like a gauche country mouse. I pulled at the hem of my jacket with my free hand, glad to see that there was no sign of magic at the fingertips, and hoped that there was also no sign of that phantom “shimmering” that Matthew had mentioned.

“Maman, this is Diana Bishop. Diana, my mother, Ysabeau de Clermont.” The syllables rolled off his tongue.

Ysabeau’s nostrils flared delicately. “I do not like the way witches smell.” Her English was flawless, her glittering eyes fixed on mine. “She is sweet and repulsively green, like spring.”

Matthew launched into a volley of something unintelligible that sounded like a cross between French, Spanish, and Latin. He kept his voice low, but there was no disguising the anger in it.

“Ca suffit,” Ysabeau retorted in recognizable French, drawing her hand across her throat. I swallowed hard and reflexively reached for the collar of my jacket.

“Diana.” Ysabeau said it with a long e rather than an i and an emphasis on the first rather than the second syllable. She extended one white, cold hand, and I took her fingers lightly in mine. Matthew grabbed my left hand in his, and for a moment we made an odd chain of vampires and a witch. “Encantada.”

“She’s pleased to meet you,” Matthew said, translating for me and shooting a warning glance at his mother.

“Yes, yes,” Ysabeau said impatiently, turning back to her son. “Of course she speaks only English and new French. Modern warmbloods are so poorly educated.”

A stout old woman with skin like snow and a mass of incongruously dark hair wrapped around her head in intricate braids stepped into the front hall, her arms outstretched. “Matthew!” she cried. “Coss? anatz?”

“Va plan, mercés. E tu?” Matthew caught her in a hug, and kissed her on both cheeks.

“Aital aital,” she replied, grabbing her elbow and grimacing.

Matthew murmured in sympathy, and Ysabeau appealed to the ceiling for deliverance from the emotional spectacle.

“Marthe, this is my friend Diana,” he said, drawing me forward.

Marthe, too, was a vampire, one of the oldest I’d ever seen. She had to have been in her sixties when she was reborn, and though her hair was dark, there was no mistaking her age. Lines crisscrossed her face, and the joints of her hands were so gnarled that apparently not even vampiric blood could straighten them.

“Welcome, Diana,” she said in a husky voice of sand and treacle, looking deep into my eyes. She nodded at Matthew and reached for my hand. Her nostrils flared. “Elle est une puissante sorcière,” she said to Matthew, her voice appreciative.

“She says you’re a powerful witch,” Matthew explained. His closeness somewhat diminished my instinctive concern with having a vampire sniff me.

Having no idea what the proper French response was to such a comment, I smiled weakly at Marthe and hoped that would do.

“You’re exhausted,” Matthew said, his eyes flicking over my face. He began rapidly questioning the two vampires in the unfamiliar language. This led to a great deal of pointing, eye rolling, emphatic gestures, and sighs. When Ysabeau mentioned the name Louisa, Matthew looked at his mother with renewed fury. His voice took on a flat, abrupt finality when he answered her.

Ysabeau shrugged. “Of course, Matthew,” she murmured with patent insincerity.

“Let’s get you settled.” Matthew’s voice warmed as he spoke to me.

“I will bring food and wine,” Marthe said in halting English.

“Thank you,” I said. “And thank you, Ysabeau, for having me in your home.” She sniffed and bared her teeth. I hoped it was a smile but feared it was not.

“And water, Marthe,” Matthew added. “Oh, and food is coming this morning.”

“Some of it has already arrived,” his mother said tartly. “Leaves. Sacks of vegetables and eggs. You were very bad to ask them to drive it down.”

“Diana needs to eat, Maman. I didn’t imagine you had a great deal of proper food in the house.” Matthew’s long ribbon of patience was fraying from the events of last evening and now his lukewarm homecoming.

“I need fresh blood, but I don’t expect Victoire and Alain to fetch it from Paris in the middle of the night.” Ysabeau looked vastly pleased with herself as my knees swayed.

Matthew exhaled sharply, his hand under my elbow to steady me. “Marthe,” he asked, pointedly ignoring Ysabeau, “can you bring up eggs and toast and some tea for Diana?”

Marthe eyed Ysabeau and then Matthew as if she were at center court at Wimbledon. She cackled with laughter. “?c,” she replied, with a cheerful nod.

“We’ll see you two at dinner,” Matthew said calmly. I felt four icy patches on my shoulders as the women watched us depart. Marthe said something to Ysabeau that made her snort and Matthew smile broadly.

“What did Marthe say?” I whispered, remembering too late that there were few conversations, whispered or shouted, that would not be overheard by everyone in the house.

“She said we looked well together.”

“I don’t want Ysabeau to be furious with me the whole time we’re here.”

“Pay no attention to her,” he said serenely. “Her bark is worse than her bite.”

We passed through a doorway into a long room with a wide assortment of chairs and tables of many different styles and periods. There were two fireplaces, and two knights in glistening armor jousted over one of them, their bright lances crossing neatly without a drop of bloodshed. The fresco had clearly been painted by the same dewy-eyed chivalric enthusiast who’d decorated the hall. A pair of doors led to another room, this one lined with bookcases.

“Is that a library?” I asked, Ysabeau’s hostility momentarily forgotten. “Can I see your copy of Aurora Consurgens now?”

“Later,” Matthew said firmly. “You’re going to eat something and then sleep.”

He led the way to another curving staircase, navigating through the labyrinth of ancient furniture with the ease of long experience. My own passage was more tentative, and my thighs grazed a bow-fronted chest of drawers, setting a tall porcelain vase swaying. When we finally reached the bottom of the staircase, Matthew paused.

“It’s a long climb, and you’re tired. Do you need me to carry you?”

“No,” I said indignantly. “You are not going to sling me over your shoulder like a victorious medieval knight making off with the spoils of battle.”

Matthew pressed his lips together, eyes dancing.

“Don’t you dare laugh at me.”

He did laugh, the sound bouncing off the stone walls as if a pack of amused vampires were standing in the stairwell. This was, after all, precisely the kind of place where knights would have carried women upstairs. But I didn’t plan on being counted among them.

By the fifteenth tread, my sides were heaving with effort. The tower’s worn stone steps were not made for ordinary feet and legs—they had clearly been designed for vampires like Matthew who were either over six feet tall, extremely agile, or both. I gritted my teeth and kept climbing. Around a final bend in the stairs, a room opened up suddenly.

“Oh.” My hand traveled to my mouth in amazement.

I didn’t have to be told whose room this was. It was Matthew’s, through and through.

We were in the château’s graceful round tower—the one that still had its smooth, conical copper roof and was set on the back of the massive main building. Tall, narrow windows punctuated the walls, their leaded panes letting in slashes of light and autumn colors from the fields and trees outside.

The room was circular, and high bookcases smoothed its graceful curves into occasional straight lines. A large fireplace was set squarely into the walls that butted up against the château’s central structure. This fireplace had miraculously escaped the attention of the nineteenth-century fresco painter. There were armchairs and couches, tables and hassocks, most in shades of green, brown, and gold. Despite the size of the room and the expanses of gray stone, the overall effect was of cozy warmth.

The room’s most intriguing objects were those Matthew had chosen to keep from one of his many lives. A painting by Vermeer was propped up on a bookshelf next to a shell. It was unfamiliar—not one of the artist’s few known canvases. The subject looked an awful lot like Matthew. A broadsword so long and heavy that no one but a vampire could have wielded it hung over the fireplace, and a Matthew-size suit of armor stood in one corner. Opposite, there was an ancient-looking human skeleton hanging from a wooden stand, the bones tied together with something resembling piano wire. On the table next to it were two microscopes, both made in the seventeenth century unless I was very much mistaken. An ornate crucifix studded with large red, green, and blue stones was tucked into a niche in the wall along with a stunning ivory carving of the Virgin.

Matthew’s snowflakes drifted across my face as he watched me survey his belongings.

“It’s a Matthew museum,” I said softly, knowing that every object there told a story.

“It’s just my study.”

“Where did you—” I began, pointing at the microscopes.

“Later,” he said again. “You have thirty more steps to climb.”

Matthew led me to the other side of the room and a second staircase. This one, too, curved up toward the heavens. Thirty slow steps later, I stood on the edge of another round room dominated by an enormous walnut four-poster bed complete with tester and heavy hangings. High above it were the exposed beams and supports that held the copper roof in place. A table was pushed against one wall, a fireplace was tucked into another, and a few comfortable chairs were arranged before it. Opposite, a door stood ajar, revealing an enormous bathtub.

“It’s like a falcon’s lair,” I said, peering out the window. Matthew had been looking at this landscape from these windows since the Middle Ages. I wondered, briefly, about the other women he’d brought here before me. I was sure I wasn’t the first, but I didn’t think there had been many. There was something intensely private about the château.

Matthew came up behind me and looked over my shoulder. “Do you approve?” His breath was soft against my ear. I nodded.

“How long?” I asked, unable to help myself.

“This tower?” he asked. “About seven hundred years.”

“And the village? Do they know about you?”

“Yes. Like witches, vampires are safer when they’re part of a community who knows what they are but doesn’t ask too many questions.”

Generations of Bishops had lived in Madison without anyone’s making a fuss. Like Peter Knox, we were hiding in plain sight.

“Thank you for bringing me to Sept-Tours,” I said. “It does feel safer than Oxford.” In spite of Ysabeau.

“Thank you for braving my mother.” Matthew chuckled as if he’d heard my unspoken words. The distinctive scent of carnations accompanied the sound. “She’s overprotective, like most parents.”

“I felt like an idiot—and underdressed, too. I didn’t bring a single thing to wear that will meet with her approval.” I bit my lip, my forehead creased.

“Coco Chanel didn’t meet with Ysabeau’s approval. You may be aiming a bit high.”

I laughed and turned, my eyes seeking his. When they met, my breath caught. Matthew’s gaze lingered on my eyes, cheeks, and finally my mouth. His hand rose to my face.

“You’re so alive,” he said gruffly. “You should be with a man much, much younger.”

I lifted to my toes. He bent his head. Before our lips touched, a tray clattered on the table.

“‘Vos etz arbres e branca,’” Marthe sang, giving Matthew a wicked look.

He laughed and sang back in a clear baritone, “‘On fruitz de gaug s’asazona.’”

“What language is that?” I asked, getting down off my tiptoes and following Matthew to the fireplace.

“The old tongue,” Marthe replied.

“Occitan.” Matthew removed the silver cover from a plate of eggs. The aroma of hot food filled the room. “Marthe decided to recite poetry before you sat down to eat.”

Marthe giggled and swatted at Matthew’s wrist with a towel that she pulled from her waist. He dropped the cover and took a seat.

“Come here, come here,” she said, gesturing at the chair across from him. “Sit, eat.” I did as I was told. Marthe poured Matthew a goblet of wine from a tall, silver-handled glass pitcher.

“Mercés,” he murmured, his nose going immediately to the glass in anticipation.

A similar pitcher held icy-cold water, and Marthe put this in another goblet, which she handed to me. She poured a steaming cup of tea, which I recognized immediately as coming from Mariage Frères in Paris. Apparently Matthew had raided my cupboards while I slept last night and been quite specific with his shopping lists. Marthe poured thick cream into the cup before he could stop her, and I shot him a warning glance. At this point I needed allies. Besides, I was too thirsty to care. He leaned back in his chair meekly, sipping his wine.

Marthe pulled more items from her tray—a silver place setting, salt, pepper, butter, jam, toast, and a golden omelet flecked with fresh herbs.

“Merci, Marthe,” I said with heartfelt gratitude.

“Eat!” she commanded, aiming her towel at me this time.

Marthe looked satisfied with the enthusiasm of my first few bites. Then she sniffed the air. She frowned and directed an exclamation of disgust at Matthew before striding to the fireplace. A match snapped, and the dry wood began to crackle.

“Marthe,” Matthew protested, standing up with his wineglass, “I can do that.”

“She is cold,” Marthe grumbled, clearly aggravated that he hadn’t anticipated this before he sat down, “and you are thirsty. I will make the fire.”

Within minutes there was a blaze. Though no fire would make the enormous room toasty, it took the chill from the air. Marthe brushed her hands together and stood. “She must sleep. I can smell she has been afraid.”

“She’ll sleep when she’s through eating,” Matthew said, holding up his right hand in a pledge. Marthe looked at him for a long moment and shook her finger at him as though he were fifteen, and not fifteen hundred, years old. Finally his innocent expression convinced her. She left the room, her ancient feet moving surely down the challenging stairs.

“Occitan is the language of the troubadours, isn’t it?” I asked, after Marthe had departed. The vampire nodded. “I didn’t realize it was spoken this far north.”

“We’re not that far north,” Matthew said with a smile. “Once, Paris was nothing more than an insignificant borderlands town. Most people spoke Occitan then. The hills kept the northerners—and their language—at a distance. Even now people here are wary of outsiders.”

“What do the words mean?” I asked.

“‘You are the tree and branch,’” he said, fixing his eyes on the slashes of countryside visible through the nearest window, “‘where delight’s fruit ripens. ’” Matthew shook his head ruefully. “Marthe will hum the song all afternoon and make Ysabeau crazy.”

The fire continued to spread its warmth through the room, and the heat made me drowsy. By the time the eggs were gone, it was difficult to keep my eyes open.

I was in the middle of a jaw-splitting yawn when Matthew drew me from the chair. He scooped me into his arms, my feet swinging in midair. I started to protest.

“Enough,” he said. “You can barely sit up straight, never mind walk.”

He put me gently on the end of the bed and pulled the coverlet back. The snowy-white sheets looked so crisp and inviting. I dropped my head onto the mountain of down pillows arranged against the bed’s intricate walnut carvings.

“Sleep.” Matthew took the bed’s curtains in both hands and gave them a yank.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to,” I said, stifling another yawn. “I’m not good at napping.”

“All appearances to the contrary,” he said drily. “You’re in France now. You’re not supposed to try. I’ll be downstairs. Call if you need anything.”

With one staircase leading from the hall up to his study and the other staircase leading to the bedroom from the opposite side, no one could reach this room without going past—and through—Matthew. The rooms had been designed as if he needed to protect himself from his own family.

A question rose to my lips, but he gave the curtains a final tug until they were closed, effectively silencing me. The heavy bed hangings didn’t allow the light to penetrate, and they shut out the worst of the drafts as well. Relaxing into the firm mattress, my body’s warmth magnified by the layers of bedding, I quickly fell asleep.

I woke up to the rustle of turning pages and sat bolt upright, trying to imagine why someone had shut me into a box made of fabric. Then I remembered.

France. Matthew. At his home.

“Matthew?” I called softly.

He parted the curtains and looked down with a smile. Behind him, candles were lit—dozens and dozens of them. Some were set into the sconces around the room, and others stood in ornate candelabras on the floor and tables.

“For someone who doesn’t nap, you slept quite soundly,” he said with satisfaction. As far as he was concerned, the trip to France had already proved a success.

“What time is it?”

“I’m going to get you a watch if you don’t stop asking me that.” Matthew glanced at his old Cartier. “It’s nearly two in the afternoon. Marthe will probably be here any minute with some tea. Do you want to shower and change?”

The thought of a hot shower had me eagerly pushing back the covers. “Yes, please!”

Matthew dodged my flying limbs and helped me to the floor, which was farther away than I had expected. It was cold, too, the stone flagstones stinging against my bare feet.

“Your bag is in the bathroom, the computer is downstairs in my study, and there are fresh towels. Take your time.” He watched as I skittered into the bathroom.

“This is a palace!” I exclaimed. An enormous white, freestanding tub was tucked between two of the windows, and a long wooden bench held my dilapidated Yale duffel. In the far corner, a showerhead was set into the wall.

I started running the water, expecting to wait a long time for it to heat up. Miraculously, steam enveloped me immediately, and the honey-and-nectarine scent of my soap helped to lift the tension of the past twenty-four hours.

Once my muscles were unkinked, I slipped on jeans and a turtleneck, along with a pair of socks. There was no outlet for my blow dryer, so I settled instead for roughly toweling my hair and dragging a comb through it before tying it back in a ponytail.

“Marthe brought up tea,” he said when I walked into the bedroom, glancing at a teapot and cup sitting on the table. “Do you want me to pour you some?”

I sighed with pleasure as the soothing liquid went down my throat. “When can I see the Aurora manuscript?”

“When I’m sure you won’t get lost on your way to the library. Ready for the grand tour?”

“Yes, please.” I slid loafers on over my socks and ran back into the bathroom to get a sweater. As I raced around, Matthew waited patiently, standing near the top of the stairs.

“Should we take the teapot down?” I asked, skidding to a halt.

“No, she’d be furious if I let a guest touch a dish. Wait twenty-four hours before helping Marthe.”

Matthew slipped down the stairs as if he could handle the uneven, smooth treads blindfolded. I crept along, guiding my fingers against the stone wall.

When we reached his study, he pointed to my computer, already plugged in and resting on a table by the window, before we descended to the salon. Marthe had been there, and a warm fire was crackling in the fireplace, sending the smell of wood smoke through the room. I grabbed Matthew.

“The library,” I said. “The tour needs to start there.”

It was another room that had been filled over the years with bric-a-brac and furniture. An Italian Savonarola folding chair was pulled up to a French Directory secretary, while a vast oak table circa 1700 held display cabinets that looked as if they’d been plucked from a Victorian museum. Despite the mismatches, the room was held together by miles of leather-bound books on walnut shelving and by an enormous Aubusson carpet in soft golds, blues, and browns.

As in most old libraries, the books were shelved by size. There were thick manuscripts in leather bindings, shelved with spines in and ornamental clasps out, the titles inked onto the fore edges of the vellum. There were tiny incunabula and pocket-size books in neat rows on one bookcase, spanning the history of print from the 1450s to the present. A number of rare modern first editions, including a run of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, were there, too. One case held nothing but large folios—botanical books, atlases, medical books. If all this was downstairs, what treasures lived in Matthew’s tower study?

He let me circle the room, peering at the titles and gasping. When I returned to his side, all I could do was shake my head in disbelief.

“Imagine what you’d have if you’d been buying books for centuries,” Matthew said with a shrug that reminded me of Ysabeau. “Things pile up. We’ve gotten rid of a lot over the years. We had to. Otherwise this room would be the size of the Bibliothèque Nationale.”

“So where is it?”

“You’re already out of patience, I see.” He went to a shelf, his eyes darting among the volumes. He pulled out a small book with black tooled covers and presented it to me.

When I looked for a velveteen cradle to put it on, he laughed.

“Just open it, Diana. It’s not going to disintegrate.”

It felt strange to hold such a manuscript in my hands, trained as I was to think of them as rare, precious objects rather than reading material. Trying not to open the covers too wide and crack the binding, I peeked inside. An explosion of bright colors, gold, and silver leaped out.

“Oh,” I breathed. The other copies I’d seen of Aurora Consurgens were not nearly so fine. “It’s beautiful. Do you know who did the illuminations?”

“A woman named Bourgot Le Noir. She was quite popular in Paris in the middle of the fourteenth century.” Matthew took the book from me and opened it fully. “There. Now you can see it properly.”

The first illumination showed a queen standing on a small hill, sheltering seven small creatures inside her outspread cloak. Delicate vines framed the image, twisting and turning their way across the vellum. Here and there, buds burst into flowers, and birds sat on the branches. In the afternoon light, the queen’s embroidered golden dress glowed against a brilliant vermilion background. At the bottom of the page, a man in a black robe sat atop a shield that bore a coat of arms in black and silver. The man’s attention was directed at the queen, a rapt expression on his face and his hands raised in supplication.

“Nobody is going to believe this. An unknown copy of Aurora Consurgens—with illuminations by a woman?” I shook my head in amazement. “How will I cite it?”

“I’ll loan the manuscript to the Beinecke Library for a year, if that helps. Anonymously, of course. As for Bourgot, the experts will say it’s her father’s work. But it’s all hers. We probably have the receipt for it somewhere,” Matthew said vaguely, looking around. “I’ll ask Ysabeau where Godfrey’s things are.”

“Godfrey?” The unfamiliar coat of arms featured a fleur-de-lis, surrounded by a snake with its tail in its mouth.

“My brother.” The vagueness left his voice, and his face darkened. “He died in 1668, fighting in one of Louis XIV’s infernal wars.” Closing the manuscript gently, he put it on a nearby table. “I’ll take this up to my study later so you can look at it more closely. In the morning Ysabeau reads her newspapers here, but otherwise it sits empty. You’re welcome to browse the shelves whenever you like.”

With that promise he moved me through the salon and into the great hall. We stood by the table with the Chinese bowl, and he pointed out features of the room, including the old minstrels’ gallery, the trapdoor in the roof that had let the smoke out before the fireplaces and chimneys were constructed, and the entrance to the square watchtower overlooking the main approach to the château. That climb could wait until another day.

Matthew led me down to the lower ground floor, with its maze of store-rooms, wine cellars, kitchens, servants’ rooms, larders, and pantries. Marthe stepped out of one of the kitchens, flour covering her arms up to the elbows, and handed me a warm roll fresh from the oven. I munched on it as Matthew walked the corridors, pointing out the old purposes of every room—where the grain was stored, the venison hung, the cheese made.

“Vampires don’t eat anything,” I said, confused.

“No, but our tenants did. Marthe loves to cook.”

I promised to keep her busy. The roll was delicious, and the eggs had been perfect.

Our next stop was the gardens. Though we had descended a flight of stairs to get to the kitchens, we left the château at ground level. The gardens were straight out of the sixteenth century, with divided beds full of herbs and autumn vegetables. Rosebushes, some with a few lonely blooms remaining, filled the borders.

But the aroma that intrigued me wasn’t floral. I made a beeline for a low-slung building.

“Be careful, Diana,” he called, striding across the gravel, “Balthasar bites.”

“Which one is Balthasar?”

He rounded the stable entrance, an anxious look on his face. “The stallion using your spine as a scratching post,” Matthew replied tightly. I was standing with my back to a large, heavy-footed horse while a mastiff and a wolfhound circled my feet, sniffing me with interest.

“Oh, he won’t bite me.” The enormous Percheron maneuvered his head so he could rub his ears on my hip. “And who are these gentlemen?” I asked, ruffling the fur on the wolf hound’s neck while the mastiff tried to put my hand in his mouth.

“The hound is Fallon, and the mastiff is Hector.” Matthew snapped his fingers, and both dogs came running to his side, where they sat obediently and watched his face for further instructions. “Please step away from that horse.”

“Why? He’s fine.” Balthasar stamped the ground in agreement and pitched an ear back to look haughtily at Matthew.

“‘If the butterfly wings its way to the sweet light that attracts it, it’s only because it doesn’t know that the fire can consume it,’” Matthew murmured under his breath. “Balthasar is only fine until he gets bored. I’d like you to move away before he kicks the stall door down.”

“We’re making your master nervous, and he’s started reciting obscure bits of poetry written by mad Italian clerics. I’ll be back tomorrow with something sweet.” I turned and kissed Balthasar on the nose. He nickered, his hooves dancing with impatience.

Matthew tried to cover his surprise. “You recognized that?”

“Giordano Bruno. ‘If the thirsty stag runs to the brook, it’s only because he isn’t aware of the cruel bow,’” I continued. “‘If the unicorn runs to its chaste nest, it’s only because he doesn’t see the noose prepared for him.’”

“You know the work of the Nolan?” Matthew used the sixteenth-century mystic’s own way of referring to himself.

My eyes narrowed. Good God, had he known Bruno as well as Machiavelli ? Matthew seemed to have been attracted to every strange character who’d ever lived. “He was an early supporter of Copernicus, and I’m a historian of science. How do you know Bruno’s work?”

“I’m a great reader,” he said evasively.

“You knew him!” My tone was accusing. “Was he a daemon?”

“One who crossed the madness-genius divide rather too frequently, I’m afraid.”

“I should have known. He believed in extraterrestrial life and cursed his inquisitors on the way to the stake,” I said, shaking my head.

“Nevertheless, he understood the power of desire.”

I looked sharply at the vampire. “‘Desire urges me on, as fear bridles me.’ Did Bruno feature in your essay for All Souls?”

“A bit.” Matthew’s mouth flattened into a hard line. “Will you please come away from there? We can talk about philosophy another time.”

Other passages drifted through my mind. There was something else about Bruno’s work that might make Matthew think of him. He wrote about the goddess Diana.

I stepped away from the stall.

“Balthasar isn’t a pony,” Matthew warned, pulling my elbow.

“I can see that. But I could handle that horse.” Both the alchemical manuscript and the Italian philosopher vanished from my mind at the thought of such a challenge.

“You don’t ride as well?” Matthew asked in disbelief.

“I grew up in the country and have ridden since I was a child—dressage, jumping, everything.” Being on a horse was even more like flying than rowing was.

“We have other horses. Balthasar stays where he is,” he said firmly.

Riding was an unforeseen bonus of coming to France, one that almost made Ysabeau’s cold presence bearable. Matthew led me to the other end of the stables, where six more fine animals waited. Two of them were big and black—although not as large as Balthasar—one a fairly round chestnut mare, another a bay gelding. There were two gray Andalusians as well, with large feet and curved necks. One came to the door to see what was going on in her domain.

“This is Nar Rakasa,” he said, gently rubbing her muzzle. “Her name means ‘fire dancer.’ We usually just call her Rakasa. She moves beautifully, but she’s willful. You two should get along famously.”

I refused to take the bait, though it was charmingly offered, and let Rakasa sniff at my hair and face. “What’s her sister’s name?”

“Fiddat—‘silver.’” Fiddat came forward when Matthew said her name, her dark eyes affectionate. “Fiddat is Ysabeau’s horse, and Rakasa is her sister.” Matthew pointed to the two blacks. “Those are mine. Dahr and Sayad.”

“What do their names mean?” I asked, walking to their stalls.

“Dahr is Arabic for ‘time,’ and Sayad means ‘hunter,’” Matthew explained, joining me. “Sayad loves riding across the fields chasing game and jumping hedges. Dahr is patient and steady.”

We continued the tour, Matthew pointing out features of the mountains and orienting me to the town. He showed me where the château had been modified and how restorers had used a different kind of stone because the original was no longer available. By the time we were finished, I wasn’t likely to get lost—in part due to the central keep, which was hard to misplace.

“Why am I so tired?” I yawned as we returned to the château.

“You’re hopeless,” Matthew said in exasperation. “Do you really need me to recount the events of the past thirty-six hours?”

At his urging I agreed to another nap. Leaving him in the study, I climbed the stairs and flung myself into bed, too tired to even blow out the candles.

Moments later I was dreaming of riding through a dark forest, a loose green tunic belted around my waist. There were sandals tied onto my feet, their leather fastenings crossed around my ankles and calves. Dogs bayed and hooves crashed in the underbrush behind me. A quiver of arrows nestled against my shoulder, and in one fist I held a bow. Despite the ominous sounds of my pursuers, I felt no fear.

In my dream I smiled with the knowledge I could outrun those who hunted me.

“Fly,” I commanded—and the horse did.

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