فصل 23

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فصل 23

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Chapter 23

Before I met Matthew, there didn’t seem to be room in my life for a single additional element—especially not something as significant as a fifteen-hundred-year-old vampire. But he’d slipped into unexplored, empty places when I wasn’t looking.

Now that he’d left, I was terribly aware of his absence. As I sat on the roof of the watchtower, my tears softened my determination to fight for him. Soon there was water everywhere. I was sitting in a puddle of it, and the level just kept rising.

It wasn’t raining, despite the cloudy skies.

The water was coming out of me.

My tears fell normally but swelled as they dropped into globules the size of snowballs that hit the stone roof of the watchtower with a splash. My hair snaked over my shoulders in sheets of water that poured over the curves of my body. I opened my mouth to take a breath because the water streaming down my face was blocking my nose, and water gushed out in a torrent that tasted of the sea.

Through a film of moisture, Marthe and Ysabeau watched me. Marthe’s face was grim. Ysabeau’s lips were moving, but the roar of a thousand sea-shells made it impossible to hear her.

I stood, hoping the water would stop. It didn’t. I tried to tell the two women to let the water carry me away along with my grief and the memory of Matthew—but all that produced was another gush of ocean. I reached out, thinking that would help the water drain from me. Even more water cascaded from my fingertips. The gesture reminded me of my mother’s arm reaching toward my father, and the waves increased.

As the water poured forth, my control slipped further. Domenico’s sudden appearance had frightened me more than I’d been willing to admit. Matthew was gone. And I had vowed to fight for him against enemies I couldn’t identify and didn’t understand. It was now clear that Matthew’s past was not composed simply of homely elements of firelight, wine, and books. Nor had it unfolded solely within the limits of a loyal family. Domenico had alluded to something darker that was full of enmity, danger, and death.

Exhaustion overtook me, and the water pulled me under. A strange sense of exhilaration accompanied the fatigue. I was poised between mortality and something elemental that held within it the promise of a vast, incomprehensible power. If I surrendered to the undertow, there would be no more Diana Bishop. Instead I would become water—nowhere, everywhere, free of my body and the pain.

“I’m sorry, Matthew.” My words were nothing more than a burble as the water began its inexorable work.

Ysabeau stepped toward me, and a sharp crack sounded in my brain. My warning to her was lost in a roar like a tidal wave coming ashore. The winds rose around my feet, whipping the water into a hurricane. I raised my arms to the sky, water and wind shaping themselves into a funnel that encircled my body.

Marthe grabbed Ysabeau’s arm, her mouth moving rapidly. Matthew’s mother tried to pull away, her own mouth shaping the word “no,” but Marthe held on, staring at her fixedly. After a few moments, Ysabeau’s shoulders slumped. She turned toward me and started to sing. Haunting and yearning, her voice penetrated the water and called me back to the world.

The winds began to die down. The de Clermont standard, which had been whipping around, resumed its gentle swaying. The cascade of water from my fingertips slowed to a river, then to a trickle, and stopped entirely. The waves flowing from my hair subsided into swells, and then they, too, disappeared. At last nothing came out of my mouth but a gasp of surprise. The balls of water falling from my eyes were the last vestige of the witchwater to disappear, just as they had been the first sign of its power moving through me. The remains of my deluge sluiced toward small holes at the base of the crenellated walls. Far, far below, water splashed onto the courtyard’s thick bed of gravel.

When the last of the water left me, I felt scooped out like a pumpkin, and freezing cold, too. My knees buckled, banging painfully on the stone.

“Thank God,” Ysabeau murmured. “We almost lost her.”

I was shaking violently from exhaustion and cold. Both women flew at me and lifted me to my feet. They each gripped an elbow and supported me down the curving flight of stairs with a speed that made me shiver. Once in the hall, Marthe headed toward Matthew’s rooms and Ysabeau pulled in the opposite direction.

“Mine are closer,” Matthew’s mother said sharply.

“She will feel safer closer to him,” Marthe said.

With a sound of exasperation, Ysabeau conceded.

At the bottom of Matthew’s staircase, Ysabeau blurted out a string of colorful phrases that sounded totally incongruous coming from her delicate mouth. “I’ll carry her,” she said when she was finished cursing her son, the forces of nature, the powers of the universe, and many other unspecified individuals of questionable parentage who’d taken part in building the tower. Ysabeau lifted my much larger body easily. “Why he had to make these stairs so twisting—and in two separate flights—is beyond my understanding.”

Marthe tucked my wet hair into the crook of Ysabeau’s elbow and shrugged. “To make it harder, of course. He has always made things harder. For him. For everyone else, too.”

No one had thought to come up in the late afternoon to light the candles, but the fire still smoldered and the room retained some of its warmth. Marthe disappeared into the bathroom, and the sound of running water made me examine my fingers with alarm. Ysabeau threw two enormous logs onto the grate as if they were kindling, snapping a long splinter off one before it caught. She stirred the coals into flames with it and then used it to light a dozen candles in the space of a few seconds. In their warm glow, she surveyed me anxiously from head to foot.

“He will never forgive me if you become ill,” she said, picking up my hands and examining my nails. They were bluish again, but not from electricity. Now they were blue with cold and wrinkled from witchwater. She rubbed them vigorously between her palms.

Still shaking so much that my teeth were chattering, I withdrew my hands to hug myself in an attempt to conserve what little warmth was left in my body. Ysabeau picked me up again without ceremony and swept me into the bathroom.

“She needs to be in there now,” Ysabeau said brusquely. The room was full of steam, and Marthe turned from the bath to help strip off my clothes. Soon I was naked and the two of them were lifting me into the hot water, one cold, vampiric hand in each armpit. The shock of the water’s heat on my frigid skin was extreme. Crying out, I struggled to pull myself from Matthew’s deep bathtub.

“Shh,” Ysabeau said, holding my hair away from my face while Marthe pushed me back into the water. “It will warm you. We must get you warm.”

Marthe stood sentinel at one end of the tub, and Ysabeau remained at the other, whispering soothing sounds and humming softly under her breath. It was a long time before the shaking stopped.

At one point Marthe murmured something in Occitan that included the name Marcus.

Ysabeau and I said no at the same moment.

“I’ll be fine. Don’t tell Marcus what happened. Matthew mustn’t know about the magic. Not now,” I said through chattering teeth.

“We just need some time to warm you.” Ysabeau sounded calm, but she looked concerned.

Slowly the heat began to reverse the changes the witchwater had worked on my body. Marthe kept adding fresh hot water to the tub as my body cooled it down. Ysabeau grabbed a beat-up tin pitcher from under the window and dipped it into the bath, pouring hot water over my head and shoulders. Once my head was warm, she wrapped it in a towel and pushed me slightly lower in the water.

“Soak,” she commanded.

Marthe bustled between the bathroom and the bedroom, carrying clothes and towels. She tutted over my lack of pajamas and the old yoga clothes I’d brought to sleep in. None of them met her requirements for warmth.

Ysabeau felt my cheeks and the top of my head with the back of her hand. She nodded.

They let me get myself out of the tub. The water falling off my body reminded me of the watchtower roof, and I dug my toes into the floor to resist the element’s insidious pull.

Marthe and Ysabeau bundled me into towels fresh from the fireside that smelled faintly of wood smoke. In the bedroom they somehow managed to dry me without ever exposing an inch of my flesh to the air, rolling me this way and that inside the towels until I could feel heat radiating from my body. Rough strokes of another towel scratched against my hair before Marthe’s fingers raked through the strands and twisted them into a tight braid against my scalp. Ysabeau tossed the damp towels onto a chair near the fire as I shed them to dress, seemingly unconcerned by their contact with antique wood and fine upholstery.

Now fully clothed, I sat down and stared mindlessly at the fire. Marthe disappeared without a word into the lower regions of the château and returned with a tray of tiny sandwiches and a steaming pot of her herbal tea.

“You will eat. Now.” It was not a request but a command.

I brought one of the sandwiches to my mouth and nibbled around the edges.

Marthe’s eyes narrowed at this sudden change in my eating habits. “Eat.”

The food tasted like sawdust, but my stomach rumbled nonetheless. After I’d swallowed two of the tiny sandwiches, Marthe thrust a mug into my hands. She didn’t need to tell me to drink. The hot liquid slid down my throat, carrying away the water’s salty vestiges.

“Was that witchwater?” I shivered at the memory of all that water coming out of me.

Ysabeau, who had been standing by the window looking out into the darkness, walked toward the opposite sofa. “Yes,” she said. “It has been a long time, though, since we have seen it come forth like that.”

“Thank God that wasn’t the usual way,” I said faintly, swallowing another sip of tea.

“Most witches today are not powerful enough to draw on the witchwater as you did. They can make waves on ponds and cause rain when there are clouds. They do not become the water.” Ysabeau sat across from me, studying me with evident curiosity.

I had become the water. Knowing that this was no longer common made me feel vulnerable—and even more alone.

A phone rang.

Ysabeau reached into her pocket and pulled out a small red phone that seemed uncharacteristically bright and high-tech against her pale skin and classic, buff-colored clothes.

“Oui? Ah, good. I am glad that you are there and safe.” She spoke English out of courtesy to me and nodded in my direction. “Yes, she is fine. She is eating.” She stood and handed me the phone. “Matthew would like to speak with you.”

“Diana?” Matthew was barely audible.

“Yes?” I didn’t trust myself to say much for fear that more than words would tumble out.

He made a soft sound of relief. “I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”

“Your mother and Marthe are taking good care of me.” And I didn’t flood the castle, I thought.

“You’re tired.” The distance between us was making him anxious, and he was tuned into every nuance of our exchange.

“I am. It’s been a long day.”

“Sleep, then,” he said, his tone unexpectedly gentle. My eyes closed against the sudden sting of tears. There would be little sleep for me tonight. I was too worried about what he might do in some half-baked, heroic attempt to protect me.

“Have you been to the lab?”

“I’m headed there now. Marcus wants me to go over everything carefully and make sure we’ve taken all the necessary precautions. Miriam’s checked the security at the house as well.” He told the half-truth with smooth conviction, but I knew it for what it was. The silence stretched out until it became uncomfortable.

“Don’t do it, Matthew. Please don’t try to negotiate with Knox.”

“I’ll make sure you’re safe before you return to Oxford.”

“Then there’s nothing more to say. You’ve decided. So have I.” I returned the phone to Ysabeau.

She frowned, her cold fingers pulling it from my grip. Ysabeau said good-bye to her son, his reply audible only as a staccato burst of unintelligible sound.

“Thank you for not telling him about the witchwater,” I said quietly after she’d disconnected the line.

“That is your tale to tell, not mine.” Ysabeau drifted toward the fireplace.

“It’s no good trying to tell a story you don’t understand. Why is the power coming out now? First it was the wind, then the visions, and now the water, too.” I shuddered.

“What kind of visions?” Ysabeau asked, her curiosity evident.

“Didn’t Matthew tell you? My DNA has all this . . . magic,” I said, stumbling over the word, “in it. The tests warned there might be visions, and they’ve begun.”

“Matthew would never tell me what your blood revealed—certainly not without your permission, and probably not with your permission either.”

“I’ve seen them here in the château.” I hesitated. “How did you learn to control them?”

“Matthew told you that I had visions before I became a vampire.” Ysabeau shook her head. “He should not have.”

“Were you a witch?” That might explain why she disliked me so much.

“A witch? No. Matthew wonders if I was a daemon, but I’m sure I was an ordinary human. They have their visionaries, too. It’s not only creatures who are blessed and cursed in this way.”

“Did you ever manage to control your second sight and anticipate it?”

“It gets easier. There are warning signs. They can be subtle, but you will learn. Marthe helped me as well.”

It was the only piece of information I had about Marthe’s past. Not for the first time, I wondered how old these two women were and what workings of fate had brought them together.

Marthe stood with her arms crossed. “?c,” she said, giving Ysabeau a tender, protective look. “It is easier if you let the visions move through you without fighting.”

“I’m too shocked to fight,” I said, thinking back to the salon and the library.

“Shock is your body’s way of resisting,” Ysabeau said. “You must try to relax.”

“It’s difficult to let go when you see knights in armor and the faces of women you’ve never met mixed up with scenes from your own past.” My jaw cracked with a yawn.

“You are too exhausted to think about this now.” Ysabeau rose to her feet.

“I’m not ready to sleep.” I smothered another yawn with the back of my hand.

She eyed me speculatively, like a beautiful falcon scrutinizing a field mouse. Ysabeau’s glance turned mischievous. “Get into bed, and I will tell you how I made Matthew.”

Her offer was too tempting to resist. I did as she told me while she pulled up a chair and Marthe busied herself with dishes and towels.

“So where do I begin?” She drew herself straighter in the chair and stared into the candles’ flames. “I cannot begin simply with my part of the story but must start with his birth, here in the village. I remember him as a baby, you know. His father and mother came when Philippe decided to build on this land back when Clovis was king. That’s the only reason the village is here—it was where the farmers and craftsmen who built the church and castle lived.”

“Why did your husband pick this spot?” I leaned against the pillows, my knees folded close to my chest under the bedclothes.

“Clovis promised him the land in hopes it would encourage Philippe to fight against the king’s rivals. My husband was always playing both sides against the middle.” Ysabeau smiled wistfully. “Very few people caught him at it, though.”

“Was Matthew’s father a farmer?”

“A farmer?” Ysabeau looked surprised. “No, he was a carpenter, as was Matthew—before he became a stonemason.”

A mason. The tower’s stones all fit together so smoothly they didn’t seem to require mortar. And there were the oddly ornate chimneys at the Old Lodge gatehouse that Matthew just had to let some craftsman try his hand at constructing. His long, slender fingers were strong enough to twist open an oyster shell or crack a chestnut. Another piece of Matthew fell into place, fitting perfectly next to the warrior, the scientist, and the courtier.

“And they both worked on the château?”

“Not this château,” Ysabeau said, looking around her. “This was a present from Matthew, when I was sad over being forced to leave a place that I loved. He tore down the fortress his father had built and replaced it with a new one.” Her green-and-black eyes glittered with amusement. “Philippe was furious. But it was time for a change. The first château was made of wood, and even though there had been stone additions over the years, it was a bit ramshackle.”

My mind tried to take in the time line of events, from the construction of the first fortress and its village in the sixth century to Matthew’s tower in the thirteenth century.

Ysabeau’s nose crinkled in distaste. “Then he stuck this tower onto the back when he returned home and didn’t want to live so close to the family. I never liked it—it seemed a romantic trifle—but it was his wish, and I let him.” She shrugged. “Such a funny tower. It didn’t help defend the castle. He had already built far more towers here than we needed.”

Ysabeau continued to spin her tale, seeming only partially in the twenty-first century.

“Matthew was born in the village. He was always such a bright child, so curious. He drove his father mad, following him to the château and picking up tools and sticks and stones. Children learned their trades early then, but Matthew was precocious. By the time he could hold a hatchet without injuring himself, he was put to work.”

An eight-year-old Matthew with gangly legs and gray-green eyes ran around the hills in my imagination.

“Yes.” She smiled, agreeing with my unspoken thoughts. “He was indeed a beautiful child. A beautiful young man as well. Matthew was unusually tall for the time, though not as tall as he became once he was a vampire.

“And he had a wicked sense of humor. He was always pretending that something had gone wrong or that instructions had not been given to him regarding this roof beam or that foundation. Philippe never failed to believe the tall tales Matthew told him.” Ysabeau’s voice was indulgent. “Matthew’s first father died when he was in his late teens, and his first mother had been dead for years by then. He was alone, and we worried about him finding a woman to settle down with and start a family.

“And then he met Blanca.” Ysabeau paused, her look level and without malice. “You cannot have imagined that he was without the love of women.” It was a statement, not a question. Marthe shot Ysabeau an evil look but kept quiet.

“Of course not,” I said calmly, though my heart felt heavy.

“Blanca was new to the village, a servant to one of the master masons Philippe had brought in from Ravenna to construct the first church. She was as pale as her name suggested, with white skin, eyes the color of a spring sky, and hair that looked like spun gold.”

A pale, beautiful woman had appeared in my visions when I went to fetch Matthew’s computer. Ysabeau’s description of Blanca fit her perfectly.

“She had a sweet smile, didn’t she?” I whispered.

Ysabeau’s eyes widened. “Yes, she did.”

“I know. I saw her when Matthew’s armor caught the light in his study.”

Marthe made a warning sound, but Ysabeau continued.

“Sometimes Blanca seemed so delicate that I feared she would break when drawing water from the well or picking vegetables. My Matthew was drawn to that delicacy, I suppose. He has always liked fragile things.” Ysabeau’s eyes flicked over my far-from-fragile form. “They were married when Matthew turned twenty-five and could support a family. Blanca was just nineteen.

“They were a beautiful couple, of course. There was such a strong contrast between Matthew’s darkness and Blanca’s pale prettiness. They were very much in love, and the marriage was a happy one. But they could not seem to have children. Blanca had miscarriage after miscarriage. I cannot imagine what it was like inside their house, to see so many children of your body die before they drew breath.” I wasn’t sure if vampires could cry, though I remembered the bloodstained tear on Ysabeau’s cheek from my earlier visions in the salon. Even without the tears, however, she looked now as though she were weeping, her face a mask of regret.

“Finally, after so many years of trying and failing, Blanca was with child. It was 531. Such a year. There was a new king to the south, and the battles had started all over again. Matthew began to look happy, as if he dared to hope this baby would survive. And it did. Lucas was born in the autumn and was baptized in the unfinished church that Matthew was helping to build. It was a hard birth for Blanca. The midwife said that he would be the last child she bore. For Matthew, though, Lucas was enough. And he was so like his father, with his black curls and pointed chin—and those long legs.”

“What happened to Blanca and Lucas?” I asked softly. We were only six years from Matthew’s transformation into a vampire. Something must have happened, or he would never have let Ysabeau exchange his life for a new one.

“Matthew and Blanca watched their son grow and thrive. Matthew had learned to work in stone rather than wood, and he was in high demand among the lords from here to Paris. Then fever came to the village. Everyone fell ill. Matthew survived. Blanca and Lucas did not. That was in 536. The year before had been strange, with very little sunshine, and the winter was cold. When spring came, the sickness came, too, and carried Blanca and Lucas away.”

“Didn’t the villagers wonder why you and Philippe remained healthy?”

“Of course. But there were more explanations then than there would be today. It was easier to think God was angry with the village or that the castle was cursed than to think that the manjasang were living among them.”

“Manjasang?” I tried to roll the syllables around my mouth as Ysabeau had.

“It is the old tongue’s word for vampire—‘blood eater.’ There were those who suspected the truth and whispered by the fireside. But in those days the return of the Ostrogoth warriors was a far more frightening prospect than a manjasang overlord. Philippe promised the village his protection if the raiders came back. Besides, we made it a point never to feed close to home,” she explained primly.

“What did Matthew do after Blanca and Lucas were gone?”

“He grieved. Matthew was inconsolable. He stopped eating. He looked like a skeleton, and the village came to us for help. I took him food”—Ysabeau smiled at Marthe—“and made him eat and walked with him until he wasn’t so restless. When he could not sleep, we went to church and prayed for the souls of Blanca and Lucas. Matthew was very religious in those days. We talked about heaven and hell, and he worried about where their souls were and if he would be able to find them again.”

Matthew was so gentle with me when I woke up in terror. Had the nights before he’d become a vampire been as sleepless as those that came after?

“By autumn he seemed more hopeful. But the winter was difficult. People were hungry, and the sickness continued. Death was everywhere. The spring could not lift the gloom. Philippe was anxious about the church’s progress, and Matthew worked harder than ever. At the beginning of the second week in June, he was found on the floor beneath its vaulted ceiling, his legs and back broken.”

I gasped at the thought of Matthew’s soft, human body plummeting to the hard stones.

“There was no way he could survive the fall, of course,” Ysabeau said softly. “He was a dying man. Some of the masons said he’d slipped. Others said he was standing on the scaffolding one moment and gone the next. They thought Matthew had jumped and were already talking about how he could not be buried in the church because he was a suicide. I could not let him die fearing he might not be saved from hell. He was so worried about being with Blanca and Lucas—how could he go to his death wondering if he would be separated from them for all eternity?”

“You did the right thing.” It would have been impossible for me to walk away from him no matter what the state of his soul. Leaving his body broken and hurting was unthinkable. If my blood would have saved him, I would have used it.

“Did I?” Ysabeau shook her head. “I have never been sure. Philippe told me it was my decision whether to make Matthew one of our family. I had made other vampires with my blood, and I would make others after him. But Matthew was different. I was fond of him, and I knew that the gods were giving me a chance to make him my child. It would be my responsibility to teach him how a vampire must be in the world.”

“Did Matthew resist you?” I asked, unable to stop myself.

“No,” she replied. “He was out of his mind with pain. We told everyone to leave, saying we would fetch a priest. We didn’t, of course. Philippe and I went to Matthew and explained we could make him live forever, without pain, without suffering. Much later Matthew told us that he thought we were John the Baptist and the Blessed Mother come to take him to heaven to be with his wife and child. When I offered him my blood, he thought I was the priest offering him last rites.”

The only sounds in the room were my quiet breathing and the crackle of logs in the fireplace. I wanted Ysabeau to tell me the particulars of how she had made Matthew, but I was afraid to ask in case it was something that vampires didn’t talk about. Perhaps it was too private, or too painful. Ysabeau soon told me without prompting.

“He took my blood so easily, like he was born to it,” she said with a rustling sigh. “Matthew was not one of those humans who turn their face from the scent or sight. I opened my wrist with my own teeth and told him my blood would heal him. He drank his salvation without fear.”

“And afterward?” I whispered.

“Afterward he was . . . difficult,” Ysabeau said carefully. “All new vampires are strong and full of hunger, but Matthew was almost impossible to control. He was in a rage at being a vampire, and his need to feed was endless. Philippe and I had to hunt all day for weeks to satisfy him. And his body changed more than we expected. We all get taller, finer, stronger. I was much smaller before I became a vampire. But Matthew developed from a reed-thin human into a formidable creature. My husband was larger than my new son, but in the first flush of my blood Matthew was a handful even for Philippe.”

I forced myself not to shrink from Matthew’s hunger and rage. Instead my eyes remained fixed on his mother, not closing my eyes for an instant against the knowledge of him. This was what Matthew feared, that I would come to understand who he had been—who he still was—and feel revulsion.

“What calmed him?” I asked.

“Philippe took him hunting,” Ysabeau explained, “once he thought that Matthew would no longer kill everything in his path. The hunt engaged his mind, and the chase engaged his body. He soon craved the hunt more than the blood, which is a good sign in young vampires. It meant he was no longer a creature of pure appetite but was once again rational. After that, it was only a matter of time before his conscience returned and he began to think before he killed. Then all we had to fear were his black periods, when he felt the loss of Blanca and Lucas again and turned to humans to dull his hunger.”

“Did anything help Matthew then?”

“Sometimes I sang to him—the same song I sang to you tonight, and others as well. That often broke the spell of his grief. Other times Matthew would go away. Philippe forbade me to follow or to ask questions when he returned.” Ysabeau’s eyes were black as she looked at me. Our glances confirmed what we both suspected: that Matthew had been lost with other women, seeking solace in their blood and the touch of hands that belonged to neither his mother nor his wife.

“He’s so controlled,” I mused aloud, “it’s hard to imagine him like that.”

“Matthew feels deeply. It is a blessing as well as a burden to love so much that you can hurt so badly when love is gone.”

There was a threat in Ysabeau’s voice. My chin went up in defiance, my fingers tingling. “Then I’ll have to make sure my love never leaves him,” I said tightly.

“And how will you do that?” Ysabeau taunted. “Would you become a vampire, then, and join us in our hunting?” She laughed, but there was neither joy nor mirth in the sound. “No doubt that’s what Domenico suggested. One simple bite, the draining of your veins, the exchange of our blood for yours. The Congregation would have no grounds to intrude on your business then.”

“What do you mean?” I asked numbly.

“Don’t you see?” Ysabeau snarled. “If you must be with Matthew, then become one of us and put him—and yourself—out of danger. The witches may want to keep you as their own, but they cannot object to your relationship if you are a vampire, too.”

A low rumble started in Marthe’s throat.

“Is that why Matthew went away? Did the Congregation order him to make me a vampire?”

“Matthew would never make you a manjasang,” Marthe said scornfully, her eyes snapping with fury.

“No.” Ysabeau’s voice was softly malicious. “He has always loved fragile things, as I told you.”

This was one of the secrets that Matthew was keeping. If I were a vampire, there would be no prohibitions looming over us and thus no reason to fear the Congregation. All I had to do was become something else.

I contemplated the prospect with surprisingly little panic or fear. I could be with Matthew, and I might even be taller. Ysabeau would do it. Her eyes glittered as she took in the way my hand moved to my neck.

But there were my visions to consider, not to mention the power of the wind and the water. I didn’t yet understand the magical potential in my blood. And as a vampire I might never solve the mystery of Ashmole 782.

“I promised him,” Marthe said, her voice rough. “Diana must stay as she is—a witch.”

Ysabeau bared her teeth slightly, unpleasantly, and nodded.

“Did you also promise not to tell me what really happened in Oxford?”

Matthew’s mother scrutinized me closely. “You must ask Matthew when he returns. It is not my tale to tell.”

I had other questions as well—questions that Matthew might have been too distracted to mark as off-limits.

“Can you tell me why it matters that it was a creature who tried to break in to the lab, rather than a human?”

There was silence while Ysabeau considered my words. Finally, she replied.

“Clever girl. I did not promise Matthew to remain silent about appropriate rules of conduct, after all.” She looked at me with a touch of approval. “Such behavior is not acceptable among creatures. We must hope it was a mischievous daemon who does not realize the seriousness of what he has done. Matthew might forgive that.”

“He has always forgiven daemons,” Marthe muttered darkly.

“What if it wasn’t a daemon?”

“If it was a vampire, it represents a terrible insult. We are territorial creatures. A vampire does not cross into another vampire’s house or land without permission.”

“Would Matthew forgive such an insult?” Given the look on Matthew’s face when he’d thrown a punch at the car, I suspected that the answer was no.

“Perhaps,” Ysabeau said doubtfully. “Nothing was taken, nothing was harmed. But it is more likely Matthew would demand some form of retribution.”

Once more I’d been dropped into the Middle Ages, with the maintenance of honor and reputation the primary concern.

“And if it was a witch?” I asked softly.

Matthew’s mother turned her face away. “For a witch to do such a thing would be an act of aggression. No apology would be adequate.”

Alarm bells sounded.

I flung the covers aside and swung my legs out of bed. “The break-in was meant to provoke Matthew. He went to Oxford thinking he could make a good-faith deal with Knox. We have to warn him.”

Ysabeau’s hands were firm on my knees and shoulder, stopping my motion.

“He already knows, Diana.”

That information settled in my mind. “Is that why he wouldn’t take me to Oxford with him? Is he in danger?”

“Of course he is in danger,” Ysabeau said sharply. “But he will do what he can to put an end to this.” She lifted my legs back onto the bed and tucked the covers tightly around me.

“I should be there,” I protested.

“You would be nothing but a distraction. You will stay here, as he told you.”

“Don’t I get a say in this?” I asked for what seemed like the hundredth time since I came to Sept-Tours.

“No,” both women said at the same moment.

“You really do have a lot to learn about vampires,” Ysabeau said once again, but this time she sounded mildly regretful.

I had a lot to learn about vampires. This I knew.

But who was going to teach me? And when?

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