فصل 25

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فصل 25

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Chapter 25

Marthe had been up to Matthew’s study while I was on the phone, and sandwiches, tea, and water were waiting for me. She’d loaded the fireplace with logs to burn through the night, and a handful of candles shed their golden glow. The same inviting light and warmth upstairs would be in the bedroom, too, but my mind would not shut off, and trying to sleep would be futile. The Aurora manuscript was waiting for me on Matthew’s desk. Sitting down at my computer, I avoided the sight of his winking armor and switched on his space-age, minimalist desk light to read.

“I spoke aloud: Give me knowledge of my end and the measure of my days, so I may know my frailty. My lifetime is no longer than the width of my hand. It is only a moment, compared to yours.”

The passage only made me think of Matthew.

Trying to concentrate on alchemy was pointless, so I decided to make a list of queries regarding what I’d already read. All that was needed was a pen and a piece of paper.

Matthew’s massive mahogany desk was as dark and solid as its owner, and it exuded the same gravitas. It had drawers extending down both sides of the space left for his knees, the drawers resting on round, bun-shaped feet. Just below the writing surface, running all around the perimeter, was a thick band of carving. Acanthus leaves, tulips, scrolls, and geometrical shapes invited you to trace their outlines. Unlike the surface of my desk—which was always piled so high with papers, books, and half-drunk cups of tea that you risked disaster whenever you tried to work on it—this desk held only an Edwardian desk pad, a sword-shaped letter opener, and the lamp. Like Matthew, it was a bizarrely harmonious blend of ancient and modern.

There were, however, no office supplies in sight. I grasped the round brass pull on the top right-hand drawer. Inside, everything was neat and precisely arranged. The Montblanc pens were segregated from the Montblanc pencils, and the paper clips were arranged by size. After selecting a pen and putting it on the desk, I attempted to open the remaining drawers. They were locked. The key wasn’t underneath the paper clips—I dumped them on the desk, just to be sure.

An unmarked sheet of pale green blotting paper stretched between the desk pad’s leather bumpers. In lieu of a legal pad, that would have to do. Picking up my computer to clear the desk, I knocked the pen to the floor.

It had fallen under the drawers and was just out of reach. I crawled into the desk’s kneehole to retrieve it. Worming my hand under the drawers, my fingers found the thick barrel just as my eyes spotted the outline of a drawer in the dark wood above.

Frowning, I wriggled out from under the desk. There was nothing in the deep carving circling the desktop that released the catch on the concealed drawer. Leave it to Matthew to stash basic supplies in a drawer that was difficult to open. It would serve him right if every inch of his blotter was covered with graffiti when he returned home.

I wrote the number 1 in thick black ink on the green paper. Then I froze.

A desk drawer that was difficult to find was designed to hide something.

Matthew kept secrets—this I knew. But we had known each other only a few weeks, and even the closest of lovers deserved privacy. Still, Matthew’s tight-lipped manner was infuriating, and his secrets surrounded him like a fortress devised to keep other people—me—out.

Besides, I only needed a piece of paper. Hadn’t he rifled through my belongings at the Bodleian when he was looking for Ashmole 782? We’d barely met when he pulled that stunt. And he had left me to shift for myself in France.

As I carefully recapped the pen, my conscience nevertheless prickled. But my sense of injury helped me to cast that warning aside.

Pushing and pulling at every bump and bulge, my fingers searched the carvings on the desk’s front edge once more without success. Matthew’s letter opener rested invitingly near my right hand. It might be possible to wedge it into the seam underneath and pry the drawer open. Given the age of the desk, the historian in me squawked—much louder than my conscience had. Violating Matthew’s privacy and engaging in ethically questionable behavior might be permissible, but I wasn’t going to deface an antique.

Under the desk once more, I found it was too dark to see the underside of the drawer clearly, but my fingers located something cold and hard embedded in the wood. To the left of the drawer’s nearly imperceptible join was a small metal bump approximately one long vampire reach from the front of the desk. It was round and had cross-hatching in the center—to make it look like a screw or an old nail head.

There was a soft click overhead when I pushed it.

Standing, I stared into a tray about four inches deep. It was lined with black velvet, and there were three depressions in the thick padding. Each held a bronze coin or medal.

The largest one had a building’s outline cut into its surface and rested in the midst of a hollow nearly four inches across. The image was surprisingly detailed and showed four steps leading up to a door flanked by two columns. Between them was a shrouded figure. The building’s crisp outlines were marred by fragments of black wax. Around the edge of the coin were the words “militie Lazari a Bethania.”

The knights of Lazarus of Bethany.

Gripping the tray’s edges to steady myself, I abruptly sat down.

The metal disks weren’t coins or medals. They were seals—the kind used to close official correspondence and certify property transactions. A wax impression attached to an ordinary piece of paper could once have commanded armies to leave the field or auctioned off great estates.

Based on the residue, at least one seal had been used recently.

Fingers shaking, I pried one of the smaller disks from the tray. Its surface bore a copy of the same building. The columns and the shrouded figure of Lazarus—the man from Bethany whom Christ raised from the dead after he’d been entombed for four days—were unmistakable. Here Lazarus was depicted stepping out of a shallow coffin. But no words encircled this seal. Instead the building was surrounded by a snake, its tail in its mouth.

I couldn’t close my eyes quickly enough to banish the sight of the de Clermont family standard and its silver ouroboros snapping in the breeze above Sept-Tours.

The seal lay in my palm, its bronze surfaces gleaming. I focused on the shiny metal, willing my new visionary power to shed light on the mystery. But I’d spent more than two decades ignoring the magic in my blood, and it felt no compunction to come to my aid now.

Without a vision, my mundane historical skills would have to be put to work. I examined the back of the small seal closely, taking in its details. A cross with flared edges divided the seal into quarters, similar to the one Matthew had worn on his tunic in my vision. In the upper right quadrant of the seal was a crescent moon, its horns curved upward and a six-pointed star nestled in its belly. In the lower left quadrant was a fleur-de-lis, the traditional symbol of France.

Inscribed around the edge of the seal was the date MDCI—1601 in Roman numerals—along with the words “secretum Lazari”— “the secret of Lazarus.”

It couldn’t be a coincidence that Lazarus, like a vampire, had made the journey from life to death and back again. Moreover, the cross, combined with a legendary figure from the Holy Land and the mention of knights, strongly suggested that the seals in Matthew’s desk drawer belonged to one of the orders of Crusader knights established in the Middle Ages. The best known were the Templars, who had mysteriously disappeared in the early fourteenth century after being accused of heresy and worse. But I’d never heard of the Knights of Lazarus.

Turning the seal this way and that to catch the light, I focused on the date 1601. It was late for a medieval chivalric order. I searched my memory for important events of that year that might shed light on the mystery. Queen Elizabeth I beheaded the Earl of Essex, and the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe died under far less colorful circumstances. Neither of these events seemed remotely relevant.

My fingers moved lightly over the carving. The meaning of MDCI washed over me.

Matthew de Clermont.

These were letters, not Roman numerals. It was an abbreviation of Matthew’s name: MDCl. I was misreading the final letter.

The two-inch disk sat in my palm, and my fingers closed firmly around it, pressing the incised surface deep into the skin.

This smaller disk must have been Matthew’s private seal. The power of such seals was so great that they were usually destroyed when someone died or left office so that no one else could use them to commit fraud.

And only one knight would have both the great seal and a personal seal in his possession: the order’s leader.

Why Matthew kept the seals hidden puzzled me. Who cared about or even remembered the Knights of Lazarus, never mind his onetime role in the order? My attention was captured by the black wax on the great seal.

“It’s not possible,” I whispered numbly, shaking my head. Knights in shining armor belonged to the past. They weren’t active today.

The Matthew-size suit of armor gleamed in the candlelight.

I dropped the metal disk into the drawer with a clatter. The flesh of my palm had poured into the impressions and now carried its image, right down to its flared cross, crescent moon and star, and fleur-de-lis.

The reason Matthew had the seals, and the reason fresh wax clung to one of them, was that they were still in use. The Knights of Lazarus were still in existence.

“Diana? Are you all right?” Ysabeau’s voice echoed up from the foot of the stairs.

“Yes, Ysabeau!” I called, staring at the seal’s image on my hand. “I’m reading my e-mail and got some unexpected news, that’s all!”

“Shall I send Marthe up for the tray?”

“No!” I blurted. “I’m still eating.”

Her footsteps receded toward the salon. When there was complete silence, I let out my breath.

Moving as quickly and quietly as possible, I flipped the other seal over in its velvet-lined niche. It was nearly identical to Matthew’s, except that the upper right quadrant held only the crescent moon and “Philippus” was inscribed around the border.

This seal had belonged to Matthew’s father, which mean that the Knights of Lazarus were a de Clermont family affair.

Certain there would be no more clues about the order in the desk, I turned the seals so that Lazarus’s tomb was facing me once more. The drawer made a hushed click as it slid invisibly into position underneath the desk.

I picked up the table that Matthew used to hold his afternoon wine and carried it over to the bookcases. He wouldn’t mind me looking through his library—or so I told myself, kicking off my loafers. The table’s burnished surface gave a warning creak when I swung my feet onto it and stood, but the wood held fast.

The wooden toy at the far right of the top shelf was at eye level now. I sucked in a deep breath and pulled out the first item from the opposite end. It was ancient—the oldest manuscript I’d ever handled. The leather cover complained when it opened, and the smell of old sheepskin rose from the pages.

“Carmina qui quondam studio florente peregi, / Flebilis heu maestos cogor inire modos,” read the first lines. My eyes pricked with tears. It was Boethius’s sixth-century work, The Consolation of Philosophy, written in prison while he was awaiting death. “To pleasant songs my work was once given, and bright were all my labors then; / But now in tears to sad refrains I must return.” I imagined Matthew, bereft of Blanca and Lucas and bewildered by his new identity as a vampire, reading words written by a condemned man. Giving silent thanks to whoever had offered him this in hope of lessening his grief, I slid the book back into place.

The next volume was a beautifully illustrated manuscript of Genesis, the biblical story of creation. Its strong blues and reds looked as fresh as the day they had been painted. Another illustrated manuscript, this one a copy of Dioscorides’ book of plants, was also on the top shelf, along with more than a dozen other biblical books, several law books, and a book in Greek.

The shelf below held more of the same—books of the Bible mostly, along with a medical book and a very early copy of a seventh-century encyclopedia. It represented Isidore of Seville’s attempt to capture all of human knowledge, and it would have appealed to Matthew’s endless curiosity. At the bottom of the first folio was the name “MATHIEU,” along with the phrase “meus liber”—“my book.”

Feeling the same urge to trace the letters as when I faced Ashmole 782 in the Bodleian, my fingers faltered on their way to the surface of the vellum. Then I’d been too afraid of the reading-room supervisors and my own magic to risk it. Now it was fear of learning something unexpected about Matthew that held me back. But there was no supervisor here, and my fears became insignificant when weighed against my desire to understand the vampire’s past. I traced Matthew’s name. An image of him, sharp and clear, came to me without the use of stern commands or shining surfaces.

He was seated at a plain table by a window, looking just as he did now, biting his lip with concentration as he practiced his writing. Matthew’s long fingers gripped a reed pen, and he was surrounded by sheets of vellum, all of which bore repeated blotchy attempts to write his own name and copy out biblical passages. Following Marthe’s advice, I didn’t fight the vision’s arrival or departure, and the experience was not as disorienting as it had been last night.

Once my fingers had revealed all they could, I replaced the encyclopedia and continued working my way through the remaining volumes in the case. There were history books, more law books, books on medicine and optics, Greek philosophy, books of accounts, the collected works of early church notables like Bernard of Clairvaux, and chivalric romances—one involving a knight who changed into a wolf once a week. But none revealed fresh information about the Knights of Lazarus. I bit back a sound of frustration and climbed down from the table.

My knowledge of Crusader orders was sketchy. Most of them started out as military units that were renowned for bravery and discipline. The Templars were famous for being the first to enter the field of battle and the last to leave. But the orders’ military efforts were not limited to the area around Jerusalem. The knights fought in Europe, too, and many answered only to the pope rather than to kings or other secular authorities.

Nor was the power of the chivalric orders solely military. They’d built churches, schools, and leper hospitals. The military orders safeguarded Crusader interests, whether spiritual, financial, or physical. Vampires like Matthew were territorial and possessive to the last, and therefore ideally suited to the role of guardians.

But the power of the military orders led ultimately to their downfall. Monarchs and popes were jealous of their wealth and influence. In 1312 the pope and the French king saw to it that the Templars were disbanded, ridding themselves of the threat posed by the largest, most prestigious brotherhood. Most of the other orders gradually petered out due to lack of support and interest.

There were all those conspiracy theories, of course. A vast, complex international institution is hard to dismantle overnight, and the sudden dissolution of the Knights Templar had led to all sorts of fantastic tales about rogue Crusaders and underground operations. People still searched for traces of the Templars’ fabulous wealth. The fact that no one had ever found evidence of how it was disbursed only added to the intrigue.

The money. It was one of the first lessons historians learned: follow the money. I refocused my search.

The sturdy outlines of the first ledger were visible on the third shelf, tucked between Al-Hazen’s Optics and a romantic French chanson de geste. A small Greek letter was inked on the manuscript’s fore edge: ?. Figuring it must be an indexing mark of some sort, I scanned the shelves and located the second account book. It, too, had a small Greek letter, ?. My eyes lit on ?, ?, and ?, scattered among the shelves, too. A more careful search would locate the rest, I was sure.

Feeling like Eliot Ness waving a fistful of tax receipts in pursuit of Al Capone, I held up my hand. There was no time to waste on climbing to retrieve it. The first account book slid from its resting place and fell into my waiting palm.

Its entries were dated 1117 and were made by a number of different hands. Names and numbers danced across the pages. My fingers were busy, taking in all the information they could from the writing. A few faces bloomed out of the vellum repeatedly—Matthew, the dark man with the hawkish nose, a man with bright hair the color of burnished copper, another with warm brown eyes and a serious face.

My hands stilled over an entry for money received in 1149. “Eleanor Regina, 40,000 marks.” It was a staggering sum—more than half the yearly income of the kingdom of England. Why was the queen of England giving so much to a military order led by vampires? But the Middle Ages were too far outside my expertise for me to be able to answer that question or to know much about the people engaging in the transfers. I shut the book with a snap and went to the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century bookcases.

Nestled among the other books was a volume bearing the identifying mark of a Greek lambda. My eyes widened once it was open.

Based on this ledger, the Knights of Lazarus had paid—somewhat unbelievably—for a wide range of wars, goods, services, and diplomatic feats, including providing Mary Tudor’s dowry when she married Philip of Spain, buying the cannon for the Battle of Lepanto, bribing the French so they’d attend the Council of Trent, and financing most of the military actions of the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League. Apparently the brotherhood didn’t allow politics or religion to get in the way of their investment decisions. In a single year, they’d bankrolled Mary Stuart’s return to the Scottish throne and paid off Elizabeth I’s sizable debts to the Antwerp Bourse.

I walked along the shelves looking for more books marked with Greek letters. On the nineteenth-century shelves, there was one with the forked letter psi on its faded blue buckram spine. Inside, vast sums of money were meticulously accounted for, along with property sales that made my head spin—how did one secretly purchase most of the factories in Manchester?—and familiar names belonging to royalty, aristocrats, presidents, and Civil War generals. There were also smaller payouts for school fees, clothing allowances, and books, along with entries concerning dowries paid, hospital bills settled, and past-due rents brought up to date. Next to all the unfamiliar names was the abbreviation “MLB” or “FMLB.”

My Latin was not as good as it should be, but I was sure the abbreviations stood for the Knights of Lazarus of Bethany—militie Lazari a Bethania—or for filia militie or filius militie, the daughters and sons of the knights. And if the order was still disbursing funds in the middle of the nineteenth century, the same was probably true today. Somewhere in the world, a piece of paper—a real-estate transaction, a legal agreement—bore an impression of the order’s great seal in thick, black wax.

And Matthew had applied it.

Hours later I was back in the medieval section of Matthew’s library and opened my last account book. This volume spanned the period from the late thirteenth century to the first half of the fourteenth century. The staggering sums were now expected, but around 1310 the number of entries increased dramatically. So, too, did the flow of money. A new annotation accompanied some of the names: a tiny red cross. In 1313, next to one of these marks, was a name I recognized: Jacques de Molay, the last grand master of the Knights Templar.

He’d been burned at the stake for heresy in 1314. A year before he was executed, he’d turned over everything he owned to the Knights of Lazarus.

There were hundreds of names marked with red crosses. Were they all Templars? If so, then the mystery of the Templars was solved. The knights and their money hadn’t disappeared. Both had simply been absorbed into the order of Lazarus.

It couldn’t be true. Such a thing would have taken too much planning and coordination. And no one could have kept such a grand scheme secret. The idea was as implausible as stories about—

Witches and vampires.

The Knights of Lazarus were no more or less believable than I was.

As for conspiracy theories, their chief weakness was that they were so complex. No lifetime was sufficient to gather the necessary information, build the links between all the required elements, and then set the plans in motion. Unless, of course, the conspirators were vampires. If you were a vampire—or, better yet, a family of vampires—then the passage of time would matter little. As I knew from Matthew’s scholarly career, vampires had all the time they needed.

The enormity of what it meant to love a vampire struck home as I slid the account book back onto the shelf. It was not just his age that posed the difficulties, or his dining habits, or the fact that he had killed humans and would do so again. It was the secrets.

Matthew had been accumulating secrets—large ones like the Knights of Lazarus and his son Lucas, small ones like his relationships with William Harvey and Charles Darwin—for well over a millennium. My life might be too brief to hear them all, never mind understand them.

But it was not only vampires who kept secrets. All creatures learned to do so out of fear of discovery and to preserve something—anything—just for ourselves within our clannish, almost tribal, world. Matthew was not simply a hunter, a killer, a scientist, or a vampire, but a web of secrets, just as I was. For us to be together, we needed to decide which secrets to share and then let the others go.

The computer chimed in the quiet room when my finger pressed the power button. Marthe’s sandwiches were dry and the tea was cold, but I nibbled so that she wouldn’t think her efforts had gone unappreciated.

Finished, I sat back and stared into the fire. The Knights of Lazarus roused me as a historian, and my witch’s instincts told me the brotherhood was important to understanding Matthew. But their existence was not his most important secret. Matthew was guarding himself—his innermost nature.

What a complicated, delicate business it was going to be to love him. We were the stuff of fairy tales—vampires, witches, knights in shining armor. But there was a troubling reality to face. I had been threatened, and creatures watched me in the Bodleian in hopes I’d recall a book that everyone wanted but no one understood. Matthew’s laboratory had been targeted. And our relationship was destabilizing the fragile détente that had long existed among daemons, humans, vampires, and witches. This was a new world, in which creatures were pitted against creatures and a silent, secret army could be called into action by a stamp in a pool of black wax. It was no wonder that Matthew might prefer to put me aside.

I snuffed the candles and climbed the stairs to bed. Exhausted, I quickly drifted off, my dreams filled with knights, bronze seals, and endless books of accounts.

A cold, slender hand touched my shoulder, waking me instantly.

“Matthew?” I sat bolt upright.

Ysabeau’s white face glimmered in the darkness. “It’s for you.” She handed me her red mobile and left the room.

“Sarah?” I was terrified that something had happened to my aunts.

“It’s all right, Diana.”

Matthew.

“What’s happened?” My voice shook. “Did you make a deal with Knox?”

“No. I can’t make any progress there. There’s nothing left for me in Oxford. I want to be home, with you. I should be there in a few hours.” He sounded strange, his voice thick.

“Am I dreaming?”

“You’re not dreaming,” Matthew said. “And, Diana?” He hesitated. “I love you.”

It was what I most wanted to hear. The forgotten chain inside me started to sing, quietly, in the dark.

“Come here and tell me that,” I said softly, my eyes filling with tears of relief.

“You haven’t changed your mind?”

“Never,” I said fiercely.

“You’ll be in danger, and your family, too. Are you willing to risk that, for my sake?”

“I made my choice.”

We said good-bye and hung up reluctantly, afraid of the silence that would follow after so much had been said.

While he was gone, I had stood at a crossroads, unable to see a way forward.

My mother had been known for her uncanny visionary abilities. Would she have been powerful enough to see what awaited us as we took our first steps, together?

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