فصل 29

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فصل 29

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  • زمان مطالعه 35 دقیقه
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Chapter 29

My captor’s eyes were bright blue, angled over high, strong cheekbones and topped by a shock of platinum hair. She was wearing a thick, hand-knit turtleneck and a pair of tight-fitting jeans. No black robes or brooms, but she was—unmistakably—a witch.

With a contemptuous flick of her fingers, she stopped the sound of my scream before it broke free. Her arm swept to the left, carrying us more horizontally than vertically for the first time since she’d plucked me from the garden at Sept-Tours.

Matthew would wake up and find me gone. He would never forgive himself for falling asleep, or me for going outside. Idiot, I told myself.

“Yes you are, Diana Bishop,” the witch said in a strangely accented voice.

I slammed shut the imaginary doors behind my eyes that had always kept out the casual, invasive efforts of witches and daemons.

She laughed, a silvery sound that chilled me to the bone. Frightened, and hundreds of feet above the Auvergne, I emptied my mind in hopes of leaving nothing for her to find once she breached my inadequate defenses. Then she dropped me.

As the ground flew up, my thoughts organized themselves around a single word—Matthew.

The witch caught me up in her grip at my first whiff of earth. “You’re too light to carry for one who can’t fly. Why won’t you, I wonder?”

Silently I recited the kings and queens of England to keep my mind blank.

She sighed. “I’m not your enemy, Diana. We are both witches.”

The winds changed as the witch flew south and west, away from Sept-Tours. I quickly grew disoriented. The blaze of light in the distance might be Lyon, but we weren’t headed toward it. Instead we were moving deeper into the mountains—and they didn’t look like the peaks Matthew had pointed out to me earlier.

We descended toward something that looked like a crater set apart from the surrounding countryside by yawning ravines and overgrown forests. It proved to be the ruin of a medieval castle, with high walls and thick foundations that extended deep into the earth. Trees grew inside the husks of long-abandoned buildings huddled in the fortress’s shadow. The castle didn’t have a single graceful line or pleasing feature. There was only one reason for its existence—to keep out anyone who wished to enter. The poor dirt roads leading over the mountains were the castle’s only link to the rest of the world. My heart sank.

The witch swung her feet down and pointed her toes, and when I didn’t do the same, she forced mine down with another flick of her fingers. The tiny bones complained at the invisible stress. We slid along what remained of the gray tiled roofs without touching them, headed toward a small central courtyard. My feet flattened out suddenly and slammed into the stone paving, the shock reverberating through my legs.

“In time you’ll learn to land more softly,” the witch said matter-of-factly.

It was impossible to process my change in circumstances. Just moments ago, it seemed, I had been lying, drowsy and content, in bed with Matthew. Now I was standing in a dank castle with a strange witch.

When two pale figures detached themselves from the shadows, my confusion turned to terror. One was Domenico Michele. The other was unknown to me, but the freezing touch of his eyes told me he was a vampire, too. A wave of incense and brimstone identified him: this was Gerbert of Aurillac, the vampire-pope.

Gerbert wasn’t physically intimidating, but there was evil at the core of him that made me shrink instinctively. Traces of that darkness were in brown eyes that looked out from deep sockets set over cheekbones so prominent that the skin appeared to be stretched thin over them. His nose hooked slightly, pointing down to thin lips that were curled into a cruel smile. With this vampire’s dark eyes pinned on me, the threat posed by Peter Knox paled in comparison.

“Thank you for this place, Gerbert,” the witch said smoothly, keeping me close by her side. “You’re right—I won’t be disturbed here.”

“It was my pleasure, Satu. May I examine your witch?” Gerbert asked softly, walking slowly to the left and right as if searching for the best vantage point from which to view a prize. “It is difficult, when she has been with de Clermont, to tell where her scents begin and his end.”

My captor glowered at the reference to Matthew. “Diana Bishop is in my care now. There is no need for your presence here any longer.”

Gerbert’s attention remained fixed on me as he took small, measured steps toward me. His exaggerated slowness only heightened his menace. “It is a strange book, is it not, Diana? A thousand years ago, I took it from a great wizard in Toledo. When I brought it to France, it was already bound by layers of enchantment.”

“Despite your knowledge of magic, you could not discover its secrets.” The scorn in the witch’s voice was unmistakable. “The manuscript is no less bewitched now than it was then. Leave this to us.”

He continued to advance. “I knew a witch then whose name was similar to yours—Meridiana. She didn’t want to help me unlock the manuscript’s secrets, of course. But my blood kept her in thrall.” He was close enough now that the cold emanating from his body chilled me. “Each time I drank from her, small insights into her magic and fragments of her knowledge passed to me. They were frustratingly fleeting, though. I had to keep going back for more. She became weak, and easy to control.” Gerbert’s finger touched my face. “Meridiana’s eyes were rather like yours, too. What did you see, Diana? Will you share it with me?”

“Enough, Gerbert.” Satu’s voice crackled with warning, and Domenico snarled.

“Do not think this is the last time you will see me, Diana. First the witches will bring you to heel. Then the Congregation will decide what to do with you.” Gerbert’s eyes bored into mine, and his finger moved down my cheek in a caress. “After that, you will be mine. For now,” he said with a small bow in Satu’s direction, “she is yours.”

The vampires withdrew. Domenico looked back, reluctant to leave. Satu waited, her gaze vacant, until the sound of metal meeting up with wood and stone signaled that they were gone from the castle. Her blue eyes snapped to attention, and she fixed them on me. With a small gesture, she released her spell that had kept me silent.

“Who are you?” I croaked when it was possible to form words again.

“My name is Satu J?rvinen,” she said, walking around me in a slow circle, trailing a hand behind her. It triggered a deep memory of another hand that had moved like hers. Once Sarah had walked a similar path in the backyard in Madison when she’d tried to bind a lost dog, but the hands in my mind did not belong to her.

Sarah’s talents were nothing compared to those possessed by this witch. It had been evident she was powerful from the way she flew. But she was adept at spells, too. Even now she was restraining me inside gossamer filaments of magic that stretched across the courtyard without her uttering a single word. Any hope of easy escape vanished.

“Why did you kidnap me?” I asked, trying to distract her from her work.

“We tried to make you see how dangerous Clairmont was. As witches, we didn’t want to go to these lengths, but you refused to listen.” Satu’s words were cordial, her voice warm. “You wouldn’t join us for Mabon, you ignored Peter Knox. Every day that vampire drew closer. But you’re safely beyond his reach now.”

Every instinct screamed danger.

“It’s not your fault,” Satu continued, touching me lightly on the shoulder. My skin tingled, and the witch smiled. “Vampires are so seductive, so charming. You’ve been caught in his thrall, just as Meridiana was caught by Gerbert. We don’t blame you for this, Diana. You led such a sheltered childhood. It wasn’t possible for you to see him for what he is.”

“I’m not in Matthew’s thrall,” I insisted. Beyond the dictionary definition, I had no idea what it might involve, but Satu made it sound coercive.

“Are you quite sure?” she asked gently. “You’ve never tasted a drop of his blood?”

“Of course not!” My childhood might have been devoid of extensive magical training, but I wasn’t a complete idiot. Vampire blood was a powerful, life-altering substance.

“No memories of a taste of concentrated salt? No unusual fatigue? You’ve never fallen deeply asleep when he was in your presence, even though you didn’t want to close your eyes?”

On the plane to France, Matthew had touched his fingers to his own lips, then to mine. I’d tasted salt then. The next thing I knew, I was in France. My certainty wavered.

“I see. So he has given you his blood.” Satu shook her head. “That’s not good, Diana. We thought it might be the case, after he followed you back to college on Mabon and climbed through your window.”

“What are you talking about?” My blood froze in my veins. Matthew would never give me his blood. Nor would he violate my territory. If he had done these things, there would have been a reason, and he would have shared it with me.

“The night you met, Clairmont hunted you down to your rooms. He crept through an open window and was there for hours. Didn’t you wake up? If not, he must have used his blood to keep you asleep. How else can we explain it?”

My mouth had been full of the taste of cloves. I closed my eyes against the recollection, and the pain that accompanied it.

“This relationship has been nothing more than an elaborate deception, Diana. Matthew Clairmont has wanted only one thing: the lost manuscript. Everything the vampire has done and every lie he’s told along the way have been a means to that end.”

“No.” It was impossible. He couldn’t have been lying to me last night. Not when we lay in each other’s arms.

“Yes. I’m sorry to have to tell you these things, but you left us no other choice. We tried to keep you apart, but you are so stubborn.”

Just like my father, I thought. My eyes narrowed. “How do I know that you’re not lying?”

“One witch can’t lie to another witch. We’re sisters, after all.”

“Sisters?” I demanded, my suspicions sharpening. “You’re just like Gillian—pretending sisterhood while gathering information and trying to poison my mind against Matthew.”

“So you know about Gillian,” Satu said regretfully.

“I know she’s been watching me.”

“Do you know she’s dead?” Satu’s voice was suddenly vicious.

“What?” The floor seemed to tilt, and I felt myself sliding down the sudden incline.

“Clairmont killed her. It’s why he took you away from Oxford so quickly. It’s yet another innocent death we haven’t been able to keep out of the press. What did the headlines say . . . ? Oh, yes: ‘Young American Scholar Dies Abroad While Doing Research.’” Satu’s mouth curved into a malicious smile.

“No.” I shook my head. “Matthew wouldn’t kill her.”

“I assure you he did. No doubt he questioned her first. Apparently vampires have never learned that killing the messenger is pointless.”

“The picture of my parents.” Matthew might have killed whoever sent me that photo.

“It was heavy-handed for Peter to send it to you and careless of him to let Gillian deliver it,” Satu continued. “Clairmont’s too smart to leave evidence, though. He made it look like a suicide and left her body propped up like a calling card against Peter’s door at the Randolph Hotel.”

Gillian Chamberlain hadn’t been a friend, but the knowledge that she would never again crouch over her glass-encased papyrus fragments was more distressing than I would have expected.

And it was Matthew who had killed her. My mind whirled. How could Matthew say he loved me and yet keep such things from me? Secrets were one thing, but murder—even under the guise of revenge and retaliation— was something else. He kept warning me he couldn’t be trusted. I’d paid no attention to him, brushing his words aside. Had that been part of his plan, too, another strategy to lure me into trusting him?

“You must let me help you.” Satu’s voice was gentle once more. “This has gone too far, and you are in terrible danger. I can teach you to use your power. Then you’ll be able to protect yourself from Clairmont and other vampires, like Gerbert and Domenico. You will be a great witch one day, just like your mother. You can trust me, Diana. We’re family.”

“Family,” I repeated numbly.

“Your mother and father wouldn’t have wanted you to fall into a vampire’s snares,” Satu explained, as if I were a child. “They knew how important it was to preserve the bonds between witches.”

“What did you say?” There was no whirling now. Instead my mind seemed unusually sharp and my skin was tingling all over, as if a thousand witches were staring at me. There was something I was forgetting, something about my parents that made everything Satu said a lie.

A strange sound slithered into my ears. It was a hissing and creaking, like ropes being pulled over stone. Looking down, I saw thick brown roots stretching and twisting across the floor. They crawled in my direction.

Satu seemed unaware of their approach. “Your parents would have wanted you to live up to your responsibilities as a Bishop and as a witch.”

“My parents?” I drew my attention from the floor, trying to focus on Satu’s words.

“You owe your loyalty and allegiance to me and your fellow witches, not to Matthew Clairmont. Think of your mother and father. Think of what this relationship would do to them, if only they knew.”

A cold finger of foreboding traced my spine, and all my instincts told me that this witch was dangerous. The roots had reached my feet by then. As if they could sense my distress the roots abruptly changed direction, digging into the paving stones on either side of where I stood, before weaving themselves into a sturdy, invisible web beneath the castle floors.

“Gillian told me that witches killed my parents,” I said. “Can you deny it? Tell me the truth about what happened in Nigeria.”

Satu remained silent. It was as good as a confession.

“Just as I thought,” I said bitterly.

A tiny motion of her wrist threw me onto my back, feet in the air, before invisible hands dragged me across the slick surface of the freezing courtyard and into a cavernous space with tall windows and only a portion of roof remaining.

My back was battered from its trip across the stones of the castle’s old hall. Worse yet, my struggles against Satu’s magic were inexperienced and futile. Ysabeau was right. My weakness—my ignorance of who I was and how to defend myself—had landed me in serious trouble.

“Once again you refuse to listen to reason. I don’t want to hurt you, Diana, but I will if it’s the only way to make you see the seriousness of this situation. You must give up Matthew Clairmont and show us what you did to call the manuscript.”

“I will never give up my husband, nor will I help any of you claim Ashmole 782. It doesn’t belong to us.”

This remark earned me the sensation of my head splitting in two as a bloodcurdling shriek tore through the air. A cacophony of horrifying sounds followed. They were so painful I sank to my knees, and covered my head with my arms.

Satu’s eyes narrowed to slits, and I found myself on my backside on the cold stone. “Us? You dare to think of yourself as a witch when you’ve come straight from the bed of a vampire?”

“I am a witch,” I replied sharply, surprised at how much her dismissal stung.

“You’re a disgrace, just like Stephen,” Satu hissed. “Stubborn, argumentative, independent. And so full of secrets.”

“That’s right, Satu, I’m just like my father. He wouldn’t have told you anything. I’m not going to either.”

“Yes you will. The only way vampires can discover a witch’s secrets is drop by drop.” To show what she meant, Satu flicked her fingers in the direction of my right forearm. Another witch’s hand had flicked at a long-ago cut on my knee, but that gesture had closed my wound better than any Band-Aid. This one sliced an invisible knife through my skin. Blood began to trickle from the gash. Satu watched the flow of blood, mesmerized.

My hand covered the cut, putting pressure on the wound. It was surprisingly painful, and my anxiety began to climb.

No, said a familiar, fierce voice. You must not give in to the pain. I struggled to bring myself under control.

“As a witch, I have other ways to uncover what you’re hiding. I’m going to open you up, Diana, and locate every secret you possess,” Satu promised. “We’ll see how stubborn you are then.”

All the blood left my head, making me dizzy. The familiar voice caught my attention, whispering my name. Who do we keep our secrets from, Diana?

Everybody, I answered, silently and automatically, as if the question were routine. Another set of far sturdier doors banged shut behind the inadequate barriers that had been all I’d ever needed to keep a curious witch out of my head.

Satu smiled, her eyes sparkling as she detected my new defenses. “There’s one secret uncovered already. Let’s see what else you have, besides the ability to protect your mind.”

The witch muttered, and my body spun around and then flattened against the floor, facedown. The impact knocked the wind out of me. A circle of fire licked up from the cold stones, the flames green and noxious.

Something white-hot seared my back. It curved from shoulder to shoulder like a shooting star, descended to the small of my back, then curved again before climbing once again to where it had started. Satu’s magic held me fast, making it impossible to wriggle away. The pain was unspeakable, but before the welcoming blackness could take me, she held off. When the darkness receded, the pain began again.

It was then that I realized with a sickening lurch of my stomach that she was opening me up, just as she’d promised. She was drawing a magical circle—onto me.

You must be very, very brave.

Through the haze of pain I followed the snaking tree roots covering the floor of the hall in the direction of the familiar voice. My mother was sitting under an apple tree just outside the line of green fire.

“Mama!” I cried weakly, reaching out for her. But Satu’s magic held.

My mother’s eyes—darker than I remembered, but so like my own in shape—were tenacious. She put one ghostly finger to her lips in a gesture of silence. The last of my energy was expended in a nod that acknowledged her presence. My last coherent thought was of Matthew.

After that, there was nothing but pain and fear, along with a dull desire to close my eyes and go to sleep forever.

It must have been many hours before Satu tossed me across the room in frustration. My back burned from her spell, and she’d reopened my injured forearm again and again. At some point she suspended me upside down by my ankle to weaken my resistance and taunted me about my inability to fly away and escape. Despite these efforts, Satu was no closer to understanding my magic than when she started.

She roared with anger, the low heels of her boots clicking against the stones as she paced and plotted fresh assaults. I lifted myself onto my elbow to better anticipate her next move.

Hold on. Be brave. My mother was still under the apple tree, her face shining with tears. It brought back echoes of Ysabeau telling Marthe that I had more courage than she had thought, and Matthew whispering “My brave girl” into my ear. I mustered the energy to smile, not wanting my mother to cry. My smile only made Satu more furious.

“Why won’t you use your power to protect yourself? I know it’s inside you!” she bellowed. Satu drew her arms together over her chest, then thrust them out with a string of words. My body rolled into a ball around a jagged pain in my abdomen. The sensation reminded me of my father’s eviscerated body, the guts pulled out and lying next to him.

That’s what’s next. I was oddly relieved to know.

Satu’s next words flung me across the floor of the ruined hall. My hands reached futilely past my head to try to stop the momentum as I skidded across the uneven stones and bumpy tree roots. My fingers flexed once as if they might reach across the Auvergne and connect to Matthew.

My mother’s body had looked like this, resting inside a magic circle in Nigeria. I exhaled sharply and cried out.

Diana, you must listen to me. You will feel all alone. My mother was talking to me, and with the sound I became a child again, sitting on a swing hanging from the apple tree in the back yard of our house in Cambridge on a long-ago August afternoon. There was the smell of cut grass, fresh and green, and my mother’s scent of lilies of the valley. Can you be brave while you’re alone? Can you do that for me?

There were no soft August breezes against my skin now. Instead rough stone scraped my cheek when I nodded in reply.

Satu flipped me over, and the pointy stones cut into my back.

“We don’t want to do this, sister,” she said with regret. “But we must. You will understand, once Clairmont is forgotten, and forgive me for this.”

Not bloody likely, I thought. If he doesn’t kill you, I’ ll haunt you for the rest of your life once I’m gone.

With a few whispered words Satu lifted me from the floor and propelled me with carefully directed gusts of wind out of the hall and down a flight of curving stairs that wound into the depths of the castle. She moved me through the castle’s ancient dungeons. Something rustled behind me, and I craned my neck to see what it was.

Ghosts—dozens of ghosts—were filing behind us in a spectral funeral procession, their faces sad and afraid. For all Satu’s powers, she seemed unable to see the dead everywhere around us, just as she had been unable to see my mother.

The witch was attempting to raise a heavy wooden slab in the floor with her hands. I closed my eyes and braced myself for a fall. Instead Satu grabbed my hair and aimed my face into a dark hole. The smell of death rose in a noxious wave, and the ghosts shifted and moaned.

“Do you know what this is, Diana?”

I shrank back and shook my head, too frightened and exhausted to speak.

“It’s an oubliette.” The word rustled from ghost to ghost. A wispy woman, her face creased with age, began to weep. “Oubliettes are places of forgetting. Humans who are dropped into oubliettes go mad and then starve to death—if they survive the impact. It’s a very long way down. They can’t get out without help from above, and help never comes.”

The ghost of a young man with a deep gash across his chest nodded in agreement with Satu’s words. Don’t fall, girl, he said in a sorrowful voice.

“But we won’t forget you. I’m going for reinforcements. You might be stubborn in the face of one of the Congregation’s witches, but not all three. We found that out with your father and mother, too.” She tightened her grip, and we sailed more than sixty feet down to the bottom of the oubliette. The rock walls changed color and consistency as we tunneled deeper into the mountain.

“Please,” I begged when Satu dropped me on the floor. “Don’t leave me down here. I don’t have any secrets. I don’t know how to use my magic or how to recall the manuscript.”

“You’re Rebecca Bishop’s daughter,” Satu said. “You have power—I can feel it—and we’ll make sure that it breaks free. If your mother were here, she would simply fly out.” Satu looked into the blackness above us, then to my ankle. “But you’re not really your mother’s daughter, are you? Not in any way that matters.”

Satu bent her knees, lifted her arms, and pushed gently against the oubliette’s stone floor. She soared up and became a blur of white and blue before disappearing. Far above me the wooden door closed.

Matthew would never find me down here. By now any trail would be long gone, our scents scattered to the four winds. The only way to get out, short of being retrieved by Satu, Peter Knox, and some unknown third witch, was to get myself out.

Standing with my weight on one foot, I bent my knees, lifted my arms, and pushed against the floor as Satu had. Nothing happened. Closing my eyes, I tried to focus on the way it had felt to dance in the salon, hoping it would make me float again. All it did was make me think of Matthew, and the secrets he had kept from me. My breath turned into a sob, and when the oubliette’s dank air passed into my lungs, the resulting cough brought me to my knees.

I slept a bit, but it was hard to ignore the ghosts once they started chattering. At least they provided some light in the gloom. Every time they moved, a tiny bit of phosphorescence smudged the air, linking where they had just been to where they were going. A young woman in filthy rags sat opposite me, humming quietly to herself and staring in my direction with vacant eyes. In the center of the room, a monk, a knight in full armor, and a musketeer peered into an even deeper hole that emitted a feeling of such loss that I couldn’t bear to go near it. The monk muttered the mass for the dead, and the musketeer kept reaching into the pit as if looking for something he had lost.

My mind slid toward oblivion, losing its struggle against the combination of fear, pain, and cold. Frowning with concentration, I remembered the last passages I’d read in the Aurora Consurgens and repeated them aloud in the hope it would help me remain sane.

“‘It is I who mediates the elements, bringing each into agreement,’” I mumbled through stiff lips. “‘I make what is moist dry again, and what is dry I make moist. I make what is hard soft again, and soften that which is hard. As I am the end, so my lover is the beginning. I encompass the whole work of creation, and all knowledge is hidden in me.’” Something shimmered against the wall nearby. Here was another ghost, come to say hello, but I closed my eyes, too tired to care, and returned to my recitation.

“‘Who will dare to separate me from my love? No one, for our love is as strong as death. ’”

My mother interrupted me. Won’t you try to sleep, little witch?

Behind my closed eyes, I saw my attic bedroom in Madison. It was only a few days before my parents’ final trip to Africa, and I’d been brought to stay with Sarah while they were gone.

“I’m not sleepy,” I replied. My voice was stubborn and childlike. I opened my eyes. The ghosts were drawing closer to the shimmer in the shadows to my right.

My mother was sitting there, propped against the oubliette’s damp stone walls, holding her arms open. I inched toward her, holding my breath for fear she would disappear. She smiled in welcome, her dark eyes shining with unshed tears. My mother’s ghostly arms and fingers flicked this way and that as I snuggled closer to her familiar body.

Shall I tell you a story?

“It was your hands I saw when Satu worked her magic.”

Her answering laugh was gentle and made the cold stones beneath me less painful. You were very brave.

“I’m so tired.” I sighed.

It’s time for your story, then. Once upon a time, she began, there was a little witch named Diana. When she was very small, her fairy godmother wrapped her in invisible ribbons that were every color of the rainbow.

I remembered this tale from my childhood, when my pajamas had been purple and pink with stars on them and my hair was braided into two long pigtails that snaked down my back. Waves of memories flooded into rooms of my mind that had sat empty and unused since my parents’ death.

“Why did the fairy godmother wrap her up?” I asked in my child’s voice.

Because Diana loved making magic, and she was very good at it, too. But her fairy godmother knew that other witches would be jealous of her power. “When you are ready,” the fairy godmother told her, “you will shrug off these ribbons. Until then you won’t be able to fly, or make magic.”

“That’s not fair,” I protested, as seven-year-olds are fond of doing. “Punish the other witches, not me.”

The world isn’t fair, is it? my mother asked.

I shook my head glumly.

No matter how hard Diana tried, she couldn’t shake her ribbons off. In time she forgot all about them. And she forgot her magic, too.

“I would never forget my magic,” I insisted.

My mother frowned. But you have, she said in her soft whisper. Her story continued. One day, long after, Diana met a handsome prince who lived in the shadows between sunset and moonrise.

This had been my favorite part. Memories of other nights flooded forth. Sometimes I had asked for his name, other times I’d proclaimed my lack of interest in a stupid prince. Mostly I wondered why anyone would want to be with a useless witch.

The prince loved Diana, despite the fact that she couldn’t seem to fly. He could see the ribbons binding her, though nobody else could. He wondered what they were for and what would happen if the witch took them off. But the prince didn’t think it was polite to mention them, in case she felt self-conscious. I nodded my seven-year-old head, impressed with the prince’s empathy, and my much older head moved against the stone walls, too. But he did wonder why a witch wouldn’t want to fly, if she could.

Then, my mother said, smoothing my hair, three witches came to town. They could see the ribbons, too, and suspected that Diana was more powerful than they were. So they spirited her away to a dark castle. But the ribbons wouldn’t budge, even though the witches pulled and tugged. So the witches locked her in a room, hoping she’d be so afraid she’ d take the ribbons off herself.

“Was Diana all alone?”

All alone, my mother said.

“I don’t think I like this story.” I pulled up my childhood bedspread, a patchwork quilt in bright colors that Sarah had bought at a Syracuse department store in anticipation of my visit, and slid down to the floor of the oubliette. My mother tucked me against the stones.

“Mama?” Yes, Diana?

“I did what you told me to do. I kept my secrets—from everybody.”

I know it was difficult.

“Do you have any secrets?” In my mind I was running like a deer through a field, my mother chasing me.

Of course, she said, reaching out and flicking her fingers so that I soared through the air and landed in her arms.

“Will you tell me one of them?”

Yes. Her mouth was so close to my ear that it tickled. You. You are my greatest secret.

“But I’m right here!” I squealed, squirming free and running in the direction of the apple tree. “How can I be a secret if I’m right here?”

My mother put her fingers to her lips and smiled.

Magic.

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