- زمان مطالعه 27 دقیقه
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Where is she?” Matthew slammed the keys to the Range Rover onto the table.
“We will find her, Matthew.” Ysabeau was trying to be calm for her son’s sake, but it had been nearly ten hours since they’d found a half-eaten apple next to a patch of rue in the garden. The two had been combing the countryside ever since, working in methodical slices of territory that Matthew divided up on a map.
After all the searching, they’d found no sign of Diana and had been unable to pick up her trail. She had simply vanished.
“It has to be a witch who took her.” Matthew ran his fingers through his hair. “I told her she’d be safe as long as she stayed inside the château. I never thought the witches would dare to come here.”
His mother’s mouth tightened. The fact that witches had kidnapped Diana did not surprise her.
Matthew started handing out orders like a general on a battlefield. “We’ll go out again. I’ll drive to Brioude. Go past Aubusson, Ysabeau, and into Limousin. Marthe, wait here in case she comes back or someone calls with news.”
There would be no phone calls, Ysabeau knew. If Diana had access to a phone, she would have used it before now. And though Matthew’s preferred battle strategy was to chop through obstacles until he reached his goal, it was not always the best way to proceed.
“We should wait, Matthew.”
“Wait?” Matthew snarled. “For what?”
“For Baldwin. He was in London and left an hour ago.”
“Ysabeau, how could you tell him?” His older brother, Matthew had learned through experience, liked to destroy things. It was what he did best. Over the years he’d done it physically, mentally, and then financially, once he’d discovered that destroying people’s livelihoods was almost as thrilling as flattening a village.
“When she was not in the stables or in the woods, I felt it was time. Baldwin is better at this than you are, Matthew. He can track anything.”
“Yes, Baldwin’s always been good at pursuing his prey. Now finding my wife is only my first task. Then I’ll have to make sure she’s not his next target.” Matthew picked up his keys. “You wait for Baldwin. I’ll go out alone.”
“Once he knows that Diana belongs to you, he will not harm her. Baldwin is the head of this family. So long as this is a family matter, he has to know.”
Ysabeau’s words struck him as odd. She knew how much he distrusted his older brother. Matthew shrugged their strangeness aside. “They came into your home, Maman. It was an insult to you. If you want Baldwin involved, it’s your right.”
“I called Baldwin for Diana’s sake—not mine. She must not be left in the hands of witches, Matthew, even if she is a witch herself.”
Marthe’s nose went into the air, alert to a new scent.
“Baldwin,” Ysabeau said unnecessarily, her green eyes glittering.
A heavy door slammed overhead, and angry footsteps followed. Matthew stiffened, and Marthe rolled her eyes.
“Down here,” Ysabeau said softly. Even in a crisis, she didn’t raise her voice. They were vampires, after all, with no need for histrionics.
Baldwin Montclair, as he was known in the financial markets, strode down the hall of the ground floor. His copper-colored hair gleamed in the electric light, and his muscles twitched with the quick reflexes of a born athlete. Trained to wield a sword from childhood, he had been imposing before becoming a vampire, and after his rebirth few dared to cross him. The middle son in Philippe de Clermont’s brood of three male children, Baldwin had been made a vampire in Roman times and had been Philippe’s favorite. They were cut from the same cloth—fond of war, women, and wine, in that order. Despite these amiable characteristics, those who faced him in combat seldom lived to recount the experience.
Now he directed his anger at Matthew. They’d taken a dislike to each other the first time they’d met, their personalities at such odds that even Philippe had given up hope of their ever being friends. His nostrils flared as he tried to detect his brother’s underlying scent of cinnamon and cloves.
“Where the hell are you, Matthew?” His deep voice echoed against the glass and stone.
Matthew stepped into his brother’s path. “Here, Baldwin.”
Baldwin had him by the throat before the words were out of his mouth. Their heads close together, one dark and one bright, they rocketed to the far end of the hall. Matthew’s body smashed into a wooden door, splintering it with the impact.
“How could you take up with a witch, knowing what they did to Father?”
“She wasn’t even born when he was captured.” Matthew’s voice was tight given the pressure on his vocal chords, but he showed no fear.
“She’s a witch,” Baldwin spit. “They’re all responsible. They knew how the Nazis were torturing him and did nothing to stop it.”
“Baldwin.” Ysabeau’s sharp tone caught his attention. “Philippe left strict instructions that no revenge was to be taken if he came to harm.” Though she had told Baldwin this repeatedly, it never lessened his anger.
“The witches helped those animals capture Philippe. Once the Nazis had him, they experimented on him to determine how much damage a vampire’s body could take without dying. The witches’ spells made it impossible for us to find him and free him.”
“They failed to destroy Philippe’s body, but they destroyed his soul.” Matthew sounded hollow. “Christ, Baldwin. They could do the same to Diana.”
If the witches hurt her physically, Matthew knew she might recover. But she would never be the same if the witches broke her spirit. He closed his eyes against the painful thought that Diana might not return the same stubborn, willful creature.
“So what?” Baldwin tossed his brother onto the floor in disgust and pounced on him.
A copper kettle the size of a timpani drum crashed into the wall. Both brothers leaped to their feet.
Marthe stood with gnarled hands on ample hips, glaring at them.
“She is his wife,” she told Baldwin curtly.
“You mated with her?” Baldwin was incredulous.
“Diana is part of this family now,” Ysabeau answered. “Marthe and I have accepted her. You must as well.”
“Never,” he said flatly. “No witch will ever be a de Clermont, or welcome in this house. Mating is a powerful instinct, but it doesn’t survive death. If the witches don’t kill this Bishop woman, I will.”
Matthew lunged at his brother’s throat. There was a sound of flesh tearing. Baldwin reeled back and howled, his hand on his neck.
“You bit me!”
“Threaten my wife again and I’ll do more than that.” Matthew’s sides were heaving and his eyes were wild.
“Enough!” Ysabeau startled them into silence. “I have already lost my husband, a daughter, and two of my sons. I will not have you at each other’s throats. I will not let witches take someone from my home without my permission.” Her last words were uttered in a low hiss. “And I will not stand here and argue while my son’s wife is in the hands of my enemies.”
“In 1944 you insisted that challenging the witches wouldn’t solve anything. Now look at you,” Baldwin snapped, glaring at his brother.
“This is different,” Matthew said tightly.
“Oh, it’s different, I grant you that. You’re risking the Congregation’s interference in our family’s affairs just so you can bed one of them.”
“The decision to engage in open hostilities with the witches was not yours to make then. It was your father’s—and he expressly forbade prolonging a world war.” Ysabeau stopped behind Baldwin and waited until he turned to face her. “You must let this go. The power to punish such atrocities was placed in the hands of human authorities.”
Baldwin looked at her sourly. “You took matters into your own hands, as I recall, Ysabeau. How many Nazis did you dine on before you were satisfied?” It was an unforgivable thing to say, but he had been pushed past his normal limits.
“As for Diana,” Ysabeau continued smoothly, though her eyes sparked in warning, “if your father were alive, Lucius Sigéric Benoit Christophe Baldwin de Clermont, he would be out looking for her—witch or not. He would be ashamed of you, in here settling old scores with your brother.” Every one of the names Philippe had given him over the years sounded like a slap, and Baldwin’s head jerked back when they struck.
He exhaled slowly through his nose. “Thank you for the advice, Ysabeau, and the history lesson. Now, happily, it is my decision. Matthew will not indulge himself with this girl. End of discussion.” He felt better after exercising his authority and turned to stalk out of Sept-Tours.
“Then you leave me no choice.” Matthew’s response stopped him in his tracks.
“Choice?” Baldwin snorted. “You’ll do what I tell you to do.”
“I may not be head of the family, but this is no longer a family matter.” Matthew had, at last, figured out the point of Ysabeau’s earlier remark.
“Fine.” Baldwin shrugged. “Go on this foolish crusade, if you must. Find your witch. Take Marthe—she seems to be as enamored of her as you are. If the two of you want to pester the witches and bring the Congregation down on your heads, that’s your business. To protect the family, I’ll disown you.”
He was on his way out the door again when his younger brother laid down his trump.
“I absolve the de Clermonts of any responsibility for sheltering Diana Bishop. The Knights of Lazarus will now see to her safety, as we have done for others in the past.”
Ysabeau turned away to hide her expression of pride.
“You can’t be serious,” Baldwin hissed. “If you rally the brotherhood, it will be tantamount to a declaration of war.”
“If that’s your decision, you know the consequences. I could kill you for your disobedience, but I don’t have time. Your lands and possessions are forfeit. Leave this house, and surrender your seal of office. A new French master will be appointed within the week. You are beyond the protection of the order and have seven days to find yourself a new place to live.”
“Try to take Sept-Tours from me,” Baldwin growled, “and you’ll regret it.”
“Sept-Tours isn’t yours. It belongs to the Knights of Lazarus. Ysabeau lives here with the brotherhood’s blessing. I’ll give you one more chance to be included in that arrangement.” Matthew’s voice took on an indisputable tone of command. “Baldwin de Clermont, I call upon you to fulfill your sworn oath and enter the field of battle, where you will obey my commands until I release you.”
He hadn’t spoken or written the words for ages, but Matthew remembered each one perfectly. The Knights of Lazarus were in his blood, just as Diana was. Long-unused muscles flexed deep within him, and talents that had grown rusty began to sharpen.
“The Knights don’t come to their master’s aid because of a love affair gone wrong, Matthew. We fought at the Battle of Acre. We helped the Albigensian heretics resist the northerners. We survived the demise of the Templars and the English advances at Crécy and Agincourt. The Knights of Lazarus were on the ships that beat back the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto, and when we refused to fight any further, the Thirty Years’ War came to an end. The brotherhood’s purpose is to ensure that vampires survive in a world dominated by humans.”
“We started out protecting those who could not protect themselves, Baldwin. Our heroic reputation was simply an unexpected by-product of that mission.”
“Father should never have passed the order on to you when he died. You’re a soldier—and an idealist—not a commander. You don’t have the stomach to make the difficult decisions.” Baldwin’s scorn for his brother was clear from his words, but his eyes were worried.
“Diana came to me seeking protection from her own people. I will see to it that she gets it—just as the Knights protected the citizens of Jerusalem, and Germany, and Occitania when they were under threat.”
“No one will believe that this isn’t personal, any more than they would have believed it in 1944. Then you said no.”
“I was wrong.”
Baldwin looked shocked.
Matthew drew a long, shuddering breath. “Once we would have responded immediately to such an outrage and to hell with the consequences. But a fear of divulging the family’s secrets and a reluctance to raise the Congregation’s ire held me back. This only encouraged our enemies to strike at this family again, and I won’t make the same mistake where Diana is concerned. The witches will stop at nothing to learn about her power. They’ve invaded our home and snatched one of their own. It’s worse than what they did to Philippe. In the witches’ eyes, he was only a vampire. By taking Diana they’ve gone too far.”
As Baldwin considered his brother’s words, Matthew’s anxiety grew more acute.
“Diana.” Ysabeau brought Baldwin back to the matter at hand.
Baldwin nodded, once.
“Thank you,” Matthew said simply. “A witch grabbed her straight up and out of the garden. Any clues there might have been about the direction they took were gone by the time we discovered she was missing.” He pulled a creased map from his pocket. “Here is where we still need to search.”
Baldwin looked at the areas that Ysabeau and his brother had already covered and the wide swaths of countryside that remained. “You’ve been searching all these places since she was taken?”
Matthew nodded. “Of course.”
Baldwin couldn’t conceal his irritation. “Matthew, will you never learn to stop and think before you act? Show me the garden.”
Matthew and Baldwin went outdoors, leaving Marthe and Ysabeau inside so that their scents wouldn’t obscure any faint traces of Diana. When the two were gone, Ysabeau began to shake from head to toe.
“It is too much, Marthe. If they have harmed her—”
“We have always known, you and I, that a day like this was coming.” Marthe put a compassionate hand on her mistress’s shoulder, then walked into the kitchens, leaving Ysabeau sitting pensively by the cold hearth.
In the garden Baldwin turned his preternaturally sharp eyes to the ground, where an apple lay next to a billowing patch of rue. Ysabeau had wisely insisted that they leave the fruit where they’d found it. Its location helped Baldwin see what his brother had not. The stems on the rue were slightly bent and led to another patch of herbs with ruffled leaves, then another.
“Which way was the wind blowing?” Baldwin’s imagination was caught already.
“From the west,” Matthew replied, trying to see what Baldwin was tracking. He gave up with a frustrated sigh. “This is taking too much time. We should split up. We can cover more ground that way. I’ll go through the caves again.”
“She won’t be in the caves,” Baldwin said, straightening his knees and brushing the scent of herbs from his hands. “Vampires use the caves, not witches. Besides, they went south.”
“South? There’s nothing to the south.”
“Not anymore,” Baldwin agreed. “But there must be something there, or the witch wouldn’t have gone in that direction. We’ll ask Ysabeau.”
One reason the de Clermont family was so long-lived was that each member had different skills in a crisis. Philippe had always been the leader of men, a charismatic figure who could convince vampires and humans and sometimes even daemons to fight for a common cause. Their brother Hugh had been the negotiator, bringing warring sides to the bargaining table and resolving even the fiercest of conflicts. Godfrey, the youngest of Philippe’s three sons, had been their conscience, teasing out the ethical implications of every decision. To Baldwin fell the battle strategies, his sharp mind quick to analyze every plan for flaws and weaknesses. Louisa had been useful as bait or as a spy, depending on the situation.
Matthew, improbably enough, had been the family’s fiercest warrior. His early adventures with the sword had made his father wild with their lack of discipline, but he’d changed. Now whenever Matthew held a weapon in his hand, something in him went cold and he fought his way through obstacles with a tenacity that made him unbeatable.
Then there was Ysabeau. Everyone underestimated her except for Philippe, who had called her either “the general” or “my secret weapon.” She missed nothing and had a longer memory than Mnemosyne.
The brothers went back into the house. Baldwin shouted for Ysabeau and strode into the kitchen, grabbing a handful of flour from an open bowl and scattering it onto Marthe’s worktable. He traced the outline of the Auvergne into the flour and dug his thumb into the spot where Sept-Tours stood.
“Where would a witch take another witch that is south and west of here?” he asked.
Ysabeau’s forehead creased. “It would depend on the reason she was taken.”
Matthew and Baldwin exchanged exasperated looks. This was the only problem with their secret weapon. Ysabeau never wanted to answer the question you posed to her—she always felt there was a more pressing one that needed to be addressed first.
“Think, Maman,” Matthew said urgently. “The witches want to keep Diana from me.”
“No, my child. You could be separated in so many ways. By coming into my home and taking my guest, the witches have done something unforgivable to this family. Hostilities such as these are like chess,” Ysabeau said, touching her son’s cheek with a cold hand. “The witches wanted to prove how weak we have become. You wanted Diana. Now they have taken her to make it impossible for you to ignore their challenge.”
“Please, Ysabeau. Where?”
“There is nothing but barren mountains and goat tracks between here and the Cantal,” Ysabeau said.
“The Cantal?” Baldwin snapped.
“Yes,” she whispered, her cold blood chilled by the implications.
The Cantal was where Gerbert of Aurillac had been born. It was his home territory, and if the de Clermonts trespassed, the witches would not be the only forces gathering against them.
“If this were chess, taking her to the Cantal would put us in check,” Matthew said grimly. “It’s too soon for that.”
Baldwin nodded approvingly. “Then we’re missing something, between here and there.”
“There’s nothing but ruins,” Ysabeau said.
Baldwin let out a frustrated sigh. “Why can’t Matthew’s witch defend herself?”
Marthe came into the room, wiping her hands on a towel. She and Ysabeau exchanged glances. “Elle est enchantée,” Marthe said gruffly.
“The child is spellbound,” Ysabeau agreed with reluctance. “We are certain of it.”
“Spellbound?” Matthew frowned. Spellbinding put a witch in invisible shackles. It was as unforgivable among witches as trespassing was among vampires.
“Yes. It is not that she refuses her magic. She has been kept from it—deliberately.” Ysabeau scowled at the idea.
“Why?” her son wondered. “It’s like defanging and declawing a tiger and then returning it to the jungle. Why would you leave anyone without a way to defend herself?”
Ysabeau shrugged. “I can think of many people who might want to do such a thing—many reasons, too—and I do not know this witch well. Call her family. Ask them.”
Matthew reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. He had the house in Madison on speed dial, Baldwin noticed. The witches on the other end picked up on the first ring.
“Matthew?” The witch was frantic. “Where is she? She’s in terrible pain, I can feel it.”
“We know where to look for her, Sarah,” Matthew said quietly, trying to soothe her. “But I need to ask you something first. Diana doesn’t use her magic.”
“She hasn’t since her mother and father died. What does that have to do with anything?” Sarah was shouting now. Ysabeau closed her eyes against the harsh sound.
“Is there a chance, Sarah—any chance at all—that Diana is spellbound?”
The silence on the other end was absolute.
“Spellbound?” Sarah finally said, aghast. “Of course not!”
The de Clermonts heard a soft click.
“It was Rebecca,” another witch said much more softly. “I promised her I wouldn’t tell. And I don’t know what she did or how she did it, so don’t ask. Rebecca knew she and Stephen wouldn’t be coming back from Africa. She’d seen something—knew something—that frightened her to death. All she would tell me was that she was going to keep Diana safe.”
“Safe from what?” Sarah was horrified.
“Not ‘safe from what.’ Safe until.” Em’s voice dropped further. “Rebecca said she would make sure Diana was safe until her daughter was with her shadowed man.”
“Her shadowed man?” Matthew repeated.
“Yes,” Em whispered. “As soon as Diana told me she was spending time with a vampire, I wondered if you were the one Rebecca had foreseen. But it all happened so fast.”
“Do you see anything, Emily—anything at all—that might help us?” Matthew asked.
“No. There’s a darkness. Diana’s in it. She’s not dead,” she said hastily when Matthew sucked in his breath, “but she’s in pain and somehow not entirely in this world.”
As Baldwin listened, he narrowed his eyes at Ysabeau. Her questions, though maddening, had been most illuminating. He uncrossed his arms and reached into his pocket for his phone. He turned away, dialed, and murmured something into it. Baldwin then looked at Matthew and drew a finger across his throat.
“I’m going for her now,” Matthew said. “When we have news, we’ll call you.” He disconnected before Sarah or Em could pepper him with questions.
“Where are my keys?” Matthew shouted, heading for the door.
Baldwin was in front of him, barring the way.
“Calm down and think,” he said roughly, kicking a stool in his brother’s direction. “What were the castles between here and the Cantal? We only need to know the old castles, the ones Gerbert would be most familiar with.”
“Christ, Baldwin, I can’t remember. Let me through!”
“No. You need to be smart about this. The witches wouldn’t have brought her into Gerbert’s territory—not if they have any sense. If Diana is spellbound, then she’s a mystery to them, too. It will take them some time to solve it. They’ll want privacy, and no vampires interrupting them.” It was the first time Baldwin had managed to say the witch’s name. “In the Cantal the witches would have to answer to Gerbert, so they must be somewhere near the border. Think.” Baldwin’s last drop of patience evaporated. “By the gods, Matthew, you built or designed most of them.”
Matthew’s mind raced over the possibilities, discarding some because they were too close, others because they were too ruined. He looked up in shock. “La Pierre.”
Ysabeau’s mouth tightened, and Marthe looked worried. La Pierre had been the region’s most forbidding castle. It was built on a foundation of basalt that couldn’t be tunneled through and had walls high enough to resist any siege.
Overhead, there was a sound of air being compressed and moved.
“A helicopter,” Baldwin said. “It was waiting in Clermont-Ferrand to take me back to Lyon. Your garden will need work, Ysabeau, but you no doubt think it’s a small price to pay.”
The two vampires streaked out of the château toward the helicopter. They jumped in and were soon flying high above the Auvergne. Nothing but blackness lay below them, punctuated here and there with a soft glow of light from a farmhouse window. It took them more than thirty minutes to arrive at the castle, and even though the brothers knew where it was, the pilot located its outlines with difficulty.
“There’s nowhere to land!” the pilot shouted.
Matthew pointed to an old road that stretched away from the castle. “What about there?” he shouted back. He was already scanning the walls for signs of light or movement.
Baldwin told the pilot to put down where Matthew had indicated, and he received a dubious look in reply.
When they were still twenty feet off the ground, Matthew jumped out and set off at a dead run toward the castle’s gate. Baldwin sighed and jumped after him, first directing the pilot not to move until they were both back on board.
Matthew was already inside, shouting for Diana. “Christ, she’ll be terrified,” he whispered when the echoes faded, running his fingers through his hair.
Baldwin caught up with him and grabbed his brother’s arm. “There are two ways to do this, Matthew. We can split up and search the place from top to bottom. Or you can stop for five seconds and figure out where you would hide something in La Pierre.”
“Let me go,” Matthew said, baring his teeth and trying to pull his arm from his brother’s grip. Baldwin’s hand only tightened.
“Think,” he commanded. “It will be quicker, I promise you.”
Matthew went over the castle’s floor plan in his mind. He started at the entrance, going up through the castle’s rooms, through the tower, the sleeping apartments, the audience chambers, and the great hall. Then he worked his way from the entrance down through the kitchens, the cellars, and the dungeons. He stared at his brother in horror.
“The oubliette.” He set off in the direction of the kitchens.
Baldwin’s face froze. “Dieu,” he whispered, watching his brother’s receding back. What was it about this witch that had made her own people throw her down a sixty-foot hole?
And if she were that precious, whoever had put Diana into the oubliette would be back.
Baldwin tore after Matthew, hoping it was not already too late to stop him from giving the witches not one but two hostages.
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