فصل 31

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فصل 31

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  • زمان مطالعه 40 دقیقه
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Chapter 31

Diana, it’s time to wake up. My mother’s voice was low but insistent.

Too exhausted to respond, I pulled the brightly colored patchwork quilt over my head, hoping that she wouldn’t be able to find me. My body curled into a tight ball, and I wondered why everything hurt so much.

Wake up, sleepyhead. My father’s blunt fingers gripped the fabric. A jolt of joy momentarily pushed the pain aside. He pretended he was a bear and growled. Squealing with happiness, I tightened my own hands and giggled, but when he pulled at the coverings, the cold air swept around me.

Something was wrong. I opened one eye, expecting to see the bright posters and stuffed animals that lined my room in Cambridge. But my bedroom didn’t have wet, gray walls.

My father was smiling down at me with twinkling eyes. As usual, his hair was curled up at the ends and needed combing, and his collar was askew. I loved him anyway and tried to fling my arms around his neck, but they refused to work properly. He pulled me gently toward him instead, his insubstantial form clinging to me like a shield.

Fancy seeing you here, Miss Bishop. It was what he always said when I sneaked into his study at home or crept downstairs late at night for one more bedtime story.

“I’m so tired.” Even though his shirt was transparent, it somehow retained the smell of stale cigarette smoke and the chocolate caramels that he kept in his pockets.

I know, my father said, his eyes no longer twinkling. But you can’t sleep anymore.

You have to wake up. My mother’s hands were on me now, trying to extricate me from my father’s lap.

“Tell me the rest of the story first,” I begged, “and skip the bad parts.”

It doesn’t work that way. My mother shook her head, and my father sadly handed me into her arms.

“But I don’t feel well.” My child’s voice wheedled for special treatment.

My mother’s sigh rustled against the stone walls. I can’t skip the bad parts. You have to face them. Can you do that, little witch?

After considering what would be required, I nodded.

Where were we? my mother asked, sitting down next to the ghostly monk in the center of the oubliette. He looked shocked and moved a few inches away. My father stifled a smile with the back of his hand, looking at my mother the same way I looked at Matthew.

I remember, she said. Diana was locked in a dark room, all alone. She sat hour after hour and wondered how she would ever get out. Then she heard a knocking at the window. It was the prince. “I’m trapped inside by witches!” Diana cried. The prince tried to break the window, but it was made of magic glass and he couldn’t even crack it. Then the prince raced to the door and tried to open it, but it was held fast by an enchanted lock. He rattled the door in the frame, but the wood was too thick and it didn’t budge.

“Wasn’t the prince strong?” I asked, slightly annoyed that he wasn’t up to the task.

Very strong, said her mother solemnly, but he was no wizard. So Diana looked around for something else for the prince to try. She spied a tiny hole in the roof. It was just big enough for a witch like her to squeeze through. Diana told the prince to fly up and lift her out. But the prince couldn’t fly.

“Because he wasn’t a wizard,” I repeated. The monk crossed himself every time magic or a wizard was mentioned.

That’s right, my mother said. But Diana remembered that once upon a time she had flown. She looked down and found the edge of a silver ribbon. It was wound tightly around her, but when she tugged on the end, the ribbon came loose. Diana tossed it high above her head. Then there was nothing left for her body to do except follow it up to the sky. When she got close to the hole in the roof, she put her arms together, stretched them straight, and went through into the night air. “I knew you could do it,” said the prince.

“And they lived happily ever after,” I said firmly.

My mother’s smile was bittersweet. Yes, Diana. She gave my father a long look, the kind that children don’t understand until they’re older.

I sighed happily, and it didn’t matter so much that my back was on fire or that this was a strange place with people you could see right through.

It’s time, my mother said to my father. He nodded.

Above me, heavy wood met ancient stone with a deafening crash.

“Diana?” It was Matthew. He sounded frantic. His anxiety sent a simultaneous rush of relief and adrenaline through my body.

“Matthew!” My call came out as a dull croak.

“I’m coming down.” Matthew’s response, echoing down all that stone, hurt my head. It was throbbing and there was something sticky on my cheek. I rubbed some of the stickiness on to my finger, but it was too dark to see what it was.

“No,” said a deeper, rougher voice. “You can get down there, but I won’t be able to get you out. And we need to do this fast, Matthew. They’ll be back for her.”

I looked up to see who was speaking, but all that was visible was a pale white ring.

“Diana, listen to me.” Matthew boomed a little less now. “You need to fly. Can you do that?”

My mother nodded encouragingly. It’s time to wake up and be a witch. There’s no need for secrets anymore.

“I think so.” I tried to get to my feet. My right ankle gave way underneath me, and I fell hard onto my knee. “Are you sure Satu’s gone?”

“There’s no one here but me and my brother, Baldwin. Fly up and we’ll get you away.” The other man muttered something, and Matthew replied angrily.

I didn’t know who Baldwin was, and I had met enough strangers today. Not even Matthew felt entirely safe, after what Satu had said. I looked for somewhere to hide.

You can’t hide from Matthew, my mother said, casting a rueful smile at my father. He’ll always find you, no matter what. You can trust him. He’s the one we’ve been waiting for.

My father’s arms crept around her, and I remembered the feeling of Matthew’s arms. Someone who held me like that couldn’t be deceiving me.

“Diana, please try.” Matthew couldn’t keep the pleading out of his voice.

In order to fly, I needed a silver ribbon. But there wasn’t one wrapped around me. Uncertain of how to proceed, I searched for my parents in the gloom. They were paler than before.

Don’t you want to fly? my mother asked.

Magic is in the heart, Diana, my father said. Don’t forget.

I shut my eyes and imagined a ribbon into place. With the end securely in my fingers, I threw it toward the white ring that flickered in the darkness. The ribbon unfurled and soared through the hole, taking my body with it.

My mother was smiling, and my father looked as proud as he had when he took the training wheels off my first bicycle. Matthew peered down, along with another face that must belong to his brother. With them were a clutch of ghosts who looked amazed that anyone, after all these years, was making it out alive.

“Thank God,” Matthew breathed, stretching his long, white fingers toward me. “Take my hand.”

The moment he had me in his grip, my body lost its weightlessness.

“My arm!” I cried out as the muscles pulled and the gash on my forearm gaped.

Matthew grabbed at my shoulder, assisted by another, unfamiliar hand. They lifted me out of the oubliette, and I was crushed for a moment against Matthew’s chest. Grabbing handfuls of his sweater, I clung to him.

“I knew you could do it,” he murmured like the prince in my mother’s story, his voice full of relief.

“We don’t have time for this.” Matthew’s brother was already running down the corridor toward the door.

Matthew gripped my shoulders and took rapid stock of my injuries. His nostrils flared at the scent of dried blood. “Can you walk?” he asked softly.

“Pick her up and get her out of here, or you’ll have more to worry about than a little blood!” the other vampire shouted.

Matthew swept me up like a sack of flour and started to run, his arm tight across my lower back. I bit my lip and closed my eyes so the floor rushing underneath me wouldn’t remind me of flying with Satu. A change in the air told me we were free. As my lungs filled, I began to shake.

Matthew ran even faster, carrying me toward a helicopter that was improbably parked outside the castle walls on a dirt road. He ducked his body protectively over mine and jumped into the helicopter’s open door. His brother followed, the lights from the cockpit controls glinting green against his bright copper hair.

My foot brushed against Baldwin’s thigh as he sat down, and he gave me a look of hatred mingled with curiosity. His face was familiar from the visions I’d seen in Matthew’s study: first in light caught in the suit of armor, then again when touching the seals of the Knights of Lazarus. “I thought you were dead.” I shrank toward Matthew.

Baldwin’s eyes widened. “Go!” he shouted to the pilot, and we lifted into the sky.

Being airborne brought back fresh memories of Satu, and my shaking increased.

“She’s gone into shock,” Matthew said. “Can this thing move faster, Baldwin?”

“Knock her out,” Baldwin said impatiently.

“I don’t have a sedative with me.”

“Yes you do.” His brother’s eyes glittered. “Do you want me to do it?”

Matthew looked down at me and tried to smile. My shaking subsided a little, but every time the helicopter dipped and swayed in the wind, it returned, along with my memories of Satu.

“By the gods, Matthew, she’s terrified,” Baldwin said angrily. “Just do it.”

Matthew bit into his lip until a drop of blood beaded up on the smooth skin. He dipped his head to kiss me.

“No.” I squirmed to avoid his mouth. “I know what you’re doing. Satu told me. You’re using your blood to keep me quiet.”

“You’re in shock, Diana. It’s all I have. Let me help you.” His face was anguished. Reaching up, I caught the drop of blood on my fingertip.

“No. I’ll do it.” There would be no more gossip among witches about my being in Matthew’s control. I sucked the salty liquid from my numb fingertip. Lips and tongue tingled before the nerves in my mouth went dead.

The next thing I knew, there was cold air on my cheeks, perfumed with Marthe’s herbs. We were in the garden at Sept-Tours. Matthew’s arms were hard underneath my aching back, and he’d tucked my head into his neck. I stirred, looked around.

“We’re home,” he whispered, striding toward the lights of the château.

“Ysabeau and Marthe,” I said, struggling to lift my head, “are they all right?”

“Perfectly all right,” Matthew replied, cuddling me closer.

We passed into the kitchen corridor, which was ablaze with light. It hurt my eyes, and I turned away from it until the pain subsided. One of my eyes seemed smaller than the other, and I narrowed the larger one so they matched. A group of vampires came into view, standing down the corridor from Matthew and me. Baldwin looked curious, Ysabeau furious, Marthe grim and worried. Ysabeau took a step, and Matthew snarled.

“Matthew,” she began in a patient voice, her eyes fixed on me with a look of maternal concern, “you need to call her family. Where is your phone?”

His arms tightened. My head felt too heavy for my neck. It was easier to lean it against Matthew’s shoulder.

“It’s in his pocket, I suppose, but he’s not going to drop the witch to get it. Nor will he let you get close enough to fish it out.” Baldwin handed Ysabeau his phone. “Use this.”

Baldwin’s gaze traveled over my battered body with such close attention that it felt as if ice packs were being applied and removed, one by one. “She certainly looks like she’s been through a battle.” His voice expressed reluctant admiration.

Marthe said something in Occitan, and Matthew’s brother nodded.

“?c,” he said, eyeing me in appraisal.

“Not this time, Baldwin,” Matthew rumbled.

“The number, Matthew,” Ysabeau said crisply, diverting her son’s attention. He rattled it off, and his mother pushed the corresponding buttons, the faint electronic tones audible.

“I’m fine,” I croaked when Sarah picked up the phone. “Put me down, Matthew.”

“No, this is Ysabeau de Clermont. Diana is with us.”

There was more silence while Ysabeau’s icicle touches swept over me. “She is hurt, but her injuries are not life-threatening. Nevertheless, Matthew should bring her home. To you.”

“No. She’ll follow me. Satu mustn’t harm Sarah and Em,” I said, struggling to break free.

“Matthew,” Baldwin growled, “let Marthe see to her or keep her quiet.”

“Stay out of this, Baldwin,” Matthew snapped. His cool lips touched my cheeks, and my pulse slowed. His voice dropped to a murmur. “We won’t do anything you don’t want to do.”

“We can protect her from vampires.” Ysabeau sounded farther and farther away. “But not from other witches. She needs to be with those who can.” The conversation faded, and a curtain of gray fog descended.

This time I came to consciousness upstairs in Matthew’s tower. Every candle was lit, and the fire was roaring in the hearth. The room felt almost warm, but adrenaline and shock made me shiver. Matthew was sitting on his heels on the floor with me propped between his knees, examining my right forearm. My blood-soaked pullover had a long slit where Satu had cut me. A fresh red stain was seeping into the darker spots.

Marthe and Ysabeau stood in the doorway like a watchful pair of hawks.

“I can take care of my wife, Maman,” Matthew said.

“Of course, Matthew,” Ysabeau murmured in her patented subservient tone.

Matthew tore the last inch of the sleeve to fully expose my flesh, and he swore. “Get my bag, Marthe.”

“No,” she said firmly. “She is filthy, Matthew.”

“Let her take a bath,” Ysabeau joined in, lending Marthe her support. “Diana is freezing, and you cannot even see her injuries. This is not helping, my child.”

“No bath,” he said decidedly.

“Why ever not?” Ysabeau asked impatiently. She gestured at the stairs, and Marthe departed.

“The water would be full of her blood,” he said tightly. “Baldwin would smell it.”

“This is not Jerusalem, Matthew,” Ysabeau said. “He has never set foot in this tower, not since it was built.”

“What happened in Jerusalem?” I reached for the spot where Matthew’s silver coffin usually hung.

“My love, I need to look at your back.”

“Okay,” I whispered dully. My mind drifted, seeking an apple tree and my mother’s voice.

“Lie on your stomach for me.”

The cold stone floors of the castle where Satu had pinned me down were all too palpable under my chest and legs. “No, Matthew. You think I’m keeping secrets, but I don’t know anything about my magic. Satu said—”

Matthew swore again. “There’s no witch here, and your magic is immaterial to me.” His cold hand gripped mine, as sure and firm as his gaze. “Just lean forward over my hand. I’ll hold you.”

Seated on his thigh, I bent from the waist, resting my chest on our clasped hands. The position stretched the skin on my back painfully, but it was better than the alternative. Underneath me, Matthew stiffened.

“Your fleece is stuck to your skin. I can’t see much with it in the way. We’re going to have to put you in the bath for a bit before it can be removed. Can you fill the tub, Ysabeau?”

His mother disappeared, her absence followed by the sound of running water.

“Not too hot,” he called softly after her.

“What happened in Jerusalem?” I asked again.

“Later,” he said, lifting me gently upright.

“The time for secrets has passed, Matthew. Tell her, and be quick about it.” Ysabeau spoke sharply from the bathroom door. “She is your wife and has a right to know.”

“It must be something awful, or you wouldn’t have worn Lazarus’s coffin.” I pressed lightly on the empty spot above his heart.

With a desperate look, Matthew began his story. It came out of him in quick, staccato bursts. “I killed a woman in Jerusalem. She got between Baldwin and me. There was a great deal of blood. I loved her, and she—”

He’d killed someone else, not a witch, but a human. My finger stilled his lips. “That’s enough for now. It was a long time ago.” I felt calm but was shaking again, unable to bear any more revelations.

Matthew brought my left hand to his lips and kissed me hard on the knuckles. His eyes told me what he couldn’t say aloud. Finally he released both my hand and my eyes and spoke. “If you’re worried about Baldwin, we’ll do it another way. We can soak the fleece off with compresses, or you could shower.”

The mere thought of water falling on my back or the application of pressure convinced me to risk Baldwin’s possible thirst. “The bath would be better.”

Matthew lowered me into the lukewarm water, fully clothed right down to my running shoes. Propped in the tub, my back drawn away from the porcelain and the water wicking slowly up my fleece pullover, I began the slow process of letting go, my legs twitching and dancing under the water. Each muscle and nerve had to be told to relax, and some refused to obey.

While I soaked, Matthew tended to my face, his fingers pressing my cheekbone. He frowned in concern and called softly for Marthe. She appeared with a huge black medical bag. Matthew took out a tiny flashlight and checked my eyes, his lips pressed tightly together.

“My face hit the floor.” I winced. “Is it broken?”

“I don’t think so, mon coeur, just badly bruised.”

Marthe ripped open a package, and a whiff of rubbing alcohol reached my nose. When Matthew held the pad on the sticky part of my cheek, I gripped the sides of the tub, my eyes smarting with tears. The pad came away scarlet.

“I cut it on the edge of a stone.” My voice was matter-of-fact in an attempt to quiet the memories of Satu that the pain brought back.

Matthew’s cool fingers traced the stinging wound to where it disappeared under my hairline. “It’s superficial. You don’t need stitches.” He reached for a jar of ointment and smoothed some onto my skin. It smelled of mint and herbs from the garden. “Are you allergic to any medications?” he asked when he was through.

I shook my head.

He again called to Marthe, who trotted in with her arms full of towels. He rattled off a list of drugs, and Marthe nodded, jiggling a set of keys she pulled out of her pocket. Only one drug was familiar.

“Morphine?” I asked, my pulse beginning to race.

“It will alleviate the pain. The other drugs will combat swelling and infection.”

The bath had lulled some of my anxiety and lessened my shock, but the pain was getting worse. The prospect of banishing it was enticing, and I reluctantly agreed to the drug in exchange for getting out of the bath. Sitting in the rusty water was making me queasy.

Before climbing out, though, Matthew insisted on looking at my right foot. He hoisted it up and out of the water, resting the sole of my shoe against his shoulder. Even that slight pressure had me gasping.

“Ysabeau. Can you come here, please?”

Like Marthe, Ysabeau was waiting patiently in the bedroom in case her son needed help. When she came in, Matthew had her stand behind me while he snapped the water-soaked shoelaces with ease and began to pry the shoe from my foot. Ysabeau held my shoulders, keeping me from thrashing my way out of the tub.

I cried during Matthew’s examination—even after he stopped trying to pull the shoe off and began to rip it apart by tearing as precisely as a dressmaker cutting into fine cloth. He tore my sock off, too, and ripped along the seam of my leggings, then peeled the fabric away to reveal the ankle. It had a ring around it as though it had been closed in a manacle that had burned through the skin, leaving it black and blistered in places with odd white patches.

Matthew looked up, his eyes angry. “How was this done?”

“Satu hung me upside down. She wanted to see if I could fly.” I turned away uncertainly, unable to understand why so many people were furious with me over things that weren’t my fault.

Ysabeau gently took my foot. Matthew knelt beside the tub, his black hair slicked back from his forehead and his clothing ruined from water and blood. He turned my face toward him, looking at me with a mixture of fierce protectiveness and pride.

“You were born in August, yes? Under the sign of Leo?” He sounded entirely French, most of the Oxbridge accent gone.

I nodded.

“Then I will have to call you my lioness now, because only she could have fought as you did. But even la lionne needs her protectors.” His eyes flickered toward my right arm. My gripping the tub had made the bleeding resume. “Your ankle is sprained, but it’s not serious. I’ll bind it later. Now let’s see to your back and your arm.”

Matthew scooped me out of the tub and set me down, instructing me to keep the weight off my right foot. Marthe and Ysabeau steadied me while he cut off my leggings and underclothes. The three vampires’ premodern matter-of-factness about bodies left me strangely unconcerned at standing half naked in front of them. Matthew lifted the front hem of my soggy pullover, revealing a dark purple bruise that spread across my abdomen.

“Christ,” he said, his fingers pushing into the stained flesh above my pubic bone. “How the hell did she do that?”

“Satu lost her temper.” My teeth chattered at the memory of flying through the air and the sharp pain in my gut. Matthew tucked the towel around my waist.

“Let’s get the pullover off,” he said grimly. He went behind me, and there was a sting of cold metal against my back.

“What are you doing?” I twisted my head, desperate to see. Satu had kept me on my stomach for hours, and it was intolerable to have anyone—even Matthew—behind me. The trembling in my body intensified.

“Stop, Matthew,” Ysabeau said urgently. “She cannot bear it.”

A pair of scissors clattered to the floor.

“It’s all right.” Matthew nestled his body against mine like a protective shell. He crossed his arms over my chest, completely enfolding me. “I’ll do it from the front.”

Once the shaking subsided, he came around and resumed cutting the fabric away from my body. The cold air on my back told me that there wasn’t much of it left in any case. He sliced through my bra, then got the front panel of the pullover off.

Ysabeau gasped as the last shreds fell from my back.

“Maria, Deu maire.” Marthe sounded stunned.

“What is it? What did she do?” The room was swinging like a chandelier in an earthquake. Matthew whipped me around to face his mother. Grief and sympathy were etched on her face.

“La sorcière est morte,” Matthew said softly.

He was already planning on killing another witch. Ice filled my veins, and there was blackness at the edges of my vision.

Matthew’s hands held me upright. “Stay with me, Diana.”

“Did you have to kill Gillian?” I sobbed.

“Yes.” His voice was flat and dead.

“Why did you let me hear this from someone else? Satu told me you’d been in my rooms—that you were using your blood to drug me. Why, Matthew? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I was afraid of losing you. You know so little about me, Diana. Secrecy, the instinct to protect—to kill if I must. This is who I am.”

I turned to face him, wearing nothing but a towel around my waist. My arms were crossed over my bare chest, and my emotions careened from fear to anger to something darker. “So you’ll kill Satu also?”

“Yes.” He made no apologies and offered no further explanation, but his eyes were full of barely controlled rage. Cold and gray, they searched my face. “You’re far braver than I am. I’ve told you that before. Do you want to see what she did to you?” Matthew asked, gripping my elbows.

I thought for a moment, then nodded.

Ysabeau protested in rapid Occitan, and Matthew stopped her with a hiss.

“She survived the doing of it, Maman. The seeing of it cannot possibly be worse.”

Ysabeau and Marthe went downstairs to fetch two mirrors while Matthew patted my torso with feather-light touches of a towel until it was barely damp.

“Stay with me,” he repeated every time I tried to slip away from the rough fabric.

The women returned with one mirror in an ornate gilt frame from the salon and a tall cheval glass that only a vampire could have carried up to the tower. Matthew positioned the larger mirror behind me, and Ysabeau and Marthe held the other in front, angling it so that I could see both my back and Matthew, too.

But it couldn’t be my back. It was someone else’s—someone who had been flayed and burned until her skin was red, and blue, and black. There were strange marks on it, too—circles and symbols. The memory of fire erupted along the lesions.

“Satu said she was going to open me up,” I whispered, mesmerized. “But I kept my secrets inside, Mama, just like you wanted.”

Matthew’s attempt to catch me was the last thing I saw reflected in the mirror before the blackness overtook me.

I awoke next to the bedroom fire again. My lower half was still wrapped up in a towel, and I was sitting on the edge of one damask-covered chair, bent over at the waist, with my torso draped across a stack of pillows on another damask-covered chair. All I could see was feet, and someone was applying ointment to my back. It was Marthe, her rough strength clearly distinguishable from Matthew’s cool touches.

“Matthew?” I croaked, swiveling my head to the side to look for him.

His face appeared. “Yes, my darling?”

“Where did the pain go?”

“It’s magic,” he said, attempting a lopsided grin for my benefit.

“Morphine,” I said slowly, remembering the list of drugs he’d given to Marthe.

“That’s what I said. Everyone who has ever been in pain knows that morphine and magic are the same. Now that you’re awake, we’re going to wrap you up.” He tossed a spool of gauze to Marthe, explaining that it would keep down the swelling and further protect my skin. It also had the benefit of binding my breasts, since I would not be wearing a bra in the near future.

The two of them unrolled miles of white surgical dressing around my torso. Thanks to the drugs, I underwent the process with a curious sense of detachment. It vanished, however, when Matthew began to rummage in his medical bag and talk about sutures. As a child I’d fallen and stuck a long fork used for toasting marshmallows into my thigh. It had required sutures, too, and my nightmares had lasted for months. I told Matthew my fears, but he was resolute.

“The cut on your arm is deep, Diana. It won’t heal properly unless it’s sutured.”

Afterward the women got me dressed while Matthew drank some wine, his fingers shaking. I didn’t have anything that fastened up the front, so Marthe disappeared once more, returning with her arms full of Matthew’s clothing. They slid me into one of his fine cotton shirts. It swam on me but felt silky against my skin. Marthe carefully draped a black cashmere cardigan with leather-covered buttons—also Matthew’s—around my shoulders, and she and Ysabeau snaked a pair of my own stretchy black pants up my legs and over my hips. Then Matthew lowered me into a nest of pillows on the sofa.

“Change,” Marthe ordered, pushing him in the direction of the bathroom.

Matthew showered quickly and emerged from the bathroom in a fresh pair of trousers. He dried his hair roughly by the fire before pulling on the rest of his clothes.

“Will you be all right if I go downstairs for a moment?” he asked. “Marthe and Ysabeau will stay with you.”

I suspected his trip downstairs involved his brother, and I nodded, still feeling the effects of the powerful drug.

While he was gone, Ysabeau muttered every now and again in a language that was neither Occitan nor French, and Marthe clucked and fussed. They’d removed most of the ruined clothes and bloody linen from the room by the time Matthew reappeared. Fallon and Hector were padding along at his side, their tongues hanging out.

Ysabeau’s eyes narrowed. “Your dogs do not belong in my house.”

Fallon and Hector looked from Ysabeau to Matthew with interest. Matthew clicked his fingers and pointed to the floor. The dogs sank down, their watchful faces turned to me.

“They’ll stay with Diana until we leave,” he said firmly, and though his mother sighed, she didn’t argue with him.

Matthew picked up my feet and slid his body underneath them, his hands lightly stroking my legs. Marthe plunked down a glass of wine in front of him, then thrust a mug of tea into my hands. She and Ysabeau withdrew, leaving us alone with the watchful dogs.

My mind drifted, soothed by the morphine and the hypnotic touch of Matthew’s fingers. I sorted through my memories, trying to distinguish what was real from what I’d only imagined. Had my mother’s ghost really been in the oubliette, or was that a recollection of our time together before Africa? Or was it my mind’s attempt to cope with stress by fracturing off into an imaginary world? I frowned.

“What is it, ma lionne?” Matthew asked, his voice concerned. “Are you in pain?”

“No. I’m just thinking.” I focused on his face, pulling myself through the fog to his safer shores. “Where was I?”

“La Pierre. It’s an old castle that no one has lived in for years.”

“I met Gerbert.” My brain was playing hopscotch, not wanting to linger in one place for too long.

Matthew’s fingers stilled. “He was there?”

“Only in the beginning. He and Domenico were waiting when we arrived, but Satu sent them away.”

“I see. Did he touch you?” Matthew’s body tensed.

“On the cheek.” I shivered. “He had the manuscript, Matthew, long, long ago. Gerbert boasted about how he’d taken it from Spain. It was under a spell even then. He kept a witch enthralled, hoping she would be able to break the enchantment.”

“Do you want to tell me what happened?”

I thought it was too soon and was about to tell him so, but the story spilled out. When I recounted Satu’s attempts to open me so that she could find the magic inside, Matthew rose and replaced the pillows supporting my back with his own body, cradling the length of me between his legs.

He held me while I spoke, and when I couldn’t speak, and when I cried. Whatever Matthew’s emotions when I shared Satu’s revelations about him, he held them firmly in check. Even when I told him about my mother sitting under an apple tree whose roots spread across La Pierre’s stone floors, he never pressed for more details, though he must have had a hundred unanswered questions.

It was not the whole tale—I left out my father’s presence, my vivid memories of bedtime stories, and running through the fields behind Sarah’s house in Madison. But it was a start, and the rest of it would come in time.

“What do we do now?” I asked when finished. “We can’t let the Congregation harm Sarah or Em—or Marthe and Ysabeau.”

“That’s up to you,” Matthew replied slowly. “I’ll understand if you’ve had enough.” I craned my neck to look at him, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes, staring resolutely out the window into the darkness.

“You told me we were mated for life.”

“Nothing will change the way I feel about you, but you aren’t a vampire. What happened to you today—” Matthew stopped, started again. “If you’ve changed your mind about this—about me—I’ll understand.”

“Not even Satu could change my mind. And she tried. My mother sounded so certain when she told me that you were the one I’d been waiting for. That was when I flew.” That wasn’t exactly it—my mother had said that Matthew was the one we had been waiting for. But since it made no sense, I kept it to myself.

“You’re sure?” Matthew tilted my chin up and studied my face.

“Absolutely.”

His face lost some of its anguish. He bent his head to kiss me, then drew back.

“My lips are the only part of me that doesn’t hurt.” Besides, I needed to be reminded that there were creatures in the world who could touch me without causing pain.

He pressed his mouth gently against mine, his breath full of cloves and spice. It took away the memories of La Pierre, and for a few moments I could close my eyes and rest in his arms. But an urgent need to know what would happen next pulled me back to alertness.

“So . . . what now?” I asked again.

“Ysabeau is right. We should go to your family. Vampires can’t help you learn about your magic, and the witches will keep pursuing you.”

“When?” After La Pierre, I was oddly content to let him do whatever he thought best.

Matthew twitched slightly underneath me, his surprise at my compliance evident. “We’ll join Baldwin and take the helicopter to Lyon. His plane is fueled and ready to leave. Satu and the Congregation’s other witches won’t come back here immediately, but they will be back,” he said grimly.

“Ysabeau and Marthe will be safe at Sept-Tours without you?”

Matthew’s laughter rumbled under me. “They’ve been in the thick of every major armed conflict in history. A pack of hunting vampires or a few inquisitive witches are unlikely to trouble them. I have something to see to, though, before we leave. Will you rest, if Marthe stays with you?”

“I’ll need to get my things together.”

“Marthe will do it. Ysabeau will help, if you’ll let her.”

I nodded. The idea of Ysabeau’s returning to the room was surprisingly comforting.

Matthew rearranged me on the pillows, his hands tender. He called softly to Marthe and Ysabeau and gestured the dogs to the stairs, where they took up positions reminiscent of the lions at the New York Public Library.

The two women moved silently about the room, their quiet puttering and snippets of conversation providing a soothing background noise that finally lulled me to sleep. When I woke several hours later, my old duffel bag was packed and waiting by the fire and Marthe was bent over it tucking a tin inside.

“What’s that?” I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

“Your tea. One cup every day. Remember?”

“Yes, Marthe.” My head fell back on the pillows. “Thank you. For everything.”

Marthe’s gnarled hands stroked my forehead. “He loves you. You know this?” Her voice was gruffer than usual.

“I know, Marthe. I love him, too.”

Hector and Fallon turned their heads, their attention caught by a sound on the stairs that was too faint for me to hear. Matthew’s dark form appeared. He came to the sofa and took stock of me and nodded with approval after he felt my pulse. Then he scooped me into his arms as if I weighed nothing, the morphine ensuring that there was no more than an unpleasant tug on my back as he carried me down the stairs. Hector and Fallon brought up the rear of our little procession as we descended.

His study was lit only by firelight, and it cast shadows on the books and objects there. His eyes flickered to the wooden tower in a silent good-bye to Lucas and Blanca.

“We’ll be back—as soon as we can,” I promised.

Matthew smiled, but it never touched his eyes.

Baldwin was waiting for us in the hall. Hector and Fallon milled around Matthew’s legs, keeping anyone from getting close. He called them off so Ysabeau could approach.

She put her cold hands on my shoulders. “Be brave, daughter, but listen to Matthew,” she instructed, giving me a kiss on each check.

“I’m so sorry to have brought this trouble to your house.”

“Hein, this house has seen worse,” she replied before turning to Baldwin.

“Let me know if you need anything, Ysabeau.” Baldwin brushed her cheeks with his lips.

“Of course, Baldwin. Fly safely,” she murmured as he walked outside.

“There are seven letters in Father’s study,” Matthew told her when his brother was gone. He spoke low and very fast. “Alain will come to fetch them. He knows what to do.” Ysabeau nodded, her eyes bright.

“And so it begins again,” she whispered. “Your father would be proud of you, Matthew.” She touched him on the arm and picked up his bags.

We made our way—a line of vampires, dogs, and witch—across the château’s lawns. The helicopter’s blades started moving slowly when we appeared. Matthew took me by the waist and lifted me into the cabin, then climbed in behind me.

We lifted off and hovered for a moment over the château’s illuminated walls before heading east, where the lights of Lyon were visible in the dark morning sky.

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