فصل 35کتاب: تمام ارواح / مجموعه: کشف ساحره ها / فصل 35
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متن انگلیسی فصل
After the dishes were done, Matthew and I gathered up my mother’s letter, the mysterious note, and the page from Ashmole 782 and carried them into the dining room. We spread the papers out on the room’s vast, well-worn table. These days it was seldom used, since it made no sense for two people to sit at the end of a piece of furniture designed to easily seat twelve. My aunts joined us, steaming mugs of coffee in their hands.
Sarah and Matthew crouched over the page from the alchemical manuscript.
“Why is it so heavy?” Sarah picked the page up and weighed it carefully.
“I don’t feel any special weightiness,” Matthew confessed, taking it from her hands, “but there’s something odd about the way it smells.”
Sarah gave it a long sniff. “No, it just smells old.”
“It’s more than that. I know what old smells like,” he said sardonically.
Em and I, on the other hand, were more interested in the enigmatic note.
“What do you think it means?” I asked, pulling out a chair and sitting down.
“I’m not sure.” Em hesitated. “Blood usually signifies family, war, or death. But what about absence? Does it mean this page is absent from the book? Or did it warn your parents that they wouldn’t be present as you grew up?”
“Look at the last line. Did my parents discover something in Africa?”
“Or were you the discovery of witches?” Em suggested gently.
“The last line must be about Diana’s discovery of Ashmole 782,” Matthew chimed in, looking up from the chemical wedding.
“You believe that everything is about me and that manuscript,” I grumbled. “The note mentions the subject of your All Souls essay—fear and desire. Don’t you think that’s strange?”
“No stranger than the fact that the white queen in this picture is wearing my crest.” Matthew brought the illustration over to me.
“She’s the embodiment of quicksilver—the principle of volatility in alchemy,” I said.
“Quicksilver?” Matthew looked amused. “A metallic perpetual-motion machine?”
“You could say that.” I smiled, too, thinking of the ball of energy I’d given him.
“What about the red king?”
“He’s stable and grounded.” I frowned. “But he’s also supposed to be the sun, and he’s not usually depicted wearing black and red. Usually he’s just red.”
“So maybe the king isn’t me and the queen isn’t you.” He touched the white queen’s face delicately with his fingertip.
“Perhaps,” I said slowly, remembering a passage from the Matthew’s Aurora manuscript. “‘Attend to me, all people, and listen to me, all who inhabit the world: my beloved, who is red, has called to me. He sought, and found me. I am the flower of the field, a lily growing in the valley. I am the mother of true love, and of fear, and of understanding, and blessed hope.’”
“What is that?” Matthew touched my face now. “It sounds biblical, but the words aren’t quite right.”
“It’s one of the passages on the chemical wedding from the Aurora Consurgens .” Our eyes locked, held. When the air became heavy, I changed the subject. “What did my father mean when he said we’d have to travel far to figure out the picture’s significance?”
“The stamp came from Israel. Maybe Stephen meant we would have to return there.”
“There are a lot of alchemical manuscripts in Jerusalem at the Hebrew University. Most of them belonged to Isaac Newton.” Given Matthew’s history with the place, not to mention the Knights of Lazarus, it was not a city I was eager to visit.
“Israel didn’t count as ‘traveling far’ for your father,” said Sarah, sitting opposite. Em walked around the table and joined her.
“What did qualify?” Matthew picked up my mother’s letter and scanned the last page for further clues.
“The Australian outback. Wyoming. Mali. Those were his favorite places to timewalk.”
The word cut through me with the same intensity as “spellbound” had only a few days before. I knew that some witches could move between past, present, and future, but I’d never thought to ask whether anyone in my own family had the ability. It was rare—almost as rare as witchfire.
“Stephen Proctor could travel in time?” Matthew’s voice assumed the deliberate evenness it often did when magic was mentioned.
Sarah nodded. “Yes. Stephen went to the past or the future at least once a year, usually after the annual anthropologists’ convention in December.”
“There’s something on the back of Rebecca’s letter.” Em bent her neck to see underneath the page.
Matthew quickly flipped it over. “I dropped the page to get you outside before the witchwater broke. I didn’t see this. It’s not your mother’s handwriting,” he said, passing it to me.
The handwriting on the penciled note had elongated loops and spiky peaks. “Remember, Diana: ‘The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.’” I’ d seen that hand somewhere before. In the recesses of my memory, I flipped through images trying to locate its source but without success.
“Who would have written a quote from Albert Einstein on the back of Mom’s note?” I asked Sarah and Em, angling the page to face them and struck again by its familiarity.
“That looks like your dad. He took calligraphy lessons. Rebecca poked fun at him for it. It made his handwriting look so old-fashioned.”
Slowly I turned the page over, scrutinizing the writing again. It did look nineteenth-century in style, like the handwriting of the clerks employed to compile the catalogs in the Bodleian back during Victoria’s reign. I stiffened, looked more closely at the writing, shook my head.
“No, it’s not possible.” There was no way my father could have been one of those clerks, no way he could have written the nineteenth-century subtitle on Ashmole 782.
But my father could timewalk. And the message from Einstein was unquestionably meant for me. I dropped the page onto the table and put my head in my hands.
Matthew sat next to me and waited. When Sarah made an impatient sound, he silenced her with a decisive gesture. Once my mind stopped spinning, I spoke.
“There were two inscriptions on the first page of the manuscript. One was in ink, written by Elias Ashmole: ‘Anthropologia, or a treatis containing a short description of Man.’ The other was in a different hand, in pencil: ‘in two parts: the first Anatomical, the second Psychological.’”
“The second inscription had to be written much later,” Matthew observed. “There was no such thing as ‘psychology’ during Ashmole’s lifetime.”
“I thought it dated from the nineteenth century.” I pulled my father’s note toward me. “But this makes me think my father wrote it.”
The room fell silent.
“Touch the words,” Sarah finally suggested. “See what else they say.”
My fingers passed lightly over the penciled letters. Images bloomed from the page, of my father in a dark frock coat with wide lapels and a high black cravat, crouched over a desk covered with books. There were other images, too, of him in his study at home wearing his familiar corduroy jacket, scrawling a note with a No. 2 pencil while my mother looked over his shoulder, weeping.
“It was him.” My fingers lifted from the page, shaking visibly.
Matthew took my hand in his. “That’s enough bravery for one day, ma lionne.”
“But your father didn’t remove the chemical wedding from the book at the Bodleian,” mused Em, “so what was he doing there?”
“Stephen Proctor was bewitching Ashmole 782 so that no one but his daughter could call it from the stacks.” Matthew sounded sure.
“So that’s why the spell recognized me. But why didn’t it behave the same way when I recalled it?”
“You didn’t need it. Oh, you wanted it,” Matthew said with a wry smile when I opened my mouth to protest, “but that’s different. Remember, your parents bound your magic so that your power couldn’t be forced from you. The spell on the manuscript was no different.”
“When I first called Ashmole 782, all I needed was to check the next item off my to-do list. It’s hard to believe that something so insignificant could trigger such a reaction.”
“Your mother and father couldn’t have foreseen everything—such as the fact that you would be a historian of alchemy and would regularly work at the Bodleian. Could Rebecca timewalk, too?” Matthew asked Sarah.
“No. It’s rare, of course, and the most adept timewalkers are well versed in witchcraft as well. Without the right spells and precautions, you can easily end up somewhere you don’t want to be, no matter how much power you have.”
“Yes,” Matthew said drily. “I can think of any number of times and places you would want to avoid.”
“Rebecca went with Stephen sometimes, but he had to carry her.” Sarah smiled at Em. “Do you remember Vienna? Stephen decided he was going to take her waltzing. He spent a full year figuring out which bonnet she should wear for the journey.”
“You need three objects from the particular time and place you want to travel back to. They keep you from getting lost,” Em continued. “If you want to go to the future, you have to use witchcraft, because it’s the only way to direct yourself.”
Sarah picked up the picture of the chemical wedding, no longer interested in timewalking. “What’s the unicorn for?”
“Forget the unicorn, Sarah,” I said impatiently. “Daddy couldn’t have wanted me to go back in the past and get the manuscript. What did he think, that I’d timewalk and snatch it before it was bewitched? What if I ran into Matthew by accident? Surely that would mess up the time-space continuum.”
“Oh, relativity.” Sarah’s voice was dismissive. “As an explanation that only goes so far.”
“Stephen always said timewalking was like changing trains,” Em said. “You get off one train, then wait at the station until there’s a place for you on a different train. When you timewalk, you depart from the here and now and you’re held out of time until there’s room for you sometime else.”
“That’s similar to the way vampires change lives,” Matthew mused. “We abandon one life—arrange a death, a disappearance, a change of residence—and look for another one. You’d be amazed at how easily people walk away from their homes, jobs, and families.”
“Surely someone notices that the John Smith they knew last week doesn’t look the same,” I protested.
“That’s even more amazing,” Matthew admitted. “So long as you pick carefully, no one says a word. A few years in the Holy Land, a life-threatening illness, the likelihood of losing an inheritance—all provide excellent excuses for creatures and humans to turn a blind eye.”
“Well, whether it’s possible or not, I can’t timewalk. It wasn’t on the DNA report.”
“Of course you can timewalk. You’ve been doing it since you were a child.” Sarah sounded smug as she discredited Matthew’s scientific findings. “The first time you were three. Your parents were scared to death, the police were called out—it was quite a scene. Four hours later they found you sitting in the kitchen high chair eating a slice of birthday cake. You must have been hungry and gone back to your own birthday party. After that, whenever you disappeared, we figured you were sometime else and you’d turn up. And you disappeared a lot.”
My alarm at the thought of a toddler traveling through time gave way to the realization that I had the power to answer any historical question. I brightened considerably.
Matthew had already figured this out and was waiting patiently for me to catch up. “No matter what your father wanted, you aren’t going back to 1859,” he said firmly, turning the chair around so I faced him. “Time is not something you’re going to meddle with. Understood?”
Even after assuring him that I would stay in the present, no one left me alone for an instant. The three of them silently passed me from one to the other in choreography worthy of Broadway. Em followed me upstairs to make sure there were towels, though I knew perfectly well where the linen closet was. When I came out of the bathroom, Matthew was lying on the bed fiddling with his phone. He stayed upstairs when I went down to make a cup of tea, knowing that Sarah and Em would be waiting for me in the family room.
Marthe’s tin was in my hands, and I felt guilty for missing yesterday and breaking my promise to her. Determined to have some tea today, I filled the kettle and opened the black metal box. The smell of rue triggered a sharp recollection of being swept into the air by Satu. Gripping the lid more tightly, I focused on the other scents and happier memories of Sept-Tours. I missed its gray stone walls, the gardens, Marthe, Rakasa—even Ysabeau.
“Where did you get that, Diana?” Sarah came in the kitchen and pointed at the tin.
“Marthe and I made it.”
“That’s his mother’s housekeeper? The one who made the medicine for your back?”
“Marthe is Ysabeau’s housekeeper, yes.” I put a slight emphasis on their proper names. “Vampires have names, just like witches. You need to learn them.”
Sarah sniffed. “I would have thought you’d go to the doctor for a prescription, not depend on old herbal lore.”
“Dr. Fowler will fit you in if you want something more reliable.” Em had come in, too. “Not even Sarah is much of an advocate of herbal contraception.”
I hid my confusion by plopping a tea bag into the mug, keeping my mind blank and my face hidden. “This is fine. There’s no need to see Dr. Fowler.”
“True. Not if you’re sleeping with a vampire. They can’t reproduce—not in any way that contraception is going to prevent. All you have to watch out for is teeth on your neck.”
“I know, Sarah.”
But I didn’t. Why had Marthe taught me so carefully how to make a completely unnecessary tea? Matthew had been clear that he couldn’t father children as warmbloods did. Despite my promise to Marthe, I dumped the half-steeped cup down the sink and threw the bag in the trash. The tin went on the top shelf in the cupboard, where it would be safely out of sight.
By late afternoon, in spite of many conversations about the note, the letter, and the picture, we were no closer to understanding the mystery of Ashmole 782 and my father’s connection to it. My aunts started to make dinner, which meant that Em roasted a chicken while Sarah drank a glass of bourbon and criticized the quantity of vegetables being prepared. Matthew prowled around the kitchen island, uncharacteristically restless.
“Come on,” he said, grabbing my hand. “You need some exercise.”
It was he who needed fresh air, not I, but the prospect of going outdoors was enticing. A search in the mudroom closet revealed an old pair of my running shoes. They were worn, but they fit better than Sarah’s boots.
We made it as far as the first apple trees before Matthew swung me around and pressed me between his body and one of the old, gnarled trunks. The low canopy of branches shielded us from the house’s sight.
Despite my being trapped, there was no answering rush of witchwind. There were plenty of other feelings, though.
“Christ, that house is crowded,” Matthew said, pausing just long enough to get the words out before refastening his lips on mine.
We’d had too little time alone since he’d returned from Oxford. It seemed a lifetime ago, but it was only days. One of his hands slid into the waistband of my jeans, his fingers cool against my bare flesh. I shivered with pleasure, and he drew me closer, his other hand locating the rounded curves of my breast. We pressed the length of our bodies against each other, but he kept looking for new ways to connect.
Finally there was only one possibility left. For a moment it seemed Matthew intended to consummate our marriage the old-fashioned way—standing up, outdoors, in a blinding rush of physical need. His control returned, however, and he pulled away.
“Not like this,” he rasped, his eyes black.
“I don’t care.” I pulled him back against me.
“I do.” There was a soft, ragged expulsion of air as Matthew breathed a vampire’s sigh. “When we make love for the first time, I want you to myself—not surrounded by other people. And I’ll want you for more than the few snatched moments we’d have now, believe me.”
“I want you, too,” I said, “and I’m not known for my patience.”
His lips drew up into a smile, and he made a soft sound of agreement.
Matthew’s thumb stroked the hollow in my throat, and my blood leaped. He put his lips where his thumb had been, pressing them softly against the outward sign of the vitality that pulsed beneath the surface. He traced a vein up the side of my neck toward my ear.
“I’m enjoying learning where you like to be touched. Like here.” Matthew kissed behind my ear. “And here.” His lips moved to my eyelids, and I made a soft sound of pleasure. “And here.” He ran his thumb over my lower lip.
“Matthew,” I whispered, my eyes pleading.
“What, mon coeur?” He watched, fascinated, as his touch drew fresh blood to the surface.
I didn’t answer but pulled him to me, unconcerned with the cold, the growing darkness, and the rough bark beneath my sore back. We remained there until Sarah called from the porch.
“You didn’t get very far, did you?” Her snort carried clear across the field. “That hardly qualifies as exercise.”
Feeling like a schoolgirl caught necking in the driveway, I pulled my sweatshirt into the proper position and headed back to the house. Matthew chuckled and followed.
“You look pleased with yourself,” Sarah said when he stepped into the kitchen. Standing under the bright lights, he was every inch a vampire—and a self-satisfied one, at that. But his eyes were no longer restless, and for that I was grateful.
“Leave him alone.” Em’s voice was uncharacteristically sharp. She handed me the salad and pointed me to the table in the family room where we usually ate. “We saw a fair amount of that apple tree ourselves while Diana was growing up.”
“Hmph,” Sarah said. She picked up three wineglasses and waved them in Matthew’s direction. “Got any more of that wine, Casanova?”
“I’m French, Sarah, not Italian. And I’m a vampire. I always have wine,” Matthew said with a wicked smile. “There’s no danger of running out either. Marcus will bring more. He’s not French—or Italian either, alas—but his education compensated for it.”
We sat around the table, and the three witches proceeded to demolish Em’s roast chicken and potatoes. Tabitha sat next to Matthew, her tail swishing flirtatiously across his feet every few minutes. He kept the wine flowing into Sarah’s glass, and I sipped at my own. Em asked repeatedly if he wanted to taste anything, but Matthew declined.
“I’m not hungry, Emily, but thank you.”
“Is there anything at all that you would eat?” Em wasn’t used to people refusing her food.
“Nuts,” I said firmly. “If you have to buy him food, get him nuts.”
Em hesitated. “What about raw meat?”
Matthew grabbed my hand and squeezed it before I could reply. “If you want to feed me, uncooked meat would be just fine. I like broth, too—plain, no vegetables.”
“Is that what your son and colleague eat, too, or are these just your favorite foods?”
Matthew’s impatience with my earlier questions about his lifestyle and dining habits made sense to me now.
“It’s pretty standard vampire fare when we’re among warmbloods.” Matthew released my hand and poured himself more wine.
“You must hang out at bars a lot, what with the wine and nuts,” Sarah observed.
Em put her fork down and stared at her.
“What?” Sarah demanded.
“Sarah Bishop, if you embarrass us in front of Matthew’s son, I’ll never forgive you.”
My resulting fit of giggles quickly turned into full-blown laughter. Sarah was the first to join in, followed by Em. Matthew sat and smiled as if he’d been dropped into a lunatic asylum but was too polite to mention it.
When the laughter subsided, he turned to Sarah. “I was wondering if I could borrow your stillroom to analyze the pigments used in the picture of the chemical wedding. Maybe they can tell us where and when it was made.”
“You’re not going to remove anything from that picture.” The historian in me rose up in horror at the thought.
“It won’t come to any harm,” Matthew said mildly. “I do know how to analyze tiny pieces of evidence.”
“No! We should leave it alone until we know what we’re dealing with.”
“Don’t be so prim, Diana. Besides, it’s a bit late for that when it was you who sent the book back.” Sarah stood, her eyes brightening. “Let’s see if the cookbook can help.”
“Well, well,” Em said under her breath. “You’re one of the family now, Matthew.”
Sarah disappeared into the stillroom and returned holding a leather-bound book the size of a family Bible. Within its covers was all the learning and lore of the Bishops, handed down from witch to witch for nearly four hundred years. The first name in the book was Rebecca, accompanied by the date 1617 in an ornate, round hand. Other names were sprawled down the first page in two columns, each one in a slightly different ink with a different date attached to it. The names continued onto the back of the sheet as well, with Susannahs, Elizabeths, Margarets, Rebeccas, and Sarahs dominating the list. My aunt never showed anybody this book—not even other witches. You had to be family to see her “cookbook.”
“What is that, Sarah?” Matthew’s nostrils flared at the scent of old paper, herbs, and smoke that was released as Sarah splayed its covers open.
“The Bishop grimoire.” She pointed to the first name. “It first belonged to Rebecca Davies, Bridget Bishop’s grandmother, then to her mother, Rebecca Playfer. Bridget handed the book down to her first daughter, born out of wedlock in England around 1650. Bridget was still in her teens at the time, and she named her daughter after her mother and grandmother. Unable to care for the girl, Bridget gave her up to a family in London. ” Sarah made a soft sound of disgust. “The rumors of her immorality haunted her for the rest of her life. Later her daughter Rebecca joined her and worked in her mother’s tavern. Bridget was on her second husband then, and had another daughter named Christian.”
“And you’re descended from Christian Bishop?” Matthew asked.
Sarah shook her head. “Christian Oliver, you mean—Bridget’s daughter from her second marriage. Edward Bishop was Bridget’s third husband. No, our ancestor is Rebecca. After Bridget was executed, Rebecca legally changed her name to Bishop. Rebecca was a widow, with no husband to argue with. It was an act of defiance.”
Matthew gave me a long look. Defiance, it seemed to say, was clearly a genetic trait.
“Nobody remembers all of Bridget Bishop’s many names anymore—she was married three times,” Sarah continued. “All anyone remembers is the name she bore when she was found guilty of witchcraft and executed. Since that time the women of the family have preserved the Bishop name, regardless of marriage or of who their father was.”
“I read about Bridget’s death shortly after,” Matthew said softly. “It was a dark time for creatures. Even though the new science seemed to strip all the mystery from the world, humans were still convinced that unseen forces were all around them. They were right, of course.”
“Well, the tension between what science promised and what their common sense told them was true resulted in the deaths of hundreds of witches.” Sarah started flipping through the grimoire’s pages.
“What are you looking for?” I asked, frowning. “Was one of the Bishops a manuscript conservator? If not, you won’t find much help in that spell book.”
“You don’t know what is in this spell book, miss,” Sarah said serenely. “You’ve never shown one bit of interest in it.”
My lips pressed into a thin line. “Nobody is damaging that manuscript.”
“Ah, here it is.” Sarah pointed triumphantly at the grimoire. “One of Margaret Bishop’s spells from the 1780s. She was a powerful witch. ‘My method for perceiving obscurities in paper or fabric.’ That’s where we’ll start.” She stood up, her finger marking the place.
“If you stain—” I began.
“I heard you the first two times, Diana. This is a spell for a vapor. Nothing but air will touch your precious manuscript page. Stop fussing.”
“I’ll go get it,” Matthew said hastily. I shot him a filthy look.
After he returned from the dining room with the picture cradled carefully in his hands, he and Sarah went off into the stillroom together. My aunt was talking a mile a minute as Matthew listened intently.
“Who would have imagined?” said Em, shaking her head.
Em and I washed the dinner dishes and had started the process of tidying the family room, which looked like a crime scene, when a pair of headlights swept the driveway.
“They’re here.” My stomach tightened.
“It’ll be fine, honey. They’re Matthew’s family.” Em squeezed my arm encouragingly.
By the time I reached the front door, Marcus and Miriam were getting out of the car. Miriam looked awkward and out of place in a lightweight brown sweater with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, a miniskirt, and ankle boots, her dark eyes taking in the farm and its surroundings with an attitude of disbelief. Marcus was observing the house’s architecture and sniffing the breeze—which was no doubt redolent with coffee and witches—clothed in a short-sleeved T-shirt from a 1982 concert tour and a pair of jeans.
When the door swung open, Marcus’s blue eyes met mine with a twinkle. “Hi, Mom, we’re home!”
“Did he tell you?” I demanded, furious with Matthew for not obeying my wishes.
“Tell me what?” Marcus’s forehead creased in puzzlement.
“Nothing,” I muttered. “Hello, Marcus. Hello, Miriam.”
“Diana.” Miriam’s fine features were drawn into their familiar look of disapproval.
“Nice house.” Marcus headed up the porch stairs. He held a brown bottle in his fingers. Under the porch lights, his golden hair and polished white skin positively gleamed.
“Come in, welcome.” I hurriedly pulled him inside, hoping that no one driving by the house had glimpsed the vampire on the landing.
“How are you, Diana?” There was worry in his eyes, and his nose flared to take in my scent. Matthew had told him about La Pierre.
“I’m fine.” Upstairs, a door closed with a bang. “No nonsense! I am deadly serious!”
“About what?” Miriam stopped in her tracks, and her flat black curls wiggled over her shoulders like snakes.
“Nothing. Don’t worry about it.” Now that both vampires were safely within the walls, the house sighed.
“Nothing?” Miriam had heard the sigh, too, and her brows rose.
“The house gets a bit worried when visitors come to call, that’s all.”
Miriam looked up the staircase and sniffed. “How many residents does the house have?”
It was a simple question, for which there was no simple answer.
“Unsure,” I said shortly, lugging a duffel bag in the direction of the stairs. “What do you have in here?”
“It’s Miriam’s bag. Let me.” Marcus hooked it easily with his index finger.
We went upstairs so I could show them their rooms. Em had asked Matthew outright if the two would be sharing a bed. First he’d looked shocked at the impropriety of the question, and then he’d burst into gales of laughter and assured her that if they weren’t separated, there would be one dead vampire by morning. Periodically throughout the day, he’d chuckled under his breath, saying “Marcus and Miriam. What an idea.”
Marcus was staying in the guest bedroom that used to belong to Em, and we’d put Miriam in my old attic room. Stacks of fluffy towels were waiting on their beds, and I showed each of them where the bathroom was. There wasn’t much to do to get vampire guests settled—you couldn’t offer them food, or a place to lie down, or much of anything in the way of creature comforts. Happily, there’d been no spectral apparitions or falling plaster to indicate the house was displeased with their presence.
Matthew certainly knew that his son and Miriam had arrived, but the stillroom was secluded enough that Sarah remained oblivious. When I led the two vampires past the keeping room, Elizabeth peeped around the door, her eyes wide as an owl’s.
“Go find Grandma.” I turned to Marcus and Miriam. “Sorry, we’ve got ghosts.”
Marcus covered his laugh with a cough. “Do all of your ancestors live with you?”
Thinking of my parents, I shook my head.
“Too bad,” he murmured.
Em was waiting in the family room, her smile wide and genuine. “You must be Marcus,” she said, getting to her feet and holding out her hand. “I’m Emily Mather.”
“Em, this is Matthew’s colleague, Miriam Shephard.”
Miriam stepped forward. Though she and Em were both fine-boned, Miriam looked like a china doll in comparison.
“Welcome, Miriam,” said Em, looking down with a smile. “Do either of you need something to drink? Matthew opened wine.” She was entirely natural, as if vampires were always dropping by. Both Marcus and Miriam shook their heads.
“Where’s Matthew?” Miriam asked, making her priorities clear. Her keen senses absorbed the details of her new environment. “I can hear him.”
We led the two vampires toward the old wooden door that closed off Sarah’s private sanctuary. Marcus and Miriam continued to take in all the scents of the Bishop house as we proceeded—the food, the clothes, the witches, the coffee, and the cat.
Tabitha came screeching out of the shadows by the fireplace, aiming straight for Miriam as if the two were deadly enemies.
Miriam hissed, and Tabitha froze in mid-hurtle. The two assessed each other, predator to predator. Tabitha was the first to avert her eyes when, after several long moments, the cat discovered an urgent need to groom herself. It was a silent acknowledgment that she was no longer the only female of consequence on the premises.
“That’s Tabitha,” I said weakly. “She’s quite fond of Matthew.”
In the stillroom Matthew and Sarah were crouched over a pot of something set atop an old electric burner, rapt expressions on their faces. Bunches of dried herbs swung from the rafters, and the original colonial ovens stood ready for use, their iron hooks and cranes waiting to hold heavy cauldrons over the coals.
“The eyebright is crucial,” Sarah was explaining like a schoolmarm. “It clears the sight.”
“That smells vile,” Miriam observed, wrinkling her tiny nose and creeping closer.
Matthew’s face darkened.
“Matthew,” Marcus said evenly.
“Marcus,” his father replied.
Sarah stood and examined the newest members of the household, both of whom glowed. The stillroom’s subdued light only accentuated their unnatural paleness and the startling effect of their dilated pupils. “Goddess save us, how does anyone think you’re human?”
“It’s always been a mystery to me,” Miriam said, studying Sarah with equal interest. “You’re not exactly inconspicuous either, with all that red hair and the smell of henbane coming off you in waves. I’m Miriam Shephard.”
Matthew and I exchanged a long look, wondering how Miriam and Sarah were going to coexist peacefully under the same roof.
“Welcome to the Bishop house, Miriam.” Sarah’s eyes narrowed, and Miriam responded in kind. My aunt turned her attention to Marcus. “So you’re his kid.” As usual, she had no patience with social niceties.
“I’m Matthew’s son, yes.” Marcus, who looked like he’d seen a ghost, slowly held out a brown bottle. “Your namesake was a healer, like you. Sarah Bishop taught me how to set a broken leg after the Battle of Bunker Hill. I still do it the way she taught me.”
Two roughly shod feet dangled over the edge of the stillroom loft.
Let’s hope he’s got more strength now than he did then, said a woman who was the spitting image of Sarah.
“Whiskey,” Sarah said, looking from the bottle to my son with new appreciation.
“She liked spirits. I thought you might, too.”
Both Sarah Bishops nodded.
“You thought right,” my aunt said.
“How’s the potion going?” I said, trying not to sneeze in the close atmosphere.
“It needs to steep for nine hours,” Sarah said. “Then we boil it again, draw the manuscript through the vapor, and see what we see.” She eyed the whiskey.
“Let’s take a break, then. I could open that for you,” Matthew suggested, gesturing at the bottle.
“Don’t mind if I do.” She took the bottle from Marcus. “Thank you, Marcus.”
Sarah turned off the burner and clapped a lid on the pot before we all streamed into the kitchen. Matthew poured himself some wine, offered it to Miriam and Marcus, who declined again, and got Sarah some whiskey. I made myself tea—plain Lipton’s from the grocery store—while Matthew asked the vampires about their trip and the state of work at the lab.
There was no trace of warmth in Matthew’s voice, or any indication he was pleased by his son’s arrival. Marcus shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, knowing that he wasn’t welcome. I suggested we might go into the family room and sit down in hopes that some of the awkwardness would fade.
“Let’s go to the dining room instead.” Sarah raised her glass to her charming great-nephew. “We’ll show them the letter. Get Diana’s picture, Matthew. They should see that, too.”
“Marcus and Miriam won’t be staying long,” Matthew said with quiet reproach. “They have something to tell Diana, and then they’re going back to England.”
“But they’re family,” Sarah pointed out, seemingly oblivious to the tension in the room.
My aunt retrieved the picture herself while Matthew continued to glower at his son. Sarah led us to the front of the house. Matthew, Em, and I assembled on one side of the table. Miriam, Marcus, and Sarah sat on the other. Once settled, my aunt began chattering about the morning’s events. Whenever she asked Matthew for some point of clarification, he bit out the answer without embellishment. Everyone in the room save Sarah seemed to understand that Matthew didn’t want Miriam and Marcus to know the details of what had happened. My aunt blithely continued, finishing with a recitation of my mother’s letter along with the postscript from my father. Matthew held firmly on to my hand while she did so.
Miriam took up the picture of the chemical wedding. She studied it carefully before turning her eyes to me. “Your mother was right. This is a picture of you. Matthew, too.”
“I know,” I said, meeting her gaze. “Do you know what it means?”
“Miriam?” Matthew said sharply.
“We can wait until tomorrow.” Marcus looked uneasy and rose to his feet. “It’s late.”
“She already knows,” Miriam said softly. “What comes after marriage, Diana? What’s the next step in alchemical transmutation after conjunctio?”
The room tilted, and I smelled the herbs in my tea from Sept-Tours.
“Conceptio.” My body turned to jelly, and I slid down the back of the chair as everything went black.
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