فصل 39کتاب: تمام ارواح / مجموعه: کشف ساحره ها / فصل 39
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متن انگلیسی فصل
We made it only halfway down the stairs the next morning before stopping to rest, but I was determined to get to the kitchen under my own steam. To my surprise, Matthew didn’t try to dissuade me. We sat on the worn wooden treads in companionable silence. Pale, watery light seeped in through the wavy glass panes around the front door, hinting at a sunny day to come. From the family room came the click of Scrabble tiles.
“When will you tell them?” There wasn’t much to divulge yet—he was still working on the basic outlines of the plan.
“Later,” he said, leaning into me. I leaned toward him, pressing our shoulders closer.
“No amount of coffee is going to keep Sarah from freaking out when she hears.” I put my hand on the banister and levered myself to my feet with a sigh. “Let’s try this again.”
In the family room, Em brought me my first cup of tea. I sipped it on the couch while Matthew and Marcus headed off for their walk with my silent blessing. They should spend as much time as possible together before we left.
After my tea Sarah made me her famous scrambled eggs. They were laden with onions, mushrooms, and cheese and topped with a spoonful of salsa. She put a steaming plate before me.
“Thanks, Sarah.” I dove in without further ceremony.
“It’s not just Matthew who needs food and rest.” She glanced out the window to the orchard, where the two vampires were walking.
“I feel much better today,” I said, crunching a bite of toast.
“Your appetite seems to have recovered, at least.” There was already a sizable dent in the mountain of eggs.
When Matthew and Marcus returned, I was on my second plate of food. They both appeared grim, but Matthew shook his head at my curious look.
Apparently they hadn’t been talking about our plans to timewalk. Something else had put them into a sour mood. Matthew pulled up a stool, flapped open the paper, and concentrated on the news. I ate my eggs and toast, made more tea, and bided my time while Sarah washed and put away the dishes.
At last Matthew folded his paper and set it aside.
“I’d like to go to the woods. To where Juliette died,” I announced.
He got to his feet. “I’ll pull the Range Rover to the door.”
“This is madness, Matthew. It’s too soon.” Marcus turned to Sarah for support.
“Let them go,” Sarah said. “Diana should put on warmer clothes first, though. It’s chilly outside.”
Em appeared, a puzzled expression on her face. “Are we expecting visitors? The house thinks we are.”
“You’re joking!” I said. “The house hasn’t added a room since the last family reunion. Where is it?”
“Between the bathroom and the junk room.” Em pointed at the ceiling. I told you this wasn’t just about you and Matthew, she said silently to me as we trooped upstairs to view the transformation. My premonitions are seldom wrong.
The newly materialized room held an ancient brass bed with enormous polished balls capping each corner, tatty red gingham curtains that Em insisted were coming down immediately, a hooked rug in clashing shades of maroon and plum, and a battered washstand with a chipped pink bowl and pitcher. None of us recognized a single item.
“Where did it all come from?” Miriam asked in amazement.
“Who knows where the house keeps this stuff?” Sarah sat on the bed and bounced on it vigorously. It responded with a series of outraged squeaks.
“The house’s most legendary feats happened around my thirteenth birthday,” I remembered with a grin. “It came up with a record four bedrooms and a Victorian parlor set.”
“And twenty-four place settings of Blue Willow china,” Em recalled. “We’ve still got some of the teacups, although most of the bigger pieces disappeared again once the family left.”
After everybody had inspected the new room and the now considerably smaller storage room next door, I changed and made my halting way downstairs and into the Range Rover. When we drew close to the spot where Juliette had met her end, Matthew stopped. The heavy tires sank into the soft ground.
“Shall we walk the rest of the way?” he suggested. “We can take it slowly.”
He was different this morning. He wasn’t coddling me or telling me what to do.
“What’s changed?” I asked as we approached the ancient oak tree.
“I’ve seen you fight,” he said quietly. “On the battlefield the bravest men collapse in fear. They simply can’t fight, even to save themselves.”
“But I froze.” My hair tumbled forward to conceal my face.
Matthew stopped in his tracks, his fingers tightening on my arm to make me stop, too. “Of course you did. You were about to take a life. But you don’t fear death.”
“No.” I’d lived with death—sometimes longed for it—since I was seven.
He swung me around to face him. “After La Pierre, Satu left you broken and uncertain. All your life you’ve hidden from your fears. I wasn’t sure you would be able to fight if you had to. Now all I have to do is keep you from taking unnecessary risks.” His eyes drifted to my neck.
Matthew moved forward, towing me gently along. A smudge of blackened grass told me we’d arrived at the clearing. I stiffened, and he released my arm.
The marks left by the fire led to the dead patch where Juliette had fallen. The forest was eerily quiet, without birdcalls or other sounds of life. I gathered a bit of charred wood from the ground. It crumbled to soot in my fingers.
“I didn’t know Juliette, but at that moment I hated her enough to kill her.” Her brown-and-green eyes would always haunt me from shadows under the trees.
I traced the line left by the arc of conjured fire to where the maiden and the crone had agreed to help me save Matthew. I looked up into the oak tree and gasped.
“It began yesterday.” Matthew followed my gaze. “Sarah says you pulled the life out of it.”
Above me the branches of the tree were cracked and withered. Bare limbs forked and forked again into shapes reminiscent of a stag’s horns. Brown leaves swirled at my feet. Matthew had survived because I’d pushed its vitality through my veins and into his body. The oak’s rough bark had exuded such permanence, yet there was nothing now but hollowness.
“Power always exacts a price,” Matthew said.
“What have I done?” The death of a tree was not going to settle my debt to the goddess. For the first time, I was afraid of the deal I’d struck.
Matthew crossed the clearing and caught me up in his arms. We hugged each other, fierce with the knowledge of all we’d almost lost.
“You promised me you would be less reckless.” There was anger in his voice.
I was angry with him, too. “You were supposed to be indestructible.”
He rested his forehead against mine. “I should have told you about Juliette.”
“Yes, you should have. She almost took you from me.” My pulse throbbed behind the bandage on my neck. Matthew’s thumb settled against the spot where he’d bitten through flesh and muscle, his touch unexpectedly warm.
“It was far too close.” His fingers were wrapped in my hair, and his mouth was hard on mine. Then we stood, hearts pressed together, in the quiet.
“When I took Juliette’s life, it made her part of mine—forever.”
Matthew stroked my hair against my skull. “Death is its own powerful magic.”
Calm again, I said a silent word of thanks to the goddess, not only for Matthew’s life but for my own.
We walked toward the Range Rover, but halfway there I stumbled with fatigue. Matthew swung me onto his back and carried me the rest of the way.
Sarah was bent over her desk in the office when we arrived at the house. She flew outside and pulled open the car door with speed a vampire might envy.
“Damn it, Matthew,” she said, looking at my exhausted face.
Together they got me inside and back onto the family-room couch, where I rested my head in Matthew’s lap. I was lulled to sleep by the quiet sounds of activity all around, and the last thing I remembered clearly was the smell of vanilla and the sound of Em’s battered KitchenAid mixer.
Matthew woke me for lunch, which turned out to be vegetable soup. The look on his face suggested that I would shortly need sustenance. He was about to tell our families the plan.
“Ready, mon coeur?” Matthew asked. I nodded, scraping up the last of my meal. Marcus’s head swiveled in our direction. “We have something to share with you,” he announced.
The new household tradition was to proceed to the dining room whenever something important needed to be discussed. Once we were assembled, all eyes turned to Matthew.
“What have you decided?” Marcus asked without preamble.
Matthew took a deliberate breath and began. “We need to go where it won’t be easy for the Congregation to follow, where Diana will have time and teachers who can help her master her magic.”
Sarah laughed under her breath. “Where is this place, where there are powerful, patient witches who don’t mind having a vampire hanging around?”
“It’s not a particular place I have in mind,” Matthew said cryptically. “We’re going to hide Diana in time.”
Everyone started shouting at once. Matthew took my hand in his.
“Courage,” I murmured in French, repeating his advice when I met Ysabeau.
He snorted and gave me a grim smile.
I had some sympathy for their amazed disbelief. Last night, while I was lying in bed, my own reaction had been much the same. First I’d insisted that it was impossible, and then I’d asked for a thousand details about precisely when and where we were going.
He’d explained what he could—which wasn’t much.
“You want to use your magic, but now it’s using you. You need a teacher, one who is more adept than Sarah or Emily. It’s not their fault they can’t help you. Witches in the past were different. So much of their knowledge has been lost.”
“Where? When?” I’d whispered in the dark.
“Nothing too distant—though the more recent past has its own risks—but back far enough that we’ll find a witch to train you. First we have to talk to Sarah about whether it can be done safely. And then we need to locate three items to steer us to the right time.”
“We?” I’d asked in surprise. “Won’t I just meet you there?”
“Not unless there’s no alternative. I wasn’t the same creature then, and I wouldn’t entirely trust my past selves with you.”
His mouth had softened with relief after I nodded in agreement. A few days ago, he’d rejected the idea of timewalking. Apparently the risks of staying put were even worse.
“What will the others do?”
His thumb traveled slowly over the veins on the back of my hand. “Miriam and Marcus will go back to Oxford. The Congregation will look for you here first. It would be best if Sarah and Emily went away, at least for a little while. Would they go to Ysabeau?” Matthew wondered.
On the surface it had sounded like a ridiculous idea. Sarah and Ysabeau under the same roof? The more I’d considered it, though, the less implausible it seemed.
“I don’t know,” I’d mused. Then a new worry had surfaced. “Marcus.” I didn’t fully understand the intricacies of the Knights of Lazarus, but with Matthew gone he would have to shoulder even more responsibility.
“There’s no other way,” Matthew had said in the darkness, quieting me with a kiss.
This was precisely the point that Em now wanted to argue.
“There must be another way,” she protested.
“I tried to think of one, Emily,” Matthew said apologetically.
“Where—or should I say when—are you planning on going? Diana won’t exactly blend into the background. She’s too tall.” Miriam looked down at her own tiny hands.
“Regardless of whether Diana could fit in, it’s too dangerous,” Marcus said firmly. “You might end up in the middle of a war. Or an epidemic.”
“Or a witch-hunt.” Miriam didn’t say it maliciously, but three heads swung around in indignation nonetheless.
“Sarah, what do you think?” asked Matthew.
Of all the creatures in the room, she was the calmest. “You’ll take her to a time when she’ll be with witches who will help her?”
Sarah closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them. “You two aren’t safe here. Juliette Durand proved that. And if you aren’t safe in Madison, you aren’t safe anywhere.”
“Thank you.” Matthew opened his mouth to say something else, and Sarah held up her hand.
“Don’t promise me anything,” she said, voice tight. “You’ll be careful for her sake, if not for your own.”
“Now all we have to worry about is the timewalking.” Matthew turned businesslike. “Diana will need three items from a particular time and place in order to move safely.”
“Do I count as a thing?” he asked her.
“Do you have a pulse? Of course you’re not a thing!” It was one of the most positive statements Sarah had ever made about vampires.
“If you need old stuff to guide your way, you’re welcome to these.” Marcus pulled a thin leather cord from the neck of his shirt and lifted it over his head. It was festooned with a bizarre assortment of items, including a tooth, a coin, a lump of something that shone black and gold, and a battered silver whistle. He tossed it to Matthew.
“Didn’t you get this off a yellow-fever victim?” Matthew asked, fingering the tooth.
“In New Orleans,” Marcus replied. “The epidemic of 1819.”
“New Orleans is out of the question,” Matthew said sharply.
“I suppose so.” Marcus slid a glance my way, then returned his attention to his father. “How about Paris? One of Fanny’s earbobs is on there.”
Matthew’s fingers touched a tiny red stone set in gold filigree. “Philippe and I sent you away from Paris, and Fanny, too. They called it the Terror, remember? It’s no place for Diana.”
“The two of you fussed over me like old women. I’d been in one revolution already. Besides, if you’re looking for a safe place in the past, you’ll have a hell of a time finding one,” Marcus grumbled. His face brightened. “Philadelphia?”
“I wasn’t in Philadelphia with you, or in California,” Matthew said hastily before his son could speak. “It would be best if we head for a time and place I know.”
“Even if you know where we’re going, Matthew, I’m not sure I can pull this off.” My decision to stay clear of magic had caught up with me again.
“I think you can,” Sarah said bluntly, “you have been doing it your whole life. When you were a baby, as a child when you played hide-and-seek with Stephen, and as an adolescent, too. Remember all those mornings we dragged you out of the woods and had to clean you up in time for school? What do you imagine you were doing then?”
“Certainly not timewalking,” I said truthfully. “The science of this still worries me. Where does this body go when I’m somewhere else?”
“Who knows? But don’t worry. It’s happened to everybody. You drive to work and don’t remember how you got there. Or the whole afternoon passes and you don’t have a clue what you did. Whenever something like that happens, you can bet there’s a timewalker nearby,” explained Sarah. She was remarkably unfazed at the prospect.
Matthew sensed my apprehension and took my hand in his. “Einstein said that all physicists were aware that the distinctions between past, present, and future were only what he called ‘a stubbornly persistent illusion.’ Not only did he believe in marvels and wonders, he also believed in the elasticity of time.”
There was a tentative knock at the door.
“I didn’t hear a car,” Miriam said warily, rising to her feet.
“It’s just Sammy collecting the newspaper money.” Em slid from her chair.
We waited silently while she crossed the hall, the floorboards protesting under her feet. From the way their hands were pressed flat against the table’s wooden surface, Matthew and Marcus were both ready to fly to the door, too.
Cold air swept into the dining room.
“Yes?” Em asked in a puzzled voice. In an instant, Marcus and Matthew rose and joined her, accompanied by Tabitha, who was intent on supporting the leader of the pack in his important business.
“Not the paperboy,” Sarah said unnecessarily, looking at the empty chair next to me.
“Are you Diana Bishop?” asked a deep male voice with a familiar foreign accent of flat vowels accompanied by a slight drawl.
“No, I’m her aunt,” Em replied.
“Is there something we can do for you?” Matthew sounded cold, though polite.
“My name is Nathaniel Wilson, and this is my wife, Sophie. We were told we might find Diana Bishop here.”
“Who told you that?” Matthew asked softly.
“His mother—Agatha.” I stood, moving to the door.
His voice reminded me of the daemon from Blackwell’s, the fashion designer from Australia with the beautiful brown eyes.
Miriam tried to bar my way into the hall but stepped aside when she saw my expression. Marcus was not so easily dealt with. He grabbed my arm and held me in the shadows by the staircase.
Nathaniel’s eyes nudged gently against my face. He was in his early twenties and had familiar fair hair and chocolate-colored eyes, as well as his mother’s wide mouth and fine features. Where Agatha had been compact and trim, however, he was nearly as tall as Matthew, with the broad shoulders and narrow hips of a swimmer. An enormous backpack was slung over one shoulder.
“Are you Diana Bishop?” he asked.
A woman’s face peeped out from Nathaniel’s side. It was sweet and round, with intelligent brown eyes and a dimpled chin. She was in her early twenties as well, and the gentle, insidious pressure of her glance indicated she, too, was a daemon.
As she studied me, a long, brown braid tumbled over her shoulder. “That’s her,” the young woman said, her soft accent betraying that she was born in the South. “She looks just as she did in my dreams.”
“It’s all right, Matthew,” I said. These two daemons posed no more danger to me than did Marthe or Ysabeau.
“So you’re the vampire,” Nathaniel said, giving Matthew an appraising look. “My mother warned me about you.”
“You should listen to her,” Matthew suggested, his voice dangerously soft.
Nathaniel seemed unimpressed. “She told me you wouldn’t welcome the son of a Congregation member. But I’m not here on their behalf. I’m here because of Sophie.” He drew his wife under his arm in a protective gesture, and she shivered and crept closer. Neither was dressed for autumn in New York. Nathaniel was wearing an old barn jacket, and Sophie had on nothing warmer than a turtleneck and a hand-knit cardigan that brushed her knees.
“Are they both daemons?” Matthew asked me.
“Yes,” I replied, though something made me hesitate.
“Are you a vampire as well?” Nathaniel asked Marcus.
Marcus gave him a wolfish grin. “Guilty.”
Sophie was still nudging me with her characteristic daemonic glance, but there was the faintest tingle on my skin. Her hand crept possessively around her belly.
“You’re pregnant!” I cried.
Marcus was so surprised that he loosened his grip on me. Matthew caught me as I went by. The house, agitated by the appearance of two visitors and Matthew’s sudden lunge, made its displeasure clear by banging the keeping room’s doors tightly closed.
“What you feel—it’s me,” Sophie said, moving an inch closer to her husband. “My people were witches, but I came out wrong.”
Sarah came into the hall, saw the visitors, and threw up her hands. “Here we go again. I told you daemons would be showing up in Madison before long. Still, the house usually knows our business better than we do. Now that you’re here, you might as well come inside, out of the cold.”
The house groaned as if it were heartily sick of us when the daemons entered.
“Don’t worry,” I said, trying to reassure them. “The house told us you were coming, no matter what it sounds like.”
“My granny’s house was just the same.” Sophie smiled. “She lived in the old Norman place in Seven Devils. That’s where I’m from. It’s officially part of North Carolina, but my dad said that nobody bothered to tell the folks in town. We’re kind of a nation unto ourselves.”
The keeping-room doors opened wide, revealing my grandmother and three or four more Bishops, all of whom were watching the proceedings with interest. The boy with the berry basket waved. Sophie shyly waved back.
“Granny had ghosts, too,” she said calmly.
The ghosts, combined with two unfriendly vampires and an overly expressive house, were too much for Nathaniel.
“We aren’t staying longer than we have to, Sophie. You came to give something to Diana. Let’s get it over with and be on our way,” Nathaniel said. Miriam chose that minute to step out of the shadows by the dining room, her arms crossed over her chest. Nathaniel took a step backward.
“First vampires. Now daemons. What next?” Sarah muttered. She turned to Sophie. “So you’re about five months along?”
“The baby quickened last week,” Sophie replied, both hands resting on her belly. “That’s when Agatha told us where we could find Diana. She didn’t know about my family. I’ve been having dreams about you for months. And I don’t know what Agatha saw that made her so scared.”
“What dreams?” Matthew said, his voice quick.
“Let’s have Sophie sit down before we subject her to an inquisition.” Sarah quietly took charge. “Em, can you bring us some of those cookies? Milk, too?”
Em headed toward the kitchen, where we could hear the distant clatter of glasses.
“They could be my dreams, or they could be hers.” Sophie gazed at her belly as Sarah led her and Nathaniel deeper into the house. She looked back over her shoulder at Matthew. “She’s a witch, you see. That’s probably what worried Nathaniel’s mom.”
All eyes dropped to the bump under Sophie’s blue sweater.
“The dining room,” Sarah said in a tone that brooked no nonsense. “Everybody in the dining room.”
Matthew held me back. “There’s something too convenient about their showing up right now. No mention of timewalking in front of them.”
“They’re harmless.” Every instinct confirmed it.
“Nobody’s harmless, and that certainly goes for Agatha Wilson’s son.” Tabitha, who was sitting next to Matthew, mewled in agreement.
“Are you two joining us, or do I have to drag you into this room?” Sarah called.
“We’re on our way,” Matthew said smoothly.
Sarah was at the head of the table. She pointed at the empty chairs to her right. “Sit.”
We were facing Sophie and Nathaniel, who sat with an empty seat between them and Marcus. Matthew’s son split his attention between his father and the daemons. I sat between Matthew and Miriam, both of whom never took their eyes from Nathaniel. When Em entered, she had a tray laden with wine, milk, bowls of berries and nuts, and an enormous plate of cookies.
“God, cookies make me wish like hell I was still warmblooded,” Marcus said reverently, picking up one of the golden disks studded with chocolate and holding it to his nose. “They smell so good, but they taste terrible.”
“Have these instead,” Em said, sliding him a bowl of walnuts. “They’re covered in vanilla and sugar. They’re not cookies, but they’re close.” She passed him a bottle of wine and a corkscrew, too. “Open that and pour some for your father.”
“Thanks, Em,” Marcus said around a mouthful of sticky walnuts, already pulling the cork free from the bottle. “You’re the best.”
Sarah watched intently as Sophie drank thirstily from the glass of milk and ate a cookie. When the daemon reached for her second, my aunt turned to Nathaniel. “Now, where’s your car?” Given all that had happened, it was an odd opening question.
“We came on foot.” Nathaniel hadn’t touched anything Em put in front of him.
“From where?” Marcus asked incredulously, handing Matthew a glass of wine. He’d seen enough of the surrounding countryside to know that there was nothing within walking distance.
“We rode with a friend from Durham to Washington,” Sophie explained. “Then we caught a train from D.C. to New York. I didn’t like the city much.”
“We caught the train to Albany, then went on to Syracuse. The bus took us to Cazenovia.” Nathaniel put a warning hand on Sophie’s arm.
“He doesn’t want me to tell you that we caught a ride from a stranger,” Sophie confided with a smile. “The lady knew where the house was. Her kids love coming here on Halloween because you’re real witches.” Sophie took another sip of milk. “Not that we needed the directions. There’s a lot of energy in this house. We couldn’t have missed it.”
“Is there a reason you took such an indirect route?” Matthew asked Nathaniel.
“Somebody followed us as far as New York, but Sophie and I got back on the train for Washington and they lost interest,” Nathaniel bristled.
“Then we got off the train in New Jersey and went back to the city. The man in the station said tourists get confused all the time about which way the train is going. They didn’t even charge us, did they, Nathaniel?” Sophie looked pleased at the warm reception they’d received from Amtrak.
Matthew continued with his interrogation of Nathaniel. “Where are you staying?”
“They’re staying here.” Em’s voice had a sharp edge. “They don’t have a car, and the house made room for them. Besides, Sophie needs to talk to Diana.”
“I’d like that. Agatha said you’d be able to help. Something about a book for the baby,” Sophie said softly. Marcus’s eyes darted to the page from Ashmole 782, the edge of which was peeking from underneath the chart laying out the Knights of Lazarus’s chain of command. He hastily drew the papers into a pile, moving an innocuous-looking set of DNA results to the top.
“What book, Sophie?” I asked.
“We didn’t tell Agatha my people were witches. I didn’t even tell Nathaniel—not until he came home to meet my dad. We’d been together for almost four years, and my dad was sick and losing control over his magic. I didn’t want Nathaniel spooked. Anyway, when we got married, we thought it was best not to cause a fuss. Agatha was on the Congregation by then and was always talking about the segregation rules and what happened when folks broke them.” Sophie shook her head. “It never made any sense to me.”
“The book?” I repeated, gently trying to steer the conversation.
“Oh.” Sophie’s forehead creased with concentration, and she fell silent.
“My mother is thrilled about the baby. She said it’s going to be the best-dressed child the world has ever seen.” Nathaniel smiled tenderly at his wife. “Then the dreams started. Sophie felt trouble was coming. She has strong premonitions for a daemon, just like my mother. In September she started seeing Diana’s face and hearing her name. Sophie said people want something from you.”
Matthew’s fingers touched the small of my back where Satu’s scar dipped down.
“Show them her face jug, Nathaniel. It’s just a picture. I wanted to bring it, but he said we couldn’t carry a gallon jug from Durham to New York.”
Her husband obediently took out his phone and pulled up a picture on the screen. Nathaniel handed the phone to Sarah, who gasped.
“I’m a potter, like my mama and her mother. Granny used witchfire in her kiln, but I just do it the ordinary way. All the faces from my dreams go on my jugs. Not all of them are scary. Yours wasn’t.”
Sarah passed the phone to Matthew. “It’s beautiful, Sophie,” he said sincerely.
I had to agree. Its tall, rounded shape was pale gray, and two handles curved away from its narrow spout. On the front was a face—my face, though distorted by the jug’s proportions. My chin jutted out from the surface, as did my nose, my ears, and the sweep of my brow bones. Thick squiggles of clay stood in for hair. My eyes were closed, and my mouth smiled serenely, as if I were keeping a secret.
“This is for you, too.” Sophie drew a small, lumpy object out of the pocket of her cardigan. It was wrapped in oilcloth secured with string. “When the baby quickened, I knew for sure it belonged to you. The baby knows, too. Maybe that’s what made Agatha so worried. And of course we have to figure out what to do, since the baby is a witch. Nathaniel’s mom thought you might have some ideas.”
We watched in silence while Sophie picked at the knots. “Sorry,” she muttered. “My dad tied it up. He was in the navy.”
“Can I help you?” Marcus asked, reaching for the lump.
“No, I’ve got it.” Sophie smiled at him sweetly and went back to her work. “It has to be wrapped up or it turns black. And it’s not supposed to be black. It’s supposed to be white.”
Our collective curiosity was now thoroughly aroused, and there wasn’t a sound in the house except for the lapping of Tabitha’s tongue as she groomed her paws. The string fell away, followed by the oilcloth.
“There,” Sophie whispered. “I may not be a witch, but I’m the last of the Normans. We’ve been keeping this for you.”
It was a small figurine no more than four inches tall and made from old silver that glowed with the softly burnished light seen in museum showcases. Sophie turned the figurine so that it faced me.
“Diana,” I said unnecessarily. The goddess was represented exactly, from the tips of the crescent moon on her brow to her sandaled feet. She was in motion, one foot striding forward while a hand reached over her shoulders to draw an arrow from her quiver. The other hand rested on the antlers of a stag.
“Where did you get that?” Matthew sounded strange, and his face had gone gray again.
Sophie shrugged. “Nobody knows. The Normans have always had it. It’s been passed down in the family from witch to witch. ‘When the time comes, give it to the one who has need of it.’ That’s what my granny told my father, and my father told me. It used to be written on a little piece of paper, but that was lost a long time ago.”
“What is it, Matthew?” Marcus looked uneasy. So did Nathaniel.
“It’s a chess piece,” Matthew’s voice broke. “The white queen.”
“How do you know that?” Sarah looked at the figurine critically. “It’s not like any chess piece I ever saw.”
Matthew had to force the words out from behind tight lips. “Because it was once mine. My father gave it to me.”
“How did it end up in North Carolina?” I stretched my fingers toward the silver object, and the figurine slid across the table as if it wanted to be in my possession. The stag’s antlers cut into my palm as my hand closed around it, the metal quickly warming to my touch.
“I lost it in a wager,” Matthew said quietly. “I have no idea how it got to North Carolina.” He buried his face in his hands and murmured a single word that made no sense to me. “Kit.”
“Do you remember when you last had it?” Sarah asked sharply.
“I remember precisely.” Matthew lifted his head. “I was playing a game with it many years ago, on All Souls’ Night. It was then that I lost my wager.”
“That’s next week.” Miriam shifted in her seat so that she could meet Sarah’s eyes. “Would timewalking be easier around the feasts of All Saints and All Souls?”
“Miriam,” Matthew snarled, but it was too late.
“What’s timewalking?” Nathaniel whispered to Sophie.
“Mama was a timewalker,” Sophie whispered back. “She was good at it, too, and always came back from the 1700s with lots of ideas for pots and jugs.”
“Your mother visited the past?” Nathaniel asked faintly. He looked around the room at the motley assortment of creatures, then at his wife’s belly. “Does that run in witches’ families, too, like second sight?”
Sarah answered Miriam over the daemons’ whispered conversation. “There’s not much keeping the living from the dead between Halloween and All Souls. It would be easier to slip between the past and the present then.”
Nathaniel looked more anxious. “The living and the dead? Sophie and I just came to deliver that statue or whatever it is so she can sleep through the night.”
“Will Diana be strong enough?” Marcus asked Matthew, ignoring Nathaniel.
“This time of year, it should be much easier for Diana to timewalk,” Sarah mused aloud.
Sophie looked contentedly around the table. “This reminds me of the old days when granny and her sisters got together and gossiped. They never seemed to pay attention to one another, but they always knew what had been said.”
The room’s many competing conversations stopped abruptly when the dining-room doors banged open and shut, followed by a booming sound produced by the heavier keeping-room doors. Nathaniel, Miriam, and Marcus shot to their feet.
“What the hell was that?” Marcus asked.
“The house,” I said wearily. “I’ll go see what it wants.”
Matthew scooped up the figurine and followed me.
The old woman with the embroidered bodice was waiting at the keeping room’s threshold.
“Hello, ma’am.” Sophie had followed right behind and was nodding politely to the old woman. She scrutinized my features. “The lady looks a bit like you, doesn’t she?”
So you’ve chosen your road, the old woman said. Her voice was fainter than before.
“We have,” I said. Footsteps sounded behind me as the remaining occupants of the dining room came to see what the commotion was about.
You’ll be needing something else for your journey, she replied.
The coffin doors swung open, and the press of creatures at my back was matched by the crowd of ghosts waiting by the fireplace.
This should be interesting, my grandmother said drily from her place at the head of the ghostly bunch.
There was a rumbling in the walls like bones rattling. I sat in my grandmother’s rocker, my knees no longer able to hold my weight.
A crack developed in the paneling between the window and the fireplace. It stretched and widened in a diagonal slash. The old wood shuddered and squeaked. Something soft with legs and arms flew out of the gap. I flinched when it landed in my lap.
“Holy shit,” Sarah said.
That paneling will never look the same, my grandmother commented, shaking her head regretfully at the cracked wood.
Whatever flew at me was made of rough-spun fabric that had faded to an indiscriminate grayish brown. In addition to its four limbs, it had a lump where the head belonged, adorned with faded tufts of hair. Someone had stitched an X where the heart should be.
“What is it?” I reached my index finger toward the uneven, rusty stitches.
“Don’t touch it!” Em cried.
“I’m already touching it,” I said, looking up in confusion. “It’s sitting on my lap.”
“I’ve never seen such an old poppet,” said Sophie, peering down at it.
“Poppet?” Miriam frowned. “Didn’t one of your ancestors get in trouble over a poppet?”
“Bridget Bishop.” Sarah, Em, and I said the name at the same moment.
The old woman with the embroidered bodice was now standing next to my grandmother.
“Is this yours?” I whispered.
A smile turned up one corner of Bridget’s mouth. Remember to be canny when you find yourself at a crossroads, daughter. There’s no telling what secrets are buried there.
Looking down at the poppet, I lightly touched the X on its chest. The fabric split open, revealing a stuffing made of leaves, twigs, and dried flowers and releasing the scent of herbs into the air. “Rue,” I said, recognizing it from Marthe’s tea.
“Clover, broom, knotweed, and slippery elm bark, too, from the smell of it.” Sarah gave the air a good sniff. “That poppet was made to draw someone—Diana, presumably—but it’s got a protection spell on it, too.”
You did well by her, Bridget told my grandmother with an approving nod at Sarah.
Something was gleaming through the brown. When I pulled at it gently, the poppet came apart in pieces.
And there’s an end to it, Bridget said with a sigh. My grandmother put a comforting arm around her.
“It’s an earring.” Its intricate golden surfaces caught the light, and an enormous, teardrop-shaped pearl shone at the end.
“How the hell did one of my mother’s earrings get into Bridget Bishop’s poppet?” Matthew’s face was back to that pasty gray color.
“Were your mother’s earrings in the same place as your chess set on that long-ago night?” Miriam asked. Both the earring and the chess piece were old—older than the poppet, older than the Bishop house.
Matthew thought a moment, then nodded. “Yes. Is a week enough time? Can you be ready?” he asked me urgently.
“I don’t know.”
“Sure you’ll be ready,” Sophie crooned to her belly. “She’ll make things right for you, little witch. You’ll be her godmother,” Sophie said with a radiant smile. “She’ll like that.”
“Counting the baby—and not counting the ghosts, of course,” Marcus said in a deceptively conversational tone that reminded me of the way Matthew spoke when he was stressed, “there are nine of us in this room.”
“Four witches, three vampires, and two daemons,” Sophie said dreamily, her hands still on her belly. “But we’re short a daemon. Without one we can’t be a conventicle. And once Matthew and Diana leave, we’ll need another vampire, too. Is Matthew’s mother still alive?”
“She’s tired,” Nathaniel said apologetically, his hands tightening on his wife’s shoulders. “It makes it difficult for her to focus.”
“What did you say?” Em asked Sophie. She was struggling to keep her voice calm.
Sophie’s eyes lost their dreaminess. “A conventicle. That’s what they called a gathering of dissenters in the old days. Ask them.” She inclined her head in the direction of Marcus and Miriam.
“I told you this wasn’t about the Bishops or the de Clermonts,” Em said to Sarah. “It’s not even about Matthew and Diana and whether they can be together. It’s about Sophie and Nathaniel, too. It’s about the future, just as Diana said. This is how we’ll fight the Congregation—not just as individual families but as a—What did you call it?”
“Conventicle,” Miriam answered. “I always liked that word—so delightfully ominous.” She settled back on her heels with a satisfied smile.
Matthew turned to Nathaniel. “It would seem your mother was right. You do belong here, with us.”
“Of course they belong here,” Sarah said briskly. “Your bedroom is ready, Nathaniel. It’s upstairs, the second door to the right.”
“Thank you,” Nathaniel said, a note of cautious relief in his voice, though he still eyed Matthew warily.
“I’m Marcus.” Matthew’s son held out his hand to the daemon. Nathaniel clasped it firmly, barely reacting to the shocking coldness of vampire flesh.
“See? We didn’t need to make reservations at that hotel, sweetie,” Sophie told her husband with a beatific smile. She looked for Em in the crowd. “Are there more cookies?”
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