- زمان مطالعه 37 دقیقه
- سطح خیلی سخت
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
A few days later, Sophie was sitting at the kitchen island with half a dozen pumpkins and a sharp knife when Matthew and I came in from our walk. The weather had turned colder, and there was a dreary hint of winter in the air.
“What do you think?” Sophie asked, turning the pumpkin. It had the hollow eyes, arched eyebrows, and gaping mouth of all Halloween pumpkins, but she had transformed the usual features into something remarkable. Lines pulled away from the mouth, and the forehead was creased, setting the eyes themselves slightly off-kilter. The overall effect was chilling.
“Amazing!” Matthew looked at the pumpkin with delight.
She bit her lip, regarding her work critically. “I’m not sure the eyes are right.”
I laughed. “At least it has eyes. Sometimes Sarah can’t be bothered and just pokes three round holes in the side with the end of a screwdriver and calls it a day.”
“Halloween is a busy holiday for witches. We don’t always have time for the finer details,” Sarah said sharply, coming out of the stillroom to inspect Sophie’s work. She nodded with approval. “But this year we’ll be the envy of the neighborhood.”
Sophie smiled shyly and pulled another pumpkin toward her. “I’ll do a less scary one next. We don’t want to make the little kids cry.”
With less than a week to go until Halloween, Em and Sarah were in a flurry of activity to get ready for the Madison coven’s annual fall bash. There would be food, free-flowing drink (including Em’s famous punch, which had at least one July birth to its credit), and enough witchy activities to keep the sugar-high children occupied and away from the bonfire after they’d been trick-or-treating. Bobbing for apples was much more challenging when the fruit in question had been put under a spell.
My aunts hinted that they would cancel their plans, but Matthew just shook his head.
“Everyone in town would wonder if you didn’t show up. This is just a typical Halloween.”
We’d all looked dubious. After all, Sarah and Em weren’t the only ones counting the hours to Halloween.
Last night Matthew had laid out the gradual departure of everyone in the house, starting with Nathaniel and Sophie and ending with Marcus and Miriam. It would, he believed, make our own departure less conspicuous—and it was not open to discussion.
Marcus and Nathaniel had exchanged a long look when Matthew finished his announcement, which concluded with the daemon shaking his head and pressing his lips together and the younger vampire staring fixedly at the table while a muscle in his jaw throbbed.
“But who will hand out the candy?” Em asked.
Matthew looked thoughtful. “Diana and I will do it.”
The two young men had stormed out of the room when we broke up to go our separate ways, mumbling something about getting milk. They’d then climbed into Marcus’s car and torn down the driveway.
“You’ve got to stop telling them what to do,” I chided Matthew, who had joined me at the front door to watch their departure. “They’re both grown men. Nathaniel has a wife, and soon he’ll have a child.”
“Left to their own devices, Marcus and Nathaniel would have an army of vampires on the doorstep tomorrow.”
“You won’t be here to order them around next week,” I reminded him, watching the taillights as they turned toward town. “Your son will be in charge.”
“That’s what I’m worried about.”
The real problem was that we were in the midst of an acute outbreak of testosterone poisoning. Nathaniel and Matthew couldn’t be in the same room without sparks flying, and in the increasingly crowded house it was hard for them to avoid each other.
Their next argument occurred that afternoon when a delivery arrived. It was a box with BIOHAZARD written all over the sealing tape in large red letters.
“What the hell is this?” Marcus asked, carrying the box gingerly into the family room. Nathaniel looked up from his laptop, his brown eyes widening with alarm.
“That’s for me,” Matthew said smoothly, taking the box from his son.
“My wife is pregnant!” Nathaniel said furiously, snapping his laptop closed. “How could you bring that into the house?”
“It’s immunizations for Diana.” Matthew barely kept his annoyance in check.
I put aside my magazine. “What immunizations?”
“You’re not going to the past without every possible protection from disease. Come to the stillroom,” Matthew said, holding out his hand.
“Tell me what’s in the box first.”
“Booster vaccines—tetanus, typhoid, polio, diphtheria—as well as some vaccines you probably haven’t had, like a new one-shot rabies preventive, the latest flu shots, an immunization for cholera.” He paused, still holding out his hand. “And a smallpox vaccine.”
“Smallpox?” They’d stopped giving smallpox vaccines to schoolchildren a few years before I was born. That meant Sophie and Nathaniel hadn’t been immunized either.
Matthew reached down and hoisted me to my feet. “Let’s get started,” he said firmly.
“You aren’t going to stick needles into me today.”
“Better needles today than smallpox and lockjaw tomorrow,” he countered.
“Wait a minute.” Nathaniel’s voice sounded in the room like a cracking whip. “The smallpox vaccine makes you contagious. What about Sophie and the baby?”
“Explain it to him, Marcus,” Matthew ordered, stepping aside so I could pass.
“Not contagious with smallpox, exactly.” Marcus tried to be reassuring. “It’s a different strain of the disease. Sophie will be fine, provided she doesn’t touch Diana’s arm or anything it comes into contact with.”
Sophie smiled at Marcus. “Okay. I can do that.”
“Do you always do everything he tells you to do?” Nathaniel asked Marcus with contempt, unfolding from the couch. He looked down at his wife. “Sophie, we’re leaving.”
“Stop fussing, Nathaniel,” Sophie said. “You’ll upset the house—the baby, too—if you start talking about leaving. We’re not going anywhere.”
Nathaniel gave Matthew an evil look and sat down.
In the stillroom Matthew had me take off my sweatshirt and turtleneck and then began swabbing my left arm with alcohol. The door creaked open.
It was Sarah. She’d stood by without comment during the exchange between Matthew and Nathaniel, though her eyes had seldom left the newly delivered box.
Matthew had already sliced open the protective tape wrapped around the molded-foam container. Seven small vials were nestled within, along with a bag of pills, something that looked like a container of salt, and a two-pronged metal instrument I’d never seen before. He’d already entered the same state of clinical detachment I’d first detected in his lab in Oxford, with no time for chatter or a warm bedside manner. Sarah was welcome moral support.
“I’ve got some old white shirts for you to wear.” Sarah momentarily distracted me from what Matthew was doing. “They’ll be easy to bleach. Some white towels, too. Leave your laundry upstairs and I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you, Sarah. That’s one less risk of contagion to worry about.” Matthew selected one of the vials. “We’ll start with the tetanus booster.”
Each time he stuck something in my arm, I winced. By the third shot, there was a thin sheen of sweat on my forehead and my heart was pounding. “Sarah,” I said faintly. “Can you please not stand behind me?”
“Sorry.” Sarah moved to stand behind Matthew instead. “I’ll get you some water.” She handed me a glass of ice-cold water, the outside slippery with condensation. I took it gratefully, trying to focus on holding it steady rather than on the next vial Matthew was opening.
Another needle entered my skin, and I jumped.
“That’s the last shot,” Matthew said. He opened the container that looked like it was filled with salt crystals and carefully added the contents to a bottle of liquid. After giving it a vigorous shake, he handed it to me. “This is the cholera vaccine. It’s oral. Then there’s the smallpox immunization, and some pills to take after dinner for the next few nights.”
I drank it down quickly but still almost gagged at the thick texture and vile taste.
Matthew opened up the sealed pouch holding the two-pronged smallpox inoculator. “Do you know what Thomas Jefferson wrote to Edward Jenner about this vaccine?” he asked, voice hypnotic. “Jefferson said it was medicine’s most useful discovery.” There was a cold touch of alcohol on my right arm, then pricks as the inoculator’s prongs pierced the skin. “The president dismissed Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood as nothing more than a ‘beautiful addition’ to medical knowledge.” Matthew moved in a circular pattern, distributing the live virus on my skin.
His diversionary tactics were working. I was too busy listening to his story to pay much attention to my arm.
“But Jefferson praised Jenner because his inoculation relegated smallpox to a disease that would be known only to historians. He’d saved the human race from one of its most deadly enemies.” Matthew dumped the empty vial and the inoculator into a sealed biohazard container. “All done.”
“Did you know Jefferson?” I was already fantasizing about timewalking to eighteenth-century Virginia.
“I knew Washington better. He was a soldier—a man who let his actions speak for him. Jefferson was full of words. But it wasn’t easy to reach the man behind the intellect. I’d never drop by his house unannounced with a bluestocking like you in tow.”
I reached for my turtleneck, but Matthew stilled my arm and carefully covered the inoculation site with a waterproof bandage. “This is a live virus, so you have to keep it covered. Sophie and Nathaniel can’t come into contact with it, or with anything that touches it.” He moved to the sink and vigorously washed his hands in steaming-hot water.
“For how long?”
“It will form a blister, and then the blister will scab over. No one should touch the site until the blister heals.”
I pulled the old, stretched-out turtleneck over my head, taking care not to dislodge the bandage.
“Now that that’s done, we need to figure out how Diana is going to carry you—and herself—to some distant time by Halloween. She may have been timewalking since she was an infant, but it’s still not easy,” Sarah worried, her face twisted in a frown.
Em appeared around the door. We made room for her at the table.
“I’ve been timewalking recently, too,” I confessed.
“When?” Matthew paused for a moment in his work of clearing up what remained from the inoculations.
“First on the driveway when you were talking to Ysabeau. Then again the day Sarah was trying to make me light a candle, when I went from the stillroom to the orchard. Both times I picked up my foot, wished myself somewhere else, and put my foot down where I wanted to be.”
“That sounds like timewalking,” Sarah said slowly. “Of course, you didn’t travel far—and you weren’t carrying anything.” She sized up Matthew, her expression turning doubtful.
There was a knock at the door. “Can I come in?” Sophie’s call was muffled.
“Can she, Matthew?” Em asked.
“As long as she doesn’t touch Diana.”
When Em opened the door, Sophie was moving soothing hands around her belly. “Everything’s going to be all right,” she said serenely from the threshold. “As long as Matthew has a connection to the place they’re going, he’ll help Diana, not weigh her down.”
Miriam appeared behind Sophie. “Is something interesting happening?”
“We’re talking about timewalking,” I said.
“How will you practice?” Miriam stepped around Sophie and pushed her firmly back toward the door when she tried to follow.
“Diana will go back in time a few hours, then a few more. We’ll increase the time involved, then the distance. Then we’ll add Matthew and see what happens.” Sarah looked at Em. “Can you help her?”
“A bit,” Em replied cautiously. “Stephen told me how he did it. He never used spells to go back in time—his power was strong enough without them. Given Diana’s early experiences with timewalking and her difficulties with witchcraft, we might want to follow his example.”
“Why don’t you and Diana go to the barn and try?” Sarah suggested gently. “She can come straight back to the stillroom.”
When Matthew started after us, Sarah put a hand out and stopped him. “Stay here.”
Matthew’s face had gone gray again. He didn’t like me in a different room, never mind a different time.
The hop barn still held the sweet aroma of long-ago harvests. Em stood opposite and quietly issued instructions. “Stand as still as possible,” she said, “and empty your mind.”
“You sound like my yoga teacher,” I said, arranging my limbs in the familiar lines of mountain pose.
Em smiled. “I’ve always thought yoga and magic had a lot in common. Now, close your eyes. Think about the stillroom you just left. You have to want to be there more than here.”
Re-creating the stillroom in my mind, I furnished it with objects, scents, people. I frowned. “Where will you be?”
“It depends on when you arrive. If it’s before we left, I’ll be there. If not, I’ll be here.”
“The physics of this don’t make sense.” My head filled with concerns about how the universe would handle multiple Dianas and Ems—not to mention Miriams and Sarahs.
“Stop thinking about physics. What did your dad write in his note? ‘Whoever can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead.’”
“Close enough,” I admitted reluctantly.
“It’s time for you to take a big step into the mysterious, Diana. The magic and wonder that was always your birthright is waiting for you. Now, think about where you want to be.”
When my mind was brimming over with images of it, I picked up my foot.
When I put it down again, there I was in the hop barn with Em.
“It didn’t work,” I said, panicking.
“You were too focused on the details of the room. Think about Matthew. Don’t you want to be with him? Magic’s in the heart, not the mind. It’s not about words and following a procedure, like witchcraft. You have to feel it.”
“Desire.” I saw myself calling Notes and Queries from the shelf at the Bodleian, felt once more the first touch of Matthew’s lips on mine in his rooms at All Souls. The barn dropped away, and Matthew was telling me the story about Thomas Jefferson and Edward Jenner.
“No,” Em said, her voice steely. “Don’t think about Jefferson. Think about Matthew.”
“Matthew.” I brought my mind back to the touch of his cool fingers against my skin, the rich sound of his voice, the sense of intense vitality when we were together.
I picked up my foot.
It landed in the corner of the stillroom, where I was squashed behind an old barrel.
“What if she gets lost?” Matthew sounded tense. “How will we get her back?”
“We don’t have to worry about that,” Sophie said, pointing in my direction. “She’s already here.”
Matthew whipped around and let out a ragged breath.
“How long have I been gone?” I felt light-headed and disoriented, but otherwise fine.
“About ninety seconds,” Sarah said. “More than enough time for Matthew to have a nervous breakdown.”
Matthew pulled me into his arms and tucked me under his chin. “Thank God. How soon can she take me with her?”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Sarah warned. “One step at a time.”
I looked around. “Where’s Em?”
“In the barn.” Sophie was beaming. “She’ll catch up.”
It took more than twenty minutes for Em to return. When she did, her cheeks were pink from concern as well as the cold, though some of the tension left her when she saw me standing with Matthew.
“You did good, Em,” Sarah said, kissing her in a rare public display of affection.
“Diana started thinking about Thomas Jefferson,” Em said. “She might have ended up at Monticello. Then she focused on her feelings, and her body got blurry around the edges. I blinked, and she was gone.”
That afternoon, with Em’s careful coaching, I took a slightly longer trip back to breakfast. Over the next few days, I went a bit farther with each timewalk. Going back in time aided by three objects was always easier than returning to the present, which required enormous concentration as well as an ability to accurately forecast where and when you wanted to arrive. Finally it was time to try carrying Matthew.
Sarah had insisted on limiting the variables to accommodate the extra effort required. “Start out wherever you want to end up,” she advised. “That way all you have to worry about is thinking yourself back to a particular time. The place will take care of itself.”
I took him up to the bedroom at twilight without telling him what was in store. The figure of Diana and the golden earring from Bridget Bishop’s poppet were sitting on the chest of drawers in front of a photograph of my parents.
“Much as I’d like to spend a few hours with you in here—alone—dinner is almost ready,” he protested, though there was a calculating gleam in his eyes.
“There’s plenty of time. Sarah said I’m ready to take you timewalking. We’re going back to our first night in the house.”
Matthew thought for a moment, and his eyes brightened further. “Was that the night the stars came out—inside?”
I kissed him in answer.
“Oh.” He looked shyly pleased. “What should I do?”
“Nothing.” This would be the hardest thing about timewalking for him. “What are you always telling me? Close your eyes, relax, and let me do the rest.” I grinned wickedly.
He laced his fingers through mine. “Witch.”
“You won’t even know it’s happening,” I assured him. “It’s fast. Just pick up your foot and put it down again when I tell you. And don’t let go.”
“Not a chance,” Matthew said, tightening his grip.
I thought about that night, our first alone after my encounter with Satu. I remembered his touch against my back, fierce and gentle at the same time. I felt the connection, immediate and tenacious, to that shared moment in our past.
“Now,” I whispered. Our feet rose together.
But timewalking with Matthew was different. Having him along slowed us down, and for the first time I was aware of what was happening.
The past, present, and future shimmered around us in a spiderweb of light and color. Each strand in the web moved slowly, almost imperceptibly, sometimes touching another filament before moving gently away again as if caught by a breeze. Each time strands touched—and millions of strands were touching all the time—there was the soft echo of an original, inaudible sound.
Momentarily distracted by the seemingly limitless possibilities before us, we found it easy to lose sight of the twisted red-and-white strand of time we were following. I brought my concentration back to it, knowing it would take us back to our first night in Madison.
I put my foot down and felt rough floorboards against my bare skin.
“You told me it would be fast,” he said hoarsely. “That didn’t feel fast to me.”
“No, it was different,” I agreed. “Did you see the lights?”
Matthew shook his head. “There was nothing but blackness. I was falling, slowly, with only your hand keeping me from hitting bottom.” He raised it to his mouth and kissed it.
There was a lingering smell of chili in the quiet house, and it was night outside. “Can you tell who’s here?”
His nostrils flared, and he closed his eyes. Then he smiled and sighed with happiness. “Just Sarah and Em, and you and me. None of the children.”
I giggled, drawing him closer.
“If this house gets any more crowded, it’s going to burst.” Matthew buried his face in my neck, then drew back. “You still have your bandage. It means that when we go back in time, we don’t stop being who we are in the present or forget what happened to us here.” His cold hands crept under the hem of my turtleneck. “Given your rediscovered talents as a timewalker, how accurate are you at gauging the passing of time?”
Though we happily lingered in the past, we were back in the present before Emily finished making the salad.
“Timewalking agrees with you, Matthew,” Sarah said, scrutinizing his relaxed face. She rewarded him with a glass of red wine.
“Thank you, Sarah. I was in good hands.” He raised his glass to me in salute.
“Glad to hear it,” Sarah said drily, sounding like my ghostly grandmother. She threw some sliced radishes into the biggest salad bowl I’d ever seen.
“Where did that come from?” I peered into the bowl to hide my reddened lips.
“The house,” Em said, beating the salad dressing with a whisk. “It enjoys having so many mouths to feed.”
Next morning the house let us know it was anticipating yet another addition.
Sarah, Matthew, and I were discussing whether my next timewalk should be to Oxford or to Sept-Tours when Em appeared with a load of laundry in her arms. “Somebody is coming.”
Matthew put down his paper and stood. “Good. I was expecting a delivery today.”
“It’s not a delivery, and they’re not here yet. But the house is ready for them.” She disappeared into the laundry room.
“Another room? Where did the house put this one?” Sarah shouted after her.
“Next to Marcus.” Em’s reply echoed from the depths of the washing machine.
We took bets on who it would be. The guesses ranged from Agatha Wilson to Emily’s friends from Cherry Valley who liked to show up unannounced for the coven’s Halloween party.
Late in the morning, there was an authoritative knock on the door. It opened to a small, dark man with intelligent eyes. He was instantly recognizable from pictures taken at celebrity parties in London and television news conferences. Any remaining doubts about his identity were erased by the familiar nudges against my cheekbones.
Our mystery houseguest was Matthew’s friend Hamish Osborne.
“You must be Diana,” he said without pleasure or preamble, his Scottish accent lending length to the vowels. Hamish was dressed for business, in a pin-striped charcoal suit that had been tailored to fit him exactly, a pale pink shirt with heavy silver cuff links, and a fuchsia tie embroidered with tiny black flies.
“I am. Hello, Hamish. Was Matthew expecting you?” I stepped aside to let him in.
“Probably not,” Hamish said crisply, remaining on the stoop. “Where is he?”
“Hamish.” Matthew was moving so quickly I felt the breeze behind me before hearing him approach. He extended his hand. “This is a surprise.”
Hamish stared at the outstretched hand, then turned his eyes to its owner. “Surprise? Let’s discuss surprises. When I joined your . . . ‘family firm,’ you swore to me this would never arrive.” He brandished an envelope, its black seal broken but still clinging to the flaps.
“I did.” Matthew dropped his hand and looked at Hamish warily.
“So much for your promises, then. I’m given to understand from this letter, and from my conversation with your mother, that there’s some kind of trouble.” Hamish’s eyes flickered to me, then back to Matthew.
“Yes.” Matthew’s lips tightened. “But you’re the ninth knight. You don’t have to become involved.”
“You made a daemon the ninth knight?” Miriam had come through the dining room with Nathaniel.
“Who’s he?” Nathaniel shook a handful of Scrabble tiles in his cupped hand while surveying the new arrival.
“Hamish Osborne. And who might you be?” Hamish asked, as if addressing an impertinent employee. The last thing we needed was more testosterone in the house.
“Oh, I’m nobody,” Nathaniel said airily, leaning against the dining-room door. He watched Marcus as he passed by.
“Hamish, why are you here?” Marcus looked confused, then saw the letter. “Oh.”
My ancestors were congregating in the keeping room, and the house was stirring on its foundations. “Could we continue this inside? It’s the house, you see. It’s a little uneasy, given you’re a daemon—and angry.”
“Come, Hamish.” Matthew tried to draw him out of the doorway. “Marcus and Sarah haven’t demolished the whiskey supply yet. We’ll get you a drink and sit you by the fire.”
Hamish remained where he was and kept talking.
“While visiting with your mother, who was far more willing to answer my questions than you would have been, I learned that you wanted a few things from home. It seemed a shame for Alain to make such a long trip, when I was already going to come and ask you what the hell you were up to.” He lifted a bulky leather briefcase with soft sides and a formidable lock, and a smaller, hard-sided case.
“Thank you, Hamish.” The words were cordial enough, but Matthew was clearly displeased at having his arrangements altered.
“Speaking of explanations, it’s a damn good thing the French don’t care about the exportation of English national treasures. Have you any idea of the paperwork that would have been required to get this out of England? If they’d let me remove it at all, which I doubt.”
Matthew took the briefcases from Hamish’s fingers, gripped him by the elbow, and pulled his friend inside. “Later,” he said hastily. “Marcus, take Hamish and introduce him to Diana’s family while I put these away.”
“Oh, it’s you,” said Sophie with delight, coming out of the dining room. The bulge of her belly showed plainly underneath a stretched University of North Carolina sweatshirt. “You’re like Nathaniel, not scatterbrained like me. Your face is on one of my pots, too.” She beamed at Hamish, who looked both charmed and startled.
“Are there more?” he asked me, with a cock of his head that made him resemble a tiny, bright-eyed bird.
“Many more,” Sophie replied happily. “You won’t see them, though.”
“Come and meet my aunts,” I said hastily.
“The witches?” It was impossible to know what Hamish was thinking. His sharp eyes missed nothing, and his face was nearly as impassive as Matthew’s.
“Yes, the witches.”
Matthew disappeared upstairs while Marcus and I introduced Hamish to Em. He seemed less annoyed with her than he was with Matthew and me, and she immediately started fussing over him. Sarah met us at the stillroom door, wondering what the commotion was about.
“We’re a proper conventicle now, Sarah,” Sophie observed as she reached for the pyramid of freshly baked cookies on the kitchen island. “All nine—three witches, three daemons, and three vampires—present and accounted for.”
“Looks like it,” Sarah agreed, sizing up Hamish. She watched her partner buzzing around the kitchen like a bewildered bee. “Em, I don’t think our new guest needs tea or coffee. Is the whiskey in the dining room?”
“Diana and I call it the ‘war room,’” Sophie confided, grabbing Hamish familiarly by the forearm, “though it seems unlikely we could fight a war without the humans finding out. It’s the only place big enough to hold us now. Some of the ghosts manage to squeeze in, too.”
“Ghosts?” Hamish reached up and loosened his tie.
“The dining room.” Sarah gripped Hamish’s other elbow. “Everybody in the dining room.”
Matthew was already there. The aroma of hot wax filled the air. When all of us had grabbed our chosen drink and found a seat, he took charge.
“Hamish has questions,” Matthew said. “Nathaniel and Sophie, too. And I suppose this is my tale to tell—mine and Diana’s.”
With that, Matthew took a deep breath and plunged in. He included everything—Ashmole 782, the Knights of Lazarus, the break-ins at Oxford, Satu and what happened at La Pierre, even Baldwin’s fury. There were poppets and earrings and face jugs as well. Hamish looked at Matthew sharply when he discussed timewalking and the three objects I would need to travel back to a particular time and place.
“Matthew Clairmont,” Hamish hissed, leaning across the table. “Is that what I brought from Sept-Tours? Does Diana know?”
“No,” Matthew confessed, looking slightly uncomfortable. “She’ll know on Halloween.”
“Well, she’d have to know on Halloween, wouldn’t she?” Hamish let out an exasperated sigh.
Though the exchange between Hamish and Matthew was heated, there were only two moments when the tension threatened to escalate into outright civil war. Both of them, not surprisingly, involved Matthew and Nathaniel.
The first was when Matthew explained to Sophie what this war would be like—the unexpected attacks, the long-simmering feuds between vampires and witches that would come to a boil, the brutal deaths that were bound to occur as creature fought creature using magic, witchcraft, brute strength, speed, and preternatural cunning.
“That’s not how wars are fought anymore.” Nathaniel’s deep voice cut through the resulting chatter.
Matthew’s eyebrow floated up, and his face took on an impatient expression. “No?”
“Wars are fought on computers. This isn’t the thirteenth century. Hand-to-hand combat isn’t required.” He gestured at his laptop on the sideboard. “With computers you can take down your enemy without ever firing a shot or shedding a drop of blood.”
“This may not be the thirteenth century, Nathaniel, but some of the combatants will have lived through those times, and they have a sentimental attachment to destroying people the old-fashioned way. Leave this to me and Marcus.” Matthew thought this was the end of the matter.
Nathaniel shook his head and stared fixedly at the table.
“Do you have something else to say?” Matthew asked, an ominous purring starting in the back of his throat.
“You’ve made it perfectly clear you’ll do what you want in any case.” Nathaniel lifted his frank brown eyes in challenge, then shrugged. “Suit yourself. But you’re making a mistake if you think your enemies won’t use more modern methods to destroy you. There are humans to consider, after all. They’ll notice if vampires and witches start fighting one another in the streets.”
The second battle between Matthew and Nathaniel had to do not with war but with blood. It began innocently enough, with Matthew talking about Nathaniel’s relationship to Agatha Wilson and about Sophie’s witch parents.
“It’s imperative that their DNA be analyzed. The baby’s, too, once it’s born.”
Marcus and Miriam nodded, unsurprised. The rest of us were somewhat startled.
“Nathaniel and Sophie bring into question your theory that daemonic traits result from unpredictable mutations rather than heredity,” I said, thinking aloud.
“We have so little data.” Matthew eyed Hamish and Nathaniel with the dispassionate gaze of a scientist examining two fresh specimens. “Our current findings might be misleading.”
“Sophie’s case also raises the issue of whether daemons are more closely related to witches than we’d thought.” Miriam directed her black eyes at the daemon’s belly. “I’ve never heard of a witch giving birth to a daemon, never mind a daemon giving birth to a witch.”
“You think I’m going to hand over Sophie’s blood—and my child’s blood—to a bunch of vampires?” Nathaniel looked perilously close to losing control.
“Diana isn’t the only creature in this room the Congregation will want to study, Nathaniel.” Matthew’s words did nothing to soothe the daemon. “Your mother appreciated the danger your family was facing, or she wouldn’t have sent you here. One day you might discover your wife and child gone. If you do, it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see them again.”
“That’s enough,” Sarah said sharply. “There’s no need to threaten him.”
“Keep your hands off my family,” Nathaniel said, breathing heavily.
“I’m not a danger to them,” Matthew said. “The danger comes from the Congregation, from the possibility of open hostility between the three species, and above all from pretending this isn’t happening.”
“They’ll come for us, Nathaniel. I’ve seen it.” Sophie’s voice was purposeful, and her face had the same sudden sharpness that Agatha Wilson’s had back in Oxford.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Nathaniel said.
“I started to tell Agatha, but she stopped me and ordered me not to say another word. She was so frightened. Then she gave me Diana’s name and the address for the Bishop house.” Sophie’s face took on its characteristic fuzzy look. “I’m glad Matthew’s mother is still alive. She’ll like my pots. I’ll put her face on one of them. And you can have my DNA whenever you want it, Matthew—the baby’s, too.”
Sophie’s announcement effectively put an end to Nathaniel’s objections. When Matthew had entertained all the questions he was willing to answer, he picked up an envelope that had been sitting unnoticed at his elbow. It was sealed with black wax.
“That leaves one piece of unfinished business.” He stood and held out the letter. “Hamish, this is for you.”
“Oh, no you don’t.” Hamish crossed his arms over his chest. “Give it to Marcus.”
“You may be the ninth knight, but you’re also the seneschal of the Knights of Lazarus, and my second in command. There’s a protocol we must follow,” Matthew said, tight-lipped.
“Matthew would know,” Marcus muttered. “He’s the only grand master in the history of the order who’s ever resigned.”
“And now I’ll be the only grand master to have resigned twice,” Matthew said, still holding out the envelope.
“To hell with protocol,” Hamish snapped, banging his fist on the table. “Everybody out of this room except Matthew, Marcus, and Nathaniel. Please,” he added as an afterthought.
“Why do we have to leave?” Sarah asked suspiciously.
Hamish studied my aunt for a moment. “You’d better stay, too.”
The five of them were closeted in the dining room for the rest of the day. Once an exhausted Hamish came out and requested sandwiches. The cookies, he explained, were long gone.
“Is it me, or do you also feel that the men sent us out of the room so they could smoke cigars and talk politics?” I asked, trying to distract myself from the meeting in the dining room by flipping through a jarring mix of old movies and afternoon television. Em and Sophie were both knitting, and Miriam was doing a puzzle she’d found in a book promising Demonically Difficult Sudoku. She chuckled now and then and made a mark in the margins.
“What are you doing, Miriam?” Sophie asked.
“Keeping score,” Miriam said, making another mark on the page.
“What are they talking about? And who’s winning?” I asked, envious of her ability to hear the conversation.
“They’re planning a war, Diana. As for who’s winning, either Matthew or Hamish—it’s too close to call,” Miriam replied. “Marcus and Nathaniel managed to get in a few good shots, though, and Sarah’s holding her own.”
It was already dark, and Em and I were making dinner when the meeting broke up. Nathaniel and Sophie were talking quietly in the family room.
“I need to catch up on a few calls,” Matthew said after he’d kissed me, his mild tone at odds with his tense face.
Seeing how tired he was, I decided my questions could wait.
“Of course,” I said, touching his cheek. “Take your time. Dinner will be in an hour.”
Matthew kissed me again, longer and deeper, before going out the back door.
“I need a drink,” Sarah groaned, heading to the porch to sneak a cigarette.
Matthew was nothing more than a shadow through the haze of Sarah’s smoke as he passed through the orchard and headed for the hop barn. Hamish came up behind me, nudging my back and neck with his eyes.
“Are you fully recovered?” he asked quietly.
“What do you think?” It had been a long day, and Hamish made no effort to hide his disapproval of me. I shook my head.
Hamish’s eyes drifted away, and mine followed. We both watched as Matthew’s white hands streaked through his hair before he disappeared into the barn.
“‘Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night,’” Hamish said, quoting William Blake. “That poem has always reminded me of him.”
I rested my knife on the cutting board and faced him. “What’s on your mind, Hamish?”
“Are you certain of him, Diana?” he asked. Em wiped her hands on her apron and left the room, giving me a sad look.
“Yes.” I met his eyes, trying to make my confidence in Matthew clear.
Hamish nodded, unsurprised. “I did wonder if you would take him on, once you knew who he was—who he still is. It would seem you’re not afraid to have a tiger by the tail.”
Wordlessly I turned back to the counter and resumed my chopping.
“Be careful.” Hamish rested his hand on my forearm, forcing me to look at him. “Matthew won’t be the same man where you’re going.”
“Yes he will.” I frowned. “My Matthew is going with me. He’ll be exactly the same.”
“No,” Hamish said grimly. “He won’t.”
Hamish had known Matthew far longer. And he’d pieced together where we were going based on the contents of that briefcase. I still knew nothing, except that I was headed to a time before 1976 and a place where Matthew had played chess.
Hamish joined Sarah outside, and soon two plumes of gray smoke rose into the night sky.
“Is everything all right in there?” I asked Em when she returned from the family room, where Miriam, Marcus, Nathaniel, and Sophie were talking and watching TV.
“Yes,” she replied. “And here?”
“Just fine.” I focused on the apple trees and waited for Matthew to come in from the dark.
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