فصل 41

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فصل 41

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Chapter 41

The day before Halloween, a fluttery feeling developed in my stomach.

Still in bed, I reached for Matthew.

“I’m nervous.”

He closed the book he was reading and drew me near. “I know. You were nervous before you opened your eyes.”

The house was already bustling with activity. Sarah’s printer was churning out page after page in the office below. The television was on, and the dryer whined faintly in the distance as it protested under another load of laundry. One sniff told me that Sarah and Em were well into the day’s coffee consumption, and down the hall there was the whir of a hair dryer.

“Are we the last ones up?” I made an effort to calm my stomach.

“I think so,” he said with a smile, though there was a shadow of concern in his eyes.

Downstairs, Sarah was making eggs to order while Em pulled trays of muffins out of the oven. Nathaniel was methodically plucking one after another from the tin and popping them whole into his mouth.

“Where’s Hamish?” Matthew asked.

“In my office, using the printer.” Sarah gave him a long look and returned to her pan.

Marcus left his Scrabble game and came to the kitchen to take a walk with his father. He grabbed a handful of nuts as he left, sniffing the muffins with a groan of frustrated desire.

“What’s going on?” I asked quietly.

“Hamish is being a lawyer,” Sophie replied, spreading a thick layer of butter on top of a muffin. “He says there are papers to sign.”

Hamish called us into the dining room in the late morning. We straggled in carrying wineglasses and mugs. He looked as though he hadn’t slept. Neat stacks of paper were arranged across the table’s expanse, along with sticks of black wax and two seals belonging to the Knights of Lazarus—one small, one large. My heart hit my stomach and bounced back into my throat.

“Should we sit?” Em asked. She’d brought in a fresh pot of coffee and topped off Hamish’s mug.

“Thank you, Em,” Hamish said gratefully. Two empty chairs sat officiously at the head of the table. He gestured Matthew and me into them and picked up the first stack of papers. “Yesterday afternoon we went over a number of practical issues related to the situation in which we now find ourselves.”

My heart sped up, and I eyed the seals again.

“A little less lawyerly, Hamish, if you please,” Matthew said, his hand tightening on my back. Hamish glowered at him and continued.

“Diana and Matthew will timewalk, as planned, on Halloween. Ignore everything else Matthew told you to do.” Hamish took an obvious pleasure in delivering this part of his message. “We’ve agreed that it would be best if everyone . . . disappeared for a little while. As of this moment, your old lives are on hold.”

Hamish put a document in front of me. “This is a power of attorney, Diana. It authorizes me—or whoever occupies the position of seneschal—to act legally on your behalf.”

The power of attorney gave the abstract idea of timewalking a new sense of finality. Matthew fished a pen from his pocket.

“Here,” he said, placing the pen before me.

The pen’s nib wasn’t used to the angle and pressure of my hand, and it scratched while I put my signature on the line. When I was finished, Matthew took it and dropped a warm black blob on the bottom, then reached for his personal seal and pressed it into the wax.

Hamish picked up the next stack. “These letters are for you to sign, too. One informs your conference organizers that you cannot speak in November. The other requests a medical leave for next year. Your physician—one Dr. Marcus Whitmore—has written in support. In the event you haven’t returned by April, I’ll send your request to Yale.”

I read the letters carefully and signed with a shaking hand, relinquishing my life in the twenty-first century.

Hamish braced his hands against the edge of the table. Clearly he was building up to something. “There is no telling when Matthew and Diana will be back with us.” He didn’t use the word “if,” but it hovered in the room nonetheless. “Whenever any member of the firm or of the de Clermont family is preparing to take a long journey or drop out of sight for a while, it’s my job to make sure their affairs are in order. Diana, you have no will.”

“No.” My mind was entirely blank. “But I don’t have any assets—not even a car.”

Hamish straightened. “That’s not entirely true, is it, Matthew?”

“Give it to me,” Matthew said reluctantly. Hamish handed him a thick document. “This was drawn up when I was last in Oxford.”

“Before La Pierre,” I said, not touching the pages.

Matthew nodded. “Essentially, it’s our marriage agreement. It irrevocably settles a third of my personal assets on you. Even if you were to leave me, these assets would be yours.”

It was dated before he’d come home—before we were mated for life by vampire custom.

“I’ll never leave you, and I don’t want this.”

“You don’t even know what this is,” Matthew said, putting the pages in front of me.

There was too much to absorb. Staggering sums of money, a town house on an exclusive square in London, a flat in Paris, a villa outside Rome, the Old Lodge, a house in Jerusalem, still more houses in cities like Venice and Seville, jets, cars—my mind whirled.

“I have a secure job.” I pushed the papers away. “This is completely unnecessary.”

“It’s yours nonetheless,” Matthew said gruffly.

Hamish let me gather my composure before he dropped his next bombshell. “If Sarah were to die, you would inherit this house, too, on the condition that it would be Emily’s home for as long as she wanted it. And you’re Matthew’s sole heir. So you do have assets—and I need to know your wishes.”

“I’m not going to talk about this.” The memories of Satu and Juliette were still fresh, and death felt all too close. I stood, ready to bolt, but Matthew grabbed my hand and held fast.

“You need to do this, mon coeur. We cannot leave it for Marcus and Sarah to sort out.”

I sat back down and thought quietly about what to do with the inconceivable fortune and ramshackle farmhouse that might one day be mine.

“My estate should be divided equally among our children,” I said finally. “And that includes all of Matthew’s children—vampire and biological, those he made himself and any that we might have together. They’re to have the Bishop house, too, when Em’s through with it.”

“I’ll see to it,” Hamish assured me.

The only remaining documents on the table were hidden inside three envelopes. Two bore Matthew’s seal. The other had black-and-silver ribbon wrapped around it, a lump of sealing wax covering the knot. Hanging from the ribbon was a thick black disk as big as a dessert plate that bore the impression of the great seal of the Knights of Lazarus.

“Finally we have the brotherhood to sort out. When Matthew’s father founded the Knights of Lazarus, they were known for helping to protect those who could not protect themselves. Though most creatures have forgotten about us, we still exist. And we must continue to do so even after Matthew is gone. Tomorrow, before Marcus leaves the house, Matthew will officially give up his position in the order and appoint his son grand master.”

Hamish handed Matthew the two envelopes bearing his personal seal. He then handed the envelope with the larger seal to Nathaniel. Miriam’s eyes widened.

“As soon as Marcus accepts his new position, which he will do immediately, ” Hamish said, giving Marcus a stern look, “he will phone Nathaniel, who has agreed to join the firm as one of the eight provincial masters. Once Nathaniel breaks the seal on this commission, he’ll be a Knight of Lazarus.”

“You can’t keep making daemons like Hamish and Nathaniel members of the brotherhood! How is Nathaniel going to fight?” Miriam sounded aghast.

“With these,” Nathaniel said, wiggling his fingers in the air. “I know computers, and I can do my part.” His voice took on a fierce edge, and he gave Sophie an equally ferocious look. “No one is going to do to my wife or daughter what they’ve done to Diana.”

There was stunned silence.

“That’s not all.” Hamish pulled up a chair and sat down, knitting his fingers together before him. “Miriam believes that there will be a war. I disagree. This war has already started.”

Every eye on the room was directed at Hamish. It was clear why people wanted him to play a role in government—and why Matthew had made him his second in command. He was a born leader.

“In this room we understand why such a war might be fought. It’s about Diana and the appalling lengths the Congregation will go to in an effort to understand the power she’s inherited. It’s about the discovery of Ashmole 782 and our fear that the book’s secrets might be lost forever if it falls into the witches’ hands. And it’s about our common belief that no one has the right to tell two creatures that they cannot love each other—no matter what their species.”

Hamish surveyed the room to make sure no one’s attention had wandered before he continued.

“It won’t be long before the humans are aware of this conflict. They’ll be forced to acknowledge that daemons, vampires, and witches are among them. When that happens, we’ll need to be Sophie’s conventicle in fact, not just in name. There will be casualties, hysteria, and confusion. And it will be up to us—the conventicle and the Knights of Lazarus—to help them make sense of it all and to see to it that the loss of life and destruction are minimal.”

“Ysabeau is waiting for you at Sept-Tours.” Matthew’s voice was quiet and steady. “The castle grounds may be the only territorial boundary other vampires won’t dare to cross. Sarah and Emily will try to keep the witches in check. The Bishop name should help. And the Knights of Lazarus will protect Sophie and her baby.”

“So we’ll scatter,” Sarah said, nodding at Matthew. “Then reconvene at the de Clermont house. And when we do, we’ll figure out how to proceed. Together.”

“Under Marcus’s leadership.” Matthew raised his half-full wineglass. “To Marcus, Nathaniel, and Hamish. Honor and long life.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that,” Miriam said softly.

Marcus and Nathaniel both shied away from the attention and seemed uncomfortable with their new responsibilities. Hamish merely appeared weary.

After toasting the three men—all of whom looked far too young to have to worry about a long life—Em shepherded us into the kitchen for lunch. She laid out a feast on the island, and we milled around the family room, avoiding the moment when we would have to begin our good-byes.

Finally it was time for Sophie and Nathaniel to depart. Marcus put the couple’s few belongings in the trunk of his little blue sports car. Marcus and Nathaniel stood, their two blond heads close in conversation, while Sophie said good-bye to Sarah and Em. When she was finished, she turned to me. I’d been banished to the keeping room to make sure that no one inadvertently touched me.

“This isn’t really good-bye,” she told me from across the hall.

My third eye opened, and in the winking of the sunlight on the banister I saw myself enveloped in one of Sophie’s fierce hugs.

“No,” I said, surprised and comforted by the vision.

Sophie nodded as if she, too, had seen the glimpse of the future. “See, I told you. Maybe the baby will be here when you get back. Remember, you’ll be her godmother.”

While waiting for Sophie and Nathaniel to say their good-byes, Matthew and Miriam had positioned all the pumpkins down the driveway. With a flick of her wrist and a few mumbled words, Sarah lit them. Dusk was still hours away, but Sophie could at least get a sense of what they would look like on Halloween night. She clapped her hands and tore down the steps to fling herself into the arms of Matthew and then Miriam. Her final hug was reserved for Marcus, who exchanged a few quiet words with her before tucking her into the low-slung passenger seat.

“Thanks for the car,” Sophie said, admiring the burled wood on the dashboard. “Nathaniel used to drive fast, but he drives like an old lady now on account of the baby.”

“No speeding,” Matthew said firmly, sounding like a father. “Call us when you get home.”

We waved them off. When they were out of sight Sarah extinguished the pumpkins. Matthew put his arms around me as the remaining family drifted back inside.

“I’m ready for you, Diana,” Hamish said, coming out onto the porch. He’d already put on his jacket, prepared to leave for New York before returning to London.

I signed the two copies of the will, and they were witnessed by Em and Sarah. Hamish rolled up one copy and slid it into a metal cylinder. He threaded the ends of the tube with black-and-silver ribbons and sealed it with wax bearing Matthew’s mark.

Matthew waited by the black rental car while Hamish said a courteous farewell to Miriam, then kissed Em and Sarah, inviting them to stay with him on their way to Sept-Tours.

“Call me if you need anything,” he told Sarah, taking her hand and giving it a single squeeze. “You have my numbers.” He turned to me.

“Good-bye, Hamish.” I returned his kisses, first on one cheek, then the other. “Thank you for all you did to put Matthew’s mind at ease.”

“Just doing my job,” Hamish said with forced cheerfulness. His voice dropped. “Remember what I told you. There will be no way to call for help if you need it.”

“I won’t need it,” I said.

A few minutes later, the car’s engine turned over and Hamish, too, was gone, red taillights blinking in the gathering darkness.

The house didn’t like its new emptiness and responded by banging furniture around and moaning softly whenever anyone left or entered a room.

“I’ll miss them,” Em confessed while making dinner. The house sighed sympathetically.

“Go,” Sarah said to me, taking the knife out of Em’s hand. “Take Matthew to Sept-Tours and be back here in time to make the salad.”

After much discussion we’d finally decided to timewalk to the night I’d found his copy of Origin.

But getting Matthew to Sept-Tours was more of a challenge than I’d expected. My arms were so full of stuff to help me steer—one of his pens and two books from his study—that Matthew had to hold on to my waist. Then we got stuck.

Invisible hands seemed to hold my foot up, refusing to let me lower it into Sept-Tours. The farther back in time we went, the thicker the strands were around my feet. And time clung to Matthew in sturdy, twining vines.

At last we made it to Matthew’s study. The room was just as we’d left it, with the fire lit and an unlabeled bottle of wine waiting on the table.

I dropped the books and the pen on the sofa, shaking with fatigue.

“What’s wrong?” Matthew asked.

“It was as if too many pasts were coming together, and it was impossible to wade through them. I was afraid you might let go.”

“Nothing felt different to me,” Matthew said. “It took a bit longer than before, but I expected that, given the time and distance.”

He poured us both some wine, and we discussed the pros and cons of going downstairs. Finally, our desire to see Ysabeau and Marthe won out. Matthew remembered I’d been wearing my blue sweater. Its high neckline would hide my bandage, so I went upstairs to change.

When I came back down, his face broke into a slow, appreciative smile. “Just as beautiful now as then,” he said, kissing me deeply. “Maybe more so.”

“Be careful,” I warned him with a laugh. “You hadn’t decided you loved me yet.”

“Oh, I’d decided,” he said, kissing me again. “I just hadn’t told you.”

The women were sitting right where we expected them to be, Marthe with her murder mystery and Ysabeau with her newspapers. The conversation might not have been exactly the same, but it didn’t seem to matter. The most difficult part of the evening was watching Matthew dance with his mother. The bittersweet expression on his face as he twirled her was new, and he definitely hadn’t caught her up in a fierce bear hug when their dance was over. When he invited me to dance, I gave his hand an extra squeeze of sympathy.

“Thank you for this,” he whispered in my ear as he whirled me around. He planted a soft kiss on my neck. That definitely hadn’t happened the first time.

Matthew brought the evening to a close just as he had before, by announcing that he was taking me to bed. This time we said good night knowing that it was good-bye. Our return trip was much the same, but less frightening for its familiarity. I didn’t panic or lose my concentration when time resisted our passage, focusing intently on the familiar rituals of making dinner in the Bishop house. We were back in plenty of time to make the salad.

During dinner Sarah and Em regaled the vampires with tales of my adventures growing up. When my aunts ran out of stories, Matthew teased Marcus about his disastrous real-estate deals in the nineteenth century, the enormous investments he’d made in new technologies in the twentieth century that had never panned out, and his perpetual weakness for redheaded women.

“I knew I liked you.” Sarah smoothed down her own unruly red mop and poured him more whiskey.

Halloween dawned clear and bright. Snow was always a possibility in this neck of the woods, but this year the weather looked encouraging. Matthew and Marcus took a longer walk than usual, and I lingered over tea and coffee with Sarah and Em.

When the phone rang, we all jumped. Sarah answered it, and we could tell from her half of the conversation that the call was unexpected.

She hung up and joined us at the table in the family room, which was once again big enough to seat all of us. “That was Faye. She and Janet are at the Hunters’. In their RV. They want to know if we’ll join them on their fall trip. They’re driving to Arizona, then up to Seattle.”

“The goddess has been busy,” Em said with a smile. The two of them had been trying for days to decide how they would extricate themselves from Madison without setting off a flurry of gossip. “I guess that settles it. We’ll hit the road, then go meet Ysabeau.”

We carried bags of food and other supplies to Sarah’s beat-up old car. When it was fully loaded and you could barely see out the rearview mirror, they started issuing orders.

“The candy’s on the counter,” Em instructed. “And my costume is hanging on the back of the stillroom door. It will fit you fine. Don’t forget the stockings. The kids love the stockings.”

“I won’t forget them,” I assured her, “or the hat, though it’s perfectly ridiculous.”

“Of course you’ll wear the hat!” Sarah said indignantly. “It’s tradition. Make sure the fire is out before you leave. Tabitha is fed at four o’clock sharp. If she isn’t, she’ll start barfing.”

“We’ve got this covered. You left a list,” I said, patting her on the shoulder.

“Can you call us at the Hunters’, let us know Miriam and Marcus have left?” Em asked.

“Here. Take this,” Matthew said, handing them his phone with a lopsided smile. “You call Marcus yourself. There won’t be reception where we’re going.”

“Are you sure?” Em asked doubtfully. We all thought of Matthew’s phone as an extra limb, and it was strange to see it out of his hand.

“Absolutely. Most of the data has been erased, but I’ve left some contact numbers on it for you. If you need anything—anything at all—call someone. If you feel worried or if something strange happens, get in touch with Ysabeau or Hamish. They’ll arrange for you to be picked up, no matter where you are.”

“They have helicopters,” I murmured to Em, slipping my arm through hers.

Marcus’s phone rang. “Nathaniel,” he said, looking at the screen. Then he stepped away to finish his call in a new gesture of privacy, one that was identical to what his father always did.

With a sad smile, Matthew watched his son. “Those two will get themselves into all kinds of trouble, but at least Marcus won’t feel so alone.”

“They’re fine,” Marcus said, turning back to us and disconnecting the phone. He smiled and ran his fingers through his hair in another gesture reminiscent of Matthew. “I should let Hamish know, so I’ll say my good-byes and call him.”

Em held on to Marcus for a long time, her eyes spilling over. “Call us, too,” she told him fiercely. “We’ll want to know that you’re both all right.”

“Be safe.” Sarah’s eyes scrunched tight as she gathered him in her arms. “Don’t doubt yourself.”

Miriam’s farewell to my aunts was more composed, my own far less so.

“We’re very proud of you,” Em said, cupping my face in her hands, tears now streaming down her face. “Your parents would be, too. Take care of each other.”

“We will,” I assured her, dashing the tears away.

Sarah took my hands in hers. “Listen to your teachers—whoever they are. Don’t say no without hearing them out first.” I nodded. “You’ve got more natural talent than any witch I’ve ever seen—maybe more than any witch who’s lived for many, many years,” Sarah continued. “I’m glad you’re not going to waste it. Magic is a gift, Diana, just like love.” She turned to Matthew. “I’m trusting you with something precious. Don’t disappoint me.”

“I won’t, Sarah,” Matthew promised.

She accepted our kisses, then bolted down the steps to the waiting car.

“Good-byes are hard for Sarah,” Em explained. “We’ll talk to you tomorrow, Marcus.” She climbed into the front seat, waving over her shoulder. The car spluttered to life, bumped its way across the ruts in the driveway, and turned toward town.

When we went back into the house, Miriam and Marcus were waiting in the front hall, bags at their feet.

“We thought you two should have some time alone,” Miriam said, handing her duffel bag to Marcus, “and I hate long good-byes.” She looked around. “Well,” she said briskly, heading down the porch stairs, “see you when you get back.”

After shaking his head at Miriam’s retreating figure, Matthew went into the dining room and returned with an envelope. “Take it,” he said to Marcus, his voice gruff.

“I never wanted to be grand master,” Marcus said.

“You think I did? This was my father’s dream. Philippe made me promise the brotherhood wouldn’t fall into Baldwin’s hands. I’m asking you to do the same.”

“I promise.” Marcus took the envelope. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”

“I’m sorry, Marcus.” I swallowed the lump in my throat and rested my warm fingers lightly on his cold flesh.

“For what?” His smile was bright and true. “For making my father happy?”

“For putting you in this position and leaving behind such a mess.”

“I’m not afraid of war, if that’s what you mean. It’s following along in Matthew’s wake that worries me.” Marcus cracked the seal. With that deceptively insignificant snap of wax, he became the grand master of the Knights of Lazarus.

“Je suis à votre commande, seigneur,” Matthew murmured, his head bowed. Baldwin had spoken the same words at La Guardia. They sounded so different when they were sincere.

“Then I command you to return and take back the Knights of Lazarus,” Marcus said roughly, “before I make a complete hash of things. I’m not French, and I’m certainly no knight.”

“You have more than a drop of French blood in you, and you’re the only person I trust to do the job. Besides, you can rely on your famous American charm. And it is possible you might like being grand master in the end.”

Marcus snorted and punched the number eight on his phone. “It’s done,” he said briefly to the person on the other end. There was a short exchange of words. “Thank you.”

“Nathaniel has accepted his position,” Matthew murmured, the corners of his mouth twitching. “His French is surprisingly good.”

Marcus scowled at his father, walked away to say a few more words to the daemon, and returned.

Between father and son there was a long look, the clasp of hand to elbow, the press of a hand on the back—a pattern of leave-taking based on hundreds of similar farewells. For me there was a gentle kiss, a murmured “Be well,” and then Marcus, too, was gone.

I reached for Matthew’s hand.

We were alone.

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