فصل 10

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فصل 10

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Chapter Ten

Philippe might be fascinating, but he was maddening and inscrutable, too—just as Matthew had promised.

Matthew and I were in the great hall the next morning when my fatherin-law seemed to materialize out of thin air. No wonder humans thought vampires could shape-shift into bats. I lifted a spindle of toasted bread from my soft-boiled egg’s golden yolk.

“Good morning, Philippe.”

“Diana.” Philippe nodded. “Come, Matthew. You must feed. Since you will not do so in front of your wife, we will hunt.”

Matthew hesitated, restlessly glancing at me and then away. “Perhaps tomorrow.”

Philippe muttered something under his breath and shook his head. “You must attend to your own needs, Matthaios. A famished, exhausted manjasang is not an ideal traveling companion for anyone, least of all a warmblooded witch.”

Two men entered the hall, stomping the snow from their boots. Chilly winter air billowed around the wooden screen and through the lacy carvings. Matthew cast a longing look toward the door. Chasing stags across the frozen landscape would not only feed his body—it would clear his mind as well. And if yesterday was any indication, he’d be in a much better mood when he returned.

“Don’t worry about me. I have plenty to do,” I said, taking his hand in mine to give it a reassuring squeeze.

After breakfast Chef and I discussed the menu for Saturday’s pre-Advent feast. This done, I discussed my clothing needs with the village tailor and seamstress. Given my grasp of French, I feared I had ordered a circus tent. By late morning I was desperate for some fresh air, and persuaded Alain to take me on a tour of the courtyard workshops. Almost everything the château residents needed, from candles to drinking water, could be found there. I tried to remember every detail of how the blacksmith smelted his metals, aware that the knowledge would be useful when I returned to my real life as a historian.

With the exception of the hour spent at the forge, my day so far had been typical of a noblewoman’s of the time. Feeling that I’d made good progress toward my goal of fitting in, I spent several pleasant hours reading and practicing my handwriting. When I heard the musicians setting up for the last feast before the monthlong fast I asked them to give me a dancing lesson. Later I treated myself to an adventure in the stillroom and was soon happily occupied with a glorified double boiler, a copper still, and a small barrel of old wine. Two young boys borrowed from the kitchens kept the glowing embers of the fire alight with a pair of leather bellows that sighed gently whenever Thomas and Etienne pressed them into action.

Being in the past provided a perfect opportunity for me to practice what I knew only via books. After poking through Marthe’s equipment, I settled on a plan to make spirit of wine, a basic substance used in alchemical procedures. I was soon cursing, however.

“This will never condense properly,” I said crossly, looking at the steam escaping from the still. The kitchen boys, who knew no English, made sympathetic noises while I consulted a tome I’d pulled from the de Clermont library. There were all sorts of interesting volumes on the shelves. One of them must explain how to repair leaks.

“Madame?” Alain called softly from the doorway.

“Yes?” I turned and wiped my hands on the bunched-up folds of my linen smock.

Alain surveyed the room, aghast. My dark sleeveless robe was flung over the back of a nearby chair, my heavy velvet sleeves were draped over the edge of a copper pot, and my bodice hung from the ceiling on a convenient pothook. Though relatively unclothed by sixteenth-century standards, I still wore a corset, a high-necked, long-sleeved linen smock, several petticoats, and a voluminous skirt—far more clothing than I normally wore to lecture. Feeling naked nonetheless, I lifted my chin and dared Alain to say a word. Wisely, he looked away.

“Chef does not know what to do about this evening’s meal,” Alain said.

I frowned. Chef unfailingly knew what to do.

“The household is hungry and thirsty, but they cannot sit down without you. So long as there is a member of the family at Sept-Tours, that person must preside over the evening meal. It is tradition.”

Catrine appeared with a towel and a bowl. I dipped my fingers into the warm, lavender-scented water.

“How long have they been waiting?” I took the towel from Catrine’s arm. A great hall filled with both hungry warmbloods and equally famished vampires couldn’t be wise. My newfound confidence in my ability to manage the de Clermont family home evaporated.

“More than an hour. They will continue to wait until word comes from the village that Roger is closing down for the night. He runs the tavern. It is cold, and many hours until breakfast. Sieur Philippe led me to believe . . .” He trailed off into apologetic silence.

“Vite,” I said, pointing at my discarded clothing. “You must get me dressed, Catrine.”

“Bien sûr.” Catrine put down her bowl and headed for my suspended bodice. The large splotch of ink on it put an end to my hope of looking respectable.

When I entered the hall, benches scraped against the stone floor as more than three dozen creatures stood. There was a note of reproach in the sound. Once seated, they ate their delayed meal with gusto, while I picked apart a chicken leg and waved away everything else.

After what seemed an interminable length of time, Matthew and his father returned. “Diana!” Matthew rounded the wooden screen, confused to see me sitting at the head of the family table. “I expected you to be upstairs, or in the library.”

“I thought it was more courteous for me to sit here, considering how much work Chef put into preparing the meal.” My eyes traveled to Philippe. “How was your hunting, Philippe?”

“Adequate. But animal blood provides only so much nourishment.” He beckoned to Alain, and his cold eyes nudged my high collar.

“Enough.” Though his voice was low, the warning in Matthew’s tone was unmistakable. Heads swiveled in his direction. “You should have instructed them to start without us. Let me take you upstairs, Diana.” Heads swiveled back to me, waiting for my reply.

“I have not finished,” I said, gesturing at my plate, “nor have the others. Sit by me and take some wine.” Matthew might be a Renaissance prince in substance as well as style, but I would not heel when he clicked his fingers.

Matthew sat by my side while I forced myself to swallow some chicken. When the tension was unbearable, I rose. Once more, benches scraped against stone as the household stood.

“Finished so soon?” Philippe asked with surprise. “Good night, then, Diana. Matthew, you will return at once. I have a strange desire to play chess.”

Matthew ignored his father and extended his arm. We didn’t exchange a word as we passed out of the great hall and climbed to the family rooms. At my door Matthew at last had himself under enough control to risk conversation.

“Philippe is treating you like a glorified housekeeper. It’s intolerable.”

“Your father is treating me like a woman of the time. I’ll manage, Matthew.” I paused, gathering my courage. “When did you last feed on a creature that walks on two legs?” I’d forced him to take blood from me before we left Madison, and he’d fed on some nameless warmblood in Canada. Several weeks prior to that, he’d killed Gillian Chamberlain in Oxford. Maybe he had fed on her, too. Otherwise I didn’t believe that a drop of anything other than animal blood had crossed his lips in months.

“What makes you ask?” Matthew’s tone was sharp.

“Philippe says you aren’t as strong as you should be.” My hand tightened on his. “If you need to feed and won’t take blood from a stranger, then I want you to take mine.”

Before Matthew could respond, a chuckle came from the stairs. “Careful, Diana. We manjasang have sharp ears. Offer your blood in this house and you’ll never keep the wolves at bay.” Philippe was standing with arms braced against the sides of the carved stone archway.

Matthew swung his head around, furious. “Go away, Philippe.”

“The witch is reckless. It’s my responsibility to make sure her impulses don’t go unchecked. Otherwise she could destroy us.”

“The witch is mine,” Matthew said coldly.

“Not yet,” Philippe said, descending the stairs with a regretful shake of his head. “Maybe not ever.”

After that encounter Matthew was even more guarded and remote. He was angry with his father, but rather than taking his frustration out on its source, Matthew snapped at everyone else: me, Alain, Pierre, Chef, and any other creature unfortunate enough to cross his path. The household was in a state of high anxiety already because of the feast, and after putting up with his bad behavior for several hours, Philippe gave his son a choice. He could sleep off his bad humor or feed. Matthew chose a third option and went off to search the de Clermont archives for some hint as to the present whereabouts of Ashmole 782. Left to my own devices, I returned to the kitchens.

Philippe found me in Marthe’s room, crouched over the malfunctioning still with my sleeves rolled up and the room full of steam.

“Has Matthew fed from you?” he asked abruptly, his eyes moving over my forearms.

I lifted my left arm in reply. The soft linen pooled around my shoulder, exposing the pink traces of a jagged scar on my inner elbow. I’d cut into the flesh so that Matthew could drink from me more easily.

“Anywhere else?” Philippe directed his attention to my torso.

With the other hand, I exposed my neck. The wound there was deeper, but it had been made by a vampire and was far neater.

“What a fool you are, to allow a besotted manjasang to take the blood from not only your arm but your neck,” Philippe said, stunned. “The covenant forbids the manjasang to take the blood of witches or daemons. Matthew knows this.”

“He was dying, and mine was the only blood available!” I said fiercely. “If it makes you feel better, I had to force him.”

“So that’s it. My son has no doubt convinced himself that so long as he has taken only your blood and not your body, he will be able to let you go.” Philippe shook his head. “He is wrong. I’ve been watching him. You will never be free of Matthew, whether he beds you or not.”

“Matthew knows I’d never leave him.”

“Of course you will. One day your life on this earth will draw to a close and you will make your final journey into the underworld. Rather than grieve, Matthew will want to follow you into death.” Philippe’s words rang with truth.

Matthew’s mother had shared with me the story of his making: how he fell from the scaffolding while helping to lay the stones for the village church. Even when I first heard it, I’d wondered if Matthew’s despair over losing his wife, Blanca, and his son, Lucas, had driven him to suicide.

“It is too bad that Matthew is a Christian. His God is never satisfied.”

“How so?” I asked, perplexed by the sudden change of topic.

“When you or I have done wrong, we settle our accounts with the gods and return to living with the hope of doing better in future. Ysabeau’s son confesses his sins and atones again and again—for his life, for who he is, for what he has done. He is always looking backward, and there is no end to it.”

“That’s because Matthew is a man of great faith, Philippe.” There was a spiritual center to Matthew’s life that colored his attitudes toward science and death.

“Matthew?” Philippe sounded incredulous. “He has less faith than anyone I have ever known. All he possesses is belief, which is quite different and depends on the head rather than the heart. Matthew has always had a keen mind, one capable of dealing with abstractions like God. It is how he came to accept who he had become after Ysabeau made him one of the family. For every manjasang it is different. My sons chose other paths— war, love, mating, conquest, the acquisition of riches. For Matthew it was always ideas.”

“It still is,” I said softly.

“But ideas are seldom strong enough to provide the basis for courage. Not without faith in the future.” His expression turned thoughtful. “You don’t know your husband as well as you should.”

“Not as well as you do, no. We’re a witch and a vampire who love even though we’re forbidden to do so. The covenant doesn’t permit us lingering public courtship and moonlight strolls.” My voice heated as I continued. “I can’t hold his hand or touch his face outside of these four walls without fearing that someone will notice and he will be punished for it.”

“Matthew goes to the church in the village around midday, when you think he is looking for your book. It’s where he went today.” Philippe’s remark was strangely disconnected from our conversation. “You might follow him one day. Perhaps then you would come to know him better.”

I went to the church at eleven on Monday morning, hoping to find it empty. But Matthew was there, just as Philippe had promised.

He couldn’t have failed to hear the heavy door close behind me or my steps echoing as I crossed the floor, but he didn’t turn around. Instead he remained kneeling just to the right of the altar. In spite of the cold, Matthew was wearing an insubstantial linen shirt, breeches, hose, and shoes. I felt frozen just looking at him and drew my cloak more firmly around me.

“Your father told me I’d find you here,” I said at last, into the resonant silence.

It was the first time I’d been in this church, and I looked around with curiosity. Like many religious buildings in this part of France, SaintLucien’s house of worship was already ancient in 1590. Its simple lines were altogether different from the soaring heights and lacy stonework of a Gothic cathedral. Brightly colored murals surrounded the wide arch separating the apse from the nave and decorated the stone bands that topped the arcades underneath the high clerestory windows. Most of the windows opened to the elements, though someone had made a halfhearted attempt to glaze those closest to the door. The peaked roof above was crisscrossed by stout wooden beams, testifying to the skills of the carpenter as well as the mason.

When I’d first visited the Old Lodge, Matthew’s house had reminded me of him. His personality was evident here, too, in the geometric details carved into the beams and in the perfectly spaced arches that spanned the widths between columns.

“You built this.”

“Part of it.” Matthew’s eyes rose to the curved apse with its image of Christ on His throne, one hand raised and ready to mete out justice. “The nave, mostly. The apse was completed while I was . . . away.”

The composed face of a male saint stared gravely at me from over Matthew’s right shoulder. He held a carpenter’s square and a long-stemmed white lily. It was Joseph, the man who asked no questions when he took a pregnant virgin for a wife.

“We have to talk, Matthew.” I surveyed the church again. “Maybe we should move this conversation to the château. There’s nowhere to sit.” I had never thought of wooden pews as inviting until I entered a church without them.

“Churches weren’t built for comfort,” Matthew said.

“No. But making the faithful miserable couldn’t have been their only purpose.” I searched the murals. If faith and hope were intertwined as closely as Philippe suggested, then there might be something here to lighten Matthew’s mood.

I found Noah and his ark. A global disaster and the narrowly avoided extinction of all life-forms were not auspicious. A saint heroically slew a dragon, but it was too reminiscent of hunting for my comfort. The entrance of the church was dedicated to the Last Judgment. Rows of angels at the top blew golden trumpets as the tips of their wings swept the floor, but the image of hell at the bottom—positioned so that you couldn’t leave the church without making eye contact with the damned—was horrifying. The resurrection of Lazarus would be little comfort to a vampire. The Virgin Mary wouldn’t help either. She stood across from Joseph at the entrance to the apse, otherworldy and serene, another reminder of all that Matthew had lost.

“At least it’s private. Philippe seldom sets foot in here,” Matthew said tiredly.

“We’ll stay, then.” I took a few steps toward him and plunged in. “What’s wrong, Matthew? At first I thought it was the shock of being immersed in a former life, then the prospect of seeing your father again while keeping his death a secret.” Matthew remained kneeling, head bowed, his back to me. “But your father knows his future now. So there must be another reason for it.”

The air in the church was oppressive, as if my words had removed all the oxygen from the place. There wasn’t a sound except for the cooing of the birds in the belfry.

“Today is Lucas’s birthday,” Matthew said at last.

His words hit me with the force of a blow. I sank to my knees behind him, cranberry skirts pooling around me. Philippe was right. I didn’t know Matthew as well as I should.

His hand rose and pointed to a spot on the floor between him and Joseph. “He’s buried there, with his mother.”

No inscription on the stone marked what rested underneath. Instead there were smooth hollows, the kind made by the steady passage of feet on stair treads. Matthew’s fingers reached out, fit into the grooves perfectly, stilled, withdrew.

“Part of me died when Lucas did. It was the same for Blanca. Her body followed a few days later, but her eyes were empty and her soul already flown. Philippe chose his name. It’s Greek for ‘Bright One.’ On the night he was born, Lucas was so white and pale. When the midwife held him up in the darkness, his skin caught the light from the fire the way the moon catches her light from the sun. Strange how after so many years my memory of that night is still clear.” Matthew paused in his ramblings, wiped at his eye. His fingers came away red.

“When did you and Blanca meet?”

“I threw snowballs at her during her first winter in the village. I’d do anything to get her attention. She was delicate and remote, and many of us sought her company. By the time spring came, Blanca would let me walk her home from the market. She liked berries. Every summer the hedge outside the church was full of them.” He examined the red streaks on his hand. “Whenever Philippe saw the stains from their juice on my fingers, he’d laugh and predict a wedding come autumn.”

“I take it he was right.”

“We wed in October, after the harvest. Blanca was already more than two months pregnant.” Matthew could wait to consummate our marriage but hadn’t been able to resist Blanca’s charms. It was far more than I had wanted to know about their relationship.

“We made love for the first time during the heat of August,” he continued. “Blanca was always concerned with pleasing others. When I look back, I wonder if she was abused when she was a child. Not punished—we were all punished, and in ways no modern parent would dream of—but something more. It broke her spirit. My wife had learned to give in to what someone older, stronger, and meaner wanted. I was all of those things, and I wanted her to say yes that summer night, so she did.”

“Ysabeau told me the two of you were deeply in love, Matthew. You didn’t force her to do anything against her will.” I wanted to offer him what comfort I could, in spite of the sting his memories inflicted.

“Blanca didn’t possess a will. Not until Lucas. Even then she only exercised it when he was in danger or when I was angry with him. All her life she wanted someone weaker and smaller to protect. Instead Blanca had a succession of what she saw as failures. Lucas wasn’t our first child, and with every miscarriage she grew softer and sweeter, more tractable. Less likely to say no.”

Except in its general outlines, this was not the tale Ysabeau had told of her son’s early life. Hers had been a story of deep love and shared grief. Matthew’s version was one of unmitigated sorrow and loss.

I cleared my throat. “And then there was Lucas.”

“Yes. After years of filling her with death, I gave her Lucas.” He fell silent.

“There was nothing you could do, Matthew. It was the sixth century, and there was an epidemic. You couldn’t save either of them.”

“I could have stopped myself from having her. Then there would have been no one to lose!” Matthew exclaimed. “She wouldn’t say no, but her eyes always held some reluctance when we made love. Each time I promised her that this time the babe would survive. I would have given anything—”

It hurt to know that Matthew was still so deeply attached to his dead wife and son. Their spirits haunted this place, and him, too. But at least now I had an explanation for why he shied away from me: this deep sense of guilt and grief that he’d been carrying for so many centuries. In time, perhaps, I could help loosen Blanca’s hold on Matthew. I stood and went to him. He flinched when my fingers came to rest on his shoulder. “There’s more.”

I froze.

“I tried to give my own life, too. But God didn’t want it.” Matthew’s head rose. He stared at the worn, grooved stone before him, then at the roof above.

“Oh, Matthew.”

“I’d been thinking about joining Lucas and Blanca for weeks, but I was worried that they would be in heaven and God would keep me in hell because of my sins,” Matthew said, matter-of-fact. “I asked one of the women in the village for advice. She thought I was being haunted—that Blanca and Lucas were tied to this place because of me. Up on the scaffolding, I looked down and thought their spirits might be trapped under the stone. If I fell on it, God might have no choice but to release them. That or let me join them—wherever they were.”

This was the flawed logic of a man in despair, not the lucid scientist I knew.

“I was so tired,” he said wearily. “But God wouldn’t let me sleep. Not after what I’d done. For my sins He gave me to a creature who transformed me into someone who cannot live, or die, or even find fleeting peace in dreams. All I can do is remember.”

Matthew was exhausted again, and so very cold. His skin felt colder than the frigid air that surrounded us. Sarah would have known a spell to ease him, but all I could do was pull his resistant body into mine and lend him what little warmth I could.

“Philippe has despised me ever since. He thinks me weak—far too weak to marry someone like you.” Here was the key to Matthew’s feeling of unworthiness.

“No,” I said roughly, “your father loves you.” Philippe had exhibited many emotions toward his son in the brief time we’d been at Sept-Tours, but never any hint of disgust.

“Brave men don’t commit suicide, except in battle. He said so to Ysabeau when I was newly made. Philippe said I lacked the courage to be a manjasang. As soon as my father could, he sent me away to fight. ‘If you’re determined to end your own life,’ he said, ‘at least it can be for some greater purpose than self-pity.’ I’ve never forgotten his words.”

Hope, faith, courage: the three elements of Philippe’s simple creed. Matthew felt he possessed nothing but doubt, belief, and bravado. But I knew different.

“You’ve been torturing yourself with these memories for so long that you can’t see the truth anymore.” I moved around to face him and dropped to my knees before him. “Do you know what I see when I look at you? I see someone very like your father.”

“We all want to see Philippe in those we love. But I’m nothing like him. It was Gallowglass’s father, Hugh, who if he had lived would have—” Matthew turned away, his hand trembling on his knee. There was something more, a secret that he had yet to reveal.

“I’ve already granted you one secret, Matthew: the name of the de Clermont who is a member of the Congregation in the present. You can’t keep two.”

“You want me to share my darkest secret?” An interminable time passed before Matthew was willing to reveal it. “I took his life. He begged Ysabeau to do it, but she couldn’t.” Matthew turned away.

“Hugh?” I whispered, my heart breaking for him and Gallowglass.

“Philippe.”

The last barrier between us fell.

“The Nazis drove him insane with pain and deprivation. Had Hugh survived, he might have convinced Philippe that there was still hope for some kind of life in the wreckage that remained. But Philippe said he was too tired to fight. He wanted to sleep, and I . . . I knew what it was to want to close your eyes and forget. God help me, I did what he asked.”

Matthew was shaking now. I gathered him in my arms again, not caring that he resisted, knowing only that he needed something—someone— to hold on to while the waves of memory crashed over him.

“After Ysabeau refused his pleas, we found Philippe trying to cut his wrists. He couldn’t hold the knife securely enough to do the job. He’d cut himself repeatedly, and there was blood everywhere, but the wounds were shallow and healed quickly.” Matthew was speaking rapidly, the words pouring from him at last. “The more blood Philippe shed, the wilder he became. He couldn’t stand the sight of it after being in the camp. Ysabeau took the knife from him and said she would help him end his life. But Maman would never have forgiven herself.”

“So you cut him,” I said, meeting his eyes. I had never turned away from the knowledge of what he’d done to survive as a vampire. I couldn’t turn away from the sins of the husband, the father, and the son either.

Matthew shook his head. “No. I drank every drop of his blood, so Philippe wouldn’t have to watch as his life force was spilled.”

“But then you saw . . .” I couldn’t keep the horror out of my voice. When a vampire drank from another creature, that creature’s memories came along with the fluid in fleeting, teasing glimpses. Matthew had freed his father from torment, but only after first sharing everything Philippe had suffered.

“Most creatures’ memories come in a smooth stream, like a ribbon unwinding in the darkness. With Philippe it was like swallowing shards of glass. Even when I got past the recent events, his mind was so badly fractured that I almost couldn’t continue.” His shaking intensified. “It took forever. Philippe was broken, lost, and frightened, but his heart was still fierce. His last thoughts were of Ysabeau. They were the only memories that were still whole, still his.”

“It’s all right,” I murmured again and again, holding him tightly until finally his limbs began to quiet.

“You asked me who I am at the Old Lodge. I’m a killer, Diana. I’ve killed thousands,” Matthew said eventually, his voice muffled. “But I never had to look any of them in the face again. Only Ysabeau knows the truth, and she cannot look at me without remembering my father’s death. Now I have to face you, too.”

I cradled his head between my hands and drew him away so that our eyes met. Matthew’s perfect face usually masked the ravages of time and experience. But all the evidence was on display now, and it only made him more beautiful to me. At last the man I loved made sense: his insistence that I face who and what I was, his reluctance to kill Juliette even to save his own life, his conviction that once I truly knew him, I could never love him.

“I love all of you, Matthew: warrior and scientist, killer and healer, dark and light.”

“How can you?” he whispered, disbelieving.

“Philippe couldn’t have gone on like that. Your father would have kept trying to take his own life, and from everything you say, he’d suffered enough.” I couldn’t imagine how much, but my beloved Matthew had witnessed it all. “What you did was an act of mercy.”

“I wanted to disappear when it was over, to leave Sept-Tours and never come back,” he confessed. “But Philippe made me promise to keep the family and the brotherhood together. I swore that I would take care of Ysabeau, too. So I stayed here, sat in his chair, pulled the political strings he wanted pulled, finished the war he gave his life to win.”

“Philippe wouldn’t have put Ysabeau’s welfare in the hands of someone he despised. Or placed a coward in charge of the Order of Lazarus.”

“Baldwin accused me of lying about Philippe’s wishes. He thought the brotherhood would go to him. No one could fathom why our father had decided to give the Order of Lazarus to me instead. Perhaps it was his final act of madness.”

“It was faith,” I said softly, reaching down and lacing my fingers through his. “Philippe believes in you. So do I. These hands built this church. They were strong enough to hold your son and your father during their final moments on this earth. And they still have work to do.”

High above there was a beating of wings. A dove had flown through the clerestory windows and lost its way among the exposed roof beams. It struggled, freed itself, and swooped down into the church. The dove landed on the stone that marked the final resting place of Blanca and Lucas and moved its feet in a deliberate circular dance until it faced Matthew and me. Then it cocked its head and studied us with one blue eye.

Matthew shot to his feet at the sudden intrusion, and the startled dove flew toward the other side of the apse. It beat its wings, slowing before the likeness of the Virgin. When I was convinced it was going to crash into the wall, it swiftly reversed direction and flew back out the way it had entered.

A long white feather from the dove’s wing drifted and curled on the currents of air, landing on the pavement before us. Matthew bent to pick it up, his expression puzzled as he held it before him.

“I’ve never seen a white dove in the church before.” Matthew looked to the half dome of the apse where the same bird hovered over Christ’s head.

“It’s a sign of of resurrection and hope. Witches believe in signs, you know.” I closed his hands around the feather. I kissed him lightly on the forehead and turned to leave. Perhaps now that he had shared his memories, he could find peace.

“Diana?” Matthew called. He was still by his family’s grave. “Thank you for hearing my confession.”

I nodded. “I’ll see you at home. Don’t forget your feather.”

He watched me as I passed the scenes of torment and redemption on the portal between the world of God and the world of man. Pierre was waiting outside, and he took me back to Sept-Tours without speaking a word. Philippe heard our approach and was waiting for me in the hall.

“Did you find him in the church?” he asked quietly. The sight of him— so hale and hearty—made my heart drop. How had Matthew endured it?

“Yes. You should have told me it was Lucas’s birthday.” I handed my cloak to Catrine.

“We have all learned to anticipate these black moods when Matthew is reminded of his son. You will, too.”

“It’s not just Lucas.” Fearing I’d said too much, I bit my lip.

“Matthew told you about his own death, too.” Philippe tugged his fingers through his hair, a rougher version of his son’s habitual gesture. “I understand grief, but not this guilt. When will he put the past behind him?”

“Some things can never be forgotten,” I said, looking Philippe squarely in the eye. “No matter what you think you understand, if you love him, you’ll let him battle his own demons.”

“No. He is my son. I will not fail him.” Philippe’s mouth tightened. He turned and stalked away. “And I’ve received word from Lyon, madame,” he called over his shoulder. “A witch will arrive shortly to help you, just as Matthew wished.”

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