فصل 11

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فصل 11

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Chapter Eleven

“Meet me in the hay barn on your way back from the village.” Philippe had resumed his annoying habit of appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye and was standing before us in the library.

I looked up from my book and frowned. “What’s in the hay barn?” “Hay.” Matthew’s revelations in the church had only made him more restless and short-tempered. “I’m writing to our new pope, Father. Alain tells me that the conclave will announce today that poor Niccol? has been elected despite begging to be spared the burdens of office. What are the wishes of one man when weighed against the aspirations of Philip of Spain and Philippe de Clermont?”

Philippe reached for his belt. A loud clap exploded from Matthew’s direction. Matthew held a dagger between his palms, the point of the blade resting against his breastbone.

“His Holiness can wait.” Philippe considered the position of his weapon. “I should have targeted Diana. You would have moved faster.”

“You must forgive me for ruining your sport.” Matthew was coldly furious. “It’s been some time since I’ve had a knife thrown at me. I fear I am out of practice.”

“If you are not at the barn before the clock strikes two, I will come looking for you. And I will be carrying more than this dagger.” He plucked it out of Matthew’s hands and bellowed for Alain, who was right behind him.

“No one should go to the lower barn until told otherwise,” Philippe said as he rammed his weapon back into its leather sheath.

“I had apprehended as much, sieur.” It was as close to a reproach as Alain was ever likely to utter.

“I’m tired of living with so much testosterone. No matter what Ysabeau thinks of witches, I wish she were here. And before you ask what testosterone is, it’s you,” I said, jabbing my finger at Philippe. “And your son is not much better.”

“The company of women, eh?” Philippe pulled on his beard and looked at Matthew, openly calculating just how much further he could push his son. “Why did I not think of it before? While we wait for Diana’s witch to arrive from Lyon, we should send her to Margot for instruction on how to behave like a proper French lady.”

“What Louis and Margot get up to at Usson is worse than anything they did in Paris. That woman isn’t a proper role model for anyone, least of all my wife,” Matthew told his father with a withering look. “Unless they’re more careful, people are going to know that Louis’s carefully managed, very expensive assassination was a sham.”

“For someone wedded to a witch you are quick to judge the passions of others, Matthaios. Louis is your brother.”

Goddess bless us, another brother.

“Passions?” Matthew’s eyebrow lifted. “Is that what you call taking a string of men and women to bed?”

“There are countless ways to love. What Margot and Louis do is not your concern. Ysabeau’s blood runs in Louis’s veins, and he will always have my loyalty—as will you, in spite of your own considerable transgressions.” Philippe disappeared in a blur of movement.

“Just how many de Clermonts are there? And why do you all have to be men?” I demanded when there was silence once more.

“Because Philippe’s daughters were so terrifying we held a family council and begged him to stop making them. Stasia can strip the paint from walls simply by looking at them, and Verin makes her look meek. As for Freyja . . . well, Philippe named her after the Norse goddess of war for a reason.”

“They sound wonderful.” I gave him a perfunctory peck on the cheek. “You can tell me about them later. I’ll be in the kitchen, trying to stop up that leaky cauldron that Marthe calls a still.”

“I could take a look at it for you. I’m good with lab equipment,” Matthew offered. He was eager to do anything that would keep him from Philippe and the mysterious hay barn. I understood, but there was no way for him to evade his father. Philippe would simply invade my stillroom and harass him there.

“Not necessary,” I said over my shoulder as I departed. “Everything is under control.”

Everything was not, as it turned out. My eight-year-old bellows boys had let the fire go out, but not before the flames had burned too high and produced a thick black residue in the bottom of the distillation apparatus. I made notes in the margins of one of the de Clermonts’ alchemical books about what had gone wrong and how it could be fixed, while Thomas, the more trustworthy of my two young assistants, stoked the fire. I was not the first to make use of the book’s wide, clean borders, and some of the earlier scribblings had been quite useful. In time maybe mine would be, too.

Etienne, my other errant assistant, ran into the room, whispered in his partner’s ear, and received something shiny in exchange.

“Milord encore,” the boy whispered back.

“What are you betting on, Thomas?” I demanded. The two of them looked at me blankly and shrugged. Something about their studied innocence made me concerned for Matthew’s welfare. “The hay barn. Where is it?” I said, ripping off my apron.

With great reluctance, Thomas and Etienne led me through the castle’s front gate and toward a wood-and-stone structure with a steeply pitched roof. A ramp sloped up to the wide, barred entrance doors, but the boys pointed instead to a ladder pushed against the far end. The rungs disappeared into fragrant darkness.

Thomas went up first, making quieting gestures with his hands and imploring me to be silent with facial contortions worthy of an actor in a silent film. Etienne held the ladder while I climbed, and the village blacksmith hauled me into the dusty loft.

My appearance was met with interest, but not surprise, by half of the Sept-Tours staff. I had thought it odd that only one guard was on duty at the front gate. The rest of them were here, along with Catrine, her older sister Jehanne, most of the kitchen crew, the blacksmith, and the grooms.

A softly keening whoosh, unlike anything I’d heard before, captured my attention. The sharp clang and the shriek of metal against metal were more recognizable. Matthew and his father had dispensed with sniping and progressed to armed combat. My hand rose to stifle a gasp when the point of Philippe’s sword pierced Matthew’s shoulder. Bloody slashes covered their shirts, breeches, and hose. They’d evidently been fighting for some time, and this was no genteel fencing match.

Alain and Pierre stood silently against the opposite wall. The ground around them looked like a pincushion, bristling with a variety of discarded weapons stabbed into the packed soil. Both of the de Clermont servants were acutely aware of what was happening around them, including my arrival. They lifted their eyes a fraction to the loft and slid a worried glance at each other. Matthew was oblivious. His back was to me, and the other strong scents in the barn masked my presence. Philippe, who was facing my way, seemed either not to notice or not to care.

Matthew’s blade went straight through Philippe’s arm. When Philippe winced, his son gave him a mocking smile. “‘Don’t consider painful what’s good for you,’” Matthew muttered.

“I should never have taught you Greek—or English either. Your knowledge of them has caused me no end of trouble,” Philippe replied, unperturbed. He pulled his arm free from the blade.

Swords struck, clashed, and swung. Matthew had a slight height advantage, and his longer arms and legs increased his reach and the span of his lunges. He was fighting with a long, tapering blade, sometimes using one hand, sometimes two. The hilt was constantly shifting in his grip so that he could counter his father’s moves. But Philippe had more strength and delivered punishing strikes with a shorter sword that he wielded easily in one hand. Philippe also held a round shield, which he used to deflect Matthew’s blows. If Matthew had held such a defensive asset, it was gone now. Though the two men were well matched physically, their styles of fighting were entirely different. Philippe was enjoying himself and kept up a running commentary while he sparred. Matthew, on the other hand, remained largely silent and focused, not betraying by so much as the quirk of an eyebrow that he was listening to what his father was saying.

“I’ve been thinking of Diana. Neither earth nor ocean produces a creature as savage and monstrous as woman,” Philippe said sorrowfully.

Matthew lunged at him, the blade whooshing with amazing speed in a wide arc toward his father’s neck. I blinked, during which time Philippe managed to slip beneath the blade. He reappeared on Matthew’s other side, slicing at his son’s calf.

“Your technique is wild this morning. Is something wrong?” Philippe inquired. This direct question got his son’s attention.

“Christ, you are impossible. Yes. Something is wrong,” Matthew said between clenched teeth. He swung again, the sword glancing off Philippe’s quickly raised shield. “Your constant interference is driving me insane.”

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.” Philippe’s words caused Matthew to falter. Philippe took advantage of the misstep and slapped him on the backside with the flat of his sword.

Matthew swore. “Did you give away all of your best lines?” he demanded. Then he saw me.

What happened next took place in a heartbeat. Matthew began to straighten from his fighting crouch, his attention fixed on the hayloft where I stood. Philippe’s sword plunged, circled, and lifted Matthew’s weapon out of his hand. With both swords in his possession, Philippe threw one against the wall and leveled the other at Matthew’s jugular.

“I taught you better, Matthaios. You do not think. You do not blink. You do not breathe. When you are trying to survive, all you do is react.” Philippe raised his voice. “Come down here, Diana.”

The blacksmith regretfully helped me to another ladder. You’re in for it now, promised his expression. I lowered myself onto the floor behind Philippe.

“Is she why you lost?” he demanded, pressing the blade against his son’s flesh until a dark ribbon of blood appeared.

“I don’t know what you mean. Let me go.” Some strange emotion overtook Matthew. His eyes went inky, and he clawed at his father’s chest. I took a step toward him.

A shining object flew at me with a whistle, sliding between my left arm and my torso. Philippe had thrown a weapon at me without so much as a backward glance to check his aim, yet it had not even nicked my skin. The dagger pinned my sleeve to a rung of the ladder, and when I wrenched my arm free, the fabric tore across the elbow, exposing my jagged scar.

“That’s what I mean. Did you take your eyes off your opponent? Is that how you nearly died, and Diana with you?” Philippe was angrier than I’d ever seen him.

Matthew’s concentration flickered to me again. It took no more than a second, but it was long enough for Philippe to find yet another dagger tucked into his boot. He plunged it into the flesh of Matthew’s thigh.

“Pay attention to the man with the blade at your throat. If you don’t, she’s dead.” Then Philippe addressed me without turning. “As for you, Diana, stay clear of Matthew when he is fighting.”

Matthew looked up at his father, black eyes shining with desperation as the pupils dilated. I’d seen the reaction before, and it usually signaled he was losing his control. “Let me go. I need to be with her. Please.”

“You need to stop looking over your shoulder and accept who you are— a manjasang warrior with responsibilities to his family. When you put your mother’s ring on Diana’s finger, did you take time to consider what it promises?” Philippe said, his voice rising.

“My whole life, and the end of it. And a warning to remember the past.” Matthew tried to kick his father, but Philippe anticipated the move and reached down to twist the knife still embedded in his son’s leg. Matthew hissed with pain.

“It’s always the dark things with you, never the light.” Philippe swore. He dropped the sword and kicked it out of Matthew’s reach, his fingers tightening on his son’s throat. “Do you see his eyes, Diana?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Take another step toward me.”

When I did, Matthew began to thrash, though his father was exerting a crushing pressure on his windpipe. I cried out, and the thrashing worsened.

“Matthew is in a blood rage. We manjasang are closer to nature than other creatures—pure predators, no matter how many languages we speak or what fine clothes we wear. This is the wolf in him trying to free himself so that he can kill.”

“A blood rage?” My words came out in a whisper.

“Not all of our kind are prone to it. The sickness is in Ysabeau’s blood, passed from her maker and on to her children. Ysabeau and Louis were spared, but not Matthew or Louisa. And Matthew’s son Benjamin has the affliction, too.”

Though I knew nothing of this son, Matthew had told me hair-raising stories about Louisa. The same blood-borne tendency to excess was in Matthew as well—and he could pass it down to any children we might have. Just when I thought I knew all the secrets that kept Matthew from my bed, here was another: the fear of hereditary illness.

“What sets it off?” I forced the words past the tightness in my throat.

“Many things, and it is worse when he is tired or hungry. Matthew does not belong to himself when the rage is upon him, and it can make him act against his true nature.”

Eleanor. Could this be how one of Matthew’s great loves had died, trapped between an enraged Matthew and Baldwin in Jerusalem? His repeated warnings about his possessiveness, and the danger that would result, didn’t seem idle anymore. Like my panic attacks, this was a physiological reaction that Matthew might never be entirely able to control.

“Is this why you ordered him down here today? To force him into showing his vulnerabilities to the world?” I demanded furiously of Philippe. “How could you? You’re his father!”

“We are a treacherous breed. I might turn against him one day.” Philippe shrugged. “I might turn on you, witch.”

At that, Matthew reversed their positions and was pressing Philippe back toward the far wall. Before he could gain the advantage, Philippe grabbed him by the neck. The two of them stood, locked nose to nose. “Matthew,” Philippe said sharply.

His son kept pushing, his humanity gone. Matthew’s only desire was to beat his opponent, or kill him if he must. There had been moments in our brief relationship when the frightening human legends about vampires made sense, and this was one of them. But I wanted my Matthew back. I took a step in his direction, but it only made his rage worse.

“Don’t come closer, Diana.”

“You do not want to do this, milord,” Pierre said, going to his master’s side. He reached out an arm. I heard a snap, watched the arm drop uselessly to his side thanks to the break at the shoulder and elbow, and saw the blood pouring out of a wound at his neck. Pierre winced, his fingers rising to press against the savage bite.

“Matthew!” I cried.

It was the wrong thing to do. The sound of my distress made Matthew wilder. Pierre was nothing more than an obstacle to him now. Matthew flung him across the room, where he hit the wall of the hay barn, all the while retaining a one-handed grip on his father’s throat.

“Silence, Diana. Matthew is beyond reason. Matthaios!” Philippe barked out his name. Matthew stopped trying to push his father away from me, though his grip never loosened.

“I know what you have done.” Philippe waited while his words penetrated Matthew’s awareness. “Do you hear me, Matthew? I know my future. You would have beaten back the rage if you could have.”

Philippe had deduced that his son had killed him, but not how or why. The only explanation available to him was Matthew’s illness.

“You don’t know,” Matthew said numbly. “You can’t.”

“You are behaving as you always do when you regret a kill: guilty, furtive, distracted,” Philippe said. “Te absolvo, Matthaios.”

“I’ll take Diana away,” Matthew said with sudden lucidity. “Let us both go, Philippe.”

“No. We will face it together, the three of us,” Philippe said, his face full of compassion. I had been wrong. Philippe had not been trying to break Matthew, but only his guilt. Philippe had not failed his son after all.

“No!” Matthew cried, twisting away. But Philippe was stronger.

“I forgive you,” his father repeated, throwing his arms around his son in a fierce embrace. “I forgive you.”

Matthew shuddered once, his body shaking from head to foot, then went limp as though some evil spirit had fled. “Je suis désolé,” he whispered, the words slurred with emotion. “So sorry.”

“And I have forgiven you. Now you must put it behind you.” Philippe released his son and looked at me. “Come to him, Diana, but move carefully. He still is not himself.”

I ignored Philippe and went to Matthew in a rush. He took me into his arms and breathed in my scent as if it had the power to sustain him. Pierre moved forward, too, his arm already healed. He handed Matthew a cloth for his hands, which were slick with blood. Matthew’s ferocious look kept his servant several paces away, the white cloth flapping like a flag of surrender. Philippe retreated a few steps, and Matthew’s eyes darted at the sudden movement.

“That’s your father and Pierre,” I said, taking Matthew’s face in my hands. Incrementally, the black in his eyes retreated as a ring of dark green iris appeared first, then a sliver of gray, then the distinctive pale celadon that rimmed the pupil.

“Christ.” Matthew sounded disgusted. He reached for my hands and drew them from his face. “I haven’t lost control like that for ages.”

“You are weak, Matthew, and the blood rage is too close to the surface. If the Congregation were to challenge your right to be with Diana and you responded like this, you would lose. We cannot let there be any question whether she is a de Clermont.” Philippe drew his thumb deliberately across his lower teeth. Blood, darkly purple, rose from the wound. “Come here, child.”

“Philippe!” Matthew held me back, dumbfounded. “You have never—”

“Never is a very long time. Do not pretend to know more about me than you do, Matthaios.” Philippe studied me gravely. “There is nothing to fear, Diana.” I looked at Matthew, wanting to be sure this wasn’t going to cause another outburst of rage.

“Go to him.” Matthew released me as the creatures in the loft watched with rapt attention.

“The manjasang make families through death and blood,” Philippe began when I stood before him. His words sent fear instinctively trilling through my bones. He smudged his thumb in a curve that started in the center of my forehead near my hairline, crept near my temple, and finished at my brow. “With this mark you are dead, a shade among the living without clan or kin.” Philippe’s thumb returned to the place where he began, and he made a mirror image of the mark on the other side, finishing between my brows. My witch’s third eye tingled with the cool sensation of vampire blood. “With this mark you are reborn, my blood-sworn daughter and forever a member of my family.”

Hay barns had corners, too. Philippe’s words set them alight with shimmering strands of color—not just blue and amber but green and gold. The noise made by the threads rose to a soft keen of protest. Another family awaited me in another time after all. But the murmurs of approval in the barn soon drowned out the sound. Philippe looked up to the loft as if noticing his audience for the first time.

“As for you—madame has enemies. Who among you is prepared to stand for her when milord cannot?” Those with some grasp of English translated the question for the others.

“Mais il est debout,” Thomas protested, pointing at Matthew. Philippe took care of the fact that Matthew was upright by clipping his son’s injured leg at the knee, sending him onto his back with a thud.

“Who stands for madame?” Philippe repeated, one booted foot placed carefully on Matthew’s neck.

“Je vais.” It was Catrine, my daemonic assistant and maid, who spoke first.

“Et moi,” piped up Jehanne, who, though older, followed wherever her sister led.

Once the girls had declared their allegiance, Thomas and Etienne threw in their lot with me, as did the blacksmith and Chef, who had appeared in the loft carrying a basket of dried beans. After he glared at his staff, they grudgingly acquiesced as well.

“Madame’s enemies will come without warning, so you must be ready. Catrine and Jehanne will distract them. Thomas will lie.” There were knowing chuckles from the adults. “Etienne, you must run and find help, preferably milord. As for you, you know what to do.” Philippe regarded Matthew grimly.

“And my job?” I asked.

“To think, as you did today. Think—and stay alive.” Philippe clapped his hands. “Enough entertainment. Back to work.”

Amid good-natured grumbling, the people in the hayloft scattered to resume their duties. With a cock of his head, Philippe sent Alain and Pierre out after them. Philippe followed, taking off his shirt as he went. Surprisingly, he returned and dropped the wadded-up garment at my feet. Nestled within it was a lump of snow.

“Take care of the wound on his leg, and the one over his kidney that is deeper than I would have wished,” Philippe instructed. Then he, too, was gone.

Matthew climbed to his knees and began to tremble. I grabbed him by the waist and lowered him gently to the ground. Matthew tried to pull free and draw me into his arms instead.

“No, you stubborn man,” I said. “I don’t need comforting. Let me take care of you for once.”

I investigated his wounds, beginning with the ones Philippe had flagged. With Matthew’s help I cleared the rent hose from the wound on his thigh. The dagger had gone deep, but it was already closing thanks to the healing properties of vampire blood. I packed a wad of snow around it anyway—Matthew assured me it would help, though his exhausted flesh was barely warmer. The wound on his kidney was similarly on the mend, but the surrounding bruise made me wince in sympathy.

“I think you’re going to live,” I said, putting a final ice pack into place over his left flank. I smoothed the hair away from his forehead. A sticky spot of half-dried blood near his eye had captured a few black strands. Gently I freed them.

“Thank you, mon coeur. Since you’re cleaning me up, would you mind if I returned the favor and removed Philippe’s blood from your forehead?” Matthew looked sheepish. “It’s the scent, you see. I don’t like it on you.”

He was afraid of the blood rage’s return. I rubbed at the skin myself, and my fingers came away tinged with black and red. “I must look like a pagan priestess.”

“More so than usual, yes.” Matthew scooped some of the snow from his thigh and used it and the hem of his shirt to remove the remaining evidence of my adoption.

“Tell me about Benjamin,” I said while he wiped at my face.

“I made Benjamin a vampire in Jerusalem. I gave him my blood thinking to save his life. But in doing so, I took his reason. I took his soul.”

“And he has your tendency toward anger?”

“Tendency! You make it sound like high blood pressure.” Matthew shook his head in amazement. “Come. You’ll freeze if you stay here any longer.”

Slowly we made our way to the château, our hands clasped. For once neither of us cared who might see or what anyone who did see might think. The snow was falling, making the forbidding, pitted winter landscape appear soft once again. I looked up at Matthew in the fading light and saw his father once more in the harsh lines of his face and the way that his shoulders squared under the burdens they bore.

The next day was the Feast of St. Nicholas, and the sun shone on the snow that had fallen earlier in the week. The château perked up considerably with the finer weather, even though it was still Advent, a somber time of reflection and prayer. Humming under my breath, I headed for the library to retrieve my stash of alchemical books. Though I took a few into the stillroom each day, I was careful to return them. Two men were talking inside the book-filled room. Philippe’s calm, almost lazy tones I recognized. The other was unfamiliar. I pushed the door open.

“Here she is now,” Philippe said as I entered. The man with him turned, and my flesh tingled.

“I am afraid her French is not very good, and her Latin is worse,” Philippe said apologetically. “Do you speak English?”

“Enough,” the witch replied. His eyes swept my body, making my skin crawl. “The girl seems in good health, but she should not be here among your people, sieur.”

“I would happily be rid of her, Monsieur Champier, but she has nowhere to go and needs help from a fellow witch. That is why I sent for you. Come, Madame Roydon,” Philippe said, beckoning me forward.

The closer I got, the more uncomfortable I became. The air felt full, tingling with an almost electrical current. I half expected to hear a rumble of thunder, the atmosphere was so thick. Peter Knox had been mentally invasive, and Satu had inflicted great pain at La Pierre, but this witch was different and somehow even more dangerous. I walked quickly past the wizard and looked at Philippe in mute appeal for answers.

“This is André Champier,” Philippe said. “He is a printer, from Lyon. Perhaps you have heard of his cousin, the esteemed physician, now alas departed from this world and no longer able to share his wisdom on matters philosophical and medical.”

“No,” I whispered. I watched Philippe, hoping for clues as to what he expected me to do. “I don’t believe so.”

Champier tilted his head in acknowledgment of Philippe’s compliments. “I never knew my cousin, sieur, as he was dead before I was born. But it is a pleasure to hear you speak of him so highly.” Since the printer looked at least twenty years older than Philippe, he must know that the de Clermonts were vampires.

“He was a great student of magic, as you are.” Philippe’s comment was typically matter-of-fact, which kept it from sounding obsequious. To me he explained, “This is the witch I sent for soon after you arrived, thinking he might be able to help solve the mystery of your magic. He says he felt your power while still some distance from Sept-Tours.”

“It would seem my instincts have failed me,” Champier murmured. “Now that I am with her, she seems to have little power after all. Perhaps she is not the English witch that people were speaking about in Limoges.”

“Limoges, eh? How extraordinary for news of her to travel so far so fast. But Madame Roydon is, thankfully, the only wandering Englishwoman we have had to take in, Monsieur Champier.” Philippe’s dimples flashed as he poured himself some wine. “It is bad enough to be plagued with French vagrants at this time of year, without being overrun with foreigners as well.”

“The wars have loosened many from their homes.” One of Champier’s eyes was blue, the other brown. It was the mark of a powerful seer. The wizard had a wiry energy that fed on the power that pulsed in the atmosphere around him. Instinctively I took a step away. “Is that what happened to you, madame?”

“Who can tell what horrors she has seen or been subjected to?” Philippe said with a shrug. “Her husband had been dead ten days when we found her in an isolated farmhouse. Madame Roydon might have fallen victim to all kinds of predators.” The elder de Clermont was as talented at fabricating life stories as was his son or Christopher Marlowe.

“I will find out what has happened to her. Give me your hand.” When I didn’t immediately acquiesce, Champier grew impatient. With a flick of his fingers, my left arm shot toward him. Panic, sharp and bitter, flooded my system as he grasped my hand. He stroked the flesh on my palm, progressing deliberately over each finger in an intimate search for information. My stomach flipped.

“Does her flesh give you knowledge of her secrets?” Philippe sounded only mildly curious, but there was a muscle ticking in his neck.

“A witch’s skin can be read, like a book.” Champier frowned and brought his fingers to his nose. He sniffed. His face soured. “She has been too long with vampires. Who has been feeding from her?”

“That is forbidden,” Philippe said silkily. “No one in my household has shed the girl’s blood, for sport or for sustenance.”

“The manjasang can read a creature’s blood as easily as I can read her flesh.” Champier yanked at my arm, pushing my sleeve up and ripping the fine cord that held the cuffs snug against my wrist. “You see? Someone has been enjoying her. I am not the only one who wishes to know more about this English witch.”

Philippe bent closer to inspect my exposed elbow, his breath a cool puff over my skin. My pulse was beating a tattoo of alarm. What was Philippe after? Why wasn’t Matthew’s father stopping this?

“That wound is too old for her to have received it here. As I said, she has been in Saint-Lucien for only a week.”

Think. Stay alive. I repeated Philippe’s instructions from yesterday.

“Who took your blood, sister?” Champier demanded.

“It is a knife wound,” I said hesitantly. “I made it myself.” It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the whole truth either. I prayed that the goddess would let it pass. My prayers went unanswered.

“Madame Roydon is keeping something from me—and from you, too, I believe. I must report it to the Congregation. It is my duty, sieur.” Champier looked expectantly at Philippe.

“Of course,” Philippe murmured. “I would not dream of standing between you and your duty. How might I help?”

“If you would restrain her, I would be grateful. We must delve deeper for the truth,” Champier said. “Most creatures find the search painful, and even those with nothing to hide instinctively resist a witch’s touch.”

Philippe pulled me from Champier’s grasp and roughly sat me in his chair. He clamped one hand around my neck, the other at the crown of my head. “Like this?”

“That is ideal, sieur.” Champier stood before me, frowning at my forehead. “But what is this?” Fingers stained with ink smoothed over my forehead. His hands felt like scalpels, and I whimpered and twisted.

“Why does your touch cause her such pain?” Philippe wondered.

“It is the act of reading that does it. Think of it as extracting a tooth,” Champier explained, his fingers lifting for a brief, blessed moment. “I will take her thoughts and secrets from the root, rather than leaving them to fester. It is more painful but leaves nothing behind and provides a clearer picture of what she is trying to hide. This is the great benefit of magic, you see, and university education. Witchcraft and the traditional arts known to women are crude, even superstitious. My magic is precise.”

“A moment, monsieur. You must forgive my ignorance. Are you saying this witch will have no memory of what you’ve done or the pain you’ve caused?”

“None save a lingering sense that something once had is now lost.” Champier’s fingers resumed stroking my forehead. He frowned. “But this is very strange. Why did a manjasang put his blood here?”

Being adopted into Philippe’s clan was a memory of mine that I didn’t intend Champier to have. Nor did I want him sifting through my recollections of teaching at Yale, Sarah and Em, or Matthew. My parents. My fingers clawed into the arms of the chair while a vampire held my head and a witch prepared to inventory and steal my thoughts. And yet no whisper of witchwind or flicker of witchfire came to my aid. My power had gone entirely quiet.

“It was you who marked this witch,” Champier said sharply, his eyes accusing.

“Yes.” Philippe offered no explanation.

“That is most irregular, sieur.” His fingers kept probing my mind. Champier’s eyes opened in wonder. “But this is impossible. How can she be a—” He gasped and looked down at his chest.

A dagger stuck out between two of Champier’s ribs, the weapon’s blade buried deep within his chest. My fingers were wrapped tightly around the hilt. When he scrabbled to dislodge it, I pushed it in further. The wizard’s knees began to crumple.

“Leave it, Diana.” Philippe commanded, reaching over to loosen my hand. “He’s going to die, and when he does, he will fall. You cannot hold up a dead weight.”

But I couldn’t let go of the dagger. The man was still alive, and as long as he was breathing, Champier could take what was mine.

A white face with inkblot eyes appeared briefly over Champier’s shoulder before a powerful hand wrested his lolling head to the side with a crack of bones and sinew. Matthew battened onto the man’s throat, drinking deeply.

“Where have you been, Matthew?” Philippe snapped. “You must move quickly. Diana struck before he could finish his thought.”

While Matthew drank, Thomas and Etienne pelted into the room, a dazed Catrine in tow. They stopped, stunned. Alain and Pierre hovered in the hallway with the blacksmith, Chef, and the two soldiers who usually stood by the front gate.

“Vous avez bien fait,” Philippe assured them. “It is over now.”

“I was supposed to think.” My fingers were numb, but I still couldn’t seem to unwrap them from the dagger.

“And stay alive. You did that admirably,” Philippe replied.

“He’s dead?” I croaked.

Matthew removed his mouth from the witch’s neck.

“Resolutely so,” Philippe said. “Well, I suppose that’s one less nosy Calvinist to worry about. Had he told any of his friends he was coming here?”

“Not as far as I could determine,” Matthew said. Slowly his eyes turned gray again as he studied me. “Diana. My love. Let me have the dagger.” Somewhere in the distance, something metal clattered to the floor, followed by the softer thud of André Champier’s mortal remains. Mercifully cool, familiar hands cupped my chin.

“He discovered something in Diana that surprised him,” said Philippe.

“I saw as much. But the blade reached his heart before I could find out what.” Matthew drew me gently into his arms. My own had gone boneless, and I offered no resistance.

“I didn’t—couldn’t—think, Matthew. Champier was going to take my memories—extract them from the root. Memories are all I have of my parents. And what if I’d forgotten my historical knowledge? How could I go back home and teach after that?”

“You did the right thing.” Matthew had one arm wrapped around my waist. The other circled my shoulders, pressing the side of my face against his chest. “Where did you get the knife?”

“My boot. She must have seen me pull it out yesterday,” Philippe replied.

“See. You were thinking, ma lionne.” Matthew pressed his lips against my hair. “What the hell drew Champier to Saint-Lucien?”

“I did,” replied Philippe.

“You betrayed us to Champier?” Matthew turned on his father. “He’s one of the most reprehensible creatures in all of France!”

“I needed to be sure of her, Matthaios. Diana knows too many of our secrets. I had to know that she could be trusted with them, even among her own people.” Philippe was unapologetic. “I don’t take risks with my family.”

“And would you have stopped Champier before he stole her thoughts?” Matthew demanded, his eyes blacker by the second.

“That depends.”

“On what?” Matthew exploded, his arms tightening around me.

“Had Champier arrived three days ago, I would not have interfered. It would have been a matter between witches, and not worth the trouble to the brotherhood.”

“You would have let my mate suffer.” Matthew’s tone revealed his disbelief.

“As recently as yesterday, it would have been your responsibility to intervene on your mate’s behalf. Had you failed to do so, it would have proved that your commitment to the witch was not what it should be.”

“And today?” I asked.

Philippe studied me. “Today you are my daughter. So no, I would not have let Champier’s attack go much further. But I didn’t need to do anything, Diana. You saved yourself.”

“Is that why you made me your daughter—because Champier was coming?” I whispered.

“No. You and Matthew survived one test in the church and another in the hay barn. The blood swearing was simply the first step in making you a de Clermont. And now it’s time to finish it.” Philippe turned toward his second-in-command. “Fetch the priest, Alain, and tell the village to assemble at the church on Saturday. Milord is getting married, with book and priest and all of Saint-Lucien to witness the ceremony. There will be nothing hole-in-corner about this wedding.”

“I just killed a man! This isn’t the moment to discuss our marriage.”

“Nonsense. Marrying amid bloodshed is a de Clermont family tradition,” Philippe said briskly. “We only seem to mate creatures who are desired by others. It is a messy business.”

“I. Killed. Him.” Just to be sure my message was clear, I pointed to the body on the floor.

“Alain, Pierre, please remove Monsieur Champier. He is upsetting madame. The rest of you have too much to do to remain here gawking.” Philippe waited until the three of us were alone before he continued.

“Mark me well, Diana: Lives will be lost because of your love for my son. Some will sacrifice themselves. Others will die because someone must, and it will be for you to decide if it is you or them or someone you love. So you must ask yourself this: What does it matter who deals the deathblow? If you do not do it, then Matthew will. Would you rather he had Champier’s death on his conscience?”

“Of course not,” I said quickly.

“Pierre, then? Or Thomas?”

“Thomas? He’s just a boy!” I protested.

“That boy promised to stand between you and your enemies. Did you see what he clutched in his hands? The bellows from the stillroom. Thomas filed its metal point into a weapon. If you hadn’t killed Champier, that boy would have shoved it through his guts at the first opportunity.”

“We’re not animals but civilized creatures,” I protested. “We should be able to talk about this and settle our differences without bloodshed.”

“Once I sat at a table and talked for three hours with a man—a king. No doubt you and many others would have considered him a civilized creature. At the end of our conversation, he ordered the death of thousands of men, women, and children. Words kill just as swords do.”

“She’s not accustomed to our ways, Philippe,” Matthew warned.

“Then she needs to become so. The time for diplomacy has passed.” Philippe’s voice never rose, nor did it lose its habitual evenness. Matthew might have tells, but his father had yet to betray his deeper emotions.

“No more discussion. Come Saturday, you and Matthew will be married. Because you are my daughter in blood as well as name, you will be married not only as a good Christian but in a way that will honor my ancestors and their gods. This is your last chance to say no, Diana. If you have reconsidered and no longer want Matthew and the life—and death—that marrying him entails, I will see you safely back to England.”

Matthew set me away from him. It was only a matter of inches, but it was symbolic of so much more. Even now he was giving me the choice, though his was long since made. So was mine.

“Will you marry me, Matthew?” Given that I was a murderer, it seemed only right to ask.

Philippe gave a choking cough.

“Yes, Diana. I will marry you. I already have, but I’m happy to do it again to please you.”

“I was satisfied the first time. This is for your father.” It was impossible to think any more about marriage when my legs were still shaking and there was blood on the floor.

“Then we are all agreed. Take Diana to her room. It would be best if she remained there until we are sure Champier’s friends aren’t nearby.” Philippe paused on his way out the door. “You have found a woman who is worthy of you, with courage and hope to spare, Matthaios.”

“I know,” Matthew said, taking my hand.

“Know this, too: You are equally worthy of her. Stop regretting your life. Start living it.”

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