فصل 12

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فصل 12

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Chapter Twelve

The wedding Philippe planned for us was to span three days. From Friday to Sunday, the château staff, the villagers, and everyone else for miles around would be involved in what he insisted was a small family affair.

“It has been some time since we had a wedding, and winter is a cheerless time of year. We owe it to the village,” was how Philippe brushed aside our protests. Chef, too, was irritated when Matthew suggested that it wasn’t feasible to produce three last-minute feasts while food stores were running low and Christians practiced abstemiousness. So there was a war on and it was Advent, Chef scoffed. That was no reason to refuse a party.

With the whole house in an uproar and no one interested in our help, Matthew and I were left to our own devices.

“Just what does this marriage ceremony involve?” I wondered as we lay in front of the fire in the library. I was wearing Matthew’s wedding gift: one of his shirts, which extended to my knees, and a pair of his old hose. Each leg had been ripped along the top inner seam, and then Matthew had stitched the two legs together into something vaguely approximating leggings—minus the waistband and the spandex. Some gesture toward the former came from a narrow leather belt fashioned from a piece of old tack that Matthew found in the stables. It was the most comfortable clothing I’d worn since Halloween, and Matthew, who had not seen much of my legs lately, was riveted.

“I have no idea, mon coeur. I’ve never attended an ancient Greek wedding before.” Matthew’s fingers traced the hollow behind my knee.

“Surely the priest won’t allow Philippe to do anything overtly pagan. The actual ceremony will have to be Catholic.”

“The family never puts ‘surely’ and ‘Philippe’ in the same sentence. It always ends badly.” Matthew planted a kiss on my hip.

“At least tonight’s event is just a feast. I should be able to get through that without too much trouble.” Sighing, I rested my head on my hands. “The groom’s father usually pays for the rehearsal dinner. I suppose what Philippe is doing is basically the same thing.”

Matthew laughed. “Almost indistinguishable—so long as the menu includes grilled eel and a gilded peacock. Besides, Philippe has managed to appoint himself not only the father of the groom, but the father of the bride.”

“I still don’t see why we have to make such a fuss.” Sarah and Em hadn’t had a formal ceremony. Instead an elder in the Madison coven performed a handfasting. Looking back, it reminded me of the vows Matthew and I had exchanged before we timewalked: simple, intimate, and quickly over.

“Weddings aren’t for the benefit of the bride or the groom. Most couples would be content to go off on their own as we did, say a few words, and then leave for a holiday. Weddings are rites of passage for the community.” Matthew rolled over onto his back. I propped myself up on my elbows.

“It’s just an empty ritual.”

“There’s no such thing.” Matthew frowned. “If you can’t bear it, you must say so.”

“No. Let Philippe have his wedding. It’s just a bit . . . overwhelming.”

“You must wish Sarah and Emily were here to share this with us.”

“If they were, they’d be surprised that I’m not eloping. I’m known for being a loner. I used to think you were a loner, too.”

“Me?” Matthew laughed. “Except on television or in the movies, vampires are seldom alone. We prefer the company of others. Even witches will do, in a pinch.” He kissed me to prove it.

“So if this marriage was taking place in New Haven, who would you invite?” he asked sometime later.

“Sarah and Em, of course. My friend Chris.” I bit my lip. “Maybe the chair of my department.” Silence fell.

“That’s it?” Matthew looked aghast.

“I don’t have many friends.” Restless, I got to my feet. “I think the fire’s going out.”

Matthew pulled me back down. “The fire is fine. And you have plenty of kith and kin now.”

The mention of family was the opening I’d been waiting for. My eyes strayed to the chest at the end of the bed. Marthe’s box was hidden within, tucked into the clean linen.

“There’s something we need to discuss.” This time he let me go without interfering. I pulled the box free.

“What’s that?” Matthew asked, frowning.

“Marthe’s herbs—the ones she uses in her tea. I found them in the stillroom.”

“I see. And have you been drinking it?” His question was sharp.

“Of course not. Whether we have children or not can’t be my decision alone.” When I opened the lid, the dusty aroma of dried herbs seeped into the air.

“No matter what Marcus and Miriam said back in New York, there is no evidence whatsoever that you and I can have children. Even herbal contraceptives like these can have unsafe side effects,” Matthew said, coolly clinical.

“Let’s say, for argument’s sake, one of your scientific tests revealed we could have children. Would you want me to take the tea then?”

“Marthe’s mixture isn’t very reliable.” Matthew looked away.

“Okay. What are the alternatives?” I asked.

“Abstinence. Withdrawal. And there are condoms, though they’re not reliable either. Especially not the kind available to us in this day and age.” Matthew was right. Sixteenth-century condoms were made from linen, leather, or animal intestines.

“And if one of these methods were reliable?” My patience was wearing thin.

“If—if—we could conceive a child together, it would be a miracle, and therefore no form of contraception would be effective.”

“Your time at Paris wasn’t a total waste of time, no matter what your father thinks. That was an argument worthy of a medieval theologian.” Before I could close the box, Matthew’s hands covered mine.

“If we could conceive, and if this tea were effective, I’d still want you to leave the herbs in the stillroom.”

“Even though you could pass your blood rage on to another child?” I forced myself to be honest with him, despite the fact that my words would hurt.

“Yes.” Matthew considered his words before continuing. “When I study patterns of extinction and see the evidence in the laboratory that we are dying out, the future seems hopeless. But if I detect a single chromosomal shift, or the discovery of an unexpected descendant when I thought a bloodline had died out, the sense of inevitable destruction lifts. I feel the same way now.” Usually I had problems when Matthew adopted a position of scientific objectivity, but not this time. He took the box from my hands. “What about you?”

I’d been trying to figure that out for weeks, ever since Miriam and Marcus had appeared at Aunt Sarah’s house with my DNA results and first raised the issue of children. I was sure about my future with Matthew but less so about what that future might involve.

“I wish I had more time to decide.” It was becoming my common refrain. “If we were still in the twenty-first century, I’d be taking the birthcontrol pills you prescribed for me.” I hesitated. “Even so, I’m not sure the pills would work for us.”

Matthew still waited for my answer.

“When I drove Philippe’s dagger into Champier, all I could think of was that he was going to take my thoughts and memories and I wouldn’t be the same person when I returned to our modern lives. But even if we were to go back right this minute, we would already be different people. All the places we’ve gone, the people I’ve met, the secrets we’ve shared—I’m no longer the same Diana Bishop, and you aren’t the same Matthew Clairmont. A baby would change us even more.”

“So you want to prevent pregnancy,” he said carefully.

“I’m not sure.”

“Then the answer is yes. If you’re not sure you want to be a parent, we must use whatever birth control is available.” Matthew’s voice was firm. And so was his chin.

“I do want to be a parent. I’m surprised by how much, if you must know.” I pressed my fingers into my temples. “I like the idea of you and me raising a child. It just feels so soon.”

“It is soon. So we’ll do what we must to limit the possibility until—if— you are ready. But don’t get your hopes up. The science is clear, Diana: Vampires reproduce through resurrection, not procreation. Our relationship might be different, but we aren’t so special as to overturn thousands of years of biology.”

“The picture of the alchemical wedding from Ashmole 782—it is about us. I know it. And Miriam was right: The next step in the process of alchemical transformation after the marriage of gold and silver is conception.”

“Conception?” Philippe drawled from the door. His boots creaked as he pushed away from the frame. “No one mentioned that possibility.”

“That’s because it’s impossible. I’ve had sex with other warmblooded women, and they’ve never become pregnant. The image of the chemical wedding may have been intended as a message, as Diana says, but the chances of representation becoming reality are slim.” Matthew shook his head. “No manjasang has ever fathered a child like that before.”

“Never is a long time, Matthew, as I told you. As for the impossible, I have walked this earth longer than man’s memories and have seen things that later generations discounted as myth. Once there were creatures who swam like fish in the sea and others who wielded lightning bolts instead of spears. They are gone now, replaced with something new. ‘Change is the only reliable thing in the world.’”

“Heraclitus,” I murmured.

“The wisest of men,” said Philippe, pleased that I recognized the quote. “The gods like to surprise us when we grow complacent. It’s their favorite form of entertainment.” He studied my unusual costume. “Why are you wearing Matthew’s shirt and hose?”

“He gave them to me. It’s fairly close to what I wear in my own time, and Matthew wanted me to be comfortable. He sewed the legs together himself, I think.” I turned to show off the ensemble. “Who knew the de Clermont men could thread a needle, never mind stitch a straight seam?”

Philippe’s eyebrows rose. “Did you think Ysabeau mended our torn garments when we came home from battle?”

The idea of Ysabeau sewing quietly while she waited for her men to return made me giggle. “Hardly.”

“You know her well, I see. If you are determined to dress like a boy, put breeches on, at the very least. If the priest sees you, his heart will stop and tomorrow’s ceremony will have to be delayed.”

“But I’m not going outside,” I said, frowning.

“I’d like to take you to a place sacred to the old gods before you are wed. It is not far,” Philippe said when Matthew drew a breath to complain, “and I’d like us to be alone, Matthaios.”

“I’ll meet you in the stables,” I agreed without hesitation. Some time in the fresh air would provide a welcome opportunity for me to clear my head.

Outside, I enjoyed the sting of the cold air on my cheeks and the wintry peace of the countryside. Soon Philippe and I came to a hilltop that was flatter than most of the rounded ridges around Sept-Tours. The ground was punctuated with protrusions of stone that struck me as oddly symmetrical. Though ancient and overgrown with vegetation, these weren’t natural outcroppings. They were manmade.

Philippe swung down from his horse and motioned for me to do the same. Once I dismounted, he took me by the elbow and guided me through two of the strange lumps and into a smooth expanse of snow-covered ground. All that marred the pristine surface were the tracks of wildlife—the heart-shaped outline of a deer’s hoof, the five-clawed marks of bear, the combination of triangular and oval pads belonging to a wolf.

“What is this place?” I asked, my voice hushed.

“A temple dedicated to Diana stood here once, overlooking the woods and valleys where the stags liked to run. Those who revered the goddess planted sacred cypress trees to grow alongside the native oak and alder.” Philippe pointed to the thin columns of green that stood guard around the area. “I wanted to bring you here because when I was a child, far away and before I became a manjasang, brides would go to a temple like this before their wedding and make a sacrifice to the goddess. We called her Artemis then.”

“A sacrifice?” My mouth was dry. There had been enough bloodshed.

“No matter how much we change, it is important to remember the past and honor it.” Philippe handed me a knife and a bag whose contents shifted and chimed. “It is also wise to set old wrongs to rights. The goddesses have not always been pleased with my actions. I would like to make sure that Artemis receives her due before my son marries you tomorrow. The knife is to take a lock of your hair. It is a symbol of your maidenhood, and the customary gift. The money is a symbol of your worth.” Philippe’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. “There would have been more, but I had to save some for Matthew’s god, too.”

Philippe led me to a small plinth in the center of the ruined structure. An assortment of offerings rested on it—a wooden doll, a child’s shoe, a bowl of sodden grain dusted with snow.

“I’m surprised that anyone still comes here,” I said.

“All over France women still curtsy to the moon when she is full. Such habits die hard, especially those that sustain people during difficult times.” Philippe went forward to the makeshift altar. He didn’t bow, or kneel, or make any of the other familiar signs of respect to a deity, but when he began to speak, his voice was so quiet I had to strain to hear him. The strange mixture of Greek and English made little sense. Philippe’s solemn intentions were clear, however.

“Artemis Agroterê, renowned huntress, Alcides Leontothymos beseeches you to hold this child Diana in your hand. Artemis Lykeiê, lady of the wolves, protect her in every way. Artemis Patrôia, goddess of my ancestors, bless her with children so that my lineage continues.”

Philippe’s lineage. I was part of it now, by marriage as well as the giving of his blood.

“Artemis Phôsphoros, bring the light of your wisdom when she is in darkness. Artemis Upis, watch over your namesake during her journey in this world.” Philippe finished the invocation and motioned me forward.

After carefully placing the bag of coins next to the child’s shoe, I reached up and pulled a strand of hair away from the nape of my neck. The knife was sharp, and it easily removed the curl with a single swipe of the blade.

We stood quietly in the dimming afternoon light. A surge of power washed through the ground underneath my feet. The goddess was here. For a moment I could imagine the temple as it once was—pale, gleaming, whole. I stole a glance at Philippe. With a bear pelt draped over his shoulders, he, too, looked like the savage remainder of a lost world. And he was waiting for something.

A white buck with curved antlers picked its way out of the cypress and stood, breath steaming from its nostrils. With quiet steps the buck picked his way over to me. His huge brown eyes were challenging, and he was close enough for me to see the sharp edges on his horns. The buck looked haughtily at Philippe and bellowed, one beast’s greeting to another.

“Sas efxaristo,” Philippe said gravely, his hand over his heart. He turned to me. “Artemis has accepted your gifts. We can go now.”

Matthew had been listening for sounds of our arrival and was waiting, his face uncertain, in the courtyard as we rode up.

“Ready yourself for the banquet,” Philippe suggested as I dismounted. “Our guests will be arriving soon.”

I gave Matthew what I hoped was a confident smile before I went upstairs. As darkness fell, the hum of activity told me the château was filling up with people. Soon Catrine and Jehanne came to get me dressed. The gown they’d laid out was by far the grandest thing I’d ever worn. The dark green fabric reminded me of the cypress by the temple now, rather than the holly that decorated the château for Advent. And the silver oak leaves embroidered on the bodice caught the light from the candles as the buck’s antlers had caught the rays of the setting sun.

The girls’ eyes were shining when they finished. I’d been able to get only a glimpse of my hair (swept up into coils and twisted into braids) and my pale face in Louisa’s polished silver mirror. But their expressions indicated that my transformation was weddingworthy.

“Bien,” Jehanne said softly.

Catrine opened the door with a flourish, and the gown’s silver stitches flared to life in the torchlight from the hall. I held my breath while I waited for Matthew’s reaction.

“Jesu,” he said, stunned. “You are beautiful, mon coeur.” Matthew took my hands and lifted my arms to see the full effect. “Good God, are you wearing two sets of sleeves?”

“I think there are three,” I said with a laugh. I had on a linen smock with tight lace cuffs, tight green sleeves that matched my bodice and skirts, and voluminous puffs of green silk that fell from my shoulders and were caught up at the elbows and wrists. Jehanne, who had been in Paris last year to attend upon Louisa, assured me the design was à la mode.

“But how am I supposed to kiss you with all this in the way?” Matthew drew his finger around my neck. My pleated ruff, which was standing out a good four inches, quivered in response.

“If you squash it, Jehanne will have a stroke,” I murmured as he carefully took my face in his hands. She’d employed a contraption resembling a curling iron to bend yards of linen into the crisp figure-eight formations. It had taken her hours.

“Never fear. I’m a doctor.” Matthew leaned in and pressed his mouth to mine. “There, not a pleat disturbed.”

Alain coughed gently. “They are waiting for you.”

“Matthew,” I said, catching at his hand, “I need to tell you something.”

He motioned to Alain, and we were left alone in the corridor.

“What is it?” he said uneasily.

“I sent Catrine to the stillroom to put away Marthe’s herbs.” It was a far bigger step into the unknown than the one that I’d taken in Sarah’s hop barn to bring us here.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” I said, remembering Philippe’s words at the temple.

Our entry into the hall was greeted with whispers and sidelong glances. The changes in my appearance had been noted, and the nods told me that at last I looked like someone who was fit to marry milord.

“There they are,” Philippe boomed from the family’s usual table. Someone began to clap, and soon the hall rang with the sound. Matthew’s smile was shy at first, but as the noise increased, it broadened into a proud grin.

We were seated in the places of honor on either side of Philippe, who then called for the first course and music to accompany it. I was offered small portions of everything Chef had prepared. There were dozens of dishes: a soup made with chickpeas, grilled eel, a delicious puree of lentils, salt cod in garlic sauce, and an entire fish that swam through a gelatinous sea of aspic, with sprigs of lavender and rosemary impersonating water plants. Philippe explained that the menu had been the subject of heated negotiations between Chef and the village priest. After the exchange of several embassies, the two had finally agreed that tonight’s meal would strictly adhere to the Friday dietary prohibitions against meat, milk, and cheese, while tomorrow’s banquet would be a no-holds-barred extravaganza.

As befitted the groom, Matthew’s portions were somewhat heartier than mine—unnecessarily so, since he ate nothing and drank little. The men at the adjoining tables joked with him about the need to bolster his strength for the ordeals to come.

By the time the hippocras started flowing and a delicious nut brittle made with walnuts and honey was passed along the table, their commentary was downright ribald and Matthew’s responses were just as barbed. Happily, most of the insults and advice were delivered in languages I didn’t fully understand, but Philippe clapped his hands over my ears occasionally anyway.

My heart lifted as the laughter and music swelled. Tonight Matthew didn’t look like a fifteen-hundred-year-old vampire but like every other groom the night before his wedding: sheepish, pleased, a bit anxious. This was the man I loved, and my heart stilled for just a moment whenever his gaze settled on me.

The singing started when Chef served the last selection of wine and the candied fennel and cardamom seeds. A man at the opposite end of the hall sang out in a deep bass, and his neighbors picked up the melody. Soon everybody was joining in, with so much stomping and clapping that you couldn’t hear the musicians trying desperately to keep up with them.

While the guests were busily devising new songs, Philippe made the rounds, greeting everyone by name. He threw babies into the air, inquired after animals, and listened attentively while the elderly cataloged their aches and pains.

“Just look at him,” Matthew marveled, taking my hand. “How does Philippe manage to make every one of them feel that they’re the most important guest in the room?”

“You tell me,” I said with a laugh. When Matthew looked confused, I shook my head. “Matthew, you are exactly the same. All you need do to take charge of a roomful of people is to enter it.”

“If you want a hero like Philippe, you’re going to be disappointed in me,” he said.

I took his face in my hands. “For your wedding gift, I wish I had a spell that could make you see yourself as others do.”

“Based on what’s reflected in your eyes, I look much the same. A little nervous, perhaps, given what Guillaume just shared with me about the carnal appetites of older women,” Matthew joked, trying to distract me. But I was having none of it.

“If you aren’t seeing a leader of men, then you’re not looking carefully.” Our faces were so close I could smell the spice on his breath. Without thinking, I drew him to me. Philippe had tried to tell Matthew he was worthy of being loved. Perhaps a kiss would be more convincing.

In the distance I heard shouts and more clapping. Then there was whooping.

“Leave the girl something to look forward to tomorrow, Matthaios, or she may not meet you at the church!” Philippe called out, drawing more laughter from the crowd. Matthew and I parted in happy embarrassment. I searched the hall and found Matthew’s father by the fireside, tuning an instrument with seven strings. Matthew told me it was a kithara. A hush of anticipation fell over the room.

“When I was a child, there were always stories at the end of a banquet such as this, and tales of heroes and great warriors.” Philippe plucked the strings, eliciting a shower of sound. “And just like all men, heroes fall in love.” His strumming continued, lulling the audience into the rhythms of his story.

“A hero with dark hair and green eyes named Peleus left his home to seek his fortune. It was a place much like Saint-Lucien, hidden in the mountains, but Peleus had long dreamed of the sea and the adventures he might have in foreign lands. He gathered his friends together, and they voyaged through the oceans of the world. One day they arrived at an island famed for its beautiful women and the powerful magic that they had at their command.” Matthew and I exchanged long glances. Philippe’s deep voice sang out his next words:

Far happier then were the times for men,

Fondly yearned for now!

You heroes, so bred Of gods in those silver days, favor me

As I call you now with my magic song.

The room was mesmerized by Philippe’s otherworldly bass.

“There Peleus first saw Thetis, daughter of Nereus, the god of the sea who told no lies and saw the future. From her father Thetis had the gift of prophecy and could twist her shape from moving water to living fire to the very air itself. Though Thetis was beautiful, no one would take her for a wife, for an oracle foretold that her son would be more powerful than his father.”

“Peleus loved Thetis in spite of the prophecy. But to marry such a woman, he had to be brave enough to hold Thetis while she changed from one element into another. Peleus took Thetis from the island and clasped her to his heart while she transformed herself from water to fire to serpent to lioness. When Thetis became a woman once more, he took her to his home and the two were wed.”

“And the child? Did Thetis’s son destroy Peleus as the omens foretold?” a woman whispered when Philippe fell silent, his fingers still drawing music from the kithara.

“The son of Peleus and Thetis was a great hero, a warrior blessed in both life and death, called Achilles.” Philippe gave the woman a smile. “But that is a tale for another night.”

I was glad that his father didn’t give a full account of the wedding and how the Trojan War got started there. And I was even happier that he didn’t go on to tell the tale of Achilles’ youth: the horrible spells his mother used to try to make him immortal as she was and the young man’s uncontrollable rage—which caused him far more trouble than did his famously unprotected heel.

“It’s just a story,” Matthew whispered, sensing my unease. But it was the stories that creatures told, over and over without knowing what they meant, that were often the most important, just as it was these time-worn rituals of honor, marriage, and family that people held most sacred even though they often seemed to ignore them.

“Tomorrow is an important day, one that we have all longed for.”

Philippe stood, kithara in his hands. “It is customary for the bride and groom to separate until the wedding.”

This was another ritual: a final, formal moment of parting to be followed by a lifetime of togetherness.

“The bride may, however, give the groom some token of affection to make sure he does not forget her during the lonely hours of the night,”

Philippe said, eyes twinkling with mischief.

Matthew and I rose. I smoothed down my skirts, my attention fixed resolutely on his doublet. The stitches on it were very fine, I noticed, tiny and regular. Gentle fingers lifted my chin, and I was lost instead in the play of smooth curves and sharp angles that made up Matthew’s face. All sense of performance disappeared as we contemplated each other. We stood in the midst of the hall and the wedding guests, our kiss a spell that carried us to an intimate world of our own.

“I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon,” Matthew murmured against my lips as we parted.

“I’ll be the one in the veil.” Most brides didn’t wear them in the sixteenth century, but they were an ancient custom, and Philippe said that no daughter of his was going to the church without one.

“I’d know you anywhere,” he replied, flashing me a smile, “veil or no veil.”

Matthew’s eyes never wavered as Alain escorted me from the room. I felt the touch of them, cool and unblinking, long after I left the hall.

The next day Catrine and Jehanne were so quiet that I slumbered through their usual morning chores. The sun was almost fully up when they finally pulled the bed curtains aside and announced it was time for my bath.

A procession of women with pitchers came to my chamber, chattering like magpies and filling an enormous copper tub that I suspected was normally used to make wine or cider. But the water was piping hot and the copper vessel retained the glorious warmth, so I wasn’t inclined to quibble. I groaned in ecstasy and sank beneath the water’s surface.

The women left me to soak, and I noticed that my few belongings— books, the notes I’d taken on alchemy and Occitan phrases—had disappeared. So, too, had the long, low chest that stored my clothes. When I asked Catrine, she explained that everything had been moved to milord’s chambers on the other side of the château.

I was no longer Philippe’s putative daughter, but Matthew’s wife. My property had been relocated accordingly.

Mindful of their responsibility, Catrine and Jehanne had me out of the tub and dried off by the time the clock struck one. Overseeing their efforts was Marie, Saint-Lucien’s best seamstress, who had come to put the finishing touches on her work. The contributions to my wedding gown that had been made by the village’s tailor, Monsieur Beaufils, were not acknowledged.

To be fair to Marie, La Robe (I thought of my ensemble only in French, and always in capitals) was spectacular. How she had managed to complete it in such a short period of time was a deeply kept secret, though I suspected that every woman in the vicinity had contributed at least a stitch. Before Philippe announced I was getting married, the plan had been for a relatively simple dress of heavy, slate-colored silk. I had insisted on one pair of sleeves, not two, and a high neckline to keep out the winter drafts. There was no need to trouble with embroidery, I told Marie. I had also declined the outrageous birdcagelike supports that would extend the skirt in every direction.

Marie had used her powers of misunderstanding and creativity to modify my initial design long before Philippe told her where and when the gown would be worn. After that there was no holding the woman back.

“Marie, La Robe est belle,” I told her, fingering the heavily embroidered silk. Stylized cornucopias, familiar symbols of abundance and fertility, were stitched all over in gold, black, and rose thread. Rosettes and sprigs of leaves accompanied the flower-filled horns, while bands of embroidery edged both pairs of sleeves. The same bands trimmed the edges of the bodice in a sinuous pattern of scrolls, moons, and stars. At the shoulders a row of square flaps called pickadils hid the laces that tied sleeve to bodice. Despite the elaborate ornamentation, the bodice’s elegant curves fit perfectly, and my wishes on the subject of farthingales had at least been honored. The skirts were full, but that was due to the volume of fabric rather than any wire contraption. The only thing I wore under the petticoats was the stuffed doughnut that rested on my hips and silk hose.

“It has a strong line. Very simple,” Marie assured me, tugging on the bottom of the bodice to help it lie more smoothly.

The women were almost finished with my hair when a knock sounded. Catrine rushed to open the door, turning over a basket of towels on her way.

It was Philippe, looking splendid in a rich brown suit, with Alain standing behind him. Matthew’s father stared.

“Diana?” Philippe sounded unsure.

“What? Is something wrong?” I surveyed my gown and anxiously patted at my hair. “We don’t have a mirror large enough for me to see—”

“You are beautiful, and the look on Matthew’s face when he sees you will tell you this better than any reflection,” Philippe said firmly.

“And you have a silver tongue, Philippe de Clermont,” I said with a laugh. “What do you need?”

“I came to give you your wedding gifts.” Philippe held out his hand, and Alain placed a large velvet bag in his palm. “There was no time to have something made, I’m afraid. These are family pieces.”

He tipped the bag’s contents into his hand. A stream of light and fire poured out: gold, diamonds, sapphires. I gasped. But there were more treasures hidden inside the velvet, including a rope of pearls, several crescent moons encrusted with opals, and an unusually shaped golden arrowhead, its edges softened with age.

“What are they for?” I asked in wonder.

“For you to wear, of course,” Philippe said, chuckling. “The chain was mine, but when I saw Marie’s gown, I thought the yellow diamonds and the sapphires would not look out of place. The style is old, and some would say it is too masculine for a bride, but the chain will sit on your shoulders and lie flat. Originally a cross hung from the center, but I thought you might prefer to suspend the arrow instead.”

“I don’t recognize the flowers.” The slender yellow buds reminded me of freesia, and they were interspersed with gold fleurs-de-lis rimmed with sapphires.

“Planta genista. The English call it broom. The Angevins used it as their emblem.”

The Plantagenets: the most powerful royal family in English history. The Plantagenets had expanded Westminster Abbey, given in to the barons and signed the Magna Carta, established Parliament, and supported the foundation of Oxford and Cambridge universities. Plantagenet rulers had fought in the Crusades and through the Hundred Years’ War with France. And one of them had given this chain to Philippe as a sign of royal favor. Nothing else could account for its splendor.

“Philippe, I can’t possibly—” My protests stopped when he passed the other jewels to Catrine and lowered the chain over my head. The woman who gazed back at me from the murky mirror was no more a modern historian than Matthew was a modern scientist. “Oh,” I said in amazement.

“Breathtaking,” he agreed. His face softened with regret. “I wish Ysabeau could be here to see you like this, and to witness Matthew’s happiness.”

“I’ll tell her everything one day,” I promised softly, holding his reflected gaze as Catrine fastened the arrow to the front of the chain and wound the rope of pearls through my hair. “I’ll take good care of the jewels tonight, too, and make sure they’re returned to you in the morning.”

“These belong to you now, Diana, to do with what you will. As does this.” Philippe pulled another bag from his belt, this one made from serviceable leather, and handed it to me.

It was heavy. Very heavy.

“The women in this family manage their own finances. Ysabeau insists upon it. All of the coins in here are English or French. They do not hold their value as well as Venetian ducats, but they will raise fewer questions when you spend them. If you need more, you have only to ask Walter or another member of the brotherhood.”

When I’d arrived in France, I was entirely dependent on Matthew. In little more than a week, I had learned how to conduct myself, converse, manage a household, and distill spirit of wine. I now had my own property, and Philippe de Clermont had claimed me publicly as his daughter.

“Thank you, for all of this,” I said softly. “I didn’t think you wanted me as a daughter-in-law.”

“Not at first, perhaps. But even old men can change their minds.” Philippe’s grin flashed. “And I always get what I want in the end.”

The women wrapped me in my cloak. At the very last moment, Catrine and Jehanne dropped a filmy piece of silk over my head and attached it to my hair with the opal crescent moons, which had tiny, tenacious claws on the back.

Thomas and Etienne, who now saw themselves as my personal champions, ran ahead of us through the château and proclaimed our approach at the top of their lungs. Soon we formed a procession, moving through the twilight in the direction of the church. Someone must have been up in the bell tower, and once whoever that was spotted us, the bells began to ring.

I faltered as we came to the church. The entire village had assembled outside its doors, along with the priest. I searched for Matthew and found him standing at the top of the short flight of stairs. Through the transparent veil, I could feel his regard. Like sun and moon, we were unconcerned at this moment with time, distance, and difference. All that mattered was our position relative to each other.

I gathered my skirts and went to him. The brief climb felt endless. Did time misbehave this way for all brides, I wondered, or only for witches?

The priest beamed at me from the door but made no effort to admit us to the church. He was clutching a book in his hands but didn’t open it. I frowned in confusion.

“A ll right, mon coeur?” Matthew murmured.

“Aren’t we going inside?”

“Marriages take place at the church door to avoid bloody disputes later over whether or not the ceremony took place as reported. We can thank God there isn’t a blizzard.”

“Commencez!” the priest commanded, nodding at Matthew.

My entire role in the ceremony was to utter eleven words. Matthew was charged with fifteen. Philippe had informed the priest that we would then repeat our vows, in English, because it was important that the bride fully understand what she was promising. This brought the total number of words necessary to make us husband and wife to fifty-two.

“Maintenant!” The priest was shivering and wanted his supper.

“Je, Matthew, donne mon corps à toi, Diana, en loyal mariage.” Matthew took my hands in his. “I, Matthew, give my body to you, Diana, in faithful matrimony.”

“Et je le reçois,” I replied. “And I receive it.”

We were halfway through. I took a deep breath and kept going.

“Je, Diana, donne mon corps à toi, Matthew.” The hard part over, I quickly said my final line. “I, Diana, give my body to you, Matthew.”

“Et je le reçois, avec joie.” Matthew drew the veil over my head. “And I receive it, with joy.”

“Those aren’t the right words,” I said fiercely. I had memorized the vows, and there was no “avec joie” anywhere in them.

“They are,” Matthew insisted, lowering his head.

We’d been married by vampire custom when we mated and again by common law when Matthew had put Ysabeau”s ring on my finger in Madison. Now we were married a third time.

What happened afterward was a blur. There were torches and a long walk up the hill surrounded by well-wishers. Chef’s feast was already laid out, and people tucked into it with enthusiasm. Matthew and I sat alone at the family table, while Philippe strolled about serving wine and making sure the children got their fair share of spit-roasted hare and cheese fritters. Occasionally he cast a proud look in our direction, as if we’d slain dragons that afternoon.

“I never thought I would see this day,” Philippe told Matthew as he placed a slice of custard tart before us.

The feast seemed to be winding down when the men started shoving the tables to the sides of the hall. Pipes and drums sounded from the minstrels’ gallery above.

“By tradition the first dance belongs to the bride’s father,” Philippe said with a bow to me. He led me to the floor. Philippe was a good dancer, but even so I got us tangled.

“May I?” Matthew tapped on his father’s shoulder.

“Please. Your wife is trying to break my foot.” Philippe’s wink took the sting out of his words, and he withdrew, leaving me with my husband.

Others were still dancing, but they drew away and left us in the center of the room. The music deliberately slowed as a musician plucked on the strings of his lute, and the sweet tones of a wind instrument piped an accompaniment. As we parted and came together, once, twice, again, the distractions of the room faded.

“You’re a far better dancer than Philippe, no matter what your mother says,” I told him, breathless even though the dance was measured.

“That’s because you’re following my lead,” he teased. “You fought Philippe every step of the way.”

When the dance brought us together once more, he took me by the elbows, pulled me tight against his body, and kissed me. “Now that we’re married, will you keep forgiving my sins?” he asked, swinging back into the regular steps.

“That depends,” I said warily. “What have you done now?”

“I’ve crushed your ruff beyond redemption.”

I laughed, and Matthew kissed me again, briefly but emphatically. The drummer took it as a cue, and the music’s tempo increased. Other couples whirled and hopped their way across the floor. Matthew drew us into relative safety near the fireplace before we were trampled. Philippe was there a moment later.

“Take your wife to bed and finish this,” Philippe murmured.

“But the guests . . .” Matthew protested.

“Take your wife to bed, my son,” Philippe repeated. “Steal away now, before the others decide to accompany you upstairs and make sure you do your duty. Leave everything to me.” He turned, kissing me formally on both cheeks before murmuring something in Greek and sending us to Matthew’s tower.

Though I knew this part of the château in my own time, I had yet to see it in its sixteenth-century splendor. The order of Matthew’s apartments had changed. I expected to see books in the room off the first landing, but instead there was a large canopied bed. Catrine and Jehanne brought out a carved box for my new jewels, filled up the basin, and bustled around with fresh linens. Matthew sat before the fire and pulled off his boots, taking up a glass of wine when he was through.

“Your hair, madame?” Jehanne asked, eyeing my husband speculatively.

“I’ll take care of it,” Matthew said gruffly, his eyes on the fire.

“Wait,” I said, pulling the moon-shaped jewels free from my hair and putting them in Jehanne’s upturned palm. She and Catrine removed the veil and departed, leaving me standing near the bed and Matthew lounging fireside with his feet on one of the clothing chests.

When the door closed, Matthew put down his glass of wine and came to me, twining his fingers in my hair and tugging gently to dislodge in moments what it had taken the girls nearly thirty minutes to achieve. He tossed the rope of pearls aside. My hair tumbled over my shoulders, and Matthew’s nostrils flared as he took in my scent. Wordlessly he pulled my body against his and bent to fit his mouth to mine.

But there were questions that needed to be asked and answered first. I drew away.

“Matthew, are you sure . . . ?”

Cool fingers slid underneath my ruff, finding the ties that connected it to my bodice.

Snap. Snap. Snap.

The stiffened linen came free from my neck and fell to the floor. Matthew loosened the buttons that kept my high neckline clasped tight. He bent his head and kissed my throat. I clutched at his doublet.

“Matthew,” I repeated. “Is this about—”

He silenced me with another kiss while he lifted the heavy chain from my shoulders. We broke off momentarily so Matthew could get it over my head. Then his hands breached the crenellated line of pickadils where sleeves met bodice. His fingers slid among the gaps, searching out a weak point in the garment’s defenses.

“There it is,” he murmured, hooking his index fingers around the edges and giving a decided yank. One sleeve, then the other, slid down each arm and onto the floor. Matthew seemed entirely unconcerned, but it was my wedding gown and not easily replaced.

“My gown,” I said, squirming in his arms.

“Diana.” Matthew drew his head back and rested his hands on my waist.

“Yes?” I said breathlessly. I tried to reach the sleeve with the toe of my slipper and push it where it was less likely to be crushed.

“The priest blessed our marriage. The entire village wished us well. There was food, and dancing. I did think we might draw the night to a close by making love. Yet you seem more interested in your wardrobe.” He had located still another set of laces that fastened my skirts to the bottom of the pointed bodice, about three inches below my belly button. Lightly, Matthew swept his thumbs between edge of the bodice and my pubic bone.

“I don’t want our first time together to be about satisfying your father.” In spite of my protests, my hips arched toward him in silent invitation while he kept up that maddening movement of his thumbs, like the beating of an angel’s wings. He made a soft sound of satisfaction and untied the bow hidden there.

Tug. Rasp. Tug. Rasp. Tug. Rasp.

Matthew’s nimble fingers pulled on each crossing of the laces, drawing them through the concealed holes. There were twelve in all, and my body bowed and straightened with the force of his attentions.

“At last,” he said with satisfaction. Then he groaned. “Christ. There are more.”

“Oh, you’re nowhere near through. I’m trussed up like a Christmas goose,” I said as he lifted the bodice away from the skirts, revealing the corset below. “Or, more accurately, an Advent goose.”

But Matthew wasn’t paying any attention to me. Instead my husband was focused on the place where my nearly transparent high-necked smock disappeared into the heavy reinforced fabric of the corset. He pressed his lips against the swell. Bowing his head in a reverential pose, he took in a jagged breath.

So did I. It was surprisingly erotic, the brush of his lips somehow magnified by the fine lawn boundary. Not knowing what made him stop his previously single-minded efforts to get me unclothed, I cradled his head in my hands and waited for him to make his next move.

At last Matthew took my hands and wrapped them around the carved post that held up the corner of the canopy. “Hold on,” he said.

Tug. Rasp. Tug. Rasp. Before he was finished, Matthew took a moment to slide his hands inside the stays. They swooped around my rib cage and found my breasts. I moaned softly as he trapped my smock between the warm, pebbled skin of my nipples and his cool fingers. He pulled me back against him.

“Do I seem like a man interested in pleasing anyone but you?” he murmured into my ear. When I didn’t immediately answer, one hand snaked down my stomach to press me closer. The other remained where it was, cupping my breast.

“No.” My head tilted back into his shoulder, exposing my neck.

“Then no more talk about my father. And I’ll buy you twenty identical gowns tomorrow if you will stop worrying about your sleeves now.” Matthew was busily ruching up my smock so that the hem skirted the tops of my legs. I loosed my grip on the bedpost, grabbed at his hand, and placed it at the juncture of my thighs.

“No more talking,” I agreed, gasping when his fingers parted my flesh.

Matthew quieted me further with a kiss. The slow movements of his hands were causing an entirely different reaction as the tension in my body rose.

“Too many clothes,” I said breathlessly. His agreement was unstated, but evident in the haste with which he slid the corset down my arms. The laces were loose enough now that I could push it over my hips and step out of it. I unfastened his breeches while Matthew unbuttoned his doublet. These two items had been joined at his hips by just as many crossed laces as my bodice and skirt.

When we were both wearing nothing more than hose, I removed my smock, and Matthew his shirt, we paused, awkwardness returning.

“Will you let me love you, Diana?” Matthew said, sweeping away my anxiety with that simple, courteous question.

“I will,” I whispered. He knelt and carefully untied the ribbons that held up my stockings. They were blue, which Catrine said was the color of fidelity. Matthew rolled the hose down my legs, a press of lips on knees and ankles marking their passage. He removed his own hose so quickly that I never had an opportunity to note the color of his garters.

Matthew lifted me slightly so that my toes were barely gripping the floor and he could fit himself into the notch between my legs.

“We may not make it to the bed,” I said, grabbing onto his shoulders. I wanted him inside me, quickly.

But we did make it to that soft, shadowed place, ridding ourselves of our linen along the way. Once there, my body welcomed him into the moon of my thighs while my arms reached to draw him down to me. Even so I gasped in surprise when our two bodies became one—warm and cold, light and dark, female and male, witch and vampire, a conjunction of opposites.

Matthew’s expression went from reverential to wondering when he began to move within me, and it became intent after he angled his body and I reacted with a pleased cry. He slipped his arm under the small of my back and lifted me into his hips while my hands gripped his shoulders.

We fell into the rhythm unique to lovers, pleasing each other with soft touches of mouth and hands as we rocked together, together until all we had left to give were our hearts and souls. Looking deep into each other’s eyes, we exchanged our final vows with flesh and spirit until we were as soft and trembling as newborns.

“Let me love you forever,” Matthew murmured against my damp forehead, his lips trailing a cold path across my brow as we lay twined together.

“I will,” I promised once more, tucking my body even closer against him.

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