فصل 13

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فصل 13

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Chapter Thirteen

“I like being married,” I said drowsily. Since surviving the day-after feast and the receiving of gifts last week—most of them mooing or clucking— we’d done nothing but make love, talk, sleep, and read. Occasionally Chef sent up a tray of food and drink to sustain us. Otherwise we were left alone. Not even Philippe interrupted our time together.

“You seem to be taking to it well,” Matthew said, nuzzling the tip of his cold nose behind my ear. I was lying, facedown and legs sprawled, in a room used to store spare weaponry above the smithy. Matthew was on top of me, shielding me from the draft coming through the gaps in the wooden door. Though I was unsure of how much of my own body would be exposed if someone walked in, Matthew’s posterior and bare legs were certainly on view. He moved against me suggestively.

“You can’t possibly want to do that again.” I laughed happily when he repeated the movement. I wondered if this sexual stamina was a vampire thing or a Matthew thing.

“Are you criticizing my creativity already?” He turned me over and settled between my thighs. “Besides, I was thinking of this instead.” He lowered his mouth to mine and slid gently inside me.

“We came out here to work on my shooting,” I said sometime later. “Is this what you meant by target practice?”

Matthew rumbled with laughter. “There are hundreds of Auvergnat euphemisms for making love, but I don’t believe that’s one of them. I’ll ask Chef if he’s familiar with it.”

“You will not.”

“Are you being prim, Dr. Bishop?” he asked with mock surprise, picking a piece of straw from the hair tangled at the small of my back. “Don’t bother. No one is under any illusions about how we’re spending our time.”

“I see your point,” I said, pulling the hose that were formerly his over my knees. “Now that you’ve lured me here, you might as well try to figure out what I’m doing wrong.”

“You’re a novice and can’t expect to hit the mark every time,” he said, getting to his feet and rummaging for his own hose. One leg was still attached to his breeches, which were lying close by, but the other was nowhere to be seen. I reached underneath my shoulder and handed him the wadded-up ball they’d become.

“With good coaching I could become an expert.” I’d now seen Matthew shoot, and he was a born archer with his long arms and fine, strong fingers. I picked up the curved bow, a burnished crescent of horn and wood propped up against a nearby pile of hay. The twisted leather bowstring swung free.

“Then you should be spending time with Philippe, not with me. His handling of the bow is legendary.”

“Your father told me Ysabeau is a better shot.” I was using her bow, but so far her skills had not rubbed off on me.

“That’s because Maman is the only creature who has ever landed an arrow in his side.” He beckoned at the bow. “Let me string it for you.”

There was already a pink stripe across my cheek from the first time I’d tried to attach the bowstring to its ring. It required enormous strength and dexterity to bend back the upper and lower limbs of the bow into proper alignment. Matthew braced the lower limb against his thigh, bent the upper limb back with one hand, and used the other to tie off the bowstring. “You make that look easy.” It had looked easy when he’d twisted the cork from a bottle of champagne back in modern Oxford, too. “It is—if you’re a vampire and have had roughly a thousand years of practice.” Matthew handed me the bow with a smile. “Remember, keep your shoulders in a straight line, don’t think too long about the shot, and make the release soft and smooth.”

He made it sound easy, too. I turned to face the target. Matthew had used a few daggers to pin a soft cap, a doublet, and a skirt to a pile of hay. At first I thought the goal was to hit something: the hat, the doublet, the skirt. Matthew explained that the goal was to hit what I was aiming for. He demonstrated his point by shooting a single arrow into a haystack, encircling it clockwise with five other arrows, then splitting the center shaft down the middle with a sixth.

I drew an arrow out of the quiver, nocked it, looked down the line of sight provided by my left arm, and pulled the bowstring back. I hesitated. The bow was already misaligned.

“Shoot,” Matthew said sharply.

When I released the string, the arrow whizzed by the hay and fell flat on the ground.

“Let me try again,” I said, reaching for the quiver by my feet.

“I’ve seen you shoot witchfire at a vampire and blow a hole straight through her chest,” Matthew said quietly.

“I don’t want to talk about Juliette.” I tried to set the arrow in place, but my hands shook. I lowered the bow. “Or Champier. Or the fact that my powers seem to have totally disappeared. Or how I can make fruit wither and see colors and lights around people. Can’t we just leave it—for one week?” Once again, my magic (or lack thereof) was a regular topic of conversation.

“The archery was supposed to help jostle your witchfire into action,” Matthew pointed out. “Talking about Juliette may help.”

“Why can’t this just be about me getting some exercise?” I asked impatiently.

“Because we need to understand why your power is changing,” Matthew said calmly. “Raise the bow, pull the arrow back, and let it fly.”

“At least I hit the hay this time,” I said after the arrow landed in the upper right corner of the haystack.

“Too bad you were aiming for the stomach.”

“You’re taking all the fun out of this.”

Matthew’s expression turned serious. “There’s nothing lighthearted about survival. This time nock the arrow but close your eyes before you aim.”

“You want me to use my instincts.” My laugh was shaky as I placed the arrow in the bow. The target was in front of me, but rather than focus on it I closed my eyes as Matthew suggested. As soon as I did, the weight of the air distracted me. It pressed on my arms, my thighs, and settled like a heavy cloak on my shoulders. The air held the tip of the arrow up, too. I adjusted my stance, shoulders widening as they pushed the air aside. A breeze, a caress of movement, pulled a few strands of hair away from my ear in response.

What do you want? I asked the breeze crossly.

Your trust, it whispered in reply.

My lips parted in astonishment, my mind’s eye opened, and I saw the tip of the arrow burning gold with the heat and pressure that had been beaten into it at the forge. The fire that was trapped there wanted to fly free again, but it would stay where it was unless I let go of my fear. I puffed out a soft exhalation, making room for faith. My breath passed along the arrow’s shaft, and I released the bowstring. Held aloft on my breath, the arrow flew.

“I hit it.” My eyes remained closed, but I didn’t need to see to know that my arrow had reached its target.

“You did. The question is how.” Matthew took the bow from my fingers before it could fall.

“Fire was trapped in the arrow, and the weight of the air was wrapped around the shaft and the tip.” I opened my eyes.

“You felt the elements just as you did the water under Sarah’s orchard in Madison and the sunlight in the quince at the Old Lodge.” Matthew sounded thoughtful.

“Sometimes it seems like the world is full of some invisible potential that is just beyond my grasp. Maybe if I were like Thetis and could shift my shape at will, I would know what to do with it all.” I reached for the bow and another arrow. So long as I kept my eyes closed, I hit the target. As soon as I peeked at my surroundings, however, my shots went wide or fell short.

“That’s enough for today,” Matthew said, working on a knot that was forming next to my right shoulder blade. “Chef expects rain later this week. Maybe we should go riding while we can.” Chef was not only a dab hand with pastry but a decent meteorologist, too. He usually sent up a forecast with the breakfast tray.

We rode out into the countryside and spotted several bonfires burning in the fields on our way home, and Sept-Tours blazed with torches. Tonight was Saturnalia, the official beginning of the holiday season at the château. The ecumenical Philippe wanted no one to feel left out and so gave equal time to Roman and Christian traditions. There was even a strand of Norse Yule running through the mix, which I felt sure could be traced to the absent Gallowglass.

“You two can’t be tired of each other’s company so soon!” Philippe boomed from the minstrels’ gallery when we returned. He was wearing a splendid set of antlers atop his head, making him look like a bizarre combination of lion and stag. “We didn’t expect to see you for another fortnight. But now that you’re here, you can make yourself useful. Take some stars and moons and hang them wherever there is an empty spot.”

The great hall was draped in so much greenery that it looked and smelled like the forest. Several wine barrels stood unattended so that revelers could have a cup whenever the spirit moved them. Cheers greeted our return. The decorating crew wanted Matthew to climb up the chimneypiece and affix a large tree limb to one of the beams. He scampered up the stone with an agility that suggested it was not his first time.

It was impossible to resist the holiday spirit, and when supper rolled around, the two of us volunteered to serve the meal to the guests in a ritual of topsy-turvy that made the servants into lords and the lords their servants. My champion Thomas drew the long straw and presided over the celebrations as the Lord of Misrule. He was seated in Philippe’s place on a stack of cushions, wearing the priceless gold-and-ruby crown from upstairs as though it were a stage prop. Whatever harebrained request Thomas made was granted by Philippe in his role as court fool. His favors this night included a romantic dance with Alain (Matthew’s father opted to take the part of the woman), driving the dogs into a frenzy by playing a whistling flute, and making shadow dragons climb up the wall accompanied by the screams of the children.

Philippe didn’t forget the adults, setting up elaborate games of chance to occupy them while he entertained his smallest subjects. He gave each grown-up a bag of beans to make wagers and promised a sack of money to the person with the most at the end of the evening. The enterprising Catrine made a killing by exchanging kisses for beans, and had I been given any tokens, I would have bet them all on her taking the final prize.

Throughout the evening I would look up and see Matthew and Philippe standing side by side, exchanging a few words or sharing a joke. As they bent their heads together, one dark and one bright, the difference in their appearances was striking. But in so many other ways, they were alike. With every passing day, his father’s unquenchable high spirits wore down some of Matthew’s sharp edges. Hamish had been right: Matthew was not the same man here. He was even finer. And in spite of my fears at Mont SaintMichel, he was still mine.

Matthew felt my gaze and looked at me quizzically. I smiled and blew him a kiss across the hall. He dipped his head, shyly pleased.

Around five minutes before midnight, Philippe whisked the cover off an item standing by the fireplace.

“Christ. Philippe swore he’d have that clock up and running again, but I didn’t believe him.” Matthew joined me as the children and adults squealed in delight.

The clock was unlike any I’d ever seen before. A carved and gilded cabinet surrounded a water barrel. A long copper pipe stretched up from the barrel and dropped water into the hull of a splendid model ship suspended by a rope wound around a cylinder. As the ship grew incrementally heavier from the weight of the water, the cylinder turned and moved a single hand around a dial on the face of the clock, indicating the time. The whole structure was nearly as tall as I was.

“What happens at midnight?” I asked.

“No doubt whatever it is involves the gunpowder he asked for yesterday,” Matthew said grimly.

Having displayed the clock with suitable ceremony, Philippe began a tribute to friends past and present and family new and old, as befitted a festival honoring the ancient god of time. He named every creature the community had lost over the past year, including (when prompted by the Lord of Misrule) Thomas’s kitten, Prunelle, who had died tragically by misadventure. The hand continued to inch toward twelve.

At midnight precisely, the ship detonated with a deafening explosion. The clock shuddered to a stop in its splintered wooden case.

“Skata.” Philippe looked sadly at his ruined clock.

“Monsieur Finé, God rest his soul, would not be pleased with your improvements to his design.” Matthew waved the smoke from his eyes as he bent to take a closer look. “Every year Philippe tries something new: jets of water, chiming bells, a mechanical owl to hoot the hours. He’s been tinkering with it ever since King François lost it to him in a card game.”

“The cannon were supposed to fire little sparks and give a puff of smoke. It would have amused the children,” said Philippe indignantly. “Something was amiss with your gunpowder, Matthaios.”

Matthew laughed. “Evidently not, judging by the wreckage.”

“C’est dommage,” Thomas said with a sympathetic shake of the head. He was crouched next to Philippe, his crown askew and a look of adult concern on his face.

“Pas de problème. Next year we will do better,” Philippe assured Thomas breezily.

Shortly thereafter we left the people of Saint-Lucien to their gambling and revelry. Upstairs, I lingered by the fireside until Matthew doused the candles and got into bed. When I joined him, I hitched up my night rail and straddled his hips.

“What are you doing?” Matthew was surprised to find himself flat on his back in his own bed, his wife looking down at him.

“Misrule wasn’t just for men,” I said, running my nails down his chest. “I read an article about it in graduate school, called ‘Women on Top.’”

“Accustomed as you are to being in charge, I cannot imagine you learned much from it, mon coeur.” Matthew’s eyes smoldered as I shifted my weight to trap him more securely between my thighs.

“Flatterer.” My fingertips traveled from his trim hips up and over the ridges in his abdomen and across the muscles in his shoulders. I leaned over him and pinned his arms to the bed, giving him an excellent view of my body through the night rail’s open neckline. He groaned.

“Welcome to the world turned upside down.” I released him long enough to remove my night rail, then grasped his hands and lowered myself onto his chest so that the tips of my bare breasts brushed his skin.

“Christ. You’re going to kill me.”

“Don’t you dare die now, vampire,” I said, guiding him inside me, rocking gently, holding out the promise of more. Matthew reacted with a low moan. “You like that,” I said softly.

He urged me toward a harder, faster rhythm. But I kept my movements slow and steady, reveling in the way our bodies fit. Matthew was a cool presence at my core, a delicious source of friction that heated my blood. I was staring deep into his eyes when he climaxed, and the raw vulnerability there sent me hurtling after him. I collapsed onto his torso, and when I moved to climb off, his arms tightened around me.

“Stay there,” he whispered.

I did stay, until Matthew woke me hours later. He made love to me again in the quiet before the dawn and held me as I underwent the metamorphosis from fire to water to air and returned once more to dreams.

Friday marked the shortest day of the year and the celebration of Yule. The village was still recovering from Saturnalia and had Christmas yet before them, but Philippe was undeterred.

“Chef butchered a hog,” he said. “How could I disappoint him?”

During a break in the weather, Matthew went to the village to help repair a roof that had collapsed under the weight of the latest snowfall. I left him there, throwing hammers down a ridgepole to another carpenter and delighted at the prospect of a morning of grueling physical labor in freezing temperatures.

I closeted myself in the library with a few of the family’s finer alchemical books and some blank sheets of paper. One was partially covered with doodles and diagrams that would have made sense to no one but me. With all that was happening in the château, I’d abandoned my attempts to make spirit of wine. Thomas and Etienne wanted to be running around with their friends and sticking their fingers into Chef’s latest cake batter, not helping me with a science experiment.

“Diana.” Philippe was moving at great speed and was halfway into the room before he noticed me. “I thought you were with Matthew.”

“I couldn’t bear to see him up there,” I confessed. He nodded in understanding.

“What are you doing?” he asked, looking over my shoulder.

“Trying to figure out what Matthew and I have to do with alchemy.” My brain felt fuzzy with disuse and lack of sleep.

Philippe dropped a handful of small paper triangles, scrolls, and squares onto the table and pulled up a chair. He pointed to one of my sketches. “This is Matthew’s seal.”

“It is. It’s also the symbols for silver and gold, the moon and the sun.” The hall had been decorated with spangled versions of these heavenly bodies for Saturnalia. “I’ve been thinking about it since Monday night. I understand why a witch might be symbolized by the crescent moon and silver—they’re both linked to the goddess. But why would anyone use a sun or gold to denote a vampire?” It went against every bit of popular lore.

“Because we are unchanging. Our lives do not wax or wane, and, like gold, our bodies resist corruption from death or disease.”

“I should have thought of that.” I made some notes.

“You have had a few other things on your mind.” Philippe smiled. “Matthew is very happy.”

“Not only because of me,” I said, meeting my father-in-law’s gaze. “Matthew is happy to be with you again.”

Shadows scudded through Philippe’s eyes. “Ysabeau and I like it when our children come home. They have their own lives, but it doesn’t make their absence any easier to bear.”

“And today you are missing Gallowglass, too,” I said. Philippe seemed uncharacteristically subdued.

“I am.” He stirred the folded papers with his fingers. “It was Hugh, my eldest, who brought him into the family. Hugh always made wise decisions when it came to sharing his blood, and Gallowglass was no exception. He is a fierce warrior with his father’s sense of honor. It comforts me to know that my grandson is in England with Matthew.”

“Matthew seldom mentions Hugh.”

“He was closer to Hugh than to any of his other brothers. When Hugh died with the last of the Templars at the hands of the church and the king, it shook Matthew’s loyalties. It was some time before he was able to free himself of his blood rage and come back to us.”

“And Gallowglass?”

“Gallowglass is not yet ready to leave his grief behind, and until he does so, he will not set foot in France. My grandson exacted retribution from the men who betrayed Hugh’s trust, as did Matthew, but revenge is never an adequate remedy for loss. One day my grandson will return. I am sure of it.” For a moment Philippe looked old, no longer the vigorous ruler of his people but a father who had suffered the misfortune to outlive his sons.

“Thank you, Philippe.” I hesitated before covering his hand with mine. He clasped it briefly and stood. Then he took up one of the alchemy books. It was Godfrey’s beautifully illustrated copy of the Aurora Consurgens, the text that had first lured me to Sept-Tours.

“Such a curious subject, alchemy,” Philippe murmured, flipping through the pages. He found the picture of the Sun King and the Moon Queen jousting on the back of a lion and a griffin, and he smiled broadly. “Yes, this will do.” He tucked one of his paper shapes between the pages.

“What are you doing?” I was overcome with curiosity.

“It is a game that Ysabeau and I play. When one of us is away, we leave messages hidden in the pages of books. So much happens in a day, it is impossible to remember everything when we see each other again. This way we can come upon little memories like this one when we least expect it, and share them.”

Philippe went to the shelves and picked out a volume in a worn leather binding. “This is one of our favorite stories, The Song of Armouris. Ysabeau and I have simple tastes and enjoy stories of adventure. We are always hiding messages in this.” He stuffed a scroll of paper down the spine between the binding and the gatherings of vellum. A folded rectangle fell out of the bottom as he worked it into the tight space.

“Ysabeau has taken to using a knife so that her messages are harder to find. She is full of tricks, that one. Let’s see what she says.” Philippe opened up the paper and read it silently. He looked up with a twinkle in his eyes and cheeks that were redder than usual.

I laughed and rose. “I think you might need more privacy to compose your reply!”

“Sieur.” Alain shifted in the doorway, his face serious. “Messengers have arrived. One from Scotland. Another from England. A third from Lyon.”

Philippe sighed and cursed under his breath. “They might have waited until after the Christian feast.”

My mouth soured.

“It cannot be good news,” Philippe said, catching my expression. “What did the messenger from Lyon report?”

“Champier took precautions before he left and told others that he had been called here. Now that he has not returned home, his friends are asking questions. A group of witches is preparing to leave the city in search of him, and they are headed in this direction,” Alain explained.

“When?” I whispered. It was too soon.

“The snow will slow them, and they will find travel difficult over the holy days. A few more days, perhaps a week.”

“And the other messengers?” I asked Alain.

“They are in the village, looking for milord.”

“To call him back to England, no doubt,” I said.

“If so, Christmas Day will be the best time to set out. Few will be on the roads, and the moon will be dark. These are ideal travel conditions for manjasang, but not for warmbloods,” Philippe said matter-of-factly. “There are horses and lodgings ready for you as far as Calais. A boat waits to take you to Dover. I sent word to Gallowglass and Raleigh to prepare for your return.”

“You’ve been expecting this,” I said, shaken at the prospect of leaving. “But I’m not ready. People still know I’m different.”

“You blend in better than you think. You’ve been conversing with me in perfectly good French and Latin all morning, for instance.” My mouth opened in disbelief. Philippe laughed. “It is true. I switched back and forth twice, but you didn’t notice.” His face grew serious. “Shall I go down and tell Matthew about my arrangements?”

“No,” I said, my hand on his arm. “I’ll do it.”

Matthew was sitting on the ridgepole, a letter in each hand and a frown on his face. When he spotted me, he slid down the slope of an eave and landed on the ground with the grace of a cat. His happiness and lighthearted banter of this morning were nothing more than a memory. Matthew removed his doublet from a rusted torch bracket. Once he’d shrugged it over his shoulders, the carpenter was gone and the prince had returned.

“Agnes Sampson confessed to fifty-three indictments of witchcraft.” Matthew swore. “Scottish officials have yet to learn that heaping on charges makes every single one look less convincing. According to this account, the devil reported to Sampson that King James was his greatest enemy. Elizabeth must be delighted not to find herself in first place.”

“Witches don’t believe in the devil,” I told him. Of all the bizarre things humans said about witches, this was the most incomprehensible.

“Most creatures will believe in anything that promises to bring an end to their immediate misery if they’ve been starved, tortured, and frightened for weeks on end.” Matthew ran his fingers through his hair. “Agnes Sampson’s confession—unreliable as it is—provides proof that the witches are meddling in politics, just as King James contends.”

“Thereby breaking the covenant,” I said, understanding why Agnes had been so vigorously pursued by the Scottish king.

“Yes. Gallowglass wants to know what to do.”

“What did you do when you were here . . . before?”

“I let Agnes Sampson’s death pass unchallenged, a proper civil punishment for a crime that was outside the bounds of Congregation protection.” His eyes met mine. Witch and historian struggled with the impossible choice before me.

“Then you have to keep silent again,” I said, the historian winning the contest.

“My silence will mean her death.”

“And your speaking out will change the past, perhaps with unimaginable consequences for the present. I don’t want the witch to die any more than you do, Matthew. But if we start changing things, where will we stop?” I shook my head.

“So I will watch the whole gruesome business in Scotland unfold, again. This time it looks so different, though,” he said reluctantly. “William Cecil has directed me to return home so that I can gather intelligence on the Scottish situation for the queen. I have to obey his orders, Diana. I don’t have a choice.”

“We’d have to go to England even without Cecil’s summons. Champier’s friends have noticed he’s missing. And we can leave immediately. Philippe’s been making arrangements for a speedy departure, just in case.”

“That’s my father,” Matthew said with a humorless laugh. “I’m sorry we have to leave so soon,” I whispered.

Matthew hooked me into his side. “If not for you, my last memories of my father would be of a broken shell of a man. We must take the bitter with the sweet.”

Over the next several days, Matthew and his father went through a ritual of farewell that must have been familiar, given all the good-byes the two had exchanged. But this time was unique. It would be a different Matthew who would next come to Sept-Tours, one with no knowledge of me or of Philippe’s future.

“The people of Saint-Lucien have long known the company of manjasang,” Philippe assured me when I worried how Thomas and Etienne would be able to keep it all secret. “We come, we go. They ask no questions, and we offer no explanations. It has always been this way.”

Even so, Matthew made sure his own plans were clear. I overheard him talking with Philippe in the hay barn after a morning of sparring.

“The last thing I will do before we return to our own time is to send you a message. Be ready to order me to Scotland to secure the family’s alliance with King James. From there I should go to Amsterdam. The Dutch will be opening up trade routes with the East.”

“I can manage, Matthew,” Philippe said mildly. “Until then I expect regular updates from England and news of how you and Diana are faring.”

“Gallowglass will keep you abreast of our adventures,” Matthew promised.

“It is not the same thing as hearing it from you,” Philippe said. “It will be very difficult not to gloat over what I know of your future when you get pompous, Matthew. Somehow I will manage that, too.”

Time played tricks on us during our last days at Sept-Tours, first dragging, then accelerating without warning. On Christmas Eve, Matthew went down to the church for Mass along with most of the household. I remained in the château and found Philippe in his office on the other side of the great hall. He was, as ever, writing letters.

I knocked on the door. It was a formality, since he had no doubt been tracking my approach since I’d left Matthew’s tower, but it didn’t seem right to barge in uninvited.

“Introite.” It was the same command he’d issued when I’d first arrived, but it sounded so much less forbidding now that I knew him better.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Philippe.”

“Come in, Diana,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “Did Catrine find my boxes?”

“Yes, and the cup and pen case, too.” He insisted that I take his handsome traveling set on the journey. Each item was made of stiffened leather and could withstand the perils of snow, rain, and rough handling. “I wanted to be sure to thank you before we left—and not just for the wedding. You fixed something in Matthew that was broken.”

Philippe pushed his stool back and studied me. “It is I who should be thanking you, Diana. The family has been trying to mend Matthew’s spirit for more than a thousand years. If I’m remembering correctly, it took you less than forty days.”

“Matthew wasn’t like this,” I said with a shake of the head, “not until he was here, with you. There was a darkness in him that I couldn’t reach.”

“A man like Matthew never frees himself of the shadows completely. But perhaps it is necessary to embrace the darkness in order to love him,” Philippe continued.

“‘Do not refuse me because I am dark and shadowed,’” I murmured.

“I do not recognize the verse,” Philippe said with a frown.

“It’s from that alchemical book I showed you earlier—the Aurora Consurgens. The passage reminded me of Matthew, but I still don’t understand why. I will, though.”

“You are very like that ring, you know,” Philippe said, tapping his finger on the table. “It was another of Ysabeau’s clever messages.”

“She wanted you to know she approved of the marriage,” I said, my thumb reaching for the comforting weight.

“No. Ysabeau wanted me to know she approved of you. Like the gold from which it is made, you are steadfast. You hide many secrets within you, just as the bands of the ring hide the poesies from view. But it is the stone that best captures who you are: bright on the surface, fiery within, and impossible to break.”

“Oh, I’m breakable,” I said ruefully. “You can shatter a diamond by hitting it with an ordinary hammer, after all.”

“I’ve seen the scars Matthew left on you. I suspect there are others, too, though less visible. If you did not fall to pieces then, you will not now.” Philippe rounded the table. He kissed me tenderly on each cheek, and my eyes filled.

“I should go. We’re setting out early tomorrow.” I turned to leave, then whirled around and flung my arms around Philippe’s massive shoulders. How could such a man ever be broken?

“What is it?” Philippe murmured, taken aback.

“You will not be alone either, Philippe de Clermont,” I whispered fiercely. “I’ll find a way to be with you in the darkness, I promise. And when you think the whole world has abandoned you, I’ll be there, holding your hand.”

“How could it be otherwise,” Philippe said gently, “when you are in my heart?”

The next morning only a few creatures were gathered in the courtyard to send us on our way. Chef had tucked all sorts of snacks for me into Pierre’s saddlebags, and Alain had stuffed the rest of the available space with letters for Gallowglass, Walter, and scores of other recipients. Catrine stood by, eyes puffy with crying. She had wanted to go with us, but Philippe wouldn’t allow it.

And there was Philippe, who gathered me up in a bear hug before letting me go. He and Matthew spoke quietly for a few moments. Matthew nodded.

“I am proud of you, Matthaios,” said Philippe, clasping him briefly on the shoulder. Matthew moved slightly toward his father when Philippe released him, reluctant to break the connection.

When Matthew turned to me, his face was resolute. He helped me into the saddle before swinging effortlessly onto the back of his horse.

“Khaire, Father,” Matthew said, eyes gleaming.

“Khairete, Matthaios kai Diana.” Philippe replied.

For Matthew there was no turning for a last glimpse of his father and no softening of the stiffness in his back. He kept his eyes on the road ahead, facing the future rather than the past.

I turned once, when a flash of movement caught my eye. It was Philippe, riding along a neighboring ridge, determined not to let go of his son until it was necessary.

“Good-bye, Philippe,” I whispered into the wind, hoping that he would hear.

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