فصل 16

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فصل 16

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Chapter Sixteen

We passed the weekend quietly, reveling in our secret and indulging in the speculations of all parents-to-be. Would the newest member of the de Clermont clan have black hair like his father but my blue eyes? Would he like science or history? Would he be skilled with his hands like Matthew or all thumbs like me? As for the sex, we had different opinions. I was convinced it was a boy, and Matthew was equally sure it was a girl. Exhausted and exhilarated, we took a break from thoughts of the future

to view sixteenth-century London from the warmth of our rooms. We started at the windows overlooking Water Lane, where I spied the distant towers of Westminster Abbey, and finished in chairs pulled up to the bedroom windows, where we could see the Thames. Neither the cold nor the fact that it was the Christian day of rest kept the watermen from their business making deliveries and ferrying passengers. At the bottom of our street, a group of rowers-for-hire huddled on the stairs that led down to the waterside, their empty boats bobbing up and down on the swells.

Matthew shared his memories of the city during the course of the afternoon as the tide rose and fell. He told me about the time in the fifteenth century when the Thames froze for more than three months—so long that temporary shops were built on the ice to cater to the foot traffic. He also reminisced about his unproductive years at Thavies Inn, where he had gone through the motions of studying the law for the fourth and final time.

“I’m glad you got to see it before we leave,” he said, squeezing my hand. One by one, people were illuminating their lamps, hanging them from the prows of boats and setting them in the windows of houses and inns. “We’ll even try to fit in a visit to the Royal Exchange.”

“We’re going back to Woodstock?” I asked, confused.

“For a short time, perhaps. Then we’ll be going back to our present.” I stared at him, too startled to speak.

“We don’t know what to expect during the gestation period, and for

your safety—and the child’s—we need to monitor the baby. There are tests to run, and it would be a good idea to have a baseline ultrasound. Besides, you’ll want to be with Sarah and Emily.”

“But, Matthew,” I protested, “we can’t go home yet. I don’t know how.” His head swung around.

“Em explained it clearly before we left. To travel back in time, you need

three objects to take you where you want to go. To travel forward you need witchcraft, but I can’t do spells. It’s why we came.”

“You can’t possibly carry the baby to term here,” Matthew said, shooting out of his chair.

“Women do have babies in the sixteenth century,” I said mildly. “Besides, I don’t feel any different. I can’t be more than a few weeks pregnant.”

“Will you be powerful enough to carry both her and me back to the future? No, we need to leave as soon as possible, and well before she’s born.” Matthew drew to a halt. “What if timewalking damages the fetus in some way? Magic is one thing, but this—” He sat down abruptly.

“Nothing has changed,” I said soothingly. “The baby can’t be much bigger than a grain of rice. Now that we’re in London, it shouldn’t be difficult to find someone to help me with my magic—not to mention one who understands timewalking better than Sarah and Em.”

“She’s the size of a lentil.” Matthew stopped. He thought for a few moments and came to a decision. “By six weeks all the most critical fetal developments will have taken place. That should give you plenty of time.” He sounded like a doctor, not a father. I was beginning to prefer Matthew’s premodern rages to his modern objectivity.

“And if I need seven?” Had Sarah been in the room, she would have warned him that my reasonableness was not a good sign.

“Seven weeks would be fine,” Matthew said, lost in his own thoughts.

“Oh, well, that’s good. I’d hate to feel rushed when it comes to something as important as figuring out who I am.” I strode toward him.

“Diana, that’s not—”

We were standing nose to nose now. “I don’t have a chance of being a good mother without knowing more about the power in my blood.”

“This isn’t good—”

“Don’t you dare say this isn’t good for the baby. I’m not some vessel.” My temper was at full boil now. “First it was my blood you wanted for your scientific experiments, and now it’s this baby.”

Matthew, damn him, stood quietly by, arms crossed and gray eyes hard.

“Well?” I demanded.

“Well what? Apparently my participation in this conversation isn’t required. You’re already finishing my sentences. You might as well start them, too.”

“This has nothing to do with my hormones,” I said. Belatedly it occurred to me that this statement alone was probably evidence to the contrary.

“That hadn’t occurred to me until you mentioned it.”

“That’s not what it sounded like.”

His eyebrow rose.

“I’m the same person I was three days ago. Pregnancy isn’t a pathological condition, and it doesn’t eliminate our reasons for being here. We haven’t even had a proper chance to look for Ashmole 782.”

“Ashmole 782?” Matthew made an impatient sound. “Everything has changed, and you are not the same person. We can’t keep this pregnancy a secret indefinitely. In a matter of days, every vampire will be able to smell the changes in your body. Kit will figure it out soon after, and he’ll be asking about the father—because it can’t be me, can it? A pregnant witch living with a wearh will raise the animosity of every creature in this city, even the ones who don’t care much for the covenant. Someone could complain to the Congregation. My father will demand we go back to Sept-Tours for your safety, and I can’t endure saying good-bye to him one more time.” His voice rose steadily with each problem.

“I didn’t think—”

“No,” Matthew interrupted, “you didn’t. You couldn’t have. Christ, Diana. Before, you and I were in a forbidden marriage. That’s hardly unique. Now you’re carrying my child. That’s not only unique—other creatures believe it’s impossible. Seven weeks, Diana. Not a moment more.” He was implacable.

“You might not be able to find a witch willing to help by then,” I persisted. “Not with what’s happening in Scotland.”

“Who said anything about willingness?” Matthew’s smile chilled me.

“I’m going to the parlor to read.” I turned toward the bedroom, wanting to be as far from him as possible. He was waiting for me in the doorway, his arm barring my passage.

“I will not lose you, Diana,” he said, emphatic but quiet. “Not to look for an alchemical manuscript and not for the sake of an unborn child.”

“And I will not lose myself,” I retorted. “Not to satisfy your need for control. Not before I find out who I am.”

On Monday, I was again sitting in the parlor, picking through The Faerie Queene and going out of my mind with boredom when the door opened. Visitors. I clapped the book shut eagerly.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be warm again.” Walter stood dripping in the doorway. George and Henry were with him, both looking equally wretched.

“Hello, Diana.” Henry sneezed, then greeted me with a formal bow before heading to the fireplace and extending his fingers toward the flames with a groan.

“Where is Matthew?” I asked, motioning George toward a seat.

“With Kit. We left them at a bookseller.” Walter gestured in the direction of St. Paul’s. “I’m famished. The stew Kit ordered for dinner was inedible. Matt said Françoise should make us something to eat.” Raleigh’s mischievous grin betrayed his lie.

The lads were on their second plates of food and their third helping of wine when Matthew came home with Kit, an armful of books, and a full complement of facial hair courtesy of one of these wizard barbers I kept hearing about. My husband’s trim new mustache suited the width of his mouth, and his beard was fashionably small and well shaped. Pierre followed behind, bearing a linen sack of paper rectangles and squares.

“Thank God,” Walter said, nodding approvingly at the beard. “Now you look like yourself.”

“Hello, my heart,” Matthew said, kissing me on the cheek. “Do you recognize me?”

“Yes—even though you look like a pirate,” I said with a laugh.

“It is true, Diana. He and Walter look like brothers now,” admitted Henry.

“Why do you persist in calling Matthew’s wife by her first name, Henry? Has Mistress Roydon become your ward? Is she your sister now? The only other explanation is that you are planning a seduction,” Marlowe grumbled, plunking himself down in a chair.

“Stop poking at the hornet’s nest, Kit,” Walter chided.

“I have belated Christmas presents,” Matthew said, sliding his stack in my direction.

“Books.” It was disconcerting to feel their obvious newness—the creak of the tight bindings as they protested being opened for the first time, the smell of paper and the tang of ink. I was used to seeing volumes like these in a worn condition within library reading rooms, not resting on the table where we ate our meals. The top volume was a blank book to replace the one still in Oxford. The next was a book of prayers, beautifully bound. The ornate title page was adorned with a reclining figure of the biblical patriarch Jesse. A sprawling tree emerged from his stomach. My forehead creased. Why had Matthew bought me a prayer book?

“Turn the page,” he urged, his hands heavy and quiet against the small of my back.

On the reverse was a woodcut of Queen Elizabeth kneeling in prayer. Skeletons, biblical figures, and classical virtues decorated each page. The book was a combination of text and imagery, just like the alchemical treatises I studied.

“It’s exactly the kind of book a respectable married lady would own,” Matthew said with a grin. He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “That should satisfy your desire to keep up appearances. But don’t worry. The next one isn’t respectable at all.”

I put the prayer book aside and took the thick volume Matthew offered. Its pages were sewn together and slipped inside a protective wrapper of thick vellum. The treatise promised to explain the symptoms and cures of every disease known to afflict mankind.

“Religious books are popular gifts, and easy to sell. Books about medicine have a smaller audience and are too costly to bind without a commission,” Matthew explained as I fingered the limp covering. He handed me yet another volume. “Luckily, I had already ordered a bound copy of this one. It’s hot off the presses and destined to be a bestseller.”

The item in question was covered in simple black leather, with some silver stamps for ornamentation. Inside was a first edition of Philip Sidney’s Arcadia. I laughed, remembering how much I’d hated reading it in college.

“A witch cannot live by prayer and physic alone.” Matthew’s eyes twinkled with mischief. His mustache tickled when he moved to kiss me.

“Your new face is going to take some getting used to,” I said, laughing and rubbing my lips at the unexpected sensation.

The Earl of Northumberland eyed me as he would a piece of horseflesh in need of a training regimen. “These few titles will not keep Diana occupied for long. She is used to more varied activity.”

“As you say. But she can hardly roam the city and offer classes on alchemy.” Matthew’s mouth tightened with amusement. Hour by hour, his accent and choice of words molded to the time. He leaned over me, sniffed the wine jug, and grimaced. “Is there something to drink that hasn’t been dosed with cloves and pepper? It smells dreadful.”

“Diana might enjoy Mary’s company,” Henry suggested, not having heard Matthew’s query.

Matthew stared at Henry. “Mary?”

“They are of a similar age and temperament, I think, and both are paragons of learning.”

“The countess is not only learned but also has a propensity for setting things alight,” Kit observed, pouring himself another generous beaker of wine. He stuck his nose in it and breathed deeply. It smelled rather like Matthew. “Stay away from her stills and furnaces, Mistress Roydon, unless you want fashionably frizzled hair.”

“Furnaces?” I wondered who this could be.

“A h, yes. The Countess of Pembroke,” George said, eyes gleaming at the prospect of patronage.

“Absolutely not.” Between Raleigh, Chapman, and Marlowe, I’d met enough literary legends to last me a lifetime. The countess was the foremost woman of letters in the country, and Sir Philip Sidney’s sister. “I’m not ready for Mary Sidney.”

“Nor is Mary Sidney ready for you, Mistress Roydon, but I suspect that Henry is right. You will soon grow tired of Matthew’s friends and need to seek your own. Without them you will be prone to idleness and melancholy.” Walter nodded to Matthew. “You should invite Mary here to share supper.”

“The Blackfriars would come to a complete standstill if the Countess of Pembroke appeared on Water Lane. It would be far better to send Mistress Roydon to Baynard’s Castle. It’s just over the wall,” Marlowe said, eager to be rid of me.

“Diana would have to walk into the city,” Matthew said pointedly.

Marlowe gave a dismissive snort. “It’s the week between Christmas and New Year. Nobody will pay attention if two married women share a cup of wine and some gossip.”

“I’d be happy to take her,” Walter volunteered. “Perhaps Mary will want to know more about my venture in the New World.”

“You’ll have to ask the countess to invest in Virginia another time. If Diana goes, I’ll be with her.” Matthew’s eyes sharpened. “I wonder if Mary knows any witches?”

“She’s a woman, isn’t she? Of course she knows witches,” Marlowe said. “Shall I write to her, then, Matt?” Henry inquired.

“Thank you, Hal.” Matthew was clearly unconvinced of the merits of the plan. Then he sighed. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen her. Tell Mary we’ll call on her tomorrow.”

My initial reluctance to meet Mary Sidney faded as our rendezvous approached. The more I remembered—and discovered—about the Countess of Pembroke, the more excited I became.

Françoise was in a state of high anxiety about the visit, and she fussed over my clothes for hours. She fixed a particularly frothy ruff around the high neckline of a black velvet jacket that Maria had fashioned for me in France. She also cleaned and pressed my flattering russet gown with its bands of black velvet. It went well with the jacket and provided a jolt of color. Once I was dressed, Françoise pronounced me passable, though too severe and German-looking for her tastes.

I bolted down some stew filled with chunks of rabbit and barley at midday in an effort to speed our departure. Matthew took an interminable time sipping his wine and questioning me in Latin about my morning. His expression was devilish.

“If you’re trying to infuriate me, you’re succeeding!” I told him after a particularly convoluted question.

“Refero mihi in latine, quaeso,” Matthew said in a professorial tone. When I threw a hunk of bread at him, he laughed and ducked.

Henry Percy arrived just in time to catch the bread neatly with one hand. He returned it to the table without comment, smiled serenely, and asked if we were ready to depart.

Pierre materialized without a sound from the shadows near the entrance to the shoe shop and began walking up the street with a diffident air, his right hand firmly around the hilt of his dagger. When Matthew turned us toward the city, I looked up. There was St. Paul’s.

“I’m not likely to get lost with that in the neighborhood,” I murmured.

As we made our slow progress toward the cathedral, my senses grew accustomed to the chaos and it was possible to pick out individual sounds, smells, and sights. Bread baking. Coal fires. Wood smoke. Fermentation. Freshly washed garbage, courtesy of yesterday’s rains. Wet wool. I breathed deeply, making a mental note to stop telling my students that if you went back in time, you would be knocked over instantly by the foul smell. Apparently that wasn’t true, at least not in late December.

Men and women looked up from their work and out their windows with unabashed curiosity as we passed, bobbing their heads respectfully when they recognized Matthew and Henry. We stepped by a printing establishment, passed another where a barber was cutting a man’s hair, and skirted a busy workshop where hammers and heat indicated that someone was working in fine metals.

As the strangeness wore off, I was able to focus on what people were saying, the texture of their clothes, the expressions on their faces. Matthew had told me our neighborhood was full of foreigners, but it sounded like Babel. I turned my head. “What language is she speaking?” I whispered with a glance at a plump woman wearing a deep blue-green jacket trimmed with fur. It was, I noted, cut rather like my own.

“Some dialect of German,” said Matthew, lowering his head to mine so that I could hear him over the noise in the street.

We passed through the arch of an old gatehouse. The lane widened into a street that had managed against all odds to retain most of its paving. A sprawling, multistoried building to our right buzzed with activity.

“The Dominican priory,” Matthew explained. “When King Henry expelled the priests, it became a ruin, then a tenement. There’s no telling how many people are crammed in there now.” He glanced across the courtyard, where a listing stone-and-timber wall spanned the distance between the tenement and the back of another house. A sorry excuse for a door hung from a single set of hinges.

Matthew looked up at St. Paul’s and then down at me. His face softened. “To hell with caution. Come on.”

He steered me through an opening between a section of the old city wall and a house that looked as though it were about to tip its third story onto passersby. It was possible to make progress along the slim thoroughfare only because everyone was moving in the same direction: up, north, out. We were carried by the wave of humanity into another street, this one much wider than Water Lane. The noise increased, along with the crowds.

“You said the city was deserted because of the holidays,” I remarked.

“It is,” Matthew replied. After a few steps, we were pitched into an even greater maelstrom. I stopped in my tracks.

St. Paul’s windows glimmered in the pale afternoon light. The churchyard around it was a solid mass of people—men, women, children, apprentices, servants, clergymen, soldiers. Those who weren’t shouting were listening to those who were, and everywhere you looked, there was paper. It was hung up on strings outside bookstalls, nailed to any solid surface, made into books, and waved in the faces of onlookers. A group of young men huddled around one post covered with flapping announcements, listening to someone slowly sound out job advertisements. Every now and then, one would break free from the rest, hands slapping him on the back as he pulled his cap down and set off in search of employment.

“Oh, Matthew.” It was all I could manage.

People continued to swarm around us, carefully avoiding the tips of the long swords my escorts wore at their waists. A breeze caught at my hood. I felt a tingle, followed by a faint pressure. Somewhere in the busy churchyard, a witch and a daemon had sensed our presence. Three creatures traveling together were hard to ignore.

“We’ve caught someone’s attention,” I said. Matthew didn’t seem overly concerned as he scanned the nearby faces. “Someone like me. Someone like Kit. No one like you.”

“Not yet,” he said under his breath. “You aren’t to come here by yourself, Diana—ever. Stay in the Blackfriars, with Françoise. If you go any farther than that passageway”—Matthew nodded behind us—“Pierre or I must be with you.” When he was satisfied that I had taken his warning seriously, he drew me away. “Let’s go see Mary.”

We turned south again, toward the river, and the wind flattened my skirts against my legs. Though we were walking downhill, every step was a struggle. A low whistle sounded as we passed by one of London’s many churches, and Pierre disappeared into an alley. He popped out of another just as I spotted a familiar-looking building behind a wall.

“That’s our house!”

Matthew nodded and directed my attention down the street. “And that is Baynard’s Castle.”

It was the largest building I had seen yet except for the Tower, St. Paul’s, and the distant prospect of Westminster Abbey. Three crenellated towers faced the river, linked by walls that were easily twice the height of any nearby houses.

“Baynard’s Castle was built to be approached from the river, Diana,” Henry said in an apologetic tone as we traveled down another winding lane. “This is the back entrance, and not how visitors are supposed to arrive—but it is a great deal warmer on a day like this.”

We ducked into an imposing gatehouse. Two men wearing charcoal gray uniforms with maroon, black, and gold badges strolled up to identify the visitors. One recognized Henry and grabbed at his companion’s sleeve before he could question us.

“Lord Northumberland!”

“We’re here to see the countess.” Henry swung his cloak in the direction of the guard. “See if you can get that dry. And find Master Roydon’s man something hot to drink, if you would.” The earl cracked his fingers inside his leather gloves and grimaced.

“Of course, my lord,” the gatekeeper said, eyeing Pierre with suspicion.

The castle was arranged around two enormous hollow squares, the central spaces filled with leafless trees and the vestiges of summer flowers. We climbed a wide set of stairs and met up with more liveried servants, one of whom led us to the countess’s solar: an inviting room with large, southfacing windows overlooking the river. They provided a view of the same stretch of the Thames that was visible from the Blackfriars.

Despite the similarity of the view, there was no mistaking this lofty, bright space for our house. Though our rooms were large and comfortably furnished, Baynard’s Castle was the home of aristocracy, and it showed. Wide, cushioned settles flanked the fireplace, along with chairs so deep that a woman could curl up in one with all her skirts tucked around her. Tapestries enlivened the stone walls with splashes of bright color and scenes from classical mythology. There were signs, too, of a scholar’s mind at work. Books, bits of ancient statuary, natural objects, pictures, maps, and other curiosities covered the tables.

“Master Roydon?” A man with a pointed beard and dark hair peppered with gray stood. He held a small board in one hand and a tiny brush in the other.

“Hilliard!” Matthew said, his delight evident. “What brings you here?”

“A commission for Lady Pembroke,” the man said, waving his palette. “I must put the finishing touches on this miniature. She wishes to have it for a gift at the New Year.” His bright brown eyes studied me.

“I forget, you have not met my wife. Diana, this is Nicholas Hilliard, the limner.”

“I am honored,” I said, dipping into a curtsy. London had well over a hundred thousand residents. Why did Matthew have to know everyone that historians would one day find significant? “I know and admire your work.”

“She has seen the portrait of Sir Walter that you painted for me last year,” Matthew said smoothly, covering up my too-effusive greeting.

“One of his best pieces, I agree,” Henry said, looking over the artist’s shoulder. “This seems destined to rival it, though. What an excellent likeness of Mary, Hilliard. You’ve captured the intensity of her gaze.” Hilliard looked pleased.

A servant appeared with wine, and Henry, Matthew, and Hilliard conversed in low voices while I examined an ostrich egg set in gold and a nautilus shell in a silver stand, both of which sat on a table along with several priceless mathematical instruments that I didn’t dare touch.

“Matt!” The Countess of Pembroke stood in the doorway wiping inkstained fingers on a handkerchief hastily supplied by her maid. I wondered why anyone would bother, since her mistress’s dove gray gown was already splotched and even singed in places. The countess peeled the simple garment from her body, revealing a far more splendid velvet and taffeta outfit in a rich shade of plum. As she passed the early-modern equivalent of a lab coat to her servant, I smelled a distinct whiff of gunpowder. The countess tucked up a tight curl of blond hair that had drifted down by her right ear. She was tall and willowy, with creamy skin and deep-set brown eyes.

She stretched out her hands in welcome. “My dear friend. I have not seen you for years, not since my brother Philip’s funeral.”

“Mary,” Matthew said, bowing over her hand. “You are looking well.”

“London does not agree with me, as you know, but it has become a tradition that we travel here for the queen’s anniversary celebrations, and I stayed on. I am working on Philip’s psalms and a few other fancies and do not mind it so much. And there are consolations, like seeing old friends.” Mary’s voice was airy, but it still conveyed her sharp intelligence.

“You are indeed flourishing,” Henry said, adding his welcome to Matthew’s and looking at the countess approvingly.

Mary’s brown eyes fixed on me. “And who is this?”

“My happiness at seeing you has pushed my manners aside. Lady Pembroke, this is my wife, Diana. We are recently wed.”

“My lady.” I dropped the countess a deep curtsy. Mary’s shoes were encrusted with fantastic gold and silver embroidery that suggested Eden, covered as they were with snakes, apples, and insects. They must have cost a fortune.

“Mistress Roydon,” she said, her eyes snapping with amusement. “Now that that’s over with, let us be plain Mary and Diana. Henry tells me that you are a student of alchemy.”

“A reader of alchemy, my lady,” I corrected, “that is all. Lord Northumberland is too generous.”

Matthew took my hand in his. “And you are too modest. She knows a vast amount, Mary. As Diana is new to London, Hal thought you might help her find her way in the city.”

“With pleasure,” the Countess of Pembroke said. “Come, we shall sit by the window. Master Hilliard requires strong light for his work. While he finishes my portrait, you will tell me all the news. Little happens in the kingdom that is beyond Matthew’s notice and understanding, Diana, and I have been at home in Wiltshire for months.”

Once we were settled, her servant returned with a plate of preserved fruit.

“Ooh,” Henry said, happily wiggling his fingers over the yellow, green, and orange confections. “Comfits. You make them like no one else.”

“And I shall share my secret with Diana,” Mary said, looking pleased. “Of course, once she has the receipt, I may never have the pleasure of Henry’s company again.”

“Now, Mary, you go too far,” he protested around a mouthful of candied orange peel.

“Is your husband with you, Mary, or does the queen’s business keep him in Wales?” Matthew inquired.

“The Earl of Pembroke left Milford Haven several days ago but will go to court rather than come here. I have William and Philip with me for company, and we will not linger much longer in the city but go on to Ramsbury. The air is healthier there.” A sad look crossed her face.

Mary’s words reminded me of the statue of William Herbert in the Bodleian Library quadrangle. The man I passed on the way to Duke Humfrey’s every day, and one of the library’s greatest benefactors, was this woman’s young son. “How old are your children?” I asked, hoping that the question was not too personal.

The countess’s face softened. “William is ten, and Philip is just six. My daughter, Anne, is seven but she has been ill this past month, and my husband felt she should remain at Wilton.”

“Nothing serious?” Matthew frowned.

More shadows scudded across the countess’s face. “Any sickness that afflicts my children is serious,” she said softly.

“Forgive me, Mary. I spoke without thinking. My intention was only to offer what assistance I can.” My husband’s voice deepened with regret. The conversation was touching on a shared history unknown to me.

“You have kept those I love from harm on more than one occasion. I haven’t forgotten it, Matthew, nor would I fail to call on you again if necessary. But Anne suffered from a child’s ague, nothing more. The physicians assure me she will recover.” Mary turned to me. “Do you have children, Diana?”

“Not yet,” I said, shaking my head. Matthew’s gray glance settled on me for a moment, then flitted away. I tugged nervously at the bottom of my jacket.

“Diana has not been married before,” Matthew said.

“Never?” The Countess of Pembroke was fascinated by this piece of information and opened her mouth to question me further. Matthew cut her off.

“Her father and mother died when she was young. There was no one to arrange it.”

Mary’s sympathy increased. “A young girl’s life is sadly dependent upon the whims of her guardians.”

“Indeed.” Matthew arched an eyebrow at me. I could imagine what he was thinking: I was lamentably independent, and Sarah and Em were the least whimsical creatures on earth.

The conversation moved on to politics and current events. I listened attentively for a while, trying to reconcile hazy recollections of a long-ago history class with the complicated gossip that the other three exchanged. There was talk of war, a possible Spanish invasion, Catholic sympathizers, and the religious tension in France, but the names and places were often unfamiliar. As I relaxed into the warmth of Mary’s solar, and comforted by the constant chatter, my mind drifted.

“I am done here, Lady Pembroke. My servant Isaac will deliver the miniature by week’s end,” Hilliard announced, packing up his equipment.

“Thank you, Master Hilliard.” The countess extended her hand, sparkling with the jewels from her many rings. He kissed it, nodded to Henry and Matthew, and departed.

“Such a talented man,” Mary said, shifting in her chair. “He has grown so popular I was fortunate to secure his services.” Her feet twinkled in the firelight, the silver embroidery on her richly colored slippers picking up hints of red, orange, and gold. I wondered idly who had designed the intricate pattern for the embroidery. Had I been closer, I would have asked to touch the stitches. Champier had been able to read my flesh with his fingers. Could an inanimate object provide similar information?

Though my fingers were nowhere near the countess’s shoes, I saw the face of a young woman. She was peering at a sheet of paper with the design for Mary’s shoes on it. Tiny holes along the lines of the drawing solved the mystery of how its intricacies had been transferred to leather. Focusing on the drawing, my mind’s eye took several steps backward in time. Now I saw Mary sitting with a stern, stubborn-jawed man, a table full of insect and plant specimens before them. Both were talking with great animation about a grasshopper, and when the man began to describe it in detail, Mary took up her pen and sketched its outlines.

So Mary is interested in plants and insects, as well as alchemy, I thought, searching her shoes for the grasshopper. There it was, on the heel. So lifelike. And the bee on her right toe looked as though it might fly away at any moment.

A faint buzzing filled my ears as the silver-and-black bee detached itself from the Countess of Pembroke’s shoe and took to the air.

“Oh, no,” I gasped.

“What a strange bee,” Henry commented, swatting at it as it flew past.

But I was looking instead at the snake that was slithering off Mary’s foot and into the rushes. “Matthew!”

He shot forward and lifted the snake by the tail. It extended its forked tongue and hissed indignantly at the rough treatment. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the snake into the fire, where it sizzled for a moment before catching light.

“I didn’t mean . . .” I trailed off.

“It’s all right, mon coeur. You cannot help it.” Matthew touched my cheek before he looked at the countess, who was staring down at her mismatching slippers. “We need a witch, Mary. There is some urgency.”

“I know no witches,” was the Countess of Pembroke’s swift reply.

Matthew’s eyebrows rose.

“None to whom I would introduce your wife. You know I don’t like to speak of such matters, Matthew. When he returned safe from Paris, Philip told me what you were. I was a child then and understood it as a fable. That is how I wish to keep it.”

“And yet you practice alchemy,” Matthew observed. “Is that a fable, too?”

“I practice alchemy to understand God’s miracle of creation!” Mary cried. “There is no . . . witchcraft . . . in alchemy!”

“The word you were searching for is ‘evil.’” The vampire’s eyes were dark and the set of his mouth forbidding. The countess instinctively recoiled. “You are so sure of yourself and your God that you claim to know His mind?”

Mary felt the rebuke but was not ready to give up the fight. “My God and your God are not the same, Matthew.” My husband’s eyes narrowed, and Henry picked at his hose nervously. The countess’s chin rose. “Philip told me about that, too. You still adhere to the pope and the Mass. He saw past the errors of your faith to the man underneath, and I have done the same in the hope that one day you will perceive the truth and follow it.”

“Why, when you see the truth about creatures like Diana and me every day and still deny it?” Matthew sounded weary. He stood. “We will not trouble you again, Mary. Diana will find a witch some other way.”

“Why can we not go on as we have before and speak no more about this?” The countess looked at me and bit her lip, uncertainty in her eyes.

“Because I love my wife and want to see her safe.”

Mary studied him for a moment, gauging his sincerity. It must have satisfied her. “Diana need not fear me, Matt. But no one else in London should be trusted with the knowledge of her. What is happening in Scotland is making people fearful, and quick to blame others for their misfortunes.”

“I’m so sorry about your shoes,” I said awkwardly. They would never be the same.

“We will not mention it,” Mary said firmly, rising to say her good-byes.

None of us said a word as we left Baynard’s Castle. Pierre sauntered out of the gatehouse behind us, jamming his cap on his head.

“That went very well, I think,” Henry said, breaking the silence.

We turned on him in disbelief.

“There were a few difficulties, to be sure,” he said hastily, “but there was no mistaking Mary’s interest in Diana or her continued devotion to you, Matthew. You must give her a chance. She was not raised to trust easily. It’s why matters of faith trouble her so.” He drew his cloak around him. The wind had not diminished, and it was getting dark. “Alas, I must leave you here. My mother is in Aldersgate and expects me for supper.”

“Has she recovered from her indisposition?” Matthew asked. The dowager countess had complained about shortness of breath over Christmas, and Matthew was concerned it might be her heart.

“My mother is a Neville. She will, therefore, live forever and cause trouble at every opportunity!” Henry kissed me on the cheek. “Do not worry about Mary, or about that . . . er, other matter.” He wiggled his eyebrows meaningfully and departed.

Matthew and I watched him go before turning toward the Blackfriars. “What happened?” he asked quietly.

“Before, it was my emotions that set off the magic. Now an idle question is enough to make me see beneath the surface of things. But I have no idea how I animated that bee.”

“Thank God you were thinking about Mary’s shoes. If you’d been examining her tapestries, we would have found ourselves in the midst of a war between the gods on Mount Olympus,” he said drily.

We passed quickly through St. Paul’s Churchyard and back into the relative quiet of the Blackfriars. The day’s earlier frenetic activity had slowed to a more leisurely pace. Craftsmen congregated in doorways to share notes on business, leaving their apprentices to finish up the day’s tasks.

“Do you want takeout?” Matthew pointed at a bake shop. “It’s not pizza, alas, but Kit and Walter are devoted to Prior’s meat pies.” My mouth watered at the scent coming from inside, and I nodded.

Master Prior was shocked when Matthew entered his premises and nonplussed when questioned in detail about the sources and relative freshness of his meat. Finally I settled on a savory pie filled with duck. I wasn’t having venison, no matter how recently it had been killed.

Matthew paid Prior for the food while the baker’s assistants wrapped it. Every few seconds they gave us furtive glances. I was reminded that a witch and a vampire drew human suspicion like a candle drew moths.

Dinner was comfortable and cozy, though Matthew seemed a bit preoccupied. Soon after I’d finished my pie, footsteps sounded on the wooden stairs. Not Kit, I thought, crossing my fingers, not tonight.

When Françoise opened the door, two men in familiar charcoal livery were waiting. Matthew frowned and stood. “Is the countess unwell? Or one of the boys?”

“All are well, sir.” One of them held out a carefully folded piece of paper. On top was an irregular blob of red wax bearing the impression of an arrowhead. “From the Countess of Pembroke,” he explained with a bow, “for Mistress Roydon.”

It was strange to see the formal address on the reverse: “Mistress Diana Roydon, at the sign of the Hart and Crown, the Blackfriars.” My wandering fingers easily summoned up an image of Mary Sidney’s intelligent face. I carried the letter over to the fire, slid my finger under the seal, and sat down to read. The paper was thick and crackled as I spread it out. A smaller slip of paper fluttered onto my lap.

“What does Mary say?” Matthew asked after dismissing the messengers. He stood behind me and rested his hands on my shoulders.

“She wants me to come to Baynard’s Castle on Thursday. Mary has an alchemical experiment under way that she thinks might interest me.” I couldn’t keep the incredulity out of my voice.

“That’s Mary for you. She’s cautious but loyal,” Matthew said, dropping a kiss on my head. “And she always did have amazing recuperative powers. What’s on the other paper?”

I picked it up and read aloud the first lines of the enclosed verses.

“Yea, when all me so misdeemed, I to most a monster seemed, Yet in thee my hope was strong.”

“Well, well, well,” Matthew interrupted with a chuckle. “My wife has arrived.” I looked at him in confusion. “Mary’s most treasured project is not alchemical but a new rendition of the Psalms for English Protestants. Her brother Philip began it and died before it was complete. Mary’s twice the poet he was. Sometimes she suspects as much, though she’ll never admit it. That’s the beginning of Psalm Seventy-one. She sent it to you to show the world that you’re part of her circle—a trusted confidante and friend.” His voice dropped to a mischievous whisper. “Even if you did ruin her shoes.” With a final chuckle, Matthew withdrew to his study, dogged by Pierre.

I’d taken over one end of the heavy-legged table in the parlor for a desk. Like every work surface I’d ever occupied, it was now littered with both trash and treasures. I rooted around and found my last sheets of blank paper, selected a fresh quill, and swept a spot clear.

It took five minutes to write a brief response to the countess. There were two embarrassing blotches on it, but my Italic hand was reasonably good, and I’d remembered to spell some of the words phonetically so that they wouldn’t look too modern. When in doubt I doubled a consonant or added a final e. I shook sand on the sheet and waited until it absorbed the excess ink before blowing it into the rushes. Once the letter was folded, I realized that I had no wax or signet to close it. That will have to be fixed.

I set my note aside for Pierre and returned to the slip of paper. Mary had sent me all three stanzas of Psalm 71. I took up a new blank book that Matthew had bought for me and opened it to the first page. After dipping the quill into the nearby pot of ink, I moved the sharp point carefully across the sheet.

They by whom my life is hated With their spies have now debated Of their talk, and, lo, the sum: God, they say, hath him forsaken. Now pursue, he must be taken; None will to his rescue come.

When the ink was dry, I closed my book and slid it underneath Philip Sidney’s Arcadia.

There was more to this gift from Mary than a simple offer of friendship, of that I was certain. While the lines I’d read aloud to Matthew were an acknowledgment of his service to her family and a declaration that she would not turn away from him now, the final lines held a message for me: We were being watched. Someone suspected that all was not as it seemed on Water Lane, and Matthew’s enemies were betting that even his allies would turn against him once they discovered the truth.

Matthew, a vampire as well as the queen’s servant and a member of the Congregation, couldn’t be involved with finding a witch to serve as my magical tutor. And with a baby on the way, finding one quickly had taken on a new significance.

I pulled a sheet of paper toward me and began to make a list. Sealing Waxe

A Signet

London was a big city. And I was going to do some shopping.

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