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“I’m going out.”
Françoise looked up from her sewing. Thirty seconds later Pierre was climbing the stairs. Had Matthew been at home, he would no doubt have appeared as well, but he was out conducting some mysterious business in the city. I’d woken to the sight of his damp suit still drying by the fireplace. He’d been called away in the night and returned, only to leave once more.
“Indeed?” Françoise’s eyes narrowed. She had suspected I was up to no good ever since I’d gotten dressed. Instead of grumbling about the number of petticoats she pulled over my head, today I’d added another made out of warm gray flannel. Then we argued about which gown I should wear. I preferred the comfortable clothes I’d brought from France over Louisa de Clermont’s more splendid garments. Matthew’s sister, with her dark hair and porcelain skin, could pull off a gown of vivid turquoise velvet (“Verdigris,” Françoise had corrected me) or a sickly gray-green taffeta (appropriately called “Dying Spaniard”), but they looked ghastly with my faint freckles and reddish-blond curls, and they were too grand to wear around town.
“Perhaps madame should wait until Master Roydon returns,” Pierre suggested. He shifted nervously from one foot to the other.
“No, I think not. I’ve made a list of things I need, and I want to go shopping for them myself.” I scooped up the leather bag of coins given to me by Philippe. “Is it all right to carry a bag, or am I supposed to stick the money into my bodice and fish the coins out when necessary?” This aspect of historical fiction had always fascinated me—women stuffing things into their dresses—and I was looking forward to discovering whether the items were as easy to remove in public as the novelists suggested. Sex was certainly not as easy to arrange in the sixteenth century as it was made out to be in some romances. There were too many clothes in the way, for a start.
“Madame will not carry money at all!” Françoise pointed to Pierre, who loosened the strings of a bag tied around his waist. It was apparently bottomless and held a considerable stash of pointy implements, including pins, needles, something that looked like a set of picklocks, and a dagger. Once my leather bag was included, it jingled at his slightest movement.
Out on Water Lane, I strode with as much determination as my pattens (those helpful wooden wedges that slipped over my shoes and kept me from the muck) would allow in the direction of St. Paul’s. The fur-lined cloak billowed around my feet, its thick fabric a barrier to the clinging fog. We were enjoying a temporary reprieve from the recent downpours, but the weather was by no means dry.
Our first stop was at Master Prior’s bakery for some buns studded with currants and candied fruit. I was often hungry in the late afternoons and would want something sweet. My next visit was near the alley that linked the Blackfriars to the rest of London, at a busy printing shop marked with the sign of an anchor.
“Good morning, Mistress Roydon,” the proprietor said the moment I crossed the threshold. Apparently my neighbors knew me without introduction. “You are here to pick up your husband’s book?”
I nodded confidently in spite of not knowing which book he was talking about, and he pulled at a slim volume that was resting on a high shelf. A flip through the pages revealed that it dealt with military affairs and ballistics.
“I am sorry there was no bound copy of your physic book,” he said as he wrapped Matthew’s purchase. “When you can part with it, I will have it bound to suit you.”
So this was where my compendium of illnesses and cures had come from. “I thank you, Master . . .” I trailed off.
“Field,” he supplied.
“Master Field,” I repeated. A bright-eyed young woman with a baby on her hip came out of the office at the back of the shop, a toddler clinging to her skirts. Her fingers were rough and ingrained with ink.
“Mistress Roydon, this is my wife, Jacqueline.”
“Ah. Madame Roydon.” The woman’s accent was softly French and reminded me of Ysabeau. “Your husband told us you are a great reader, and Margaret Hawley reports that you study alchemy.”
Jacqueline and her husband knew a great deal about my business. No doubt they also were apprised of my shoe size and the type of meat pie I preferred. It struck me as even odder, therefore, that no one in the Blackfriars seemed to have noticed I was a witch.
“Yes,” I said, straightening the seams of my gloves. “Do you sell unbound paper, Master Field?”
“Of course,” Field said with a confused frown. “Have you filled your book with commonplaces already?” Ah. He was the source of my notebook, too.
“I require paper for correspondence,” I explained. “And sealing wax. And a signet. Can I purchase them here?” The Yale bookstore had all kinds of stationery, pens, and sticks of brightly colored, entirely pointless wax along with cheap brass seals made in the shape of letters. Field and his wife exchanged glances.
“I will send more paper this afternoon,” he said. “But you’ll want a goldsmith for the signet so it can be made into a ring. All I have here are worn letters from the printing press that are waiting to be melted down and recast.”
“Or you could see Nicholas Vallin,” Jacqueline suggested. “He is expert with metals, Mistress Roydon, and also makes fine clocks.”
“Just down the lane?” I said, pointing over my shoulder.
“He is not a goldsmith,” Field protested. “We do not want to cause Monsieur Vallin trouble.”
Jacqueline was unperturbed. “There are benefits to living in the Blackfriars, Richard. Working outside the regulations of the guilds is one of them. Besides, the Goldsmiths Company will not bother anyone here for something as insignificant as a woman’s ring. If you want sealing wax, Mistress Roydon, you will need to go to the apothecary.”
Soap was on my list of purchases, too. And apothecaries used distillation apparatus. Even though my focus was necessarily shifting from alchemy to magic, there was no need to forgo an opportunity to learn something more useful.
“Where is the nearest apothecary?”
Pierre coughed. “Perhaps you should consult with Master Roydon.”
Matthew would have all sorts of opinions, most of which would involve sending Françoise or Pierre to fetch what I required. The Fields awaited my reply with interest.
“Perhaps,” I said, staring at Pierre indignantly. “But I would like Mistress Field’s recommendation all the same.”
“John Hester is highly regarded,” Jacqueline said with a touch of mischief, pulling the toddler free of her skirts. “He provided a tincture for my son’s ear that cured its aching.” John Hester, if memory served, was interested in alchemy, too. Perhaps he knew a witch. Even better, he might be a witch, which would suit my real intentions admirably. I was not simply out shopping today. I was out to be seen. Witches were a curious bunch. If I offered myself up as bait, one would bite.
“It is said that even the Countess of Pembroke seeks his advice for the young lord’s megraines,” her husband added. So the entire neighborhood knew I’d been to Baynard’s Castle, too. Mary was right: We were being watched.
“Master Hester’s shop is near Paul’s Wharf, marked with the sign of a still,” she continued.
“Thank you, Mistress Field.” Paul’s Wharf must be near St. Paul’s Churchyard, and I could go there that afternoon. I redrew my mental map of today’s excursion.
After we said our farewells, Françoise and Pierre turned down the lane toward home.
“I’m going on to the cathedral,” I said, heading in the other direction.
Impossibly, Pierre was standing before me. “Milord will not be pleased.”
“Milord is not here. Matthew left strict instructions that I wasn’t to go there without you. He didn’t say I was a prisoner in my own house.” I thrust the book and the buns at Françoise. “If Matthew returns before I do, tell him where we are and that I’ll be back soon.”
Françoise took the parcels, exchanged a long look with Pierre, and proceeded down Water Lane.
“Prenez garde, madame,” Pierre murmured as I passed him.
“I’m always careful,” I said calmly, stepping straight into a puddle.
Two coaches had collided and were jammed in the street leading to St. Paul’s. The lumbering vehicles resembled enclosed wagons and were nothing like the dashing carriages in Jane Austen films. I skirted them with Pierre on my heels, dodging the irritated horses and the no-less-irritated occupants, who stood in the middle of the street and shouted about who was to blame. Only the coachmen seemed unconcerned, chatting to each other quietly from their perches above the fray.
“Does this happen often?” I asked Pierre, pulling back my hood so that I could see him.
“These new conveyances are a nuisance,” he said sourly. “It was much better when people walked or rode horses. But it is no matter. They will never catch on.”
That’s what they told Henry Ford, I thought.
“How far is Paul’s Wharf?”
“Milord does not like John Hester.”
“That’s not what I asked, Pierre.”
“What does madame wish to purchase in the churchyard?” Pierre’s distraction technique was familiar to me from years in the classroom. But I had no intention of telling anyone the real reason we were picking our way across London.
“Books,” I said shortly.
We entered the precincts of St. Paul’s, where every inch not taken up by paper was occupied by someone selling a good or service. A kindly middleaged man sat on a stool, inside a lean-to affixed to a shed, which was itself built up against one of the cathedral walls. This was by no means an unusual office environment for the place. A huddle of people gathered around his stall. If I were lucky, there would be a witch among them.
I made my way through the crowd. They all seemed to be human. What a disappointment.
The man looked up, startled, from a document he was carefully transcribing for a waiting customer. A scrivener. Please, let this not be William Shakespeare, I prayed.
“Can I help you, Mistress Roydon?” he said in a French accent. Not Shakespeare. But how did he know my identity?
“Do you have sealing wax? And red ink?”
“I am not an apothecary, Mistress Roydon, but a poor teacher.” His customers began to mutter about the scandalous profits enjoyed by grocers, apothecaries, and other extortionists.
“Mistress Field tells me that John Hester makes excellent sealing wax.” Heads turned in my direction.
“Rather expensive, though. So is his ink, which he makes from iris flowers.” The man’s assessment was confirmed by murmurs from the crowd.
“Can you point me in the direction of his shop?”
Pierre grabbed my elbow. “Non,” he hissed in my ear. As this only earned us more human attention, he quickly dropped it again.
The scrivener’s hand rose and pointed east. “You will find him at Paul’s Wharf. Go to the Bishop’s Head and then turn south. But Monsieur Cornu knows the way.”
I glanced back at Pierre, who was staring fixedly at a spot somewhere above my head. “Does he? Thank you.”
“That’s Matthew Roydon’s wife?” someone said with a chuckle as we stepped out of the throng. “Mon dieu. No wonder he looks exhausted.”
I didn’t move immediately in the direction of the apothecary. Instead, with my eyes fixed on the cathedral, I began a slow circumnavigation of its enormous bulk. It was surprisingly graceful given its size, but that unfortunate lightning strike had ruined its appearance forever.
“This is not the fastest way to the Bishop’s Head.” Pierre was one step behind me instead of his usual three and therefore ran into me when I stopped to look up.
“How tall was the spire?”
“Almost as tall as the building is long. Milord was always fascinated by how they managed to build it so high.” The missing spire would have made the whole building soar, with the slender pinnacle echoing the delicate lines of the buttresses and the tall Gothic windows.
I felt a surge of energy that reminded me of the temple to the goddess near Sept-Tours. Deep under the cathedral, something sensed my presence. It responded with a whisper, a slight stirring beneath my feet, a sigh of acknowledgment—and then it was gone. There was power here—the kind that was irresistible to witches.
Pushing my hood from my face, I slowly surveyed the buyers and sellers in St. Paul’s Churchyard. Daemons, witches, and vampires sent flickers of attention my way, but there was too much activity for me to stand out. I needed a more intimate situation.
I continued past the north side of the cathedral and rounded its eastern end. The noise increased. Here all attention was focused on a man in a raised, open-air pulpit covered by a cross-topped roof. In the absence of an electric public-address system, the man kept his audience engaged by shouting, making dramatic gestures, and conjuring up images of fire and brimstone.
There was no way that one witch could compete with so much hell and damnation. Unless I did something dangerously conspicuous, any witch who spotted me would think I was nothing more than a fellow creature out shopping. I smothered a sigh of frustration. My plan had seemed infallible in its simplicity. In the Blackfriars there were no witches. But here in St. Paul’s, there were too many. And Pierre’s presence would deter any curious creature who might approach me.
“Stay here and don’t move,” I ordered, giving him a stern look. My chances of catching the eye of a friendly witch might increase if he weren’t standing by radiating vampire disapproval. Pierre leaned against the upright support of a bookstall and fixed his eyes on me without comment.
I waded into the crowd at the foot of Paul’s Cross, looking from left to right as if to locate a lost friend. I waited for a witch’s tingle. They were here. I could feel them.
“Mistress Roydon?” a familiar voice called. “What brings you here?”
George Chapman’s ruddy face poked out between the shoulders of two dour-looking gentlemen who were listening to the preacher blame the ills of the world on an unholy cabal of Catholics and merchant adventurers.
There was no witch to be found, but the members of the School of Night were, as usual, everywhere.
“I’m looking for ink. And sealing wax.” The more I repeated this, the more inane it sounded.
“You’ll need an apothecary, then. Come, I’ll take you to my own man.” George held out his elbow. “He is quite reasonable, as well as skilled.”
“It is getting late, Master Chapman,” Pierre said, materializing from nowhere.
“Mistress Roydon should take the air while she has the opportunity. The watermen say the rain will return soon, and they are seldom wrong. Besides, John Chandler’s shop is just outside the walls, on Red Cross Street. It’s not half a mile.”
Meeting up with George now seemed fortuitous rather than exasperating. Surely we would pass a witch on our stroll.
“Matthew would not object to my walking with Master Chapman— especially not with you accompanying me, too,” I told Pierre, taking George’s arm. “Is your apothecary anywhere near Paul’s Wharf?”
“Quite the opposite,” George said. “But you don’t want to shop on Paul’s Wharf. John Hester is the only apothecary there, and his prices are beyond the bounds of good sense. Master Chandler will do you a better service, at half the cost.”
I put John Hester on my to-do list for another day and took George’s arm. We strolled out of St. Paul’s Churchyard to the north, passing grand houses and gardens.
“That’s where Henry’s mother lives,” George said, gesturing at a particularly imposing set of buildings to our left. “He hates the place and lived around the corner from Matt until Mary convinced him that his lodgings were beneath an earl’s dignity. Now he’s moved into a house on the Strand. Mary is pleased, but Henry finds it gloomy, and the damp disagrees with his bones.”
The city walls were just beyond the Percy family house. Built by the Romans to defend Londinium from invaders, they still marked its official boundaries. Once we’d passed through Aldersgate and over a low bridge, there were open fields and houses clustered around churches. My gloved hand rose to my nose at the smell that accompanied this pastoral view.
“The city ditch,” George said apologetically, gesturing at a river of sludge beneath our feet. “It is, alas, the most direct route. We will be in better air soon.” I wiped at my watering eyes and sincerely hoped so.
George steered me along the street, which was broad enough to accommodate passing coaches, wagons full of food, and even a team of oxen. While we walked, he chatted about his visit with his publisher, William Ponsonby. Chapman was crushed that I didn’t recognize the name. I knew little about the nuances of the Elizabethan book trade and so drew him out about the subject. George was happy to gossip about the many playwrights Ponsonby snubbed, including Kit. Ponsonby preferred to work with the serious literary set, and his stable of authors was illustrious indeed: Edmund Spenser, the Countess of Pembroke, Philip Sidney.
“Ponsonby would publish Matt’s poetry as well, but he has refused.” George shook his head, perplexed.
“His poetry?” That brought me to a sudden halt. I knew that Matthew admired poetry, but not that he wrote it.
“Yes. Matt insists his verses are fit only for the eyes of friends. We are all fond of his elegy for Mary’s brother, Philip Sidney. ‘But eies and eares and ev’ry thought / Were with his sweete perfections caught.’” George smiled. “It is marvelous work. But Matthew has little use for the press and complains that it has only resulted in discord and ill-considered opinions.”
In spite of his modern laboratory, Matthew was an old fuddy-duddy with his fondness for antique watches and vintage automobiles. I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling at this latest evidence of his traditionalism. “What are his poems about?”
“Love and friendship for the most part, though recently he and Walter have been exchanging verses about . . . darker subjects. They seem to think out of a single mind these days.”
“Darker?” I frowned.
“He and Walter do not always approve of what happens around them,” George said in a low voice, his eyes darting over the faces of passersby. “They can be prone to impatience—Walter especially—and often give the lie to those in positions of power. It is a dangerous tendency.”
“Give the lie,” I said slowly. There was a famous poem called “The Lie.” It was anonymous, but attributed to Walter Raleigh. “‘Say to the court, it glows / And shines like rotten wood’?”
“So Matt has shared his verses with you.” George sighed once more. “He manages to convey in a few words a full range of feeling and meaning. It is a talent I envy.”
Though the poem was familiar, Matthew’s relationship to it was not. But there would be plenty of time in the evenings ahead to pursue my husband’s literary efforts. I dropped the subject and listened while George offered his opinions on whether writers were now required to publish too much in order to survive, and the need for decent copy editors to keep errors from creeping into printed books.
“There is Chandler’s shop,” George said, pointing to the intersection where an off-kilter cross sat on a raised platform. A gang of boys was busy chipping one of the rough cobbles out of the base. It didn’t take a witch to foresee that the stone might soon be launched through a shop window.
The closer we got to the apothecary’s place of business, the colder the air felt. Just as at St. Paul’s, there was another surge of power, but an oppressive atmosphere of poverty and desperation hung over the neighborhood. An ancient tower crumbled on the northern side of the street, and the houses around it looked as though a gust of wind might carry them away. Two youths shuffled closer, eyeing us with interest, until a low hiss from Pierre stopped them in their tracks.
John Chandler’s shop suited the neighborhood’s Gothic atmosphere perfectly. It was dark, pungent, and unsettling. A stuffed owl hung from the ceiling, and the toothy jaws of some unfortunate creature were tacked above a diagram of a body with severed and broken limbs, pierced through with weapons. A carpenter’s awl entered the poor fellow’s left eye at a jaunty angle.
A stooped man emerged from behind a curtain, wiping his hands on the sleeves of his rusty black bombazine coat. It bore a resemblance to the academic gowns worn by Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates and was just as rumpled. Bright hazel eyes met mine without a trace of hesitation, and my skin tingled with recognition. Chandler was a witch. After crossing most of London, I’d finally located one of my own people.
“The streets around you grow more dangerous with every passing week, Master Chandler.” George peered out the door at the gang hovering nearby.
“That pack of boys runs wild,” Chandler said. “What can I do for you today, Master Chapman? Are you in need of more tonic? Have your headaches returned?”
George made a detailed accounting of his many aches and pains. Chandler murmured sympathetically every now and then and drew a ledger closer. The men pored over it, giving me a chance to examine my surroundings.
Elizabethan apothecary shops were evidently the general stores of the period, and the small space was stuffed to the rafters with merchandise. There were piles of vividly illustrated broadsides, like the one of the wounded man tacked up on the wall, and jars of candied fruit. Used books sat on one table, along with a few newer titles. A set of pottery crocks offered a splash of brightness in the otherwise dim room, all of them labeled with the names of medicinal spices and herbs. Specimens from the animal kingdom on display included not only the stuffed owl and jawbone but also some wizened rodents tied up by their tails. I spotted pots of ink, quill pens, and spools of string, too.
The shop was organized in loose thematic groupings. The ink was near the quills and the used books, under the wise old owl. The mice hung above a crock labeled “Ratbane,” which sat next to a book promising not only to help you catch fish but to build “sundrie Engines and trappes to take Polcats, Buzzards, rattes, mice, and all other kindes of Vermin and beasts.” I had been wondering how to get rid of the unwanted guests in Matthew’s attic. The detailed plans in the pamphlet exceeded my handywoman skills, but I’d find someone who could execute them. If the brace of mice in Chandler’s shop was any indication, the traps certainly worked.
“Excuse me, mistress,” Chandler murmured, reaching past me. Fascinated, I watched as he took the mice to his workbench and sliced the ears off with delicate precision.
“What are they for?” I asked George.
“Powdered mouse ears are effective against warts,” he explained earnestly while Chandler wielded his pestle.
Relieved that I did not suffer from this particular complaint, I drifted over to the owl guarding the stationery department. I found a pot of red ink, deep and rich.
Your wearh friend will not appreciate having to carry that bottle home, mistress. It is made from hawk’s blood and is used for writing out love spells.
So Chandler had the power of silent speech. I returned the ink to its place and picked up a dog-eared pamphlet. The images on the first sheet showed a wolf attacking a small child and a man being horribly tortured and then executed. It reminded me of the tabloids at the cash registers in modern grocery stores. When I flipped the page over, I was startled to read about someone named Stubbe Peter, who appeared in the shape of a wolf and fed off the blood of men, women, and children until they were dead. It was not only Scottish witches who were in the public eye. So were vampires.
My eyes raced across the page. I noted with relief that Stubbe lived in far-off Germany. The anxiety returned when I saw that the uncle of one of his victims ran the brewery between our house and Baynard’s Castle. I was aghast at the gruesome details of the killings, as well as the lengths humans would go to in order to cope with the creatures in their midst. Here Stubbe Peter was depicted as a witch, and his strange behavior was attributed to a pact with the devil that made it possible for him to change shape and satisfy his unnatural taste for blood. But it was far more likely that the man was a vampire. I slid the pamphlet underneath my other book and made my way to the counter.
“Mistress Roydon requires some supplies,” George explained to the apothecary as I drew near.
Chandler’s mind went carefully blank at the mention of my name.
“Yes,” I said slowly. “Red ink, if you have it. And some scented soap, for washing.”
“Aye.” The wizard searched through some small pewter vessels. When he found the right one, he put it on the counter. “And do you require sealing wax to match the ink?”
“Whatever you have will be fine, Master Chandler.”
“I see you have one of Master Hester’s books,” George said, picking up a nearby volume. “I told Mistress Roydon that your ink is as good as Hester’s and half the price.”
The apothecary smiled weakly at George’s compliment and put several sticks of carnation-colored wax and two balls of sweet-smelling soap on the table next to my ink. I dropped the pest-control manual and the pamphlet about the German vampire onto the surface. Chandler’s eyes rose to mine. They were wary.
“Yes,” Chandler said, “the printer across the way left a few copies with me, as it dealt with a medical subject.”
“That will be of interest to Mistress Roydon, too,” George said, plunking it onto my pile. I wondered, not for the first time, how humans could be so oblivious to what happened around them.
“But I am not sure this treatise is appropriate for a lady. . . .” Chandler trailed off, looking meaningfully at my wedding ring.
George’s quick response drowned out my own silent retort. “Oh, her husband will not mind. She is a student of alchemy.”
“I’ll take it,” I said decidedly.
As Chandler wrapped our purchases, George asked him if he could recommend a spectacle maker.
“My publisher, Master Ponsonby, is worried my eyes will fail me before my translation of Homer is complete,” he explained self-importantly. “I have a receipt from my mother’s servant, but it has not resulted in a cure.”
The apothecary shrugged. “These old wives’ remedies sometimes help, but mine is more reliable. I will send around a poultice made from egg whites and rose water. Soak flax pads in it and apply them to the eyes.”
While George and Chandler bargained over the price of the medicine and made arrangements for its delivery, Pierre gathered the packages and stood by the door.
“Farewell, Mistress Roydon,” Chandler said with a bow.
“Thank you for your assistance, Master Chandler,” I replied. I am new in town and looking for a witch to help me.
“You are welcome,” he said smoothly, “though there are excellent apothecaries in the Blackfriars.” London is a dangerous place. Have care from whom you request assistance.
Before I could ask the apothecary how he knew where I lived, George was shepherding me out onto the street with a cheerful good-bye. Pierre was so close behind that I could feel his occasional cool breaths.
The touch of eyes was unmistakable as we made our progress back to town. An alert had been issued while I was in Chandler’s shop, and word that a strange witch was near had spread throughout the neighborhood. At last I had achieved my objective for the afternoon. Two witches came out onto their front step, arms linked at the elbows, and scrutinized me with tingling hostility. They were so similar in face and body that I wondered if they were twins.
“Wearh,” one mumbled, spitting at Pierre and forking her fingers in a sign against the devil.
“Come, mistress. It is late,” Pierre said, his fingers gripping my forearm.
Pierre’s desire to get me away from St. Giles as quickly as possible and George’s desire for a cup of wine made our return to the Blackfriars far quicker than the journey out. Once we were safely back in the Hart and Crown, there was still no sign of Matthew, and Pierre disappeared in search of him. Soon thereafter Françoise made pointed remarks about the lateness of the hour and my need for rest. Chapman took the hint and said his farewells.
Françoise sat by the fireplace, her sewing at her side, and watched the door. I tried out my new ink by ticking items off my shopping list and adding “rat trappe.” I turned next to John Hester’s book. The blank sheet of paper folded discreetly around it masked the salacious contents. It enumerated cures for venereal diseases, most of them involving toxic concentrations of mercury. No wonder Chandler had objected to selling a copy to a married woman. I had just started the second fascinating chapter when I heard murmurs coming from Matthew’s study. Françoise’s mouth tightened, and she shook her head.
“He will need more wine tonight than we have in the house,” she observed, heading for the stairs with one of the empty jugs that sat by the door.
I followed the sound of my husband’s voice. Matthew was still in his study, peeling his clothes off and flinging them into the fire.
“He is an evil man, milord,” Pierre said grimly, unbuckling Matthew’s sword.
“‘Evil’ doesn’t do that fiend justice. The word that does hasn’t been coined yet. After today I’d swear before judges he is the devil himself.” Matthew’s long fingers loosened the ties of his close-fitting breeches. They dropped to the floor, and he bent to catch them up. They flew through the air and into the fire, but not fast enough to hide the spots of blood. A musty smell of wet stone, age, and filth evoked in me sudden memories of being held captive at La Pierre. The gorge rose in my throat. Matthew spun around.
“Diana.” He took in my distress with one deep breath and ripped the shirt above his head before stepping over his discarded boots and coming to my side in nothing but a pair of linen drawers. The firelight played off his shoulders, and one of his many scars—this one long and deep, just over his shoulder joint—winked in and out of sight.
“Are you hurt?” I struggled to get the words out of my constricted throat, and my eyes were glued to the clothes burning in the fireplace. Matthew followed my gaze and swore softly.
“That isn’t my blood.” That Matthew had someone else’s blood on him was not much comfort. “The queen ordered me to be present when a prisoner was . . . questioned.” His slight hesitation told me that “tortured” was the word he was avoiding. “Let me wash, and I’ll join you for supper.” Matthew’s words were warm, but he looked tired and angry. And he was careful not to touch me.
“You’ve been underground.” There was no mistaking the smell.
“I’ve been at the Tower.”
“And your prisoner—is he dead?”
“Yes.” His hand passed over his face. “I’d hoped to arrive early enough to stop it—this time—but I miscalculated the tides. All I could do, once again, was insist that his suffering end.”
Matthew had been through the man’s death once before. Today he could have remained at home and not concerned himself with a lost soul in the Tower. A lesser creature would have. I reached out to touch him, but he stepped away.
“The queen will have my hide when she discovers that the man died before revealing his secrets, but I no longer care. Like most humans, Elizabeth finds it easy to turn a blind eye when it suits her,” he said.
“Who was he?”
“A witch,” Matthew said flatly. “His neighbors reported him for having a poppet with red hair. They feared that it was an image of the queen. And the queen feared that the behavior of the Scottish witches, Agnes Sampson and John Fian, was encouraging English witches to act against her. No, Diana.” Matthew gestured for me to stay where I was when I stepped forward to comfort him. “That’s as close as you will ever be to the Tower and what happens there. Go to the parlor. I’ll join you shortly.”
It was difficult to leave him, but honoring his request was all I could do for him now. The wine, bread, and cheese waiting on the table were unappetizing, but I took a piece of one of the buns I’d purchased that morning and slowly reduced it to crumbs.
“Your appetite is off.” Matthew slipped into the room, silent as a cat, and poured himself some wine. He drank it down in one long draft and replenished the cup.
“So is yours,” I said. “You’re not feeding regularly.” Gallowglass and Hancock kept inviting him to join them on their nocturnal hunts, but Matthew always refused.
“I don’t want to talk about that. Tell me about your day instead.” Help me to forget. Matthew’s unspoken words whispered around the room.
“We went shopping. I picked up the book you’d ordered from Richard Field and met his wife, Jacqueline.”
“Ah.” Matthew’s smile widened, and a bit of stress lifted from his mouth. “The new Mrs. Field. She outlived her first husband and is now leading her second husband in a merry dance. The two of you will be fast friends by the end of next week. Did you see Shakespeare? He’s staying with the Fields.”
“No.” I added more crumbs to the growing pile on the table. “I went to the cathedral.” Matthew pitched slightly forward. “Pierre was with me,” I said hastily, dropping the bun on the table. “And I ran into George.”
“He was no doubt hanging around the Bishop’s Head waiting for William Ponsonby to say something nice to him.” Matthew’s shoulders lowered as he chuckled.
“I never reached the Bishop’s Head,” I confessed. “George was at Paul’s Cross, listening to a sermon.”
“The crowds that gather to hear the preachers can be unpredictable,” he said softly. “Pierre knows better than to let you linger there.” As if by magic, his servant appeared.
“We didn’t stay long. George took me to his apothecary. I bought a few more books and some supplies. Soap. Sealing wax. Red ink.” I pressed my lips together.
“George’s apothecary lives in Cripplegate.” Matthew’s voice went flat. He looked up at Pierre. “When Londoners complain about crime, the sheriff goes there and picks up everyone who looks idle or peculiar. He has an easy time of it.”
“If the sheriff targets Cripplegate, why are there so many creatures by the Barbican Cross and so few here in the Blackfriars?” The question took Matthew by surprise.
“The Blackfriars was once Christian holy ground. Daemons, witches, and vampires got into the habit of living elsewhere long ago and haven’t yet moved back. The Barbican Cross, however, was put up on land where the Jewish cemetery was hundreds of years ago. After the Jews were expelled from England, city officials used the unconsecrated graveyard for criminals, traitors, and excommunicates instead. Humans consider it haunted and avoid the place.”
“So it was the unhappiness of the dead I felt, not just the living.” The words slipped out before I could stop them. Matthew’s eyes narrowed.
Our conversation was not improving his frayed temper, and my uneasiness grew by the minute. “Jacqueline recommended John Hester when I asked after an apothecary, but George said his man was just as good and less expensive. I didn’t ask about the neighborhood.”
“The fact that John Chandler isn’t pushing opiates on his customers like Hester does is rather more important to me than his reasonable rates. Still, I don’t want you in Cripplegate. Next time you need writing supplies, send Pierre or Françoise to fetch them. Better yet, visit the apothecary three doors up on the other side of Water Lane.”
“Mistress Field did not tell madame that there was an apothecary in the Blackfriars. A few months ago, Monsieur de Laune and Jacqueline disagreed about the best treatment for her eldest son’s putrid throat,” Pierre murmured by way of explanation.
“I don’t care if Jacqueline and de Laune pulled swords on each other in the nave of St. Paul’s at the stroke of noon. Diana isn’t to go traipsing across the city.”
“It’s not just Cripplegate that’s dangerous,” I said, pushing the pamphlet about the German vampire across the table. “I bought Hester’s treatise on syphilis from Chandler, and a book about trapping animals. This was for sale, too.”
“You bought what?” Matthew choked on his wine, his attention fixed on the wrong book.
“Forget about Hester. This pamphlet tells the story of a man in league with the devil who changes into a wolf and drinks blood. One of the men involved in its publication is our neighbor, the brewer by Baynard’s Castle.” I tapped my finger on the pamphlet for emphasis.
Matthew drew the loosely bound sheets of paper toward him. His breath hitched when he reached the significant part. He handed it to Pierre, who made a similarly quick study of it.
“Stubbe is a vampire, isn’t he?”
“Yes. I didn’t know that news of his death had traveled this far. Kit’s supposed to tell me about the gossip in the broadsides and popular press so we can cover it up if necessary. Somehow he missed this.” Matthew shot a grim look at Pierre. “Make sure someone else is assigned to the job, and don’t let Kit know.” Pierre tilted his head in acknowledgment.
“So these legends about werewolves are just more pitiful human attempts to deny knowledge of vampires.” I shook my head.
“Don’t be too hard on them, Diana. They’re focused on witches at the moment. It will be the daemons’ turn in another hundred years or so, thanks to the reform of the asylums. After that, humans will get around to vampires, and witches will be nothing more than a wicked fairy tale to frighten children.” Mathew looked worried, in spite of his words.
“Our next-door neighbor is preoccupied with werewolves, not witches. And if you could be mistaken for one, I want you to stop worrying about me and start taking care of yourself. Besides, it shouldn’t be long now before a witch knocks on our door.” I clung to the certainty that it would be dangerous for Matthew to look any further for a witch. My husband’s eyes flashed a warning, but his mouth remained closed until his anger was under control.
“I know you’re itching for independence, but the next time you decide to take matters into your own hands, promise you’ll discuss it with me first.” His response was far milder than I expected.
“Only if you promise to listen. You’re being watched, Matthew. I’m sure of it, and so is Mary Sidney. You take care of the queen’s business and the problem in Scotland, and let me take care of this.”
When he opened his mouth to negotiate further, I shook my head.
“Listen to me. A witch will come. I promise.”
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