فصل 18

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فصل 18

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Chapter Eighteen

Matthew was waiting for me in Mary’s airy solar at Baynard’s Castle the next afternoon, staring out at the Thames with an amused expression. He turned at my approach, grinning at the Elizabethan version of a lab coat that covered my golden brown bodice and skirts. The underlying white sleeves that stuck out from my shoulders were ridiculously padded, but the ruff around my neck was small and unobtrusive, making it one of my more comfortable outfits.

“Mary can’t leave her experiment. She said we should come in time for dinner on Monday.” I flung my arms around his neck and kissed him soundly. He reared back.

“Why do you smell of vinegar?”

“Mary washes in it. It cleans your hands better than soap.” “You left my house covered with the sweet scent of bread and honey,

and the Countess of Pembroke returns you to me smelling like a pickle.” Matthew’s nose went to the patch of skin behind my ear. He gave a satisfied sigh. “I knew I could find some place the vinegar hadn’t reached.”

“Matthew,” I murmured. The countess’s maid, Joan, was standing right behind us.

“You’re behaving like a prim Victorian rather than a bawdy Elizabethan,” Matthew said, laughing. He straightened with one last caress of my neck. “How was your afternoon?”

“Have you seen Mary’s laboratory?” I exchanged the shapeless gray coat for my cloak before sending Joan away to tend to her other duties. “She’s taken over one of the castle’s towers and painted the walls with images of the philosopher’s stone. It’s like working inside a Ripley scroll! I’ve seen the Beinecke’s copy at Yale, but it’s only twenty feet long. Mary’s murals are twice as big. It made it hard to focus on the work.”

“What was your experiment?”

“We hunted the green lion,” I replied proudly, referring to a stage of the alchemical process that combined two acidic solutions and produced startling color transformations. “We almost caught it, too. But then something went wrong and the flask exploded. It was fantastic!”

“I’m glad you don’t work in my lab. Generally speaking, explosions are to be avoided when working with nitric acid. You two might do something a bit less volatile next time, like distilling rose water.” Matthew’s eyes narrowed. “You weren’t working with mercury?”

“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t do anything that might harm the baby,” I said defensively.

“Every time I say something about your well-being, you assume my concern lies elsewhere.” His brows drew together in a scowl. Thanks to his dark beard and mustache—which I was still getting used to—Matthew looked even more forbidding. But I didn’t want to argue with him.

“Sorry,” I said quickly before changing the subject. “Next week we’re going to mix up a fresh batch of prima materia. That has mercury in it, but I promise not to touch it. Mary wants to see if it will putrefy into the alchemical toad by the end of January.”

“That sounds like a festive start to the New Year.” Matthew said, settling the cloak over my shoulders.

“What were you looking at?” I peered out the windows.

“Someone’s building a bonfire across the river for New Year’s Eve. Every time they send the wagon for fresh wood, the local residents filch what’s already there. The pile gets smaller by the hour. It’s like watching Penelope ply her needle.”

“Mary said no one will be working tomorrow. Oh, and to be sure to tell Françoise to buy extra manchet—that’s bread, right?—and to soak it in milk and honey to make it soft again for Saturday’s breakfast.” It was Elizabethan French toast in all but name. “I think Mary’s worried I might go hungry in a house run by vampires.”

“Lady Pembroke has a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy when it comes to creatures and their habits,” Matthew observed.

“She certainly never mentioned what happened to her shoes,” I said thoughtfully.

“Mary Sidney survives as her mother did: by turning a blind eye to every inconvenient truth. The women in the Dudley family have had to do so.”

“Dudley?” I frowned. That was a family of notorious troublemakers— nothing at all like the mild-mannered Mary.

“Lady Pembroke’s mother was Mary Dudley, a friend of Her Majesty and sister to the queen’s favorite, Robert.” Matthew’s mouth twisted. “She was brilliant, just like her daughter. Mary Dudley filled her head with ideas so there was no room in it for knowledge of her father’s treason, or her brothers’ missteps. When she caught smallpox from our blessed sovereign, Mary Dudley never acknowledged that both the queen and her own husband thereafter preferred the company of others rather than face her disfigurement.”

I stopped, shocked. “What happened to her?”

“She died alone and embittered, like most Dudley women before her. Her greatest triumph was marrying off her fifteen-year-old namesake to the forty-year-old Earl of Pembroke.”

“Mary Sidney was a bride at fifteen?” The shrewd, vibrant woman ran an enormous household, reared a pack of energetic children, and was devoted to her alchemical experiments, all with no apparent effort. Now I understood how. Lady Pembroke was younger than me by a few years, but by the age of thirty she’d been juggling these responsibilities for half her life.

“Yes. But Mary’s mother provided her all the tools necessary for her survival: iron discipline, a deep sense of duty, the best schooling money could buy, a love of poetry, and her passion for alchemy.”

I touched my bodice, thinking of the life growing within me. What tools would he need to survive in the world?

We talked about chemistry on our way home. Matthew explained that the crystals that Mary brooded over like a hen were oxidized iron ore and that she would later distill them in a flask to make sulfuric acid. I’d always been more interested in the symbolism of alchemy than in its practical aspects, but my afternoon with the Countess of Pembroke had shown me how intriguing the links between the two might be.

Soon we were safely inside the Hart and Crown and I was sipping a warm tisane made from mint and lemon balm. It turned out the Elizabethans did have teas, but they were all herbal. I was chattering on about Mary when I noticed Matthew’s smile.

“What’s so funny?”

“I haven’t seen you like this before,” he commented.

“Like what?”

“So animated—full of questions and reports of what you’ve been doing and all the plans you and Mary have for next week.”

“I like being a student again,” I confessed. “It was difficult at first, not to have all the answers. Over the years I’ve forgotten how much fun it is to have nothing but questions.”

“And you feel free here, in a way that you didn’t in Oxford. Secrets are a lonely business.” Matthew’s eyes were sympathetic as his fingers moved along my jaw.

“I was never lonely.”

“Yes you were. I think you still are,” he said softly.

Before I could shape a response, Matthew had me out of my seat and was backing us toward the wall by the fireplace. Pierre, who was nowhere to be seen only moments before, appeared at the threshold.

Then a knock sounded. Matthew’s shoulder muscles bunched, and a dagger flashed at his thigh. When he nodded, Pierre stepped out onto the landing and flung open the door.

“We have a message from Father Hubbard.” Two male vampires stood there, both dressed in expensive clothes that were beyond the reach of most messengers. Neither was more than fifteen. I’d never seen a teenage vampire and had always imagined there must be prohibitions against it.

“Master Roydon.” The taller of the two vampires tugged at the tip of his nose and studied Matthew with eyes the color of indigo. Those eyes moved from Matthew to me, and my skin smarted from the cold. “Mistress.” Matthew’s hand tightened on his dagger, and Pierre moved to stand more squarely between us and the door.

“Father Hubbard wants to see you,” the smaller vampire said, looking with contempt at the weapon in Matthew’s hand. “Come when the clocks toll seven.”

“Tell Hubbard I’ll be there when it’s convenient,” said Matthew with a touch of venom.

“Not just you,” the taller boy said.

“I haven’t seen Kit,” Matthew said with a touch of impatience. “If he’s in trouble, your master has a better idea where to look for him than I do, Corner.” It was an apt name for the boy. His adolescent frame was all angles and points.

“Marlowe’s been with Father Hubbard all day.” Corner’s tone dripped with boredom.

“Has he?” Matthew said, eyes sharp.

“Yes. Father Hubbard wants the witch,” Corner’s companion said.

“I see.” Matthew’s voice went flat. There was a blur of black and silver, and his polished dagger was quivering, point first, in the doorjamb near Corner’s eye. Matthew strolled in their direction. Both vampires took an involuntary step back. “Thank you for the message, Leonard.” He nudged the door closed with his foot.

Pierre and Matthew exchanged a long, silent look while adolescent vampire feet racketed down the stairs.

“Hancock and Gallowglass,” ordered Matthew.

“At once.” Pierre whirled out of the room, narrowly avoiding Françoise. She pulled the dagger from the doorframe.

“We had visitors,” Matthew explained before she could complain about the state of the woodwork.

“What is this about, Matthew?” I asked.

“You and I are going to meet an old friend.” His voice remained ominously even.

I eyed the dagger, which was now lying on the table. “Is this old friend a vampire?”

“Wine, Françoise.” Matthew grabbed at a few sheets of paper, disordering my carefully arranged piles. I muffled a protest as he picked up one of my quills and wrote with furious speed. He hadn’t looked at me since the knock on the door.

“There is fresh blood from the butcher. Perhaps you should . . .”

Matthew looked up, his mouth compressed into a thin line. Françoise poured him a large goblet of wine without further protest. When she was finished, he handed her two letters.

“Take this to the Earl of Northumberland at Russell House. The other goes to Raleigh. He’ll be at Whitehall.” Françoise went immediately, and Matthew strode to the window, staring up the street. His hair was tangled in his high linen collar, and I had a sudden urge to put it to rights for him. But the set of his shoulders warned me that he wouldn’t welcome such a proprietary gesture.

“Father Hubbard?” I reminded him. But Matthew’s mind was elsewhere.

“You’re going to get yourself killed,” he said roughly, his back still turned. “Ysabeau warned me you have no instinct for self-preservation. How many times does something like this have to happen before you develop one?”

“What have I done now?”

“You wanted to be seen, Diana,” he said harshly. “Well, you were.”

“Stop looking out the window. I’m tired of talking to the back of your head.” I spoke quietly, though I wanted to throttle him. “Who is Father Hubbard?”

“Andrew Hubbard is a vampire. He rules London.”

“What do you mean, he rules London? Do all the vampires in the city obey him?” In the twenty-first century, London’s vampires were renowned for their strong allegiance to the pack, their nocturnal habits, and their loyalty—or so I’d heard from other witches. Not as flamboyant as the vampires in Paris, Venice, or Istanbul, nor as bloodthirsty as those in Moscow, New York, and Beijing, London vampires were a well-organized bunch.

“Not just the vampires. Witches and daemons, too.” Matthew turned on me, his eyes cold. “Andrew Hubbard is a former priest, one with a poor education and enough grasp of theology to cause trouble. He became a vampire when the plague first came to London. It had killed nearly half the city by 1349. Hubbard survived the first wave of the epidemic, caring for the sick and burying the dead, but in time he succumbed.”

“And someone saved him by making him a vampire.”

“Yes, though I’ve never been able to find out who it was. There are plenty of legends, though, most about his supposedly divine resurrection. When he was certain he was going to die, people say he dug a grave for himself in the churchyard and climbed into it to wait for God. Hours later Hubbard rose and walked out among the living.” Matthew paused. “I don’t believe he’s been entirely sane since.

“Hubbard gathers up lost souls,” Matthew continued. “There were too many to count in those days. He took them in—orphans, widows, men who had lost entire families in a single week. Those who fell ill he made into vampires, rebaptizing them and ensuring they had homes, food, and jobs. Hubbard considers them his children.”

“Even the witches and daemons?”

“Yes,” said Matthew tersely. “He takes them through a ritual of adoption, but it’s nothing at all like the one Philippe performed. Hubbard tastes their blood. He claims it reveals the content of their souls and provides proof that God has entrusted them to his care.”

“It reveals their secrets to him, too,” I said slowly.

Matthew nodded. No wonder he wanted me to stay far away from this Father Hubbard. If a vampire tasted my blood, he would know about the baby—and who his father was.

“Philippe and Hubbard reached an agreement that exempted the de Clermonts from his family rituals and obligations. I probably should have told him you were my wife before we entered the city.”

“But you chose not to,” I said carefully, hands clenching. Now I knew why Gallowglass had requested that we dock somewhere other than at the foot of Water Lane. Philippe was right. There were times when Matthew behaved like an idiot—or the most arrogant man alive.

“Hubbard stays out of my way, and I stay out of his. As soon as he knows you’re a de Clermont, he’ll leave you alone, too.” Matthew spotted something in the street below. “Thank God.” Heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs, and a minute later Gallowglass and Hancock stood in our parlor. “It took you two long enough.”

“And hello to you, Matthew,” Gallowglass said. “So Hubbard’s demanded an audience at last. And before you suggest it, don’t even think about tweaking his nose by leaving Auntie here. Whatever the plan, she’s going, too.”

Uncharacteristically, Matthew ran his hand through his hair from back to front.

“Shit,” Hancock said, watching the progress of Matthew’s fingers. Making his hair stand up like a cockscomb was apparently another of Matthew’s tells—one that meant his creative well of evasion and half-truths had run dry. “Your only plan was to avoid Hubbard. You don’t have another. We’ve never been certain if you were a brave man or a fool, de Clermont, but I think this might decide the question—and not in your favor.”

“I planned to take Diana to Hubbard on Monday.”

“After she’d been in the city for ten days,” Gallowglass observed.

“There was no need for haste. Diana is a de Clermont. Besides, we aren’t in the city,” Matthew said quickly. At my look of confusion, he continued. “The Blackfriars isn’t really part of London.”

“I’m not going into Hubbard’s den and arguing the geography of the city with him again,” Gallowglass said, slapping his gloves against his thigh. “He didn’t agree when you made this argument so you could station the brotherhood in the Tower after we arrived to help the Lancastrians in 1485, and he’s not going to agree to it now.”

“Let’s not keep him waiting,” said Hancock.

“We have plenty of time.” Matthew’s tone was dismissive.

“You never have understood the tides, Matthew. I assume we’re going by water, since you think the Thames isn’t really part of the city either. If so, we may already be too late. Let’s move.” Gallowglass jerked his thumb in the direction of the front door.

Pierre was waiting for us there, tugging black leather over his hands. He’d swapped his usual brown cloak for a black one that was far too long to be fashionable. A silver device covered his right arm: a snake circling a cross with a crescent moon tucked into the upper quadrant. This was Philippe’s crest, distinct from Matthew’s only by the absence of the star and fl e u r - d e - l i s.

Once Gallowglass and Pierre were similarly outfitted, Françoise settled a matching cloak on Matthew’s shoulders. Its heavy folds swept the floor, making him look taller and even more imposing. When the four of them stood together, it was an intimidating sight, one that provided a plausible inspiration for every human account of darkly cloaked vampires ever written.

At the bottom of Water Lane, Gallowglass surveyed the available vessels. “That one might hold us all,” he said, pointing to a long rowboat and letting out an ear-piercing whistle. When the man standing by it asked where we were headed, the vampire embarked on a complicated set of instructions regarding our route, which of the city’s many docks we were going to put in to, and who would be rowing. After Gallowglass growled at him, the poor man huddled near the lamp in the bow of his boat and looked nervously over his shoulder every now and again.

“Frightening every boatman we meet is not going to improve relations with our neighbors,” I commented as Matthew boarded, looking pointedly at the brewery next door. Hancock picked me up without ceremony and handed me off to my husband. Matthew’s arm tightened around me as the boat shot out into the river. Even the waterman gasped at the speed.

“There’s no need to draw attention to ourselves, Gallowglass,” Matthew said sharply.

“Do you want to row and I’ll keep your wife warm?” When Matthew didn’t reply, Gallowglass shook his head. “Thought not.”

The soft glow of lamps from London Bridge penetrated the gloom ahead of us, and the crashing sound of fast-moving water became louder with each stroke that Gallowglass took. Matthew eyed the shoreline. “Put in at the Old Swan Stairs. I want to be back in this boat and headed upstream before the tide ebbs.”

“Quiet.” Hancock’s whisper had a sharp edge. “We’re supposed to be sneaking up on Hubbard. We might as well have proceeded down Cheapside with trumpets and banners for all the noise you’re making.”

Gallowglass turned back toward the stern and gave two powerful pulls with his left hand. A few more pulls put us at the landing—nothing more than a rickety set of steps, really, attached to some listing pylons—where several men waited. The boatman waved them off with a few terse words, hopping out of the boat as soon as he was able.

We climbed to street level and wended through winding lanes in silence, darting between houses and across small gardens. The vampires moved with the stealth of cats. I moved less surely, stumbling on loose stones and stepping into waterlogged potholes. At last we turned in to a broad street. Laughter came from the far end, and light spilled into the street from wide windows. I rubbed my hands together, drawn to the warmth. Perhaps that was our destination. Perhaps this would be simple, and we could meet Andrew Hubbard, show him my wedding ring, and return home.

Matthew led us across the street instead and into a desolate churchyard whose gravestones tipped toward each other as if the dead sought comfort from one another. Pierre had a solid metal ring full of keys, and Gallowglass fitted one into the lock of the door next to the bell tower. We walked through the ramshackle nave and passed through a wooden door to the left of the altar. Narrow stone stairs twisted down into the darkness. With my limited warmblooded sight, there was no way to keep my bearings as we twisted and turned through narrow passageways and crossed expanses that smelled of wine, must, and human decay. The experience was straight out of the tales that humans told to discourage people from lingering in church basements and graveyards.

We moved deeper into a warren of tunnels and subterranean rooms and entered a dimly lit crypt. Hollow eyes stared out from the heaped skulls in a small ossuary. A vibration in the stone floor and the muffled sound of bells indicated that somewhere above us the clocks were striking seven. Matthew hurried us along into another tunnel that showed a soft glow in the distance.

At the end we stepped into a cellar used to store wine unloaded from ships on the Thames. A few barrels stood by the walls, and the fresher scent of sawdust competed with the smell of old wine. I spied the source of the former aromas: neatly stacked coffins, arranged by size from long boxes capable of holding Gallowglass to minuscule caskets for infants. Shadows moved and flickered in the deep corners, and in the center of the room a ritual of some kind was taking place amid a throng of creatures.

“My blood is yours, Father Hubbard.” The man who spoke was frightened. “I give it willingly, that you might know my heart and number me among your family.” There was silence, a cry of pain. Then the air filled with a taut sense of expectation.

“I accept your gift, James, and promise to protect you as my child,” a rough voice answered. “In exchange you will honor me as your father. Greet your brothers and sisters.”

Amid the hubbub of welcome, my skin registered a sensation of ice.

“You’re late.” The rumble of sound cut through the chatter and set the hair on my neck prickling. “And traveling with a full retinue, I see.”

“That’s impossible, since we had no appointment.” Matthew gripped my elbow as dozens of glances nudged, tingled, and chilled my skin.

Soft steps approached, circled. A tall, thin man appeared directly before me. I met his stare without flinching, knowing better than to show fear to a vampire. Hubbard’s eyes were deep-set under a heavy brow bone with veins of blue, green, and brown radiating through the slate-colored iris.

The vampire’s eyes were the only colorful thing about him. Otherwise he was preternaturally pale, with white-blond hair cropped close to his skull, nearly invisible eyebrows and lashes, and a wide horizontal slash of lips set in a clean-shaven face. His long black coat, which looked like a cross between a scholar’s gown and a cleric’s cassock, accentuated his cadaverous build. There was no mistaking the strength in his broad, slightly stooped shoulders, but the rest of him was practically skeletal.

There was a blur of motion as blunt, powerful fingers took my chin and jerked my head to the side. In the same instant, Matthew’s hand wrapped around the vampire’s wrist.

Hubbard’s cold glance touched my neck, taking in the scar there. For once I wished Françoise had outfitted me with the largest ruff she could find. He exhaled in an icy gust smelling of cinnabar and fir before his wide mouth tightened, the edges of his lips turning from pale peach to white.

“We have a problem, Master Roydon,” said Hubbard.

“We have several, Father Hubbard. The first is that you have your hands on something that belongs to me. If you don’t remove them, I’ll tear this den to pieces before sunrise. What happens afterward will make every creature in the city—daemon, human, wearh, and witch—think the end of days is upon us.” Matthew’s voice vibrated with fury.

Creatures emerged from the shadows. I saw John Chandler, the apothecary from Cripplegate, who met my eyes defiantly. Kit was there, too, standing next to another daemon. When his friend’s arm slid through the crook in his elbow, Kit pulled away slightly.

“Hello, Kit,” Matthew said, his voice dead. “I thought you would have run off and hidden by now.”

Hubbard held my chin for a few moments longer, pulling my head back until I faced him once more. My anger at Kit and the witch who had betrayed us must have shown, and he shook his head in warning.

“‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart,’” he murmured, releasing me. Hubbard’s eyes swept the room. “Leave us.”

Matthew’s hands cupped my face, and his fingers smoothed the skin of my chin to erase Hubbard’s scent. “Go with Gallowglass. I’ll see you shortly.”

“She stays,” Hubbard said.

Matthew’s muscles twitched. He wasn’t used to being countermanded. After a considerable pause, he ordered his friends and family to wait outside. Hancock was the only one not to obey immediately.

“Your father says a wise man can see more from the bottom of a well than a fool can from a mountaintop. Let’s hope he’s right,” Hancock muttered, “because this is one hell of a hole you’ve put us in tonight.” With one last look, he followed Gallowglass and Pierre through a break in the far wall. A heavy door closed, and there was silence.

The three of us stood so close that I could hear the next soft expulsion of air from Matthew’s lungs. As for Hubbard, I wondered if the plague had done more than drive him mad. His skin was waxy rather than porcelain, as though he still suffered the lingering effect of illness.

“May I remind you, Monsieur de Clermont, you are here under my sufferance.” Hubbard sat in the chamber’s grand, solitary chair. “Even though you represent the Congregation, I permit your presence in London because your father demands it. But you have flouted our customs and allowed your wife to enter the city without introducing her to me and to my flock. And then there is the matter of your knights.”

“Most of the knights who accompanied me have lived in this city longer than you have, Andrew. When you insisted they join your ‘flock’ or leave the city boundaries, they resettled outside the walls. You and my father agreed that the de Clermonts would not bring more of the brotherhood into the city. I haven’t.”

“And you think my children care about these subtleties? I saw the rings they wore and the devices on their cloaks.” Hubbard leaned forward, his eyes menacing. “I was led to believe you were halfway to Scotland. Why are you still here?”

“Perhaps you don’t pay your informants enough,” Matthew suggested. “Kit’s very short on funds these days.”

“I don’t buy love and loyalty, nor do I resort to intimidation and torment to have my way. Christopher willingly does what I ask, like all godly children do when they love their father.”

“Kit has too many masters to be faithful to any one of them.”

“Couldn’t the same be said of you?” After delivering his challenge to Matthew, Hubbard turned to me and deliberately drank in my scent. He made a soft, sorrowful sound. “But let us speak of your marriage. Some of my children believe that relationships between a witch and a wearh are abhorrent. But the Congregation and its covenant are no more welcome in my city than are your father’s vengeful knights. Both interfere with God’s wish that we live as one family. Also, your wife is a time spinner,” Hubbard said. “I do not approve of time spinners, for they tempt men and women with ideas that do not belong here.”

“Ideas like choice and freedom of thought?” I interjected. “What are you afraid—”

“Next,” Hubbard interrupted, his focus still on Matthew as though I were invisible, “there is the matter of your feeding on her.” His eyes moved to the scar that Matthew had left on my neck. “When the witches discover it, they will demand an inquiry. If your wife is found guilty of willingly offering her blood to a vampire, she will be shunned and cast out of London. If you are found guilty of taking it without her consent, you will be put to death.”

“So much for family sentiment,” I muttered.

“Diana,” Matthew warned.

Hubbard tented his fingers and studied Matthew once more. “And finally, she is breeding. Will the child’s father come looking for her?”

That brought my responses to a halt. Hubbard had not yet ferreted out our biggest secret: that Matthew was the father of my child. I fought down the panic. Think—and stay alive. Maybe Philippe’s advice would get us out of this predicament.

“No,” Matthew said shortly.

“So the father is dead—from natural causes or by your hand,” Hubbard said, casting a long look at Matthew. “In that case the witch’s child will be brought into my flock when it is born. His mother will become one of my children now.”

“No,” Matthew repeated, “she will not.”

“How long do you imagine the two of you will survive outside London when the rest of the Congregation hears of these offenses?” Hubbard shook his head. “Your wife will be safe here so long as she is a member of my family and there is no more sharing of blood between you.”

“You will not put Diana through that perverted ceremony. Tell your ‘children’ that she belongs to you if you must, but you will not take her blood or that of her child.”

“I will not lie to the souls in my care. Why is it, my son, that secrets and war are the only responses you have when God puts a challenge before you? They only lead to destruction.” Hubbard’s throat worked with emotion. “God reserves salvation for those who believe in something greater than themselves, Matthew.”

Before Matthew could shoot back a reply, I put my hand on his arm to quiet him.

“Excuse me, Father Hubbard,” I said. “If I understand correctly, the de Clermonts are exempt from your governance?”

“That is correct, Mistress Roydon. But you are not a de Clermont. You are merely married to one.”

“Wrong,” I retorted, keeping my husband’s sleeve in a tight grip. “I am Philippe de Clermont’s blood-sworn daughter, as well as Matthew’s wife. I’m a de Clermont twice over, and neither I nor my child will ever call you father.”

Andrew Hubbard looked stunned. As I heaped silent blessings on Philippe for always staying three steps ahead of the rest of us, Matthew’s shoulders finally relaxed. Though far away in France, his father had ensured our safety once more.

“Check if you like. Philippe marked my forehead here,” I said, touching the spot between my brows where my witch’s third eye was located. It was slumbering at the moment, unconcerned with vampires.

“I believe you, Mistress Roydon,” Hubbard said finally. “No one would have the temerity to lie about such a thing in a house of God.”

“Perhaps you can help me, then. I’m in London to seek help with some finer points of magic and witchcraft. Who among your children would you recommend for the task?” My request erased Matthew’s grin.

“Diana,” he growled.

“My father would be very pleased if you could assist me,” I said, calmly ignoring him.

“And what form would this pleasure take?” Andrew Hubbard was a Renaissance prince, too, and interested in gaining whatever strategic advantage he could.

“First, my father would be pleased to hear about our quiet evening at home on the eve of the New Year,” I said, meeting his eyes. “Everything else I tell him in my next letter will depend on the witch you send to the Hart and Crown.”

Hubbard considered my request. “I will discuss your needs with my children and decide who might best serve you.”

“Whoever he sends will be a spy,” Matthew warned.

“You’re a spy, too,” I pointed out. “I’m tired. I want to go home.”

“Our business here is done, Hubbard. I trust that Diana, like all de Clermonts, is in London with your approval.” Matthew turned to leave without waiting for an answer.

“Even de Clermonts must be careful in the city,” Hubbard called after us. “See that you remember it, Mistress Roydon.”

Matthew and Gallowglass spoke in low voices on our row home, but I was silent. I refused help getting out of the boat and began the climb up Water Lane without waiting for them. Even so, Pierre was ahead of me by the time I reached the passage into the Hart and Crown, and Matthew was at my elbow. Inside, Walter and Henry were waiting for us. They shot to their feet.

“Thank God,” Walter said.

“We came as soon as we heard that you were in need. George is sick abed, and neither Kit nor Tom could be found,” Henry explained, eyes darting anxiously between me and Matthew.

“I’m sorry to have called you. My alarm was premature,” Matthew said, his cloak swirling around his feet as he took it from his shoulders.

“If it concerns the order—” Walter began, eyeing the cloak.

“It doesn’t,” Matthew assured him.

“It concerns me,” I said. “And before you come up with some other disastrous scheme, understand this: The witches are my concern. Matthew is being watched, and not just by Andrew Hubbard.”

“He’s used to it,” Gallowglass said gruffly. “Pay the gawpers no mind, Auntie.”

“I need to find my own teacher, Matthew,” I said. My hand fluttered down to where the point of my bodice covered the top of my belly. “No witch is going to part with her secrets so long as any of you are involved. Everyone who enters this house is either a wearh, a philosopher, or a spy. Which means, in the eyes of my people, that any one of you could turn us into the authorities. Berwick may seem far away, but the panic is spreading.”

Matthew’s gaze was frosty, but at least he was listening.

“If you order a witch here, one will come. Matthew Roydon always gets his way. But instead of help, I’ll get another performance like the one Widow Beaton gave. That’s not what I need.”

“You need Hubbard’s help even less,” Hancock said sourly.

“We don’t have much time,” I reminded Matthew. Hubbard didn’t know that the baby was Matthew’s, and Hancock and Gallowglass hadn’t perceived the changes to my scent—yet. But this evening’s events had driven home our precarious position.

“All right, Diana. We’ll leave the witches to you. But no lies,” Matthew said, “and no secrets either. One of the people in this room has to know where you are at all times.”

“Matthew, you cannot—” Walter protested.

“I trust my wife’s judgment,” Matthew said firmly.

“That’s what Philippe says about Granny,” Gallowglass muttered under his breath. “Just before all hell breaks loose.”

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