فصل 02

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فصل 02

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Chapter Two

My concern over proper etiquette was unnecessary. Titles and forms of address weren’t important when the earl in question was a gentle giant named Henry Percy.

Françoise, to whom propriety mattered, clucked and fussed while she finished dressing me in scavenged apparel: someone else’s petticoats; quilted stays to confine my athletic figure into a more traditionally feminine shape; an embroidered smock that smelled of lavender and cedar, with a high, ruffled neck; a black, bell-shaped skirt made of velvet; and Pierre’s best jacket, the only tailored article of clothing that was remotely my size. Try though she might, Françoise couldn’t button this last item over my breasts. I held my breath, tucked in my stomach, and hoped for a miracle as she pulled the corset’s laces tight, but nothing short of divine intervention was going to give me a sylphlike silhouette.

I asked Françoise a number of questions during the complicated process. Portraits of the period had led me to expect an unwieldy birdcage called a farthingale that would hold my skirts out at the hips, but Françoise explained that these were for more formal occasions. Instead she tied a stuffed cloth form shaped like a doughnut around my waist beneath my skirts. The only positive thing to say about it was that it held the layers of fabric away from my legs, enabling me to walk without too much difficulty—provided there was no furniture in the way and my destination could be reached if I moved in a straight line. But I would be expected to curtsy, too. Françoise quickly taught me how to do so while explaining how Henry Percy’s various titles worked—he was “Lord Northumberland” even though his last name was Percy and he was an earl.

But I had no chance to use any of this newly acquired knowledge. As soon as Matthew and I entered the great hall, a lanky young man in soft brown leather traveling clothes spattered with mud jumped up to greet us. His broad face was enlivened with an inquisitive look that lifted his heavy, ash-colored eyebrows toward a forehead with a pronounced widow’s peak.

“Hal.” Matthew smiled with the indulgent familiarity of an older brother. But the earl ignored his old friend and moved in my direction instead.

“M-m-mistress Roydon.” The earl’s deep bass was toneless, with hardly a trace of inflection or accent. Before coming down, Matthew had explained that Henry was slightly deaf and had stammered since childhood. He was, however, adept at lip-reading. Here, at last, was someone I could talk to without feeling self-conscious.

“Upstaged by Kit again, I see,” Matthew said with a rueful smile. “I had hoped to tell you myself.”

“What does it matter who shares such happy news?” Lord Northumberland bowed. “I thank you for your hospitality, mistress, and apologize for greeting you in this state. It is good of you to suffer your husband’s friends so soon. We should have left immediately once we learned of your arrival. The inn would be more than adequate.”

“You are most welcome here, my lord.” This was the moment to curtsy, but my heavy black skirts weren’t easy to manage and the corset was laced so tightly I couldn’t bend at the waist. I arranged my legs in an appropriately reverential position but teetered as I bent my knees. A large, bluntfingered hand shot out to steady me.

“Just Henry, mistress. Everyone else calls me Hal, so my given name is considered quite formal.” Like many who are hard of hearing, the earl kept his voice deliberately soft. He released me and turned his attention to Matthew. “Why no beard, Matt? Have you been ill?”

“A touch of ague, nothing more. Marriage has cured me. Where are the rest of them?” Matthew glanced around for Kit, George, and Tom.

The Old Lodge’s great hall looked very different in daylight. I had seen it only at night, but this morning the heavy paneling turned out to be shutters, all of which were thrown open. It gave the space an airy feeling, despite the monstrous fireplace on the far wall. It was decorated with bits and pieces of medieval stonework, no doubt rescued by Matthew from the rubble of the abbey that once stood here—the haunting face of a saint, a coat of arms, a Gothic quatrefoil.

“Diana?” Matthew’s amused voice interrupted my examination of the room and its contents. “The others are in the parlor, reading and playing cards. Hal didn’t feel it was right to join them until he had been invited to stay by the lady of the house.”

“The earl must stay, of course, and we can join your friends immediately.” My stomach rumbled.

“Or we could get you something to eat,” he suggested, eyes twinkling. Now that I had met Henry Percy without mishap, Matthew was beginning to relax. “Has anyone fed you, Hal?”

“Pierre and Françoise have been attentive as ever,” he reassured us. “Of course, if Mistress Roydon will join me . . .” The earl’s voice trailed off, and his stomach gurgled with mine. The man was as tall as a giraffe. It must take huge quantities of food to keep his body fueled.

“I, too, am fond of a large breakfast, my lord,” I said with a laugh.

“Henry,” the earl corrected me gently, his grin showing off the dimple in his chin.

“Then you must call me Diana. I cannot call the Earl of Northumberland by his first name if he keeps referring to me as ‘Mistress Roydon.’” Françoise had been insistent on the need to honor the earl’s high rank.

“Very well, Diana,” Henry said, extending his arm.

He led me across a drafty corridor and into a cozy room with low ceilings. It was snug and inviting, with only a single array of south-facing windows. In spite of its relatively small size, three tables had been wedged into the room, along with stools and benches. A low hum of activity, punctuated by a rattle of pots and pans, told me we were near the kitchens. Someone had tacked a page from an almanac on the wall and a map lay on the central table, one corner held down with a candlestick, the other by a shallow pewter dish filled with fruit. The arrangement looked like a Dutch still life, with its homely detail. I stopped short, dizzied by the scent.

“The quinces.” My fingers reached out to touch them. They looked just as they had in my mind’s eye back in Madison when Matthew had described the Old Lodge.

Henry seemed puzzled by my reaction to an ordinary dish of fruit but was too well bred to comment. We settled ourselves at the table, and a servant added fresh bread along with a platter of grapes and a bowl of apples to the still life before us. It was comforting to see such familiar fare. Henry helped himself, and I followed his example, carefully noting which foods he selected and how much of them he consumed. It was always the little differences that gave strangers away, and I wanted to appear as ordinary as possible. While we filled our plates, Matthew poured himself a glass of wine.

Throughout our meal Henry behaved with unfailing courtesy. He never asked me anything personal, nor did he pry into Matthew’s affairs. Instead he kept us laughing with tales of his dogs, his estates, and his martinet of a mother, all the while providing a steady supply of toasted bread from the fire. He was just beginning an account of moving house in London when a clatter arose in the courtyard. The earl, whose back was to the door, didn’t notice.

“She is impossible! You all warned me, but I didn’t believe anyone could be so ungrateful. After all the riches I’ve poured into her coffers, the least she could do was— Oh.” Our new guest’s broad shoulders filled the doorway, one of them swathed in a cloak as dark as the hair that curled around his splendid feathered hat. “Matthew. Are you ill?”

Henry turned with surprise. “Good day, Walter. Why aren’t you at court?”

I tried to swallow a morsel of toast. Our new arrival was almost certainly the missing member of Matthew’s School of Night, Sir Walter Raleigh.

“Cast out of paradise for want of a position, Hal. And who is this?” Piercing blue eyes settled on me, and teeth gleamed from his dark beard. “Henry Percy, you sly imp. Kit told me you were intent on bedding the fair Arabella. If I’d known your tastes ran to something more mature than a girl of fifteen, I would have yoked you to a lusty widow long ago.”

Mature? Widow? I had just turned thirty-three.

“Her charms have induced you to stay home from church this Sunday. We must thank the lady for getting you off your knees and onto a horse, where you belong,” Raleigh continued, his accent as thick as Devonshire cream.

The Earl of Northumberland rested his toasting fork on the hearth and considered his friend. He shook his head and returned to his work. “Go out, come in again, and ask Matt for his news. And look contrite when you do it.”

“No.” Walter stared at Matthew, openmouthed. “She’s yours?”

“With the ring to prove it.” Matthew kicked a stool from under the table with one long, booted leg. “Sit down, Walter, and have some ale.”

“You swore you would never wed,” Walter said, clearly confused.

“It took some persuasion.”

“I expect it did.” Walter Raleigh’s appraising glance settled on me once more. “’Tis a pity she is wasted on a cold-blooded creature. I wouldn’t have delayed for an instant.”

“Diana knows my nature and doesn’t mind my ‘coldness,’ as you put it. Besides, it was she who needed persuading. I fell in love with her at first glance,” said Matthew.

Walter snorted in response.

“Don’t be so cynical, old friend. Cupid may yet catch you.” Matthew’s gray eyes lit up with the mischief born from certain knowledge of Raleigh’s future.

“Cupid will have to wait to turn his arrows on me. I’m entirely occupied at present fending off the unfriendly advances of the queen and the admiral.” Walter tossed his hat onto a nearby table, where it slid over the shiny surface of a backgammon board, disturbing the game in progress. He groaned and sat next to Henry. “Everyone wants a bit of my hide, it seems, but no one will give me a speck of preferment while this business of the colony hangs over my head. The idea for this year’s anniversary celebration was mine, yet that woman put Cumberland in charge of the ceremonies.” His temper rose again.

“Still no news from Roanoke?” Henry inquired gently, handing Walter a cup of thick, brown ale. My stomach lurched at the mention of Raleigh’s doomed venture in the New World. It was the first time anyone had wondered aloud about the outcome of a future event, but it would not be the last.

“White arrived back at Plymouth last week, driven home by foul weather. He had to abandon the search for his daughter and granddaughter.” Walter took a long draft of ale and stared into space. “Christ knows what happened to them all.”

“Come spring, you will return and find them.” Henry sounded sure, but Matthew and I knew that the missing Roanoke colonists would never be found and Raleigh would never again set foot on the soil of North Carolina.

“I pray you are right, Hal. But enough of my troubles. What part of the country are your people from, Mistress Roydon?”

“Cambridge,” I said softly, keeping my response brief and as truthful as possible. The town was in Massachusetts, not England, but if I started making things up now, I’d never keep my stories straight.

“So you are a scholar’s daughter. Or perhaps your father was a theologian? Matt would be pleased to have someone to talk to about matters of faith. With the exception of Hal, his friends are hopeless when it comes to doctrine.” Walter sipped his ale and waited.

“Diana’s father died when she was quite young.” Matthew took my hand.

“I am sorry for you, Diana. The loss of a f-f-father is a terrible blow,” Henry murmured.

“And your first husband, did he leave you with sons and daughters for comfort?” asked Walter, a trace of sympathy creeping into his voice.

Here and now a woman my age would have been married before and have had a brood of three or four children. I shook my head. “No.”

Walter frowned, but before he could pursue the matter further, Kit arrived, with George and Tom in tow.

“At last. Talk sense into him, Walter. Matthew cannot keep playing Odysseus to her Circe.” Kit grabbed the goblet sitting in front of Henry. “Good day, Hal.”

“Talk sense into whom?” Walter asked testily.

“Matt, of course. That woman is a witch. And there’s something not quite right about her.” Kit’s eyes narrowed. “She’s hiding something.”

“A witch,” Walter repeated carefully.

A servant carrying an armful of logs froze in the doorway.

“As I said,” Kit affirmed with a nod. “Tom and I recognized the signs straightaway.”

The maid dumped the logs in the waiting basket and scurried off.

“For a maker of plays, Kit, you have a lamentable sense of time and place.” Walter’s blue eyes turned to Matthew. “Shall we go elsewhere to discuss the matter, or is this merely one of Kit’s idle fancies? If it is the latter, I would like to stay where it is warm and finish my ale.” The two men studied each other. When Matthew’s expression didn’t waver, Walter cursed under his breath. Pierre appeared, as if on cue.

“There is a fire in the parlor, milord,” the vampire told Matthew, “and wine and food are laid out for your guests. You will not be disturbed.”

The parlor was neither as cozy as the room where we’d taken our breakfast nor as imposing as the great hall. The abundance of carved armchairs, rich tapestries, and ornately framed paintings suggested that its primary purpose was to entertain the house’s most important guests. A splendid rendering of St. Jerome and his lion by Holbein hung by the fireplace. It was unfamiliar to me, as was the Holbein portrait next to it of a piggy-eyed Henry VIII holding a book and a pair of spectacles and looking pensively at the viewer, the table before him strewn with precious objects. Henry’s daughter, the first and current Queen Elizabeth, stared at him with hauteur from across the room. Their tense standoff did nothing to lighten the mood as we took our seats. Matthew propped himself up by the fire with his arms crossed over his chest, looking every bit as formidable as the Tudors on the walls.

“Are you still going to tell them the truth?” I whispered to him.

“It is generally easier that way, mistress,” Raleigh said sharply, “not to mention more fitting among friends.”

“You forget yourself, Walter,” Matthew warned, anger flaring.

“Forget myself! This from someone who has taken up with a witch?” Walter had no trouble keeping pace with Matthew when it came to irritation. And there was a note of real fear in his voice as well.

“She is my wife,” Matthew retorted. He rubbed his hand over his hair. “As for her being a witch, we are all in this room vilified for something, be it real or imaginary.”

“But to wed her—whatever were you thinking?” Walter asked numbly.

“That I loved her,” Matthew said. Kit rolled his eyes and poured a fresh cup of wine from a silver pitcher. My dreams of sitting with him by a cozy fire discussing magic and literature faded further in the harsh light of this November morning. I had been in 1590 for less than twenty-four hours, but I was already heartily sick of Christopher Marlowe.

At Matthew’s response the room fell silent while he and Walter studied each other. With Kit, Matthew was indulgent and a bit exasperated. George and Tom brought out his patience and Henry his brotherly affection. But Raleigh was Matthew’s equal—in intelligence, power, perhaps even in ruthlessness—which meant that Walter’s was the only opinion that mattered. They had a wary respect for each other, like two wolves determining who had the strength to lead their pack.

“So it’s like that,” Walter said slowly, acceding to Matthew’s authority.

“It is.” Matthew planted his feet more evenly on the hearth.

“You keep too many secrets and have too many enemies to take a wife. And yet you’ve done so anyway.” Walter looked amazed. “Other men have accused you of relying overmuch on your own subtlety, but I never agreed with them until now. Very well, Matthew. If you are so cunning, tell us what to say when questions are raised.”

Kit’s cup slammed onto the table, red wine sloshing over his hand. “You cannot expect us to—”

“Quiet.” Walter shot a furious glance at Marlowe. “Given the lies we tell on your behalf, I’m surprised you would dare to object. Go on, Matthew.”

“Thank you, Walter. You are the only five men in the kingdom who might listen to my tale and not think me mad.” Matthew raked his hands through his hair. “Do you recall when we spoke last of Giordano Bruno’s ideas about an infinite number of worlds, unlimited by time or space?”

The men exchanged glances.

“I am not sure,” Henry began delicately, “that we understand your meaning.”

“Diana is from the New World.” Matthew paused, which gave Marlowe the opportunity to look triumphantly about the room. “From the New World to come.”

In the silence that followed, all eyes swiveled in my direction.

“She said she was from Cambridge,” said Walter blankly.

“Not that Cambridge. My Cambridge is in Massachusetts.” My voice creaked from stress and disuse. I cleared my throat. “The colony will exist north of Roanoke in another forty years.”

A din of exclamations rose, and questions came at me from all directions. Harriot reached over and hesitantly touched my shoulder. When his finger met solid flesh, he withdrew it in wonder.

“I have heard about creatures who could bend time to their will. This is a marvelous day, is it not, Kit? Did you ever think to know a time spinner? We must be careful around her, of course, or we might get entangled in her web and lose our way.” Harriot’s face was wistful, as if he might enjoy being caught up in another world.

“And what brings you here, Mistress Roydon?” Walter’s deep voice cut through the chatter.

“Diana’s father was a scholar,” Matthew replied for me. There were murmurs of interest, quelled by Walter’s upraised hand. “Her mother, too. Both were witches and died under mysterious circumstances.”

“That is something we share, then, D-D-Diana,” Henry said with a shudder. Before I could ask the earl what he meant, Walter waved Matthew on.

“As a result her education as a witch was . . . overlooked,” Matthew continued.

“It is easy to prey on such a witch.” Tom frowned. “Why, in this New World to come, is more care not taken with such a creature?”

“My magic, and my family’s long history with it, meant nothing to me. You must understand what it is like to want to go beyond the restrictions of your birth.” I looked at Kit, the shoemaker’s son, hoping for agreement if not sympathy, but he turned away.

“Ignorance is an unforgivable sin.” Kit fussed with a bit of red silk that was peeking out of one of the dozens of jagged slashes cut into his black doublet.

“So is disloyalty,” said Walter. “Go on, Matthew.”

“Diana may not have been trained in the craft of a witch, but she is far from ignorant. She is a scholar, too,” Matthew said proudly, “with a passion for alchemy.”

“Lady alchemists are nothing but kitchen philosophers,” Kit sniffed, “more interested in improving their complexions than understanding the secrets of nature.”

“I study alchemy in the library—not the kitchen,” I snapped, forgetting to modulate my tone or accent. Kit’s eyes widened. “Then I teach students about the subject at a university.”

“They will let women teach at the university?” George said, fascinated and repelled in equal measure.

“Matriculate, too,” Matthew murmured, pulling on the tip of his nose apologetically. “Diana went to Oxford.”

“That must have improved attendance at lectures,” Walter commented drily. “Had women been allowed at Oriel, even I might have taken another degree. And are lady scholars under attack in this future colony somewhere north of Roanoke?” It was a reasonable conclusion to have drawn from Matthew’s story thus far.

“Not all of them, no. But Diana found a lost book at the university.” The members of the School of Night pitched forward in their seats. Lost books were of far more interest to this group than were ignorant witches and lady scholars. “It contains secret information about the world of creatures.”

“The Book of Mysteries that is supposed to tell of our creation?” Kit looked amazed. “You’ve never been interested in those fables before, Matthew. In fact, you’ve dismissed them as superstition.”

“I believe in them now, Kit. Diana’s discovery brought enemies to her door.”

“And you were with her. So her enemies lifted the latch and entered.” Walter shook his head.

“Why did Matthew’s regard effect such dire consequences?” George asked. His fingers searched out the black grosgrain ribbon that tied his spectacles to the fastenings on his doublet. The doublet was fashionably puffed out over his stomach and the stuffing rustled like a bag of oatmeal whenever he moved. George lifted the round frames to his face and examined me as if I were an interesting new object of study.

“Because witches and wearhs are forbidden to marry,” Kit said promptly. I’d never heard the word wearh before, with its whistling w at the beginning and guttural sound at the end.

“So are daemons and wearhs.” Walter clamped a warning hand on Kit’s shoulder.

“Really?” George blinked at Matthew, then at me. “Does the queen forbid such a match?”

“It is an ancient covenant between creatures that none dares to disobey.” Tom sounded frightened. “Those who do so are called to account by the Congregation and punished.”

Only vampires as old as Matthew could remember a time before the covenant had established how creatures were to behave with one another and interact with the humans who surrounded us. “No fraternizing between otherworldly species” was the most important rule, and the Congregation policed the boundaries. Our talents—creativity, strength, supernatural power—were impossible to ignore in mixed groups. It was as if the power of a witch highlighted the creative energy of any nearby daemons, and the genius of a daemon made a vampire’s beauty more striking. As for our relationships with humans, we were supposed to keep a low profile and steer clear of politics and religion.

Just this morning Matthew had insisted there were too many other problems facing the Congregation in the sixteenth century—religious war, the burning of heretics, and the popular hunger for the strange and bizarre newly fed by the technology of the printing press—for its members to bother with something so trivial as a witch and a vampire who had fallen in love. Given the bewildering and dangerous events that had taken place since I’d met Matthew in late September, I had found this difficult to believe.

“Which congregation?” George asked with interest. “Is this some new religious sect?”

Walter ignored his friend’s question and gave Matthew a piercing look. Then he turned to me. “And do you still have this book?”

“No one has it. It went back into the library. The witches expect me to recall it for them.”

“So you are hunted for two reasons. Some want to keep you from a wearh, others see you as a necessary means to a desired end.” Walter pinched the bridge of his nose and looked at Matthew tiredly. “You are a veritable lodestone when it comes to trouble, my friend. And this couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time. The queen’s anniversary celebration is less than three weeks away. You’re expected at court.”

“Never mind the queen’s celebration! We are not safe with a time twister in our midst. She can see what fate has in store for each of us. The witch will be able to undo our futures, cause ill fortune—even hasten our deaths.” Kit rocketed out of his chair to stand before Matthew. “How by all that is holy could you do this?”

“It seems your much-vaunted atheism has failed you, Kit,” said Matthew evenly. “Afraid you might have to answer for your sins after all?”

“I may not believe in a beneficent, all-powerful deity as you do, Matthew, but there is more to this world than what’s described in your philosophy books. And this woman—this witch—cannot be allowed to meddle in our affairs. You may be in her thrall, but I have no intention of putting my future in her hands!” Kit retorted.

“A moment.” A look of growing astonishment passed over George’s face. “Did you come to us from Chester, Matthew, or—”

“No. You must not answer, Matt,” Tom said with sudden lucidity. “Janus has come among us to work some purpose, and we must not interfere.”

“Talk sense, Tom—if you can,” Kit said nastily.

“With one face, Matthew and Diana look to the past. With the other, they consider the future,” Tom said, unconcerned with Kit’s interruption.

“But if Matt is not . . .” George trailed off into silence.

“Tom is right,” Walter said gruffly. “Matthew is our friend and has asked for our help. It is, so far as I can recall, the first time he has done so. That is all we need to know.”

“He asks too much,” Kit retorted.

“Too much? It’s little and late, in my opinion. Matthew paid for one of my ships, saved Henry’s estates, and has long kept George and Tom in books and dreams. As for you”—Walter surveyed Marlowe from head to toe—“everything in you and on you—from your ideas to your last cup of wine to the hat on your head—is thanks to Matthew Roydon’s good graces. Providing a safe port for his wife during this present tempest is a trifle in comparison.”

“Thank you, Walter.” Matthew looked relieved, but the smile he turned on me was tentative. Winning over his friends—Walter in particular—had been more difficult than he’d anticipated.

“We will need to devise a story to explain how your wife came to be here,” Walter said thoughtfully, “something to divert attention from her strangeness.”

“Diana needs a teacher, too,” added Matthew.

“She must be taught some manners, certainly,” Kit grumbled. “No, her teacher must be another witch,” Matthew corrected him.

Walter made a low sound of amusement. “I doubt there’s a witch within twenty miles of Woodstock. Not with you living here.”

“And what of this book, Mistress Roydon?” George whipped out a pointed gray stick wrapped in string from a pocket hidden away in the bulbous outlines of his short britches. He licked the tip of his pencil and held it expectantly. “Can you tell me its size and contents? I will look for it in Oxford.”

“The book can wait,” I said. “First I need proper clothes. I can’t go out of the house wearing Pierre’s jacket and the skirt that Matthew’s sister wore to Jane Seymour’s funeral.”

“Go out of the house?” Kit scoffed. “Utter lunacy.”

“Kit is right,” George said apologetically. He made a notation in his book. “Your speech makes it apparent you are a stranger to England. I would be happy to give you elocution lessons, Mistress Roydon.” The idea of George Chapman playing Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle was enough to make me look longingly at the exit.

“She shouldn’t be allowed to speak at all, Matt. You must keep her quiet,” Kit insisted.

“What we need is a woman, someone to advise Diana. Why is there not one daughter, wife, or mistress to be had among the five of you?” Matthew demanded. Deep silence fell.

“Walter?” Kit asked archly, sending the rest of the men into a fit of laughter and lightening the heavy atmosphere as though a summer storm had blown through the room. Even Matthew joined in.

Pierre entered as the laughter faded, kicking up sprigs of rosemary and lavender strewn among the rushes laid down to keep dampness from being tromped through the house. At the same moment, the bells began to toll the hour of twelve. Like the sight of the quinces, the combination of sounds and smells took me straight back to Madison.

Past, present, and future met. Rather than a slow, fluid unspooling, there was a moment of stillness as if time had stopped. My breath hitched.

“Diana?” Matthew said, taking me by the elbows.

Something blue and amber, a weave of light and color, caught my attention. It was tightly meshed in the corner of the room, where nothing could fit but cobwebs and dust. Fascinated, I tried to move toward it.

“Is she having a fit?” Henry asked, his face coming into focus over Matthew’s shoulder.

The tolling of the bell stopped, and the scent of lavender faded. Blue and amber flickered to gray and white before disappearing.

“I’m sorry. I thought I saw something in the corner. It must have been a trick of the light,” I said, pressing my hand to my cheek.

“Perhaps you are suffering from timelag, mon coeur,” Matthew murmured. “I promised you a walk in the park. Will you go outside with me to clear your head?”

Maybe it was the aftereffects of timewalking, and perhaps fresh air would help. But we had just arrived, and Matthew hadn’t seen these men for more than four centuries.

“You should be with your friends,” I said firmly, though my eyes drifted to the windows.

“They’ll still be here, drinking my wine, when we return,” Matthew said with a smile. He turned to Walter. “I’m going to show Diana her house and make sure she is able to find her way through the gardens.”

“We will need to talk further,” Walter warned. “There is business to discuss.”

Matthew nodded and tucked his hand around my waist. “It can wait.”

We left the School of Night in the warm parlor and headed outdoors. Tom had already lost interest in the problems of vampire and witch and was engrossed in his reading. George was similarly consumed by his own thoughts and busily writing in a notebook. Kit’s glance was watchful, Walter’s wary, and Henry’s eyes were filled with sympathy. The three men looked like an unkindness of ravens with their dark clothes and attentive expressions. It reminded me of what Shakespeare would soon say about this extraordinary group.

“How does it begin?” I murmured softly. “‘Black is the badge of hell’?”

Matthew looked wistful. “‘Black is the badge of hell / The hue of dungeons, and the school of night.’”

“The hue of friendship would be more accurate,” I said. I’d seen Matthew manage the readers at the Bodleian, but his influence over the likes of Walter Raleigh and Kit Marlowe was still unexpected. “Is there anything they wouldn’t do for you, Matthew?

“Pray God we never find out,” he said somberly.

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