فصل 23

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فصل 23

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Chapter Twenty Three

“We have all lost babes, Diana,” Goody Alsop said sadly. “It is a pain most women know.”

“All?” I looked around Goody Alsop’s keeping room at the witches of the Garlickhythe gathering.

The stories tumbled out, of babies lost in childbirth and others who died at six months or six years. I didn’t know any women who had miscarried— or I didn’t think I did. Had one of my friends suffered such a loss, without my knowing it?

“You are young and strong,” Susanna said. “There is no reason to think you cannot conceive another child.”

No reason at all, except for the fact that my husband wouldn’t touch me again until we were back in the land of birth control and fetal monitors.

“Maybe,” I said with a noncommittal shrug.

“Where is Master Roydon?” Goody Alsop said quietly. Her fetch drifted around the parlor as if she thought she might find him in the window-seat cushions or sitting atop the cupboard.

“Out on business,” I said, drawing my shawl tighter. It was Susanna’s, and it smelled like burned sugar and chamomile, just as she did.

“I heard he was at the Middle Temple Hall with Christopher Marlowe last night. Watching a play, by all accounts.” Catherine passed the box of comfits she’d brought to Goody Alsop.

“Ordinary men can pine terribly for a lost child. I am not surprised that a wearh would find it especially difficult. They are possessive, after all.” Goody Alsop reached for something red and gelatinous. “Thank you, Catherine.”

The women waited in silence, hoping I’d take Goody Alsop and Catherine up on their circumspect invitation to tell them how Matthew and I were faring.

“He’ll be fine,” I said tightly.

“He should be here,” Elizabeth said sharply. “I can see no reason why his loss should be more painful than yours!”

“Because Matthew has endured a thousand years of heartbreak and I’ve only endured thirty-three,” I said, my tone equally sharp. “He is a wearh, Elizabeth. Do I wish he were here rather than out with Kit? Of course. Will I beg him to stay at the Hart and Crown for my sake? Absolutely not.” My voice was rising as my hurt and frustration spilled over. Matthew had been unfailingly sweet and tender with me. He’d comforted me as I faced the hundreds of fragile dreams for the future that had been destroyed when I miscarried our child.

It was the hours he was spending elsewhere that had me concerned.

“My head tells me Matthew must have a chance to grieve in his own way,” I said. “My heart tells me he loves me even though he prefers to be with his friends now. I just wish he could touch me without regret.” I could feel it whenever he looked at me, held me, took my hand. It was unbearable.

“I am sorry, Diana,” Elizabeth said, her face contrite.

“It’s all right,” I assured her.

But it wasn’t all right. The whole world felt discordant and wrong, with colors that were too bright and sounds so loud they made me jump. My body felt hollow, and no matter what I tried to read, the words failed to keep my attention.

“We will see you tomorrow, as planned,” Goody Alsop said briskly as the witches departed.

“Tomorrow?” I frowned. “I’m in no mood to make magic, Goody Alsop.”

“I’m in no mood to go to my grave without seeing you weave your first spell, so I shall expect you when the bells ring six.”

That night I stared into the fire as the bells rang six, and seven, and eight, and nine, and ten. When the bells rang three, I heard a sound on the stairs. Thinking it was Matthew, I went to the door. The staircase was empty, but a clutch of objects sat on the stairs: an infant’s sock, a sprig of holly, a twist of paper with a man’s name written on it. I gathered them all up in my lap as I sank onto one of the worn treads, clutching my shawl tight around me.

I was still trying to figure out what the offerings meant and how they had gotten there when Matthew shot up the stairs in a soundless blur. He stopped abruptly.

“Diana.” He drew the back of his hand across his mouth, his eyes green and glassy.

“At least you’ll feed when you’re with Kit,” I said, getting to my feet. “It’s nice to know that your friendship includes more than poetry and chess.”

Matthew put his boot on the tread next to my feet. He used his knee to press me toward the wall, effectively trapping me. His breath was sweet and slightly metallic.

“You’re going to hate yourself in the morning,” I said calmly, turning my head away. I knew better than to run when the tang of blood was still on his lips. “Kit should have kept you with him until the drugs were out of your system. Does all the blood in London have opiates in it?” It was the second night in a row Matthew had gone out with Kit and come home high as a kite.

“Not all,” Matthew purred, “but it is the easiest to come by.”

“What are these?” I held up the sock, the holly, and the scroll.

“They’re for you,” Matthew said. “More arrive every night. Pierre and I collect them before you are awake.”

“When did this start?” I didn’t trust myself to say more.

“The week before— The week you met with the Rede. Most are requests for help. Since you— Since Saturday there have been gifts for you and the baby, too.” Matthew held out his hand. “I’ll take care of them.”

I drew my hand closer to my heart. “Where are the rest?”

Matthew’s mouth tightened, but he showed me where he was keeping them—in a box in the attic, shoved under one of the benches. I picked through the contents, which were somewhat similar to what Jack pulled out of his pockets each night: buttons, bits of ribbon, a piece of broken crockery. There were locks of hair, too, and dozens of pieces of paper inscribed with names. Though they were invisible to most eyes, I could see the jagged threads that hung from every treasure, all waiting to be tied off, joined up, or otherwise mended.

“These are requests for magic.” I looked up at Matthew. “You shouldn’t have kept this from me.”

“I don’t want you performing spells for every creature in the city of London,” Matthew said, his eyes darkening.

“Well, I don’t want you to eat out every night before going drinking with your friends! But you’re a vampire, so sometimes that’s what you need to do,” I retorted. “I’m a witch, Matthew. Requests like this have to be handled carefully. My safety depends on my relations with our neighbors. I can’t go stealing boats like Gallowglass or growling at people.”

“Milord.” Pierre stood at the far end of the attics, where a narrow stair twirled down to a hidden exit behind the laundresses’ giant washtubs.

“What?” Matthew said impatiently.

“Agnes Sampson is dead.” Pierre looked frightened. “They took her to Castlehill in Edinburgh on Monday, garroted her, and then burned the body.” It was that night that I’d lost the baby, I realized with a touch of panic.

“Christ.” Matthew paled.

“Hancock said she was fully dead before the wood was lit. She wouldn’t have felt anything,” Pierre went on. It was a small mercy, one not always afforded to a convicted witch. “They refused to read your letter, milord. Hancock was told to leave Scottish politics to the Scottish king or they’d put the screws to him the next time he showed his face in Edinburgh.”

“Why can’t I fix this?” Matthew exploded.

“So it’s not just the loss of the baby that’s driven you toward Kit’s darkness. You’re hiding from the events in Scotland, too.”

“No matter how hard I try to set things right, I cannot seem to break this cursed pattern,” Matthew said. “Before, as the queen’s spy, I delighted in the trouble in Scotland. As a member of the Congregation, I considered Sampson’s death an acceptable price to pay to maintain the status quo. But now . . .”

“Now you’re married to a witch,” I said. “And everything looks different.”

“Yes. I’m caught between what I once believed and what I now hold most dear, what I once proudly defended as gospel truth and the magnitude of what I no longer know.”

“I will go back into the city,” Pierre said, turning toward the door. “There may be more to discover.”

I studied Matthew’s tired face. “You can’t expect to understand all of life’s tragedies, Matthew. I wish we still had the baby, too. And I know it seems hopeless right now, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a future to look forward to—one in which our children and family are safe.”

“A miscarriage this early in pregnancy is almost always a sign of a genetic anomaly that makes the fetus nonviable. If that happened once . . .” His voice trailed off.

“There are genetic anomalies that don’t compromise the baby,” I pointed out. “Take me, for instance.” I was a chimera, with mismatching DNA. “I can’t bear losing another child, Diana. I just . . . can’t.”

“I know.” I was bone weary and wanted the blessed oblivion of sleep as much as he did. I had never known my child as he had known Lucas, and the pain was still unbearable. “I have to be at Goody Alsop’s house at six tonight.” I looked up at him. “Will you be out with Kit?”

“No,” Matthew said softly. He pressed his lips to mine—briefly, regretfully. “I’ll be with you.”

Matthew was true to his word, and escorted me to Goody Alsop’s before going to the Golden Gosling with Pierre. In the most courteous way possible, the witches explained that wearhs were not welcome. Taking a weaver safely through her forspell required a considerable mobilization of supernatural and magical energy. Wearhs would only get in the way.

My Aunt Sarah would have paid close attention to how Susanna and Marjorie readied the sacred circle. Some of the substances and equipment they used were familiar—like the salt they sprinkled on the floorboards to purify the space—but others were not. Sarah’s witch’s kit consisted of two knives (one with a black handle and one with a white), the Bishop grimoire, and various herbs and plants. Elizabethan witches required a greater variety of objects to work their magic, including brooms. I’d never seen a witch with a broom except on Halloween when they were de rigueur, along with pointed hats.

Each of the witches of the Garlickhythe gathering brought a unique broom with her to Goody Alsop’s house. Marjorie’s was fashioned from a cherry branch. At the top of the staff, someone had carved glyphs and symbols. Instead of the usual bristles, Marjorie had tied dried herbs and twigs to the bottom where the central limb forked into thinner branches. She told me that the herbs were important to her magic—agrimony to break enchantments, lacy feverfew with the white-and-yellow flowers still attached for protection, the sturdy stems of rosemary with their glaucous leaves for purification and clarity. Susanna’s broom was made from elm, which was symbolic of the phases of life from birth to death and related to her profession as a midwife. So, too, were the plants tied to the staff: the fleshy green leaves of adder’s tongue for healing, boneset’s frothy white flower heads for protection, the spiky leaves of groundsel for good health.

Marjorie and Susanna carefully swept the salt in a clockwise direction until the fine grains had traveled over every inch of the floor. The salt would not only cleanse the space, Marjorie explained, but also ground it so that my power wouldn’t spill over into the world once it was fully unbound.

Goody Alsop stopped up the windows, the doors—even the chimney. The house ghosts were given the option of staying out of the way amid the roof beams or finding temporary refuge with the family who lived downstairs. Not wishing to miss anything, and slightly jealous of the fetch who had no choice but to stay by her mistress, the ghosts flitted among the rafters and gossiped about whether any of the residents of Newgate Street would get a moment’s peace now that the specters of medieval Queen Isabella and a murderess named Lady Agnes Hungerford had resumed their squabbling.

Elizabeth and Catherine settled my nerves—and drowned out the gruesome details of Lady Agnes’s terrible deeds and death—by sharing some of their early magical adventures and drawing me out about my own. Elizabeth was impressed by how I’d channeled the water from under Sarah’s orchard, pulling it into my palms drop by drop. And Catherine crowed with delight when I shared how a bow and arrow rested heavy in my hands just before the witchfire flew.

“The moon has risen,” Marjorie said, her round face pink with anticipation. The windows were sealed, but none of the other witches questioned her.

“It is time, then,” Elizabeth said briskly, all business.

Each witch went from one corner of the room to the next, breaking off a twig from her broom and placing it there. But these were not random piles. They’d arranged the twigs so as to overlap and form a pentacle, the witch’s five-pointed star.

Goody Alsop and I took up our positions at the center of the circle. Though its boundaries were invisible, that would change when the other witches took their appointed places. Once they had, Catherine murmured a spell and a curved line of fire traveled from witch to witch, binding the circle.

Power surged in its center. Goody Alsop had warned me that what we were doing this night invoked ancient magics. Soon the buffeting wave of energy was replaced by something that tingled and snapped like a thousand witchy glances.

“Look around you with your witch’s sight,” Goody Alsop said, “and tell me what you see.”

When my third eye opened, I half expected to find that the air itself had come to life, every particle charged with possibility. Instead the room was filled with filaments of magic.

“Threads,” I said, “as though the world is nothing more than a tapestry.”

Goody Alsop nodded. “To be a weaver is to be tied to the world around you and see it in strands and hues. While some ties fetter your magic, others yoke the power in your blood to the four elements and the great mysteries that lie beyond them. Weavers learn how to release the ties that bind and use the rest.”

“But I don’t know how to tell them apart.” Hundreds of strands brushed against my skirts and bodice.

“Soon you will test them, like a bird tests its wings, to discover what secrets they hold for you. Now, we will simply cut them all away, so that they can return to you unbound. As I snip the threads, you must resist the temptation to grab at the power around you. Because you are a weaver, you will want to mend the broken threads. Leave your thoughts free and your mind empty. Let the power do as it will.”

Goody Alsop released my arm and began to weave her spell with sounds that bore no resemblance to speech but were strangely familiar. With each utterance I saw the filaments fall away from me, coiling and twisting. A roaring filled my ears. My arms heeded the sound as if it were a command, rising up and stretching out until I was standing in the same T-shaped position that Matthew had placed me in at the Bishop house when I drew the water from underneath Sarah’s old orchard.

The strands of magic—all those threads of power that I could borrow but not hold—crept back toward me as if they were made of iron filings and I were a magnet. As they came to rest in my hands, I struggled against the urge to close my fists around them. The desire to do so was strong, as Goody Alsop predicted it would be, but I let them slide over my skin like the satin ribbons in the stories my mother told me when I was a child.

So far everything had happened as Goody Alsop had told me it would. But no one could predict what might occur when my powers took shape, and the witches around the circle braced themselves to meet the unknown. Goody Alsop had warned me that not all weavers shaped a familiar in their forspell, so I shouldn’t expect one to appear. But my life these past months has taught me that the unexpected was more likely than not when I was around.

The roaring intensified, and the air stirred. A swirling ball of energy hung directly over my head. It drew energy from the room but kept collapsing into its own center like a black hole. My witch’s eye closed tightly against the dizzying, roiling sight.

Something pulsed in the midst of the storm. It pulled free and took on a shadowy form. As soon as it did so, Goody Alsop fell silent. She gave me one final, long look before she left me, alone, in the center of the circle.

There was a beating of wings, the lash of a barbed tail. A hot, moist breath licked across my cheek. A transparent creature with the reptilian head of a dragon hovered in the air, bright wings striking the rafters and sending the ghosts scuttling for cover. It had only two legs, and the curved talons on its feet looked as deadly as the points along its long tail.

“How many legs does it have?” Marjorie called, unable to see clearly from her position. “Is it just a dragon?”

Just a dragon?

“It’s a firedrake,” Catherine said in wonder. She raised her arms, ready to cast a warding spell if it decided to strike. Elizabeth Jackson’s arms moved, too.

“Wait!” Goody Alsop cried, interrupting their magic. “Diana has not yet completed her weaving. Perhaps she will find a way to tame her.”

Tame her? I looked at Goody Alsop incredulously. I wasn’t even sure if the creature before me was substance or spirit. She seemed real, but I could see right through her.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said, beginning to panic. Every flap of the creature’s wings sent a shower of sparks and drops of fire into the room.

“Some spells begin with an idea, others with a question. There are many ways to think about what comes next: tying a knot, twisting a rope, even forging a chain like the one that you made between you and your wearh,” Goody Alsop said, her tone low and soothing. “Let the power move through you.”

The firedrake roared in impatience, her feet extending toward me. What did she want? A chance to pick me up and carry me from the house? A comfortable place to perch and rest her wings?

The floor underneath me creaked.

“Step aside!” Marjorie cried.

I moved just in time. A moment later a tree sprouted from the place where my feet had recently been planted. The trunk rose up, divided into two stout limbs, and branched out further. Shoots grew into green leaves at the tips, and then came white blossoms, and finally red berries. In a matter of seconds, I was standing beneath a full-grown tree, one that was flowering and fruiting at the same time.

The firedrake’s feet gripped at the tree’s uppermost branches. For a moment she seemed to rest there. A branch creaked and cracked. The firedrake lifted back into the air, a gnarled piece of the tree clutched in her talons. The firedrake’s tongue flicked out in a lash of fire, and the tree burst into flame. There were far too many flammable objects in the room—the wooden floors and furniture, the fabric that clothed the witches. All I could think was that I must stop the fire from spreading. I needed water—and lots of it.

There was a heavy weight in my right hand. I looked down, expecting to see a bucket. Instead I was holding an arrow. Witchfire. But what good was more fire?

“No, Diana! Don’t try to shape the spell!” Goody Alsop warned.

I shook myself free of thoughts of rain and rivers. As soon as I did, instinct took over and my two arms rose in front of me, my right hand drew back, and once my fingers unfurled, the arrow flew into the heart of the tree. The flames shot up high and fast, blinding me. The heat died down, and when my sight returned, I found myself atop a mountain under a vast, starry sky. A huge crescent moon hung low in the heavens.

“I’ve been waiting for you.” The goddess’s voice was little more than a breath of wind. She was wearing soft robes, her hair cascading down her back. There was no sign of her usual weapons, but a large dog padded along at her side. He was so big and black he might have been a wolf.

“You.” A sense of dread squeezed around my heart. I had been expecting to see the goddess since I lost the baby. “Did you take my child in exchange for saving Matthew’s life?” My question came out part fury, part despair.

“No. That debt is settled. I have already taken another. A dead child is of no use to me.” The huntress’s eyes were green as the first shoots of willow in spring.

My blood ran cold. “Whose life have you taken?”

“Yours.”

“Mine?” I said numbly. “Am I . . . dead?”

“Of course not. The dead belong to another. It is the living I seek.” The huntress’s voice was now as piercing and bright as a moonbeam. “You promised I could take anyone—anything—in exchange for the life of the one you love. I chose you. And I am not done with you yet.”

The goddess took a step backward. “You gave your life to me, Diana Bishop. It is now time to make use of it.”

A cry overhead alerted me to the presence of the firedrake. I looked up, trying to make her out against the moon. When I blinked, her outline was perfectly visible against Goody Alsop’s ceiling. I was back in the witch’s house, no longer on a barren hilltop with the goddess. The tree was gone, reduced to a heap of ash. I blinked again.

The firedrake blinked back at me. Her eyes were sad and familiar— black, with silver irises rather than white. With another harsh cry, she released her talons. The branch of the tree fell into my arms. It felt like the arrow’s shaft, heavier and more substantial than its size would suggest. The firedrake bobbed her head, smoke coming in wisps from her nostrils. I was tempted to reach up and touch her, wondering if her skin would be warm and soft like a snake, but something told me she wouldn’t welcome it. And I didn’t want to startle her. She might rear back and poke her head through the roof. I was already worried about the condition of Goody Alsop’s house after the tree and the fire.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

The firedrake replied with a quiet moan of fire and song. Her silver-andblack eyes were ancient and wise as she studied me, her tail flicking back and forth pensively. She stretched her wings to their full extent before tightening them around her body and dematerializing.

All that was left of the firedrake was a tingling sensation in my ribs that told me somehow she was inside me, waiting until I needed her. With the weight of this beast heavily inside me, I fell to my knees, and the branch clattered to the floor. The witches rushed forward.

Goody Alsop reached me first, her thin arms reaching around to gather me close. “You did well, child, you did well,” she whispered. Elizabeth cupped her hand and with a few words transformed it into a shallow silver dipper full of water. I drank from it, and when the cup was empty, it went back to being nothing more than a hand.

“This is a great day, Goody Alsop,” Catherine said, her face wreathed in smiles.

“Aye, and a hard one for such a young witch,” Goody Alsop said. “You do nothing by halves, Diana Roydon. First you are no ordinary witch but a weaver. And then you weave a forspell that called forth a rowan tree simply to tame a firedrake. Had I foreseen this, I would not have believed it.”

“I saw the goddess,” I explained as they helped me to my feet, “and a dragon.”

“That was no dragon,” Elizabeth said.

“It had but two legs,” Marjorie explained. “That makes her not only a creature of fire but one of water, too, capable of moving between the elements. The firedrake is a union of opposites.”

“What is true of the firedrake is true of the rowan tree as well,” Goody Alsop said with a proud smile. “It is not every day that a rowan tree pushes its branches into one world while leaving its roots in another.”

In spite of the happy chatter of the women who surrounded me, I felt lost and alone. Matthew was waiting at the Golden Gosling for news. My third eye opened, seeking out a twisted thread of black and red that led from my heart, across the room, through the keyhole, and into the darkness beyond. I gave it a tug, and the chain inside me responded with a sympathetic chime.

“If I’m not very much mistaken, Master Roydon will be around shortly to collect his wife,” Goody Alsop said drily. “Let’s get you on your feet, or he’ll think we cannot be trusted with you.”

“Matthew can be protective,” I said apologetically. “Even more so since . . .”

“I’ve never known a wearh who wasn’t. It’s their nature,” Goody Alsop said, helping me up. The air had gone particulate again, brushing softly against my skin as I moved.

“Master Roydon need not fear in this case,” Elizabeth said. “We will make sure you can find your way back from the darkness, just like your firedrake.”

“What darkness?”

The witches went silent.

“What darkness?” I repeated, pushing my fatigue aside.

Goody Alsop sighed. “There are witches—a very few witches—who can move between this world and the next.”

“Time spinners,” I said with a nod. “Yes, I know. I’m one of them.”

“Not between this time and the next, Diana, but between this world and the next.” Marjorie gestured at the branch by my feet. “Life—and death. You can be in both worlds. That is why the rowan chose you, not the alder or the birch.”

“We did wonder if this might be the case. You were able to conceive a wearh’s child, after all.” Goody Alsop looked at me intently. The blood had drained from my face. “What is it, Diana?”

“The quinces. And the flowers.” My knees weakened again but I remained standing. “Mary Sidney’s shoe. And the oak tree in Madison.”

“And the wearh,” Goody Alsop said softly, understanding without my telling her. “So many signs pointing to the truth.”

A muffled thumping rose from outdoors.

“He mustn’t know,” I said urgently, grabbing at Goody Alsop’s hand. “Not now. It’s too soon after the baby, and Matthew doesn’t want me meddling with matters of life and death.”

“It is a bit late for that,” she said sadly.

“Diana!” Matthew’s fist pounded on the door.

“The wearh will split the wood in two,” Marjorie observed. “Master Roydon won’t be able to break the binding spell and enter, but the door will make a fearsome crash when it gives way. Think of your neighbors, Goody Alsop.”

Goody Alsop gestured with her hand. The air thickened, then relaxed.

Matthew was standing before me in the space of a heartbeat. His gray eyes raked over me. “What happened here?”

“If Diana wants you to know, she will tell you,” said Goody Alsop. She turned to me. “In light of what happened tonight, I think you should spend time with Catherine and Elizabeth tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Goody,” I murmured, grateful that she had not revealed my secrets.

“Wait.” Catherine went to the branch from the rowan tree and snapped off a thin twig. “Take this. You should have a piece with you at all times for a talisman.” Catherine dropped the bit of wood into my palm.

Not only Pierre but Gallowglass and Hancock were waiting for us in the street. They hustled me into a boat that waited at the bottom of Garlic Hill. After we arrived back at Water Lane Matthew sent everyone away, and we were left in the blissful quiet of our bedchamber.

“I don’t need to know what happened,” Matthew said roughly, closing the door behind him. “I just need to know that you’re truly all right.”

“I’m truly fine.” I turned my back to him so that he could loosen the laces on my bodice.

“You’re afraid of something. I can smell it.” Matthew spun me around to face him.

“I’m afraid of what I might find out about myself.” I met his eyes squarely.

“You’ll find your truth.” He sounded so sure, so unconcerned. But he didn’t know about the dragon and the rowan and what they meant for a weaver. Matthew didn’t know that my life belonged to the goddess either, nor that it was because of the bargain I’d made to save him.

“What if I become someone else and you don’t like her?”

“Not possible,” he assured me, drawing me closer.

“Even if we find out that the powers of life and death are in my blood?”

Matthew pulled away.

“Saving you in Madison wasn’t a fluke, Matthew. I breathed life into Mary’s shoes, too—just as I sucked the life out of the oak tree at Sarah’s and the quinces here.”

“Life and death are big responsibilities.” Matthew’s gray-green eyes were somber. “But I will love you regardless. You forget, I have power over life and death, too. What is it you told me that night I went hunting in Oxford? You said there was no difference between us. ‘Occasionally I eat partridge. Occasionally you feed on deer.’

“We are more similar, you and I, than either of us imagined,” Matthew continued. “But if you can believe good of me, knowing what you do of my past deeds, then you must allow me to believe the same of you.”

Suddenly I wanted to share my secrets. “There was a firedrake and a tree—”

“And the only thing that matters is that you are safely home,” he said, quieting me with a kiss.

Matthew held me so long and so tightly that for a few blissful moments I—almost—believed him.

The next day I went to Goody Alsop’s house to meet with Elizabeth Jackson and Catherine Streeter as promised. Annie accompanied me, but she was sent over to Susanna’s house to wait until my lesson was done.

The rowan branch was propped up in the corner. Otherwise the room looked perfectly ordinary and not at all like the kind of place where witches drew sacred circles or summoned firedrakes. Still, I expected some more visible signs that magic was about to be performed—a cauldron, perhaps, or colored candles to signify the elements.

Goody Alsop gestured to the table, where four chairs were arranged. “Come, Diana, and sit. We thought we might begin at the beginning. Tell us about your family. Much is revealed by following a witch’s bloodline.”

“But I thought you would teach me how to weave spells with fire and water.”

“What is blood, if not fire and water?” Elizabeth said.

Three hours later I was talked out and exhausted from dredging up memories of my childhood—the feeling of being watched, Peter Knox’s visit to the house, my parents’ death. But the three witches didn’t stop there. I relived every moment of high school and college, too: the daemons who followed me, the few spells I could perform without too much trouble, the strange occurrences that began only after I met Matthew. If there was a pattern to any of it, I failed to see it, but Goody Alsop sent me off with assurances that they would soon have a plan.

I dragged myself to Baynard’s Castle. Mary tucked me into a chair and refused my help, insisting I rest while she figured out what was wrong with our batch of prima materia. It had gone all black and sludgy, with a thin film of greenish goo on top.

My thoughts drifted while Mary worked. The day was sunny, and a beam of light sliced through the smoky air and fell on the mural depicting the alchemical dragon. I sat forward in my chair.

“No,” I said. “It can’t be.”

But it was. The dragon was not a dragon for it had only two legs. It was a firedrake and carried its barbed tail in its mouth, like the ouroboros on the de Clermont banner. The firedrake’s head was tilted to the sky, and it held a crescent moon in its jaws. A multipointed star rose above it. Matthew’s emblem. How had I not noticed before?

“What is it, Diana?” asked a frowning Mary.

“Would you do something for me, Mary, even if the request is strange?” I was already untying the silk cord at my wrists in anticipation of her answer.

“Of course. What is it you need?”

The firedrake dripped squiggly blobs of blood into the alchemical vessel below its wings. There the blood swam in a sea of mercury and silver.

“I want you to take my blood and put it in a solution of aqua fortis, silver, and mercury,” I said. Mary’s glance moved from me to the firedrake and back. “For what is blood but fire and water, a conjunction of opposites, and a chemical wedding?”

“Very well, Diana,” Mary agreed, sounding mystified. But she asked no more questions.

I flicked my finger confidently over the scar on my inner arm. I had no need for a knife this time. The skin parted, as I knew it would, and the blood welled up simply because I had need of it. Joan rushed forward with a small bowl to catch the red liquid. On the wall above, the silver and black eyes of the firedrake followed the drops as they fell.

“‘It begins with absence and desire, it begins with blood and fear,’” I whispered.

“‘It began with a discovery of witches,’” time responded, in a primeval echo that set alight the blue and amber threads that flickered against the room’s stone walls.

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