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Chapter Twenty Four
“Is it going to keep doing that?” I stood, frowning, hands on my hips, and stared up at Susanna’s ceiling.
“‘She,’ Diana. Your firedrake is female,” Catherine said. She was also
looking at the ceiling, her expression bemused.
“She. It. That.” I pointed up. I had been trying to weave a spell when my dragon escaped confinement within my rib cage. Again. She was now plastered to the ceiling, breathing out gusts of smoke and chattering her > teeth in agitation. “I can’t have it—her—flying around the room whenever she feels the urge.” The repercussions would be serious should she become loose at Yale among the students.
“That your firedrake broke free is merely a symptom of a much more serious problem.” Goody Alsop extended a bunch of brightly colored silken strands, knotted together at the top. The ends flowed free like the ribbons on a maypole and numbered nine in all, in shades of red, white, black, silver, gold, green, brown, blue, and yellow. “You are a weaver and must learn to control your power.”
“I am well aware of that, Goody Alsop, but I still don’t see how this— embroidery floss—will help,” I said stubbornly. The dragon squawked in agreement, waxing more substantial with the sound and then waning into her typical smoky outlines.
“And what do you know about being a weaver?” Goody Alsop asked sharply.
“Not much,” I confessed.
“Diana should sip this first.” Susanna approached me with a steaming cup. The scents of chamomile and mint filled the air. My dragon cocked her head in interest. “It is a calming draft and may soothe her beast.”
“I am not so concerned with the firedrake,” Catherine said dismissively.
“Getting one to obey is always difficult—like trying to curb a daemon who is intent on making mischief.” It was, I thought, easy for her to say. She didn’t have to persuade the beast to climb back inside her.
“What plants went into the tisane?” I asked, taking a sip of Susanna’s brew. After Marthe’s tea I was a bit suspicious of herbal concoctions. No sooner was the question out of my mouth than the cup began to bloom with sprigs of mint, the straw-scented flowers of chamomile, foamy Angelica, and some stiff, glossy leaves that I couldn’t identify. I swore.
“You see!” Catherine said, pointing to the cup. “It’s as I said. When Diana asks a question, the goddess answers it.”
Susanna looked at her beaker with alarm as it cracked under the pressure of the swelling roots. “I think you are right, Catherine. But if she is to weave rather than break things, she will need to ask better questions.” Goody Alsop and Catherine had figured out the secret to my power: It was inconveniently tied to my curiosity. Now certain events made better sense: my white table and its brightly colored puzzle pieces that came to my rescue whenever I faced a problem, the butter flying out of Sarah’s refrigerator in Madison when I wondered if there was more. Even the strange appearance of Ashmole 782 at the Bodleian Library could be explained:
When I filled out the call slip, I’d wondered what might be in the volume.
Earlier today my simple musings about who might have written one of the spells in Susanna’s grimoire had caused the ink to unspool from the page and re-form on the table next to it in an exact likeness of her dead grandmother.
I promised Susanna to put the words back as soon as I figured out how. And so I discovered that the practice of magic was not unlike the practice of history. The trick to both wasn’t finding the correct answers but formulating better questions.
“Tell us again about calling witchwater, Diana, and the bow and arrow that appear when someone you love is in trouble,” Susanna suggested. “Perhaps that will provide some method we can follow.”
I rehearsed the events of the night Matthew had left me at Sept-Tours when the water had come out of me in a flood and the morning in Sarah’s orchard when I’d seen the veins of water underground. And I carefully accounted for every time the bow had appeared—even when there was no arrow or when there was but I didn’t shoot it. When I finished, Catherine drew a satisfied sigh.
“I see the problem now. Diana is not fully present unless she is protecting someone or when forced to face her fears,” Catherine observed. “She is always puzzling over the past or wondering about the future. A witch must be entirely in the here and now to work magic.”
My firedrake flapped her wings in agreement, sending warm gusts of air around the room.
“Matthew always thought there was a connection between my emotions, my needs, and my magic,” I told them.
“Sometimes I wonder if that wearh is not part witch,” Catherine said.
The others laughed at the ridiculous notion of Ysabeau de Clermont’s son having even a drop of witch’s blood.
“I think it’s safe to leave the firedrake to her own devices for the time being and return to the matter of Diana’s disguising spell,” Goody Alsop said, referring to my need to shield the surfeit of energy that was released whenever I used magic. “Are you making any progress?”
“I felt wisps of smoke form around me,” I said hesitantly.
“You need to focus on your knots,” Goody Alsop said, looking pointedly at the cords in my lap. Each shade could be found in the threads that bound the worlds, and manipulating the cords—twisting and tying them—worked a sympathetic magic. But first I needed to know which strands to use. I took hold of the colorful cords by the topknot. Goody Alsop had taught me how to blow gently on the strands while focusing my intentions. That was supposed to loosen the appropriate cords for whatever spell I was trying to weave.
I blew into the strands so that they shimmered and danced. The yellow and brown cords worked themselves loose and dropped into my lap, along with the red, blue, silver, and white. I ran my fingers down the nine-inch lengths of twisted silk. Six strands meant six different knots, each one more complex than the last.
My knot-making skills were still clumsy, but I found this part of weaving oddly soothing. When I practiced the elaborate twistings and crossings with ordinary string, the result was something reminiscent of ancient Celtic knotwork. There was a hierarchical order to the knots. The first two were single and double slipknots. Sarah used them sometimes, when she was making a love spell or some other binding. But only weavers could make the intricate knots that involved as many as nine distinct crossings and ended with the two free ends of the cord magically fused to make an unbreakable weaving.
I took a deep breath and refocused my intentions. A disguise was a form of protection, and purple was its color. But there was no purple cord. Without delay the blue and red cords rose up and spun together so tightly that the final result looked exactly like the mottled purple candles that my mother used to set in the windows on the nights when the moon was dark.
“With knot of one, the spell’s begun,” I murmured, looping the purple cord into the simple slipknot. The firedrake crooned an imitation of my words.
I looked up at her and was struck once again by the firedrake’s changeable appearance. When she breathed out, she faded into a blurred smudge of smoke. When she breathed in, her outlines sharpened. She was a perfect balance of substance and spirit, neither one nor the other. Would I ever feel that coherent?
“With knot of two, the spell be true.” I made a double knot along the same purple cord. Wondering if there was a way I could fade into gray obscurity whenever I wished, the way the firedrake did, I ran the yellow cord through my fingers. The third knot was the first true weaver’s knot I had to make. Though it involved only three crossings, it was still a challenge.
“With knot of three, the spell is free.” I looped and twisted the cord into a trefoil shape, then drew the ends together. They fused to form the weaver’s unbreakable knot.
Sighing with relief, I dropped it into my lap, and from my mouth came a gray mist finer than smoke. It hung around me like a shroud. I gasped in surprise, letting out more of the eerie, transparent fog. I looked up. Where had the firedrake gone? The brown cord leaped into my fingers. “With knot of four, the power is stored.” I loved the pretzel-like shape of the fourth knot, with its sinuous bends and twists.
“Very good, Diana,” Goody Alsop said. This was the moment in my spells when everything tended to go wrong. “Now, remain in the moment and bid the dragon to stay with you. If she is so inclined, she will hide you from curious eyes.”
The firedrake’s cooperation seemed too much to hope for, but I made the pentacle-shaped knot anyway, using the white cord. “With knot of five, the spell will thrive.”
The firedrake swooped down and nestled her wings against my ribs. “Will you stay with me?” I silently asked her.
The firedrake wrapped me in a fine gray cocoon. It dulled the black of my skirts and jacket, turning them a deep charcoal. Ysabeau’s ring glittered less brightly, the fire at the heart of the diamond dimmed. Even the silver cord in my lap looked tarnished. I smiled at the firedrake’s silent answer. “With knot of six, this spell I fix,” I said. My final knot was not as symmetrical as it should have been, but it held nonetheless.
“You are indeed a weaver, child,” Goody Alsop said, letting out her breath.
I felt marvelously inconspicuous on my walk home, wrapped in my firedrake muffler, but came to life again when my feet crossed over the threshold of the Hart and Crown. A package waited for me there, along with Kit. Matthew was still spending too much time with the mercurial daemon. Marlowe and I exchanged cool greetings, and I had started unpicking the package’s protective wrappings when Matthew let out a mighty roar.
“Good Christ!” Where moments before there was empty space, there was now Matthew, staring at a piece of paper in disbelief.
“What does the Old Fox want now?” Kit asked sourly, jamming his pen into a pot of ink.
“I just received a bill from Nicholas Vallin, the goldsmith up the lane,” Matthew said, scowling. I looked at him innocently. “He charged me fifteen pounds for a mousetrap.” Now that I better understood the purchasing power of a pound—and that Mary’s servant Joan earned only five pounds a year—I could see why Matthew was shocked.
“Oh. That.” I returned my attention to the package. “I asked him to make it.”
“You had one of the finest goldsmiths in London make you a mousetrap?” Kit was incredulous. “If you have any more funds to spare, Mistress Roydon, I hope you will allow me to undertake an alchemical experiment for you. I will transmute your silver and gold into wine at the Cardinal’s Hat!”
“It’s a rat trap, not a mousetrap,” I muttered.
“Might I see this rat trap?” Matthew’s tone was ominously even.
I removed the last of the wrappings and held out the article in question.
“Silver gilt. And engraved, too,” Matthew said, turning it over in his hand. After looking more closely at it, he swore. “‘Ars longa, vita brevis.’ Art is long, but life is short. Indeed.”
“It’s supposed to be very effective.” Monsieur Vallin’s cunning design resembled a watchful feline, with a pair of finely worked ears on the hinge, a wide set of eyes carved into the cross brace. The edges of the trap resembled a mouth, complete with lethal teeth. It reminded me a bit of Sarah’s cat, Tabitha. Vallin had provided an added bit of whimsy by perching a silver mouse on the cat’s nose. The tiny creature bore no resemblance to the long-toothed monsters that prowled around our attics. The mere thought of them munching their way through Matthew’s papers while we slept made me shudder.
“Look. He’s engraved the bottom of it, too,” Kit said, following the romping mice around the base of the trap. “It bears the rest of Hippocrates’ aphorism—and in Latin, no less. ‘Occasio pr?ceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile.’”
“It may be an excessively sentimental inscription, given the instrument’s purpose,” I admitted.
“Sentimental?” Matthew’s eyebrow shot up. “From the viewpoint of the rat, it sounds quite realistic: Opportunity is fleeting, experiment dangerous, and judgment difficult.” His mouth twitched.
“Vallin took advantage of you, Mistress Roydon,” Kit pronounced. “You should refuse payment, Matt, and send the trap back.”
“No!” I protested. “It’s not his fault. We were talking about clocks, and Monsieur Vallin showed me some beautiful examples. I shared my pamphlet from John Chandler’s shop in Cripplegate—the one with the instructions on how to catch vermin—and told Monsieur Vallin about our rat problem. One thing led to another.” I looked down at the trap. It really was an extraordinary piece of craftsmanship, with its tiny gears and springs.
“All of London has a rat problem,” Matthew said, struggling for control. “Yet I know of no one who requires a silver-gilt toy to resolve it. A few affordable cats normally suffice.”
“I’ll pay him, Matthew.” Doing so would probably empty out my purse, and I would be forced to ask Walter for more funds, but it couldn’t be helped. Experience was always valuable. Sometimes it was costly, too. I held out my hand for the trap.
“Did Vallin design it to strike the hours? If so, and it is the world’s only combined timepiece and pest-control device, perhaps the price is fair after all.” Matthew was trying to frown, but his face broke into a grin. Instead of giving me the trap, he took my hand, brought it to his mouth, and kissed it. “I’ll pay the bill, mon coeur, if only to have the right to tease you about it for the next sixty years.”
At that moment George hurried into the front hall. A blast of cold air entered with him.
“I have news!” He flung his cloak aside and struck a proud pose.
Kit groaned and put his head in his hands. “Don’t tell me. That idiot Ponsonby is pleased with your translation of Homer and wants to publish it without further corrections.”
“Not even you will dim my pleasure in today’s achievements, Kit.” George looked around expectantly. “Well? Are none of you the least bit curious?”
“What is your news, George?” Matthew said absently, tossing the trap into the air and catching it again.
“I found Mistress Roydon’s manuscript.”
Matthew’s grip on the rat trap tightened. The mechanism sprang open. When he released his fingers, it fell to the table with a clatter as it snapped shut again. “Where?”
George took an instinctive step backward. I’d been on the receiving end of my husband’s questions and understood how disconcerting a full blast of vampiric attention could be.
“I knew you were the man to find it,” I told George warmly, putting my hand on Matthew’s sleeve to slow him down. George was predictably mollified by this remark and returned to the table, where he pulled out a chair and sat.
“Your confidence means a great deal to me, Mistress Roydon,” George said, taking off his gloves. He sniffed. “Not everyone shares it.”
“Where. Is. It?” Matthew asked slowly, his jaw clenched.
“It is in the most obvious place imaginable, hiding in plain sight. I am rather surprised we did not think of it straightaway.” He paused once more to make sure he had everyone’s full attention. Matthew emitted a barely audible growl of frustration.
“George,” Kit warned. “Matthew has been known to bite.”
“Dr. Dee has it,” George blurted out when Matthew shifted his weight.
“The queen’s astrologer.” George was right: We should have thought of the man long before this. Dee was an alchemist, too—and had the largest library in England. “But he’s in Europe.”
“Dr. Dee returned from Europe over a year ago. He’s living outside London now.”
“Please tell me he isn’t a witch, daemon, or vampire,” I said.
“He’s just a human—and an utter fraud,” Marlowe said. “I wouldn’t trust a thing he says, Matt. He used poor Edward abominably, forcing him to peer into crystal stones and talk to angels about alchemy day and night. Then Dee took all the credit!”
“‘Poor Edward’?” Walter scoffed, opening the door without invitation or ceremony and stepping inside. Henry Percy was with him. No member of the School of Night could be within a mile of the Hart and Crown and not be drawn irresistibly to my hearth. “Your daemon friend led him by the nose for years. Dr. Dee is well rid of him, if you ask me.” Walter picked up the rat trap. “What’s this?”
“The goddess of the hunt has turned her attention to smaller prey,” Kit said with a smirk.
“Why, that’s a mousetrap. But no one would be foolish enough to make a mousetrap out of silver gilt,” Henry said, looking over Walter’s shoulder. “It looks like Nicholas Vallin’s work. He made Essex a handsome watch when he became a Knight of the Garter. Is it a child’s toy of some sort?”
A vampire’s fist crashed onto my table, splitting the wood.
“George,” Matthew ground out, “do tell us about Dr. Dee.”
“Ah. Yes. Of course. There is not much to tell. I did w-what you asked,” George stammered. “I visited the bookstalls, but there was no information to be had. There was talk of a volume of Greek poetry for sale that sounded most promising for my translation—but I digress.” George stopped and gulped. “Widow Jugge suggested I talk to John Hester, the apothecary at Paul’s Wharf. Hester sent me to Hugh Plat—you know, the vintner who lives in St. James Garlickhythe.” I followed this complicated intellectual pilgrimage closely, hoping I might reconstruct George’s route when I next visited Susanna. Perhaps she and Plat were neighbors.
“Plat is as bad as Will,” Walter said under his breath, “forever writing things down that are none of his concern. The fellow asked after my mother’s method for making pastry.”
“Master Plat said that Dr. Dee has a book from the emperor’s library. No man can read it, and there are strange pictures in it, too,” George explained. “Plat saw it last year when he went to Dr. Dee for alchemical guidance.”
Matthew and I exchanged looks.
“It’s possible, Matthew,” I said in a low voice. “Elias Ashmole tracked down what was left of Dee’s library after his death, and he was particularly interested in the alchemical books.”
“Dee’s death. And how did the good doctor meet his end, Mistress Roydon?” Marlowe asked softly, his brown eyes nudging me. Henry, who hadn’t heard Kit’s question, spoke before I could answer.
“I will ask to see it,” Henry said, nodding decidedly. “It will be easy enough to arrange on my way back to Richmond and the queen.”
“You might not recognize it, Hal,” Matthew said, prepared to ignore Kit as well, even though he had heard him. “I’ll go with you.”
“You didn’t see it either.” I shook my head, hoping to loosen Marlowe’s prodding stare. “Besides, if there’s a visit being paid to John Dee, I’m going.”
“You needn’t give me that fierce look, ma lionne. I know perfectly well that nothing will convince you to leave this to me. Not if there are books and an alchemist involved.” Matthew held up an admonishing finger. “But no questions. Understood?” He had seen the magical mayhem that could result.
I nodded, but my fingers were crossed in the fold of my skirt in that age-old charm to ward off the evil consequences that came from knotting up the truth.
“No questions from Mistress Roydon?” Walter muttered. “I wish you luck with that, Matt.”
Mortlake was a small hamlet on the Thames located between London and the queen’s palace at Richmond. We made the trip in the Earl of Northumberland’s barge, a splendid vessel with eight oarsmen, padded seats, and curtains to keep out the drafts. It was a far more comfortable—not to mention more sedate—journey than I was accustomed to when Gallowglass wielded the oars.
We’d sent a letter ahead warning Dee of our intention to visit him. Mrs. Dee, Henry explained with great delicacy, did not appreciate guests who dropped in unannounced. Though I could sympathize, it was unusual at a time when open-door hospitality was the rule.
“The household is somewhat . . . er, irregular because of Dr. Dee’s pursuits,” Henry explained, turning slightly pink. “And they have a prodigious number of children. It is often rather . . . chaotic.”
“So much so that the servants have been known to throw themselves down the well,” Matthew observed pointedly.
“Yes. That was unfortunate. I doubt any such thing will happen during our visit,” Henry muttered.
I didn’t care what state the household was in. We were on the brink of being able to answer so many questions: why this book was so sought after, if it could tell us more about how we creatures had come into being. And of course Matthew believed that it might shed light on why we otherworldly creatures were going extinct in our modern times.
Whether for propriety’s sake or to avoid his disorderly brood, Dr. Dee was strolling in his brick-walled garden as if it were high summer and not the end of January. He was wearing the black robes of a scholar, and a tight-fitting hood covered his head and extended down his neck, topped with a flat cap. A long white beard jutted from his chin, and his arms were clasped behind his back as he made his slow progress around the barren garden.
“Dr. Dee?” Henry called over the wall.
“Lord Northumberland! I trust you are in good health?” Dee’s voice was quiet and raspy, though he took care (as most did) to alter it slightly for Henry’s benefit. He removed his cap and swept a bow.
“Passable for the time of year, Dr. Dee. We are not here about my health, though. I have friends with me, as I explained in my letter. Let me introduce you.”
“Dr. Dee and I are already acquainted.” Matthew gave Dee a wolfish smile and a low bow. He knew every other strange creature of the time. Why not Dee?
“Master Roydon,” Dee said warily.
“This is my wife, Diana,” Matthew said, inclining his head in my direction. “She is a friend to the Countess of Pembroke and joins her ladyship in alchemical pursuits.”
“The Countess of Pembroke and I have corresponded on alchemical matters.” Dee forgot all about me and focused instead on his own close connection to a peer of the realm. “Your message indicated you wanted to see one of my books, Lord Northumberland. Are you here on Lady Pembroke’s behalf?”
Before Henry could respond, a sharp-faced, ample-hipped woman came out of the house in a dark brown gown trimmed with fur that had seen better days. She looked irritated, then spotted the Earl of Northumberland and plastered a welcoming look over her face.
“And here is my own dear wife,” Dee said uneasily. “The Earl of Northumberland and Master Roydon are arrived, Jane,” he called out.
“Why haven’t you asked them inside?” Jane scolded, wringing her hands in distress. “They will think we are not prepared to receive guests, which of course we are, at all times. Many seek out my husband’s counsel, my lord.”
“Yes. That is what brings us here, too. You are in good health I see, Mistress Dee. And I understand from Master Roydon that the queen recently graced your house with a visit.”
Jane preened. “Indeed. John has seen Her Majesty three times since November. The last two times she happened upon us at our far gate, as she rode along the Richmond road.”
“Her Majesty was generous to us this Christmas,” Dee said. He twisted the cap in his hands. Jane looked at him sourly. “We had thought . . . but it is no matter.”
“Delightful, delightful,” Henry said quickly, rescuing Dee from any potential awkwardness. “But enough small talk. There is a particular book we wished to see—”
“My husband’s library is esteemed more than he is!” Jane said sullenly. “Our expenses while visiting the emperor were extreme, and we have many mouths to feed. The queen said she would help us. She did give us a small reward but promised more.”
“No doubt the queen was distracted by more pressing concerns.” Matthew had a small, heavy pouch in his hands. “I have the balance of her gift here. And I value your husband, Mistress Dee, not just his books. I’ve added to Her Majesty’s purse for his pains on our behalf.”
“I . . . I thank you, Master Roydon,” Dee stammered, exchanging glances with his wife. “It is kind of you to see to the queen’s business. Matters of state must always take precedence over our difficulties, of course.”
“Her Majesty does not forget those who have given her good service,” Matthew said. It was a blatant untruth, as everyone standing in the snowy garden knew, but it went unchallenged.
“You must all take your ease inside by the fire,” Jane said, her interest in hospitality sharply increased. “I will bring wine and see that you are not disturbed.” She dropped a curtsy to Henry, an even lower one to Matthew, then bustled back in the direction of the door. “Come, John. They’ll turn to ice if you keep them out here any longer.”
Twenty minutes spent inside the Dees’ house proved that its master and mistress were representatives of that peculiar breed of married people who bickered incessantly over perceived slights and unkindnesses, all the while remaining devoted. They exchanged barbed comments while we admired the new tapestries (a gift from Lady Walsingham), the new wine ewer (a gift from Sir Christopher Hatton), and the new silver salt (a gift from the Marchioness of Northampton). The ostentatious gifts and invective having run their course, we were—at long last—ushered into the library.
“I’m going to have a hell of a time getting you out of here,” Matthew whispered, grinning at the expression of wonder on my face.
John Dee’s library was nothing like what I had expected. I’d imagined it would look much like a spacious private library belonging to a well-heeled gentleman of the nineteenth century—for reasons that now struck me as completely indefensible. This was no genteel space for smoking pipes and reading by the fire. With only candles for illumination, the room was surprisingly dark on this winter day. A few chairs and a long table awaited readers by a south-facing bay of windows. The walls of the room were hung with maps, celestial charts, anatomical diagrams, and the broadside almanac sheets that could be had at every apothecary and bookshop in London for pennies. Decades of them were on display, presumably maintained as a reference collection for when Dee was drawing up a horoscope or making other heavenly calculations.
Dee owned more books than any of the Oxford or Cambridge colleges, and he required a working library—not one for show. Not surprisingly, the most precious commodity was not light or seating but shelf space. To maximize what was available, Dee’s bookshelves were freestanding and set perpendicular to the walls. The simple oak bookshelves were doublefaced, with the shelves set at varied heights to hold the different sizes of Elizabethan books. Two sloped reading surfaces topped the shelves, making it possible to study a text and then accurately return it.
“My God,” I murmured. Dee turned in consternation at my oath.
“My wife is overwhelmed, Master Dee,” Matthew explained. “She has never been in such a grand library.”
“There are many libraries that are far more spacious and boast more treasures than mine, Mistress Roydon.”
Jane Dee arrived on cue, just when it was possible to divert the conversation to the poverty of the household.
“The Emperor Rudolf’s library is very fine,” Jane said, heading past us with a tray holding wine and sweetmeats. “Even so, he was not above stealing one of John’s best books. The emperor took advantage of my husband’s generosity, and we have little hope of compensation.”
“Now, Jane,” John chided, “His Majesty did give us a book in return.”
“Which book was that?” Matthew said carefully.
“A rare text,” Dee said unhappily, watching his wife’s retreating form as she headed for the table.
“Nothing but gibberish!” Jane retorted.
It was Ashmole 782. It had to be.
“Master Plat told us about just such a book. It is why we are here. Perhaps we might enjoy your wife’s hospitality first and then see the emperor’s book?” Matthew suggested, smooth as a cat’s whisker. He held out his arm to me, and I took it with a squeeze.
While Jane fussed and poured and complained about the cost of nuts over the holiday season and how she had been brought to near bankruptcy by the grocer, Dee went in search of Ashmole 782. He scanned the shelves of one bookcase and pulled a volume free.
“That’s not it,” I murmured to Matthew. It was too small.
Dee plunked the book on the table in front of Matthew and lifted the limp vellum cover.
“See. There is naught in it but meaningless words and lewd pictures of women in their bath.” Jane harrumphed out of the room, muttering and shaking her head.
This was not Ashmole 782, but it was nonetheless a book I knew: the Voynich manuscript, otherwise known as Yale University’s Beinecke MS 408. The manuscript’s contents were a mystery. No code breaker or linguist had yet figured out what the text said, and botanists hadn’t been able to identify the plants. Theories abounded to explain its mysteries, including one suggesting that it had been written by aliens. I let out a disappointed sound.
“No?” Matthew asked. I shook my head and bit my lip in frustration. Dee mistook my expression for annoyance with Jane, and he rushed to explain.
“Please forgive my wife. Jane finds this book most distressing, for it was she who discovered it among our boxes when we returned from the emperor’s lands. I had taken another book with me on the journey—a treasured book of alchemy that once belonged to the great English magician Roger Bacon. It was larger than this, and contained many mysteries.”
I pitched forward in my seat.
“My assistant, Edward, could understand the text with divine assistance, though I could not,” Dee continued. “Before we left Edward in Prague, Emperor Rudolf expressed an interest in the work. Edward had told him some of the secrets contained therein—about the generation of metals and a secret method for obtaining immortality.”
So Dee had once possessed Ashmole 782 after all. And his daemonic helper, Edward Kelley, could read the text. My hands were shaking with excitement, and I concealed them in the folds of my skirt.
“Edward helped Jane pack up my books when we were ordered home. Jane believes that Edward stole the book away, replacing it with this item from His Majesty’s collection.” Dee hesitated, looked sorrowful. “I do not like to think ill of Edward, for he was my trusted companion and we spent much time together. He and Jane were never on good terms, and at first I dismissed her theory.”
“But now you think it has merit,” Matthew observed.
“I go over the events of our last days, Master Roydon, trying to recall a detail that might exonerate my friend. But everything I remember only points the finger of blame more decidedly in his direction.” Dee sighed. “Still, this text may yet prove to contain secrets of worth.”
Matthew flipped through the pages. “These are chimeras,” he said, studying the images of plants. “The leaves and stems and flowers don’t match but have been assembled from different plants.”
“What do you make of these?” I said, turning to the astrological roundels that followed. I peered at the writing in the center. Funny. I’d seen the manuscript many times before and never paid any attention to the notes.
“These inscriptions are written in the tongue of ancient Occitania,” Matthew said quietly. “I knew someone once with handwriting very like this. Did you happen to meet a gentleman from Aurillac while you were at the emperor’s court?”
Did he mean Gerbert? My excitement turned to anxiety. Had Gerbert mistaken the Voynich manuscript for the mysterious book of origins? At my question the handwriting in the center of the astrological diagram began to quiver. I clapped the book shut to keep it from dancing off the page.
“No, Master Roydon,” Dee said with a frown. “Had I done so, I would have asked him about the famed magician from that place who became pope. There are many truths hidden in old tales told around the fire.”
“Yes,” Matthew agreed, “if only we are wise enough to recognize them.”
“That is why I so regret the loss of my book. It was once owned by Roger Bacon, and I was told by the old woman who sold it to me that he prized it for holding divine truths. Bacon called it the Verum Secretum Secretorum.” Dee looked wistfully at the Voynich manuscript. “It is my dearest wish to have it returned.”
“Perhaps I can be of some use,” Matthew said.
“You, Master Roydon?”
“If you would permit me to take this book, I could try to have it put back where it belongs—and have your book restored to its rightful owner.” Matthew pulled the manuscript toward him.
“I would be forever in your debt, sir,” Dee said, agreeing to the deal without further negotiation.
The minute we pulled away from the public landing in Mortlake, I started peppering Matthew with questions.
“What are you thinking, Matthew? You can’t just pack up the Voynich manuscript and send it to Rudolf with a note accusing him of doubledealing. You’ll have to find someone crazy enough to risk his life by breaking into Rudolf’s library and stealing Ashmole 782.”
“If Rudolf has Ashmole 782, it won’t be in his library. It will be in his cabinet of curiosities,” Matthew said absently, staring at the water.
“So this . . . Voynich was not the book you were seeking?” Henry had been following our exchange with polite interest. “George will be so disappointed not to have solved your mystery.”
“George may not have solved it, Hal, but he’s shed considerable light on the situation,” Matthew said. “Between my father’s agents and my own, we’ll get Dee’s lost book.”
We’d caught the tide back to town, which sped our return. The torches were lit on the Water Lane landing in anticipation of our arrival, but two men in the Countess of Pembroke’s livery waved us off.
“Baynard’s Castle, if you please, Master Roydon!” one called across the water.
“Something must be wrong,” Matthew said, standing in the prow of the barge. Henry directed the oarsmen to proceed the extra distance down the river, where the countess’s landing was similarly ablaze with beacons and lanterns.
“Is it one of the boys?” I asked Mary when she rushed down the hall to meet us.
“No. They are well. Come to the laboratory. At once,” she called over her shoulder, already heading back in the direction of the tower.
The sight that greeted us there was enough to make both Matthew and me gasp.
“It is an altogether unexpected arbor Dian?,” Mary said, crouching down so that she was at eye level with the bulbous chamber at the alembic’s base that held the roots of a black tree. It wasn’t like the first arbor Dian?, which was entirely silver and far more delicate in its structure. This one, with its stout, dark trunk and bare limbs, reminded me of the oak tree in Madison that had sheltered us after Juliette’s attack. I’d pulled the vitality out of that tree to save Matthew’s life.
“Why isn’t it silver?” Matthew asked, wrapping his hands around the countess’s fragile glass alembics.
“I used Diana’s blood,” Mary replied. Matthew straightened and gave me an incredulous look.
“Look at the wall,” I said, pointing at the bleeding firedrake.
“It’s the green dragon—the symbol for aqua regia or aqua fortis,” he said after giving it a cursory glance.
“No, Matthew. Look at it. Forget what you think it depicts and try to see it as if it were the first time.”
“Dieu.” Matthew sounded shocked. “Is that my insignia?”
“Yes. And did you notice that the dragon has its tail in its mouth? And that it’s not a dragon at all? Dragons have four legs. That’s a firedrake.”
“A firedrake. Like . . .” Matthew swore again.
“There have been dozens of different theories about what ordinary substance was the crucial first ingredient required to make the philosopher’s stone. Roger Bacon—who owned Dr. Dee’s missing manuscript—believed it was blood.” I was confident this piece of information would get Matthew’s attention. I crouched down to look at the tree.
“And you saw the mural and followed your instincts.” After a momentary pause, Matthew ran his thumb along the vessel’s wax seal, cracking the wax. Mary gasped in horror as he ruined her experiment.
“What are you doing?” I asked, shocked.
“Following a hunch of my own and adding something to the alembic.” Matthew lifted his wrist to his mouth, bit down on it, and held it over the narrow opening. His dark, thick blood dripped into the solution and fell into the bottom of the vessel. We stared into the depths.
Just when I thought nothing was going to happen, thin streaks of red began to work their way up the tree’s skeletal trunk. Then golden leaves sprouted from the branches.
“Look at that,” I said, amazed.
Matthew smiled at me. It was a smile still tinged with regret, but there was some hope in it, too.
Red fruits appeared among the leaves, sparkling like tiny rubies. Mary began to murmur a prayer, her eyes wide.
“My blood made the structure of the tree, and your blood made it bear fruit,” I said slowly. My hand went to my hollow belly.
“Yes. But why?” Matthew replied.
If anything could tell us about the mysterious transformation that occurred when witch and wearh combined their blood, it would be Ashmole 782’s strange pictures and mysterious text.
“How long did you say it would take you to get Dee’s book back?” I asked Matthew.
“Oh, I don’t imagine it will take very long,” he murmured. “Not once I put my mind to it.”
“The sooner the better,” I said mildly, twining my fingers though his as we watched the ongoing miracle that our blood had wrought.
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