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Chapter Twenty Six
Verin de Clermont sat in her Berlin home and stared down at the newspaper in disbelief.
1 February 2010
A Surrey woman has discovered a manuscript belonging to Mary Sidney, famed Elizabethan poetess and sister to Sir Philip Sidney.
“It was in my mother’s airing cupboard at the top of the stairs,” Henrietta Barber, 62, told the Independent. Mrs. Barber was clearing out her mother’s belongings before she went into care. “It looked like a tatty old bunch of paper to me.”
The manuscript, experts believe, represents a working alchemical notebook kept by the Countess of Pembroke during the winter of 1590/91. The countess’s scientific papers were thought to have been destroyed in a fire at Wilton House in the seventeenth century. It is not clear how the item came to be in the possession of the Barber family.
“We remember Mary Sidney primarily as a poet,” commented a representative of Sotheby’s Auction House, who will put the item up for bid in May, “but in her own time she was known as a great practitioner of alchemy.”
The manuscript is of particular interest as it shows that the countess was assisted in her laboratory. In one experiment, labeled “the making of the arbor Dian?,” she identifies her assistant by the initials DR. “We might never be able to identify the man who helped the Countess of Pembroke,” explained historian Nigel Warminster of Cambridge University, “but this manuscript will nevertheless tell us an enormous amount about the growth of experimentation in the Scientific Revolution.”
“What is it, Schatz?” Ernst Neumann put a glass of wine in front of his wife. She looked far too serious for a Tuesday night. This was Verin’s Friday face.
“Nothing,” she murmured, her eyes still fixed on the lines of print before her. “A piece of unfinished family business.”
“Is Baldwin involved? Did he lose a million euros today?” His brotherin-law was an acquired taste, and Ernst didn’t entirely trust him. Baldwin had trained him in the intricacies of international commerce when Ernst was still a young man. Ernst was nearly sixty now, and the envy of his friends with his young wife. Their wedding photos, which showed Verin looking exactly as she did today and a twenty-five-year-old version of himself, were safely hidden from view.
“Baldwin’s never lost a million of anything in his life.” Verin hadn’t actually answered his question, Ernst noticed.
He pulled the English newspaper toward him and read what was printed there. “Why are you interested in an old book?”
“Let me make a phone call first,” she replied cagily. Her hands were steady on the phone, but Ernst recognized the expression in her unusual silver eyes. She was angry, and frightened, and thinking of the past. He’d seen that same look moments before Verin saved his life, wrenching him away from her stepmother.
“Are you calling Mélisande?”
“Ysabeau,” Verin said automatically, punching in numbers.
“Ysabeau, yes,” Ernst said. Understandably, he found it hard to think of Verin’s stepmother by any other name than the one used by the de Clermont family matriarch when she’d killed Ernst’s father after the war.
Verin’s call took an inordinately long time to connect. Ernst could hear strange clicks, almost as though the call were being forwarded again and again. Finally it went through. The phone rang.
“Who is this?” a young voice asked. He sounded American—or English, maybe, but with his accent nearly gone.
Verin hung up immediately. She dropped the phone to the table and buried her face in her hands. “Oh, God. It’s really happening, just as my father said it would.”
“You’re frightening me, Schatz,” Ernst said. He’d seen many horrors in his life, but none so vivid as those that tormented Verin on those rare occasions when she actually slept. The nightmares about Philippe were enough to unravel his normally composed wife. “Who was that on the phone?”
“It wasn’t who it was supposed to be,” Verin replied, her voice muffled. Gray eyes rose to meet his. “Matthew should have answered, but he can’t. Because he’s not here. He’s there.” She looked at the paper.
“Verin, you are not making any sense,” Ernst said sternly. He’d never met this troublesome stepbrother, the family intellectual and black sheep.
But she was already dialing the phone again. This time the call went straight through.
“You’ve read today’s papers, Auntie Verin. I’ve been expecting your call for hours.”
“Where are you, Gallowglass?” Her nephew was a drifter. In the past he’d sent postcards with nothing but a phone number on them from whatever stretch of road he was traveling at the moment: the autobahn in Germany, Route 66 in the States, Trollstigen in Norway, the Guoliang Tunnel Road in China. She’d received fewer of these terse announcements since the age of international cell phones. With GPS and the Internet, she could locate Gallowglass anywhere. Verin rather missed the postcards, though.
“Somewhere outside Warrnambool,” Gallowglass said vaguely.
“Where the hell is Warrnambool?” Verin demanded.
“Australia,” Ernst and Gallowglass said at the same moment.
“Is that a German accent I hear? Have you found a new boyfriend?” Gallowglass teased.
“Watch yourself, pup,” Verin snapped. “You may be family, but I can still rip your throat out. That’s my husband, Ernst.”
Ernst sat forward in his chair and shook his head in warning. He didn’t like it when his wife took on a male vampire—even though she was stronger than most. Verin waved off his concern.
Gallowglass chuckled, and Ernst decided that this unfamiliar vampire might be all right. “There’s my scary Auntie Verin. It’s good to hear your voice after all these years. And don’t pretend you’re any more surprised to see that story than I was to get your call.”
“Part of me hoped he was raving,” Verin confessed, remembering the night when she and Gallowglass had sat by Philippe’s bed and listened to his ramblings.
“Did you imagine it was contagious and that I was raving, too?” Gallowglass snorted. He sounded very much like Philippe these days, Verin noticed.
“I hoped that was the case, as a matter of fact.” It had been easier to believe than the alternative: that her father’s impossible tale of a timespinning witch was true.
“Will you be keeping your promise anyway?” Gallowglass said softly.
Verin hesitated. It was only a moment, but Ernst saw it. Verin always kept her promises. When he’d been a terrified, cowering boy, Verin had promised him that he would grow to be a man. Ernst had clung to that assurance when he was six, just as he clung to the promises Verin had made since.
“You haven’t seen Matthew with her. Once you do—”
“I’ll think my stepbrother is even more of a problem? Not possible.”
“Give her a chance, Verin. She’s Philippe’s daughter, too. And he had excellent taste in women.”
“The witch isn’t his real daughter,” Verin said quickly.
On a road somewhere near Warrnambool, Gallowglass pressed his lips together and refused to reply. Verin might know more about Diana and Matthew than anyone else in the family, but she didn’t know as much as he did. There would be endless opportunities to discuss vampires and children once the couple was back. There was no need to argue about it now.
“Besides, Matthew isn’t here,” Verin said, looking at the paper. “I called the number. Someone else answered, and it wasn’t Baldwin.” That’s why she had disconnected so quickly. If Matthew wasn’t leading the brotherhood, the telephone number should have been passed on to Philippe’s only surviving full-blooded son. “The number” had been generated in the earliest years of the telephone. Philippe had picked it: 917, for Ysabeau’s birthday in September. With each new technology and every successive change in the national and international telephone system, the number referred seamlessly on to another, more modern iteration.
“You reached Marcus.” Gallowglass had called the number, too.
“Marcus?” Verin was aghast. “The future of the de Clermonts depends upon Marcus?”
“Give him a chance, too, Auntie Verin. He’s a good lad.” Gallowglass paused. “As for the family’s future, that depends on all of us. Philippe knew that, or he wouldn’t have made us promise to return to Sept-Tours.”
Philippe de Clermont had been very specific with his daughter and grandson. They were to watch for signs: stories of a young American witch with great power, the name Bishop, alchemy, and then a rash of anomalous historical discoveries.
Then, and only then, were Gallowglass and Verin to return to the de Clermont family seat. Philippe hadn’t been willing to divulge why it was so important that the family come together, but Gallowglass knew.
For decades Gallowglass had waited. Then he heard stories of a witch from Massachusetts named Rebecca, one of the last descendants of Salem’s Bridget Bishop. Reports of her power spread far and wide, as did news of her tragic death. Gallowglass tracked her surviving daughter to upstate New York. He’d checked on the girl periodically, watching as Diana Bishop played on the monkey bars at the playground, went to birthday parties, and graduated from college. Gallowglass had been as proud as any parent to see her pass her Oxford viva. And he often stood beneath the carillon in Harkness Tower at Yale, the power of the bells’ sound reverberating through his body, while the young professor walked across campus. Her clothing was different, but there was no mistaking Diana’s determined gait or the set of her shoulders, whether she was wearing a farthingale and ruff or a pair of trousers and an unflattering man’s jacket.
Gallowglass tried to keep his distance, but sometimes he had to interfere—like the day her energy drew a daemon to her side and the creature began to follow her. Still, Gallowglass prided himself on the hundreds of other times he’d refrained from rushing down the stairs of Yale’s bell tower, throwing his arms around Professor Bishop, and telling her how glad he was to see her after so many years.
When Gallowglass learned that Baldwin had been called to Sept-Tours at Ysabeau’s behest for some unspecified emergency involving Matthew, the Norseman knew it was only a matter of time before the historical anomalies appeared. Gallowglass had seen the announcement about the discovery of a pair of previously unknown Elizabethan miniatures. By the time he’d managed to reach Sotheby’s, they had already been purchased. Gallowglass had panicked, thinking they might have fallen into the wrong hands. But he’d underestimated Ysabeau. When he talked to Marcus this morning, Matthew’s son confirmed that they were sitting safely on Ysabeau’s desk at Sept-Tours. It had been more than four hundred years since Gallowglass had secreted the pictures away in a house in Shropshire. It would be good to see them—and the two creatures they depicted—once more.
Meanwhile he was preparing for the gathering storm as he always did: by traveling as far and fast as he could. Once it had been the seas and then the rails, but now Gallowglass took to the roads, motorcycling around as many hairpin turns and mountainsides as he could. With the wind streaming through his shaggy hair and his leather jacket fastened tight around his neck to hide the fact that his skin never showed any hint of tan, Gallowglass readied himself for the call of duty to fulfill the promise he’d made so long ago to defend the de Clermonts no matter what the cost.
“Gallowglass? Are you still there?” Verin’s voice crackled through the phone, pulling her nephew from his reveries.
“Still here, Auntie.”
“When are you going?” Verin sighed and rested her head in her hand. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Ernst yet. Poor Ernst, who had knowingly married a vampire and, in doing so, had unwittingly involved himself in a tangled tale of blood and desire that looped and swirled through the centuries. But she’d promised her father, and even though Philippe was dead, Verin had no intention of disappointing him now, and for the first time.
“I told Marcus to expect me the day after tomorrow.” Gallowglass would no more admit he was relieved by his aunt’s decision than Verin would admit that she’d had to consider whether to stand by her oath.
“We’ll see you there.” That would give Verin some time to break the news to Ernst that he was going to have to share her stepmother’s roof. He wasn’t going to be pleased.
“Travel safe, Auntie Verin,” Gallowglass managed to get out before she hung up.
Gallowglass put the phone in his pocket and stared out to sea. He’d been shipwrecked once on this stretch of Australia’s coast. He was fond of the sites where he’d been washed ashore, a merman coming aground in a tempest to find he could live on solid ground after all. He reached for his cigarettes. Like riding a motorcycle without a helmet, smoking was a way of thumbing his nose at the universe that had given him immortality with one hand but with the other taken away everyone he loved.
“And you’ll take these from me, too, won’t you?” he asked the wind. It sighed out a reply. Matthew and Marcus had very decided opinions about secondhand smoke. Just because it wouldn’t kill them, they argued, that didn’t mean they should go about exterminating everybody else.
“If we kill them all, what will we eat?” Marcus had pointed out with infallible logic. It was a curious notion for a vampire, but Marcus was known for them, and Matthew wasn’t much better. Gallowglass attributed this tendency to too much education.
He finished his cigarette and reached back into his pocket for a small leather pouch. It contained twenty-four disks an inch across and a quarter of an inch thick. They were cut from a branch he’d pulled from an ash tree that grew near his ancestral home. Each one had a mark burned into the surface, an alphabet for a language that no one spoke anymore.
He had always possessed a healthy respect for magic, even before he met Diana Bishop. There were powers abroad on the earth and the seas that no creature understood, and Gallowglass knew well enough to look the other way when they approached. But he couldn’t resist the runes. They helped him to navigate the treacherous waters of his fate.
He sifted his fingers through the smooth wooden circles, letting them fall through his hand like water. He wanted to know which way the tide was running—with the de Clermonts or against them?
When his fingers stilled, he drew out the rune that would tell him where matters stood now. Nyd, the rune for absence and desire. Gallowglass dipped his hand into the bag again to better understand what he wanted the future to hold. Odal, the glyph for home, family, and inheritance. He drew out the final rune, the one that would show him how to fulfill his gnawing wish to belong.
Rad. It was a confusing rune, one that stood for both an arrival and a departure, a journey’s beginning and its ending, a first meeting as well as a long-awaited reunion. Gallowglass’s hand closed around the bit of wood. This time its meaning was clear.
“You travel safely, too, Auntie Diana. And bring that uncle of mine with you,” Gallowglass said to the sea and the sky before he climbed back onto his bike and headed into a future he could no longer imagine nor postpone. The Empire: Prague
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