فصل 28

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Chapter Twenty Eight

“Did you see the werewolf, Frau Roydon? He is the emperor’s gamekeeper, and my neighbor Frau Habermel has heard him howling at night. They say he feeds on the imperial deer running in the Stag Moat.” Frau Huber picked up a cabbage in her gloved hand and gave it a suspicious sniff. Herr Huber had been a merchant at London’s Steelyard, and though she bore no love for the city, she spoke English fluently.

“Pah. There is no werewolf,” Signorina Rossi said, turning her long neck and tutting over the price of the onions. “My Stefano tells me there are many daemons in the palace, however. The bishops at the cathedral wish to exorcise them, but the emperor refuses.” Like Frau Huber, Rossi had spent time in London. Then she had been mistress to an Italian artist who wanted to bring mannerism to the English. Now she was mistress to another Italian artist who wanted to introduce the art of glass cutting to Prague.

“I saw no werewolves or daemons,” I confessed. The women’s faces fell. “But I did see one of the emperor’s new paintings.” I dropped my voice. “It showed Venus. Rising from her bath.” I gave them both significant looks.

In the absence of otherworldly gossip, the perversions of royalty would suffice. Frau Huber drew herself straight.

“Emperor Rudolf needs a wife. A good Austrian woman, who will cook for him.” She condescended to buy a cabbage from the grateful vegetable seller, who had been putting up with her criticisms of his produce for nearly thirty minutes. “Tell us again about the unicorn’s horn. It is supposed to have miraculous curative powers.”

It was the fourth time in two days I’d been asked to account for the marvels among the emperor’s curiosities. News of our admittance to Rudolf’s private apartments preceded our return to the Three Ravens, and the ladies of Mal? Strana were lying in wait the next morning, eager for my impressions.

Since then the appearance of imperial messengers at the house, as well as the liveried servants of dozens of Bohemian aristocrats and foreign dignitaries, had roused their curiosity further. Now that Matthew had been received at court, his star was sufficiently secure in the imperial heavens that his old friends were willing to acknowledge his arrival—and ask for his help. Pierre pulled out the ledgers, and soon the Prague branch of the de Clermont bank was open for business, though I saw precious little moneys received and a steady stream of funds flow out to settle overdue accounts with the merchants of Prague’s Old Town.

“You received a package from the emperor,” Matthew told me when I returned from the market. He pointed with his quill at a lumpy sack. “If you open it, Rudolf will expect you to express your thanks personally.”

“What could it be?” I felt the outlines of the object inside. It wasn’t a book.

“Something we’ll regret receiving, I warrant.” Matthew jammed the quill in the inkpot, causing a minor eruption of thick black liquid onto the surface of the desk. “Rudolf is a collector, Diana. And he’s not simply interested in narwhal horns and bezoar stones. He covets people as well as objects and is just as unlikely to part with them once they’re in his possession.”

“Like Kelley,” I said, loosening the parcel’s strings. “But I’m not for sale.”

“We are all for sale.” Matthew’s eyes widened. “Good Christ.”

A two-foot-tall, gold-and-silver statue of the goddess Diana sat between us, naked except for her quiver, riding sidesaddle on the back of a stag with her ankles demurely crossed. A pair of hunting dogs sat at her feet.

Gallowglass whistled. “Well, I’d say the emperor has made his desires known in this case.”

But I was too busy studying the statue to pay much attention. A small key was embedded in the base. I gave it a turn, and the stag took off across the floor. “Look, Matthew. Did you see that?”

“You’re in no danger of losing Uncle’s attention,” Gallowglass assured me.

It was true: Matthew was staring angrily at the statue.

“Whoa, young Jack.” Gallowglass caught Jack by the collar as the boy sped into the room. But Jack was a professional thief, and such delaying tactics were of little use when he smelled something of value. He slid to the floor in a boneless heap, leaving Gallowglass holding the jacket, and sprang after the deer.

“Is it a toy? Is it for me? Why is that lady not wearing any clothes? Isn’t she cold?” The questions poured out of Jack in an unbroken torrent. Tereza, who was as interested in spectacle as any of the other women in Mal? Strana, came to see what the fuss was about. She gasped at the naked woman in her employer’s office and clapped her hand over Jack’s eyes.

Gallowglass peered at the statue’s breasts. “Aye, Jack. I’d say she’s cold.” This earned him a cuff on the head from Tereza, who still retained a firm grip on the squirming child.

“It’s an automaton, Jack,” Matthew said, picking the thing up. When he did, the stag’s head sprang open, revealing the hollow chamber within. “This one is meant to run down the emperor’s dinner table. When it stops, the person closest must drink from the stag’s neck. Why don’t you go show Annie what it does?” He snapped the head back in place and handed the priceless object to Gallowglass. Then he gave me a serious look. “We need to talk.”

Gallowglass propelled Jack and Tereza out of the room with promises of pretzels and skating.

“You’re in dangerous territory, my love.” Matthew ran his fingers through his hair, which never failed to make him look more handsome. “I’ve told the Congregation that your status as my wife is a convenient fiction to protect you from charges of witchcraft and to keep the Berwick witch-hunts confined to Scotland.”

“But our friends and your fellow vampires know it’s more than that,” I said. A vampire’s sense of smell didn’t lie, and Matthew’s unique scent covered me. “And the witches know there’s something more to our relationship than meets even their third eye.”

“Perhaps, but Rudolf is neither a vampire nor a witch. The emperor will have been assured by his own contacts within the Congregation that there is no relationship between us. Therefore there is nothing to preclude his chasing after you.” Matthew’s fingers found my cheek. “I don’t share, Diana. And if Rudolf were to go too far . . .”

“You’d keep your temper in check.” I covered his hand with mine. “You know that I’m not going to let the Holy Roman Emperor—or anybody else, for that matter—seduce me. We need Ashmole 782. Who cares if Rudolf stares at my breasts?”

“Staring I can handle.” Matthew kissed me. “There’s something else you should know before you go off to thank the emperor. The Congregation has fed Rudolf’s appetites for women and curiosities for some time as a way to win his cooperation. If the emperor wishes to have you and takes the matter to the other eight members, their judgment won’t be in our favor. The Congregation will turn you over to him because they cannot afford to have Prague fall into the hands of men like the archbishop of Trier and his Jesuit friends. And they don’t want Rudolf to become another King James, out for creatures’ blood. Prague may appear to be an oasis for the otherworldly. But like all oases, its refuge is a mirage.”

“I understand,” I said. Why did everything touching Matthew have to be so snarled? Our lives reminded me of the knotted cords in my spell box. No matter how many times I picked them apart, they soon tangled again.

Matthew released me. “When you go to the palace, take Gallowglass with you.”

“You’re not coming?” Given his concerns, I was shocked that Matthew was going to let me out of his sight.

“No. The more Rudolf sees us together, the more active his imagination and his acquisitiveness will become. And Gallowglass just may be able to wheedle his way in to Kelley’s laboratory. My nephew is far more charming than I am.” Matthew grinned, but the expression did nothing to alleviate the darkness in his eyes.

Gallowglass insisted he had a plan, one that would keep me from having to speak to Rudolf privately yet would display my gratitude publicly. It wasn’t until I heard the bells ringing the hour of three that I caught my first glimmer of what his plan might entail. The crush of people trying to enter St. Vitus Cathedral through the pointed arches of the side entrance confirmed it.

“There goes Sigismund,” Gallowglass said, bending close to my ear. The noise from the bells was deafening, and I could barely hear him. When I looked at him in confusion, he pointed up, to a golden grille on the adjacent steeple. “Sigismund. The big bell. That’s how you know you’re in Prague.”

St. Vitus Cathedral was textbook Gothic with its flying buttresses and needlelike pinnacles. On a dark winter afternoon, it was even more so. The candles inside were blazing, but in the vast expanse of the cathedral they provided nothing more than pinpricks of yellow in the gloom. Outside, the light had faded so much that the colorful stained glass and vivid frescoes were of minimal help in lifting the oppressively heavy atmosphere. Gallowglass carefully stationed us under a brace of torches.

“Give your disguising spell a good shake,” he suggested. “It’s so dark in here that Rudolf might miss you.”

“Are you telling me to get shiny?” I gave him my most repressive schoolmarm expression. His only reply was a grin.

We waited for Mass to begin with an interesting assortment of humble palace staff, royal officials, and aristocrats. Some of the artisans still bore the stains and singes associated with their work, and most of them looked exhausted. Once I’d surveyed the crowd, I looked up to take in the size and style of the cathedral.

“That’s a whole lot of vaulting,” I murmured. The ribbing was far more complicated than in most Gothic churches in England.

“That’s what happens when Matthew gets an idea in his head,” Gallowglass commented.

“Matthew?” I gaped.

“Hee was passing through Prague long ago, and Peter Parler, the new architect, was too green for such an important commission. The first outbreak of the plague had killed most of the master masons, however, so Parler was left in charge. Matthew took him under his wing, and the two of them went a bit mad. Can’t say I ever understood what he and young Peter were trying to accomplish, but it’s eye-catching. Wait until you see what they did to the Great Hall.”

I had my mouth open to ask another question when a hush fell over the assembled crowd. Rudolf had arrived. I craned my neck in an effort to see.

“There he is,” Gallowglass murmured, jerking his head up and to the right. Rudolf had entered St. Vitus on the second floor, from the enclosed walkway that I’d spotted spanning the courtyard between the palace and the cathedral. He was standing on a balcony decorated with colorful heraldic shields celebrating his many titles and honors. Like the ceiling, the balcony was held up by unusually ornate vaulting, though in this case it resembled the gnarled branches of a tree. Based on the breathtaking purity of the cathedral’s other architectural supports, I didn’t think this was Matthew’s work.

Rudolf took his seat overlooking the central nave while the crowd bowed and curtsied in the direction of the royal box. For his part, Rudolf looked uncomfortable at having been noticed. In his private chambers, he was at ease with his courtiers, but here he seemed shy and reserved. He turned to listen to a whispering attendant and caught sight of me. He inclined his head graciously and smiled. The crowd swung around to see whom the emperor had singled out for his benediction.

“Curtsy,” Gallowglass hissed. I dropped down again.

We managed to get through the actual Mass without incident. I was relieved to find that no one, not even the emperor, was expected to take the sacrament, and the whole ceremony was over quickly. At some point Rudolf quietly slipped away to his private apartments, no doubt to pore over his treasures.

With the emperor and priests gone, the nave turned into a cheerful gathering place as friends exchanged news and gossip. I spotted Ottavio Strada in the distance, deep in conversation with a florid gentleman in expensive woolen robes. Dr. H?jek was here, too, laughing and talking to a young couple who were obviously in love. I smiled at him, and he made a small bow in my direction. Strada I could do without, but I liked the emperor’s physician.

“Gallowglass? Shouldn’t you be hibernating, like the rest of the bears?” A slight man with deep-set eyes approached, his mouth twisted into a wry smile. He was wearing simple, expensive clothes, and the gold ring on his fingers spoke of his prosperity.

“We should all be hibernating in this weather. It is good to see you in such health, Joris.” Gallowglass clasped his hand and struck him on the back. The man’s eyes popped at the force of the blow.

“I would say the same about you, but since you are always healthy, I will spare us both the empty courtesy.” The man turned to me. “And here is La Diosa.”

“Diana,” I said, bobbing a greeting.

“That is not your name here. Rudolf calls you ‘La Diosa de la Caza.’ It is Spanish for the goddess of the chase. The emperor has commanded poor Master Spranger to abandon his latest sketches of Venus in her bath in favor of a new subject: Diana interrupted at her toilette. We all wait eagerly to see if Spranger is capable of making such an enormous change on such short notice.” The man bowed. “Joris Hoefnagel.”

“The calligrapher,” I said, thinking back to Pierre’s remark about the ornate penmanship on Matthew’s official summons to Rudolf ’s court. But that name was familiar. . . .

“The artist,” Gallowglass corrected gently.

“La Diosa.” A gaunt man swept his hat off with scarred hands. “I am Erasmus Habermel. Would you be so kind as to visit my workshop as soon as you are able? His Majesty would like you to have an astronomical compendium so as to better note the changes in the fickle moon, but it must be exactly to your liking.”

Habermel was a familiar name, too. . . .

“She is coming to me tomorrow.” A portly man in his thirties pushed his way through the growing crowd. His accent was distinctly Italian. “La Diosa is to sit for a portrait. His Majesty wishes to have her likeness engraved in stone as a symbol of her permanence in his affections.” Perspiration broke out on his upper lip.

“Signor Miseroni!” Another Italian said, clasping his hands melodramatically to his heaving chest. “I thought we understood each other. La Diosa must practice her dance if she is to take part in the entertainment next week as the emperor wishes.” He bowed in my direction. “I am Alfonso Pasetti, La Diosa, His Majesty’s dancing master.”

“But my wife does not like to dance,” said a cool voice behind me. A long arm snaked around and took my hand, which was fiddling with the edge of my bodice. “Do you, mon coeur?” This last endearment was accompanied by a kiss on the knuckles and a warning nip of teeth.

“Matthew is right on cue, as always,” Joris said with a hearty laugh. “How are you?”

“Disappointed not to find Diana at home,” Matthew said in a slightly aggrieved tone. “But even a devoted husband must yield to God in his wife’s affections.”

Hoefnagel watched Matthew closely, gauging every change of expression. I suddenly realized who this was: the great artist who was such an acute observer of nature that his illustrations of flora and fauna seemed as though they, like the creatures on Mary’s shoes, could come to life.

“Well, God is done with her for today. I think you are free to take your wife home,” Hoefnagel said mildly. “You promise to enliven what would otherwise be a very dull spring, La Diosa. For that we are all grateful.”

The men dispersed after getting assurances from Gallowglass that he would keep track of my varied, conflicting appointments. Hoefnagel was the last to leave.

“I will keep an eye out for your wife, Schaduw. Perhaps you should, too.”

“My attention is always on my wife, where it belongs. How else did I know to be here?”

“Of course. Forgive my meddling. The forest has ears, and the fields have eyes.” Hoefnagel bowed. “I will see you at court, La Diosa.”

“Her name is Diana,” Matthew said tightly. “Madame de Clermont will also serve.”

“And here I was led to understand it was Roydon. My mistake.” Hoefnagel took a few steps backward. “Good evening, Matthew.” His footsteps echoed on the stone floors and faded into silence.

“Schaduw?” I asked. “Does that mean what it sounds like?”

“It’s Dutch for ‘Shadow.’ Elizabeth isn’t the only person to call me by that name.” Matthew looked to Gallowglass. “What is this entertainment Signor Pasetti mentioned?”

“Oh, nothing out of the ordinary. It will no doubt be mythological in theme, with terrible music and even worse dancing. Having had too much to drink, the courtiers will all stumble into the wrong bedchambers at the end of the night. Nine months later there will be a flock of noble babes of uncertain parentage. The usual.”

“‘Sic transit gloria mundi,’” Matthew murmured. He bowed to me. “Shall we go home, La Diosa?” The nickname made me uncomfortable when strangers used it, but when it came out of Matthew’s mouth, it was almost unbearable. “Jack tells me that tonight’s stew is particularly appetizing.”

Matthew was distant all evening, watching me with heavy eyes as I heard about the children’s day and Pierre brought him up to date on various happenings in Prague. The names were unfamiliar and the narrative so confusing that I gave up trying to follow it and went to bed.

Jack’s cries woke me, and I rushed to him only to discover that Matthew had already reached the boy. He was wild, thrashing and crying out for help.

“My bones are flying apart!” he kept saying. “It hurts! It hurts!”

Matthew bundled him up tight against his chest so that he couldn’t move. “Shh. I’ve got you now.” He continued to hold Jack until only faint tremors radiated through the child’s slender limbs.

“All the monsters looked like ordinary men tonight, Master Roydon,” Jack told him, snuggling deeper into my husband’s arms. He sounded exhausted, and there were blue smudges under his eyes that made him look far older than his years.

“They often do, Jack,” Matthew said. “They often do.”

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of appointments—with the emperor’s jeweler, the emperor’s instrument maker, and the emperor’s dancing master. Each encounter took me deeper into the heart of the huddle of buildings that composed the imperial palace, to workshops and residences that were reserved for Rudolf’s prize artists and intellectuals.

Between engagements Gallowglass took me to parts of the palace that I had not yet seen. To the menagerie, where Rudolf kept his leopards and lions much as he kept his limners and musicians on the narrow streets east of the cathedral. To the Stag Moat, which had been altered so that Rudolf could enjoy better sport. To the sgraffito-covered games hall, where courtiers could take their exercise. To the new greenhouses built to protect the emperor’s precious fig trees from the harsh Bohemian winter.

But there was one place where not even Gallowglass could gain admission: the Powder Tower, where Edward Kelley worked over his alembics and crucibles in an attempt to make the philosopher’s stone. We stood outside it and tried to talk our way past the guards stationed at the entrance. Gallowglass even resorted to bellowing a hearty greeting. It brought the neighbors running to see if there was a fire but didn’t elicit a reaction from Dr. Dee’s erstwhile assistant.

“It’s as if he’s a prisoner,” I told Matthew after the supper dishes were cleared and Jack and Annie were safely tucked into their beds. They’d enjoyed another exhausting round of skating, sledding, and pretzels. We’d given up the pretense that they were our servants. I hoped the opportunity to behave like a normal eight-year-old boy would help to end Jack’s nightmares. But the palace was no place for them. I was terrified they might wander off and get lost forever, unable to speak the language or tell people to whom they belonged.

“Kelley is a prisoner,” Matthew said, toying with the stem of his goblet.

It was heavy silver and glinted in the firelight.

“They say he goes home occasionally, usually in the middle of the night when there is no one around to see. At least he gets some relief from the emperor’s constant demands.”

“You haven’t met Mistress Kelley,” Matthew said drily.

I hadn’t, which struck me as odd the more I considered it. Perhaps I was taking the wrong route to meet the alchemist. I’d allowed myself to be swept into court life with the hope of knocking on Kelley’s laboratory door and walking straight in to demand Ashmole 782. But given my new familiarity with courtly life, such a direct approach was unlikely to succeed. The next morning I made it a point to go with Tereza to do the shopping.

It was absolutely frigid outside, and the wind was fierce, but we trudged to the market nonetheless.

“Do you know my countrywoman Mistress Kelley?” I asked Frau Huber as we waited for the baker to wrap our purchases. The housewives of Mal? Strana collected the bizarre and unusual as avidly as Rudolf did. “Her husband is one of the emperor’s servants.”

“One of the emperor’s caged alchemists, you mean,” Frau Huber said with a snort. “There are always odd things happening in that household. And it was worse when the Dees were here. Herr Kelley was always looking at Frau Dee with lust.”

“And Mistress Kelley?” I prompted her.

“She does not go out much. Her cook does the shopping.” Frau Huber did not approve of this delegation of housewifely responsibility. It opened the door to all sorts of disorder, including (she contended) Anabaptism and a thriving black market in purloined kitchen staples. She had made her feelings on this point clear at our first meeting, and it was one of the chief reasons I went out in all weathers to buy cabbage.

“Are we discussing the alchemist’s wife?” Signorina Rossi said, tripping across the frozen stones and narrowly avoiding a wheelbarrow full of coal.

“She is English and therefore very strange. And her wine bills are much larger than they should be.”

“How do you two know so much?” I asked when I’d finished laughing. “We share the same laundress,” Frau Huber said, surprised. “None of us have any secrets from our laundresses,” Signorina Rossi agreed. “She did the washing for the Dees, too. Until Signora Dee fired her for charging so much to clean the napkins.”

“A difficult woman, Jane Dee, but you could not fault her thrift,” Frau Huber admitted with a sigh.

“Why do you need to see Mistress Kelley?” Signorina Rossi inquired, stowing a braided loaf of bread in her basket.

“I want to meet her husband. I am interested in alchemy and have some questions.”

“Will you pay?” Frau Huber asked, rubbing her fingers together in a universal and apparently timeless gesture.

“For what?” I said, confused.

“His answers, of course.”

“Yes,” I agreed, wondering what devious plan she was concocting.

“Leave it to me,” Frau Huber said. “I am hungry for schnitzel, and the Austrian who owns the tavern near your house, Frau Roydon, knows what schnitzel should be.”

The Austrian schnitzel wizard’s teenage daughter, it turned out, shared a tutor with Kelley’s ten-year-old stepdaughter, Elisabeth. And his cook was married to the laundress’s aunt, whose sister-in-law helped out around the Kelleys’ house.

It was thanks to this occult chain of relationships forged by women, and not Gallowglass’s court connections, that Matthew and I found ourselves in the Kelleys’ second-floor parlor at midnight, waiting for the great man to arrive.

“He should be here at any moment,” Joanna Kelley assured us. Her eyes were red-rimmed and bleary, though whether this resulted from too much wine or from the cold that seemed to afflict the entire household was not clear.

“Do not trouble yourself on our account, Mistress Kelley. We keep late hours,” Matthew said smoothly, giving her a dazzling smile. “And how do you like your new house?”

After much espionage and investigation among the Austrian and Italian communities, we discovered that the Kelleys had recently purchased a house around the corner from the Three Ravens in a complex known for its inventive street sign. Someone had taken a few leftover wooden figures from a nativity scene, sawed them in half, and arranged them on a board. They had, in the process, removed the infant Jesus from his crèche and replaced it with the head of Mary’s donkey.

“The Donkey and Cradle meets our needs at present, Master Roydon.”

Mistress Kelley issued forth an awe-inspiring sneeze and took a swig of wine. “We had thought the emperor would set aside a house for us in the palace itself, given Edward’s work, but this will do.” A regular thumping sounded on the winding stairs. “Here is Edward.”

A walking staff appeared first, then a stained hand, followed by an equally stained sleeve. The rest of Edward Kelley looked just as disreputable. His long beard was unkempt and stuck out from a dark skullcap that hid his ears. If he’d had a hat, it was gone now. And he was fond of his dinners, gauging by his Falstaffian proportions. Kelley limped into the room whistling, then froze at the sight of Matthew.

“Edward.” Matthew rewarded the man with another of those dazzling smiles, but Kelley didn’t seem nearly as pleased to receive it as his wife had.

“Imagine us meeting again so far from home.”

“How did you . . . ?” Edward said hoarsely. He looked around the room, and his eyes fell on me with a nudging glance that was as insidious as any I’d felt from a daemon. But there was more: disturbances in the threads that surrounded him, irregularities in the weaving that suggested he was not just daemonic—he was unstable. His lips curled. “The witch.”

“The emperor has elevated her rank, just as he did yours. She is La Diosa—the goddess—now,” Matthew said. “Do sit down and rest your leg. It troubles you in the cold, as I remember.”

“What business do you have with me, Roydon?” Edward Kelley gripped his staff tighter.

“He is here on behalf of the queen, Edward. I was in my bed,” Joanna said plaintively. “I get so little rest. And because of this dreadful ague, I have not yet met our neighbors. You did not tell me there were English people living so close. Why, I can see Mistress Roydon’s house from the tower window. You are at the castle. I am alone, longing to speak my native tongue, and yet—”

“Go back to bed, my dear,” Kelley said, dismissing Joanna. “Take your wine with you.”

Mrs. Kelley sniffled off obligingly, her expression miserable. To be an Englishwoman in Prague without friends or family was difficult, but to have your husband welcomed in places where you were forbidden to go must make it doubly so. When she was gone, Kelley clumped over to the table and sat down in his wife’s chair. With a grimace he lifted his leg into place. Then he pinned his dark, hostile eyes on Matthew.

“Tell me what I must do to get rid of you,” he said bluntly. Kelley might have Kit’s cunning, but he had none of his charm.

“The queen wants you,” Matthew said, equally blunt. “We want Dee’s book.”

“Which book?” Edward’s reply was quick—too quick.

“For a charlatan you are an abominable liar, Kelley. How do you manage to take them all in?” Matthew swung his long, booted legs onto the table. Kelley cringed when the heels struck the surface.

“If Dr. Dee is accusing me of theft,” Kelley blustered, “then I must insist on discussing this matter in the emperor’s presence. He would not want me treated thus, my honor impugned in my own house.”

“Where is it, Kelley? In your laboratory? In Rudolf’s bedchamber? I will find it with or without your help. But if you were to tell me your secret, I might be inclined to let the other matter rest.” Matthew picked at a speck on his britches. “The Congregation is not pleased with your recent behavior.”

Kelley’s staff clattered to the floor. Matthew obligingly picked it up. He touched the worn end to Kelley’s neck. “Is this where you touched the tapster at the inn, when you threatened his life? That was careless, Edward. All this pomp and privilege has gone to your head.” The staff dropped down to Kelley’s considerable belly and rested there.

“I cannot help you.” Kelley winced as Matthew increased the pressure on the stick. “It is the truth! The emperor took the book from me when . . .”

Kelley trailed off, rubbing his hand across his face as if to erase the vampire sitting across from him.

“When what?” I said, leaning forward. When I touched Ashmole 782 in the Bodleian, I’d immediately known it was different.

“You must know more about this book than I do,” Kelley spit at me, his eyes blazing. “You witches were not surprised to hear of its existence, though it took a daemon to recognize it!”

“I am losing my patience, Edward.” The wooden staff cracked in Matthew’s hands. “My wife asked you a question. Answer it.”

Kelley gave Matthew a slow, triumphant look and pushed at the end of the staff, dislodging it from his abdomen. “You hate witches—or so everyone believes. But I see now that you share Gerbert’s weakness for the creatures. You are in love with this one, just as I told Rudolf.”

“Gerbert.” Matthew’s tone was flat.

Kelley nodded. “He came when Dee was still in Prague, asking questions about the book and nosing about in my business. Rudolf let him enjoy one of the witches from the Old Town—a seventeen-year-old girl and very pretty, with rosy hair and blue eyes just like your wife. No one has seen her since. But there was a very fine fire that Walpurgis Night. Gerbert was given the honor of lighting it.” Kelley shifted his eyes to me. “I wonder if we will have a fire again this year?”

The mention of the ancient tradition of burning a witch to celebrate spring was the final straw for Matthew. He had Kelley half out the window by the time I realized what was happening.

“Look down, Edward. It is not a steep fall. You would survive it, I fear, though you might break a bone or two. I would collect you and take you up to your bedchamber. That has a window, too, no doubt. Eventually I will find a place that is high enough to snap your sorry carcass in two. By then every bone in your body will be in pieces and you will have told me what I want to know.”

Matthew turned black eyes on me when I rose.

“Sit. Down.” He took a deep breath. “Please.”

I did.

“Dee’s book shimmered with power. I could smell it the moment he pulled it off the shelf at Mortlake. He was oblivious to its significance, but I knew.” Kelley couldn’t talk fast enough now. When he paused to take a breath, Matthew shook him. “The witch Roger Bacon owned it and valued it for a great treasure. His name is on the title page, along with the inscription ‘Verum Secretum Secretorum.’”

“But it’s nothing like the Secretum,” I said, thinking of the popular medieval work. “That’s an encyclopedia. This has alchemical illustrations.”

“The illustrations are nothing but a screen against the truth,” Kelley said, wheezing. “That is why Bacon called it The True Secret of Secrets.”

“What does it say?” I asked, rising with excitement. This time Matthew didn’t warn me off. He also dragged Kelley back inside. “Were you able to read the words?”

“Perhaps,” Kelley said, straightening his robe.”

“He couldn’t read the book either.” Matthew released Kelley with disgust. “I can smell the duplicity through his fear.”

“It’s written in a foreign tongue. Not even Rabbi Loew could decipher it.”

“The Maharal has seen the book?” Matthew had that still, alert look that he got just before he pounced.

“Apparently you didn’t ask Rabbi Loew about it when you were in the Jewish Town to seek out the witch who made this clay creature they call the golem. Nor could you find the culprit and his creation.” Kelley looked contemptuous. “So much for your famous power and influence. You couldn’t even frighten the Jews.”

“I don’t think the letters are Hebrew,” I said, remembering the fastmoving symbols I’d glimpsed in the palimpsest.

“They aren’t. The emperor had Rabbi Loew come to the palace just to be sure.” Kelley had revealed more than he’d intended. His eyes shifted to his staff, and the threads around him warped and twisted. An image came to me of Kelley lifting his staff to strike someone. What was he up to? Then I realized: He was planning on striking me. An unintelligible sound broke free from my mouth, and when I held out my hand, Kelley’s staff flew straight into it. My arm transformed into a branch for a moment before returning to its normal outlines. I prayed that it had all happened too fast for Kelley to perceive the change. The look on his face told me my hopes were in vain.

“Don’t let the emperor see you do that,” Kelley smirked, “or he’ll have you locked away, yet another curiosity for him to savor. I’ve told you what you wanted to know, Roydon. Call off the Congregation’s dogs.”

“I don’t think I can,” Matthew said, taking the staff from me. “You are not harmless, no matter what Gerbert thinks. But I’ll leave you alone—for now. Don’t do anything more to warrant my attention and you just may see the summer.” He tossed the staff into the corner.

“Good night, Master Kelley.” I gathered up my cloak, wanting to be as far away from the daemon as fast as possible.

“Enjoy your moment in the sun, witch. They pass quickly in Prague.”

Kelley remained where he was while Matthew and I started to descend the stairs.

I could still feel his nudging glances in the street. And when I looked back toward the Donkey and Cradle, the crooked and broken threads that bound Kelley to the world shimmered with malevolence.

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