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On Monday morning I was tucked into Matthew’s office. It was located between Pierre’s apartments and a smaller chamber that was used for estate business, and it afforded a view toward the gatehouse and the Woodstock road.
Most of the lads—now that I knew them better, it seemed a far more fitting collective term than the grandiose School of Night—were closeted in what Matthew called the breakfast room, drinking ale and wine and applying their considerable imaginations to my backstory. Walter assured me it would, when complete, explain my sudden appearance at Woodstock to curious residents and alleviate questions about my odd accent and ways.
What they had concocted so far was melodramatic in the extreme. This was not surprising given that our two resident playwrights, Kit and George, came up with the key elements of the plot. The characters included dead French parents, avaricious noblemen who had preyed on a helpless orphan (me), and aged lechers intent on stripping me of my virtue. The tale turned epic with my spiritual trials and conversion from Catholicism to Calvinism. These led to voluntary exile on England’s Protestant shores, years of abject poverty, and Matthew’s fortuitous rescue and instantaneous regard. George (who really was something of a schoolmarm) promised to drill me in the particulars when they had applied the finishing touches to the story.
I was enjoying some quiet, which was a rare commodity in a crowded Elizabethan household of this size. Like a troublesome child, Kit unerringly gauged the worst moment to deliver the mail, announce dinner, or request Matthew’s help with some problem. And Matthew was understandably eager to be with friends he had never expected to see again.
At present he was with Walter and I was devoting my attention to a small book while awaiting his return. He’d left his table by the window littered with bags of sharpened quills and glass pots full of ink. Other tools were scattered nearby: a stick of wax to seal his correspondence, a thin knife to open letters, a candle, a silver shaker. This last was full not of salt but sand, as my gritty eggs this morning had proved.
My table held a similar shaker to set the ink on the page and keep it from smudging, a single pot of black ink, and the remains of three pens. I was currently destroying a fourth in an effort to master the complicated swirls of Elizabethan handwriting. Making a to-do list should have been a snap. As a historian I had spent years reading old handwriting and knew exactly how the letters should look, what words were most common, and the erratic spelling choices that were mine to make in a time when there were few dictionaries and grammatical rules.
It turned out that the challenge lay not in knowing what to do but in actually doing it. After working for years to become an expert, I was a student again. Only this time my objective wasn’t to understand the past but to live in it. Thus far it had been a humbling experience, and all I’d managed was to make a mess of the first page of the pocket-size blank book Matthew had given me this morning.
“It’s the Elizabethan equivalent of a laptop computer,” he’d explained, handing me the slim volume. “You’re a woman of letters and need somewhere to put them.”
I cracked the tight binding, releasing the crisp smell of paper. Most virtuous women of the time used these little books for prayers. Diana
There was a thick blot where I’d pressed down at the beginning of the D and by the time I reached the last A the pen was out of ink. Still, my effort was a perfectly respectable example of the period’s Italic hand. My hand moved far more slowly than Matthew’s did when he wrote letters using the squiggly Secretary script. That was the handwriting of lawyers, doctors, and other professionals, but too difficult for me at present.
That was even better. But my smile quickly dissolved, and I struck out my last name. I was married now. I dipped the pen in the ink. de Clermont
Diana de Clermont. That made me sound like a countess, not a historian. A drop of ink fell wetly onto the page below. I stifled a curse at the black splotch. Happily, it hadn’t obliterated my name. But that wasn’t my name either. I smudged the blob over “de Clermont.” You could still read it—barely. I steadied my hand and deliberately formed the correct letters.
That was my name now. Diana Roydon, wife of the most obscure figure associated with the mysterious School of Night. I examined the page critically. My handwriting was a disaster. It looked nothing like what I’d seen of the chemist Robert Boyle’s neat, rounded script or that of his brilliant sister, Katherine. I hoped that women’s handwriting in the 1590s was far messier than it was in the 1690s. A few more strokes of the pen and a final flourish and I would be done.
Male voices sounded outside. I put down my pen with a frown and went to the window.
Matthew and Walter were below. The panes of glass muffled their words, but the subject of the conversation was evidently unpleasant, judging from Matthew’s harried expression and the bristling line of Raleigh’s eyebrows. When Matthew made a dismissive gesture and turned to walk away, Walter stopped him with a firm hand.
Something had been bothering Matthew since he’d received the first batch of mail this morning. A stillness had come over him, and he’d held the pouch without opening it. Though he’d explained that the letters dealt with ordinary estate business, surely there was more there than demands for taxes and bills due.
I pressed my warm palm against the cold pane as if it were only the glass that stood between me and Matthew. The play of temperatures reminded me of the contrast between warmblooded witch and cool-blooded vampire. I returned to my seat and picked up my pen.
“You decided to make your mark on the sixteenth century after all.” Matthew was suddenly at my side. The twitch at the corner of his mouth indicated amusement but didn’t entirely disguise his tension.
“I’m still not sure that creating a lasting memento of my time here is a good idea,” I confessed. “A future scholar might realize there’s something odd about it.” Just as Kit had known there was something wrong with me.
“Don’t worry. The book won’t leave the house.” Matthew reached for his stack of mail.
“You can’t be sure of that,” I protested.
“Let history take care of itself, Diana,” he said decisively, as if the matter were now closed. But I couldn’t let go of the future—or my worries about the effects that our presence in the past might have on it.
“And I still don’t think we should let Kit keep that chess piece.” The memory of Marlowe triumphantly brandishing the tiny figure of Diana haunted me. She occupied the role of the white queen in Matthew’s costly silver chess set and had been the third object I’d used to steer us to the proper place in the past, along with Ysabeau’s earring and Matthew’s copy of Kit’s play Doctor Faustus. Two unfamiliar young daemons, Sophie Norman and her husband Nathaniel Wilson, had unexpectedly delivered it to my aunts’ house in Madison just as we were deciding to timewalk.
“Kit won it from me fair and square last night—just as he was supposed to do. At least this time I could see how he managed it. He distracted me with his rook.” Matthew dashed off a note with enviable speed before folding the pages into a neat packet. He dropped a molten blob of vermilion across the edges of the letter before pressing his signet ring into it. The golden surface of the ring bore the simple glyph for the planet Jupiter, not the more elaborate emblem that Satu had burned into my flesh. The wax crackled as it cooled. “Somehow my white queen went from Kit to a family of witches in North Carolina. We have to believe that it will do so again, with or without our help.”
“Kit didn’t know me before. And he doesn’t like me.”
“All the more reason not to worry. As long as it pains him to look upon the likeness of Diana, he won’t be able to part with it. Christopher Marlowe is a masochist of the first order.” Matthew took up another letter and sliced it open with his knife.
I surveyed the other items on my table and picked up a pile of coins. A working knowledge of Elizabethan currency had not been covered in my graduate education. Nor had household management, the proper order of donning undergarments, forms of address for servants, or how to make a medicine for Tom’s headache. Discussions with Françoise about my wardrobe revealed my ignorance of common names for ordinary colors. “Gooseturd green” was familiar to me, but the peculiar shade of grizzled brown known as “rat hair” was not. My experiences thus far had me planning to throttle the first Tudor historian I met upon my return for gross dereliction of duty.
But there was something compelling about figuring out the details of everyday life, and I quickly forgot my annoyance. I picked through the coins in my palm, looking for a silver penny. It was the cornerstone on which my precarious knowledge was built. The coin was no bigger than my thumbnail, as thin as a wafer, and bore the same profile of Queen Elizabeth as did most of the others. I organized the rest according to relative worth and began an orderly account of them on the next clean page in my book.
“Thank you, Pierre,” Matthew murmured, barely glancing up as his servant whisked away the sealed letters and deposited still more correspondence on the surface.
We wrote in companionable silence. Soon finished with my list of coins, I tried to remember what Charles, the household’s laconic cook, had taught me about making a caudle—or was it a posset?
A Caudle for pains in the head… Satisfied with the relatively straight line of text, three tiny blots, and the wobbly C, I continued.
Set your water to boil. Beat two egge yolkes. Add white wine and beat some more. When the water boils, set it to cool, then add the wine and egge. Stirre it as it boils again, adding saffron and honey.
The resulting mixture had been revolting—violently yellow with the consistency of runny cottage cheese—but Tom had slurped it down without complaint. Later, when I’d asked Charles for the proper proportion of honey to wine, he’d thrown up his hands in disgust at my ignorance and stalked away without a word.
Living in the past had always been my secret desire, but it was far more difficult than I’d ever imagined. I sighed.
“You’ll need more than that book to feel at home here.” Matthew’s eyes didn’t leave his correspondence. “You should have a room of your own, too. Why don’t you take this one? It’s bright enough to serve as a library. Or you could turn it into an alchemical laboratory—although you might want somewhere more private if you’re planning to turn lead into gold. There’s a room by the kitchen that might do.”
“The kitchen may not be ideal. Charles doesn’t approve of me,” I replied.
“He doesn’t approve of anyone. Neither does Françoise—except for Charles, of course, whom she venerates as a misunderstood saint despite his fondness for drink.”
Sturdy feet tromped down the hall. The disapproving Françoise appeared at the threshold. “There are men here for Mistress Roydon,” she announced, stepping aside to reveal a gray-haired septuagenarian with callused hands and a much younger man who shifted from one foot to the other. Neither of these men was a creature.
“Somers.” Matthew frowned. “And is that young Joseph Bidwell?”
“Aye, Master Roydon.” The younger man pulled his cap from his head.
“Mistress Roydon will allow you to take her measurements now,” Françoise said.
“Measurements?” The look Matthew directed to me and Françoise demanded an answer—quickly.
“Shoes. Gloves. For madame’s wardrobe,” Françoise said. Unlike petticoats, shoes were not one-size-fits-most.
“I asked Françoise to send for them,” I explained, hoping to gain Matthew’s cooperation. Somers’s eyes widened at my strange accent before his face returned to an expression of neutral deference.
“My wife’s journey was unexpectedly difficult,” Matthew said smoothly, coming to stand by my side, “and her belongings were lost. Regrettably, Bidwell, we have no shoes for you to copy.” He rested a warning hand on my shoulder, hoping to silence any further commentary.
“May I, Mistress Roydon?” Bidwell asked, lowering himself until his fingers hovered over the ties that secured a pair of ill-fitting shoes to my feet. The borrowed footwear was a giveaway that I wasn’t who I was pretending to be.
“Please,” Matthew replied before I could respond. Françoise gave me a sympathetic look. She knew what it was like to be silenced by Matthew Roydon.
The young man started when he came into contact with a warm foot and its frequent pulse. Clearly he expected a colder, less lively extremity.
“About your business,” Matthew said sharply.
“Sir. My lord. Master Roydon.” The young man blurted out most available titles except for “Your Majesty” and “Prince of Darkness.” These were implied nonetheless.
“Where’s your father, lad?” Matthew’s voice softened.
“Sick abed these four days past, Master Roydon.” Bidwell drew a piece of felt from a bag tied around his waist and placed each of my feet on it, tracing the outlines with a stick of charcoal. He made some notations on the felt and, quickly finished, lowered my foot gently to the floor. Bidwell pulled out a curious book made from squares of colored hide sewn together with leather thongs and offered it to me.
“What colors are popular, Master Bidwell?” I asked, waving the leather samples away. I needed advice, not a multiple-choice test.
“Ladies who are going to court are having white stamped with gold or silver.”
“We’re not going to court,” Matthew said swiftly.
“Black then, and a nice tawny.” Bidwell held up for approval a patch of leather the color of caramel. Matthew gave it before I could say a word.
Then it was the older man’s turn. He, too, was surprised when he took my hand and felt the calluses on my palms. Well-bred ladies who married men such as Matthew didn’t row boats. Somers took in the lump on my middle finger. Ladies didn’t have bumps from holding pens too tightly either. He slid a buttery-soft glove that was much too large onto my right hand. A needle charged with coarse thread was tucked into the hem.
“Does your father have everything he needs, Bidwell?” Matthew asked the shoemaker.
“Yes, thank you, Master Roydon,” Bidwell replied with a bob of his head.
“Charles will send him custard and venison.” Matthew’s gray eyes flickered over the young man’s thin frame. “Some wine, too.”
“Master Bidwell will be grateful for your kindness,” Somers said, his fingers drawing the thread through the leather so that the glove fit snugly.
“Is anyone else ill?” Matthew asked.
“Rafe Meadows’s girl was sick with a terrible fever. We feared for Old Edward, but he is only afflicted with an ague,” Somers replied tersely.
“I trust Meadows’s daughter has recovered.”
“No.” Somers snapped the thread. “They buried her three days ago, God rest her soul.”
“Amen,” said everyone in the room. Françoise lifted her eyebrows and jerked her head in Somers’s direction. Belatedly I joined in.
Their business concluded and the shoes and gloves promised for later in the week, both men bowed and departed. Françoise turned to follow them out, but Matthew stopped her.
“No more appointments for Diana.” There was no mistaking the seriousness in his tone. “See to it that Edward Camberwell has a nurse to look after him and sufficient food and drink.”
Françoise curtsied in acquiescence and departed with another sympathetic glance.
“I’m afraid the men from the village know I don’t belong here.” I drew a shaking hand across my forehead. “My vowels are a problem. And my sentences go down when they should go up. When are you supposed to say ‘amen’? Somebody needs to teach me how to pray, Matthew. I have to start somewhere, and—”
“Slow down,” he said, sliding his hands around my corseted waist. Even through several layers of clothing, his touch was soothing. “This isn’t an Oxford viva, nor are you making your stage debut. Cramming information and rehearsing your lines isn’t going to help. You should have asked me before you summoned Bidwell and Somers.”
“How can you pretend to be someone new, someone else, over and over again?” I wondered. Matthew had done this countless times over the centuries as he pretended to die only to reemerge in a different country, speaking a different language, known by a different name.
“The first trick is to stop pretending.” My confusion must have been evident, and he continued. “Remember what I told you in Oxford. You can’t live a lie, whether it’s masquerading as a human when you’re really a witch or trying to pass as Elizabethan when you’re from the twenty-first century. This is your life for now. Try not to think of it as a role.”
“But my accent, the way that I walk . . .” Even I had noticed the length of my steps relative to that of the other women in the house, but Kit’s open mockery of my masculine stride had brought the point home.
“You’ll adjust. Meanwhile people will talk. But no one’s opinion in Woodstock matters. Soon you will be familiar and the gossip will stop.”
I looked at him doubtfully. “You don’t know much about gossip, do you?”
“Enough to know you are simply this week’s curiosity.” He glanced at my book, taking in the blotches and indecisive script. “You’re holding your pen too tightly. That’s why the point keeps breaking and the ink won’t flow. You’re holding on to your new life too tightly as well.”
“I never thought it would be so difficult.”
“You’re a fast learner, and so long as you’re safely at the Old Lodge, you’re among friends. But no more visitors for the time being. Now, what have you been writing?”
“My name, mostly.”
Matthew flipped a few pages in my book, examining what I’d recorded. One eyebrow lifted. “You’ve been preparing for your economics and culinary examinations, too. Why don’t you write about what’s happening here at the house instead?”
“Because I need to know how to manage in the sixteenth century. Of course, a diary might be useful, too.” I considered the possibility. It would certainly help me sort out my still-muddled sense of time. “I shouldn’t use full names. People in 1590 use initials to save paper and ink. And nobody reflects on thoughts or emotions. They record the weather and the phases of the moon.”
“Top marks on sixteenth-century English record keeping,” said Matthew with a laugh.
“Do women write down the same things as men?”
He took my chin in his fingers. “You’re impossible. Stop worrying about what other women do. Be your own extraordinary self.” When I nodded, he kissed me before returning to his table.
Holding the pen as loosely as possible, I began a fresh page. I decided to use astrological symbols for the days of the week and record the weather as well as a few cryptic notes about life at the Old Lodge. That way no one reading them in a future time would find anything out of the ordinary. Or so I hoped.
31 October 1590 rain, clearing
On this day I was introduced to my husband’s good friend CM
1 November 1590 cold and dry
In the early hours of the morning I made the acquaintance of GC. After sunrise, T H,
HP, WR arrived, all friends of my husband. The moon was full.
Some future scholar might suspect that these initials referred to the School of Night, especially given the name Roydon on the first page, but there would be no way to prove it. Besides, these days few scholars were interested in this group of intellectuals. Educated in the finest Renaissance style, the members of the School of Night were able to move between ancient and modern languages with alarming speed. All of them knew Aristotle backward and forward. And when Kit, Walter, and Matthew began talking politics, their encyclopedic command of history and geography made it nearly impossible for anyone else to keep up. Occasionally George and Tom managed to squeak in an opinion, but Henry’s stammer and slight deafness made his full participation in the intricate discussions impossible. He spent most of the time quietly observing the others with a shy deference that was endearing, considering that the earl outranked everyone in the room. If there weren’t so many of them, I might be able to keep up, too.
As for Matthew, gone was the thoughtful scientist brooding over his test results and worrying about the future of the species. I’d fallen in love with that Matthew but found myself doing so all over again with this sixteenth-century version, charmed by every peal of his laughter and each quick rejoinder he made when battles broke out over some fine point of philosophy. Matthew shared jokes over dinner and hummed songs in the corridors. He wrestled with his dogs by the fire in the bedroom—two enormous, shaggy mastiffs named Anaximander and Pericles. In modern Oxford or France, Matthew had always seemed slightly sad. But he was happy here in Woodstock, even when I caught him looking at his friends as though he couldn’t quite believe they were real.
“Did you realize how much you missed them?” I asked, unable to refrain from interrupting his work.
“Vampires can’t brood over those we leave behind,” he replied. “We’d go mad. I have had more to remember them by than is usually the case: their words, their portraits. You forget the little things, though—a quirk of expression, the sound of their laughter.”
“My father kept caramels in his pocket,” I whispered. “I had no memory of them, until La Pierre.” When I shut my eyes, I could still smell the tiny candies and hear the rustle of the cellophane against the soft broadcloth of his shirts.
“And you wouldn’t give up that knowledge now,” Matthew said gently, “not even to be rid of the pain.”
He took up another letter, his pen scratching against the page. The tight look of concentration returned to his face, along with a small crease over the bridge of his nose. I imitated the angle at which he held the quill, the length of time that elapsed before he dipped it in the ink. It was indeed easier to write when you didn’t hold the pen in a death grip. I poised the pen over the paper and prepared to write more.
Today was the feast of All Souls, the traditional day to remember the dead. Everyone in the house was remarking upon the thick frost that iced the leaves in the garden. Tomorrow would be even colder, Pierre promised.
2 November 1590 frost
Measured for shoes and gloves. Françoise sewing.
Françoise was making me a cloak to keep the chill away, and a warm suit of clothes for the wintry weather ahead. She had been in the attics all morning, sorting through Louisa de Clermont’s abandoned wardrobe. Matthew’s sister’s gowns were sixty years out of date, with their square necklines and bell-shaped sleeves, but Françoise was altering them to better fit what Walter and George insisted was the current style as well as my less statuesque frame. She wasn’t pleased to be ripping apart the seams of one particularly splendid black-and-silver garment, but Matthew had insisted. With the School of Night in residence, I needed formal clothes as well as more practical outfits.
“But Lady Louisa was wed in that gown, my lord,” Françoise protested. “Yes, to an eighty-five-year-old with no living offspring, a bad heart, and numerous profitable estates. I believe the thing has more than repaid the family’s investment in it,” Matthew replied. “It will do for Diana until you can make her something better.”
My book couldn’t refer to that conversation, of course. Instead I’d chosen all my words carefully so that they would mean nothing to anyone else even though they conjured vivid images of particular people, sounds, and conversations for me. If this book survived, a future reader would find these tiny snippets of my life sterile and dry. Historians pored over documents like this, hoping in vain to see the rich, complex life hidden behind the simple lines of text.
Matthew swore under his breath. I was not the only one in this house hiding something.
My husband received many letters today and gave me this booke to keep my memories.
As I lifted my pen to replenish its ink, Henry and Tom entered the room looking for Matthew. My third eye blinked open, surprising me with sudden awareness. Since we had arrived, my other nascent powers—witchfire, witchwater, and witchwind—had been oddly absent. With the unexpected extra perception offered by my witch’s third eye, I could discern not only the black-red intensity of the atmosphere around Matthew but also Tom’s silvery light and Henry’s barely perceptible green-black shimmer, each as individual as a fingerprint.
Thinking back on the threads of blue and amber that I’d seen in the corner of the Old Lodge, I wondered what the disappearance of some powers and the emergence of others might signify. There had been the episode this morning, too. . . .
Something in the corner had caught my eye, another glimmer of amber shot through with hints of blue. There was an echo, something so quiet it was more felt than heard. When I’d turned my head to locate its source, the sensation faded. Strands of color and light pulsed in my peripheral vision, as if time were beckoning me to return home.
Ever since my first timewalk in Madison, when I’d traveled a brief span of minutes, I’d thought of time as a substance made of threads of light and color. With enough concentration you could focus on a single thread and follow it to its source. Now, after walking through several centuries, I knew that apparent simplicity masked the knots of possibility that tied an unimaginable number of pasts to a million presents and untold potential futures. Isaac Newton had believed that time was an essential force of nature that couldn’t be controlled. After fighting our way back to 1590, I was prepared to agree with him.
“Diana? Are you all right?” Matthew’s insistent voice broke through my reveries. His friends looked at me with concern.
“Fine,” I said automatically.
“You’re not fine.” He tossed the quill onto the table. “Your scent has changed. I think your magic might be changing, too. Kit is right. We must find you a witch as quickly as possible.”
“It’s too soon to bring in a witch,” I protested. “It’s important that I be able to look and sound as if I belong.”
“Another witch will know you’re a timewalker,” he said dismissively. “She’ll make allowances. Or is there something else?”
I shook my head, unwilling to meet his eyes.
Matthew hadn’t needed to see time unwinding in the corner to sense that something was out of joint. If he already suspected that there was more going on with my magic than I was willing to reveal, there would be no way for me to conceal my secrets from any witch who might soon come to call.
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