- زمان مطالعه 43 دقیقه
- سطح خیلی سخت
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
“Master Habermel stopped by. Your compendium is on the table.” Matthew didn’t look up from the plans to Prague Castle that he’d somehow procured from the emperor’s architects. In the past few days, he’d given me wide berth and taken to channeling his energy into unearthing the secrets of the palace guard so that he could breach Rudolf’s security. In spite of Abraham’s advice, which I’d duly conveyed, Matthew preferred a proactive strategy. He wanted us out of Prague. Now.
I approached his side, and he looked up with restless, hungry eyes.
“It’s just a gift.” I put down my gloves and kissed him deeply. “My heart is yours, remember?”
“It isn’t just a gift. It came with an invitation to go hunting tomorrow.” Matthew wrapped his hands around my hips. “Gallowglass informed me that we will be accepting it. He’s found a way into the emperor’s apartments by seducing some poor maid into showing him Rudolf’s eroticpicture collection. The palace guard will either be hunting with us or napping. Gallowglass figures it’s as good a chance as we’re going to get to look for the book.”
I glanced over at Matthew’s desk, where another small parcel lay. “Do you know what that is, too?”
He nodded. He reached over and picked it up. “You’re always receiving gifts from other men. This one is from me. Hold out your hand.” Intrigued, I did what he asked.
He pressed something round and smooth into my palm. It was the size of a small egg.
A stream of cool, heavy metal flowed around the mysterious egg as tiny salamanders filled my hand. They were made of silver and gold, with diamonds set into their backs. I lifted one of the creatures, and up came a chain made entirely of paired salamanders, their heads joined at the mouth and their tails entwined. Still nestled in my palm was a ruby. A very large, very red ruby.
“It’s beautiful!” I looked up at Matthew. “When did you have time to buy this?” It wasn’t the kind of chain that goldsmiths stocked for drop-in customers.
“I’ve had it for a while,” Matthew confessed. “My father sent it with the altarpiece. I wasn’t sure you’d like it.”
“Of course I like it. Salamanders are alchemical, you know,” I said, giving him another kiss. “Besides, what woman would object to two feet of silver, gold, and diamond salamanders and a ruby big enough to fill an eggcup?
“These particular salamanders were a gift from the king when I returned to France late in 1541. King Francis chose the salamander in flames for his emblem, and his motto was ‘I nourish and extinguish.’” Matthew laughed. “Kit enjoyed the conceit so much he adapted it for his own use: ‘What nourishes me destroys me.’”
“Kit is definitely a glass-half-empty daemon,” I said, joining in his laughter. I poked at one of the salamanders, and it caught the light from the candles. I started to speak, then stopped.
“What?” Matthew said.
“Have you given this to someone . . . before?” After the other night, my own sudden insecurity was embarrassing.
“No,” Matthew said, taking my hand and its treasure between his.
“I’m sorry. It’s ridiculous, I know, especially considering Rudolf’s behavior. I’d rather not wonder, that’s all. If you give me something you once gave to Eleanor, or someone else, just tell me.”
“I wouldn’t give you something I’d first given to someone else, mon coeur.” Matthew waited until I met his eyes. “Your firedrake reminded me of Francis’s gift, so I asked my father to fish it out of its hidey-hole. I wore it once. Since then it’s been sitting in a box.”
“It’s not exactly everyday wear,” I said, trying to laugh. But it didn’t quite work. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Matthew pulled me down into a kiss. “My heart belongs to you no less than yours belongs to me. Never doubt it.”
“Good. Because Rudolf is doing everything he can to wear us both down. We need to keep our heads. And then we need to get the hell out of Prague.”
Matthew’s words came back to haunt me the next afternoon, when we joined Rudolf’s closest companions at court for an afternoon of sport. The plan had been to ride out to the emperor’s hunting lodge at White Mountain to shoot deer, but the heavy gray skies kept us closer to the palace. It was the second week of April, but spring came slowly to Prague, and snow was still possible.
Rudolf called Matthew over to his side, leaving me to the mercy of the women of the court. They were openly curious and entirely at a loss about what to do with me.
The emperor and his companions drank freely from the wine that the servants passed. Given the high speeds of the impending chase, I wished there were regulations about drinking and riding. Not that I had much to worry about in Matthew’s case. For one thing, he was being rather abstemious. And there was little chance of him dying, even if his horse did crash into a tree.
Two men arrived, a long pole resting on their shoulders to provide a perch for the splendid assortment of falcons that would be bringing down the birds this afternoon. Two more men followed bearing a single, hooded bird with a lethal curved beak and brown feathered legs that gave the effect of boots. It was huge.
“Ah!” Rudolf said, rubbing his hands together with delight. “Here is my eagle, Augusta. I wanted La Diosa to see her, even though we cannot fly her here. She requires more room to hunt than the Stag Moat provides.”
Augusta was a fitting name for such a proud creature. The eagle was nearly three feet tall and, though hooded, held her head at a haughty angle.
“She can sense that we are watching her,” I murmured.
Someone translated this for the emperor, and he smiled at me approvingly. “One huntress understands another. Take her hood off. Let Augusta and La Diosa get acquainted.”
A wizened old man with bowed legs and a cautious expression approached the eagle. He pulled on the leather strings that tightened the hood around Augusta’s head and gently drew it away from the bird. The golden feathers around her neck and head ruffled in the breeze, highlighting their texture. Augusta, sensing freedom and danger both, spread her wings in a gesture that could be read either as the promise of imminent flight or as a warning.
But I was not the one Augusta wanted to meet. With unerring instinct her head turned to the only predator in the company more dangerous than she was. Matthew stared back at her gravely, his eyes sad. Augusta cried out in acknowledgment of his sympathy.
“I did not bring Augusta out to amuse Herr Roydon but to meet La Diosa,” Rudolf grumbled.
“And I thank you for the introduction, Your Majesty,” I said, wanting to capture the moody monarch’s attention.
“Augusta has taken down two wolves, you know,” Rudolf said with a pointed look at Matthew. The emperor’s feathers were far more ruffled than those of his prize bird. “They were both bloody struggles.”
“Were I the wolf, I would simply lie down and let the lady have her way,” Matthew said lazily. He was every inch the courtier this afternoon in a green-and-gray ensemble, his black hair pushed under a rakish cap that provided little protection from the elements but did provide an opportunity to display a silver badge on its crown—the de Clermont family’s ouroboros—lest Rudolf forgot with whom he was dealing.
The other courtiers smirked and tittered at his daring remark. Rudolf, once he had made sure the laughter was not directed at him, joined in. “It is another thing we have in common, Herr Roydon,” he said, pounding on Matthew’s shoulder. He surveyed me. “Neither of us fears a strong woman.”
The tension broken, the falconer returned Augusta to her perch with some relief and asked the emperor which bird he wished to use this afternoon to take down the royal grouse. Rudolf fussed over his selection. Once the emperor chose a large gyrfalcon, the Austrian archdukes and German princes fought over the remaining birds until only a single animal was left. It was small and shivering in the cold. Matthew reached for it.
“That is a woman’s bird,” Rudolf said with a snort, settling into his saddle. “I had it sent for La Diosa.”
“In spite of her name, Diana doesn’t like hunting. But it’s no matter. I will fly the merlin,” Matthew said. He ran the jesses through his fingers, put out his hand, and the bird stepped onto his gloved wrist. “Hello, beauty,” he murmured while the bird adjusted her feet. With every small step, her bells jingled.
“Her name is ??rka,” the gamekeeper whispered with a smile.
“Is she as clever as her namesake?” Matthew asked him.
“More so,” the old man answered with a grin.
Matthew leaned toward the bird and took one of the strings that held her hood in his teeth. His mouth was so close to ??rka, and the gesture so intimate, that it could have been mistaken for a kiss. Matthew drew the string back. Once that was done, it was easy for him to remove the hood with his other hand and slip the decorated leather blindfold into a pocket.
??rka blinked as the world came into view. She blinked again, studying me and then the man who held her.
“Can I touch her?” There was something irresistible about the soft layers of brown-and-white feathers.
“I wouldn’t. She’s hungry. I don’t think she gets her fair share of kills,” Matthew said. He looked sad again, even wistful. ??rka made low, chortling sounds and kept her eyes on Matthew.
“She likes you.” It was no wonder. They were both hunters by instinct, both fettered so that they couldn’t give in to the urge to track and kill.
We rode on a twisting path down into the river gorge that had once served as the palace moat. The river was gone and the gorge fenced in to keep the emperor’s game from roaming the city. Red deer, roe deer, and boar all prowled the grounds. So, too, did the lions and other big cats from the menagerie on those days when Rudolf decided to hunt deer with them rather than birds.
I expected utter chaos, but hunting was as precisely choreographed as any ballet. As soon as Rudolf released his gyrfalcon into the air, the birds resting in the trees rose up in a cloud, taking flight to avoid becoming a snack. The gyrfalcon swooped down and flew over the brush, the wind whistling through the bells on his feet. Startled grouse erupted from cover, running and flapping in all directions before taking to the air. The gyrfalcon banked, selected a target, harried it into position, and shot forward to hit it with talons and beak. The grouse fell from the sky, the falcon pursuing it relentlessly to the ground, where the grouse, startled and injured, was finally killed. The gamekeepers released the dogs and ran with them across the snowy ground. The horses thundered after, the men’s cries of triumph drowned out by the baying of the hounds.
When the horses and riders caught up, we found the falcon standing by its prey, its wings curved to shield the grouse from rival claimants. Matthew had adopted a similar stance at the Bodleian Library, and I felt his eyes fall on me to make sure that I was nearby.
Now that the emperor had the first kill, the others were free to join in the hunt. Together they caught more than a hundred birds, enough to feed a fair number of courtiers. There was only one altercation. Not surprisingly, it occurred between Rudolf’s magnificent silver gyrfalcon and Matthew’s small brown-and-white merlin.
Matthew had been hanging back from the rest of the male pack. He released his bird well after the others and was unhurried in claiming the grouse that she brought down. Though none of the other men got off their mounts, Matthew did, coaxing ??rka away from her prey with a murmured word and a bit of meat that he’d pulled off a previous kill.
Once, however, ??rka failed to connect with the grouse she was pursuing. It eluded her, flying straight into the path of Rudolf’s gyrfalcon. But ??rka refused to yield. Though the gyrfalcon was larger, ??rka was scrappier and more agile. To reach her grouse, the merlin flew past my head so closely that I felt the changing pressure in the air. She was such a little thing—smaller even than the grouse, and definitely outsized by the emperor’s bird. The grouse flew higher, but there was no escape. ??rka quickly reversed direction and sank her curved talons into her prey, her weight carrying them both down. The indignant gyrfalcon screamed in frustration, and Rudolf added his own loud protest.
“Your bird interfered with mine,” Rudolf said furiously as Matthew kicked his horse forward to fetch the merlin.
“She isn’t my bird, Your Majesty,” Matthew said. ??rka, who had puffed herself up and stretched out her wings to look as large and menacing as possible, let out a shrill peep as he approached. Matthew murmured something that sounded vaguely familiar and more than a little amorous, and the bird’s feathers smoothed. “??rka belongs to you. And today she has proved to be a worthy namesake of a great Bohemian warrior.”
Matthew picked up the merlin, grouse and all, and held it up for the court to see. ??rka’s jesses swung freely, and her bells tinkled with sound as he circled her around. Unsure what their response should be, the courtiers waited for Rudolf to do something. I intervened instead.
“Was this a female warrior, husband?”
Matthew stopped in his rotation and grinned. “Why, yes, wife. The real ??rka was small and feisty, just like the emperor’s bird, and knew that a warrior’s greatest weapon lies between the ears.” He tapped his head to make sure everyone received the message. Rudolf not only received it, he looked nonplussed.
“She sounds rather like the ladies of Mal? Strana,” I said drily. “And what did ??rka do with her intelligence?” Before Matthew could answer, an unfamiliar young woman spoke.
“??rka took down a troop of soldiers,” she explained in fluid Latin with a heavy Czech accent. A white-bearded man I took to be her father looked at her approvingly, and she blushed.
“Really?” I said, interested. “How?”
“By pretending she needed rescuing and then inviting the soldiers to celebrate her freedom with too much wine.” Another woman, this one elderly with a beak of a nose to rival Augusta’s, snorted in disgust. “Men fall for that every time.”
I burst out laughing. To her evident surprise, so did the beaky, aristocratic old lady.
“I fear, Emperor, that the ladies will not have their heroine blamed for the faults of others.” Matthew reached into his pocket for the hood and gently set it over the crown of ??rka’s proud head. He leaned in and tightened the cord with his teeth. The gamekeeper took the merlin to a smattering of approving applause.
We adjourned to a red-and-white-roofed Italianate house set at the edge of the palace grounds for wine and refreshments, though I would have preferred to linger in the gardens where the emperor’s narcissi and tulips were blooming. Other members of the court joined us, including the sour-faced Strada, Master Hoefnagel, and the instrument maker Erasmus Habermel, whom I thanked for my compendium.
“What we need to lift our boredom is a spring feast now that Lent is almost over,” said one young male courtier in a loud voice. “Don’t you think so, Your Majesty”
“A masque?” Rudolf took a sip of his wine and stared at me. “If so, the theme should be Diana and Actaeon.”
“That theme is so common, Your Majesty, and rather English,” Matthew said sadly. Rudolf flushed. “Perhaps we might do Demeter and Persephone instead. It is more fitting for the season.”
“Or the story of Odysseus,” Strada suggested, shooting me a nasty look. “Frau Roydon could play Circe and turn us into piglets.”
“Interesting, Ottavio,” Rudolf said, tapping his full lower lip with his index finger. “I might enjoy playing Odysseus.”
Not on your life, I thought. Not with the requisite bedroom scene and Odysseus making Circe promise not to forcibly take his manhood.
“If I might offer a suggestion,” I said, eager to stave off disaster.
“Of course, of course,” Rudolf said earnestly, taking my hand and giving it a solicitous pat.
“The story I have in mind requires someone to take the role of Zeus, the king of the gods,” I told the emperor, drawing my hand gently away.
“I would be a convincing Zeus,” he said eagerly, a smile lighting his face. “And you will play Callisto?” Absolutely not. I was not going to let Rudolf pretend to ravage and impregnate me.
“No, Your Majesty. If you insist that I take part in the entertainment, I will play the goddess of the moon.” I slid my hand into the bend of Matthew’s arm. “And to atone for his earlier remark, Matthew will play Endymion.”
“Endymion?” Rudolf’s smile wavered.
“Poor Rudolf. Outfoxed again,” Matthew murmured for only me to hear. “Endymion, Your Majesty,” he said, this time in a voice pitched to carry, “the beautiful youth who is cast into enchanted sleep so as to preserve his immortality and Diana’s chastity.”
“I know the legend, Herr Roydon!” Rudolf warned.
“Apologies, Your Majesty,” Matthew said with a graceful, albeit shallow, bow. “Diana will look splendid, arriving in her chariot so that she can gaze wistfully upon the man she loves.”
Rudolf was imperial purple by this point. We were waved out of the royal presence and left the palace to make the brief, downhill trip to the Three Ravens.
“I have only one request,” Matthew said as we entered our front door. “I may be a vampire, but April is a cold month in Prague. In deference to the temperature, the costumes you design for Diana and Endymion should be more substantial than a lunar crescent for your hair and a dishcloth to drape around my hips.”
“I’ve only just cast you in this role and you’re already making artistic demands!” I flung up one hand in mock indignation. “Actors!”
“That’s what you deserve for working with amateurs,” Matthew said with a smile. “I know just how the masque should begin: ‘And lo! from opening clouds, I saw emerge / The loveliest moon, that ever silver’ d o’er / A shell for Neptune’s goblet.’”
“You cannot use Keats!” I laughed. “He’s a Romantic poet—it’s three hundred years too soon.”
“‘She did soar / So passionately bright, my dazzled soul / Commingling with her argent spheres did roll / Through clear and cloudy, even when she went / At last into a dark and vapoury tent,’” he exclaimed dramatically, pulling me into his arms.
“And I suppose you’ll want me to find you a tent,” Gallowglass said, thundering down the stairs.
“And some sheep. Or maybe an astrolabe. Endymion can be either a shepherd or an astronomer,” Matthew said, weighing his options.
“Rudolf’s gamekeeper will never part with one of his strange sheep, so you’re going to have to be an astronomer.”
“Matthew can use my compendium.” I looked around. It was supposed to be on the mantelpiece, out of Jack’s reach. “Where has it gone?”
“Annie and Jack are showing it to Mop. They think it’s enchanted.”
Until then I hadn’t noticed the threads running straight up the stairs from the fireplace—silver, gold, and gray. In my rush to reach the children and find out what was going on with the compendium, I stepped on the hem of my skirt. By the time I reached Annie and Jack, I’d managed to give the bottom a new, scalloped edge.
Annie and Jack had the little brass-and-silver compendium opened up like a book, its inner wings folded out to their full extent. Rudolf’s desire had been to give me something to track the movements of the heavens, and Habermel had outdone himself. The compendium contained a sundial, a compass, a device to compute the length of the hours at different seasons of the year, an intricate lunar volvelle— whose gears could be set to tell the date, time, ruling sign of the zodiac, and phase of the moon—and a latitude chart that included (at my request) the cities of Roanoke, London, Lyon, Prague, and Jerusalem. One of the wings had a spine into which I could fit one of the hottest new technologies: the erasable tablet, which was made of specially treated paper that one could write on and then carefully wipe off to make fresh notes.
“Look, Jack, it’s doing it again,” Annie said, peering down at the instrument. Mop (no one in the house called him Lobero anymore, except for Jack) started barking, wagging his tail with excitement as the lunar volvelle began to spin of its own accord.
“I bet you a penny that the full moon will be in the window when the spinning stops,” Jack said, spitting in his hand and holding it out to Annie.
“No betting,” I said automatically, crouching down next to Jack.
“When did this start, Jack?” Matthew asked, fending off Mop.
“It’s been happening since Herr Habermel sent it,” Annie confessed.
“Does it spin like this all day or only at certain times?” I asked.
“Only once or twice. And the compass just spins once.” Annie looked miserable. “I should have told you. I knew it was magical from the way it feels.”
“It’s all right.” I smiled at her. “No harm done.” With that I put my finger in the center of the volvelle and commanded the thing to stop. It did. As soon as the revolutions ceased, the silver and gold threads around the compendium slowly dissolved, leaving only the gray thread behind. It was quickly lost among the many colorful strands that filled our house.
“What does it mean?” Matthew asked later, when the house was quiet and I had my first opportunity to put the compendium out of the children’s reach. I’d decided to leave it atop the flat canopy over our bed. “By the way, everybody hides things on top of the tester. It will be the first place Jack searches for it.”
“Somebody is looking for us.” I pulled the compendium back down and sought out a new place to conceal it.
“In Prague?” Matthew held out his hand for the small instrument, and when I handed it to him, he slipped it into his doublet.
“No. In time.”
Matthew sat down on the bed with a thunk and swore.
“It’s my fault.” I looked at him sheepishly. “I tried to weave a spell so that the compendium would warn me if somebody was thinking of stealing it. The spell was supposed to keep Jack out of trouble. I guess I need to go back to the drawing board.”
“What makes you think it’s someone in another time?” Matthew asked.
“Because the lunar volvelle is a perpetual calendar. The gears were spinning as though it were trying to input information beyond its technical specifications. It reminds me of the words racing around in Ashmole 782.”
“Maybe the whirring of the compass indicates that whoever is looking for us is in a different place, too. Like the lunar volvelle, the compass can’t find true north because it’s being asked to compute two sets of directions: one for us in Prague and one for someone else.”
“Do you think it’s Ysabeau or Sarah, and they need our help?” It was Ysabeau who had sent Matthew the copy of Doctor Faustus to help us reach 1590.
“No,” Matthew said, his voice sure. “They wouldn’t give us away. It’s someone else.” His gray-green eyes settled on me. The restless, regretful look was back.
“You’re looking at me as though I’ve betrayed you somehow.” I sat next to him on the bed. “If you don’t want me to do the masque, I won’t.”
“It’s not that.” Matthew got up and walked away. “You’re still keeping something from me.”
“We all keep things to ourselves, Matthew,” I said. “Little things that don’t matter. Sometimes big things, say, like being on the Congregation.” His accusations rankled, given all that I still did not know about him.
Matthew’s hands were suddenly on my shoulders, lifting me up. “You will never forgive me for that.” His eyes looked black, and his fingers dug into my arms.
“You promised me you would tolerate my secrets,” I said. “Rabbi Loew is right. Tolerance isn’t enough.”
Matthew released me with a curse. I heard Gallowglass on the steps, Jack’s sleepy murmurs down the hall.
“I’m taking Jack and Annie to Baldwin’s house,” Gallowglass said from the door. “Tereza and Karol?na have already gone. Pierre will come with me, and so will the dog.” His voice dropped. “You frighten the boy when you argue, and he’s known enough fear in his short life. Sort yourselves out or I’ll take them back to London and leave the two of you here to shift for yourselves.” Gallowglass’s blue eyes were fierce.
Matthew sat silently by the fire, a cup of wine in his hands and a dark expression on his face as he stared into the flames. As soon as the group departed, he was on his feet and headed to the door.
Without thinking or planning, I released my firedrake. Stop him, I commanded. She covered him in a gray mist as she flew over and around him, took solid form by the door, and dug the spiked edges of her wings onto either side of its frame. When Matthew got too close, a tongue of fire shot out of her mouth in warning.
“You’re not going anywhere,” I said. It took enormous effort to keep my voice from rising. Matthew might be able to overpower me, but I doubted he could successfully wrestle with my familiar. “My firedrake is a bit like ??rka: small but scrappy. I wouldn’t piss her off.”
Matthew turned, his eyes cold.
“If you’re angry with me, say it. If I’ve done something you don’t like, tell me. If you want to end this marriage, have the courage to end it cleanly so that I might—might—be able to recover from it. Because if you keep looking at me as though you wish we weren’t married, you’re going to destroy me.”
“I have no desire to end this marriage,” he said tightly.
“Then be my husband.” I advanced on him. “Do you know what I thought watching those beautiful birds fly today? ‘That’s what Matthew would look like, if only he were free to be himself.’ And when I saw you put on ??rka’s hood, blinding her so that she couldn’t hunt and kill as her instincts tell her to do, I saw the same look of regret in her eyes that I have seen in yours every day since I lost the baby.”
“This isn’t about the baby.” His eyes held a warning now.
“No. It’s about me. And you. And something so terrifying you can’t acknowledge it: that in spite of your so-called powers over life and death, you don’t control everything and can’t keep me, or anyone else you love, from harm.”
“And you think it’s losing the baby that brought that fact home?”
“What else could it be? Your guilt over Blanca and Lucas nearly destroyed you.”
“You’re wrong.” Matthew’s hands were wrapped in my hair, pulling down the knot of braids and releasing the scent of chamomile and mint from the soap I used. His pupils looked inky and huge. He drank in the scent of me, and some of the green returned.
“Tell me what it is, then.”
“This.” He reached for the edge of my bodice and rent it in two. Then he loosened the cord that kept the wide neckline of my smock from sliding off my shoulders so that it exposed the tops of my breasts. His finger traced the blue vein that surfaced there and continued beneath the folds of linen.
“Every day of my life is a battle for control. I fight my anger and the sickness that follows in its wake. I struggle with hunger and thirst, because I don’t believe it is right for me to take blood from other creatures—not even the animals, though I can bear that better than taking it from someone I might see again on the street.” His eyes rose to mine. “And I am at war with myself over this unspeakable urge to possess you body and soul in ways that no warmblood can fathom.”
“You want my blood,” I whispered in sudden understanding. “You lied to me.”
“I lied to myself.”
“I told you—repeatedly—that you can have it,” I said. I grabbed at the smock and tore it further, bending my head to the side and exposing my jugular. “Take it. I don’t care. I just want you back.” I bit back a sob.
“You’re my mate. I would never voluntarily take blood from your neck.” Matthew’s fingers were cool on my flesh as he drew the smock back into place. “When I did so in Madison, it was because I was too weak to stop myself.”
“What’s wrong with my neck?” I said, confused.
“Vampires only bite strangers and subordinates on the neck. Not lovers. Certainly not mates.”
“Dominance,” I said, thinking back to our previous conversations about vampires, blood, and sex, “and feeding. So it’s mostly humans who get bitten there. There’s the kernel of truth in that vampire legend.”
“Vampires bite their mates here,” Matthew said, “near the heart.” His lips pressed against the bare flesh above the edge of my smock. It was where he had kissed me on our wedding night, when his emotions had overwhelmed him.
“I thought your wanting to kiss me there was just ordinary lust,” I said.
“There is nothing ordinary about a vampire’s desire to take blood from this vein.” He moved his mouth a centimeter lower along the blue line and pressed his lips again.
“But if it’s not about feeding or dominance, what is it about?”
“Honesty.” When Matthew met my eyes, they were still more black than green. “Vampires keep too many secrets to ever be completely honest. We could never share them all verbally, and most are too complex to make sense, even when you try. And there are prohibitions against sharing secrets in my world.”
“‘It’s not your tale to tell,’” I said. “I’ve heard that a few times.”
“To drink from your lover is to know that nothing is hidden.” Matthew stared down at my breast, touched the vein again with his fingertip. “We call this the heart vein. The blood tastes sweeter here. There is a sense of complete possession and belonging—but it requires complete control, too, not to be swept up in the strong emotions that result.” His voice was sad.
“And you don’t trust your control because of the blood rage.”
“You’ve seen me in its grip. It’s sparked by protectiveness. And who poses a greater danger to you than I do?”
I shrugged the smock off my shoulders, pulling my arms out of the sleeves until I was bare from the waist up. I felt for the lacings on my skirt and yanked them free.
“Don’t.” Matthew’s eyes had blackened further. “There is no one here in case—”
“You drain me?” I stepped out of my skirt. “If you couldn’t trust yourself to do this when Philippe was within earshot, you’re not likely to do it with Gallowglass and Pierre standing by to help.”
“This isn’t a matter for jokes.”
“No.” I took his hands in mine. “It’s a matter for husbands and wives. It’s a matter of honesty and trust. I have nothing to hide from you. If taking blood from my vein is going to put an end to your incessant need to hunt down what you imagine to be my secrets, then that is what you’re going to do.”
“It isn’t something a vampire does just once,” Matthew warned, trying to pull away.
“I didn’t think it was.” I threaded my fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck. “Take my blood. Take my secrets. Do what your instincts are screaming for you to do. There are no hoods or jesses here. In my arms you should be free, even if nowhere else.”
I drew his mouth to mine. He responded tentatively at first, his fingers wrapped around my wrists as if he hoped to break away at the earliest opportunity. But his instincts were strong and his yearning palpable. The threads that bound the world shifted and adjusted around me as if to make room for such powerful feelings. I drew gently away, my breasts lifting with each breath.
He looked so frightened that it hurt my heart. But there was desire, too. Fear and desire. No wonder they’d featured in his All Souls essay back when he’d won his fellowship. Who could understand the war between them better than a vampire?
“I love you,” I whispered, dropping my hands so that they hung by my sides. He had to do this himself. I couldn’t play any role in bringing his mouth to my vein.
The wait was excruciating, but at last he lowered his head. My heart was beating fast, and I heard him draw in a deep, long breath.
“Honey. You always smell like honey,” he murmured in amazement, just before his sharp teeth broke the skin.
When he’d taken my blood before, Matthew had been careful to anesthetize the site with a touch of his own blood so that I felt no pain. Not so this time, but soon the skin went numb from the pressure of Matthew’s mouth on my flesh. His hands cradled me as he angled me back toward the surface of the bed. I hung in midair waiting for him to be satisfied that there was nothing between us but love.
About thirty seconds after he started, Matthew stopped. He looked up at me in surprise, as if he’d discovered something unexpected. His eyes went full black, and for one fleeting moment I though that the blood rage was surfacing.
“It’s all right, my love,” I whispered.
Matthew lowered his head, drinking in more of my blood and thoughts until he discovered what he needed. It took little more than a minute. He kissed the place over my heart with the same expression of gentle reverence he had worn on our wedding night at Sept-Tours and looked up at me shyly.
“And what did you find?” I asked.
“You. Only you,” Matthew murmured.
His shyness quickly turned to hunger as he kissed me, and before long we were twined together. Except for our brief encounter standing against the wall, we had not made love for weeks, and our rhythm was awkward at first as we remembered how to move together. My body coiled tighter and tighter. Another fast glide, a deep kiss, was all it would take to set me flying.
Matthew slowed instead. Our eyes met and locked. I had never seen him look the way he did at that moment—vulnerable, hopeful, beautiful, free. There were no secrets between us now, no emotions guarded in case disaster struck and we were swept along into the dark places where hope couldn’t survive.
“Can you feel me?” Matthew was now a point of stillness at my core. I nodded again. He smiled and moved with deliberate care. “I’m inside you, Diana, giving you life.”
I’d said the same words to him as he drank my blood and pulled himself from the edge of death back into the world. I didn’t think he’d been aware of them at the time.
He moved within me again, repeating the words like an incantation. It was the simplest, purest form of magic in the world. Matthew was already woven into my soul. He was now woven into my body, just as I was woven into his. My heart, which had broken and broken again in the past months with every sad touch and regretful look, began to knit together once more.
When the sun crept over the horizon, I reached up and touched him between the eyes.
“I wonder if I could read your thoughts, too.”
“You already have,” Matthew said, lowering my fingers and kissing their tips. “Back in Oxford, when you received the picture of your parents. You weren’t conscious of what you were doing. But you kept answering questions I wasn’t able to ask aloud.”
“Can I try again?” I asked, half expecting him to say no.
“Of course. If you were a vampire I would already have offered my blood.” He lay back on the pillow.
I hesitated for a moment, stilled my thoughts, and focused on a simple question. How can I know Matthew’s mind?
A single silver thread shimmered between my heart and the spot on his forehead where his third eye would be if he were a witch. The thread shortened, drawing me closer until my lips pressed against his skin.
An explosion of sights and sounds burst in my head like fireworks. I saw Jack and Annie, Philippe and Ysabeau. I saw Gallowglass and men I didn’t recognize who occupied important places in Matthew’s heart. I saw Eleanor and Lucas. There was a feeling of triumph as he conquered some scientific mystery, a shout of joy as he rode out in the forest to hunt and kill as he was made to do. I saw myself, smiling up at him.
Then I saw the face of Herr Fuchs, the vampire I’d met in the Jewish town, and heard quite distinctly the words My son, Benjamin.
I sat back on my heels abruptly, my fingers touching my trembling lips.
“What is it?” Matthew said, sitting up and frowning.
“Herr Fuchs!” I looked at him in horror, afraid he had thought the worst. “I didn’t realize he was your son, that he was Benjamin.” There hadn’t been a hint of blood rage about him.
“It”s not your fault. You’re not a vampire, and Benjamin only reveals what he chooses.” Matthew’s voice was soothing. “I must have sensed his presence around you—a trace of scent, some inkling that he was near. That’s what made me think you were keeping something from me. I was wrong. I’m sorry for doubting you, mon coeur.”
“But Benjamin must have known who I was. Your scent would have been all over me.”
“Of course he knew,” Matthew said dispassionately. “I will look for him tomorrow, but if Benjamin doesn’t want to be found, there will be nothing to do but warn Gallowglass and Philippe. They’ll let the rest of the family know that Benjamin has reappeared.”
“The only thing more frightening than Benjamin in the grip of blood rage is Benjamin when he is lucid, as he was when you were with Rabbi Loew. It is as Jack said,” Matthew replied. “The most terrifying monsters always look just like ordinary men.”
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