فصل 34

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فصل 34

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Chapter Thirty Four

“You failed me!”

A red damask shoe sailed through the air. Matthew tilted his head just before it struck. The shoe continued past his ear, knocked a bejeweled armillary sphere off the table, and came to rest on the floor. The interlocking rings of the sphere spun around in their fixed orbits in impotent frustration.

“I wanted Kelley, you fool. Instead I got the emperor’s ambassador, who told me of your many indiscretions. When he demanded to see me, it was not yet eight o’clock and the sun had barely risen.” Elizabeth Tudor was suffering from a toothache, which didn’t improve her disposition. She sucked in one cheek to cushion the infected molar and grimaced. “And where were you? Creeping back into my presence with no concern for my suffering.”

A blue-eyed beauty stepped forward and handed Her Majesty a cloth saturated with clove oil. With Matthew seething next to me, the spiciness in the room was already overpowering. Elizabeth placed the cloth delicately between her cheek and gums, and the woman stepped away, her green gown swishing around her ankles. It was an optimistic hue for this cloudy day in May, as if she hoped to speed summer’s arrival. The fourthfloor tower room in Greenwich Palace afforded a sweeping view of the gray river, muddy ground, and England’s stormy skies. In spite of the many windows, the silvery morning light did little to dispel heaviness of the room, which was resolutely masculine and early Tudor in its furnishings. The carved initials on the ceiling—an intertwined H and A for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn—indicated that the room had been decorated around the time of Elizabeth’s birth and seldom used since.

“Perhaps we should hear Master Roydon out before you throw the inkwell,” William Cecil suggested mildly. Elizabeth’s arm stopped, but she didn’t put down the weighty metal object.

“We do have news of Kelley,” I began, hoping to help.

“We did not seek your opinion, Mistress Roydon,” the queen of England said sharply. “Like too many women at my court, you are utterly without governance or decorum. If you wish to remain at Greenwich with your husband rather than being sent back to Woodstock where you belong, you would be wise to take Mistress Throckmorton as your model. She does not speak unless directed to do so.”

Mistress Throckmorton glanced at Walter, who was standing next to Matthew. We had met him on the back stairs to the queen’s private chambers, and though Matthew dismissed it as unnecessary, Walter had insisted on accompanying us into the lion’s den.

Bess’s lips compressed as she held back her amusement, but her eyes danced. The fact that the queen’s attractive young ward and her dashing, saturnine pirate were intimate was apparent to everyone save Elizabeth. Cupid had managed to ensnare Sir Walter Raleigh, just as Matthew promised. The man was utterly besotted.

Walter’s mouth softened at his lover’s challenging stare, and the frank appraisal he gave her in return promised that the subject of her decorum would be addressed in a more private venue.

“As you do not require Diana’s presence, perhaps you will let my wife go home and take her rest as I requested,” Matthew said evenly, though his eyes were as black and angry as the queen’s. “She has been traveling for some weeks.” The royal barge had intercepted us before we’d even set foot at the Blackfriars.

“Rest! I have had nothing but sleepless nights since hearing of your adventures in Prague. She will rest when I am through with you!” Elizabeth shrieked, the inkwell following in the path of the royal footwear. When it veered toward me like a late-breaking curveball, Matthew reached out and caught it. Wordlessly he passed it to Raleigh, who tossed it to the groom already in possession of the queen’s shoe.

“Master Roydon would be far more difficult to replace than that astronomical toy, Majesty.” Cecil held out an embroidered cushion. “Perhaps you would consider this if you are in need of further ammunition.”

“Do not think to direct me, Lord Burghley!” the queen fumed. She turned with fury on Matthew. “Sebastian St. Clair did not treat my father thus. He would not have dared to provoke the Tudor lion.”

Bess Throckmorton blinked at the unfamiliar name. Her golden head turned from Walter to the queen like a spring daffodil seeking out the sun. Cecil coughed gently at the young woman’s evident confusion.

“Let us reminisce about your blessed father at some other time, when we can devote proper attention to his memory. Did you not have questions for Master Roydon?” The queen’s secretary looked at Matthew apologetically. Which devil would you prefer? his expression seemed to say.

“You are right, William. It is not in the nature of lions to dally with mice and other insignificant creatures.” The queen’s disdain somehow managed to diminish Matthew to the size of a small boy. Once he looked suitably contrite—though the muscle ticking in his jaw made me wonder how sincere his remorse really was—she took a moment to steady herself, her hands retaining a white-knuckled grip on the chair’s arms.

“I wish to know how my Shadow bungled matters so badly.” Her voiced turned plaintive. “The emperor has alchemists aplenty. He does not need mine.”

Walter’s shoulders lowered a fraction, and Cecil smothered a sigh of relief. If the queen was calling Matthew by his nickname, then her anger was already softening.

“Edward Kelley cannot be plucked from the emperor’s court like a stray weed, no matter how many roses grow there,” Matthew said. “Rudolf values him too highly.”

“So Kelley has succeeded at last. The philosopher’s stone is in his possession,” Elizabeth said with a sharp intake of breath. She clutched at the side of her face as the air hit her sore tooth.

“No, he hasn’t succeeded—and that’s the heart of the matter. So long as Kelley promises more than he is able to produce, Rudolf will never part with him. The emperor behaves like an inexperienced youth rather than a seasoned monarch, fascinated by what he cannot have. His Majesty loves the chase. It fills his days and occupies his dreams,” Matthew said impassively.

The sodden fields and swollen rivers of Europe had put us at a considerable distance from Rudolf II, but there were moments when I could still feel his unwelcome touch and acquisitive glances. In spite of the May warmth and the fire blazing in the hearth, I shivered.

“The new French ambassador writes to me that Kelley has turned copper into gold.”

“Philippe de Mornay is no more trustworthy than your former ambassador—who, as I recall, attempted to assassinate you.” Matthew’s tone was perfectly poised between obsequiousness and irritation. Elizabeth did a double take.

“Are you baiting me, Master Roydon?”

“I would never bait a lion—or even the lion’s cub,” Matthew drawled. Walter closed his eyes as if he couldn’t bear to witness the inevitable devastation. “I was badly scarred after one such encounter and have no desire to mar my beauty further for fear that you could no longer abide the sight of me.”

There was a shocked silence, broken at last by an unladylike bellow of laughter. Walter’s eyes popped open.

“You got what you deserved, sneaking up on a young maid when she was sewing,” Elizabeth said with something that sounded very much like indulgence. I shook my head slightly, sure I was hearing things.

“I shall keep that in mind, Majesty, should I happen upon another young lioness with a sharp pair of shears.”

Walter and I were now as confused as Bess. Only Matthew, Elizabeth, and Cecil seemed to understand what was being said—and what was not.

“Even then you were my Shadow.” The look Elizabeth gave Matthew made her appear to be a girl again and not a woman fast approaching sixty. Then I blinked, and she was an aging, tired monarch once more. “Leave us.”

“Your . . . M-majesty?” Bess stammered.

“I wish to speak to Master Roydon privately. I don’t suppose he will permit his loose-tongued wife out of his sight, so she may stay, too. Wait for me in my privy chamber, Walter. Take Bess with you. We shall join you presently.”

“But—” Bess protested. She looked about nervously. Staying near the queen was her job, and without protocol to guide her she was at sea.

“You shall have to help me instead, Mistress Throckmorton.” Cecil took several painful steps away from the queen, aided by his heavy stick. As he passed by Matthew, Cecil gave him a hard look. “We will leave Master Roydon to see to Her Majesty’s welfare.”

When the queen waved the grooms out of the room, the three of us were left alone.

“Jesu,” Elizabeth said with a groan. “My head feels like a rotten apple about to split. Could you not have chosen a more opportune time to cause a diplomatic incident?”

“Let me examine you,” Matthew requested.

“You think to provide me care that my surgeon cannot, Master Roydon?” said the queen with wary hope.

“I believe I can spare you some pain, if God wills it.”

“Even unto his death, my father spoke of you with longing.” Elizabeth’s hands twitched against the folds of her skirt. “He likened you to a tonic, whose benefits he had failed to appreciate.”

“How so?” Matthew made no effort to hide his curiosity. This was not a story he had heard before.

“He said you could rid him of an evil humor faster than any man he had ever known—though, like most physic, you could be difficult to swallow.” Elizabeth smiled at Matthew’s booming laughter, and then her smile faltered. “He was a great and terrible man—and a fool.”

“All men are fools, Your Majesty,” Matthew said swiftly.

“No. Let us speak plainly to each other again, as though I were not queen of England and you were not a wearh.”

“Only if you let me look at your tooth,” Matthew said, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Once an invitation to share intimacies with me would have been sufficient inducement, and you would not have attached further conditions to my proposal.” Elizabeth sighed. “I am losing more than my teeth. Very well, Master Roydon.” She opened her mouth obediently. Even though I was a few feet away, I could smell the decay. Matthew took her head in his hands so that he could see the problem more clearly.

“It is a miracle you have any teeth at all,” he said sternly. Elizabeth turned pink with irritation and struggled to reply. “You may shout at me when I am done. By then you will have good reason to do so, as I will have confiscated your candied violets and sweet wine. That will leave you with nothing more damaging to drink than peppermint water and nothing to suck on but a clove rub for your gums. They are badly abscessed.”

Matthew drew his finger along her teeth. Several of them wiggled alarmingly, and Elizabeth’s eyes bulged. He made a sound of displeasure.

“You may be queen of England, Lizzie, but that doesn’t give you a knowledge of physic and surgery. It would have been wiser to heed the surgeon’s advice. Now, hold still.”

While I tried to regain my composure after hearing my husband call the queen of England “Lizzie,” Matthew withdrew his index finger, rubbed it against his own sharp eyetooth so that it drew a bead of blood, and returned it to Elizabeth’s mouth. Though he was careful, the queen winced. Then her shoulders lowered in relief.

“’Ank ’ewe,” she mumbled around his fingers.

“Don’t thank me yet. There won’t be a comfit or sweetmeat for five miles when I’m through. And the pain will return, I’m afraid.” Matthew drew his fingers away, and the queen felt around her mouth with her tongue.

“Aye, but for now it is gone,” she said gratefully. Elizabeth gestured at the nearby chairs. “I fear there is nothing left but to settle accounts. Sit down and tell me about Prague.”

After spending weeks at the emperor’s court, I knew it was an extraordinary privilege to be invited to sit in the presence of any ruler, but I was doubly grateful for the chance to do so now. The voyage had exacerbated the normal fatigue of the first weeks of pregnancy. Matthew pulled out one of the chairs for me, and I lowered myself into it. I pressed the small of my back against the carving, using its knobs and bumps to give the aching joints a massage. Matthew’s hand automatically reached for the same area, pushing and kneading to relieve the soreness. Envy flashed across the queen’s features.

“You are in pain, too, Mistress Roydon?” the queen inquired solicitously. She was being too nice. When Rudolf treated a courtier like this, something sinister was usually afoot.

“Yes, Your Majesty. Alas, it is nothing peppermint water will solve,” I said ruefully.

“Nor will it smooth the emperor’s ruffled feathers. His ambassador tells me that you have stolen one of Rudolf’s books.”

“Which book?” Matthew asked. “Rudolf has so many.” As most vampires had not been acquainted with the state of innocence for some time, his performance of it rang hollow.

“We are not playing games, Sebastian,” the queen said quietly, confirming my suspicion that Matthew had gone by the name of Sebastian St. Clair when he was at Henry’s court.

“You are always playing games,” he shot back. “In this you are no different from the emperor, or Henry of France.”

“Mistress Throckmorton told me that you and Walter have been exchanging verses about the fickleness of power. But I am not one of those vain potentates, fit for nothing save scorn and ridicule. I was raised by hard schoolmasters,” the queen retorted. “Those around me—mother, aunts, stepmothers, uncles, cousins—are gone. I survived. So do not give me the lie and think to get away with it. I ask you again, what of the book?”

“We don’t have it,” I interjected.

Matthew looked at me in shock.

“The book is not in our possession. At present.” It was doubtless already at the Hart and Crown, safely tucked into Matthew’s attic archive. I’d passed the book to Gallowglass, wrapped in protective oilskin and leather, when the royal barge had pulled alongside us on our way up the Thames.

“Well, well.” Elizabeth’s mouth slowly widened, showing her blackened teeth. “You surprise me. And your husband too, it seems.”

“I am nothing but surprises, Your Majesty. Or so I am told.” No matter how many times Matthew referred to her as Lizzie or she called him Sebastian, I was careful to address her formally.

“The emperor seems to be in the grip of some illusion, then. How do you account for it?”

“There is nothing remarkable about that,” Matthew said with a snort. “I fear the madness that has afflicted his family is now touching Rudolf. Even now his brother Matthias plots his downfall and positions himself to seize power when the emperor can no longer rule.”

“No wonder the emperor is so eager to keep Kelley. The philosopher’s stone will cure him and make the issue of his successor moot.” The queen’s expression soured. “He will live on forever, without fear.”

“Come, Lizzie. You know better than that. Kelley cannot make the stone. He cannot save you or anyone else. Even queens and emperors must one day die.”

“We are friends, Sebastian, but do not forget yourself.” Elizabeth’s eyes glittered.

“When you were seven and asked me if your father planned to kill his new wife, I told you the truth. I was honest with you then, and I will be honest with you now, however much it angers you. Nothing will bring your youth back, Lizzie, or resurrect those you have lost,” Matthew said implacably.

“Nothing?” Elizabeth slowly studied him. “I see no lines or gray hairs on you. You look exactly as you did fifty years ago at Hampton Court when I took my shears to you.”

“If you are asking me to use my blood to make you a wearh, Your Majesty, the answer must be no. The covenant forbids meddling in human politics—and that certainly includes altering the English succession by placing a creature on the throne.” Matthew’s expression was forbidding.

“And would that be your answer if Rudolf made this request?” Elizabeth asked, black eyes glittering.

“Yes. It would lead to chaos—and worse.” The prospect was chilling. “Your realm is safe,” Matthew assured her. “The emperor is behaving like a spoiled child denied a treat. That is all.”

“Even now his uncle, Philip of Spain, is building ships. He plans another invasion!”

“And it will come to nothing,” Matthew promised.

“You sound very sure.”

“I am.”

Lion and wolf regarded each other across the table. When at last Elizabeth was satisfied, she looked away with a sigh.

“Very well. You don’t have the emperor’s book, and I do not have Kelley or the stone. We must all learn to live with disappointment. Still, I must give the emperor’s ambassador something to sweeten his mood.”

“What about this?” I drew my purse from my skirts. Apart from Ashmole 782 and the ring on my finger, it contained my most treasured possessions—the silken cords that Goody Alsop had given me to weave my spells, a smooth pebble of glass Jack had found in the sands of the Elbe and taken for a jewel, a fragment of precious bezoar stone for Susanna to use in her medicines, Matthew’s salamanders. And one hideously ornate collar with a dying dragon hanging from it that had been given to me by the Holy Roman Emperor. I placed the last on the table between the queen and me.

“That is a bauble for a queen, not a gentleman’s wife.” Elizabeth reached out to touch the sparkling dragon. “What did you give to Rudolf that he would bestow this upon you?”

“It is as Matthew said, Your Majesty. The emperor covets what he can never have. He thought this might win my affections. It did not,” I said with a shake of my head.

“Perhaps Rudolf cannot bear to have others know that he let something so valuable slip away,” Matthew suggested.

“Do you mean your wife or this jewel?”

“My wife,” Matthew said shortly.

“The jewel might be useful anyway. Perhaps he meant to give the necklace to me,” Elizabeth mused, “but you took it upon yourself to carry it here for its greater safety.”

“Diana’s German is not very good,” Matthew agreed with a wry smile. “When Rudolf put it over her shoulders, he might have been doing so only to better imagine how it would look on you.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Elizabeth said drily.

“If the emperor intended this necklace for the queen of England, he would have wished to give it to her with appropriate ceremony. If we give the ambassador the credit he is due . . .” I suggested.

“There’s a pretty solution. It will satisfy no one, of course, but it will give my courtiers something to cut their teeth on until some new curiosity emerges.” Elizabeth tapped the table pensively. “But there’s still the matter of this book.”

“Would you believe me if I told you it wasn’t important?” Matthew asked.

Elizabeth shook her head. “No.”

“I thought not. What of the opposite—that the future may depend upon it?” Matthew asked.

“That is even more far-fetched. But since I have no desire for Rudolf or any of his kin to hold the future in their grasp, I will leave the matter of returning it to you—should it ever come into your possession again, of course.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” I said, relieved that the matter had been resolved with relatively few lies.

“I did not do it for you,” Elizabeth reminded me sharply. “Come, Sebastian. Hang the jewel around my neck. Then you can transform yourself back into Master Roydon and we will go down to the presence chamber and put on a show of gratitude to amaze them all.”

Matthew did as he was bid, his fingers lingering on the queen’s shoulders longer than was necessary. She patted his hand.

“Is my wig straight?” Elizabeth asked me as she rose to her feet.

“Yes, Your Majesty.” In truth it was slightly askew after Matthew’s ministrations.

Elizabeth reached up and gave her wig a tug. “Teach your wife how to tell a convincing lie, Master Roydon. She will need to be better schooled in the arts of deceit, or she will not survive long at court.”

“The world needs honesty more than it needs another courtier,” commented Matthew, taking her elbow. “Diana will remain as she is.”

“A husband who values honesty in his own wife.” Elizabeth shook her head. “This is the best evidence I have yet seen that the world is coming to an end as Dr. Dee foretold.”

When Matthew and the queen appeared in the doorway to the privy chamber, a hush fell over the crowd. The room was packed to the rafters, and wary glances darted from the queen to a youth the age of an undergraduate I took to be the imperial ambassador, to William Cecil and back. Matthew released the queen’s hand, which was held aloft on his bent arm. My firedrake’s wings beat with alarm inside my ribs.

I put my hand on my diaphragm to soothe the beast. Here be the real dragons, I silently warned.

“I thank the emperor for his gift, Your Excellency,” Elizabeth said, walking straight toward the teenager with her hand extended for him to kiss. The young man stared at her blankly. “Gratias tibi ago.”

“They get younger all the time,” Matthew murmured as he drew me next to him.

“That’s what I say about my students,” I whispered back. “Who is he?”

“Vilém Slavata. You must have seen his father in Prague.”

I studied young Vilém and tried to imagine what he might look like in twenty years. “Was his father the round one with the dimpled chin?”

“One of them. You’ve described most of Rudolf’s officials,” Matthew pointed out when I shot him an exasperated glance.

“Stop whispering, Master Roydon!” Elizabeth turned a withering glance on my husband, who bowed apologetically. Her Majesty continued, rattling on in Latin. “‘Decet eum qui dat, non meminisse beneficii: eum vero, qui accipit, intueri non tam munus quam dantis animum.’” The queen of England had set the ambassador a language examination to see if he was worthy of her.

Slavata blanched. The poor boy was going to fail it.

It becomes him who gives not to remember the favor: but it becomes she who receives not to look upon the gift as much as the soul of the giver. I coughed to hide my chortle once I’d sorted out the translation.

“Your Majesty?” Vilém stammered in heavily accented English.

“Gift. From the emperor.” Elizabeth pointed imperiously at the collar of enameled crosses draped over her slim shoulders. The dragon hung down further on Her Majesty than it had on me. She sighed with exaggerated exasperation. “Tell him what I said in his own language, Master Roydon. I do not have the patience for Latin lessons. Does the emperor not educate his servants?”

“His Excellency knows Latin, Your Majesty. Ambassador Slavata attended university at Wittenberg and went on to study law at Basel, if my memory serves. It is not the language that confuses him but your message.”

“Then let us be right clear so that he—and his master—receive it. And not for my sake,” Elizabeth said darkly. “Proceed.” With a shrug, Matthew repeated Her Majesty’s message in Slavata’s native tongue.

“I understood what she said,” young Slavata responded, dazed. “But what does she mean?”

“You are confused,” Matthew continued sympathetically in Czech. “It is common among new ambassadors. Don’t worry about it. Tell the queen that Rudolf is delighted to give her this jewel. Then we can have dinner.”

“Will you tell her for me?” Slavata was completely out of his depth.

“I do hope you have not caused another misunderstanding between Emperor Rudolf and me, Master Roydon,” Elizabeth said, plainly irritated that her command of seven languages did not extend to Czech.

“His Excellency reports that the emperor wishes Your Majesty health and happiness. And Ambassador Slavata is delighted that the necklace is where it belongs and not missing, as the emperor feared.” Matthew looked at his mistress benignly. She started to say something, closed her mouth with a snap, and glared at him. Slavata, eager to learn, wanted to know how Matthew had managed to silence the queen of England. When the ambassador made a gesture to encourage Matthew to translate, Cecil took the young man in hand.

“Delightful news, Excellency. I think you’ve had lessons enough for one day. Come, dine with me,” Cecil said, steering him to a nearby table. The queen, upstaged now by both her spy and her chief adviser, harrumphed as she climbed the dais, helped up the three low stairs by Bess Throckmorton and Raleigh.

“What happens now?” I whispered. The show was over, and the room’s occupants were displaying signs of restlessness

“I will wish to talk further, Master Roydon,” Elizabeth called while her cushions were being arranged to her satisfaction. “Do not go far.”

“Pierre will be in the presence chamber next door. He’ll show you to my room, where there’s a bed and some peace and quiet. You can rest until Her Majesty frees me. It shouldn’t take long. She only wants a full report on Kelley.” Matthew brought my hand to his lips and gave it a formal kiss.

Knowing Elizabeth’s fondness for her male attendants, it could well take hours.

Even though I was braced for the clamor of the presence chamber, it knocked me back a step. Courtiers not sufficiently important to warrant dining in the privy chamber jostled me as they passed, eager to get to their own dinner before the food was gone. My stomach flipped over at the scent of roasted venison. I would never get used to it, and the baby didn’t like it either.

Pierre and Annie were standing by the wall with the other servants. They both looked relieved as I came into view.

“Where is milord?” Pierre asked, pulling me out of the crush of bodies.

“Waiting on the queen,” I said. “I’m too tired to stand up—or eat. Can you take me to Matthew’s room?”

Pierre cast a worried look at the entrance to the privy chamber. “Of course.”

“I know the way, Mistress Roydon,” Annie said. Newly returned from Prague and well into her second visit to the court of Elizabeth, Annie was affecting an attitude of studied nonchalance.

“I showed her milord’s room when you were led away to see Her Majesty,” Pierre assured me. “It is just downstairs, below the apartments once used by the king’s wife.”

“And now used by the queen’s favorites, I suppose,” I said under my breath. No doubt that’s where Walter was sleeping—or not sleeping, as the case may be. “Wait here for Matthew, Pierre. Annie and I can find our way.”

“Thank you, madame.” Pierre looked at me gratefully. “I do not like to leave him too long with the queen.”

The members of the queen’s staff were tucking into their dinner in the far-less-splendid surrounds of the guard chamber. They regarded Annie and me with idle curiosity as we walked through.

“There must be a more direct route,” I said, biting my lip and looking down the long flight of stairs. The Great Hall would be even more crowded.

“I’m sorry, mistress, but there isn’t,” Annie said apologetically.

“Let’s face the mob, then,” I said with a sigh.

The Great Hall was thronged with petitioners for the queen’s attention. A rustle of excitement greeted my appearance from the direction of the royal apartments, followed by murmurs of disappointment when I proved to be no one of consequence. After Rudolf’s court I was more accustomed to being an object of attention, but it was still uncomfortable to feel the heavy gaze of the humans, the few nudges from daemons, the tingling glance of a solitary witch. When the cold stare of a vampire settled on my back, though, I looked around in alarm.

“Mistress?” Annie inquired.

My eyes scanned the crowd, but I was unable to locate the source.

“Nothing, Annie,” I murmured, uneasy. “It’s just my imagination playing tricks.”

“You are in need of rest,” she chided, sounding very like Susanna. But no rest awaited me in Matthew’s spacious ground-floor rooms overlooking the queen’s private gardens. Instead I found England’s premier playwright. I sent Annie to extract Jack from whatever mess he’d gotten himself into and steeled myself to face Christopher Marlowe.

“Hello, Kit,” I said. The daemon looked up from Matthew’s desk, pages of verse scattered around him. “All alone?”

“Walter and Henry are dining with the queen. Why are you not with them?” Kit looked pale, thin, and distracted. He rose and began to gather his papers, glancing anxiously at the door as though he expected someone to walk in and interrupt us.

“Too tired.” I yawned. “But there’s no need for you to go. Stay and wait for Matthew. He will be glad to see you. What are you writing?”

“A poem.” After this abrupt reply, Kit sat. Something was off. The daemon seemed positively twitchy.

The tapestry on the wall behind him showed a golden-haired maiden standing in a tower overlooking the sea. She held up a lantern and peered into the distance. That explains it.

“You’re writing about Hero and Leander.” It was not phrased as a question. Kit had probably been pining for Matthew and working on the epic love poem since we’d boarded ship at Gravesend back in January. He didn’t respond.

After a few moments I recited the relevant lines.

“Some swore he was a maid in mans attire, For in his lookes were all that men desire, A pleasant smiling cheeke, a speaking eye, A brow for Love to banquet roiallye, And such as knew he was a man would say, Leander, thou art made for amorous play: Why art thou not in love and lov’ d of all?”

Kit exploded from his seat. “What witch’s mischief is this? You know what I am doing as soon as I do it.”

“No mischief, Kit. Who would understand how you feel better than I?” I said carefully.

Kit seemed to gather his control, though his hands were shaking as he stood. “I must go. I am to meet someone in the tiltyard. There is talk of a special pageant next month before the queen sets off for her summer travels. I’ve been asked to assist.” Every year Elizabeth progressed around the country with a wagon train of attendants and courtiers, sponging off her nobles and leaving behind enormous debts and empty larders.

“I’ll be sure to tell Matthew you were here. He’ll want to see you.”

A bright gleam entered Marlowe’s eyes. “Perhaps you would like to come with me, Mistress Roydon. It is a fine day, and you have not seen Greenwich.”

“Thank you, Kit.” I was puzzled by his rapid change of mood, but he was, after all, a daemon. And he was mooning over Matthew. Though I’d hoped to rest, and Kit’s overtures were stilted, I should make an effort in the interests of harmony. “Is it far? I’m somewhat tired after the journey.”

“Not far at all.” Kit bowed. “After you.”

The tiltyard at Greenwich resembled a grand track-and-field stadium, with roped-off areas for athletes, stands for spectators, and scattered equipment. Two sets of barricades stretched down the center of the compacted surface.

“Is that where the jousting takes place?” I could imagine the sound of hooves pounding the earth as knights sped toward each other, their lances angled across the necks of their mounts so they could strike their opponent’s shield and unseat him.

“Yes. Would you like to take a closer look?” Kit asked.

The place was deserted. Lances were stuck in the ground here and there. I saw something that looked alarmingly similar to a gibbet, with its upright pole and long arm. Rather than a body, however, a bag of sand swung at the end. It had been run through, and sand trickled out in a thin stream.

“A quintain,” Marlowe explained, gesturing at the device. “Riders aim their lances at the sandbag.” He reached up and gave the arm a push to show me. It swung around, providing a moving target to hone the knight’s skill. Marlowe’s eyes scanned the tiltyard.

“Is the man you’re meeting here?” I looked around, too. But the only person I could see was a tall, dark-haired woman wearing a lavish red dress. She was far in the distance, no doubt having some romantic assignation before dinner.

“Have you seen the other quintain?” Kit pointed in the opposite direction, where a mannequin made of straw and rough burlap was tied to a post. This, too, looked more like a form of execution than a piece of sporting equipment.

I felt a cold, focused glance. Before I could turn around, a vampire caught me with arms that had the familiar sense of being more steel than flesh. But these arms did not belong to Matthew.

“Why, she is even more delicious than I’d hoped,” a woman said, her cold breath snaking around my throat.

Roses. Civet. I registered the scents, tried to remember where I’d smelled the combination before.

Sept-Tours. Louisa de Clermont’s room.

“Something in her blood is irresistible to wearhs,” Kit said roughly. “I do not understand what it is, but even Father Hubbard seems to be in her thrall.”

Sharp teeth rasped against my neck, though they did not break the skin. “It will be amusing to play with her.”

“Our plan was to kill her,” Kit complained. He was even twitchier and more restless now that Louisa was here. I remained silent, trying to figure out what game they were playing. “Then everything will be as it was before.”

“Patience.” Louisa drank in my scent. “Can you smell her fear? It always sharpens my appetite.”

Kit inched closer, fascinated.

“But you are pale, Christopher. Do you need more physic?” Louisa modified her grasp on me so that she could reach into her pocket. She handed Kit a sticky brown lozenge. He took it from her eagerly, thrusting the ball into his mouth. “They are miraculous, are they not? The warmbloods in Germany call them ‘Stones of Immortality,’ for the ingredients somehow make even pitiful humans feel that they are divine. And they have made you feel strong again.”

“It is the witch who weakens me, just as she weakened your brother.” Kit’s eyes turned glassy, and there was a sickeningly sweet tang to his breath. Opiates. No wonder he was behaving so strangely.

“Is that true, witch? Kit says you bound my brother against his will.” Louisa swung me around. Her beautiful face embodied every warmblood’s nightmare of a vampire: porcelain-pale skin, dusky black hair, and dark eyes that were as fogged with opium as Kit’s. Malevolence rolled off her, and her perfectly bowed red lips were not only sensual but cruel. This was a creature who would hunt and kill without a hint of remorse.

“I did not bind your brother. I chose him—and he chose me, Louisa.”

“You know who I am?” Louisa’s dark eyebrows rose.

“Matthew doesn’t keep secrets from me. We are mates. Husband and wife, too. Your father presided over our marriage.” Thank you, Philippe.

“Liar!” Louisa screamed. Her pupils engulfed the iris as her control snapped. It was not just drugs that I would have to contend with but blood rage, too.

“Trust nothing she says,” Kit warned. He pulled a dagger from his doublet and grabbed my hair. I cried out at the pain as he wrenched my head back. Kit’s dagger orbited my right eye. “I am going to pluck out her eyes so that she can no longer use them for enchantments or to see my fate. She knows my death. I am sure of it. Without her witch’s sight, she will have no hold on us—or on Matthew.”

“The witch does not deserve such a swift death,” Louisa said bitterly.

Kit pressed the point into my flesh just under the brow bone, and a drop of blood rolled down my cheek. “That wasn’t our agreement, Louisa. To break her spell, I must have her eyes. Then I want her dead and gone. So long as the witch lives, Matthew will not forget her.”

“Shh, Christopher. Do I not love you? Are we not allies?” Louisa reached for Kit and kissed him deeply. She moved her mouth along his jaw and down to where the blood pounded in his veins. Her lips brushed against the skin, and I saw the smear of blood that accompanied her movement. Kit drew a shuddering breath and closed his eyes.

Louisa drank hungrily from the daemon’s neck. While she did, we stood in a tight knot, locked together in the vampire’s strong arms. I tried to squirm away, but her grip on me only tightened as her teeth and lips battened on Kit.

“Sweet Christopher,” she murmured when she had drunk her fill, licking at the wound. The mark on Kit’s neck was silvery and soft, just like the scar on my breast. Louisa must have fed from him before. “I can taste the immortality in your blood and see the beautiful words that dance through your thoughts. Matthew is a fool not to want to share them with you.”

“He wants only the witch.” Kit touched his neck, imagining that it was Matthew, and not his sister, who had drunk from his veins. “I want her dead.”

“As do I.” Louisa turned her bottomless black eyes on me. “And so we will compete for her. Whoever wins may do with her as she—or he—will to make her atone for the wrongs she has done my brother. Do you agree, my darling boy?”

The two of them were high as kites now that Louisa had shared Kit’s opiate-laden blood. I started to panic, then remembered Philippe’s instructions at Sept-Tours.

Think. Stay alive.

Then I remembered the baby, and my panic returned. I couldn”t do anything that might endanger our child.

Kit nodded. “I will do anything to have Matthew’s regard once more.”

“I thought so.” Louisa smiled and kissed him deeply again. “Shall we choose our colors?”

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