فصل 35

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فصل 35

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Chapter Thirty Five

“You are making a terrible mistake, Louisa,” I warned, struggling against my bonds. She and Kit had removed the shapeless straw-and-burlap mannequin and tied me to the post in its place. Then Kit had blindfolded me with a strip of dark blue silk taken from the tip of one of the waiting lances, so that I could not enchant them with my gaze. The two stood nearby, arguing over who would use the black-and-silver lance and who the green-and-gold.

“You’ll find Matthew with the queen. He’ll explain everything.” I tried to keep my voice steady, but it trembled. Matthew had told me about his sister in modern Oxford, while we drank tea by his fireplace at the Old Lodge. She was as vicious as she was beautiful.

“You dare to utter his name?” Kit was wild with anger.

“Do not speak again, witch, or I will let Christopher remove your tongue after all.” Louisa’s voice was venomous, and I didn’t need to see her eyes to know that poppy and blood rage were not a good mix. The point of Ysabeau’s diamond scratched lightly against my cheek, drawing blood. Louisa had broken my finger wrenching it off and was now wearing it herself.

“I am Matthew’s wife, his mate. What do you imagine his reaction will be when he finds out what you’ve done?”

“You are a monster—a beast. If I win the challenge, I will strip you of your false humanity and expose what lies underneath.” Louisa’s words trickled into my ears like poison. “Once I have, Matthew will see what you truly are, and he will share in our pleasure at your death.”

When their conversation faded into the distance, I had no way of knowing where they were or from which direction they might return. I was utterly alone.

Think. Stay alive.

Something fluttered in my chest. But it wasn’t panic. It was my firedrake. I wasn’t alone. And I was a witch. I didn’t need my eyes to see the world around me.

What do you see? I asked the earth and the air.

It was my firedrake who answered. She chirped and chattered, her wings stirring in the space between my belly and lungs as she assessed the situation.

Where are they? I wondered.

My third eye opened wide, revealing the shimmering colors of late spring in all their blue and green glory. One darker green thread was twisted with white and tangled with something black. I followed it to Louisa, who was climbing onto the back of an agitated horse. It wouldn’t stand still for the vampire and kept shying away. Louisa bit it on the neck, which made the horse stand stock-still but did nothing to alleviate its terror.

I followed another set of threads, these crimson and white, thinking they might lead to Matthew. Instead I saw a bewildering whirl of shapes and colors. I fell—far, far until I landed on a cold pillow. Snow. I drew the cold winter air into my lungs. I was no longer tied to a stake on a late-May afternoon at Greenwich Palace. I was four or five, lying on my back in the small yard behind our house in Cambridge.

And I remembered.

My father and I had been playing after a heavy snowfall. My mittens were Harvard crimson against the white. We were making angels, our arms and legs sweeping up and down. I was fascinated by how, if I moved my arms quickly enough, the white wings seemed to take on a red tinge.

“It’s like the dragon with the fiery wings,” I whispered to my father. His arms stilled.

“When did you see a dragon, Diana?” His voice was serious. I knew the difference between that tone and his usual teasing one. It meant he expected an answer—and a truthful one.

“Lots of times. Mostly at night.” My arms beat faster and faster. The snow underneath their span was changing color, shimmering with green and gold, red and black, silver and blue.

“And where was it?” he whispered, staring at the snowdrifts. They were mounting up around me, heaving and rumbling as though alive. One grew tall and stretched itself into a slender dragon’s head. The drift stretched wide into a pair of wings. The dragon shook flakes of snow from its white scales. When it turned and looked at my father, he murmured something and patted its nose as though he and the dragon had already met. The dragon breathed warm vapor into the frigid air.

“Mostly it’s inside me—here.” I sat up to show my father what I meant. My mittened hands went to the curved bones of my ribs. They were warm through the skin, through my jacket, through the chunky knit of the mittens. “But when she needs to fly, I have to let her out. There’s not enough room for her wings otherwise.”

A pair of shining wings rested on the snow behind me.

“You left your own wings behind,” my father said gravely.

The dragon wormed her way out of the snowdrift. Her silver-and-black eyes blinked as she pulled free, rose into the air, and disappeared over the apple tree, becoming more insubstantial with every flap of her wings. Mine were already fading on the snow behind me.

“The dragon won’t take me with her. And she never stays around for very long,” I said with a sigh. “Why is that, Daddy?”

“Maybe she has somewhere else to be.”

I considered this possibility. “Like when you and Mommy go to school?” It was perplexing to think of parents going to school. All the children on the block thought so, even though most of their parents spent all day at school, too.

“Just like that.” My father was still sitting in the snow, his arms wrapped around his knees. He smiled. “I love the witch in you, Diana.”

“She scares Mommy.”

“Nah.” My father shook his head. “Mommy is just scared of change.”

“I tried to keep the dragon a secret, but I think she knows anyway,” I said glumly.

“Mommies usually do,” my father said. He looked down at the snow. My wings were entirely gone now. “But she knows when you want hot chocolate, too. If we go inside, my guess is she’ll have it ready.” My father got to his feet and held out his hand.

I slipped mine, still wearing crimson mittens, into his warm grip.

“Will you always be here to hold my hand when it gets dark?” I asked. Night was falling, and I was suddenly afraid of the shadows. Monsters lurked in the gloom, strange creatures who watched me as I played.

“Nope,” my father said with a shake of his head. My lip trembled. That wasn’t the answer I wanted. “You’ ll have to be brave enough for both of us one day. But don’t worry.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “You’ ll always have your dragon.”

A drop of blood fell from the pierced skin around my eye to the ground by my feet. Even though I was blindfolded, I could see its leisurely movement and the way it landed with a wet splat. A black shoot emerged from the spot.

Hooves thundered toward me. Someone gave a high, keening cry that conjured up images of ancient battles. The sound made the firedrake even more restless. I couldn’t let them reach me. The results could be deadly.

Instead of trying to see the threads that led to Kit and Louisa, I focused on the ones wrapped in the fibers that bound my wrists and ankles. I was starting to make progress loosening them when something sharp and heavy splintered against my ribs. The impact knocked the breath from my body.

“A hit!” Kit cried. “The witch is mine!”

“A glancing blow,” Louisa corrected. “You must seat the lance in her body to claim her as your prize. You agreed to the rules and must abide by them.”

Sadly, I didn’t know the rules—neither of jousting nor of magic, either. Goody Alsop had made that plain before we left for Prague. All you have now is a wayward firedrake, a glaem that is near to blinding, and a tendency to ask questions that have mischievous answers, she’d said. I’d been neglecting my weaving in favor of court intrigue and stopped pursuing my magic to hunt for Ashmole 782. Perhaps if I’d stayed in London, I would have known how to get myself out of this mess. Instead I was bound to a thick log like a witch about to be set alight.

Think. Stay alive.

“We must try again,” Louisa said. Her words faded as she wheeled her horse around and rode away.

“Don’t do this, Kit,” I said. “Think what it will do to Matthew. If you want me gone, I’ll go. I promise.”

“Your promises are nothing, witch. You will cross your fingers and find a way to wriggle out of your assurances. I can see the glaem about you even now as you try to work your magic against me.”

A glaem near to blinding. Questions that elicit mischievous answers. And a wayward firedrake.

Everything went still.

What should we do? I asked the firedrake.

Her response was to snap her wings, extending them fully. They slid between my ribs, through the flesh, and emerged on either side of my spine. The firedrake stayed where she was, her tail wrapped protectively around my womb. She peeked out from behind my sternum, her silver-and-black eyes bright, and flapped her wings again.

Stay alive, she whispered in reply, her words sending a pall of gray mist into the air around me.

The force of her wings snapped the thick wooden pole at my back, and the barbs on their scalloped edges sliced through the rope that bound my wrists. Something sharp and clawlike cut through the bindings around my ankles, too. I rose twenty feet up into the air as Kit and Louisa entered the firedrake’s disorienting gray cloud. They were moving too quickly to stop or change direction. Their lances crossed, tangled, and the force of the clash sent them both flying from their saddles onto the hard earth below.

I ripped the blindfold from my eyes with my undamaged hand just as Annie appeared at the edge of the tiltyard.

“Mistress!” she cried. But I didn’t want her here, not around Louisa de Clermont.

“Go!” I hissed. My words emerged in fire and smoke as I circled above Kit and Louisa.

Blood trickled from my wrists and feet. Wherever the red beads fell, a black shoot grew. Soon a palisade of slender black trunks surrounded the dazed daemon and vampire. Louisa tried to pull them from the ground, but my magic held.

“Shall I tell you your futures?” I asked harshly. Both stared up at me from their pen with avid, fearful eyes. “You will never get your heart’s desire, Kit, because sometimes what we want most, we cannot have. And you will never fill the hollow places inside you, Louisa—neither with blood nor with anger. And both of you will die, because death comes for all of us sooner or later. But your deaths will not be gentle. I promise you that.”

A whirlwind approached. It stilled, became recognizable as Hancock.

“Davy!” Louisa’s pearly fingers gripped the black stakes that surrounded her. “Help us. The witch used her magic to bring us down. Take her eyes and you will take her power, too. There is a bow and arrow behind you.”

“Matthew is already on his way, Louisa,” Hancock answered. “You are safer in that stockade under Diana’s protection than you would be running from his anger.”

“None of us is safe. She will fulfill the ancient prophecy, the one that Gerbert shared with Maman all those years ago. She will bring down the de Clermonts!”

“There’s no truth in it,” Hancock said with pity.

“There is!” Louisa insisted. “‘Beware the witch with the blood of the lion and the wolf, for with it she shall destroy the children of night.’ This is the witch of the prophecy! Don’t you see?”

“You’re not well, Louisa. I can see that plainly.”

Louisa drew herself up, indignant. “I am a manjasang and in perfect health, Hancock.”

Henry and Jack arrived next, their sides heaving with exertion. Henry scanned the tiltyard.

“Where is she?” he shouted at Hancock, spinning around.

“Up there,” Hancock said, jerking his thumb in the air. “Just like Annie said.”

“Diana.” Henry sighed with relief.

A dark cyclone of gray and black whipped across the tiltyard and came to rest at a broken stake that marked the spot where I had been bound. Matthew needed no one to tell him where I was now. His eyes unerringly found me.

Walter and Pierre were the last to arrive. Pierre was carrying Annie piggyback, her thin arms wrapped tight around his neck. When he stopped, she slid from his back.

“Walter!” Kit cried, joining Louisa at the barrier. “She must be stopped. Let us out. I know what to do now. I spoke with a witch in Newgate, and—”

An arm punched through the black railings, and long, white fingers grabbed Kit around the throat. Marlowe gurgled to silence.

“Not. One. Word.” Matthew’s eyes swept over Louisa.

“Matthieu.” Blood and drugs further slurred Louisa’s French pronunciation of his name. “Thank God you are here. I am glad to see you.”

“You shouldn’t be.” Matthew flung Kit away.

I lowered down behind him, the newly sprouted wings withdrawing back inside my ribs. My firedrake remained alert, however, her tail tightly coiled. Matthew sensed me there and hooked me into his arm, though he never took his eyes off my captives. His fingers brushed against the spot where the lance had gone through bodice, corset, and skin only to be stopped by the bony cage of my ribs. It was damp where the blood had soaked through.

Matthew spun me around and fell to his knees, tearing the fabric from the wound. He swore. One hand settled on my abdomen, and his eyes searched mine.

“I’m fine. We’re fine,” I assured him.

He stood, his eyes black and the vein in his temple throbbing.

“Master Roydon?” Jack sidled closer to Matthew. His chin was trembling. Matthew’s hand shot out and grabbed him by the collar, stopping him before he could get too close to me. Jack didn’t flinch. “Are you having a nightmare?”

Matthew’s hand dropped, releasing the boy.. “Yes, Jack. A terrible nightmare.”

Jack slid his hand into Matthew’s. “I will wait by your side until it passes.” My eyes pricked with tears. It was what Matthew said to him deep in the night, when Jack’s terrors threatened to engulf him.

Matthew’s hand tightened on Jack’s in silent acknowledgment. The two of them stood—one tall and broad and filled with preternatural health, the other slight and awkward and only now shedding the shadows of neglect. Matthew’s rage began to ebb.

“When Annie told me a female wearh had you, I never imagined—” He couldn’t continue.

“It was Christopher!” Louisa cried, distancing herself from the wild daemon at her side. “He said you were enchanted. But I can smell her blood on you. You are not under her spell, but feeding from her.”

“She is my mate,” Matthew explained, his tone deadly. “And she is with child.”

Marlowe’s breath came out in a hiss. His eyes nudged my belly. My broken hand moved to protect our child from the daemon’s gaze.

“’Tis impossible. Matthew cannot . . .” Kit’s confusion turned to fury. “Even now she has bewitched him. How could you betray him thus? Who fathered your child, Mistress Roydon?”

Mary Sidney had assumed I had been raped. Gallowglass had first attributed the baby to a deceased lover or husband, either of which would have roused Matthew’s protective instincts and explained our swift romance. For Kit the only possible answer was that I had cuckolded the man he loved.

“Take her, Hancock!” Louisa begged. “We cannot allow a witch to introduce her bastard into the de Clermont family.”

Hancock shook his head at Louisa and crossed his arms.

“You tried to run my mate down. You drew her blood,” Matthew said. “And the child is no bastard. It’s mine.”

“It is not possible,” Louisa said, but she sounded uncertain.

“The child is mine,” her brother repeated fiercely. “My flesh. My blood.”

“She carries the blood of the wolf,” Louisa whispered. “The witch is the one the prophecy foretold. If the baby lives, it will destroy us all!”

“Get them out of my sight.” Matthew’s voice was dead with rage. “Before I tear them into pieces and feed them to the dogs.” He kicked down the palisade and grabbed his friend and his sister.

“I’m not going—” Louisa began. She looked down to find Hancock’s hand wrapped around her arm.

“Oh, you’ll go where I take you,” he said softly. Hancock worked Ysabeau’s ring from her finger and tossed it to Matthew. “I believe that belongs to your wife.”

“And Kit?” Walter asked, eyeing Matthew warily.

“As they’re so fond of each other, lock them up together.” Matthew thrust the daemon at Raleigh.

“But she’ll—” Walter began.

“Feed on him?” Matthew looked sour. “She has already. The only way a vampire feels the effects of wine or physic is from a warmblood’s vein.”

Walter gauged Matthew’s mood and nodded. “Very well, Matthew. We will follow your wishes. Take Diana and the children home. Leave everything else to Hancock and me.”

“I told him there was nothing to worry about. The baby is fine.” I lowered my smock. We’d come straight home, but Matthew had sent Pierre to fetch Susanna and Goody Alsop anyway. Now the house was full to bursting with angry vampires and witches. “Maybe you can convince him of it.”

Susanna rinsed her hands in the basin of hot, soapy water. “If your husband will not believe his own eyes, nothing I can do or say will persuade him.” She called for Matthew. Gallowglass came with him, the two of them filling the doorway.

“Are you all right, in truth?” Gallowglass’s face was ashen. “I had a broken finger and a cracked rib. I could have gotten them falling on the stairs. Thanks to Susanna, my finger is completely healed.” I stretched my hand. It was still swollen, and I had to wear Ysabeau’s ring on my other hand, but I could move the fingers without pain. The gash in my side would take more time. Matthew had refused to use vampire blood to heal it, so Susanna had resorted to a few magical stitches and a poultice instead.

“There are many good reasons to hate Louisa at this moment,” Matthew said grimly, “but here is something to be thankful for: She did not wish to kill you. Louisa’s aim is impeccable. Had she wanted to put her lance through your heart, you would be dead.”

“Louisa was too preoccupied with the prophecy that Gerbert shared with Ysabeau.”

Gallowglass and Matthew exchanged looks.

“It’s nothing,” Matthew said dismissively, “just some idiotic thing he dreamed up to excite Maman.”

“It was Meridiana’s prophecy, wasn’t it?” I had known it in my bones ever since Louisa mentioned it. The words brought back memories of Gerbert’s touch at La Pierre. And they had made the air around Louisa snap with electricity, as though she were Pandora and had taken the lid off a trove of long-forgotten magic.

“Meridiana wanted to frighten Gerbert about the future. She did.” Matthew shook his head. “It’s got nothing to do with you.”

“Your father is the lion. You are the wolf.” Ice pooled in the pit of my stomach. It told me something was wrong with me, inside where the light could never quite reach. I looked at my husband, one of the children of the night mentioned in the prophecy. Our first child had already died. I shuttered my thoughts, not wanting to hold them in my heart or my head long enough to make an impression. But it did no good. There was too much honesty between us now to hide from Matthew—or myself.

“You have nothing to fear,” Matthew said, brushing his lips over mine. “You are too full of life to be a harbinger of destruction.”

I let him reassure me, but my sixth sense ignored him. Somehow, somewhere, something was wrong. Something dangerous and deadly had been unleashed. Even now I could feel its threads tightening, drawing me toward the darkness.

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