فصل 23

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فصل 23

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23

“Let me in, Miriam, before I break down the fucking door.” Gallowglass wasn’t in the mood for games.

Miriam flung the door open. “Matthew may be gone, but don’t try anything funny. I’m still watching you.”

That was no surprise to Gallowglass. Jason had once told him that learning how to be a vampire under Miriam’s guidance had convinced him that there was indeed an all-knowing, all-seeing, and vengeful deity. Contrary to biblical teachings, however, She was female and sarcastic.

“Did Matthew and the others get off safely?” Diana asked quietly from the top of the stairs. She was ghostly pale, and a small suitcase sat at her feet. Gallowglass cursed and leaped up the steps.

“They did,” he said, grabbing the case before she did something daft and tried to carry it herself.

Gallowglass found it more mysterious with every passing hour that Diana didn’t simply topple over given the burden of the twins.

“Why did you pack a suitcase?” Chris asked. “What’s going on?”

“Auntie is going on a journey.” Gallowglass still thought leaving New Haven was a bad idea, but Diana had informed him that she was going—with him or without him.

“Where?” Chris demanded. Gallowglass shrugged.

“Promise me you’ll keep working on the aDNA samples from Ashmole 782 and the blood-rage problem, Chris,” Diana said as she descended the stairs.

“You know I don’t leave research problems unfinished.” Chris turned on Miriam. “Did you know that Diana was leaving?”

“How could I not? She made enough noise getting her suitcase out of the closet and calling the pilot.” Miriam grabbed Chris’s coffee. She took a sip and grimaced. “Too sweet.”

“Get your coat, Auntie.” Gallowglass didn’t know what Diana had planned—she said she would tell him once they were in the air—but he doubted they were headed for a Caribbean island with swaying palms and warm breezes.

For once Diana didn’t protest at his hovering.

“Lock the door when you leave, Chris. And make sure the coffeepot is unplugged.” She stood on her toes and kissed her friend on the cheek. “Take care of Miriam. Don’t let her walk across New Haven Green at night, even if she is a vampire.”

“Here,” Miriam said, handing over a large manila envelope. “As requested.”

Diana peeked inside. “Are you sure you don’t need them?”

“We have plenty of samples,” she replied.

Chris looked deep into Diana’s eyes. “Call if you need me. No matter why, no matter when, no matter where—I’ll be on the next flight.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, “I’ll be fine. Gallowglass is with me.”

To his surprise, the words brought Gallowglass no joy.

How could they, when they were uttered with such resignation?

The de Clermont jet lifted off from the New Haven airport. Gallowglass stared out the window, tapping his phone against his leg. The plane banked, and he sniffed the air. North by northeast.

Diana was sitting next to him, eyes closed and lips white. One hand was resting lightly on Apple and Bean as though she were comforting them. There was a trace of moisture on her cheeks.

“Don’t cry. I cannot bear it,” Gallowglass said gruffly.

“I’m sorry. I can’t seem to help it.” Diana turned in her seat so that she faced the opposite side of the cabin. Her shoulders trembled.

“Hell, Auntie. Looking the other way does no good.” Gallowglass unclipped his seat belt and crouched by her leather recliner. He patted Diana on the knee. She grasped his hand. The power pulsed under her skin. It had abated somewhat since the astonishing moment when she’d wrapped the sire of the de Clermont family in a briar patch, but it was still all too visible. Gallowglass had even seen it through the disguising spell Diana wore until she boarded the jet.

“How was Marcus with Jack?” she asked, her eyes still closed.

“Marcus greeted him as an uncle should and distracted him with tales of his children and their antics. Lord knows they’re an entertaining bunch,” Gallowglass said under his breath. But this wasn’t what Diana really wanted to know.

“Matthew was bearing up as well as could be expected,” he continued more gently. There had been a moment when it appeared Matthew was going to strangle Hubbard, but Gallowglass wasn’t going to worry about something that was, on the face of it, an excellent notion.

“I’m glad you and Chris called Marcus,” Diana whispered.

“That was Miriam’s idea,” Gallowglass admitted. Miriam had been protecting Matthew for centuries, just as he had been looking after Diana. “As soon as she saw the test results Miriam knew that Matthew would need his son at his side.”

“Poor Phoebe,” Diana said, a note of worry creeping into her voice. “Marcus couldn’t have had time to give her much of an explanation.”

“Don’t fret about Phoebe.” Gallowglass had spent two months with the girl and had taken her measure. “She’s got a strong spine and a stout heart, just like you.”

Gallowglass insisted Diana sleep. The aircraft’s cabin was outfitted with seats that converted to beds. He made sure Diana had drifted off before he marched into the cockpit and demanded to know their destination.

“Europe,” the pilot told him.

“What do you mean ‘Europe’?” That could be anywhere from Amsterdam to the Auvergne to Oxford. “Madame de Clermont hasn’t chosen her final destination. She told me to head to Europe. So I’m headed for Europe.”

“She must be going to Sept-Tours. Go to Gander, then,” Gallowglass instructed.

“That was my plan, sir,” the pilot said drily. “Do you want to fly her?”

“Yes. No.” What Gallowglass wanted was to hit something. “Hell, man. You do your job and I’ll do mine.”

There were times Gallowglass wished with all his heart he’d fallen in battle to someone other than Hugh de Clermont.

After landing safely at the airport in Gander, Gallowglass helped Diana down the stairs so that she could do as the doctor had ordered and stretch her legs.

“You’re not dressed for Newfoundland,” he observed, settling a worn leather jacket over her shoulders. “The wind will shred that pitiful excuse for a coat to ribbons.”

“Thank you, Gallowglass,” Diana said, shivering.

“What’s your final destination, Auntie?” he asked after their second lap of the tiny airstrip.

“Does it matter?” Diana’s voice had gone from resigned to weary to something worse.

Hopeless.

“No, Auntie. It’s Nar-SAR-s’wauk—not NUR-sar-squawk,” Gallowglass explained, tucking one of the down-filled blankets around Diana’s shoulder. Narsarsuaq, on the southern tip of Greenland, was colder even than Gander. Diana had insisted on taking a brisk walk anyway.

“How do you know?” she asked peevishly, her lips slightly blue.

“I just know.” Gallowglass motioned to the flight attendant, who brought him a steaming mug of tea. He poured a dollop of whiskey into it.

“No caffeine. Or alcohol,” Diana said, waving the tea away. “My own mam drank whiskey every day of her pregnancy—and look how hale and hearty I turned out,” Gallowglass said, holding the mug in her direction. His voice turned wheedling. “Come on, now. A wee nip won’t do you any harm. Besides, it can’t be as bad for Apple and Bean as frostbite.”

“They’re fine,” Diana said sharply.

“Oh, aye. Finer than frog’s hair.” Gallowglass extended his hand farther and hoped that the tea’s aroma would persuade her to indulge. “It’s Scottish Breakfast tea. One of your favorites.”

“Get thee behind me, Satan,” Diana grumbled, taking the mug. “And your mam couldn’t have been drinking whiskey while she carried you. There’s no evidence of whiskey distillation in Scotland or Ireland before the fifteenth century. You’re older than that.”

Gallowglass smothered a sigh of relief at her historical nitpicking.

Diana drew out a phone.

“Who are you calling, Auntie?” Gallowglass asked warily.

“Hamish.”

When Matthew’s best friend picked up the call, his words were exactly what Gallowglass expected them to be.

“Diana? What’s wrong? Where are you?”

“I can’t remember where my house is,” she said in lieu of explanation.

“Your house?” Hamish sounded confused.

“My house,” Diana repeated patiently. “The one Matthew gave me in London. You made me sign off on the maintenance bills when we were at Sept-Tours.”

London? Being a vampire was no help at all in his present situation, Gallowglass realized. It would be far better to have been born a witch. Perhaps then he could have divined how this woman’s mind worked.

“It’s in Mayfair, on a little street near the Connaught. Why?”

“I need the key. And the address.” Diana paused for a moment, mulling something over before she spoke. “I’ll need a driver, too, to get around the city. Daemons like the Underground, and vampires own all the major cab companies.”

Of course they owned the cab companies. Who else had the time to memorize the three hundred twenty routes, twenty-five thousand streets, and twenty thousand landmarks within six miles of Charing Cross, that were required in order to get a license?

“A driver?” Hamish sputtered.

“Yes. And does that fancy Coutts account I have come with a bank card—one with a high spending limit?”

Gallowglass swore. She looked at him frostily.

“Yes.” Hamish’s wariness increased.

“Good. I need to buy some books. Everything Athanasius Kircher ever wrote. First or second editions. Do you think you could send out a few inquiries before the weekend?” Diana studiously avoided Gallowglass’s piercing gaze.

“Athanasius who?” Hamish asked. Gallowglass could hear a pen scratching on paper.

“Kircher.” She spelled it out for him, letter by letter. “You’ll have to go to the rare-book dealers.

There must be copies floating around London. I don’t care how much they cost.”

“You sound like Granny,” Gallowglass muttered. That alone was reason for concern.

“If you can’t get me copies by the end of next week, I suppose I’ll have to go to the British Library.

But fall term has started, and the rare-book room is bound to be full of witches. I’m sure it would be better if I stayed at home.”

“Could I talk to Matthew?” Hamish said a trifle breathlessly.

“He’s not here.”

“You’re alone?” He sounded shocked.

“Of course not. Gallowglass is with me,” Diana replied.

“And Gallowglass knows about your plan to sit in the public reading rooms of the British Library and read these books by—what’s his name? Athanasius Kircher? Have you gone completely mad? The whole Congregation is looking for you!” Hamish’s voice rose steadily with each sentence.

“I am aware of the Congregation’s interest, Hamish. That’s why I asked you to buy the books,”

Diana said mildly.

“Where is Matthew?” Hamish demanded.

“I don’t know.” Diana crossed her fingers when she told the lie.

There was a long silence.

“I’ll meet you at the airport. Let me know when you’re an hour away,” Hamish said.

“That’s not necessary,” she said.

“One hour before you land, call me.” Hamish paused. “And, Diana? I don’t know what the hell is going on, but of one thing I’m sure: Matthew loves you. More than his own life.”

“I know,” Diana whispered before she hung up.

Now she’d gone from hopeless to dead-sounding.

The plane turned south and east. The vampire at the controls had overheard the conversation and acted accordingly.

“What is that oaf doing?” Gallowglass growled, shooting to his feet and upsetting the tea tray so that the shortbread biscuits scattered all over the floor. “You cannot head directly for London!” he shouted into the cockpit. “That’s a four-hour flight, and she’s not to be in the air for more than three.”

“Where to, then?” came the pilot’s muffled reply as the plane changed course.

“Put in at Stornoway. It’s a straight shot, and less than three hours. From there it will be an easy jump to London,” Gallowglass replied.

That settled it. Marcus’s ride with Matthew, Jack, Hubbard, and Lobero, no matter how hellish, couldn’t possibly compare to this.

“It’s beautiful.” Diana held her hair away from her face. It was dawn, and the sun was just rising over The Minch. Gallowglass filled his lungs with the familiar air of home and set about remembering a sight he had often dreamed of: Diana Bishop standing here, on the land of his ancestors.

“Aye.” He turned and marched toward the jet. It was waiting on the taxiway, lights on and ready to depart.

“I’ll be there in a minute.” Diana scanned the horizon. Autumn had painted the hills with umber and golden strokes among the green. The wind carried the witch’s red hair out in a streak that glowed like embers.

Gallowglass wondered what had captured her attention. There was nothing to see but a misguided gray heron, his long, bright yellow legs too insubstantial to hold up the rest of his body.

“Come, Auntie. You’ll freeze to death out here.” Ever since he’d parted with his leather jacket, Gallowglass had worn nothing more than his habitual uniform of T-shirt and torn jeans. He no longer felt the cold, but he remembered how the early-morning air in this part of the world could cut to the bone.

The heron stared at Diana for a moment. He ducked his head up and down, stretching his wings and crying out. The bird took flight, soaring away toward the sea.

“Diana?”

She turned blue-gold eyes in Gallowglass’s direction. His hackles rose. There was something otherworldly in her gaze that made him recall his childhood, and a dark room where his grandfather cast runes and uttered prophecies.

Even after the plane took to the skies, Diana remained fixed on some unseen, distant view.

Gallowglass stared out the window and prayed for a strong tailwind.

“Will we ever stop running, do you think?” Her voice startled him.

Gallowglass didn’t know the answer and couldn’t bear to lie to her. He remained silent.

Diana buried her face in her hands.

“There, there.” He rocked her against his chest. “You mustn’t think the worst, Auntie. It’s not like you.”

“I’m just so tired, Gallowglass.”

“With good reason. Between past and present, you’ve had a hell of a year.” Gallowglass tucked her head under his chin. She might be Matthew’s lion, but even lions had to close their eyes and rest occasionally.

“Is that Corra?” Diana’s fingers traced the outlines of the firedrake on his forearm. Gallowglass shivered. “Where does her tail go?”

She lifted his sleeve before he could stop her. Her eyes widened.

“You weren’t meant to see that,” Gallowglass said. He released her and tugged the soft fabric back into place.

“Show me.”

“Auntie, I think it’s best—”

“Show me,” Diana repeated. “Please.”

He grasped the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head. His tattoos told a complicated tale, but only a few chapters would be of interest to Matthew’s wife. Diana’s hand went to her mouth.

“Oh, Gallowglass.”

A siren sat on a rock above his heart, her arm extended so that her hand reached over to his left bicep. She held a clutch of cords. The cords snaked down his arm, falling and twisting to become Corra’s sinuous tail, which swirled around his elbow until it met with the firedrake’s body.

The siren had Diana’s face.

“You’re a hard woman to find, but you’re an even harder one to forget.” Gallowglass pulled his shirt back over his head.

“How long?” Diana’s eyes were blue with regret and sympathy.

“Four months.” He didn’t tell her that it was the latest in a series of similar images that had been inked over his heart. “That’s not what I meant,” Diana said softly.

“Oh.” Gallowglass stared between his knees at the carpeted floor. “Four hundred years. More or less.”

“I’m so sor—”

“I won’t have you feeling sorry for something you couldn’t prevent,” Gallowglass said, silencing her with a slash of his hand. “I knew you could never be mine. It didn’t matter.”

“Before I was Matthew’s, I was yours,” Diana said simply.

“Only because I was watching you grow into Matthew’s wife,” he said roughly. “Granddad always did have an unholy ability to give us jobs we could neither refuse nor perform without losing some piece of our souls.” Gallowglass took a deep, breath.

“Until I saw the newspaper story about Lady Pembroke’s laboratory book,” he continued, “a small part of me hoped fate might have another surprise up her sleeve. I wondered if you might come back different, or without Matthew, or without loving him as much as he loves you.”

Diana listened without saying a word.

“So I went to Sept-Tours to wait for you, like I promised Granddad I would. Emily and Sarah were always going on about the changes your timewalking might have wrought. Miniatures and telescopes are one thing. But there was only ever one man for you, Diana. And God knows there was only ever one woman for Matthew.”

“It’s strange to hear you say my name,” Diana said softly.

“So long as I call you Auntie, I never forget who really owns your heart,” Gallowglass said gruffly.

“Philippe shouldn’t have expected you to watch over me. It was cruel,” she said.

“No crueler than what Philippe expected from you,” Gallowglass replied. “And far less so than what Granddad demanded of himself.”

Seeing her confusion, Gallowglass continued.

“Philippe always put his own needs last,” Gallowglass said. “Vampires are creatures ruled by their desire, with instincts for self-preservation that are much stronger than any warmblood’s. But Philippe was never like the rest of us. It broke his heart every time Granny got restless and went away. Then I didn’t understand why Ysabeau felt it necessary to leave. Now that I’ve heard her tale, I think Philippe’s love frightened her. It was so deep and selfless that Granny simply couldn’t trust it—not after what her sire put her through. Part of her was always braced for Philippe to turn on her, to demand something for himself that she couldn’t give.”

“Ysabeau said it was Philippe who sent her away.”

“Only once or twice,” Gallowglass said. “Mostly it was Ysabeau’s choice. Whenever I see Matthew struggle to give you the freedom you need—to let you do something without him that you think is minor but that is an agony of worrying and waiting for him—it reminds me of Philippe.”

“What are we going to do now?” She didn’t mean when they got to London, but he pretended she did.

“Now we wait for Matthew,” Gallowglass said flatly. “You wanted him to establish a family. He’s off doing it.”

“I couldn’t let him kill Jack.” Under the surface of her skin, Diana’s magic pulsed again in iridescent agitation. It reminded Gallowglass of long nights watching the aurora borealis from the sandy stretch of coastline beneath the cliffs where his father and grandfather had once lived.

“Matthew won’t be able to stay away for long. It’s one thing to wander in the darkness because you know no different, but it’s quite another to enjoy the light only to have it taken from you,” Gallowglass said.

“You sound so sure,” she whispered.

“I am. Marcus’s children are a handful, but he’ll make them heel.” Gallowglass lowered his voice.

“I assume there’s a good reason you chose London?”

Her glance flickered.

“I thought so. You’re not just looking for the last missing page. You’re going after Ashmole 782. And I’m not talking nonsense,” Gallowglass said, raising his hand when Diana opened her mouth to protest. “You’ll be wanting people around you, then. People you can trust unto death, like Granny and Sarah and Fernando.” He drew out his phone.

“Sarah already knows I’m on my way to Europe. I told her I’d let her know where I was once I was settled.” Diana frowned at the phone. “And Ysabeau is still Gerbert’s prisoner. She’s not in touch with the outside world.”

“Oh, Granny has her ways,” Gallowglass said serenely, his fingers racing across the keys. “I’ll just send her a message and tell her where we’re headed. Then I’ll tell Fernando. You can’t do this alone, Auntie. Not what you’ve got planned.”

“You’re taking this very well, Gallowglass,” Diana said gratefully. “Matthew would be trying to talk me out of it.”

“That’s what you get for falling in love with the wrong man,” he said under his breath, slipping the phone back into his pocket.

Ysabeau de Clermont picked up her sleek red phone and looked at the illuminated display. She noted the time—7:37 A.M. Then she read the waiting message. It began with three repetitions of a single word:

Mayday

Mayday

Mayday

She’d been expecting Gallowglass to get in touch ever since Phoebe had notified her that Marcus had departed in the middle of the night, mysteriously and suddenly, to go off and join Matthew. Ysabeau and Gallowglass had decided early on that they needed a way to notify each other when things went “pear-shaped,” to use her grandson’s expression. Their system had changed over the years, from beacons and secret messages written in onion juice to codes and ciphers, then to objects sent through the mail without explanation. Now they used the phone.

At first Ysabeau had been dubious about owning one of these cellular contraptions, but given recent events she was glad to have it restored to her. Gerbert had confiscated it shortly after her arrival in Aurillac, in the vain hope that being without it would make her more malleable.

Gerbert had returned the phone to Ysabeau several weeks ago. She had been taken hostage to satisfy the witches and to make a public show of the Congregation’s power and influence. Gerbert was under no illusion that his prisoner would part with a scrap of information that would help them find Matthew. He was, however, grateful that Ysabeau was willing to play along with the charade. Since arriving at Gerbert’s home, she had been a model prisoner. He claimed that having her phone back was a reward for good behavior, but she knew it was largely due to the fact that Gerbert could not figure out how to silence the many alarms that sounded throughout the day.

Ysabeau liked these reminders of events that had altered her world: just before midday, when Philippe and his men had burst into her prison and she felt the first glimmers of hope; two hours before sunrise, when Philippe had first admitted that he loved her; three in the afternoon, the hour she had found Matthew’s broken body in the half-built church in Saint-Lucien; 1:23 P.M., when Matthew drew the last drops of blood from Philippe’s pain-ravaged body. Other alarms marked the hour of Hugh’s death and Godfrey’s, the hour when Louisa had first exhibited signs of blood rage, the hour when Marcus had demonstrated definitively that the same disease had not touched him. The rest of her daily alarms were reserved for significant historical events, such as the births of kings and queens whom Ysabeau had called friends, wars that she had fought in and won, and battles that she had unaccountably lost in spite of her careful plans.

The alarms rang day and night, each one a different, carefully chosen song. Gerbert had particularly objected to the alarm that blasted “Chant de Guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin” at 5:30 P.M.—the precise moment when the revolutionary mob swept through the gates of the Bastille in 1789. But these tunes served as aide-mémoire, conjuring up faces and places that might otherwise have faded away over time.

Ysabeau read the rest of Gallowglass’s message. To anyone else it would have appeared nothing more than a garbled combination of shipping forecast, aeronautical distress signal, and horoscope, with its references to shadows, the moon, Gemini, Libra, and a series of longitude and latitude coordinates.

Ysabeau reread the message twice: once to make sure she had correctly ascertained its meaning and a second time to memorize Gallowglass’s instructions. Then she typed her reply.

Je Viens

“I am afraid it is time for me to go, Gerbert,” Ysabeau said without a trace of regret. She looked across the faux-Gothic horror of a room to where her jailer sat before a computer at the foot of an ornate carved table. At the opposite end, a heavy Bible rested on a raised stand flanked by thick white candles, as though Gerbert’s work space were an altar. Ysabeau’s lip curled at the pretension, which was matched by the room’s heavy nineteenth-century woodwork, pews converted to settees, and garish green-and blue silk wallpaper ornamented with chivalric shields. The only authentic items in the room were the enormous stone fireplace and the monumental chess set before it.

Gerbert peered at his computer screen and hit a key on the keyboard. He groaned.

“Jean-Luc will come from Saint-Lucien and help if you are still having trouble with your computer,” Ysabeau said.

Gerbert had hired the nice young man to set up a home computer network after Ysabeau had shared two morsels of Sept-Tours gossip gleaned from conversations around the dinner table: Nathaniel Wilson’s belief that future wars would be fought on the Internet and Marcus’s plan to handle a majority of the Knights of Lazarus’s banking through online channels. Baldwin and Hamish had overruled her grandson’s extraordinary idea, but Gerbert didn’t need to know that.

While installing the components of Gerbert’s hastily purchased system, Jean-Luc had needed to call back to the office several times for advice. Marcus’s dear friend Nathaniel had set up the small business in Saint-Lucien to bring the villagers into the modern age, and though he was now in Australia, he was happy to help his former employee whenever his greater experience was required. On this occasion Nathaniel had walked Jean-Luc through the various security configurations that Gerbert requested.

Nathaniel added a few modifications of his own, too.

The end result was that Ysabeau and Nathaniel knew more about Gerbert of Aurillac than she had dreamed was possible, or indeed had ever wanted, to know. It was astonishing how much a person’s online shopping habits revealed about his character and activities.

Ysabeau had made sure Jean-Luc signed Gerbert up for various social-media services to keep the vampire occupied and out of her way. She could not imagine why these companies all chose shades of blue for their logos. Blue had always struck her as such a serene, soothing color, yet all social media offered was endless agitation and posturing. It was worse than the court of Versailles. Come to think of it, Ysabeau reflected, Louis-Dieudonné had quite liked blue as well.

Gerbert’s only complaint about his new virtual existence was that he had been unable to secure “Pontifex Maximus” as a user name. Ysabeau told him that it was probably for the best, since it might constitute a violation of the covenant in the eyes of some creatures.

Sadly for Gerbert—though happily for Ysabeau—an addiction to the Internet and an understanding of how best to use it did not always go hand in hand. Because of the sites he frequented, Gerbert was plagued by computer viruses. He also tended to pick overly complex passwords and lose track of which sites he’d visited and how he had found them. This led to many phone calls with Jean-Luc, who unfailingly bailed Gerbert out of his difficulties and thereby kept up to date on how to access all Gerbert’s online information. With Gerbert thus engaged, Ysabeau was free to wander around his castle, going through his belongings and copying down the surprising entries in the vampire’s many address books.

Life as Gerbert’s hostage had been most illuminating.

“It is time for me to go,” Ysabeau repeated when Gerbert finally tore his eyes away from the screen. “There is no reason to keep me here any longer. The Congregation won. I have just received word from the family that Matthew and Diana are no longer together. I imagine that the strain was too much for her, poor girl. You must be very pleased.”

“I hadn’t heard. And you?” Gerbert’s expression was suspicious. “Are you pleased?”

“Of course. I have always despised witches.” Gerbert had no need to know how completely Ysabeau’s feelings had changed.

“Hmm.” He still looked wary. “Has Matthew’s witch gone to Madison? Surely Diana Bishop will want to be with her aunt if she has left your son.”

“I am sure she longs for home,” Ysabeau said vaguely. “It is typical, after heartbreak, to seek out what is familiar.”

Ysabeau thought it was a promising sign, therefore, that Diana had chosen to return to the place where she and Matthew had enjoyed a life together. As for heartbreak, there were many ways to ease the pain and loneliness that went along with being mated to the sire of a great vampire clan—which Matthew would soon be. Ysabeau looked forward to sharing them with her daughter-in-law, who was made of sterner stuff than most vampires would have expected.

“Do you need to clear my departure with someone? Domenico? Satu, perhaps?” Ysabeau asked solicitously.

“They dance to my tune, Ysabeau,” Gerbert said with a scowl.

It was pathetically easy to manipulate Gerbert if his ego was involved. And it was always involved.

Ysabeau hid her satisfied smile.

“If I release you, you will go back to Sept-Tours and stay there?” Gerbert asked. “Of course,” she said promptly.

“Ysabeau,” he growled.

“I have not left de Clermont territory since shortly after the war,” she said with a touch of impatience. “Unless the Congregation decides to take me prisoner again, I will remain in de Clermont territory. Only Philippe himself could persuade me to do otherwise.”

“Happily, not even Philippe de Clermont is capable of ordering us about from the grave,” Gerbert said, “though I am sure he would dearly love to do so.”

You would be surprised, you toad, Ysabeau thought.

“Very well, then. You are free to go.” Gerbert sighed. “But do try to remember we are at war, Ysabeau. To keep up appearances.”

“Oh, I would never forget we are at war, Gerbert.” Unable to maintain her countenance for another moment, and afraid she might find a creative use for the iron poker that was propped up by the fireplace, Ysabeau went to find Marthe.

Her trusted companion was downstairs in the meticulous kitchen, sitting by the fireplace with a battered copy of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and a steaming cup of mulled wine. Gerbert’s butcher stood at the nearby chopping block, dismembering a rabbit for his master’s breakfast. The Delft tile on the walls provided an oddly cheerful note.

“We are going home, Marthe,” Ysabeau said.

“Finally.” Marthe got to her feet with a groan. “I hate Aurillac. The air here is bad. Adiu siatz, Theo.”

“Adiu siatz, Marthe,” Theo grunted, whacking the unfortunate rabbit.

Gerbert met them at the front door to bid them farewell. He kissed Ysabeau on both cheeks, his actions supervised by a dead boar that Philippe had killed, the head of which had been preserved and mounted on a plaque over the fire. “Shall I have Enzo drive you?”

“I think we will walk.” It would give her and Marthe the opportunity to make plans. After so many weeks conducting espionage under Gerbert’s roof, it was going to be difficult to let go of her excessive caution.

“It’s eighty miles,” Gerbert pointed out.

“We shall stop in Allanche for lunch. A large herd of deer once roamed the woods there.” They would not make it so far, for Ysabeau had already sent Alain a message to meet them outside Murat.

Alain would drive them from there to Clermont-Ferrand, where they would board one of Baldwin’s infernal flying machines and proceed to London. Marthe abhorred air travel, which she believed was unnatural, but they could not allow Diana to arrive at a cold house. Ysabeau slipped Jean-Luc’s card into Gerbert’s hand. “Until next time.”

Arm in arm, Ysabeau and Marthe walked out into the crisp dawn. The towers of Château des Anges Déchus grew smaller and smaller behind them until they disappeared from sight.

“I must set a new alarm, Marthe. Seven thirty-seven A.M. Do not let me forget. ?Marche Henri IV’ would be most appropriate for it, I think,” Ysabeau whispered as their feet moved quickly north toward the dormant peaks of the ancient volcanoes and onward to their future.

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