فصل 03

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فصل 03

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3

The de Clermont family library was bathed in a gentle predawn light that made everything in it appear in soft focus: the edges of the books, the strong lines of the wooden bookcases that lined the room, the warm golden and blue hues of the Aubusson rug.

What it could not blunt was my anger.

For three days I had thought that nothing could displace my grief over Emily’s death, but three minutes in Baldwin’s company had proved me wrong.

“Come in, Diana.” Baldwin sat in a thronelike Savonarola chair by the tall windows. His burnished red-gold hair gleamed in the lamplight, its color reminding me of the feathers on Augusta, the eagle that Emperor Rudolf hunted with in Prague. Every inch of Baldwin’s muscular frame was taut with anger and banked strength.

I looked around the room. We were not the only ones to have been summoned to Baldwin’s impromptu meeting. Waiting by the fireplace was a waif of a young woman with skin the color of skim milk and black, spiky hair. Her eyes were deep gray and enormous, fringed with thick lashes. She sniffed the air as though scenting a storm.

“Verin.” Matthew had warned me about Philippe’s daughters, who were so terrifying that the family asked him to stop making them. But she didn’t look very frightening. Verin’s face was smooth and serene, her posture easy, and her eyes sparkled with energy and intelligence. Were it not for her unrelieved black clothing, you might mistake her for an elf.

Then I noticed a knife hilt peeking out from her high-heeled black boots.

“W?lfling,” Verin replied. It was a cold greeting for a sister to give her brother, but the look she gave me was even more frigid. “Witch.”

“It’s Diana,” I said, my anger flaring.

“I told you there was no way to mistake it,” Verin said, turning to Baldwin without acknowledging my reply.

“Why are you here, Baldwin?” Matthew asked.

“I wasn’t aware I needed an invitation to come to my father’s house,” he replied. “But as it happens, I came from Venice to see Marcus.”

The eyes of the two men locked.

“Imagine my surprise at finding you here,” Baldwin continued. “Nor did I expect to discover that your mate is now my sister. Philippe died in 1945. So how is it that I can feel my father’s blood vow?

Smell it? Hear it?”

“Someone else can catch you up on the news.” Matthew took me by the hand and turned to go back upstairs.

“Neither of you is leaving my sight until I find out how that witch tricked a blood vow from a dead vampire.” Baldwin’s voice was low with menace.

“It was no trick,” I said, indignant.

“Was it necromancy, then? Some foul resurrection spell?” Baldwin asked. “Or did you conjure his spirit and force him to give you his vow?”

“What happened between Philippe and me had nothing to do with my magic and everything to do with his generosity.” My own anger burned hotter.

“You make it sound as though you knew him,” Baldwin said. “That’s impossible.”

“Not for a timewalker,” I replied.

“Timewalker?” Baldwin was stunned.

“Diana and I have been in the past,” Matthew explained. “In 1590, to be exact. We were here at Sept-Tours just before Christmas.”

“You saw Philippe?” Baldwin’s expression was shocked.

“We did. Philippe was alone that winter. He sent a coin and ordered me home,” Matthew said.. The de Clermonts present understood their father’s private code: When a command was sent along with one of Philippe’s ancient silver coins, the recipient was to obey without question.

“December? That means we have to endure five more months of Philippe’s bloodsong,” Verin muttered, her fingers pinching the bridge of her nose as though her head ached. I frowned.

“Why five months?” I asked.

“According to our legends, a vampire’s blood vow sings for a year and a day. All vampires can hear it, but the song is particularly loud and clear to those who carry Philippe’s blood in their veins,” Baldwin said.

“Philippe said he wanted there to be no doubt I was a de Clermont,” I said, looking up at Matthew.

All the vampires who had met me in the sixteenth century must have heard Philippe’s blood song and known I was not only Matthew’s mate but also Philippe de Clermont’s daughter. Philippe had been protecting me during every step of our journey through the past.

“No witch will ever be recognized as a de Clermont.” Baldwin’s voice was flat and final.

“I already am.” I held up my left hand so he could see my wedding ring. “Matthew and I are married as well as mated. Your father hosted the ceremony. If Saint-Lucien’s parish registers survive, you’ll find our wedding took place on the seventh of December, 1590.”

“What we will likely find, should we go to the village, is that a single page has been torn out of the priest’s book,” Verin said under her breath. “Atta always covered his tracks.”

“Whether you and Matthew are married is of no consequence, for Matthew is not a true de Clermont either,” Baldwin said coldly. “He is merely the child of my father’s mate.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I protested. “Philippe considered Matthew his son. Matthew calls you brother and Verin sister.”

“I am not that whelp’s sister. We share no blood, only a name,” Verin said. “And thank God for it.”

“You will find, Diana, that marriage and mating don’t count for much with the de Clermonts,” said a quiet voice with a marked Spanish or Portuguese accent. It came from the mouth of a stranger standing just inside the door. His dark hair and espresso-colored eyes set off his pale golden skin and light shirt.

“Your presence wasn’t requested, Fernando,” Baldwin said angrily.

“As you know, I come when I’m needed, not when I’m called.” Fernando bowed slightly in my direction. “Fernando Gonçalves. I am very sorry for your loss.”

The man’s name pricked at my memory. I’d heard it somewhere before.

“You’re the man Matthew asked to lead the Knights of Lazarus when he gave up the position of grand master,” I said, finally placing him. Fernando Gonçalves was reputed to be one of the brotherhood’s most formidable warriors. Judging by the breadth of his shoulders and his overall fitness, I had no doubt this was true.

“He did.” Like that of all vampires, Fernando’s voice was warm and rich, filling the room with otherworldly sound. “But Hugh de Clermont is my mate. Ever since he died alongside the Templars, I have had little to do with chivalric orders, for even the bravest knights lack the courage to keep their promises.” Fernando fixed his dark eyes on Matthew’s brother. “Isn’t that right, Baldwin?”

“Are you challenging me?” Baldwin said, standing.

“Do I need to?” Fernando smiled. He was shorter than Baldwin, but something told me he would not be easy to best in battle. “I would not have thought you would ignore your father’s blood vow, Baldwin.”

“We have no idea what Philippe wanted from the witch. He might have been trying to learn more about her power. Or she could have used magic to coerce him,” Baldwin said, his chin jutting out at a stubborn angle.

“Don’t be daft. Auntie didn’t use any magic on Granddad.” Gallowglass breezed into the room, as relaxed as if the de Clermonts always met at half past four in the morning to discuss urgent business.

“Now that Gallowglass is here, I’ll leave the de Clermonts to their own devices.” Fernando nodded to Matthew. “Call if you need me, Matthew.”

“We’ll be just fine. We’re family, after all.” Gallowglass blinked innocently at Verin and Baldwin as Fernando departed. “As for what Philippe wanted, it’s quite simple, Uncle: He wanted you to formally acknowledge Diana as his daughter. Ask Verin.”

“What does he mean?” Baldwin demanded of his sister.

“Atta summoned me a few days before he died,” Verin said, her voice low and her expression miserable. The word “Atta” was unfamiliar, but it was clearly a daughterly endearment. “Philippe was worried that you might ignore his blood vow. He made me swear to acknowledge it, no matter what.”

“Philippe’s oath was private—something between him and me. It doesn’t need to be acknowledged.

Not by you or anyone else.” I didn’t want my memories of Philippe—or that moment—damaged by Baldwin and Verin.

“Nothing is more public than adopting a warmblood into a vampire clan,” Verin told me. She looked at Matthew. “Didn’t you take the time to teach the witch our vampire customs before you rushed into this forbidden affair?”

“Time was a luxury we didn’t have,” I replied instead. From the very beginning of our relationship, Ysabeau had warned me that I had a lot to learn about vampires. After this conversation, the topic of blood vows was moving to the head of my research agenda.

“Then let me explain it to you,” Verin said, her voice sharper than any schoolmarm’s. “Before Philippe’s blood song fades, one of his full-blooded children must acknowledge it. Unless that happens, you are not truly a de Clermont and no other vampire is obligated to honor you as such.”

“Is that all? I don’t care about vampire honor. Being Matthew’s wife is enough for me.” The more I heard about becoming a de Clermont, the less I liked it.

“If that were true, then my father wouldn’t have adopted you,” Verin observed.

“We will compromise,” Baldwin said. “Surely Philippe would be satisfied if, when the witch’s children are born, their names are listed among my kin on the de Clermont family pedigree.” His words sounded magnanimous, but I was sure there was some darker purpose to them.

“My children are not your kin.” Matthew’s voice sounded like thunder.

“They are if Diana is a de Clermont as she claims,” Baldwin said with a smile.

“Wait. What pedigree?” I needed to back up a step in the argument.

“The Congregation maintains official pedigrees of all vampire families,” Baldwin said. “Some no longer observe the tradition. The de Clermonts do. The pedigrees include information about rebirths, deaths, and the names of mates and their offspring.”

My hand automatically covered my belly. I wanted the Congregation to remain unaware of my children for as long as possible. Based on the wary look in Matthew’s eyes, he felt the same way.

“Maybe your timewalking will be enough to satisfy questions about the blood vow, but only the blackest of magics—or infidelity—can explain this pregnancy,” Baldwin said, relishing his brother’s discomfort. “The children cannot be yours, Matthew.”

“Diana is carrying my children,” Matthew said, his eyes dangerously dark.

“Impossible,” Baldwin stated flatly.

“True,” Matthew retorted.

“If so, they’ll be the most hated—and the most hunted—children the world has ever known.

Creatures will be baying for their blood. And yours,” Baldwin said.

I registered Matthew’s sudden departure from my side at the same moment that I heard Baldwin’s chair break. When the blur of movement ceased, Matthew stood behind his brother with his arm locked around Baldwin’s throat, pressing a knife into the skin over his brother’s heart.

Verin looked down at her boot in amazement and found nothing but an empty scabbard. She swore.

“You may be head of the family, Baldwin, but never forget that I am its assassin,” Matthew growled.

“Assassin?” I tried to hide my confusion as another hidden side of Matthew was brought to light.

Scientist. Vampire. Warrior. Spy. Prince. Assassin.

Matthew had told me he was a killer—repeatedly—but I had always considered this part and parcel of being a vampire. I knew he’d killed in self-defense, in battle, and to survive. I’d never dreamed that Matthew committed murder at his family’s behest.

“Surely you knew this?” Verin asked in a voice tinged with malice, her cold eyes studying me closely. “If Matthew weren’t so good at it, one of us would have put him down long ago.”

“We all have a role in this family, Verin.” Matthew’s voice dripped with bitterness. “Does Ernst know yours—how it begins between soft sheets and a man’s thighs?”

Verin moved like lightning, her fingers bent into lethal claws as she went for Matthew.

Vampires were fast, but magic was faster.

I pushed Verin against a wall with a blast of witchwind, keeping her away from my husband and Baldwin long enough for Matthew to exact some promise from his brother and release him.

“Thank you, ma lionne.” It was Matthew’s usual endearment when I’d done something brave—or incredibly stupid. He handed me Verin’s knife. “Hold on to this.”

Matthew lifted Verin to her feet while Gallowglass moved closer to stand at my elbow.

“Well, well,” Verin murmured when she was standing upright again. “I see why Atta was drawn to your wife, but I wouldn’t have thought you had the stones for such a woman, Matthew.”

“Things change,” Matthew said shortly.

“Apparently.” Verin gave me an appraising look.

“You’ll be keeping your promise to Granddad, then?” Gallowglass asked Verin.

“We’ll see,” she said cautiously. “I have months to decide.”

“Time will pass, but nothing will change.” Baldwin looked at me with barely concealed loathing.

“Recognizing Matthew’s wife will have catastrophic consequences, Verin.”

“I honored Atta’s wishes while he lived,” Verin said. “I cannot ignore them now that he is dead.”

“We must take comfort from the fact that the Congregation is already looking for Matthew and his mate,” Baldwin said. “Who knows? They may both be dead before December.”

After giving us a final, contemptuous look, Baldwin stalked from the room. Verin stole an apologetic glance at Gallowglass and trailed after him.

“So . . . that went well,” Gallowglass muttered “Are you all right, Auntie? You’ve gone a bit shiny.”

“The witchwind blew my disguising spell out of place.” I tried to tug it around me again.

“Given what happened here this morning, I think you’d better keep it on while Baldwin is at home,” Gallowglass suggested.

“Baldwin cannot know of Diana’s power. I’d appreciate your help with that, Gallowglass.

Fernando’s, too.” Matthew didn’t specify what form this assistance would take.

“Of course. I’ve been watching over Auntie her whole life,” Gallowglass said, matter-of-fact. “I’ll not be stopping now.”

At these words parts of my past that I had never understood slid into place like jagged puzzle pieces. As a child I’d often felt other creatures watching me, their eyes nudging and tingling and freezing my skin. One had been Peter Knox, my father’s enemy and the same witch who had come to Sept-Tours looking for Matthew and me only to kill Em. Could another have been this giant bear of a man, whom I now loved like a brother but had not even met until we traveled back to the sixteenth century?

“You were watching me?” My eyes filled, and I blinked back the tears.

“I promised Granddad I’d keep you safe. For Matthew’s sake.” Gallowglass’s blue eyes softened.

“And it’s a good thing, too. You were a right hellion: climbing trees, running after bicycles in the street, and heading into the forest without a hint as to where you were going. How your parents managed is beyond me.”

“Did Daddy know?” I had to ask. My father had met the big Gael in Elizabethan London, when he’d unexpectedly run into Matthew and me on one of his regular timewalks. Even in modern-day Massachusetts, my father would have recognized Gallowglass on sight. The man was unmistakable. “I did my best not to show myself.”

“That’s not what I asked, Gallowglass.” I was getting better at ferreting out a vampire’s half-truths.

“Did my father know you were watching over me?”

“I made sure Stephen saw me just before he and your mother left for Africa that last time,”

Gallowglass confessed, his voice little more than a whisper. “I thought it might help him to know, when the end came, that I was nearby. You were still such a wee thing. Stephen must have been beside himself with worry thinking about how long it would be before you were with Matthew.”

Unbeknownst to Matthew or me, the Bishops and the de Clermonts had been working for years, even centuries, to bring us safely together: Philippe, Gallowglass, my father, Emily, my mother.

“Thank you, Gallowglass,” Matthew said hoarsely. Like me, he was surprised by the morning’s revelations.

“No need, Uncle. I did it gladly.” Gallowglass cleared the emotion from his throat and departed.

An awkward silence fell.

“Christ.” Matthew raked his fingers through his hair. It was the usual sign he’d been driven to the end of his patience.

“What are we going to do?” I said, still trying to regain my equilibrium after Baldwin’s sudden appearance.

A gentle cough announced a new presence in the room and kept Matthew from responding.

“I am sorry to interrupt, milord.” Alain Le Merle, Philippe de Clermont’s onetime squire, stood in the doorway to the library. He was holding an ancient coffer with the initials P.C. picked out on the top in silver studs and a small ledger bound in green buckram. His salt-and-pepper hair and kind expression were the same as when I’d first met him in 1590. Like Matthew and Gallowglass, he was a fixed star in my universe of change.

“What is it, Alain?” Matthew asked.

“I have business with Madame de Clermont,” Alain replied. “Business?” Matthew frowned. “Can it wait?”

“I’m afraid not,” Alain said apologetically. “This is a difficult time I know, milord, but Sieur Philippe was adamant that Madame de Clermont be given her things as soon as possible.”

Alain ushered us back up to our tower. What I saw on Matthew’s desk drove the events of the past hour completely from my mind and left me breathless.

A small book bound in brown leather. An embroidered sleeve, threadbare with age. Priceless jewels—pearls and diamonds and sapphires. A golden arrowhead on a long chain. A pair of miniatures, their bright surfaces as fresh as the day they were painted. Letters, tied with a faded carnation ribbon. A silver rat trap, tarnish clinging to the fine engraving. A gilded astronomical instrument fit for an emperor. A wooden box carved by a wizard out of a branch from a rowan tree.

The collection of objects didn’t look like much, but they held enormous significance, for they represented the past eight months.

I picked up the small book with a trembling hand and flipped it open. Matthew had given it to me soon after we’d arrived at his mansion in Woodstock. In the autumn of 1590, the book’s binding had been fresh and the pages creamy. Today the leather was speckled and the paper yellowed with age. In the past I’d tucked the book away on a high shelf in the Old Lodge, but a bookplate inside told me that it was now the property of a library in Seville. The call mark, “Manuscrito Gonçalves 4890,” was inked onto the flyleaf. Someone—Gallowglass, no doubt—had removed the first page. Once it had been covered with my tentative attempts to record my name. The blots from that missing leaf had seeped through to the page below, but the list I’d made of the Elizabethan coins in circulation in 1590 was still legible. I flipped through the rest of the pages, remembering the headache cure I’d attempted to master in a futile attempt to appear a proper Elizabethan housewife. My diary of daily happenings brought back bittersweet memories of our time with the School of Night. I’d dedicated a handful of pages to an overview of the twelve signs of the zodiac, copied down a few more recipes, and scribbled a packing list for our journey to Sept-Tours in the back. I heard the gentle chime as past and present rubbed against each other, and I spotted the blue and amber threads that were barely visible in the corners of the fireplace.

“How did you get this?” I said, focusing on the here and now.

“Master Gallowglass gave it to Dom Fernando long ago. When he arrived at Sept-Tours in May, Dom Fernando asked me to return it to you,” Alain explained.

“It’s a miracle anything survived. How did you manage to keep all this hidden from me for so many years?” Matthew picked up the silver rat trap. He had teased me when I’d commissioned one of London’s most expensive clockmakers to make the mechanism to catch the rats prowling our attics in the Blackfriars. Monsieur Vallin had designed it to resemble a cat, with ears set on the crossbars and a little mouse perched on the fierce feline’s nose. Matthew deliberately sprang the mechanism, and the cat’s sharp teeth dug into the flesh of his finger.

“We did as we must, milord. We waited. We kept silent. We never lost faith that time would bring Madame de Clermont back to us.” A sad smile played at the corners of Alain’s mouth. “If only Sieur Philippe could have lived to see this day.”

At the thought of Philippe, my heart skittered. He must have known how badly his children would react to having me as a sister. Why had he put me in such an impossible situation?

“All right, Diana?” Matthew gently laid his hand over mine.

“Yes. Just a bit overwhelmed.” I took up the portraits of Matthew and me wearing fine Elizabethan clothing. Nicholas Hilliard had painted them at the Countess of Pembroke’s request. She and the Earl of Northumberland had given the tiny likenesses to us as wedding gifts. The two of them had been Matthew’s friends at first—along with the other members of the School of Night: Walter Raleigh, George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, and Christopher Marlowe. In time most of them became my friends, too.

“It was Madame Ysabeau who found the miniatures,” Alain explained. “She scoured the newspapers every day looking for traces of you—anomalies that stood out from the rest of the day’s events. When Madame Ysabeau saw these in an auction notice, she sent Master Marcus to London. It’s how he met Mademoiselle Phoebe.”

“This sleeve came from your wedding dress.” Matthew touched the fragile fabric, tracing the outlines of a cornucopia, the traditional symbol of abundance. “I will never forget the sight of you, coming down the hill to the village with the torches blazing and the children clearing the way through the snow.” His smile was full of love and a pleased pride.

“After the wedding many men in the village offered to pay Madame de Clermont court, should you tire of her.” Alain chuckled.

“Thank you for keeping all of these memories for me.” I looked down at the desk. “It’s much too easy to think I somehow imagined everything—that we were never really there in 1590. This makes that time seem real again.”

“Sieur Philippe thought you might feel that way. Alas, there are two more items that require your attention, Madame de Clermont.” Alain held out the ledger. A tied string kept it from being opened, and a blob of wax sealed the knot to the cover.

“What’s this?” I frowned and took the ledger. It was far thinner than the ones here in Matthew’s study that contained the financial records of the Knights of Lazarus.

“Your accounts, madame.”

“I thought Hamish was keeping my finances.” He’d left piles of documents for me, all of them awaiting my signature.

“Mr. Osborne took charge of your marriage settlement from milord. These are the funds you received from Sieur Philippe.” Alain’s attention lingered for a moment on my forehead, where Philippe had placed his blood to claim me as his daughter.

Curious, I cracked the seal and opened the covers. The little account book had been rebound periodically when more pages were required. The first entries were made on thick sixteenth-century paper and dated from the year 1591. One accounted for the deposit of the dowry that Philippe had provided when I married Matthew: 20,000 Venetian zecchini and 30,000 silver Reichsthaler. Every subsequent investment of that money—such as the rollover of any interest paid on the funds and the houses and land purchased with the proceeds—was meticulously accounted for in Alain’s neat hand. I flipped through to the final pages of the book. The last entry, made on sparkling white bond, was dated 4 July 2010, the day we had arrived back at Sept-Tours. My eyes popped at the amount indicated in the assets column.

“I am sorry it is not more,” Alain said hastily, mistaking my reaction for alarm. “I invested your money as I did my own, but the more lucrative, and therefore riskier, opportunities would have required Sieur Baldwin’s approval, and of course he could not know of your existence.”

“It’s more than I could ever imagine possessing, Alain.” Matthew had settled a substantial amount of property on me when he drew up our marriage agreement, but this was a vast sum. Philippe had wanted me to have financial independence like the rest of the de Clermont women. And as I had learned this morning, my father-in-law, whether dead or alive, got what he wanted. I put the ledger aside.

“Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure,” Alain said with a bow. He drew something from his pocket. “Finally, Sieur Philippe instructed me to give you this.”

Alain handed me an envelope made from cheap, thin stock. My name was on the front. Though the poor adhesive had long since dried up, the envelope had been sealed with a swirl of black and red waxes. An ancient coin was embedded in it: Philippe’s special signal.

“Sieur Philippe worked on this letter for over an hour. He made me read it back to him when he finished, to be sure that it captured what he wanted to say.”

“When?” Matthew asked hoarsely.

“The day he died.” Alain’s expression was haunted.

The shaky handwriting belonged to someone too old or infirm to hold a pen properly. It was a vivid reminder of how much Philippe had suffered. I traced my name. When my fingertips reached the final letter, I dragged them across the surface of the envelope, pulling at the letters so that they unraveled.

First there was a pool of black on the envelope, and then the ink resolved into the image of a man’s face.

It was still beautiful, though ravaged with pain and marred by a deep, empty socket where once a tawny eye had shimmered with intelligence and humor.

“You didn’t tell me the Nazis had blinded him.” I knew that my father-in-law had been tortured, but I had never imagined his captors had inflicted this much damage. I studied the other wounds on Philippe’s face. Mercifully, there weren’t enough letters in my name to draw a detailed portrait. I touched my father-in-law’s cheek gently, and the image dissolved, leaving an ink stain on the envelope.

With a flick of my fingers, the stain lifted into a small black tornado. When the whirling stopped, the letters dropped back into their proper place.

“Sieur Philippe often spoke with you about his troubles, Madame de Clermont,” Alain continued softly, “when the pain was very bad.”

“Spoke with her?” Matthew repeated numbly.

“Almost every day,” Alain said with a nod. “He would bid me to send everyone from that part of the château, for fear someone would overhear. Madame de Clermont brought Sieur Philippe comfort when no one else could.”

I turned the envelope over, tracing the raised markings on the ancient silver coin. “Philippe expected his coins to be returned to him. In person. How can I, if he’s dead?”

“Perhaps the answer is inside,” Matthew suggested.

I slid my finger under the envelope’s seal, freeing the coin from the wax. I carefully removed the fragile sheet of paper, which crackled ominously as it was unfolded.

Philippe’s faint scent of bay, figs, and rosemary tickled my nose.

Looking down at the paper, I was grateful for my expertise in deciphering difficult handwriting.

After a close look, I began to read the letter aloud.

Diana—

Do not let the ghosts of the past steal the joy from the future.

Thank you for holding my hand.

You can let go now.

Your father, in blood and vow,

Philippe

P.S. The coin is for the ferryman. Tell Matthew I will see you safe on the other side.

I choked on the last few words. They echoed in the silent room.

“So Philippe does expect me to return his coin.” He would be sitting on the banks of the river Styx waiting for Charon’s boat to bring me across. Perhaps Emily waited with him, and my parents, too. I closed my eyes, hoping to block out the painful images.

“What did he mean, ‘Thank you for holding my hand’?” Matthew asked.

“I promised him he wouldn’t be alone in the dark times. That I’d be there, with him.” My eyes brimmed with tears. “How can I have no memory of doing so?”

“I don’t know, my love. But somehow you managed to keep your promise.” Matthew leaned down and kissed me. He looked over my shoulder. “And Philippe made sure he got the last word, as usual.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, wiping at my cheeks.

“He left written proof that he freely and gladly wanted you for his daughter.” Matthew’s long white finger touched the page.

“That is why Sieur Philippe wanted Madame de Clermont to have these as soon as possible,” Alain admitted.

“I don’t understand,” I said, looking at Matthew.

“Between the jewels, your dowry, and this letter, it will be impossible for any of Philippe’s children—or even the Congregation—to suggest he was somehow forced to bestow a blood vow on you,” Matthew explained.

“Sieur Philippe knew his children well. He often foresaw their future as easily as any witch,” Alain said, nodding. “I will leave you to your memories.”

“Thank you, Alain.” Matthew waited until the sound of Alain’s footsteps faded before saying anything more. He looked down at me with concern. “All right, mon coeur?”

“Of course,” I murmured, staring at the desk. The past was strewn across it, and a clear future was nowhere to be found.

“I’m going upstairs to change. I won’t be long,” Matthew said, giving me a kiss.

“Take your time,” I said, mustering what I hoped was a genuine smile.

Once Matthew was gone, I reached for the golden arrowhead that Philippe gave me to wear at my wedding. Its weight was comforting, and the metal warmed quickly to my touch. I slipped its chain over my head. The arrowhead’s point nestled between my breasts, its edges too soft and worn to nick my skin.

I felt a squirming sensation in the pocket of my jeans and drew out a clutch of silk ribbons. My weaver’s cords had come with me from the past, and unlike the sleeve from my wedding dress or the faded silk that bound my letters, these strands were fresh and shiny. They twined and danced around my wrists and one another like a handful of brightly colored snakes, merging into new colors for a moment before separating into their original strands and hues. The cords snaked up my arms and wormed their way into my hair as if they were looking for something. I pulled them free and tucked the silks away.

I was supposed to be the weaver. But would I ever comprehend the tangled web that Philippe de Clermont had been spinning when he made me his blood-sworn daughter?

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