فصل 33

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فصل 33

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33

The creatures gathered for the christening let out a collective gasp. Ysabeau signaled to Père Antoine, who quickly shepherded the villagers from the church. Then she and Fernando took up watchful positions on either side of Jack and me.

“Surely you don’t expect me to acknowledge a corrupt, diseased branch of this family and give it my blessing and respect?” Baldwin crumpled the document in his fist.

Jack’s eyes blackened at the insult.

“Matthew entrusted Philip to you. You are responsible for your godson,” Ysabeau reminded Jack.

“Do not let Baldwin’s words provoke you to ignore your sire’s wishes.”

Jack drew a deep, shaky breath and nodded. Philip cooed for Jack’s attention, and when he received it, he rewarded his godfather with a frown of concern. When Jack looked up again, his eyes were green and brown once again.

“This hardly seems like friendly behavior to me, Uncle Baldwin,” Marcus said calmly. “Let’s wait and discuss family business after the feast.”

“No, Marcus. We’ll discuss it now and get it over with,” Matthew said, countermanding his son.

In another time and place, Henry VIII’s courtiers had delivered the news of his fifth wife’s infidelity in church so that the king would think twice before killing the messenger. Matthew apparently believed it might keep Baldwin from killing him, too.

When Matthew suddenly appeared behind his brother, having only a moment before been in front, I realized that his decision to remain here was actually intended to protect Baldwin. Matthew, like Henry, would not shed blood on holy ground.

That did not mean, however, that Matthew was going to be entirely merciful. He had his brother in an unbreakable hold, with one long arm wrapped around Baldwin’s neck so that Matthew was grasping his own right bicep. His right hand drove into Baldwin’s shoulder blade with enough force to snap it in two, his expression devoid of emotion and his eyes balanced evenly between gray and black.

“And that is why you never let Matthew Clairmont come up behind you,” one vampire murmured to another.

“Soon it will hurt like hell, too,” his friend replied. “Unless Baldwin blacks out first.”

Wordlessly I passed Rebecca to Miriam. My hands were itching with power, and I hid them in the pockets of my coat. The arrow’s silver shaft felt heavy against my spine, and Corra was on high alert, her wings ready to spring open. After New Haven my familiar didn’t trust Baldwin any more than I did.

Baldwin almost succeeded in overcoming Matthew—or at least I thought he had. Before I could cry out in warning, it became evident that Baldwin’s seeming advantage was only a clever trick by Matthew to lull him into changing his position. When he did, Matthew used Baldwin’s own weight and a quick, bone-cracking kick to his brother’s leg to drop him to his knees. Baldwin let out a strangled grunt.

It was a vivid reminder that though Baldwin might be the bigger man in height and heft, Matthew was the killer.

“Now, sieur.” Matthew’s arm lifted slightly so that his brother hung by his chin, putting more pressure on his neck. “It would please me if you would reconsider my respectful request to establish a de Clermont scion.”

“Never,” Baldwin gurgled out. His lips were turning blue from lack of oxygen.

“My wife tells me that the word ‘never’ is not to be used where the Bishop-Clairmonts are concerned.” Matthew’s arm tightened, and Baldwin’s eyes began to roll back into his head. “I’m not going to let you pass out, by the way, nor am I going to kill you. If you’re unconscious or dead, you can’t agree to my request. So if you’re determined to keep saying no, you can look forward to many hours of this.”

“Let. Me. Go.” Baldwin struggled to get each word out. Deliberately Matthew let him take a short, gasping breath. It was enough to keep the vampire going but not to permit him to recover.

“Let me go, Baldwin. After all these years, I want to be something more than the de Clermont family’s black sheep,” Matthew murmured.

“No,” Baldwin said thickly.

Matthew adjusted his arm so that his brother could get out more than a word or two at a time, though this still didn’t remove the bluish cast from his lips. Matthew took the wise precaution of driving the heel of his shoe into his brother’s ankle in case Baldwin planned on using the extra oxygen to fight back. Baldwin howled.

“Take Rebecca and Philip back to Sept-Tours,” I told Miriam, pushing up my sleeves. I didn’t want them to see their father like this. Nor did I want them to see their mother use magic against a member of their family. The wind picked up around my feet, swirling the dust in the church into miniature tornadoes. The flames in the candelabrum danced, ready to do my bidding, and the water in the baptismal font began to bubble.

“Release me and mine, Baldwin,” Matthew said. “You don’t want us anyway.”

“Might . . . need . . . you. My. . . . killer . . . after . . . all,” Baldwin replied.

The church erupted into shocked exclamations and whispered exchanges as this de Clermont secret was openly mentioned, though I was sure that some present knew the role Matthew had played in the family.

“Do your own dirty work for a change,” Matthew said. “God knows you’re as capable of murder as I am.”

“You. Different. Twins. Have blood rage. Too?” Baldwin bit out.

The assembled guests fell silent.

“Blood rage?” A vampire’s voice cut through the quiet, his Irish accent slight but noticeable. “What is he talking about, Matthew?” The vampires in the church traded worried glances as the murmur of conversation resumed. Blood rage was clearly more than they had bargained for when they’d accepted Marcus’s invitation. Fighting the Congregation and protecting vampire-witch children was one thing. A disease that might transform you into a bloodthirsty monster was quite another.

“Baldwin told you true, Giles. My blood is tainted,” Matthew said. His eyes locked with mine, the pupils slightly enlarged. Leave while you can, they silently urged.

But this time Matthew would not be alone. I pushed my way past Ysabeau and Fernando and headed for my husband’s side.

“That means Marcus . . .” Giles trailed off. His eyes narrowed. “We cannot allow the Knights of Lazarus to be led by someone with blood rage. It is impossible.”

“Don’t be such a bloody lobcock,” the vampire next to Giles said in a crisp British accent.

“Matthew’s already been Grand Master, and we were none the wiser. In fact, if memory serves, Matthew was an uncommonly good commander of the brotherhood in more than one tricky situation. I believe that Marcus, though a rebel and a traitor, shows promise as well.” The vampire smiled, but his nod toward Marcus was respectful.

“Thank you, Russell,” Marcus said. “Coming from you, that’s a compliment.”

“Terribly sorry about the brotherhood slip, Miriam,” Russell said with a wink. “And I’m no physician, but I do believe that Matthew is about to render Baldwin unconscious.”

Matthew adjusted his arm slightly, and Baldwin’s eyeballs returned to their normal position.

“My father’s blood rage is under control. There’s no reason for us to act out of fear and superstition,” Marcus said, addressing everyone in the church. “The Knights of Lazarus were founded to protect the vulnerable. Every member of the order swore an oath to defend all his or her fellow knights to the death. I needn’t remind anyone here that Matthew is a knight. So, too, are his children.”

The need for an infant investiture for Rebecca and Philip made sense now.

“So what do you say, Uncle?” Marcus strode down the aisle to stand before Baldwin and Matthew. “Are you still a knight, or have you become a coward in your old age?”

Baldwin turned purple—and not from lack of oxygen.

“Careful, Marcus,” Matthew warned. “I will have to let him go eventually.”

“Knight.” Baldwin looked at Marcus with loathing.

“Then start behaving like one and treat my father with the respect he’s earned.” Marcus looked around the church. “Matthew and Diana want to establish a scion, and the Knights of Lazarus will support them when they do. Anybody who disagrees is welcome to formally challenge my leadership.

Otherwise the matter is not up for discussion.”

The church was absolutely silent.

Matthew’s lips lifted into a smile. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Marcus said. “We’ve still got the Congregation to contend with.”

“An unpleasant task, to be sure, but not an unmanageable one,” Russell said drily. “Let Baldwin go, Matthew. Your brother has never been very fast, and Oliver is at your left elbow. He’s been longing to teach Baldwin a lesson ever since your brother broke his daughter’s heart.”

Several of the guests chuckled and the winds of opinion began to blow in our favor.

Slowly Matthew did as Russell suggested. He made no attempt to get away from his brother or to shield me. Baldwin remained on his knees for a few moments, then climbed to his feet. As soon as he did, Matthew knelt before him.

“I place my trust in you, sieur,” Matthew said, bowing his head. “I ask for your trust in return.

Neither I nor mine will dishonor the de Clermont family.”

“You know I cannot, Matthew,” Baldwin said. “A vampire with blood rage is never in control, not absolutely.” His eyes flickered to Jack, but it was Benjamin he was thinking of—and Matthew.

“And if a vampire could be?” I demanded.

“Diana, this is no time for wishful thinking. I know that you and Matthew have been hoping for a cure, but—”

“If I gave you my word, as Philippe’s blood-sworn daughter, that any of Matthew’s kin with blood rage can be brought under control, would you recognize him as the head of his family?” I was inches away from Baldwin, and my power was humming. My suspicion that my disguising spell had burned away was borne out by the curious looks I received.

“You can’t promise that,” Baldwin said.

“Diana, don’t—” Matthew began, but I cut him off with a look.

“I can and I do. We don’t have to wait for science to come up with a solution when a magical one already exists. If any member of Matthew’s family acts on their blood rage, I will spellbind them,” I said. “Agreed?”

Matthew stared at me in shock. And with good reason. This time last year I was still clinging to the belief that science was superior to magic.

“No,” Baldwin said with a shake of his head. “Your word is not good enough. You would have to prove it. Then we would all have to wait and see if your magic is as good as you think it is, witch.”

“Very well,” I said promptly. “Our probation starts now.”

Baldwin’s eyes narrowed. Matthew looked up at his brother.

“Queen checks king,” Matthew said softly.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, brother.” Baldwin hoisted Matthew to his feet. “Our game is far from over.”

“It was left in Père Antoine’s office,” Fernando said. “No one saw who brought it.”

Matthew looked down at the preserved stillborn fetus. A girl.

“He’s even more insane than I thought.” Baldwin looked pale, and not just because of what had happened in the church.

Matthew read the note again.

“Congratulations on your children’s birth,” it said. “I wanted you to have my daughter, since I will soon possess yours.” The note was signed simply “Your son.”

“Someone is reporting your every move to Benjamin,” Baldwin said.

“The question is who.” Fernando put his hand on Matthew’s arm. “We won’t let him take Rebecca—or Diana.”

The prospect was so chilling that Matthew could only nod.

In spite of Fernando’s assurances, Matthew would not know another moment’s peace until Benjamin Fuchs was dead.

After the drama of the christening, the rest of the winter holiday was a quiet family affair. Our guests departed, except for the extended Wilson family, who remained at Sept-Tours to enjoy what Agatha Wilson described as “very merry mayhem.” Chris and Miriam returned to Yale, still committed to reaching a better understanding of blood rage and its possible treatment. Baldwin took off for Venice at the earliest opportunity to try to manage the Congregation’s response to any news trickling in from France.

Matthew flung himself into Christmas preparations, determined to banish any lingering sourness after the christening. He went off into the woods on the other side of the moat and came back with a tall fir tree for the great hall, which he draped with tiny white lights that shone like fireflies.

Remembering Philippe and his decorations for Yule, we cut moons and stars out of silver and gold paper. With the combination of a flying spell and a binding charm, I swirled them into the air and let them settle onto the branches, where they winked and sparkled in the firelight.

Matthew went to Saint-Lucien for mass on Christmas Eve. He and Jack were the only vampires in attendance, which pleased Père Antoine. After the christening he was understandably reluctant to have too many creatures in his pews.

The children were fed and sleeping soundly when Matthew returned, stomping the snow from his shoes. I was sitting by the fire in the great hall with a bottle of Matthew’s favorite wine and two glasses. Marcus had assured me that a single glass every now and again wouldn’t affect the babies, provided I waited a couple of hours before I nursed.

“Peace, perfect peace,” Matthew said, cocking his head for signs that the babies were stirring.

“Silent night, holy night,” I agreed with a grin, leaning over to switch off the baby monitor. Like blood-pressure cuffs and power tools, such equipment was optional in a vampire household.

While I fiddled with the controls, Matthew tackled me. Weeks of separation and standing up to Baldwin had brought out his playful side.

“Your nose is freezing,” I said, giggling as he drew its tip along the warm skin of my neck. I gasped. “Your hands, too.”

“Why do you think I took a warmblood for a wife?” Matthew’s icy fingers rummaged around underneath my sweater.

“Wouldn’t a hot-water bottle have been less trouble?” I teased. His fingers found what they sought, and I arched into his touch.

“Perhaps.” Matthew kissed me. “But not nearly so much fun.”

The wine forgotten, we marked the hours until midnight in heartbeats rather than minutes. When the bells of the nearby churches in Dournazac and Châlus rang to celebrate the birth of a child in long ago and far-away Bethlehem, Matthew paused to listen to the solemn yet still-exuberant sound.

“What are you thinking?” I asked as the bells died away.

“I was remembering how the village celebrated Saturnalia when I was a child. There were not many Christians, apart from my parents and a few other families. On the last day of the festival—the twenty-third of December—Philippe went to every house, pagan and Christian, and asked the children what they wished for the New Year.” Matthew’s smile was wistful. “When we woke up the next morning, we discovered that our wishes had been granted.”

“That sounds like your father,” I observed. “What did you wish for?”

“More food, usually,” Matthew said with a laugh. “My mother said the only way to account for the amount I ate was hollow legs. Once I asked for a sword. Every boy in the village idolized Hugh and Baldwin. We all wanted to be like them. As I recall, the sword I received was made of wood and broke the first time I swung it.”

“And now?” I whispered, kissing his eyes, his cheeks, his mouth.

“Now I want nothing more than to grow old with you,” Matthew said.

The family came to us on Christmas Day, saving us from having to bundle up Rebecca and Philip yet again. From the changes to their routine, the twins were aware that this was no ordinary day. They demanded to be part of things, and I finally took them to the kitchen with me to keep them quiet. There I constructed a magical mobile out of flying fruit to occupy them while I helped Marthe put the finishing touches on a meal that would make both vampires and warmbloods happy.

Matthew was a nuisance, too, picking at the dish of nuts I’d whipped up from Em’s recipe. At this point if any of them lasted till dinner, it was going to be a Christmas miracle.

“Just one more,” he wheedled, sliding his hands around my waist.

“You’ve eaten half a pound of them already. Leave some for Marcus and Jack.” I wasn’t sure if vampires got sugar highs, but I wasn’t eager to find out. “Still liking your Christmas present?”

I’d been trying to figure out what to get the man who had everything ever since the children were born, but when Matthew told me his wish was to grow old with me, I knew exactly what to do for his present.

“I love it.” He touched his temples, where a few silver strands showed in the black.

“You always said I was going to give you gray hairs.” I grinned.

“And I thought it was impossible. That was before I learned that impossible n’est pas Diana,” he said, paraphrasing Ysabeau. Matthew grabbed a handful of nuts and went to the babies before I could react. “Hello, beauty.”

Rebecca cooed in response. She and Philip shared a complex vocabulary of coos, grunts, and other soft sounds that Matthew and I were trying to master.

“That’s definitely one of her happy noises,” I said, putting a pan of cookies in the oven. Rebecca adored her father, especially when he sang. Philip was less sure that singing was a good idea.

“And are you happy, too, little man?” Matthew picked Philip up from his bouncy seat, narrowly missing the flying banana I’d tossed into the mobile at the last minute. It was like a bright yellow comet, streaking through the other orbiting fruit. “What a lucky boy you are to have a mother who will make magic for you.”

Philip, like most babies his age, was all eyes as he watched the orange and the lime circle the grapefruit I’d suspended in midair.

“He won’t always think that having a witch for a mommy is so wonderful.” I went to the fridge and searched for the vegetables I needed for the gratin. When I closed the door, I discovered Matthew waiting for me behind it. I jumped in surprise.

“You have to start making a noise or giving me some other clue to warn me that you’re moving,” I complained, pressing my hand against my hammering heart.

Matthew’s compressed lips told me that he was annoyed.

“Do you see that woman, Philip?” He pointed to me, and Philip directed his wiggling head my way.

“She is a brilliant scholar and a powerful witch, though she doesn’t like to admit it. And you have the great good fortune to call her Maman. That means you are one of the few creatures who will ever learn this family’s most cherished secret.” Matthew drew Philip close to him and murmured something in his ear.

When Matthew finished and drew away, Philip looked up at his father—and smiled. This was the first time either of the babies had done so, but I had seen this particular expression of happiness before.

It was slow and genuine and lit his entire face from within.

Philip might have my hair, but he had Matthew’s smile.

“Exactly right.” Matthew nodded at his son with approval and returned Philip to his bouncy chair. Rebecca looked at Matthew with a frown, slightly irritated at having been left out of the boys’ discussion. Matthew obligingly whispered in her ear as well, then blew a raspberry on her belly.

Rebecca’s eyes and mouth were round, as though her father’s words had impressed her—though I suspected that the raspberry might have something to do with it, too.

“What nonsense have you told them?” I asked, attacking a potato with a peeler. Matthew removed the two from my fingers.

“It wasn’t nonsense,” he said calmly. Three seconds later the potato was entirely without skin. He took another from the bowl.

“Tell me.”

“Come closer,” he said, beckoning to me with the peeler. I took a few steps in his direction. He beckoned again. “Closer.”

When I was standing right next to him, Matthew bent his face toward mine.

“The secret is that I may be the head of the Bishop-Clairmont family, but you are its heart,” he whispered. “And the three of us are in perfect agreement: The heart is more important.”

Matthew had already passed over the box containing letters between Philippe and Godfrey several times.

It was only out of desperation that he riffled through the pages.

“My most reverend sire and father,”Godfrey’s letter began.

“The most dangerous among The Sixteen have been executed in Paris, as you ordered. As Matthew was unavailable for the job, Mayenne was happy to oblige, and thanks you for your assistance with the matter of the Gonzaga family. Now that he feels secure, the duke has decided to play both sides, negotiating with Henri of Navarre and Philip of Spain at the same time. But cleverness is not wisdom, as you are wont to say.”

So far the letter contained nothing more than references to Philippe’s political machinations.

“As for the other matter,” Godfrey continued,“I have found Benjamin Ben-Gabriel as the Jews call him, or Benjamin Fuchs as the emperor knows him, or Benjamin the Blessed as he prefers. He is in the east as you feared, moving between the emperor’s court, the B?thory, the Dr?cule?ti, and His Imperial Majesty in Constantinople. There are worrying tales of Benjamin’s relationship with Countess Erzsébet, which, if circulated more widely, will result in Congregation inquiries detrimental to the family and those we hold dear. “Matthew’s term on the Congregation is near an end, as he will have served his half century. If you will not involve him in business that so directly concerns him and his bloodline, then I beg you to see to it yourself or to send some trusted person to Hungary with all speed. “In addition to the tales of excess and murder with Countess Erzsébet, the Jews of Prague similarly speak of the terror Benjamin caused in their district, when he threatened their beloved rabbi and a witch from Chelm. Now there are impossible tales of an enchanted creature made of clay who roams the streets protecting the Jews from those who would feast on their blood. The Jews say Benjamin seeks another witch as well, an Englishwoman who they claim was last seen with Ysabeau’s son. But this cannot be true, for Matthew is in England and would never lower himself to associate with a witch.”

Matthew’s breath hissed from between tight lips.

“Perhaps they confuse the English witch with the English daemon Edward Kelley, whom Benjamin visited in the emperor’s palace in May. According to your friend Joris Hoefnagel, Kelley was placed in Benjamin’s custody a few weeks later after he was accused of murdering one of the emperor’s servants. Benjamin took him to a castle in K?ivokl?t, where Kelley tried to escape and nearly died. “There is one more piece of intelligence I must share with you, father, though I hesitate to do so, for it may be nothing more than the stuff of fantasy and fear. According to my informants, Gerbert was in Hungary with the countess and Benjamin. The witches of Pozsony have complained formally to the Congregation about women who have been taken and tortured by these three infamous creatures. One witch escaped and before death took her was able only to say these words: ‘They search within us for the Book of Life.’”

Matthew remembered the horrifying image of Diana’s parents, split open from throat to groin.

“These dark matters put the family in too much danger. Gerbert cannot be allowed to fascinate Benjamin with the power that witches have, as he has been. Matthew’s son must be kept away from Erzsébet B?thory, lest your mate’s secret be discovered. And we must not let the witches pursue the Book of Life any further. You will know how best to achieve these ends, whether by seeing to them yourself or by summoning the brotherhood. “I remain your humble servant and entrust your soul to God in the hope that He will see us safe together so we might speak more of these matters than present circumstances make wise.”

“Your loving son, Godfrey

“From the Confrérie, Paris this 20th day of December 1591”

Matthew folded the letter carefully.

At last he had some idea where to look. He would go to Central Europe and search for Benjamin himself. But first he had to tell Diana what he’d learned. He had kept the news of Benjamin from her as long as he could.

The babies’ first Christmas was as loving and festive as anyone could wish. With eight vampires, two witches, one human vampire-in-waiting, and three dogs in attendance, it was also lively.

Matthew showed off the half dozen strands of gray hair that had resulted from my Christmas spell and explained happily that every year I’d give him more. I had asked for a six-slice toaster, which I had received, along with a beautiful antique pen inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl. Ysabeau criticized these gifts as insufficiently romantic for a couple so recently wed, but I didn’t need more jewelry, had no interest in traveling, and wasn’t interested in clothes. A toaster suited me to the ground.

Phoebe had encouraged the entire family to think of gifts that were handmade or hand-me-down, which struck us all as both meaningful and practical. Jack modeled the sweater Marthe had knit for him and the cuff links from his grandmother that had once belonged to Philippe. Phoebe wore a pair of glittering emeralds in her ears that I’d assumed had come from Marcus until she blushed furiously and explained that Marcus had given her something handmade, which she had left at Sept-Tours for safety’s sake. Given her color, I decided not to inquire further. Sarah and Ysabeau were pleased with the photo albums we’d presented that documented the twins’ first month of life.

Then the ponies arrived.

“Philip and Rebecca must ride, of course,” Ysabeau said as though this were self-evident. She supervised as her groom, Georges, led two small horses off the trailer. “This way they can grow accustomed to the horses before you put them in the saddle.” I suspected she and I might have different ideas on how soon that blessed day might occur.

“They are Paso Finos,” Ysabeau continued. “I thought an Andalusian like yours might be too much for a beginner. Phoebe said we are supposed to give hand-it-overs, but I have never been a slave to principle.” Georges led a third animal from the trailer: Rakasa.

“Diana’s been asking for a pony since she could talk. Now she’s finally got one,” Sarah said. When Rakasa decided to investigate her pockets for anything interesting such as apples or peppermints, Sarah jumped away. “Horses have big teeth, don’t they?”

“Perhaps Diana will have better luck teaching her manners than I did,” Ysabeau said.

“Here, give her to me,” Jack said, taking the horse’s lead rope. Rakasa followed him, docile as a lamb.

“I thought you were a city boy,” Sarah called after him.

“My first job—well, my first honest job—was taking care of gentlemen’s horses at the Cardinal’s Hat,” Jack said. “You forget, Granny Sarah, cities used to be full of horses. Pigs, too. And their sh—”

“Where there’s livestock, there’s that,” Marcus said before Jack could finish. The young Paso Fino he was holding had already proved his point. “You’ve got the other one, sweetheart?”

Phoebe nodded, completely at ease with her equine charge. She and Marcus followed Jack to the stables.

“The little mare, Rosita, has established herself as head of the herd,” Ysabeau said. “I would have brought Balthasar, too, but as Rosita brings out his amorous side I’ve left him at Sept-Tours—for now.”

The idea that Matthew’s enormous stallion would try to act upon his intentions with a horse as small as Rosita was inconceivable.

We were sitting in the library after dinner, surrounded by the remains of Philippe de Clermont’s long life, a fire crackling in the enormous stone fireplace, when Jack stood and went to Matthew’s side.

“This is for you. Well, for all of us, really. Grand-mère said that all families of worth have them.”

Jack handed Matthew a piece of paper. “If you like it, Fernando and I will have it made into a standard for the tower.”

Matthew stared down at the paper.

“If you don’t like it—” Jack reached to reclaim his gift. Matthew’s arm shot out and he caught Jack by the wrist.

“I think it’s perfect.” Matthew looked up at the boy who would always be like our firstborn child, though I had nothing to do with his warmblooded birth and Matthew was not responsible for his rebirth.

“Show it to your mother. See what she thinks.”

Expecting a monogram or a heraldic shield, I was stunned to see the image Jack had devised to symbolize our family. It was an entirely new orobouros, made not of a single snake with a tail in its mouth but two creatures locked forever in a circle with no beginning and no ending. One was the de Clermont serpent. The other was a firedrake, her two legs tucked against her body and her wings extended. A crown rested on the firedrake’s head.

“Grand-mère said the firedrake should wear a crown because you’re a true de Clermont and outrank the rest of us,” Jack explained matter-of-factly. He picked nervously at the pocket of his jeans.

“I can take the crown off. And make the wings smaller.”

“Matthew’s right. It’s already perfect.” I reached for his hand and pulled him down so I could give him a kiss. “Thank you, Jack.”

Everyone admired the official emblem of the Bishop-Clairmont family, and Ysabeau explained that new silver and china would have to be ordered, as well as a flag.

“What a lovely day,” I said, one arm around Matthew and the other waving farewell to our family as they departed, my left thumb prickling in sudden warning.

“I don’t care how reasonable your plan is. Diana’s not going to let you go to Hungary and Poland without her,” Fernando said. “Have you forgotten what happened to you when you left her to go to New Orleans?”

Fernando, Marcus, and Matthew had spent most of the hours between midnight and dawn arguing over what to do about Godfrey’s letter.

“Diana must go to Oxford. Only she can find the Book of Life,” Matthew said. “If something goes wrong and I can’t find Benjamin, I’ll need that manuscript to lure him into the open.”

“And when you do find him?” Marcus said sharply.

“Your job is to take care of Diana and my children,” Matthew said, equally sharp. “Leave Benjamin to me.”

I watched the heavens for auguries and plucked at every thread that seemed out of place to try to foresee and rectify whatever evil was abroad.

But the trouble did not gallop over the hill like an apocalyptic horseman, or cruise into the driveway, or even call on the phone.

The trouble was already in the house—and had been for some time.

I found Matthew in the library late one afternoon a few days after Christmas, several folded sheets of paper before him. My hands turned every color in the rainbow, and my heart sank.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“A letter from Godfrey.” He slid it in my direction. I glanced at it, but it was written in Old French.

“Read it to me,” I said, sitting down next to him.

The truth was far worse than I had allowed myself to imagine. Benjamin’s killing spree had lasted centuries. He’d preyed on witches, and very probably weavers in particular. Gerbert was almost certainly involved. And that one phrase—“They search within us for the Book of Life”—turned my blood to fire and ice.

“We have to stop him, Matthew. If he finds out we’ve had a daughter . . .” I trailed off. Benjamin’s final words to me in the Bodleian haunted me. When I thought of what he might try to do to Rebecca, the power snapped through my veins like the lash of a whip.

“He already knows.” Matthew met my eyes, and I gasped at the rage I saw there.

“Since when?”

“Sometime before the christening,” Matthew said. “I’m going to look for him, Diana.”

“How will you find him?” I asked.

“Not by using computers or by trying to find his IP address. He’s too clever for that. I’ll find him the way I know best: tracking him, scenting him, cornering him,” Matthew said. “Once I do that, I’ll tear him limb from limb. If I fail—”

“You can’t,” I said flatly.

“I may.” Matthew’s eyes met mine. He needed me to hear him, not reassure him.

“Okay,” I said with a calmness I didn’t feel, “what happens if you fail?”

“You’ll need the Book of Life. It’s the only thing that may lure Benjamin out of hiding so he can be destroyed—once and for all.”

“The only thing besides me,” I said.

Matthew’s darkening eyes said that using me as bait to catch Benjamin was not an option.

“I’ll leave for Oxford tomorrow. The library is closed for the Christmas vacation. There won’t be any staff around except for security,” I said.

To my surprise, Matthew nodded. He was going to let me help.

“Will you be all right on your own?” I didn’t want to fuss over him, but I needed to know. Matthew had already suffered through one separation. He nodded.

“What shall we do about the children?” Matthew asked.

“They need to stay here, with Sarah and Ysabeau and with enough of my milk and blood to feed them until I return. I’ll take Fernando with me—no one else. If someone is watching us and reporting back to Benjamin, then we need to do what we can to make it look as though we’re still here and everything is normal.”

“Someone is watching us. There’s no doubt about it.” Matthew pushed his fingers through his hair.

“The only question is whether that someone belongs to Benjamin or to Gerbert. That wily bastard’s role in this may have been bigger than we thought.”

“If he and your son have been in league all this time, there’s no telling how much they know,” I said.

“Then our only hope is to possess information they don’t yet have. Get the book. Bring it back here and see if you can fix it by reinserting the pages Kelley removed,” Matthew said. “Meanwhile I’ll find Benjamin and do what I should have done long ago.”

“When will you leave?” I asked.

“Tomorrow. After you go, so I can make sure that you aren’t being followed,” he said, rising to his feet.

I watched in silence as the parts of Matthew I knew and loved—the poet and the scientist, the warrior and the spy, the Renaissance prince and the father—fell away until only the darkest, most forbidding part of him remained. He was only the assassin now.

But he was still the man I loved.

Matthew took me by the shoulders and waited until I met his eyes. “Be safe.”

His words were emphatic, and I felt the force of them. He cupped my face in his hands, searching every inch as though trying to memorize it.

“I meant what I said on Christmas Day. The family will survive if I don’t come back. There are others who can serve as its head. But you are its heart.”

I opened my mouth to protest, and Matthew pressed his fingers against my lips, staying my words.

“There is no point in arguing with me. I know this from experience,” he said. “Before you I was nothing but dust and shadows. You brought me to life. And I will do whatever it takes to keep my heart safe from further harm.” Sol in Capricorn

The tenth house of the zodiack is Capricorn.

It signifieth mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors of the female sex.

It is the sign of resurrection and rebirth.

In this month, plant seedes for the future.

—Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590, Gonçalves MS 4890, f. 14v

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