فصل 34

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فصل 34

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34

Andrew Hubbard and Linda Crosby were waiting for us at the Old Lodge. In spite of my efforts to persuade my aunt to stay at Les Revenants, she insisted on coming with Fernando and me.

“You’re not doing this alone, Diana,” Sarah said in a tone that didn’t invite argument. “I don’t care that you’re a weaver or that you have Corra for help. Magic on this scale requires three witches. And not just any witches. You need spell casters.”

Linda Crosby turned up with the official London grimoire—an ancient tome that smelled darkly of belladonna and wolfsbane. We exchanged hellos while Fernando caught Andrew up on how Jack and Lobero were faring.

“Are you sure you want to get involved with this?” I asked Linda.

“Absolutely. The London coven hasn’t been involved in anything half so exciting since we were called in to help foil the 1971 attempt to steal the crown jewels.” Linda rubbed her hands together.

Andrew had, through his contacts with the London underworld of gravediggers, tube engineers, and pipe fitters, obtained detailed schematics of the warren of tunnels and shelving that constituted the book storage facilities for the Bodleian Library. He unrolled these on the long refectory table in the great hall.

“There are no students or library staff on site at the moment because of the Christmas holiday,”

Andrew said. “But there are builders everywhere.” He pointed to the schematics. “They’re converting the former underground book storage into work space for readers.”

“First they moved the rare books to the Radcliffe Science Library and now this.” I peered at the maps. “When do the work crews finish for the day?”

“They don’t,” Andrew said. “They’ve been working around the clock to minimize disruptions during the academic term.”

“What if we go to the reading room and you put in a request just as though it were an ordinary day at the Bodleian?” Linda suggested. “You know, fill out the slip, stuff it in the Lamson tube, and hope for the best. We could stand by the conveyor belt and wait for it. Maybe the library knows how to fulfill your request, even without staff.” Linda sniffed when she saw my amazed look at her knowledge of the Bodleian’s procedures. “I went to St. Hilda’s, my girl.”

“The pneumatic-tube system was shut down last July. The conveyor belt was dismantled this August.” Andrew held up his hands. “Do not harm the messenger, ladies. I am not Bodley’s librarian.”

“If Stephen’s spell is good enough, it won’t care about the equipment—just that Diana has requested something she truly needs,” Sarah said.

“The only way to know for sure is to go to the Bodleian, avoid the workers, and find a way into the Old Library.” I sighed.

Andrew nodded. “My Stan is on the excavation crew. Been digging his whole life. If you can wait until nightfall, he’ll let you in. He’ll get in trouble, of course, but it won’t be the first time, and there’s not a prison built that can hold him.”

“Good man, Stanley Cripplegate,” Linda said with a satisfied nod. “Always such a help in the autumn when you need the daffodil bulbs planted.”

Stanley Cripplegate was a tiny whippet of a man with a pronounced underbite and the sinewy outlines of someone who had been malnourished since birth. Vampire blood had given him longevity and strength, but there was only so much it could do to lengthen bones. He distributed bright yellow safety helmets to the four of us.

“Aren’t we going to be . . . er, conspicuous in this getup?” Sarah asked.

“Being as you’re ladies, you’re already conspicuous,” Stan said darkly. He whistled. “Oy! Dickie!”

“Quiet,” I hissed. This was turning out to be the loudest, most conspicuous book heist in history.

“S’all right. Dickie and me, we go way back.” Stan turned to his colleague. “Take these ladies up to the first floor, Dickie.”

Dickie deposited us, helmets and all, in the Arts End of Duke Humfrey’s reading room between the bust of King Charles I and the bust of Sir Thomas Bodley.

“Is it me, or are they watching us?” Linda said, scowling at the unfortunate monarch, hands on her hips.

King Charles blinked.

“Witches have been on the security detail since the middle of the nineteenth century. Stan warned us not to do anything we oughtn’t around the pictures, statues, and gargoyles.” Dickie shuddered. “I don’t mind most of them. They’re company on dark nights, but that one’s a right creepy old bugger.”

“You should have met his father,” Fernando commented. He swept his hat off and bowed to the blinking monarch. “Your Majesty.”

It was every library patron’s nightmare—that you were secretly being observed whenever you took a forbidden cough drop out of your pocket. In the Bodleian’s case, it turned out the readers had good reason to worry. The nerve center for a magical security system was hidden behind the eyeballs of Thomas Bodley and King Charles.

“Sorry, Charlie.” I tossed my yellow helmet in the air, and it sailed over to land on the king’s head.

I flicked my fingers, and the brim tilted down over his eyes. “No witnesses for tonight’s events.”

Fernando handed me his helmet.

“Use mine for the founder. Please.”

Once I’d obscured Sir Thomas’s sight, I began to pluck and tweak the threads that bound the statues to the rest of the library. The spell’s knots weren’t complicated—just thrice- and four-crossed bindings—but there were so many of them, all piled on top of one another like a severely overtaxed electrical panel. Finally I discovered the main knot through which all the other knots were threaded and carefully untied it. The uncanny feeling of being observed vanished.

“That’s better,” Linda murmured. “Now what?”

“I promised to call Matthew once we were inside,” I said, drawing out my phone. “Give me a minute.”

I pushed past the lattice barricade and walked down the silent, echoing main avenue of Duke Humfrey’s Library. Matthew picked up on the first ring.

“All right, mon coeur?” His voice thrummed with tension, and I briefly filled him in on our progress so far.

“How were Rebecca and Philip after I left?” I asked when my tale was told.

“Fidgety.”

“And you?” My voice softened.

“More fidgety.”

“Where are you?” I asked. Matthew had waited until after I left for England, then started driving north and east toward Central Europe.

“I just left Germany.” He wasn’t going to give me any more details in case I encountered an inquisitive witch.

“Be careful. Remember what the goddess said.” Her warning that I would have to give something up if I wanted to possess Ashmole 782 still haunted me.

“I will.” Matthew paused. “There’s something I want you to remember, too.”

“What?”

“Hearts cannot be broken, Diana. And only love makes us truly immortal. Don’t forget, ma lionne.

No matter what happens.” He disconnected the line.

His words sent a shiver of fear up my spine, setting the goddess’s silver arrow rattling. I repeated the words of the charm I’d woven to keep him safe and felt the familiar tug of the chain that bound us together.

“All is well?” Fernando asked quietly.

“As expected.” I slipped the phone back into my pocket. “Let’s get started.” We had agreed that the first thing we would try was simply to replicate the steps by which Ashmole 782 had come into my hands the first time. With Sarah, Linda, and Fernando looking on, I filled out the boxes on the call slip. I signed it, put my reader’s-card number in the appropriate blank, and carried it over to the spot in the Arts End where the pneumatic tube was located.

“The capsule is here,” I said, removing the hollow receptacle. “Maybe Andrew was wrong and the delivery system is still working.” When I opened it, the capsule was full of dust. I coughed.

“And maybe it doesn’t matter one way or the other,” Sarah said with a touch of impatience. “Load it up and let her rip.”

I put the call slip into the capsule, closed it securely, and placed it back in the compartment.

“What next?” Sarah said a few minutes later.

The capsule was right where I’d left it.

“Let’s give it a good whack.” Linda slapped the end of the compartment, causing the wooden supports it was attached to—and which held up the gallery above—to shake alarmingly. With an audible whoosh, the capsule disappeared.

“Nice work, Linda,” Sarah said with obvious admiration.

“Is that a witch’s trick?” Fernando asked, his lips twitching.

“No, but it always improves the Radio 4 signal on my stereo,” Linda said brightly.

Two hours later we were all still waiting by the conveyor belt for a manuscript that showed absolutely no sign of arriving.

Sarah sighed. “Plan B.”

Without a word Fernando unbuttoned his dark coat and slipped it from his shoulders. A pillowcase was sewn into the back lining. Inside, sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard, were the three pages that Edward Kelley had removed from the Book of Life.

“Here you are,” he said, handing over the priceless parcel.

“Where do you want to do it?” Sarah asked. “The only place that’s large enough is there,” I said, pointing to the spot between the splendid stained-glass window and the guard’s station. “No—don’t touch that!” My voice came out in a whispered shriek.

“Why not?” Fernando asked, his hands wrapped around the wooden uprights of a rolling stepladder that blocked our way.

“It’s the world’s oldest stepladder. It’s nearly as ancient as the library.” I pressed the manuscript pages to my heart. “Nobody touches it. Ever.”

“Move the damn ladder, Fernando,” Sarah instructed. “I’m sure Ysabeau has a replacement for it if it gets damaged. Push that chair out of the way while you’re at it,”

A few nail-biting moments later, I was ripping into a box of salt that Linda had carried up in a Marks & Spencer shopping bag. I whispered prayers to the goddess, asking for her help finding this lost object while I outlined a triangle with the white crystals. When that was done, I doled out the pages from the Book of Life, and Sarah, Linda, and I each stood at one of the points of the triangle. We directed the illustrations into the center, and I repeated the spell I’d written earlier:

Missing pages

Lost then found, show

Me where the book is bound.

“I still think we need a mirror,” Sarah whispered after an hour of expectant silence had passed.

“How’s the library going to show us anything if we don’t give her a place to project an apparition?”

“Should Diana have said ‘show us where the book is bound,’ not ‘show me’?” Linda looked to Sarah. “There are three of us.” I stepped out of the triangle and put the illustration of the chemical wedding on the guard’s desk.

“It’s not working. I don’t feel anything. Not the book, not any power, not magic. It’s like the whole library has gone dead.”

“Well, it’s not surprising the library is feeling poorly.” Linda clucked in sympathy. “Poor thing. All these people poking at its entrails all day.”

“There’s nothing for it, honey,” Sarah said. “On to Plan C.”

“Maybe I should try to revise the spell first.” Anything was better than Plan C. It violated the last remaining shreds of the library oath I’d taken when a student, and it posed a very real danger to the building, the books, and the nearby colleges.

But it was more than that. I was hesitating now for some of the same reasons I had hesitated when facing Benjamin in this very place. If I used my full powers here, in the Bodleian, the last remaining links to my life as a scholar would dissolve.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Sarah said. “Corra will be fine.”

“She’s a firedrake, Sarah,” I retorted. “She can’t fly without causing sparks. Look at this place.”

“A tinderbox,” Linda agreed. “Still, I cannot see another way.”

“There has to be one,” I said, poking my index finger into my third eye in hopes of waking it up.

“Come on, Diana. Stop thinking about your precious library card. It’s time to kick some magical ass.”

“I need some air first.” I turned and headed downstairs. Fresh air would steady my nerves and help me think. I pounded down the wooden treads that had been laid over the stone and pushed through the glass doors and into the Old Schools Quadrangle, gulping in the cold, dust-free December air.

“Hello, Auntie.”

Gallowglass emerged from the shadows.

His mere presence told me that something terrible had happened.

His next quiet words confirmed it. “Benjamin has Matthew.”

“He can’t. I just talked to him.” The silver chain within me swayed.

“That was five hours ago,” Fernando said, checking his watch. “When you spoke, did Matthew say where he was?”

“Only that he was leaving Germany,” I whispered numbly. Stan and Dickie approached, frowns on their faces.

“Gallowglass,” Stan said with a nod.

“Stan,” Gallowglass replied.

“Problem?” Stan asked.

“Matthew’s gone off the grid,” Gallowglass explained. “Benjamin’s got him.”

“Ah.” Stan looked worried. “Benjamin always was a bastard. I don’t imagine he’s improved over the years.”

I thought of my Matthew in the hands of that monster.

I remembered what Benjamin had said about his hope that I would bear a girl.

I saw my daughter’s tiny, fragile finger touch the tip of Matthew’s nose.

“There is no way forward that doesn’t have him in it,” I said.

Anger burned through my veins, followed by a crashing wave of power—fire, air, earth, and water—that swept everything else before it. I felt a strange absence, a hollowness that told me I had lost something essential to my self.

For a moment I wondered if it were Matthew. But I could still feel the chain that bound us. What was essential was still there.

Then I realized it was not something essential I’d lost but something habitual, a burden carried so long that I had become inured to its heaviness.

Now it was gone—just as the goddess had foretold.

I whirled around, blindly seeking the library entrance in the darkness. “Where are you going, Auntie?” Gallowglass said, holding the door closed so that I couldn’t pass.

“Did you not hear me? We must go after Matthew. There’s no time to lose.”

The thick panels of glass turned to powder, and the brass hinges and handles clanged against the stone threshold. I stepped over the debris and half ran, half flew up the stairs to Duke Humfrey’s.

“Auntie!” Gallowglass shouted.

“Diana Bishop! Have you lost your mind?” Months of reduced cigarette consumption meant that Sarah was making good progress pursuing me.

“No!” I shouted back. “And if I use my magic, I won’t lose Matthew either.”

“Lose Matthew?” Sarah slid on the slick floor on her way into Duke Humfrey’s, where Fernando, Gallowglass, and I were waiting. “Who suggested such a thing?”

“The goddess. She told me I would have to give something up if I wanted Ashmole 782,” I explained. “But it wasn’t Matthew.”

The feeling of absence had been replaced by a blooming sensation of released power that banished any remaining worries.

“Corra, fly!” I spread my arms wide, and my firedrake screeched into the room, zooming around the galleries and down the long aisle that connected the Arts End and the Selden End.

“What was it, then?” Linda asked. She’d taken the stairs at a more sedate pace and arrived in time to watch Corra’s tail pat Thomas Bodley’s helmet.

“Fear.”

My mother had warned me of its power, but I had misunderstood, as children often do. I’d thought it was the fear of others that I needed to guard against, but it was my own terror. Because of that misunderstanding, I’d let the fear take root inside me until it clouded my thoughts and affected how I saw the world.

Fear had also choked out any desire to work magic. It had been my crutch and my cloak, keeping me from exercising my power completely. Fear had sheltered me from the curiosity of others and provided an oubliette where I could forget who I really was: a witch. I’d thought I’d left fear behind me months ago when I learned I was a weaver, but I had been clinging to its last vestiges without knowing it.

No more.

Corra dropped down on a current of air, extending her talons forward and beating her wings to slow herself. I grabbed the pages from the Book of Life and held them up to her nose. She sniffed.

The firedrake’s roar of outrage filled the room, rattling the stained glass. Though she had spoken to me seldom since our first encounter in Goody Alsop’s house, preferring to communicate in sounds and gestures, Corra chose to speak now.

“Death lies heavy on those pages. Weaving and bloodcraft, too.” She shook her head as if to rid her nostrils of the scent.

“Did she say bloodcraft?” Sarah’s curiosity was evident.

“We’ll ask the beastie questions later,” Gallowglass said, his voice grim.

“These pages come from a book. It’s somewhere in this library. I need to find it.” I focused on Corra rather than the background chatter. “My only hope of getting Matthew back may be inside it.”

“And if I bring you this terrible book, what then?” Corra blinked, her eyes silver and black. I was reminded of the goddess, and of Jack’s rage-filled gaze.

“You want to leave me,” I said with sudden understanding. Corra was a prisoner just as I had been a prisoner, spellbound with no means to escape.

“Like your fear, I cannot go unless you set me free,” Corra said. “I am your familiar. With my help you have learned how to spin what was, weave what is, and knot what must be. You have no more need of me.”

But Corra had been with me for months and, like my fear, I had grown used to relying on her.

“What if I can’t find Matthew without your help?”

“My power will never leave you.” Corra’s scales were brilliantly iridescent, even in the library’s darkness. I thought of the shadow of the firedrake on my lower back and nodded. Like the goddess’s arrow and my weaver’s cords, Corra’s affinity for fire and water would always be within me.

“Where will you go?” I asked.

“To ancient, forgotten places. There I will await those who will come when their weavers release them. You brought the magic back, as it was foretold. Now I will no longer be the last of my kind, but the first.” Corra’s exhale steamed in the air between us.

“Bring me the book, then go with my blessing.” I looked deep into her eyes and saw her yearning to be her own creature. “Thank you, Corra. I may have brought the magic back, but you gave it wings.”

“And now it is time for you to use them,” Corra said. With three beats of her own spangled, webbed appendages, she climbed to the rafters.

“Why is Corra flying around up here?” Sarah hissed. “Send her down the conveyor-belt shaft and into the library’s underground storage rooms. That’s where the book is.”

“Stop trying to shape the magic, Sarah.” Goody Alsop had taught me the dangers of thinking you were smarter than your own power. “Corra knows what she’s doing.”

“I hope so,” Gallowglass said, “for Matthew’s sake.”

Corra sang out notes of water and fire, and a low, hushed chattering filled the air.

“Do you hear it?” I asked, looking around for the source. It wasn’t the pages on the guard’s desk, though they were starting to murmur, too.

My aunt shook her head.

Corra circled the oldest part of Duke Humfrey’s. The murmurs grew louder with every beat of her wings.

“I hear it,” Linda said, excited. “A hum of conversation. It’s coming from that direction.”

Fernando hopped over the lattice barrier into the main aisle of Duke Humfrey’s. I followed after him.

“The Book of Life can’t be up here,” Sarah protested. “Someone would have noticed.”

“Not if it’s hiding in plain sight,” I said, pulling priceless books off a nearby shelf, opening them to examine their contents, then sliding each back into place only to grasp another. The voices still cried out, calling to me, begging me to find them.

“Auntie? I think Corra found your book.” Gallowglass pointed.

Corra was perched on the barred cage of the book hold, where the manuscripts were locked away and stored for patrons to use the following day. Her head was inclined as though she were listening to the still-chattering voices. She cooed and clucked in response, her head bobbing up and down.

Fernando had followed the sound to the same place and was standing behind the call desk where Sean spent his days. He was looking up at one of the shelves. There, next to an Oxford University telephone directory, sat a gray cardboard box so ordinary in appearance that it was begging not to be noticed—though it was pretty eye-catching at the moment, with light seeping out from the joins at the corners. Someone had clipped a curling note to it: “Boxed. Return to stacks after inspection.”

“It can’t be.” But every instinct told me it was.

I held up my hand, and the box tipped backward and landed in my palm. I lowered it carefully to the desk. When I took my hands from it, the lid blew off, landing several feet away. Inside, the metal clasps were straining to hold the book closed.

Gently, aware of the many creatures within it, I lifted Ashmole 782 out of its protective carton and laid it down on the wooden surface. I rested my hand flat on the cover. The chattering ceased.

Choose, the many voices said as one.

“I choose you,” I whispered to the book, releasing the clasps on Ashmole 782. Their metal was warm and comforting to the touch. My father, I thought.

Linda thrust the pages that belonged in the Book of Life in my direction.

Slowly, deliberately, I opened the book to the first page. The three stubs that remained from where Edward Kelley had damaged the books were just visible. I fitted the illustration of the chemical wedding into the spine, pressing the edge to its stub. It knit itself together before my eyes, its severed threads joining up once more.

Lines of text raced across the page.

I took up the illumination of the orobouros and the firedrake shedding their blood to create new life and put it in its place.

A strange keening rose from the book. Corra chattered in warning.

Without hesitation and without fear, I slid the final page into Ashmole 782. The Book of Life was once more whole and complete.

A bloodcurdling howl tore what remained of the night in two. A wind rose at my feet, climbing up my body and lifting the hair away from my face and shoulders like strands of fire.

The force of the air turned the pages of the book, flipping them faster and faster. I tried to stop their progress, pressing my fingers against the emerging text so that I could read the words. But there were too many to comprehend. Chris’s student was right. The Book of Life wasn’t simply a text.

It was a vast repository of knowledge: creature names and their stories, births and deaths, curses and spells, miracles wrought by magic and blood.

It was the story of us—weavers and the vampires who carried blood rage in their veins and the extraordinary children who were born to them.

It told me not only of my predecessors going back countless generations. It told me how such a miraculous creation was possible.

I struggled to absorb the tale the Book of Life told as the pages turned.

Here begins the lineage of the ancient tribe known as the Bright Born. Their father was Eternity and their mother Change, and Spirit nurtured them in her womb. . . .

My mind raced, trying to identify the alchemical text that was so similar.

. . . for when the three became one, their power was boundless as the night. . . . And it came to pass that the absence of children was a burden to the Athanatoi. They sought the daughters. . . .

Whose daughters? I tried to stop the pages, but it was impossible.

. . . discovered that the mystery of bloodcraft was known to the Wise Ones.

What was bloodcraft?

On and on went the words, racing, twining, twisting. Words split in two, formed other words, mutating and reproducing at a furious pace.

There were names, faces, and places torn from nightmares and woven into the sweetest of dreams.

Their love began with absence and desire, two hearts becoming one. . . .

I heard a whisper of longing, a cry of pleasure, as the pages continued to turn.

. . . when fear overcame them, the city was bathed in the blood of the Bright Born.

A howl of terror rose from the page, followed by a child’s frightened whimper.

. . . the witches discovered who among them had lain with the Athanatoi. . . .

I pressed my hands against my ears, wanting to block out the drumbeat litany of names and more names.

Lost . . .

Forgotten . . .

Feared . . .

Outcast . . .

Forbidden . . .

As the pages flew before my eyes, I could see the intricate weaving that had made the book, the ties that bound each page to lineages whose roots lay in the distant past.

When the last page turned, it was blank.

Then new words began to appear there as though an unseen hand were still writing, her job not yet complete.

And thus the Bright Born became the Children of the Night. Who will end their wandering? the unseen hand wrote.

Who will carry the blood of the lion and the wolf? Seek the bearer of the tenth knot, for the last shall once more be the first.

My mind was dizzy with half-remembered words spoken by Louisa de Clermont and Bridget Bishop, snatches of alchemical poetry from the Aurora Consurgens, and the steady flood of information from the Book of Life.

A new page grew out of the spine of the book, extending itself like Corra’s wing, unfurling like a leaf on the bough of a tree. Sarah gasped. An illumination, the colors shining with silver, gold, and precious stones crushed into the pigment, bloomed from the page.

“Jack’s emblem!” Sarah cried.

It was the tenth knot, fashioned from a firedrake and an orobouros eternally bound. The landscape that surrounded them was fertile with flowers and greenery so lush that it might have been paradise.

The page turned, and more words flowed forth from their hidden source.

Here continues the lineage of the most ancient Bright Born.

The unseen hand paused, as if dipping a pen in fresh ink.

Rebecca Arielle Emily Marthe Bishop-Clairmont, daughter of Diana Bishop, last of her line, and Matthew Gabriel Philippe Bertrand Sébastien de Clermont, first of his line. Born under the rule of the serpent. Philip Michael Addison Sorley Bishop-Clairmont, son of the same Diana and Matthew. Born under the protection of the archer.

Before the ink could possibly be dry, the pages flipped madly back to the beginning.

While we watched, a new branch sprouted from the trunk of the tree at the center of the first image.

Leaves, flowers, and fruit burst forth along its length.

The Book of Life clapped shut, the clasps engaging. The chattering ceased, leaving the library silent. I felt power surge within me, rising to unprecedented levels.

“Wait,” I said, scrambling to open the book again so that I could study the new image more closely.

The Book of Life resisted me at first, but it sprang open once I wrestled with it.

It was empty. Blank. Panic swept through me.

“Where did it all go?” I turned the pages. “I need the book to get Matthew back!” I looked up at Sarah. “What did I do wrong?”

“Oh, Christ.” Gallowglass was white as snow. “Her eyes.”

I twisted to glance over my shoulder, expecting to see some spectral librarian glaring at me.

“There’s nothing behind you, honey. And the book hasn’t gone far.” Sarah swallowed hard. “It’s inside you.” I was the Book of Life.

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