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On the plane home, Gallowglass had warned Marcus that something unexpected had happened to me at the Bodleian.
“You will find Diana . . . altered,” Gallowglass said carefully into the phone.
Altered. It was an apt description for a creature who was composed of knots, cords, chains, wings, seals, weapons, and now, words and a tree. I didn’t know what that made me, but it was a far cry from what I had been before.
Even though he’d been warned of the change, Marcus was visibly shocked when I climbed out of the car at Sept-Tours. Phoebe accepted my metamorphosis with greater equanimity, as she did most things.
“No questions, Marcus,” Hamish said, taking my elbow. He’d seen on the plane what questions did to me. No disguising spell could hide the way my eyes went milky white and displayed letters and symbols at even the hint of a query, more letters appearing on my forearms and the backs of my hands.
I expressed silent thanks that my children would never know me any different and would therefore think it normal to have a palimpsest for a mother.
“No questions,” Marcus quickly agreed.
“The children are in Matthew’s study with Marthe. They have been restless for the past hour, as if they knew you were coming,” Phoebe said, following me into the house.
“I’ll see Becca and Philip first.” In my eagerness I flew up the stairs rather than walking. There seemed little point in doing anything else.
My time with the children was soul-shaking. On the one hand, they made me feel closer to Matthew. But with my husband in danger, I couldn’t help noticing how much the shape of Philip’s blue eyes resembled that of his father’s. There was a similarly stubborn cast to his chin, too, young and immature though it was. And Becca’s coloring—her hair as dark as a raven’s wing, eyes that were not the usual baby blue but already a brilliant gray-green, milky skin—was eerily like Matthew’s. I cuddled them close, whispering promises into their ears about what their father would do with them when he returned home.
When I had spent as much time with them as I dared, I returned downstairs, slowly and on foot this time, and demanded to see the video feed.
“Ysabeau is in the family library, watching it now.” Miriam’s palpable worry made my blood run colder than anything had since Gallowglass materialized at the Bodleian.
I steeled myself for the sight, but Ysabeau slammed the laptop shut as soon as I entered the room.
“I told you not to bring her here, Miriam.”
“Diana has a right to know,” Miriam said.
“Miriam is right, Granny.” Gallowglass gave his grandmother a quick kiss in greeting. “Besides, Auntie won’t obey your orders any more than you obeyed Baldwin when he tried to keep you from Philippe until his wounds healed.” He pried the laptop from Ysabeau’s fingers and opened the lid.
What I saw made me utter a strangled sound of horror. Were it not for Matthew’s distinctive gray green eyes and black hair, I might not have known him.
“Diana.” Baldwin strode into the room, his expression carefully schooled to show no reaction to my appearance. But he was a soldier, and he understood that pretending something hadn’t happened didn’t make it go away. He reached out with surprising gentleness and touched my hairline. “Does it hurt?”
“No.” When my body had absorbed the Book of Life, a tree had appeared on it as well. Its trunk covered the back of my neck, perfectly aligned with the column of my spine. Its roots spread across my shoulders. The tree’s branches fanned out under my hair, covering my scalp. The tips of the branches peeked out along my hairline, behind my ears, and around the edges of my face. Like the tree on my spell box, the roots and branches were strangely intertwined along the sides of my neck in a pattern resembling Celtic knotwork.
“Why are you here?” I asked. We hadn’t heard from Baldwin since the christening.
“Baldwin was the first to see Benjamin’s message,” Gallowglass explained. “He contacted me straightaway, then shared the news with Marcus.”
“Nathaniel had beaten me to it. He traced Matthew’s last cell communication—a call made to you—to a location inside Poland,” Baldwin said.
“Addie saw Matthew in Dresden, en route to Berlin,” Miriam reported. “He asked her for information about Benjamin. While he was with her, Matthew got a text. He left immediately.”
“Verin joined Addie there. They’ve picked up Matthew’s trail. One of Marcus’s knights spotted him leaving what we used to call Breslau.” Baldwin glanced at Ysabeau. “He was traveling southeast.
Matthew must have wandered into a trap.”
“He was going north until then. Why did he change direction?” Marcus frowned.
“Matthew may have gone to Hungary,” I said, trying to envision all this on the map. “We found a letter from Godfrey that mentioned Benjamin’s connections there.”
Marcus’s phone rang.
“What do you have?” Marcus listened for a moment, then went to one of the other laptops dotting the surface of the library table. Once the screen illuminated, he keyed in a Web address. Close-up shots from the video feed appeared, the images enhanced to provide greater clarity. One was of a clipboard.
Another, a corner of fabric draped over a chair. The third, a window. Marcus put down his cell phone and turned on the speaker.
“Explain, Nathaniel,” he ordered, sounding more like Nathaniel’s commanding officer than his friend.
“The room is pretty barren—there’s not much in the way of clues that might help us get a better fix on Matthew’s location. These items seemed to have the most potential.”
“Can you zoom in on the clipboard?”
On the other side of the world, Nathaniel manipulated the image.
“That’s the kind we used for medical charts. They were on every hospital ward, hanging on the bedrails.” Marcus tilted his head.
“What do you see?” Nathaniel asked.
“It’s an intake form. Benjamin’s done what any doctor would—taken Matthew’s height, weight, blood pressure, pulse.” Marcus paused. “And he’s indicated the medications Matthew is on.”
“Matthew’s not on any medications,” I said.
“He is now,” Marcus said shortly.
“But vampires can only feel the effects of drugs if . . .” I trailed off.
“If they ingest them through a warmblood. Benjamin has been feeding him—or force-feeding him—spiked blood.” Marcus braced his arms against the table and swore. “And the drugs in question are not exactly palliative for a vampire.”
“What is he on?” My mind felt numb, and the only parts of me that seemed to be alive were the cords running through my body like roots, like branches.
“A cocktail of ketamine, opiates, cocaine, and psilocybin.” Marcus’s tone was flat and impassive, but his right eyelid twitched.
“Psilocybin?” I asked. The others I was at least familiar with.
“A hallucinogen derived from mushrooms.”
“That combination will make Matthew insane,” Hamish said.
“Killing Matthew would be too quick for Benjamin’s purposes,” Ysabeau said. “What about this fabric?” She pointed to the screen.
“I think it’s a blanket. It’s mostly out of the picture frame, but I included it anyway,” Nathaniel said. “There are no landmarks outside,” Baldwin observed. “All you can see is snow and trees. It could be a thousand places in Central Europe at this time of year.”
Matthew’s head turned slightly.
“Something’s happening,” I said, pulling the laptop toward me.
Benjamin led a girl into the room. She couldn’t have been more than four and had on a long white nightgown with lace at the collar and cuffs. The cloth was stained with blood.
The girl wore a dazed expression, her thumb in her mouth.
“Phoebe, take Diana to the other room.” Baldwin’s order was immediate.
“No. I’m staying here. Matthew won’t feed on her. He won’t.” I shook my head.
“He’s out of his mind with pain, blood loss, and drugs,” Marcus said gently. “Matthew’s not responsible for his actions.”
“My husband will not feed on a child,” I said with absolute conviction.
Benjamin arranged the toddler on Matthew’s knee and stroked the girl’s neck. The skin was torn, and blood had caked around the wound.
Matthew’s nostrils flared in instinctive recognition that sustenance was nearby. He turned his head from the girl deliberately.
Baldwin’s eyes never left the screen. He watched his brother first warily, then with amazement. As the seconds ticked by, his expression became one of respect.
“Look at that control,” Hamish murmured. “Every instinct in him must be screaming for blood and survival.”
“Still think Matthew doesn’t have what it takes to lead his own family?” I asked Baldwin.
Benjamin’s back was turned to us, so we couldn’t see his reaction, but the vampire’s frustration was evident in the violent blow he slammed across Matthew’s face. No wonder my husband’s features didn’t look familiar. Then Benjamin roughly grabbed the child and held her so that her neck was directly under Matthew’s nose. The video feed had no sound, but the child’s face twisted as she screamed in terror. Matthew’s lips moved, and the child’s head turned, her sobs quieting slightly. Next to me Ysabeau began to sing.
“‘Der Mond ist aufgegangen,
Die goldnen Sternlein prangen
Am Himmel hell und klar.’”
Ysabeau sang the words in time to the movement of Matthew’s mouth.
“Don’t, Ysabeau,” Baldwin bit out.
“What is that?” I asked, reaching to touch my husband’s face. Even in his torment, he remained shockingly expressionless.
“It’s a German hymn. Some of the verses have become a popular lullaby. Philippe used to sing it after . . . he came home.” Baldwin’s face was ravaged for a moment with grief and guilt.
“It is a song about God’s final judgement,” Ysabeau said.
Benjamin’s hands moved. When they stilled, the child’s body hung limply, head bent back at an impossible angle. Though he hadn’t killed the child, Matthew hadn’t been able to save her, either. Hers was another death Matthew would carry with him forever. Rage burned in my veins, clear and bright.
“Enough. This ends. Tonight.” I grabbed a set of keys that someone had thrown on the table. I didn’t care which car they belonged to, though I hoped it was Marcus’s—and therefore fast. “Tell Verin I’m on my way.”
“No!” Ysabeau’s anguished cry stopped me in my tracks. “The window. Can you enlarge that part of the picture for me, Nathaniel?”
“There’s nothing out there but snow and trees,” Hamish said, frowning.
“The wall next to the window. Focus there,” Ysabeau pointed to the grimy wall on the screen as though Nathaniel could somehow see her. Even though he couldn’t, Nathaniel obligingly zoomed in.
As a clearer picture emerged, I couldn’t imagine what Ysabeau thought she saw. The wall was stained with damp and had not been painted for some time. It might once have been white, like the tiles, but it was grayish now. The image on the screen continued to resolve and sharpen as Nathaniel worked.
Some of the grimy smudges turned out to be a series of numbers marching down the wall. “My clever child,” Ysabeau said, her eyes running red with blood and grief. She stood, her limbs trembling. “That monster. I will tear him to pieces.”
“What is it, Ysabeau?” I asked.
“The clue was in the song. Matthew knows we are watching him,” Ysabeau said.
“What is it, Grand-mère?” Marcus repeated, peering at the image. “Is it the numbers?”
“One number. Philippe’s number.” Ysabeau pointed to the last in the series.
“His number?” Sarah asked.
“It was given to him at Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the Nazis captured Philippe trying to liberate Ravensbrück, they sent him there,” Ysabeau said.
These were names out of nightmares, places that would forever be synonymous with the savagery of mankind.
“The Nazis tattooed it on Philippe—over and over again.” The fury built in Ysabeau’s voice, making it ring like a warning bell. “It is how they discovered he was different.”
“What are you saying?” I couldn’t believe it, and yet . . .
“It was Benjamin who tortured Philippe,” Ysabeau said.
Philippe’s image swam before me—the hollow eye socket where Benjamin had blinded him, the horrible scars on his face. I remembered the shaky handwriting on the letter he’d left for me, his body too damaged to control a pen’s movement.
And the same creature who had done that to Philippe now had my husband.
“Get out of my way.” I tried to push past Baldwin as I raced for the door. But Baldwin held me tight.
“You aren’t going to wander into the same trap that he did, Diana,” Baldwin said. “That’s exactly what Benjamin wants.”
“I’m going to Auschwitz. Matthew is not going to die there, where so many died before,” I said, twisting in Baldwin’s grip. “Matthew isn’t at Auschwitz. Philippe was moved from there to Majdanek on the outskirts of Lublin soon after he was captured. It’s where we found my father. I went over every inch of the camp searching for other survivors. There was no room like that in it.”
“Then Philippe was taken somewhere else before being sent to Majdanek—to another labor camp.
One run by Benjamin. It was he who tortured Philippe. I am certain of it,” Ysabeau insisted.
“How could Benjamin be in charge of a camp?” I’d never heard of such a thing. Nazi concentration camps were run by the SS.
“There were tens of thousands of them, all over Germany and Poland—labor camps, brothels, research facilities, farms,” Baldwin explained. “If Ysabeau is right, Matthew could be anywhere.”
Ysabeau turned on Baldwin. “You are free to stay here and wonder where your brother is, but I am going to Poland with Diana. We will find Matthew ourselves.”
“Nobody is going anywhere.” Marcus slammed his hand on the table. “Not without a plan. Where exactly was Majdanek?”
“I’ll pull up a map.” Phoebe reached for the computer.
I stilled her hand. There was something disturbingly familiar about that blanket. . . . It was tweed, a heathery brown with a distinctive weave.
“Is that a button?” I looked more closely. “That’s not a blanket. It’s a jacket.” I stared at it some more. “Peter Knox wore a jacket like that. I remember the fabric from Oxford.”
“Vampires won’t be able to free Matthew if Benjamin has witches like Knox with him, too!” Sarah exclaimed.
“This is like 1944 all over again,” Ysabeau said quietly. “Benjamin is playing with Matthew—and with us.”
“If so, then Matthew’s capture was not his goal.” Baldwin crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at the screen. “The trap Benjamin set was meant to snare another.”
“He wants Auntie,” Gallowglass said. “Benjamin wants to know why she can bear a vampire’s child.”
Benjamin wants me to bear his child, I thought.
“Well, he’s not going to experiment on Diana to find out,” Marcus said emphatically. “Matthew would rather die where he is than let that happen.”
“There’s no need for experiments. I already know why weavers can have children with blood-rage vampires.” The answer was running up my arms in letters and symbols from languages long dead or never spoken except by witches performing spells. The cords in my body were twisting and turning into brightly hued helices of yellow and white, red and black, green and silver.
“So the answer was in the Book of Life,” Sarah said, “just as the vampires thought it would be.”
“And it all began with a discovery of witches.” I pressed my lips together to avoid revealing any more. “Marcus is right. If we go after Benjamin without a plan and the support of other creatures, he will win. And Matthew will die.”
“I’m sending you a road map of southern and eastern Poland now,” Nathaniel said over the speaker.
Another window opened on the screen. “Here is Auschwitz.” A purple flag appeared. “And here is Majdanek.” A red flag marked a location on the outskirts of a city so far to the east it was practically in Ukraine. There were miles and miles of Polish ground in between.
“Where do we start?” I asked. “At Auschwitz and move east?”
“No. Benjamin will not be far from Lublin,” Ysabeau insisted. “The witches we interrogated when Philippe was found said the creature who tortured him had long-standing ties to that region. We assumed they were talking about a local Nazi recruit.”
“What else did the witches say?” I asked.
“Only that Philippe’s captor had tortured the witches of Chelm before turning his attentions to my husband,” Ysabeau said. “They called him ‘the Devil.’”
Chelm. Within seconds I found the city. Chelm was just to the east of Lublin. My witch’s sixth sense told me that Benjamin would be there—or very close. “That’s where we should start looking,” I said, touching the city on the map as though somehow Matthew could feel my fingers. On the video feed, I saw that he had been left alone with a dead child.
His lips were still moving, still singing . . . to a girl who would never hear anything again.
“Why are you so sure?” Hamish asked.
“Because a witch I met in sixteenth-century Prague was born there. The witch was a weaver—like me.” As I spoke, names and family lineages emerged on my hands and arms, the marks as black as any tattoo. They appeared for only a moment before fading into invisibility, but I knew what they signaled:
Abraham ben Elijah was probably not the first—nor the last—weaver in the city. Chelm was where Benjamin had started his mad attempts to breed a child.
On the screen, Matthew looked down at his right hand. It was spasming, the index finger tapping irregularly on the arm of the chair.
“It looks as though the nerves in his hand have been damaged,” Marcus said, watching his father’s fingers twitch.
“That’s not involuntary movement.” Gallowglass bent until his chin practically rested on the keyboard. “That’s Morse code.”
“What is he saying?” I was frantic at the thought that we might already have missed part of the message.
“D. Four. D. Five. C. Four.” Gallowglass spelled out each letter in turn. “Christ. Matthew’s making no sense at all. D. X—”
“C4,” Hamish said, his voice rising. “DXC4.” He whooped in excitement. “Matthew didn’t walk into a trap. He sprang it deliberately.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“D4 and D5 are the first two moves of the Queen’s Gambit—it’s one of the classic openings in chess.” Hamish went to the fire, where a heavy chess set waited on a table. He moved two pawns, one white and then one black. “White’s next move forces Black to either put his key pieces in jeopardy and gain greater freedom or play it safe and limit his maneuverability.” Hamish moved another white pawn next to the first.
“But when Matthew is White, he never initiates the Queen’s Gambit, and when he’s Black, he declines it. Matthew always plays it safe and protects his queen,” Baldwin said, crossing his arms over his chest. “He defends her at all costs.”
“I know. That’s why he loses. But not this time.” Hamish picked up the black pawn and knocked over the white pawn that was diagonal to it in the center of the board. “DXC4. Queen’s Gambit accepted.”
“I thought Diana was the white queen,” Sarah said, studying board. “But you’re making it sound like Matthew is playing Black.”
“He is,” Hamish said. “I think he’s telling us the child was Benjamin’s white pawn—the player he sacrificed, believing that it would give him an advantage over Matthew. Over us.”
“Does it?” I asked.
“That depends on what we do next,” Hamish said. “In chess, Black would either continue to attack pawns to gain an advantage in the endgame or get more aggressive and move in his knights.”
“Which would Matthew do?” Marcus asked.
“I don’t know,” Hamish said. “Like Baldwin said, Matthew never accepts the Queen’s Gambit.”
“It doesn’t matter. He wasn’t trying to dictate our next move. He was telling us not to protect his queen.” Baldwin swung his head around and addressed me directly. “Are you ready for what comes next?”
“You hesitated once before,” Baldwin said. “Marcus told me what happened the last time you faced Benjamin in the library. This time, Matthew’s life depends on you.”
“It won’t happen again.” I met his gaze, and Baldwin nodded.
“Will you be able to track Matthew, Ysabeau?” Baldwin asked. “Better than Verin,” she replied.
“Then we will leave at once,” Baldwin said. “Call your knights to arms, Marcus. Tell them to meet me in Warsaw.”
“Ku?ma is there,” Marcus said. “He will marshal the knights until I arrive.”
“You cannot go, Marcus,” Gallowglass said. “You must stay here, with the babes.”
“No!” Marcus said. “He’s my father. I can scent him just as easily as Ysabeau. We’ll need every advantage.”
“You aren’t going, Marcus. Neither is Diana.” Baldwin braced his arms on the table and fixed his eyes on Marcus and me. “Everything until now has been a skirmish—a preamble to this moment.
Benjamin has had almost a thousand years to plan his revenge. We have hours. We all must be where we are most needed—not where our hearts lead us.“ “My husband needs me,” I said tightly.
“Your husband needs to be found. Others can do that, just as others can fight,” Baldwin replied.
“Marcus must stay here, because Sept-Tours has the legal status of sanctuary only if the grand master is within its walls.”
“And we saw how much good that did us against Gerbert and Knox,” Sarah said bitterly.
“One person died.” Baldwin’s voice was as cold and clear as an icicle. “It was regrettable, and a tragic loss, but if Marcus had not been here, Gerbert and Domenico would have overrun the place with their children and you would all be dead.”
“You don’t know that,” Marcus said.
“I do. Domenico boasted of their plans. You will stay here, Marcus, and protect Sarah and the children so that Diana can do her job.”
“My job?” My brows lifted.
“You, sister, are going to Venice.”
A heavy iron key flew through the air. I put my hand up, and it landed in my palm. The key was heavy and ornate, with an exquisite bow wrought in the shape of the de Clermont orobouros, a long stem, and a chunky bit with complicated star-shaped wards.
“What’s in Venice?” I owned a house there, I dimly recalled. Perhaps this was the key to it?
No one answered. Every vampire in the room was staring at my hand in shock. I turned it this way and that, but there didn’t seem to be anything odd about it other than the normal rainbow colors, marked wrist, and odd bits of lettering. It was Gallowglass who regained his tongue first.
“You cannot send Auntie in there,” he said, giving Baldwin a combative shove. “What are you thinking, man?”
“That she is a de Clermont—and that I am more useful tracking Matthew with Ysabeau and Verin than I am sitting in a council chamber arguing about the terms of the covenant.” Baldwin turned glittering eyes on me. He shrugged. “Maybe Diana can change their mind.”
“Wait.” Now it was my turn to look amazed. “You can’t—”
“Want you to sit in the de Clermont seat at the Congregation’s table?” Baldwin’s lip curved. “Oh, but I do, sister.”
“I’m not a vampire!”
“Nothing says you have to be. The only way that Father would agree to the covenant was if there were always a de Clermont among the Congregation members. The council cannot meet without one of us present. But I’ve gone over the original treaty. It does not stipulate that the family’s representative must be a vampire.” Baldwin shook his head. “If I didn’t know better, I would think that Philippe foresaw this day and planned it all.”
“What do you expect Auntie to do?” Gallowglass demanded. “She’s may be a weaver, but she’s no miracle worker.”
“Diana needs to remind the Congregation that this is not the first time complaints have been made about a vampire in Chelm,” Baldwin said.
“The Congregation has known about Benjamin and done nothing?” I couldn’t believe it. “They didn’t know it was Benjamin, but they knew that something was wrong there,” Baldwin replied. “Not even the witches cared enough to investigate. Knox may not be the only witch working with Benjamin.”
“If so, we’ll not get far in Chelm without the Congregation’s support,” Hamish said.
“And if the witches there have been Benjamin’s victims, a group of vampires will need the Chelm coven’s blessing if we want to succeed, as well as the Congregation’s support,” Baldwin added.
“That means persuading Satu J?rvinen to side with us,” Sarah pointed out, “not to mention Gerbert and Domenico.”
“It is impossible, Baldwin. There is too much bad blood between the de Clermonts and the witches,” Ysabeau agreed. “They will never help us save Matthew.”
“Impossible n’est pas français,” I reminded her. “I’ll handle Satu. By the time I join you, Baldwin, you’ll have the full support of the Congregation’s witches. The daemons’, too. I make no promises about Gerbert and Domenico.”
“That’s a tall order,” Gallowglass warned.
“I want my husband back.” I turned to Baldwin. “What now?”
“We’ll go straight to Matthew’s house in Venice. The Congregation has demanded that you and Matthew appear before them. If they see the two of us arrive, they’ll assume I’ve done their bidding,”
“Will she be in any danger there?” Marcus asked.
“The Congregation wants a formal proceeding. We will be watched—closely—but no one will want to start a war. Not before the meeting is over, at any rate. I will go with Diana as far as Isola della Stella where the Congregation headquarters, Celestina, is located. After that, she can take two attendants with her into the cloister. Gallowglass? Fernando?” Baldwin turned to his nephew and his brother’s mate.
“With pleasure,” Fernando replied. “I haven’t been to a Congregation meeting since Hugh was alive.”
“Of course I’m going to Venice,” Gallowglass growled. “If you think Auntie’s going without me, you’re daft.”
“I thought as much. Remember: They can’t start the meeting without you, Diana. The council chamber’s door won’t unlock without the de Clermont key,” Baldwin explained.
“Oh. So that’s why the key is enchanted,” I said.
“Enchanted?” Baldwin asked.
“Yes. A protection spell was forged into the key when it was made.” The witches who had done it were skilled, too. Over the centuries the spell’s gramarye had hardly weakened at all.
“The Congregation moved into Isola della Stella in 1454. The keys were made then and have been handed down ever since,” Baldwin said.
“Ah. That explains it. The spell was cast to ensure that you don’t duplicate the key. If you tried, it would destroy itself.” I turned the key over in my palm. “Clever.”
“Are you sure about this, Diana?” Baldwin studied me closely. “There’s no shame in admitting you’re not ready to confront Gerbert and Satu again. We can come up with another plan.”
I turned and met Baldwin’s gaze without flinching.
“Good.” He reached for a sheet of paper that was waiting on the table. A de Clermont ouroboros was pressed into a disk of black wax at the bottom, next to Baldwin’s decisive signature. He handed it to me. “You can present this to the librarian when you arrive.”
It was his formal recognition of the Bishop-Clairmont scion.
“I didn’t need to see Matthew with that girl to know he was ready to lead his own family,” Baldwin said in answer to my amazed expression.
“When?” I asked, unable to say more.
“The moment he let you intervene between us in the church—and didn’t succumb to his blood rage,” Baldwin replied. “I’ll find him, Diana. And I’ll bring him home.”
“Thank you.” I hesitated, then said the word that was not only on my tongue but in my heart. “Brother.”
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