فصل 38

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فصل 38

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38

“You must eat something,” Gallowglass insisted, pressing a sandwich into my hand.

“I have to go back in there. The second vote will take place soon.” I pushed the sandwich away.

Baldwin had, among his many other instructions, reminded me about the Congregation’s elaborate voting procedures: three votes on any motion, with discussion in between. It was normal for the votes to swing wildly from one position to the other as Congregation members considered—or pretended to consider—opposing views.

I lost the first vote, eight opposed and one—me—in favor. Some voted against me on procedural grounds, since Matthew and I had violated the covenant and the Congregation had already voted to uphold that ancient pact. Others voted it down because the scourge of blood rage threatened the health and safety of all warmbloods—daemon, human, and witch. Newspaper reports of the vampire murders were produced and read aloud. Tatiana objected to rescuing the witches of Chelm, who, she tearfully claimed, had cast a spell on her vacationing grandmother that made her break out in boils. No amount of explaining could convince Tatiana that she was actually thinking of Cheboksary, even though Rima procured aerial photographs to prove that Chelm was not a beachfront spot on the Volga.

“Is there word from Baldwin or Verin?” I asked. Isola della Stella suffered from poor cell-phone reception, and within the walls of Celestina the only way to catch a signal was by standing in the exposed center of the cloister in a steady downpour.

“None.” Gallowglass put a mug of tea in my hand and closed my fingers around it. “Drink.”

Worry for Matthew and impatience with the Congregation’s Byzantine rules and regulations made my stomachf flip. I handed the mug back to Gallowglass, untouched.

“Don’t take the Congregation’s decision to heart, Auntie. My father always said that the first vote was all about posturing and that more often than not the second vote reversed the first.”

I picked up the Bodleian tote bag, nodded, and returned to the council chamber. The hostile looks I received from Gerbert and Domenico once I was inside made me wonder if Hugh had been an optimist when it came to Congregation politics.

“Blood rage!” Gerbert hissed, grabbing at my arm. “How did the de Clermonts keep this from us?”

“I don’t know, Gerbert,” I replied, shaking off his grip. “Ysabeau lived under your roof for weeks and you never discovered it.”

“It’s half past ten.” Sidonie von Borcke strode into the room. “We adjourn at midnight. Let’s conclude this sordid business and move on to more important matters—like our investigation of the Bishop family’s covenant violations.”

There was nothing more pressing than ridding the world of Benjamin but I bit my tongue and took my chair, resting the tote bag on the table in front of me. Domenico reached for it, still curious about its contents.

“Don’t.” I looked at him. Apparently my eyes spoke volumes, for he withdrew his hand quickly.

“So, Sidonie, am I to understand you’re calling the question?” I asked her abruptly. In spite of her calls for a quick resolution, she was proving to be a major impediment to the deliberations, drawing out every exchange with irrelevant detail until I was ready to scream.

“Not at all,” she huffed. “I merely wish us to consider the matter with proper efficiency.”

“I remain opposed to intervening in what is clearly a family problem,” Gerbert said. “Madame de Clermont’s proposal seeks to open this unfortunate matter to greater scrutiny. Already the Knights of Lazarus are on the scene and looking for her husband. It is best to let matters take their course.”

“And the blood rage?” It was the first time Satu had said anything with the exception of her “No”

when called upon in the first vote.

“Blood rage is a matter for the vampires to handle. We will discipline the de Clermont family for their serious lapse in judgment and take appropriate measures to locate and exterminate all who might be infected.” Gerbert tented his fingers and looked around the table. “You can all rest easy on that score.”

“I agree with Gerbert. Furthermore, no scion can be established under a diseased sire,” Domenico said. “It’s unthinkable. Matthew Clairmont must be put to death, and all his children with him.” The vampire’s eyes gleamed.

Osamu raised his hand and waited to be recognized.

“Yes, Mr. Watanabe?” I nodded in his direction.

“What’s a weaver?” he asked. “And what do they have in common with vampires who have blood rage?”

“What makes you think they have anything in common?” Sidonie snapped.

“It’s only logical that blood-rage vampires and weaving witches have something in common. How could Diana and Matthew have had children otherwise?” Agatha looked at me expectantly. Before I could answer, Gerbert stood and loomed over me.

“Is that what Matthew discovered in the Book of Life?” he demanded. “Did you unearth a spell that joins the two species?”

“Sit down, Gerbert.” Janet had been knitting steadily for hours, looking up every now and again to make a judicious comment or smile benignly.

“The witch must answer!” Gerbert exclaimed. “What spell is at work here, and how did you perform it?”

“The answer is in the Book of Life.” I dragged the tote bag toward me and drew out the volume that had been hidden for so long in the Bodleian Library.

There were gasps of astonishment around the table.

“This is a trick,” Sidonie pronounced. She rose and made her way around the table. “If that is the witches’ lost book of spells, I demand to examine it.”

“It’s the vampire’s lost history,” Domenico growled as she went past his chair.

“Here.” I handed the Book of Life to Sidonie.

The witch tried to spring the clasps, pushing and tugging at the metal fittings, but the book refused to cooperate with her. I held out my hands and the book flew across the space between us, eager to be back where it belonged. Sidonie and Gerbert exchanged a long look.

“You open it, Diana,” Agatha said, her eyes round. I thought back to what she’d said in Oxford all those months ago—that Ashmole 782 belonged to the daemons as well as the witches and vampires.

Somehow, she had already divined a sense of the contents.

I placed the Book of Life on the table while the Congregation gathered around me. The clasps opened immediately at my touch. Whispers and sighs filled the air, followed by the eldritch traces left by the spirits of the creatures who were bound to the pages.

“Magic isn’t permitted on Isola della Stella,” Domenico protested, an edge of panic in his voice.

“Tell her, Gerbert!”

“If I were working magic, Domenico, you’d know it,” I retorted.

Domenico paled as the wraiths grew more coherent, taking on elongated human form with hollow, dark eyes.

I flipped the book open. Everybody bent forward for a closer look.

“There’s nothing there,” Gerbert said, his face twisted with fury. “The book is blank. What have you done to our book of origins?”

“This book smells . . . odd,” Domenico said, giving the air a suspicious sniff. “Like dead animals.”

“No, it smells of dead creatures.” I ruffled the pages so that the scent rose in the air. “Daemons.

Vampires. Witches. They’re all in there.”

“You mean . . .” Tatiana looked horrified.

“That’s right.” I nodded. “That’s parchment made from creature skin. The leaves are sewn together with creature hair, too.”

“But where is the text?” Gerbert asked, his voice rising. “The Book of Life is supposed to hold the key to many mysteries. It’s our sacred text—the vampire’s history.”

“Here is your sacred text.” I pushed up my sleeves. Letters and symbols swirled and ran just under my skin, coming to the surface like bubbles on a pond, only to dissolve. I had no idea what my eyes were doing, but I suspected they were full of characters, too. Satu backed away from me.

“You bewitched it,” Gerbert snarled.

“The Book of Life was bewitched long ago,” I said. “All I did was open it.”

“And it chose you.” Osamu reached out a finger to touch the letters on my arm. A few of them gathered around the point where his skin touched mine before they danced away again.

“Why did the book choose Diana Bishop?” Domenico snarled.

“Because I’m a weaver—a maker of spells—and there are precious few of us left.” I sought out Satu once more. Her lips were pressed together, and her eyes begged me to remain silent. “We had too much creative power, and our fellow witches killed us.”

“The same power that makes it possible for you to create new spells gives you the ability to create new life,” Agatha said, her excitement evident.

“It’s a special blessing the goddess bestows on female weavers,” I replied. “Not all weavers are women, of course. My father was a weaver, too.”

“It’s impossible,” Domenico snarled. “This is more of the witch’s treachery. I’ve never heard of a weaver, and the ancient scourge of blood rage has mutated into an even more dangerous form. As for children born to witches and vampires, we cannot allow such an evil to take root. They would be monsters, beyond reason or control.”

“I must take issue with you on that point, Domenico,” Janet said.

“On what grounds?” he said with a touch of impatience.

“On the grounds that I am such a creature and am neither evil nor monstrous.”

For the first time since my arrival, the attention of the room was directed elsewhere. “My grandmother was the child of a weaver and a vampire.” Janet’s gray eyes latched onto mine.

“Everyone in the Highlands called him Nickie-Ben.”

“Benjamin,” I breathed.

“Aye.” Janet nodded. “Young witches were told to be careful on moonless nights, lest Nickie-Ben catch them. My great-granny, Isobel Gowdie, didn’t listen. They had a mad love affair. The legends say he bit her on the shoulder. When Nickie-Ben went away, he left something behind without knowing it: a daughter. I am named after her.”

I looked down at my arms. In a kind of magical Scrabble, letters rose and arranged themselves into a name: JANET GOWDIE, DAUGHTER OF ISOBEL GOWDIE AND BENJAMIN FOX. Janet’s grandmother had been one of the Bright Born.

“When was your grandmother conceived?” An account of a Bright Born’s life might tell me something about my own children’s futures.

“In 1662,” Janet said. “Granny Janet died in 1912, bless her, at the age of two hundred and fifty.

She kept her beauty right until the end, but then, unlike me, Granny Janet was more vampire than witch.

She was proud to have inspired the legends of the baobhan sith, having lured many a man to her bed only to cause each of them death and ruin after Nickie-Ben left her. And it was fearful to behold Granny Janet’s temper when she was crossed.”

“But that would make you . . .” My eyes were round.

“I’ll be one hundred and seventy next year,” Janet said. She murmured a few words and her white hair was revealed to be a dusky black. Another murmured spell dissolved the wrinkles on her face, leaving her skin a luminous, pearly white.

Janet Gowdie looked no more than thirty. My children’s lives began to take shape in my imagination.

“And your mother?” I asked.

“My mam lived for a full two hundred years. With each passing generation, our lives get shorter.”

“How do you hide what you are from the humans?” Osamu asked.

“Same way the vampires do, I suppose. A bit of luck. A bit of help from our fellow witches. A bit of human willingness to turn away from the truth,” Janet replied.

“This is utter nonsense,” Sidonie said hotly. “You are a famous witch, Janet. Your spell-casting ability is renowned. And you come from a distinguished line of witches. Why you would want to sully your family’s reputation with this story is beyond me.”

“And there it is,” I said, my voice soft.

“There what is?” Sidonie sounded like a testy schoolmarm.

“The disgust. The fear. The dislike of anybody who doesn’t conform to your simple-minded expectations of the world and how it should work.”

“Listen to me, Diana Bishop—”

But I was through listening to Sidonie or anybody else who used the covenant as a shield to hide their own inner darkness.

“No. You listen to me,” I said. “My parents were witches. I’m the blood-sworn daughter of a vampire. My husband, and the father of my children, is a vampire. Janet, too, is descended from a witch and a vampire. When will you stop pretending that there’s some pure-blooded witch ideal in the world?”

Sidonie stiffened. “There is such an ideal. It is how our power has been maintained.”

“No. It’s how our power has died,” I retorted. “If we keep abiding by the covenant, in a few generations we won’t have any power left. The whole purpose of that agreement was to keep the species from mixing and reproducing.”

“More nonsense!” Sidonie cried. “The covenant’s purpose is first and foremost to keep us safe.”

“No. The covenant was drawn up to prevent the birth of children like Janet: powerful, long-lived, neither witch nor vampire nor daemon but something in between,” I said. “It’s what all creatures have feared. It’s what Benjamin wants to control. We cannot let him.”

“In between?” Janet arched her brows. They were, now that I was seeing her clearly, as black as night. “Is that the answer, then?”

“Answer to what?” Domenico demanded.

But I was not ready to share that secret from the Book of Life. Not until Miriam and Chris had found the scientific evidence to back up what the manuscript had revealed. Once again I was saved from answering by the ringing of Celestina’s bells.

“It is nearly midnight. We must adjourn—for now,” Agatha Wilson said, her eyes shining. “I call the question. Will the Congregation support the de Clermonts in their efforts to rid the world of Benjamin Fox?”

Everyone returned to their seats and we went around the table one by one, casting our votes.

This time the vote was more encouraging: four in favor and five opposed. I had made progress in the second vote, earning the support of Agatha, Osamu, and Janet, but not enough to guarantee the outcome when the third, and final, vote was taken tomorrow. Especially not when my old enemies, Gerbert, Domenico, and Satu, were among the holdouts.

“The meeting will resume tomorrow afternoon at five o’clock.” Aware of every minute that Matthew was spending in Benjamin’s custody, I had argued once more for an earlier meeting time. And once more, my request had been denied.

Wearily I gathered up my leather folio—which I’d never opened—and the Book of Life. The past seven hours had been grueling. I couldn’t stop thinking about Matthew and what he was enduring while the Congregation hemmed and hawed. And I was worried about the children, too, who were without both of their parents.I waited for the room to empty. Janet Gowdie and Gerbert were the last to leave.

“Gerbert?” I called.

He stopped on his way out the door, his back to me.

“I haven’t forgotten what happened in May,” I said, the power burning brightly in my hands.

“Nor have I.” Gerbert’s head swung around. “Peter said you and Matthew were hiding something. I should have listened to him.”

“Why? Didn’t Benjamin already tip you off about what the witches discovered?” I asked.

But Gerbert hadn’t lived so long to be caught so easily. His lip curled.

“Until next evening,” he said, giving Janet and me a small, formal bow.

“We should call him Nickie-Bertie,” Janet commented. “He and Benjamin would make a right pair of devils.”

I smiled.

“Are you free tomorrow for lunch?” Janet Gowdie asked as we walked out of the meeting chamber and into the cloister, her rich Scots voice reminding me of Gallowglass.

“Me?” Even after all that had happened tonight, I was surprised she would be seen with a de Clermont.

“Neither of us fits into one of the Congregation’s tiny boxes, Diana,” Janet said, her smooth skin dimpling with amusement.

Gallowglass and Fernando were waiting for me under the cloister’s arcade. Gallowglass frowned to see me in a witch’s company.

“All right, Auntie?” he asked, uneasy. “We should go. It’s getting late.”

“I just want to have a quick word with Janet before we leave.” I searched Janet’s face, looking for a sign that she might be trying to win my friendship for some nefarious purpose, but all I saw was concern. “Why are you helping me?” I asked bluntly.

“I promised Philippe I would,” Janet said. She dropped her knitting bag at her feet and drew up the sleeve of her shirt. “You are not the only one whose skin tells a tale, Diana Bishop.”

Tattooed on her arm was a number. Gallowglass swore. I gasped. “Were you at Auschwitz with Philippe?” My heart was in my mouth.

“No. I was at Ravensbrück,” she said. “I was working in France for the SOE—the Special Operations Executive—when I was captured. Philippe was trying to liberate the camp. He managed to get a few of us out before the Nazis caught him. “Do you know where Philippe was held after Auschwitz?” I asked, my tone urgent.

“No, though we did look for him. Was it Nickie-Ben who had him?” Janet’s eyes were dark with sympathy.

“Yes,” I replied. “We think he was somewhere near Chelm.”

“Benjamin had witches working for him then, too. I remember wondering at the time why everything within fifty miles of Chelm was lost in a dense fog. We couldn’t find our way through it, no matter how we tried.” Janet’s eyes filled. “I am sorry we failed Philippe. We will do better this time. ’Tis a matter of Bishop-Clairmont family honor. And I am Matthew de Clermont’s kin, after all.”

“Tatiana will be the easiest to sway,” I said.

“Not Tatiana,” Janet said with a shake of her head. “She is infatuated with Domenico. Her sweater does more than enhance her figure. It also hides Domenico’s bites. We must persuade Satu instead.”

“Satu J?rvinen will never help me,” I said, thinking of the time we’d spent together at La Pierre.

“Oh, I think she will,” Janet said. “Once we explain that we’ll offer her up to Benjamin in exchange for Matthew if she doesn’t. Satu is a weaver like you, after all. Perhaps Finnish weavers are more fertile than those from Chelm.”

Satu was staying at a small establishment on a quiet campo on the opposite side of the Grand Canal from Ca’ Chiaromonte. It looked perfectly ordinary from the outside, with brightly painted flower boxes and stickers on the windows indicating its rating relative to other area establishments (four stars) and the credit cards it accepted (all of them).

Inside, however, the veneer of normalcy proved thin.

The proprietress, Laura Malipiero, sat behind a desk in the front lobby swathed in purple and black velvet, shuffling a tarot deck. Her hair was wild and curly, with streaks of white through the black. A garland of black paper bats was draped over the mailboxes, and the scent of sage and dragon’s-blood incense hung in the air. “We’re full,” she said, not looking up from her cards. A cigarette was clasped in the corner of her mouth. It was purple and black, just like her outfit. At first I didn’t think it was lit. Signorina Malipiero was sitting under a sign that read VIETATO FUMARE, after all. But then the witch took a deep drag on it.

There was indeed no smoke, though the tip glowed.

“They say she’s the richest witch in Venice. She made her fortune selling enchanted cigarettes.”

Janet eyed her with disapproval. She had donned her disguising spell again and to the casual observer looked to be a frail nonagenarian rather than a slender thirty-something.

“I’m sorry, sisters, but the Regata delle Befane is this week, and there isn’t a room to be had in this part of Venice.” Signorina Malipiero’s attention remained on her cards.

I’d seen notices all over town announcing the annual Epiphany gondola race to see who could get from San Tomà to the Rialto the fastest. There were two races, of course: the official regatta in the morning and the far more exciting and dangerous one at midnight that involved not just brute strength but magic, too.

“We aren’t interested in a room, Signorina Malapiero. I’m Janet Gowdie, and this is Diana Bishop.

We’re here to see Satu J?rvinen on Congregation business—if she’s not practicing for the gondola race, that is.”

The Venetian witch looked up in shock, her dark eyes huge and her cigarette dangling.

“Room 17, is it? No need to trouble yourself. We can show ourselves up.” Janet beamed at the stunned witch and bundled me off in the direction of the stairs.

“You, Janet Gowdie, are a bulldozer,” I said breathlessly as she hustled me down the corridor. “Not to mention a mind reader.” It was such a useful magical talent.

“What a lovely thing to say, Diana.” Janet knocked on the door. “Cameriera!”

There was no answer. And after yesterday’s marathon Congregation meeting, I was tired of waiting.

I wrapped my fingers around the doorknob and murmured an opening spell. The door swung open. Satu J?rvinen was waiting for us inside, both hands up, ready to work magic. I snared the threads that surrounded her and pulled them tight, binding her arms to her sides. Satu gasped.

“What do you know about being a weaver?” I demanded.

“Not as much as you do,” Satu replied.

“Is this why you treated me so badly at La Pierre?” I asked.

Satu’s expression was steely. Her actions had been taken in the interest of self-preservation. She felt no remorse. “I won’t let you expose me. They’ll kill us all if they find out what weavers can do,” Satu said.

“They’ll kill me anyway for loving Matthew. What do I have to lose?”

“Your children,” Satu spit.

That, it turned out, was going too far.

“I bind thee, Satu J?rvinen, delivering you into the hands of the goddess without power or craft, for you have proved yourself unfit to possess them.” With the index finger of my left hand, I pulled the threads one more inch and knotted them tight. My finger flared darkly purple in the color of justice.

Satu’s power left her in a whoosh, sucking the air out of the room.

“You can’t spellbind me!” she cried. “It’s forbidden!”

“Report me to the Congregation,” I said. “But before you do, know this: Nobody will be able to break the knot that binds you—except me. And what use will you be to the Congregation in this state? If you want to keep your seat, you’ll have to keep your silence—and hope that Sidonie von Borcke doesn’t notice.”

“You will pay for this, Diana Bishop!” Satu promised.

“I already have,” I said. “Or have you forgotten what you did to me in the name of sisterly solidarity?”

I advanced on her slowly. “Being spellbound is nothing compared to what Benjamin will do to you if he discovers that you are a weaver. You’ll have no way to defend yourself and will be entirely at his mercy. I’ve seen what Benjamin does to the witches he tries to impregnate. Not even you deserve that.”

Satu’s eyes flickered with fear.

“Vote for the de Clermont motion this afternoon.” I released Satu’s arms, but not the binding spell that limited her power.

Satu tried and failed to use her magic against me.

“Your power is gone. I wasn’t lying. Sister.” I turned and stalked away. At the doorway I stopped and turned. “And don’t ever threaten my children again. If you do, you’ll be begging me to throw you down a hole and forget about you.”

Gerbert tried to delay the final vote on procedural grounds, arguing that the current constitution of the governing council did not meet the criteria set out in foundational documents dating from the Crusader period. These stipulated the presence of three vampires, three witches, and three daemons.

Janet stopped me from strangling the creature by quickly explaining that since she and I were both part vampire and part witch, the Congregation was equally balanced. While she argued percentages, I examined Gerbert’s so-called foundational documents and discovered words such as “unalienable” that were decidedly eighteenth-century in their tone. Presented with a list of the linguistic anachronisms in this supposedly Crusader document, Gerbert scowled at Domenico and said these were obviously later transcriptions of lost originals.

No one believed him.

Janet and I won the vote: six to three. Satu voted as we told her to do, her attitude subdued and defeated. Even Tatiana joined our ranks thanks to Osamu, who had devoted his morning to mapping the precise location of not only Chelm but every Russian city beginning with Ch just to prove that the Polish city’s witches had nothing to do with her grandmother’s skin affliction. When the two entered the council chamber hand in hand, I figured she might have switched not only sides but boyfriends.

Once the vote was tallied and recorded, we didn’t linger to celebrate. Instead Gallowglass, Janet, Fernando, and I took off in the de Clermont launch, headed across the lagoon for the airport.

As planned, I sent a three-letter text to Hamish with the results of the vote: QGA. It stood for Queen’s Gambit Accepted, a code to indicate that the Congregation had been persuaded to support Matthew’s rescue. We did not know if anyone was monitoring our communications, but we’d decided to be cautious.

His response was immediate.

Well done. Standing by for your arrival.

I checked in with Marcus, who reported that the twins were always hungry and had completely monopolized Phoebe’s attention. As for Jack, Marcus said he was as well as could be expected.

After my exchange with Marcus, I sent a text to Ysabeau.

Worried about the bishop pair.

It was another chess reference. We had dubbed Gerbert, onetime bishop of Rome, and his sidekick Domenico the “bishop pair” because they always seemed to be working together. After their latest defeat, they were bound to retaliate. Gerbert might already have warned Knox that I had won the vote and we were on our way.

Ysabeau took longer to reply than Marcus had.

The bishop pair cannot checkmate the king unless the queen and her rook allow it.

There was a long pause, then another message.

And I will die first.

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