فصل 04

کتاب: تمام ارواح / فصل: کتاب زندگی / فصل 4

فصل 04

توضیح مختصر

  • زمان مطالعه 40 دقیقه
  • سطح خیلی سخت

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

این فصل را می‌توانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

فایل صوتی

دانلود فایل صوتی

متن انگلیسی فصل

4

“Were you ever going to tell me you were the de Clermont family’s assassin?” I asked, reaching for the grapefruit juice.

Matthew looked at me in silence across the kitchen table where Marthe had laid out my breakfast.

He had sneaked Hector and Fallon inside, and they were following our conversation—and my selection of foods—with interest.

“And Fernando’s relationship with your brother Hugh?” I asked. “I was raised by two women. You couldn’t possibly have been withholding that piece of information because you thought I might disapprove.”

Hector and Fallon looked to Matthew for an answer. When none was forthcoming, the dogs looked back at me.

“Verin seems nice,” I said, deliberately trying to provoke him.

“Nice?” Matthew beetled his eyebrows at me.

“Well, except for the fact she was armed with a knife,” I admitted mildly, pleased that my strategy had worked.

“Knives,” Matthew corrected me. “She had one in her boot, one in her waistband, and one in her bra.”

“Was Verin ever a Girl Scout?” It was my turn to lift my brows.

Before Matthew could answer, Gallowglass shot through the kitchen in a streak of blue and black, followed by Fernando. Matthew scrambled to his feet. When the dogs got up to follow, he pointed to the floor and they immediately sat down again.

“Finish your breakfast, then go to the tower,” Matthew ordered just before he vanished. “Take the dogs with you. And don’t come down until I come and get you.”

“What’s going on?” I asked Marthe, blinking at the suddenly vacant room.

“Baldwin is home,” she replied, as though this were a sufficient answer.

“Marcus,” I said, remembering that Baldwin had returned to see Matthew’s son. The dogs and I jumped up. “Where is he?”

“Philippe’s office.” Marthe frowned. “I do not think Matthew wants you there. There may be bloodshed.”

“Story of my life.” I was looking over my shoulder when I said it and ran smack into Verin as a result. A dignified older gentleman who had a tall, gaunt frame and kind eyes was with her. I tried to get around them. “Excuse me.”

“Where do you think you’re going?” Verin asked, blocking my way.

“Philippe’s office.”

“Matthew told you to go to his tower.” Verin’s eyes narrowed. “He is your mate, and you’re supposed to obey him like a proper vampire wife.” Her accent was softly Germanic—not quite German, or Austrian, or Swiss, but something that borrowed from all three.

“What a pity for all of you that I’m a witch.” I stuck my hand out to the gentleman, who was watching our conversation with thinly veiled amusement. “Diana Bishop.”

“Ernst Neumann. I’m Verin’s husband.” Ernst’s accent placed his origins squarely in the neighborhood of Berlin. “Why not let Diana go after him, Schatz? That way you can follow. I know how you hate to miss a good argument. I will wait in the salon for the others.”

“Good idea, my love. They can hardly fault me if the witch escapes from the kitchen.” Verin regarded him with open admiration and gave him a lingering kiss. Though she looked young enough to be his granddaughter, it was obvious that she and Ernst were deeply in love.

“I have them occasionally,” he said with a definite twinkle in his eye. “Now, before Diana runs off and you give chase, tell me: Shall I take a knife or a gun with me in case one of your brothers goes on a rampage?”

Verin considered the matter. “I think Marthe’s cleaver should be sufficient. It was enough to slow down Gerbert, and his hide is far thicker than Baldwin’s—or Matthew’s.”

“You took a cleaver to Gerbert?” I liked Ernst more and more.

“That would be an exaggeration,” Ernst said, turning slightly pink with embarrassment.

“I fear that Phoebe is trying diplomacy,” Verin interrupted, turning me around and facing me in the direction of the tussle. “That never works with Baldwin. We must go.”

“If Ernst is taking a knife, I’m taking the dogs.” I clicked my fingers at Hector and Fallon and set off at a fast trot, the dogs following near my heels barking and wagging as though we were playing a grand game.

The second-floor landing that led to the family apartments was crowded with concerned onlookers when we arrived: Nathaniel, a round-eyed Sophie with Margaret in her arms, Hamish in a splendid silk paisley bathrobe and only one side of his face shaved, and Sarah, who appeared to have been woken up by the fracas. Ysabeau exuded ennui as if to say this sort of thing happened all the time.

“Everybody in the salon,” I said, drawing Sarah in the direction of the stairs. “Ernst will join you there.”

“I don’t know what set Marcus off,” Hamish said, wiping the shaving cream from his chin with a towel. “Baldwin called for him, and it all seemed fine at first. Then they started shouting.”

The small room that Philippe used to conduct his business was filled with vampires and testosterone as Matthew, Fernando, and Gallowglass all jostled for the best position. Baldwin sat in a Windsor chair that was tipped back so he could cross his feet on the desk. Marcus leaned on the other side of the desk, his color high. Marcus’s mate—for the petite young woman standing nearby must be the one I’d heard so much about, Phoebe Taylor—was trying to referee the dispute between the head of the de Clermont family and the grand master of the Knights of Lazarus. “This strange household of witches and daemons you’ve gathered must disband immediately,”

Baldwin said, trying without success to rein in his temper. His chair dropped to the floor with a bang.

“Sept-Tours belongs to the Knights of Lazarus! I am the grand master, not you. I say what happens here!” Marcus shouted back.

“Leave it, Marcus.” Matthew had his son by the elbow.

“If you don’t do exactly what I say, there will be no Knights of Lazarus!” Baldwin stood, so that the two vampires were nose to nose.

“Stop threatening me, Baldwin,” Marcus said. “You aren’t my father, and you aren’t my master.”

“No, but I am the head of this family.” Baldwin’s fist met the wooden desk with a resounding crash.

“You will listen to me, Marcus, or accept the consequences for your disobedience.”

“Why can’t the two of you sit down and talk about this reasonably?” Phoebe said, making a rather courageous effort to separate the two vampires.

Baldwin snarled at her in warning, and Marcus lunged for his uncle’s throat.

Matthew grabbed Phoebe and pulled her out of the way. She was shaking, though more from anger than fear. Fernando spun Marcus around and pinned his arms to his sides. Gallowglass clamped his hand on Baldwin’s shoulder.

“Do not challenge him,” Fernando said sharply, when Marcus tried to worm his way free. “Not unless you are prepared to walk out of this house and never return.”

After a few long moments, Marcus nodded. Fernando released him but remained close.

“These threats are absurd,” Marcus said in a slightly more reasonable tone. “The Knights of Lazarus and the Congregation have been in bed with each other for years. We oversee their financial affairs, not to mention help them enforce order among the vampires. Surely—”

“Surely the Congregation wouldn’t risk de Clermont family retaliation? Wouldn’t violate the sanctuary that has always been afforded to Sept-Tours?” Baldwin shook his head. “They already have, Marcus. The Congregation is not playing games this time. They’ve been looking for a reason to disband the Knights of Lazarus for years.”

“They’re doing so now because I brought official charges against Knox for Emily’s death?” Marcus asked.

“Only in part. It was your insistence on having the covenant set aside that the Congregation couldn’t stomach.” Baldwin thrust a roll of parchment at Marcus. Three wax seals hung from the bottom, swaying slightly due to the rough treatment. “We considered your request—again. It’s been denied. Again.”

That one word—“we”—solved a long-standing mystery. Since the covenant had been signed and the Congregation had been formed in the twelfth century, there had always been a de Clermont among the three vampires at the meeting table. Until now I had not known that creature’s present identity:

Baldwin.

“It was bad enough that a vampire interfered in a dispute between two witches,” he continued.

“Demanding reparations for Emily Mather’s death was foolish, Marcus. But continuing to challenge the covenant was unforgivably naïve.”

“What happened?” Matthew asked. He passed Phoebe into my care, though his look suggested he was none too happy to see me here.

“Marcus and the other participants in his little rebellion called for an end to the covenant in April.

Marcus declared that the Bishop family was under the direct protection of the Knights of Lazarus, thereby involving the brotherhood.”

Matthew looked at Marcus sharply. I didn’t know whether to kiss Matthew’s son for his efforts to protect my family or chide him for his optimism.

“In May . . . well, you know what happened in May,” Baldwin said. “Marcus characterized Emily’s death as a hostile act undertaken by members of the Congregation intent on provoking open conflict between creatures. He thought that the Congregation might want to reconsider his earlier request to abandon the covenant in exchange for a truce with the Knights of Lazarus.”

“It was an entirely reasonable request.” Marcus unrolled the document and scanned the lines.

“Reasonable or not, the measure went down: two in favor and seven opposed,” Baldwin reported.

“Never allow a vote whose outcome you can’t predict in advance, Marcus. You should have discovered that unpleasant truth about democracy by now.”

“It’s not possible. That means only you and Nathaniel’s mother voted in favor of my proposal,”

Marcus said, bewildered. Agatha Wilson, mother to Marcus’s friend Nathaniel, was one of the three daemons who were members of the Congregation.

“Another daemon sided with Agatha,” Baldwin said coldly.

“You voted against it?” Clearly Marcus had counted on his family’s support. Given my few dealings with Baldwin, I could have told him this was unduly hopeful.

“Let me see that,” Matthew said, plucking the parchment from Marcus’s fingers. His look demanded that Baldwin explain his actions.

“I had no choice,” Baldwin told Matthew. “Do you know how much damage your son has done?

From now on there will be whispers about how a young upstart from an inferior branch of the de Clermont family tree tried to mount an insurrection against a thousand years of tradition.”

“Inferior?” I was aghast at the insult to Ysabeau. My mother-in-law didn’t look at all surprised, however. If anything, she looked even more bored, studying her perfectly manicured long nails.

“You go too far, Baldwin,” Gallowglass growled. “You weren’t here. The rogue members of the Congregation who came here in May and killed Emily—”

“Gerbert and Knox aren’t rogue members!” Baldwin said, his voice rising again. “They belong to a two-thirds majority.”

“I don’t care. Telling witches, vampires, and daemons to keep to themselves no longer makes sense—if it ever did,” Marcus insisted, stony-faced. “Abandoning the covenant is the right thing to do.”

“Since when has that mattered?” Baldwin sounded tired.

“It says here that Peter Knox has been censured,” Matthew said, looking up from the document. “More than that, Knox was forced to resign. Gerbert and Satu argued that he was provoked to take action against Emily, but the Congregation couldn’t deny he played some role in the witch’s death.”

Baldwin reclaimed his seat behind his father’s desk. Though a large man, he did not seem of sufficient stature to occupy Philippe’s place.

“So Knox did kill my aunt.” My anger—and my power—was rising.

“He claims all he was doing was questioning her about Matthew’s whereabouts and the location of a Bodleian Library manuscript—which sounded very much like the sacred text we vampires call the Book of Life,“ said Baldwin. “Knox said Emily became agitated when he discovered that the Wilsons’ daughter was a witch but had two daemon parents. He blames her heart attack on stress.”

“Emily was healthy as a horse,” I retorted.

“And what price will Knox pay for killing a member of my mate’s family?” Matthew asked quietly, his hand on my shoulder.

“Knox has been stripped of his seat and banned from ever serving on the Congregation again,”

Baldwin said. “Marcus got his way on that at least, but I’m not sure we won’t regret it in the end.” He and Matthew exchanged a long look. I was missing something vital.

“Who will take his place?” Matthew asked.

“It’s too soon to say. The witches insist on a Scottish replacement, on the grounds that Knox hadn’t finished out his term. Janet Gowdie is obviously too old to serve again, so my money would be on one of the McNivens—Kate, perhaps. Or possibly Jenny Horne,” Baldwin replied.

“The Scots produce powerful witches,” Gallowglass said somberly, “and the Gowdies, the Hornes, and the McNivens are the most respected families in the north.”

“They may not be as easy to handle as Knox. And one thing is clear: The witches are determined to have the Book of Life,” Baldwin said.

“They’ve always wanted it,” Matthew said.

“Not like this. Knox found a letter in Prague. He says it provides proof that you either have or once had the book of origins—or the witches’ original book of spells, if you prefer his version of the tale,”

Baldwin explained. “I told the Congregation this was nothing more than a power-hungry wizard’s fantasy, but they didn’t believe me. They’ve ordered a full inquiry.”

There were many legends about the contents of the ancient book now hidden in Oxford’s Bodleian Library under the call number Ashmole Manuscript 782. The witches believed that it contained the first spells ever cast, the vampires that it told the story of how they were first made. Daemons thought the book held secrets about their kind, too. I had possessed the book too briefly to know which, if any, of these stories were true—but Matthew, Gallowglass, and I knew that whatever else the Book of Life contained paled in comparison to the genetic information bound within its covers. For the Book of Life had been fashioned from the remains of once-living creatures: The parchment was made from their skin, the inks contained their blood, the pages were held together with creature hair and binding glue extracted from their bones.

“Knox said the Book of Life was damaged by a daemon named Edward Kelley, who removed three of its pages in sixteenth-century Prague. He claims you know where those pages are, Matthew.” Baldwin looked at him with open curiosity. “Is that true?”

“No,” Matthew said honestly, meeting Baldwin’s eyes.

Like many of Matthew’s answers, this was only a partial truth. He did not know the location of two of the missing pages from the Book of Life. But one of them was safely tucked into a locked drawer of his desk.

“Thank God for that,” Baldwin said, satisfied with the answer. “I swore on Philippe’s soul that such a charge could not be true.”

Gallowglass eyed Fernando blandly. Matthew gazed out the window. Ysabeau, who could smell a lie as easily as any witch, narrowed her eyes at me.

“And the Congregation took you at your word?” Matthew asked.

“Not entirely,” Baldwin said with reluctance. “What other assurances did you make, little viper?” Ysabeau asked lazily. “You hiss so prettily, Baldwin, but there’s a sting somewhere.”

“I promised the Congregation that Marcus and the Knights of Lazarus would continue to uphold the covenant.” Baldwin paused. “Then the Congregation selected an impartial delegation—one witch and one vampire—and charged them with inspecting Sept-Tours from top to bottom. They will make sure there are no witches or daemons or even a scrap of paper from the Book of Life within its walls.

Gerbert and Satu J?rvinen will be here in one week’s time.”

The silence was deafening.

“How was I to know that Matthew and Diana were here?” Baldwin said. “But it’s no matter. The Congregation’s delegation will not find a single irregularity during their visit. That means Diana must go, too.”

“What else?” Matthew demanded.

“Is abandoning our friends and families not enough?” Marcus asked. Phoebe slid an arm around his waist in a gesture of comfort.

“Your uncle always delivers the good news first, Marcus,” Fernando explained. “And if the prospect of a visit with Gerbert is the good news, the bad news must be very bad.”

“The Congregation wants insurance.” Matthew swore. “Something that will keep the de Clermonts and the Knights of Lazarus on their best behavior.”

“Not something. Someone,” Baldwin said flatly.

“Who?” I asked.

“Me, of course,” Ysabeau said, sounding unconcerned.

“Absolutely not!” Matthew beheld Baldwin in horror.

“I’m afraid so. I offered them Verin first, but they refused,” Baldwin said. Verin appeared mildly affronted.

“The Congregation may be small-minded, but they’re not complete fools,” Ysabeau murmured. “No one could hold Verin hostage for more than twenty-four hours.”

“The witches said it had to be someone who could force Matthew out of hiding. Verin wasn’t considered sufficient inducement,” Baldwin explained.

“The last time I was held against my will, you were my jailer, Baldwin,” Ysabeau said in a syrupy voice. “Will you do the honors again?”

“Not this time,” Baldwin said. “Knox and J?rvinen wanted you held in Venice, where the Congregation could keep an eye on you, but I refused.”

“Why Venice?” I knew that Baldwin had come from there, but I couldn’t imagine why the Congregation would prefer it to any other location.

“Venice has been the Congregation’s headquarters since the fifteenth century, when we were forced out of Constantinople,” Matthew explained quickly. “Nothing happens in the city without the Congregation knowing of it. And Venice is home to scores of creatures who have long-standing relationships with the council—including Domenico’s brood.”

“A repulsive gathering of ingrates and sycophants,” Ysabeau murmured with a delicate shudder.

“I’m very glad not to be going there. Even without Domenico’s clan, Venice is unbearable this time of year. So many tourists. And the mosquitoes are impossible.”

The thought of what vampire blood might do to the mosquito population was deeply disturbing.

“Your comfort was not the Congregation’s chief concern, Ysabeau.” Baldwin gave her a forbidding look.

“Where am I to go, then?” Ysabeau asked.

“After expressing appropriate initial reluctance given his long-standing friendship with the family, Gerbert has generously agreed to keep you at his home. The Congregation could hardly refuse him,”

Baldwin replied. “That won’t pose a problem, will it?”

Ysabeau lifted her shoulders in an expressive Gallic shrug. “Not for me.”

“Gerbert cannot be trusted.” Matthew turned on his brother with almost as much anger as Marcus had shown. “Christ, Baldwin. He stood by and watched while Knox worked his magic on Emily!”

“I do hope Gerbert has managed to retain his butcher,” Ysabeau mused as though her son had not spoken. “Marthe will have to come with me, of course. You will see to it, Baldwin.”

“You’re not going,” Matthew said. “I’ll give myself up first.”

Before I could protest, Ysabeau spoke. “No, my son. Gerbert and I have done this before, as you know. I will be back in no time—a few months at most.”

“Why is this necessary at all?” Marcus said. “Once the Congregation inspects Sept-Tours and finds nothing objectionable, they should leave us alone.”

“The Congregation must have a hostage to demonstrate that they are greater than the de Clermonts,” Phoebe explained, showing a remarkable grasp of the situation.

“But, Grand-mère,” Marcus began, looking stricken, “it should be me, not you. This is my fault.”

“I may be your grandmother, but I am not so old and fragile as you think,” Ysabeau said with a touch of frostiness. “My blood, inferior though it might be, does not shrink from its duty.”

“Surely there’s another way,” I protested.

“No, Diana,” Ysabeau answered. “We all have our roles in this family. Baldwin will bully us.

Marcus will look after the brotherhood. Matthew will look after you, and you will look after my grandchildren. As for me, I find that I am invigorated at the prospect of being held for ransom once more.”

My mother-in-law’s feral smile made me believe her.

Having helped Baldwin and Marcus to reach a fragile state of détente, Matthew and I returned to our rooms on the other side of the château. Matthew turned on the sound system as soon as we’d passed through the doorway, flooding the room with the intricate strains of Bach. The music made it more difficult for the other vampires in the house to overhear our conversations, so Matthew invariably had something playing in the background. “It’s a good thing we know more about Ashmole 782 than Knox does,” I said quietly. “Once I retrieve the book from the Bodleian Library, the Congregation will have to stop handing out ultimatums from Venice and start dealing with us directly.”

Matthew studied me silently for a moment, then poured himself some wine and drank it down in one gulp. He offered me water, but I shook my head. The only thing I craved at this hour was tea.

Marcus had urged me to avoid caffeine during the pregnancy, however, and herbal blends were a poor substitute.

“What do you know about the Congregation’s vampire pedigrees?” I took a seat on the sofa.

“Not much,” Matthew replied, pouring another glass of wine. I frowned. There was no chance of a vampire getting intoxicated by drinking wine from a bottle—the only way that one could feel the influence was to drink blood from an inebriated source—but it wasn’t usual for him to drink like this.

“Does the Congregation keep witch and daemon genealogies, too?” I asked, hoping to distract him.

“I don’t know. The affairs of witches and daemons never concerned me.” Matthew moved across the room and stood facing the fireplace.

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” I said, all business. “Our top priority has to be Ashmole 782. I’ll need to go to Oxford as quickly as possible.”

“And what will you do then, ma lionne?”

“Figure out a way to recall it.” I thought for a moment of the conditions my father had woven through the spell that bound the book to the library. “My father made sure that the Book of Life would come to me if I need it. Our present circumstances certainly qualify.”

“So the safety of Ashmole 782 is your chief concern,” Matthew said with dangerous softness.

“Of course. That and finding its missing pages,” I said. “Without them the Book of Life will never reveal its secrets.”

When the daemon alchemist Edward Kelley removed three of its pages in sixteenth-century Prague, he had damaged whatever magic had been used in the making of the book. For protection, the text had burrowed into the parchment, creating a magical palimpsest, and the words chased one another through the pages as if looking for the missing letters. It wasn’t possible to read what remained.

“After I recover it, you might be able to figure out which creatures are bound into it, perhaps even date it, by analyzing its genetic information in your lab,” I continued. Matthew’s scientific work focused on issues of species origins and extinction. “When I locate the two missing pages—”

Matthew turned, his face a calm mask. “You mean when we recover Ashmole 782 and when we

locate the other pages.”

“Matthew, be reasonable. Nothing would anger the Congregation more than the news that we were seen together at the Bodleian.”

His voice got even softer, his face calmer. “You are more than three months pregnant, Diana.

Members of the Congregation have already invaded my home and killed your aunt. Peter Knox is desperate to get his hands on Ashmole 782 and knows that you have the power to do it. Somehow he knows about the Book of Life’s missing pages, too. You will not be going to the Bodleian Library or anywhere else without me.”

“I have to put the Book of Life back together again,” I said, my voice rising.

“Then we will, Diana. Right now Ashmole 782 is safely in the library. Leave it there and let this business with the Congregation settle down.” Matthew was relying—perhaps too much—on the idea that I was the only witch who could release the spell my father had placed on the book.

“How long will that take?”

“A few months. Perhaps until after the babies are born,” Matthew said.

“That may be six more months,” I said, reining in my anger. “So I’m supposed to wait and gestate.

And your plan is to twiddle your thumbs and watch the calendar with me?”

“I will do whatever Baldwin commands,” Matthew said, drinking the last of his wine.

“You cannot be serious!” I exclaimed. “Why do you put up with his autocratic nonsense?”

“Because a strong head of the family prevents chaos, unnecessary bloodshed, and worse,” Matthew explained. “You forget that I was reborn in a very different time, Diana, when most creatures were expected to obey someone else without question—your lord, your priest, your father, your husband.

Carrying out Baldwin’s orders is not as difficult for me as it will be for you.”

“For me? I’m not a vampire,” I retorted. “I don’t have to listen to him.”

“You do if you’re a de Clermont.” Matthew gripped my elbows. “The Congregation and vampire tradition have left us with precious few options. By the middle of December, you will be a fully fledged member of Baldwin’s family. I know Verin, and she would never renege on a promise made to Philippe.”

“I don’t need Baldwin’s help,” I said. “I’m a weaver and have power of my own.”

“Baldwin mustn’t know about that,” Matthew said, holding me tighter. “Not yet. And no one can offer you or our children the security that Baldwin and the rest of the de Clermonts can.”

“You are a de Clermont,” I said, jabbing a finger into his chest. “Philippe made that perfectly clear.”

“Not in the eyes of other vampires.” Matthew took my hand in his. “I may be Philippe de Clermont’s kin, but I am not his blood. You are. For that reason alone, I will do whatever Baldwin asks me to do.”

“Even kill Knox?”

Matthew looked surprised.

“You’re Baldwin’s assassin. Knox trespassed on de Clermont land, which is a direct challenge to the family’s honor. I assume that makes Knox your problem.” I kept my tone matter-of-fact, but it took effort. I knew that Matthew had killed men before, but somehow the word “assassin” made those deaths seem more sordid and disturbing.

“As I said, I’ll follow Baldwin’s orders.” Matthew’s gray eyes had taken on a greenish cast and were cold and lifeless.

“I don’t care what Baldwin commands. You can’t go after a witch, Matthew—certainly not one who was once a member of the Congregation,” I said. “It will only make matters worse.”

“After what he did to Emily, Knox is already a dead man,” Matthew said. He released me and strode to the window.

The threads around him flashed red and black. The fabric of the world wasn’t visible to every witch, but as a weaver—a maker of spells, like my father—I could see it plainly.

I joined Matthew at the window. The sun was up now, highlighting the green hills with gold. It looked so pastoral and serene, but I knew that rocks lay below the surface, as hard and forbidding as the man I loved. I slid my arms around Matthew’s waist and rested my head against him. This was how he held me when I needed to feel safe.

“You don’t have to go after Knox for me,” I told him, “or for Baldwin.”

“No,” he said softly. “I have to do it for Emily.”

They’d laid Em to rest within the ruins of the ancient nearby temple consecrated to the goddess. I’d been there before with Philippe, and Matthew had insisted I see the grave shortly after our return so that I would have to face that my aunt was gone—forever. Since then I’d visited it a few times when I needed quiet and some time to think. Matthew had asked me not to go alone. Today Ysabeau was my escort, as I needed time away from my husband, as well as from Baldwin and the troubles that had soured the air at Sept-Tours.

The place was as beautiful as I remembered, with the cypress trees standing like sentinels around broken columns that were barely visible now. Today the place was not snow-covered, as it had been in December of 1590, but lush and green—except for the rectangular brown slash that marked Em’s final resting place. There were hoof prints in the soft earth and a faint depression on the top.

“A white hart has taken to sleeping on the grave,” Ysabeau explained, following my glance. “They are very rare.”

“A white buck appeared when Philippe and I came here before my wedding to make offerings to the goddess.” I’d felt her power then, ebbing and flowing under my feet. I felt it now, but said nothing. Matthew had been adamant that no one must know about my magic.

“Philippe told me he met you,” Ysabeau said. “He left a note for me in the binding of one of Godfrey’s alchemical books.” Through the notes Philippe and Ysabeau had shared the tiny details of everyday life that would otherwise be easily forgotten.

“How you must miss him.” I swallowed down the lump that threatened to choke me. “He was extraordinary, Ysabeau.”

“Yes,” she said softly. “We shall never see another one such as him.”

The two of us stood near the grave, silent and reflective.

“What happened this morning will change everything,” Ysabeau said. “The Congregation’s inquiry will make it more difficult to keep our secrets. And Matthew has more to hide than most of us.”

“Like the fact that he’s the family’s assassin?” I asked.

“Yes,” Ysabeau said. “Many vampire families would dearly like to know which member of the de Clermont clan is responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.”

“When we were here with Philippe, I thought I’d uncovered most of Matthew’s secrets. I know about his attempted suicide. And what he did for his father.” It had been the hardest secret for my husband to reveal—that he had helped his father to his death.

“With vampires there is no end to them,” Ysabeau said. “But secrets are unreliable allies. They allow us to believe we are safe, yet all the while they are destroying us.”

I wondered if I was one of the destructive secrets lying at the heart of the de Clermont family. I drew an envelope from my pocket and handed it to Ysabeau. She saw the crabbed handwriting, and her face froze.

“Alain gave me this note. Philippe wrote it on the day he died,” I explained. “I’d like you to read it.

I think the message was meant for all of us.”

Ysabeau’s hand trembled as she unfolded the single sheet. She opened it carefully and read the few lines aloud. One of the lines struck me with renewed force: “Do not let the ghosts of the past rob the future of its joys.”

“Oh, Philippe,” she said sadly. Ysabeau handed back the note and reached for my forehead. For one unguarded moment, I saw the woman she had once been: formidable but capable of joy. She stopped, her finger withdrawing.

I caught her hand. She was colder even than her son. I gently set her icy fingers on the skin between my eyebrows, giving her silent permission to examine the place where Philippe de Clermont had marked me. The pressure of Ysabeau’s fingers changed infinitesimally while she explored my forehead. When she stepped away, I could see her throat working.

“I do feel . . . something. A presence, some hint of Philippe.” Ysabeau’s eyes were shining.

“I wish he were here,” I confessed. “He would know what to do about this mess: Baldwin, the blood vow, the Congregation, Knox, even Ashmole 782.”

“My husband never did anything unless it was absolutely necessary,” Ysabeau replied.

“But he was always doing something.” I thought of how he’d orchestrated our trip to Sept-Tours in 1590, in spite of the weather and Matthew’s reluctance.

“Not so. He watched. He waited. Philippe let others take the risks while he gathered their secrets and stored them up for future use. It is why he survived so long,” Ysabeau said.

Ysabeau’s words reminded me of the job Philippe had given me in 1590, after he made me his blood-sworn daughter: Think—and stay alive.

“Remember that, before you rush back to Oxford for your book,” Ysabeau continued, dropping her voice to a whisper. “Remember that in the difficult days to come, as the darkest de Clermont family secrets are exposed to the light. Remember that and you will show them all that you are Philippe de Clermont’s daughter in more than name.”

مشارکت کنندگان در این صفحه

تا کنون فردی در بازسازی این صفحه مشارکت نداشته است.

🖊 شما نیز می‌توانید برای مشارکت در ترجمه‌ی این صفحه یا اصلاح متن انگلیسی، به این لینک مراجعه بفرمایید.