- زمان مطالعه 52 دقیقه
- سطح خیلی سخت
دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
این فصل را میتوانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید
متن انگلیسی فصل
Sol in Aquarius
When the sun passeth through the water-bearer’s sign, it betokens great fortune, faithful friends, and the aide of princes.
Therefore, do not feare changes that take place when Aquarius ruleth the earth.
—Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590, Gonçalves MS 4890, f. 15r 40
Matthew said only one word on the flight: “Home.”
We arrived in France six days after the events in Chelm. Matthew still couldn’t walk. He wasn’t able to use his hands. Nothing remained in his stomach for more than thirty minutes. Ysabeau’s blood, as promised, was slowly mending the crushed bones, damaged tissues, and injuries to Matthew’s internal organs. After being initially unconscious due to a combination of drugs, pain, and exhaustion, he now refused to close his eyes to rest.
And he hardly ever spoke. When he did, it was usually to refuse something.
“No,” he said when we turned toward Sept-tours. “Our home.”
Faced with a range of options, I told Marcus to take us to Les Revenants. It was a strangely fitting name given its present owner, for Matthew had returned home more ghost than man after what Benjamin had done to him.
No one had dreamed that Matthew would prefer Les Revenants to Sept-Tours, and the house was cold and lifeless when we arrived. He sat in the foyer with Marcus while his brother and I raced around lighting fires and making up a bed for him. Baldwin and I were discussing which room would be best for Matthew given his present physical limitations when the convoy of cars from Sept-Tours filled the courtyard. Not even the vampires could beat Sarah to the door, she was so eager to see us. My aunt knelt in front of Matthew. Her face was soft with compassion and concern.
“You look like hell,” she said.
“Feel worse.” Matthew’s once-beautiful voice was harsh and grating, but I treasured every terse word. “When Marcus says it’s okay, I’d like to put a salve on your skin that will help you heal,” Sarah said, touching the raw skin on his forearm.
The cry of a furious, hungry baby split the air.
“Becca.” My heart leaped at the prospect of seeing the twins again. But Matthew did not seem to share my happiness.
“No.” Matthew’s eyes were wild, and he shook from head to toe. “No. Not now. Not like this.”
Since Benjamin had taken control of Matthew’s mind and body, I insisted that now Matthew was free he should be allowed to set the terms of his own daily existence and even his medical treatment. But this I would not allow. I scooped Rebecca out of Ysabeau’s arms, kissed her smooth cheek, and dropped the baby into the crook of Matthew’s elbow.
The moment Becca saw Matthew’s face, she stopped crying.
The moment Matthew had his daughter in his arms, he stopped shaking, just as I had the night she was born. My eyes filled at his terrified, awestruck expression.
“Good thinking,” Sarah murmured. She gave me the once-over. “You look like hell, too.”
“Mum,” Jack said, kissing me on the cheek. He tried to give me Philip, but the baby squirmed away from me, his face twisting and turning.
“What is it, little man?” I touched Philip’s face with a fingertip. My hands flashed with power, and the letters that now waited under the surface of my skin rose up, arranging themselves into stories that had yet to be told. I nodded and gave the baby a kiss on the forehead, feeling the tingle on my lips that confirmed what the Book of Life had already revealed to me. My son had power—lots of power. “Take him to Matthew, Jack.”
Jack knew full well the horrors Benjamin was capable of committing. He steeled himself to see evidence of them before he turned. I saw Matthew through Jack’s eyes: his hero, home from battle, gaunt and wounded. Jack cleared his throat, and the growling sound had me concerned.
“Don’t leave Philip out of the reunion, Dad.” Jack wedged Philip securely into the crook of Matthew’s other arm.
Matthew’s eyes flickered with surprise at the greeting. It was such a small word—Dad—but Jack had never called Matthew anything except Master Roydon and Matthew. Though Andrew Hubbard had insisted that Matthew was Jack’s true father, and although Jack had been quick to call me “Mother,” he had been strangely reluctant to bestow a similar honor on the man he worshipped.
“Philip gets cross when Becca gets all the attention.” Jack’s voice was roughened with suppressed rage, and he made his next words deliberately playful and light. “Granny Sarah has all kinds of advice on how to treat younger brothers and sisters. Most of it involves ice cream and trips to the zoo.” Jack’s banter didn’t fool Matthew.
“Look at me.” Matthew’s voice was weak and raspy, but there was no mistaking that this was an order.
Jack met his eyes.
“Benjamin is dead,” Matthew said.
“I know.” Jack looked away, shifting restlessly from one foot to the other.
“Benjamin can’t hurt you. Not anymore.”
“He hurt you. And he would have hurt my mother.” Jack looked at me, and his eyes filled with darkness.
Fearing that the blood rage would engulf him, I took a step in Jack’s direction. I stopped before taking another, forcing myself to let Matthew handle it.
“Eyes on me, Jack.”
Matthew’s skin was gray with effort. He had uttered more words since Jack’s arrival than he had in a full week, and they were sapping his strength. Jack’s wandering attention returned to the head of his clan.
“Take Rebecca. Give her to Diana. Then come back.”
Jack did as asked, while the rest of us watched warily in case either he or Matthew lost control. With Becca safely in my arms, I kissed her and told her in a whisper what a good girl she was not to fuss at being taken from her father.
Becca frowned, indicating she was playing this game under protest.
Back at Matthew’s side, Jack reached for Philip.
“No. I’ll keep him.” Matthew’s eyes were getting ominously dark, too. “Take Ysabeau home, Jack.
Everybody else go, too.”
“But, Matthieu,” Ysabeau protested. Fernando whispered something in her ear. Reluctantly she nodded. “Come, Jack. On the way to Sept-Tours, I will tell you a story about the time Baldwin attempted to banish me from Jerusalem. Many men died.”
After delivering that thinly veiled warning, Ysabeau swept Jack from the room.
“Thank you, Maman,” Matthew murmured. He was still supporting Philip’s weight, and his arms shook alarmingly.
“Call if you need me,” Marcus whispered as he headed out the door.
As soon as it was just the four of us in the house, I took Philip from Matthew’s lap and plunked both babies in the cradle by the fireplace.
“Too heavy,” Matthew said wearily as I tried to lift him from the chair. “Stay here.”
“You will not stay here.” I studied the situation and decided on a solution. I marshaled the air to support my hastily woven levitation spell. “Stand back, I’m going to try magic.” Matthew made a faint sound that might have been an attempt at laughter.
“Don’t. The floor’s okay,” he said, his words slurring with exhaustion.
“The bed’s better,” I replied firmly as we skimmed over the floor to the elevator.
During our first week at Les Revenants, Matthew permitted Ysabeau to come and feed him. He regained some of his strength and a bit more mobility. He still couldn’t walk, but he could stand provided he had assistance, his arms hanging limply at his sides.
“You’re making such quick progress,” I said brightly, as though everything in the world were rosy. Inside my head it was very dark indeed. And I was screaming in anger, fear, and frustration as the man I loved struggled to find his way through the shadows of the past that had overtaken him in Chelm. Sol in Pisces
When the sun is in Pisces, expect weariness and sadness.
Those who can banish feare will experience forgiveness and understanding.
You will be called to work in faraway places. —Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590, Gonçalves MS 4890, f. 15v
“I want some more of my books,” Matthew said with deceptive casualness. He rattled off a list of titles.
“Hamish will know where to find them.” His friend had gone back to London briefly, then returned to France. Hamish had been ensconced in Matthew’s rooms at Sept-Tours ever since. He spent his days trying to keep clueless bureaucrats from ruining the world economy and his nights depleting Baldwin’s wine cellar.
Hamish arrived at Les Revenants with the books, and Matthew asked him to sit and have a glass of Champagne. Hamish seemed to understand that this attempt at normalcy was a turning point in Matthew’s recovery.
“Why not? Man cannot live on claret alone.” With a subtle glance at me, Hamish indicated that he would take care of Matthew.
Hamish was still there three hours later—and the two of them were playing chess. My knees weakened at the unexpected sight of Matthew sitting on the white side of the board, considering his options. Since Matthew’s hands were still useless—the hand was a terribly complicated bit of anatomical engineering, it turned out—Hamish moved the pieces according to Matthew’s encoded commands.
“E4,” Matthew said.
“The Central Variation? How daring of you.” Hamish moved one of the white pawns.
“You accepted the Queen’s Gambit,” Matthew said mildly. “What did you expect?”
“I expect you to mix things up. Once upon a time, you refused to put your queen at risk. Now you do it every game.” Hamish frowned. “It’s a poor strategy.”
“The queen did just fine last time,” I whispered in Matthew’s ear, and he smiled.
When Hamish left, Matthew asked me to read to him. It was now a ritual for us to sit in front of the fire, the snow falling past the windows and one of Matthew’s beloved books in my hand: Abelard, Marlowe, Darwin, Thoreau, Shelley, Rilke. Often Matthew’s lips moved along with the words as I uttered them, proving to me—and, more important, to him—that his mind was as sharp and whole as ever.
“‘I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky,’” I read from his battered copy of Prometheus Unbound. “‘I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores,’”Matthew whispered.“
‘I change, but I cannot die.’”
After Hamish’s visit our society at Les Revenants gradually expanded. Jack was invited to join Matthew and to bring his cello with him. He played Beethoven for hours on end, and not only did the music have positive effects on my husband, it unfailingly put my daughter to sleep as well.
Matthew was improving, but he still had a long way to go. When he rested fitfully, I dozed at his side and hoped that the babies wouldn’t stir. He let me help him bathe and dress, though he hated himself—and me—for it. Whenever I thought I couldn’t endure another moment of watching him struggle, I focused on some patch of skin that had knit itself back together, leaving scars that I prayed would heal in time. Like the shadows of Chelm, I knew they would never fully disappear.
When Sarah came to see him, her worry was palpable. But Matthew was not the cause of her concern.
“How much magic are you using to stay upright?” Accustomed to living with bat-eared vampires, she had waited until I walked her to the car before she asked.
“I’m fine,” I said, opening the car door for her.
“That wasn’t my question. I can see you’re fine. That’s what worries me,” Sarah said. “Why aren’t you at death’s door?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said, dismissing her question.
“It will when you collapse,” Sarah retorted. “You can’t possibly keep this up.”
“You forget, Sarah: The Bishop-Clairmont family specializes in the impossible.” I closed the car door to muffle her ongoing protests.
I should have known that my aunt would not be silenced so easily. Baldwin showed up twenty-four hours after her departure—uninvited and unannounced.
“This is a bad habit of yours,” I said, thinking back to the moment he’d returned to Sept-Tours and stripped the sheets from our bed. “Surprise us again and I’ll put enough wards on this house to repel the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
“They haven’t been spotted in Limousin since Hugh died.” Baldwin kissed me on each cheek, taking time in between to make a slow assessment of my scent.
“Matthew isn’t receiving visitors today,” I said, drawing away. “He had a difficult night.”
“I’m not here to see Matthew.” Baldwin fixed eagle eyes on me. “I’m here to warn you that if you don’t start taking care of yourself, I will put myself in charge here.”
“You have no—”
“Oh, but I do. You are my sister. Your husband is not able to look after your welfare at the moment.
Look after it yourself or accept the consequences.” Baldwin’s voice was implacable.
The two of us faced off in silence for a few moments. He sighed when I refused to break my stare.
“It’s really quite simple, Diana. If you collapse—and based on your scent, I’d say you have a week at most before that happens—Matthew’s instincts will demand that he try to protect his mate. That will distract him from his primary job, which is to heal.”
Baldwin had a point.
“The best way to handle a vampire mate—especially one with blood rage like Matthew—is to give him no reason to think you need any protection. Take care of yourself—first and always,” Baldwin said.
“Seeing you healthy and happy will do Matthew more good, mentally and physically, than his maker’s blood or Jack’s music. Do we understand each other?”
“I’m so glad.” Baldwin’s mouth lifted into a smile. “Answer your e-mail while you’re at it. I send you messages. You don’t answer. It’s aggravating.”
I nodded, afraid that if I opened my mouth, detailed instructions on just what he could do with his e-mail might pop out.
Baldwin stuck his head into the great hall to check on Matthew. He pronounced him utterly useless because he could not engage in wrestling, warfare, or other brotherly pursuits. Then, mercifully, he left.
Dutifully I opened my laptop.
Hundreds of messages awaited, most from the Congregation demanding explanations and Baldwin giving me orders.
I lowered the lid on my computer and returned to Matthew and my children.
A few nights after Baldwin’s visit, I woke to the sensation of a cold finger jerking against my spine as it traced the trunk of the tree on my neck.
The finger moved in barely controlled fits and starts to my shoulders, where it found the outline left by the goddess’s arrow and the star left by Satu J?rvinen.
Slowly the finger traveled down to the dragon that encircled my hips.
Matthew’s hands were working again.
“I needed the first thing I touched to be you,” he said, realizing he’d awakened me.
I was barely able to breathe, and any response on my part was out of the question. But my unspoken words wanted to be set free nevertheless. The magic rose within me, letters forming phrases under my skin.
“The price of power.” Matthew’s hand circled my forearm, his thumb stroking the words as they appeared. The movement was rough and irregular at first, but it grew smoother and steadier with every pass over my skin. He had observed the changes in me since I’d become the Book of Life but never mentioned them until now.
“So much to say,” he murmured, his lips brushing my neck. His fingers delved, parted my flesh, touched my core.
I gasped. It had been so long, but his touch was still familiar. Matthew’s fingers went unerringly to the places that brought me the most pleasure.
“But you don’t need words to tell me what you feel,” Matthew said. “I see you, even when you hide from the rest of the world. I hear you, even when you’re silent.”
It was a pure definition of love. Like magic, the letters amassing on my forearms disappeared as Matthew stripped my soul bare and guided my body to a place where words were indeed unnecessary. I trembled through my release, and though Matthew’s touch became light as a feather, his fingers never stopped moving.
“Again,” he said, when my pulse quickened once more.
“It’s not possible,” I said. Then he did something that made me gasp.
“Impossible n’est pas français,” Matthew replied, giving me a nip on the ear. “And next time your brother comes to call, tell him not to worry. I’m perfectly able to take care of my wife.” Sol in Aries
The sign of the ram signifies dominion and wisdom.
While the sun resides in Aries, you will see growth in all your works.
It is a time for new beginnings. —Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590, Gonçalves MS 4890, f. 10r
“Answer your fucking e-mail!”
Apparently Baldwin was having a bad day. Like Matthew, I was beginning to appreciate the ways that modern technology allowed us to keep the other vampires in the family at arm’s length.
“I’ve put them off as long as I can.” Baldwin glowered at me from the computer screen, the city of Berlin visible through the huge windows behind him. “You are going to Venice, Diana.”
“No I’m not.” We had been having some version of this conversation for weeks.
“Yes you are.” Matthew leaned over my shoulder. He was walking now, slowly but just as silently as ever. “Diana will meet with the Congregation, Baldwin. But speak to her like that again and I’ll cut your tongue out.”
“Two weeks,” Baldwin said, completely unfazed by his brother’s threat. “They’ve agreed to give her two more weeks.”
“It’s too soon.” The physical effects of Benjamin’s torture were fading, but it had left Matthew’s control over his blood rage as thin as a knife’s edge and his temper just as sharp.
“She’ll be there.” He closed the lid on the laptop, effectively shutting out his brother and his final demands.
“It’s too soon,” I repeated.
“Yes, it is—far too soon for me to travel to Venice and face Gerbert and Satu.” Matthew’s hands were heavy on my shoulders. “If we want the covenant formally set aside—and we do—one of us must make the case to the Congregation.”
“What about the children?” I was grasping at straws.
“The three of us will miss you, but we will manage. If I look sufficiently inept in front of Ysabeau and Sarah, I won’t have to change a single diaper while you’re gone.” Matthew’s fingers increased in pressure, as did the sense of responsibility resting on my shoulders. “You must do this. For me. For us.
For every member of our family who has been harmed because of the covenant: Emily, Rebecca, Stephen, even Philippe. And for our children, so that they can grow up in love instead of fear.” There was no way I could refuse to go to Venice after that.
The Bishop-Clairmont family swung into action, eager to help ready our case for the Congregation.
It was a collaborative, multispecies effort that began with honing our argument down to its essential core. Hard as it was to strip away the insults and injuries, large and small, that we had suffered, success depended on being able to make our request not seem like a personal vendetta.
In the end it was breathtakingly simple—at least it was after Hamish took charge. All we needed to do, he said, was establish beyond a doubt that the covenant had been drawn up because of a fear of miscegenation and the desire to keep bloodlines artificially pure to preserve the power balance among creatures.
Like most simple arguments, ours was reached after hours of mind-numbing work. We all contributed our talents to the project. Phoebe, who was a gifted researcher, searched the archives at Sept-Tours for documents that touched on the covenant’s inception and the Congregation’s first meetings and debates. She called Rima, who was thrilled to be asked to do something other than filing, and had her search for supporting documents in the Congregation library on Isola della Stella.
These documents helped us piece together a coherent picture of what the founders of the Congregation had truly feared: that relationships between creatures, and an increasing interaction with humans, would weaken—and finally destroy—the ancient, supposedly inviolate daemon, vampire, and witch bloodlines. Such a concern was warranted given a twelfth-century understanding of biology and the value that was placed on inheritance and lineage at that time. And Philippe de Clermont had had the political acumen to suspect that the children of such unions could, if they so desired, rise up and rule the world.
What was more difficult, not to mention more dangerous, was demonstrating that this fear had actually contributed to our decline: Vampires found it difficult to make new vampires, witches were less powerful, and daemons were increasingly prone to madness. To make this part of our case, the Bishop Clairmonts needed to expose both the blood rage and the weavers in our family. I wrote up a history of weavers using information from the Book of Life. I explained that the weavers’ creative power was difficult to control and made them vulnerable to the animosity of their fellow witches. Over time witches grew complacent and had less use for new spells and charms. The old ones worked fine, and the weavers went from being treasured members of their communities to hunted outcasts. Sarah and I sat down together and drew up an account of my parents’ lives in painful detail to drive this point home—my father’s desperate attempts to hide his talents, Knox’s efforts to discover them, and their terrible deaths.
Matthew and Ysabeau recorded a similarly difficult tale, one of madness and the destructive power of anger. Fernando and Gallowglass scoured Philippe’s private papers for evidence of how he had kept his mate safe from extermination and their joint decision to protect Matthew in spite of his showing signs of the illness. Both Philippe and Ysabeau believed that careful upbringing and hard-won control would be a counterweight to whatever illness was present in his blood—a classic example of nurture over nature. And Matthew confessed that his own failures with Benjamin demonstrated just how dangerous blood rage could be if left to develop on its own.
Janet arrived at Les Revenants with the Gowdie grimoire and a copy of her great-grandmother Isobel’s trial transcript. The trial records described her amorous relationship with the devil known as Nickie-Ben in great detail, including his nefarious bite. The grimoire proved that Isobel was a weaver of spells, as she proudly identified her unique magical creations and the prices that she’d demanded for sharing them with her sisters in the Highlands. Isobel also identified her lover as Benjamin Fox— Matthew’s son. Benjamin had actually signed his name into the family record found in the front of the book.
“It’s still not sufficient,” Matthew worried, looking over the papers. “We still can’t explain why
weavers and blood-rage vampires like you and I can conceive children.”
I could explain it. The Book of Life had shared that secret with me. But I didn’t want to say anything until Miriam and Chris delivered the scientific evidence. I was beginning to think I would have to make this case without their help when a car pulled in to the courtyard.
Matthew frowned. “Who could that be?” he asked, putting down his pen and going to the window.
“Miriam and Chris are here. Something must be wrong at the Yale lab.”
Once the pair were inside and Matthew had received assurances that the research team he’d left in New Haven was thriving, Chris handed me a thick envelope.
“You were right,” he said. “Nice work, Professor Bishop.”
I hugged the packet to my chest, unspeakably relieved. Then I handed it to Matthew.
He tore into the envelope, his eyes racing over the lines of text and the black-and-white ideograms that accompanied them. He looked up, his lips parted in astonishment.
“I was surprised, too,” Miriam admitted. “As long as we approached daemons, vampires, and witches as separate species distantly related to humans but distinct from one another, the truth was going to elude us.”
“Then Diana told us the Book of Life was about what joined us together, not what separated us,”
Chris continued. “She asked us to compare her genome to both the daemon genome and the genomes of other witches.”
“It was all there in the creature chromosome,” Miriam said, “hiding in plain sight.”
“I don’t understand,” Sarah said, looking blank.
“Diana was able to conceive Matthew’s child because they both have daemon blood in them,”
Chris explained. “It’s too early to know for sure, but our hypothesis is that weavers are descended from ancient witch-daemon unions. Blood-rage vampires like Matthew are produced when a vampire with the blood-rage gene creates another vampire from a human with some daemon DNA.”
“We didn’t find much of a daemonic presence in Ysabeau’s genetic sample, or Marcus’s either,”
Miriam added. “That explains why they never manifested the disease like Matthew or Benjamin did.”
“But Stephen Proctor’s mother was human,” Sarah said. “She was a total pain in the ass—sorry, Diana—but definitely not daemonic.”
“It doesn’t have to be an immediate relationship,” Miriam said. “There just has to be enough daemon DNA in the mix to trigger the weaver and blood-rage genes. It could have been one of Stephen’s distant ancestors. As Chris said, these findings are pretty raw. We’ll need decades to understand it completely.”
“One more thing: Baby Margaret is a weaver, too.” Chris pointed to the paper in Matthew’s hands.
“Page thirty. There’s no question about it.”
“I wonder if that’s why Em was so adamant that Margaret shouldn’t fall into Knox’s hands,” Sarah mused. “Maybe she discovered the truth somehow.”
“This will shake the Congregation to its foundations,” I said.
“It does more than that. The science makes the covenant completely irrelevant,” Matthew said.
“We’re not separate species.”
“So we’re just different races?” I asked. “That makes our miscegenation argument even stronger.”
“You need to catch up on your reading, Professor Bishop,” Chris said with a smile. “Racial identity has no biological basis—at least none accepted by most scientists.”
“But that means—” I stopped.
“You aren’t monsters after all. There are no such thing as daemons, vampires, and witches. Not biologically. You’re just humans with a difference.” Chris grinned. “Tell the Congregation to stick that in their pipe and smoke it.”
I didn’t use exactly those words in my cover statement to the enormous dossier that we sent to Venice in advance of the Congregation meeting, but what I did say amounted to the same thing.
The days of the covenant were done.
And if the Congregation wanted to continue to function, it was going to have to find something better to do with its time than police the boundaries between daemon, vampire, witch, and human. When I went to the library the morning before my departure for Venice, however, I found that something had been left out of the file.
While we were doing our research, it had been impossible to ignore the sticky traces of Gerbert’s fingers. He seemed to lurk in the margins of every document and every piece of evidence. It was hard to pin much on him directly, but the circumstantial evidence was clear: Gerbert of Aurillac had known for some time about the special abilities of weavers. He’d even held one in thrall: the witch Meridiana, who had cursed him as she died. And he had been feeding Benjamin Fuchs information about the de Clermonts for centuries. Philippe had found him out and confronted him about it just before he left on his final mission to Nazi Germany.
“Why didn’t the information about Gerbert go to Venice?” I demanded of Matthew when at last I found him in the kitchen making my tea. Ysabeau was with him, playing with Philip and Becca.
“Because it’s better if the rest of the Congregation doesn’t know about Gerbert’s involvement,”
“Better for whom?” I asked sharply. “I want that creature exposed and punished.”
“But the Congregation’s punishments are so very unsatisfactory,” Ysabeau said, her eyes gleaming.
“Too much talking. Not enough pain. If it’s punishment you want, let me do it.” Her fingernails rapped against the counter, and I shivered.
“You’ve done enough, Maman,” Matthew said, giving her a forbidding glance.
“Oh, that.” Ysabeau waved her hand dismissively. “Gerbert has been a very naughty boy. But he will cooperate with Diana tomorrow because of it. You will find Gerbert of Aurillac entirely supportive, daughter.”
I sat down on the kitchen stool with a thunk.
“While Ysabeau was being held in Gerbert’s house, she and Nathaniel did a bit of snooping,”
Matthew explained. “They’ve been monitoring his e-mail and Internet usage ever since.”
“Did you know that nothing you see on the Internet ever dies, Diana? It lives on and on, just like a vampire.” Ysabeau looked genuinely fascinated by the comparison.
“And?” I still had no idea where this was leading.
“Gerbert isn’t just fond of witches,” Ysabeau said. “He’s had a string of daemon lovers, too. One of them is still living on the Via della Scala in Rome, in a palatial and drafty set of apartments that he bought for her in the seventeenth century.”
“Wait. Seventeenth century?” I tried to think straight, though it was difficult with Ysabeau looking like Tabitha after she’d devoured a mouse.
“Not only did Gerbert ‘consort’ with daemons, he turned one into a vampire. Such a thing is strictly forbidden—not by the covenant but by vampire law. For good reason, it turns out now that we know what triggers blood rage,” Matthew said. “Not even Philippe knew about her—though he did know about some of Gerbert’s other daemon lovers.”
“And we’re blackmailing him over it?” I said.
“‘Blackmail’ is such an ugly word,” Ysabeau said. “I prefer to think that Gallowglass was exceptionally persuasive when he dropped by Les Anges Déchus last night to wish Gerbert safe journey.”
“I don’t want some covert de Clermont operation against Gerbert. I want the world to know what a snake he is,” I said. “I want to beat him fair and square in open battle.”
“Don’t worry. The whole world will know. One day. One war at a time, ma lionne.” Matthew softened the commanding edge of his remark with a kiss and a cup of tea.
“Philippe preferred hunting to warfare.” Ysabeau dropped her voice, as though she didn’t want Becca and Philip to overhear her next words. “You see, when you hunt, you get to play with your prey before you destroy it. That is what we are doing with Gerbert.”
“Oh.” There was, admittedly, something appealing about that prospect.
“I felt sure you would understand. You are named after the goddess of the chase, after all. Happy hunting in Venice, my dear,” Ysabeau said, patting me on the hand. Sol in Taurus
The Bull governeth money, credit, debts, and gifts.
While the sun is in Taurus, deal with unfinished business.
Settle your affaires, lest they trouble you later.
Should you receive an unexpected reward, invest it for the future. —Anonymous English Commonplace Book, c. 1590, Gonçalves Manuscript 4890, f. 10v
Venice looked very different to my eyes in May than it had in January, and not solely because the sky was blue and the lagoon tranquil.
When Matthew had been in Benjamin’s clutches, the city felt cold and unwelcoming. It was a place I wanted to leave as quickly as possible. When I did, I never expected to return.
But the goddess’s justice would not be complete until the covenant was overturned.
And so I found myself back at Ca’ Chiaromonte, sitting on a bench in the back garden rather than a bench overlooking the Grand Canal, waiting once more for the Congregation’s meeting to begin.
This time Janet Gowdie waited with me. Together we went over our case one last time, imagining what arguments would be made against it while Matthew’s precious turtles slipped and slid across the gravel paths in pursuit of a mosquito snack.
“Time to go,” Marcus announced just before the bells began to ring four o’clock. He and Fernando would accompany us to Isola della Stella. Janet and I had tried to assure the rest of the family that we would be fine on our own, but Matthew wouldn’t hear of it.
The Congregation’s membership was the same as it had been at the January meeting. Agatha, Tatiana, and Osamu gave me encouraging smiles, though the reception that I received from Sidonie von Borcke and the vampires was decidedly frosty. Satu slipped into the cloister at the last moment as if she hoped not to be noticed. Gone was the self-assured witch who had kidnapped me from the garden at Sept-Tours. Sidonie’s appraising stare suggested that Satu’s transformation had not gone unnoticed, and I suspected that a change in the witches’ representatives would soon be made.
I strolled across the cloister to join the two vampires.
“Domenico. Gerbert,” I said, nodding at each in turn.
“Witch,” Gerbert sneered.
“And a de Clermont, too.” I angled my body so that my lips were close to Gerbert’s ear. “Don’t get too complacent, Gerbert. The goddess may have saved you for last, but make no mistake: Your day of judgment is coming.” I drew away and was gratified to see a spark of fear in his eyes.
When I slid the de Clermont key in the meeting chamber lock, I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu. The doors swung open and the uncanny feeling increased. My eyes locked on the the ouroboros— the tenth knot—carved onto the back of the de Clermont seat and the silver and gold threads in the room snapped with power.
All witches are taught to believe in signs. Happily, the meaning of this one was clear without any need for further magic or complicated interpretation: This is your seat. Here is where you belong.
“I call this meeting to order,” I said, rapping on the table.
My left finger bore a thick ribbon of violet. The goddess’s arrow had disappeared after I’d used it to kill Benjamin, but the vivid purple mark—the color of justice—remained.
I studied the room—the wide table, the records of my people and my children’s ancestors, the nine creatures gathered to make a decision that would change the lives of thousands like them all around the world. High above I felt the spirits of those who had come before, their glances freezing and nudging and tingling.
Here is where you fight for justice, they said with one voice.
“We won,” I reported to the members of the de Clermont and Clairmont-Bishop families who had assembled in the salon to greet us when we returned from Venice. “The covenant has been repealed.”
There were cheers, and hugs, and congratulations. Baldwin raised his wineglass in my direction, in a less effusive demonstration of approval.
My eyes sought out Matthew.
“No surprise,” he said. The silence that followed was heavy with words that, though unspoken, I heard nonetheless. He bent to pick up his daughter. “See, Rebecca? Your mother fixed everything once again.”
Becca had discovered the pure pleasure of chewing on her own fingers. I was very glad the vampire equivalent of milk teeth had not come in yet. Matthew removed her hand from her mouth and waved it in my direction, distracting his daughter from the tantrum she was planning. “Bonjour, Maman.”
Jack was bouncing Philip on his knee. The baby looked both intrigued and concerned. “Nice work, Mum.”
“I had plenty of help.” My throat thickened as I looked not only at Jack and Philip but at Sarah and Agatha, whose heads were bent close together as they gossiped about the Congregation meeting, Fernando and Gallowglass, who were amusing Sophie and Verin with tales of Gerbert’s stiff demeanor and Domenico’s fury, and Phoebe and Marcus, who were enjoying a lingering reunion kiss. Baldwin stood with Matthew and Becca. I approached them.
“This belongs to you, brother.” The de Clermont key rested heavy in the palm of my outstretched hand.
“Keep it.” Baldwin closed my fingers around the cool metal.
The conversation in the salon died away.
“What did you say?” I whispered.
“I told you to keep it,” Baldwin repeated.
“You can’t mean—”
“But I do. Everyone in the de Clermont family has a job. You know that.” Baldwin’s golden-brown eyes gleamed. “As of today, overseeing the Congregation is yours.”
“I can’t. I’m a professor!” I protested.
“Set the Congregation’s meeting schedule around your classes. As long as you answer your email,”
Baldwin said with mock severity, “you should have no problem juggling your responsibilities. I’ve neglected the family’s affairs long enough. Besides, I’m a warrior, not a politician.”
I looked to Matthew in mute appeal, but he had no intention of rescuing me from this particular plight. His expression was filled with pride, not protectiveness.
“What about your sisters?” I said, my mind racing. “Surely Verin will object.”
“It was Verin’s suggestion,” Baldwin said. “And after all, you are my sister, too.”
“That settles it, then. Diana will serve on the Congregation until she tires of the job.” Ysabeau kissed me on one cheek, then the other. “Just think of how much it will upset Gerbert when he discovers what Baldwin has done.”
Still feeling dazed, I slid the key back into my pocket.
“It has turned into a beautiful day,” Ysabeau said, looking out into the spring sunlight. “Let us take a walk in the garden before dinner. Alain and Marthe have prepared a feast—without Fernando’s help.
Marthe is in an extremely good mood because of it.”
Laughter and chatter followed our family out the door. Matthew handed Becca off to Sarah.
“Don’t be long, you two,” Sarah said.
Once we were alone, Matthew kissed me with a sharp hunger that gradually became something deeper and less desperate. It was a reminder that his blood rage was still not fully in check and my being away had taken a toll.
“Was everything all right in Venice, mon coeur?” he inquired when he had regained his equilibrium.
“I’ll tell you all about it later,” I said. “Though I should warn you: Gerbert is up to no good. He tried to thwart me at every turn.”
“What did you suspect?” Matthew stepped into the garden to join the rest of the family. “Don’t worry about Gerbert. We’ll figure out what game he’s playing, never fear.”
Something unexpected caught my eye. I stopped in my tracks.
“Diana?” Matthew looked back at me and frowned. “Are you coming?”
“In a minute,” I promised.
He regarded me strangely but joined the last of the family as they trooped outside.
I knew you would be the first to see me. Philippe’s voice was a whisper of sound, and I could still see Ysabeau’s horrid furniture through him. None of that mattered. He was perfect—whole, smiling, his eyes sparkling with amusement and affection.
“Why me?” I asked.
You have the Book of Life now. You no longer need my help. Philippe’s gaze met mine.
“The covenant—” I started.
I heard. I hear most things. Philippe’s grin widened. I am proud that it was one of my children that destroyed it. You have done well.
“Is seeing you my reward?” I said, fighting back the tears.
One of them, Philippe said. In time you will have the others.
“Emily.” The moment I said her name, Philippe’s form began to fade. “No! Don’t go. I won’t ask questions. Just tell her I love her.”
She knows that. So does your mother. Philippe winked. I am utterly surrounded by witches. Do not tell Ysabeau. She would not like it.
And there is my reward for years of good behavior. Now, I want no more tears, do you understand?
His finger rose. I am heartily sick of them.
“What do you want instead?” I wiped at my eyes.
More laughter. More dancing. His expression was mischievous. And more grandchildren.
“I had to ask,” I said with another laugh.
But the future will not be all laughter, I fear. Philippe’s expression sobered. Your work is not done, daughter. The goddess asked me to give this back to you. He held out the same gold-and-silver arrow that I had shot into Benjamin’s heart.
“I don’t want it.” I backed away, my hand raised to ward off this unwanted gift.
I didn’t want it either, and yet someone must see that justice is done. His arm extended further.
“Diana?” Matthew called from outside.
I would not be hearing my husband’s voice if not for the goddess’s arrow.
“Coming!” I called back.
Philippe’s eyes filled with sympathy and understanding. I touched the golden point hesitantly. The moment my flesh made contact with it, the arrow vanished and I felt its heavy weight at my back once more.
From the first moment we met, I knew you were the one, Philippe said. His words were a strange echo of what Timothy Weston had told me at the Bodleian last year, and again at his house.
With a final grin, his ghost began to dissipate.
“Wait!” I cried. “The one what?”
The one who could bear my burdens and not break, Philippe’s voice whispered in my ear. I felt a subtle press of lips on my cheek. You will not carry them alone. Remember that, daughter.
I bit back a sob at his departure.
“Diana?” Matthew called again, this time from the doorway. “What’s happened? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
I had, but this was not the time to tell Matthew about it. I felt like weeping, but Philippe wanted joy, not sorrow.
“Dance with me,” I said, before a single tear could fall. Matthew folded me into his arms. His feet moved across the floor, sweeping us out of the salon and into the great hall. He asked no questions, even though the answers were in my eyes.
I trod on his toe. “Sorry.”
“You’re trying to lead again,” he murmured. He pressed a kiss to my lips, then whirled me around.
“At the moment your job is to follow.”
“I forgot,” I said with a laugh.
“I’ll have to remind you more often, then.” Matthew swung me tight to his body. His kiss was rough enough to be a warning and sweet enough to be a promise.
Philippe was right, I thought as we walked out into the garden. Whether leading or following, I would never be alone in a world that had Matthew in it.
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