فصل 41

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فصل 41

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Sol in Gemini

The sign of Gemini dealeth with the partnership between a husband and wife, and all matters that dependeth likewise upon faith.

A man born in this sign hath a good and honest heart and a fine wit that will lead him to learn many things.

He will be quick to anger, but soon to reconcile.

He is bold of speech even before the prince. He is a great dissimulator, a spreader abroad of clever fantasies and lies.

He shall be much entangled with troubles by reason of his wife, but he shall prevail against their enemies.

—Anonymous English Commonplace Book, s. xvi, Gonçalves Manuscript 4890, f. 11r 41

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Professor Bishop.”

I looked up from my manuscript. The Royal Society’s reading room was flooded with summer sunshine. It raked through the tall, multipaned windows and spilled across the generous reading surfaces.

“One of the fellows asked me to give this to you.” The librarian handed me an envelope with the Royal Society’s insignia on it. Someone had written my name across the front in a dark, distinctive scrawl. I nodded in thanks.

Philippe’s ancient silver coin—the one he sent to make sure that someone returned home or obeyed his commands—was inside. I’d found a new use for it, one that was helping Matthew manage his blood rage while I returned to a more active life. If Matthew felt his need for me rising to dangerous levels, all he had to do was send me this coin, and I would join him right away.

I returned the bound manuscripts I’d been consulting to the attendant on the desk and thanked him for their help. It was the end of my first full week back in the archives—a trial run to see how my magic responded to repeated contact with so many ancient texts and brilliant, though dead, intellects. Matthew was not the only one struggling for control, and I’d had a few tricky moments when it seemed it might be impossible for me to return to the work I loved, but each additional day made that goal more achievable.

Since facing the Congregation in April, I had come to understand myself as a complicated weaving and not just a walking palimpsest. My body was a tapestry of witch, daemon, and vampire. Some of the threads that made me were pure power, as symbolized by Corra’s shadowy form. Some were drawn from the skill that my weaver’s cords represented. The rest were spun from the knowledge contained in the Book of Life. Every knotted strand gave me the strength to use the goddess’s arrow for justice rather than the pursuit of vengeance or power.

Matthew was waiting for me in the foyer when I descended the grand staircase from the library to the main floor. His gaze cooled my skin and heated my blood, just as it always had. I dropped the coin into his waiting palm.

“All right, mon coeur?” he asked after kissing me in greeting.

“Fine.” I tugged on the lapel of his black jacket, a small sign of possessiveness. Matthew had dressed the part of the distinguished professor today with his steel gray trousers, crisp white shirt, and fine wool jacket. I’d picked out his tie. Hamish had given it to him this past Christmas, and the green and-gray Liberty print picked up the changeable colors of his eyes. “How did it go?”

“Interesting discussion. Chris was brilliant, of course,” Matthew said, modestly giving my friend center stage.

Chris, Matthew, Miriam, and Marcus had been presenting research findings that expanded the limits of what was considered “human.” They showed how the evolution of Homo sapiens included DNA from other creatures, like Neanderthals, previously thought to have been a different species.

Matthew had been sitting on most of the evidence for years. Chris said Matthew was as bad as Isaac Newton when it came to sharing his research with others.

“Marcus and Miriam performed their usual charmer-and-curmudgeon routine,” Matthew said, releasing me at last.

“And what was the fellows’ reaction to this bit of news?” I unpinned Matthew’s name tag and slipped it into his pocket. PROFESSOR MATTHEW CLAIRMONT, it read, FRS, ALL SOULS (OXON), YALE UNIVERSITY (USA). Matthew had accepted a one-year visiting research appointment in Chris’s lab.

They’d received a huge grant to study noncoding DNA. It would lay the groundwork for the revelations they would one day make about other hominid creatures who were not extinct like the Neanderthals but were hiding in plain sight among humans. In the fall we would be off to New Haven again.

“They were surprised,” Matthew said. “Once they heard Chris’s paper, however, their surprise turned to envy. He really was impressive.”

“Where is Chris now?” I said, looking over my shoulder for my friend as Matthew steered me toward the exit.

“He and Miriam left for Pickering Place,” Matthew said. “Marcus wanted to pick up Phoebe before they all go to some oyster bar near Trafalgar Square.”

“Do you want to join them?” I asked.

“No.” Matthew’s hand settled on my waist. “I’m taking you out to dinner, remember?”

Leonard was waiting for us at the curb. “Afternoon, sieur. Madame.”

“‘Professor Clairmont’ will do, Leonard,” Matthew said mildly as he handed me into the back of the car.

“Righty-ho,” Leonard said with a cheerful grin. “Clairmont House?”

“Please,” Matthew said, getting into the car with me.

It was a beautiful June day, and it probably would have taken us less time to walk from the Mall to Mayfair than it did to drive, but Matthew insisted we take the car for safety’s sake. We had seen no evidence that any of Benjamin’s children had survived the battle in Chelm, nor had Gerbert or Domenico given us reason for concern since their stinging defeat in Venice, but Matthew didn’t want to take chances.

“Hello, Marthe!” I called into the house as we came in the door. “How is everything?”

“Bien,” she said. “Milord Philip and Milady Rebecca are just waking from their nap.”

“I asked Linda Crosby to come over a bit later and lend a hand,” Matthew said.

“Already here!” Linda followed us through the door, carrying not one but two Marks & Spencer bags. She handed one to Marthe. “I’ve brought the next book in the series about that lovely detective and her beau—Gemma and Duncan. And here’s the knitting pattern I told you about.” Linda and Marthe had become fast friends, in large part because they had nearly identical interests in murder mysteries, needlecraft, cooking, gardening, and gossip. The two of them had made a compelling and utterly self-serving case that the children should always be attended to by family members or, failing that, both a vampire and a witch working as baby-sitters. Linda argued that this was a wise precaution because we didn’t yet understand the babies’ talents and tendencies—though Rebecca’s preference for blood and inability to sleep suggested she was more vampire than witch, just as Philip seemed more witch than vampire given the stuffed elephant I sometimes saw swooping over his cradle.

“We can still stay home tonight,” I suggested. Matthew’s plans involved an evening gown, a tuxedo, and the goddess only knew what else.

“No.” Matthew was still overly fond of the word. “I am taking my wife out to dinner.” His tone indicated this was no longer a topic for discussion.

Jack pelted down the stairs. “Hi, Mum! I put your mail upstairs. Dad’s too. Gotta run. Dinner with Father H tonight.”

“Be back by breakfast, please,” Matthew said as Jack shot through the open door.

“No worries, Dad. After dinner, I’ll be out with Ransome,” Jack said as the door banged closed behind him. The New Orleans branch of the Bishop-Clairmont clan had arrived in London two days ago to take in the sights and visit with Marcus.

“Knowing that he’s out with Ransome does not alleviate my concerns.” Matthew sighed. “I’m going to see the children and get dressed. Are you coming?”

“I’ll be right behind you. I just want to stick my head in the ballroom first and see how the caterers are getting along with the preparations for your birthday party.”

Matthew groaned.

“Stop being such an old grouch,” I said.

Together Matthew and I climbed the stairs. The second floor, which was usually cold and silent, hummed with activity. Matthew followed me to the tall, wide doors. Caterers had set up tables all around the edges of the room, leaving a large space for dancing. In the corner, musicians were practicing tunes for tomorrow night.

“I was born in November, not June,” Matthew muttered, his frown deepening. “On All Souls Day.

And why did we have to invite so many people?”

“You can grumble and nitpick all you want. It won’t change the fact that tomorrow is the anniversary of the day you were reborn a vampire and your family wanted to celebrate it with you.” I examined one of the floral arrangements. Matthew had picked the odd selection of plants, which included willow branches and honeysuckle, as well as the wide selection of music from different eras that the band was expected to play during the dancing. “If you don’t want so many guests, you should think twice before you make any more children.”

“But I like making children with you.” Matthew’s hand slid around my hip until it came to rest on my abdomen.

“Then you can expect an annual repeat of this event,” I said, giving him a kiss. “And more tables with each passing year.”

“Speaking of children,” Matthew said, cocking his head and listening to some sound inaudible to a warmblood, “your daughter is hungry.”

“Your daughter is always hungry,” I said, putting a gentle palm to his cheek.

Matthew’s former bedroom had been converted to a nursery and was now the twins’ special kingdom—complete with a zoo full of stuffed animals, enough equipment to outfit a baby army, and two tyrants to rule over it.

Philip turned his head to the door when we entered, his look triumphant as he stood and gripped the side of his cradle. He had been peering down into his sister’s bed. Rebecca had hauled herself to a seated position and was staring at Philip with interest, as if trying to figure out how he’d managed to grow so quickly. “Good God. He’s standing.” Matthew sounded stunned. “But he’s not even seven months old.”

I glanced at the baby’s strong arms and legs and wondered why his father was surprised.

“What have you been up to?” I said, pulling Philip from the cradle and giving him a hug.

A stream of unintelligible sounds came from the baby’s mouth, and the letters under my skin surfaced to lend Philip assistance as he answered my question.

“Really? You’ve had a very lively day, then,” I said, handing him to Matthew.

“I believe you are going to be as much of a handful as your namesake,” Matthew said fondly, his finger caught in Philip’s fierce grip.

We got the children changed and fed, talking more about what I’d discovered in Robert Boyle’s papers that day and what new insights the presentations at the Royal Society had afforded Matthew into the problems of understanding the creature genomes.

“Give me a minute. I need to check my e-mail.” I received more of it than ever now that Baldwin had appointed me the official de Clermont representative so that he could devote more time to making money and bullying his family.

“Hasn’t the Congregation bothered you enough this week?” Matthew asked, his grouchiness returning. I’d spent too many evenings working on policy statements about equality and openness and trying to untangle convoluted daemon logic.

“There is no end in sight, I’m afraid,” I said, taking Philip with me into the Chinese Room, which was now my home office. I switched on my computer and held him on my knee while I scrolled through the messages.

“There’s a picture from Sarah and Agatha,” I called out. The two women were on a beach somewhere in Australia. “Come and see.”

“They look happy,” Matthew said, looking over my shoulder with Rebecca in his arms. Rebecca made sounds of delight at the sight of her grandmother.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a year since Em’s death,” I said. “It’s good to see Sarah smiling again.”

“Any news from Gallowglass?” Matthew asked. Gallowglass had left for parts unknown and hadn’t responded to our invitation to Matthew’s party.

“Not so far,” I said. “Maybe Fernando knows where he is.” I would ask him tomorrow.

“And what does Baldwin allow?” Matthew said, looking at the list of senders and seeing his brother’s name.

“He arrives tomorrow.” I was pleased that Baldwin was going to be there to wish Matthew well on his birthday. It lent additional weight to the occasion and would quiet any false rumors that Baldwin didn’t fully support his brother or the new Bishop-Clairmont scion. “Verin and Ernst will be with him.

And I should warn you: Freyja is coming, too.”

I hadn’t yet met Matthew’s middle sister. I was, however, looking forward to it after Janet Gowdie regaled me with tales of her past exploits.

“Christ, not Freyja, too.” Matthew groaned. “I need a drink. Do you want anything?”

“I’ll have some wine,” I said absently, continuing to scroll down through the list of messages from Baldwin, Rima Jaén in Venice, other members of the Congregation, and my department chair at Yale. I was busier than I’d ever been. Happier, too.

When I joined Matthew in his study, he was not fixing our drinks. Instead he was standing in front of the fireplace, Philip balanced on his hip, staring up at the wall above the mantel with a curious expression on his face. Following his stare, I could see why.

The portrait of Ysabeau and Philippe that usually hung there was gone. A small tag was pinned to the wall.

SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS’S PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN

MARRIED COUPLE TEMPORARILY REMOVED FOR THE

EXHIBITION SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS AND HIS WORLD

AT THE ROYAL GREENWICH PICTURE GALLERY.

“Phoebe Taylor strikes again,” I murmured. She was not yet a vampire but was already well known in vampire circles for her ability to identify the art in their possession that would provide considerable tax relief should they be willing to give the works to the nation. Baldwin adored her.

But the sudden disappearance of his parents was not the real reason Matthew was transfixed.

In place of the Reynolds was another canvas: a portrait of Matthew and me. It was clearly Jack’s work, with his trademark combination of seventeenth-century attention to detail and modern sensitivity to color and line. This was confirmed by the small card propped on the mantelpiece with “Happy birthday, Dad” scrawled on it.

“I thought he was painting your portrait. It was supposed to be a surprise,” I said, thinking of our son’s whispered requests that I occupy Matthew’s attention while he sketched.

“Jack told me he was painting your portrait,” Matthew said.

Instead Jack had painted the two of us together, in the formal drawing room by one of the house’s grand windows. I was sitting in an Elizabethan chair, a relic from our house in Blackfriars. Matthew stood behind me, his eyes clear and bright as they looked at the viewer. My eyes met the viewer’s too, touched by an otherworldliness that suggested I was not an ordinary human.

Matthew reached over my shoulder to clasp my raised left hand, our fingers woven tight. My head was angled slightly toward him, and his was angled slightly down, as though we had been interrupted in mid-conversation.

The pose exposed my left wrist and the ouroboros that circled my pulse. It sent a message of strength and solidarity, this symbol of the Bishop-Clairmonts. Our family had begun with the surprising love that developed between Matthew and me. It grew because our bond was strong enough to withstand the hatred and fear of others. And it would endure because we had discovered, like the witches so many centuries ago, that a willingness to change was the secret of survival.

More than that, the ouroboros symbolized our partnership. Matthew and I were an alchemical marriage of vampire and witch, death and life, sun and moon. That combination of opposites created something finer and more precious than either of us could ever have been separately.

We were the tenth knot. Unbreakable.

Without beginning or end.

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