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“No wonder we don’t celebrate Lughnasadh,” Sarah muttered, pushing open the front door. “All those awful songs about the end of summer and the coming of winter—not to mention Mary Bassett’s tambourine accompaniment.”
“The music wasn’t that bad,” I protested. Matthew’s grimace indicated that Sarah had a right to complain.
“Do you have more of that temperamental wine, Fernando?” Sarah flicked on the hall lights. “I need a drink. My head is pounding.”
“Tempranillo.” Fernando tossed the picnic blankets on the hall bench. “Tempranillo. Remember:
“French, Spanish, whatever—I need some,” she said, sounding desperate.
I stood aside so Abby and Caleb could get in the door. John was conked out in Caleb’s arms, but Grace was wide awake. She squirmed to get down.
“Let her go, Abby. She can’t hurt anything,” Sarah said, heading for the kitchen.
Abby put Grace down, and the child toddled straight toward the stairs. Abby laughed.
“She has the most amazing instincts when it comes to trouble. No stairs, Grace.” She swooped in and swung Grace up in the air before depositing her back on the floor and pointing her in the direction of the family room.
“Why don’t you put John in the keeping room?” I suggested. John had abandoned his Spider-Man mask and was wearing a T-shirt with the superhero on it instead.
“Thanks, Diana.” Caleb whistled. “I see what you mean about the tree, Matthew. So it just sprang up out of the hearth?”
“We think some fire and a bit of blood might have been involved,” Matthew explained, shaking out one of the blankets and following Caleb. The two had been chatting all evening about everything from academic politics to Matthew’s hospital work at the John Radcliffe to the fate of the polar bears.
Matthew arranged a blanket on the floor for John, while Caleb ran his fingers over the bark on the Blasted Tree.
This is what Matthew needs, I realized. Home. Family. Pack. Without other people to take care of, he retreated to that dark place where his past deeds haunted him. And he was especially prone to brooding now, given Benjamin’s recent reappearance.
I needed this, too. Living in the sixteenth century, in households rather than simply in houses, I had grown accustomed to being surrounded by other people. My fear of being discovered had receded, and in its place had grown a wish to belong.
As a result I’d found the coven potluck surprisingly enjoyable. The Madison witches had occupied an intimidating place in my imagination, but tonight the assembled witches were pleasant and, except for my high-school nemeses Cassie and Lydia, welcoming. They were also surprisingly powerless when compared to the witches I’d known in London. One or two of them had some elemental magic at their disposal, but none were as formidable as the firewitches or waterwitches of the past. And the Madison witches who could work the craft couldn’t hold a candle to Sarah.
“Wine, Abby?” Fernando offered her a glass.
“Sure.” Abby giggled. “I’m surprised you made it out of the potluck alive, Fernando. I was positive that someone was going to work a bit of love magic on you.”
“Fernando shouldn’t have encouraged them,” I said with mock severity. “There was no need to both bow and kiss Betty Eastey’s hand.”
“Her poor husband is going to hear nothing but ‘Fernando this’ and ‘Fernando that’ for days,” Abby said with another giggle. “The ladies will be very disappointed when they discover they are trying to saddle the wrong horse,” Fernando replied. “Your friends told me the most charming stories, Diana. Did you know that vampires are really quite cuddly, once we find our true love?”
“Matthew hasn’t exactly been transformed into a teddy bear,” I said drily.
“Ah, but you didn’t know him before.” Fernando’s smile was wicked.
“Fernando!” Sarah called from the kitchen. “Come help me light this stupid fire. I can’t get it to catch.”
Why she felt it was necessary to light a fire in this kind of heat was beyond me, but Sarah said Em had always lit a fire on Lughnasadh, and that was that.
“Duty calls,” Fernando murmured, giving Abby a little bow. Like Betty Eastey, she blushed.
“We’ll go with you.” Caleb took Grace by the hand. “Come on, sprout.”
Matthew watched the Pratts troop off to the kitchen, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
“That will be us soon,” I said, slipping my arms around him.
“That’s just what I was thinking.” Matthew kissed me. “Are you ready to tell your aunt about being a weaver?”
“As soon as the Pratts leave.” Every morning I promised to tell Sarah about all that I’d learned from the London coven, but with every passing day it got harder to share my news.
“You don’t have to tell her everything all at once,” Matthew said, running his hands over my shoulders. “Just tell her you’re a weaver so you can stop wearing this shroud.”
We joined the others in the kitchen. Sarah’s fire was now crackling merrily in the stillroom, adding to the warmth of the summer evening. We sat around the table, comparing notes on the party and gossiping about the latest coven happenings. Then the talk turned to baseball. Caleb was a Red Sox fan, just like my dad.
“What is it about Harvard men and the Red Sox?” I got up to make some tea.
A flicker of white caught my eye. I smiled and put the kettle on the stove, thinking it was one of the house’s missing ghosts. Sarah would be so happy if one of them were ready to apparate again.
That was no ghost.
Grace tottered in front of the stillroom fireplace on unsteady, two-year-old legs. “Pretty,” she cooed.
Startled by my cry, Grace turned her head. That was enough to upset her balance, and she tipped toward the fire.
I’d never reach her in time—not with a kitchen island and twenty-five feet between us. I reached into the pocket of my shorts and pulled out my weaver’s cords. They snaked through my fingers and twisted around my wrists just as Grace’s scream pierced the air.
I acted on pure instinct and rooted my feet into the floor. Water was all around us, trickling through deep arteries that crisscrossed the Bishop land. It was within me, too, and in an effort to focus its raw, elemental power I isolated the filaments of blue, green, and silver that highlighted everything in the kitchen and the stillroom that was tied to water.
In a quicksilver flash, I directed a bolt of water at the fireplace. A spout of steam erupted, coals hissed, and Grace hit the slurry of ash and water on the hearth with a thud.
“Grace!” Abby ran past me, followed by Caleb.
Matthew drew me into his arms. I was soaked to the skin and shivering. He rubbed my back, trying to restore some warmth.
“Thank God you have so much power over water, Diana,” Abby said, holding a tearful Grace.
“Is she okay?” I asked. “She reached out to steady herself, but she was awfully close to the flames.”
“Her hand is a little pink,” Caleb said, examining her small fingers. “What do you think, Matthew?”
Matthew took Grace’s hand.
“Pretty,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “I know,” Matthew murmured. “Fire is very pretty. Very hot, too.” He blew on her fingers, and she laughed. Fernando handed him a damp cloth and an ice cube.
“’Gain,” she commanded, thrusting her hand in Matthew’s face.
“Nothing seems to be damaged, and there are no blisters,” Matthew said after obeying the tiny tyrant’s command to blow on her fingers once more. He wrapped the cloth carefully around her hand and held the ice cube to it. “She should be fine.”
“I didn’t know you could wield waterbolts.” Sarah looked at me sharply. “Are you okay? You look different—shiny.”
“I’m fine.” I pulled away from Matthew, trying to draw the tattered remains of my disguising spell around me. I searched the floor surrounding the kitchen island, looking for my dropped weaver’s cords in case some surreptitious patching was required.
“What did you get all over yourself?” Sarah grabbed my hand and turned it palm up. What I saw made me gasp.
Each finger bore a strip of color down its center. My pinkie was streaked with brown, my ring finger yellow. A vivid blue marked my middle finger, and red blazed down my index finger in an imperious slash. The colored lines joined together on my palm, continuing on to the fleshy mound at its base in a braided, multicolored rope. There the rope met up with a strand of green that wandered down from my thumb—ironic, given the fate of most of my houseplants. The five-colored twist traveled the short distance to my wrist and formed a knot with five crossings—the pentacle.
“My weaver’s cords. They’re . . . inside me.” I looked up at Matthew in disbelief.
But most weavers used nine cords, not five. I turned over my left palm and discovered the missing strands: black on my thumb, white on my pinkie, gold on my ring finger, and silver on my middle finger.
The pointer finger bore no color at all. And the colors that twisted down to my left wrist created an ouroboros, a circle with no beginning and no end that looked like a snake with its tail in its mouth. It was the de Clermont family emblem. “Is Diana . . . shimmering?” Abby asked.
Still staring at my hands, I flexed my fingers. An explosion of colored threads illuminated the air.
“What was that?” Sarah’s eyes were round.
“Threads. They bind the worlds and govern magic,” I explained.
Corra chose that moment to return from her hunting. She swooped down the stillroom chimney and landed in the damp pile of wood. Coughing and wheezing, she lurched to her feet.
“Is that . . . a dragon?” Caleb asked.
“No, it’s a souvenir,” Sarah said. “Diana brought it back with her from Elizabethan England.”
“Corra’s not a souvenir. She’s my familiar,” I whispered.
Sarah snorted. “Witches don’t have familiars.”
“Weavers do,” I said. Matthew’s hand rested on my lower back, lending quiet support. “You’d better call Vivian. I need to tell you something.”
“So the dragon—” Vivian began, her hands wrapped tight around a steaming mug of coffee.
“Firedrake,” I interrupted.
“She. Corra is a female.”
“—is your familiar?” Vivian finished.
“Yes. Corra appeared when I wove my first spell in London.”
“Are all familiars dragons . . . er, firedrakes?” Abby shifted her legs on the family-room couch. We were all settled around the television, except for John, who had slept peacefully through the excitement.
“No. My teacher, Goody Alsop, had a fetch—a shadow self. She was inclined toward air, you see, and a weaver’s familiar takes shape according to a witch’s elemental predisposition.” It was probably the longest utterance I’d ever made on the subject of magic. It was also largely unintelligible to any of the witches present, who didn’t know a thing about weavers. “I have an affinity for water as well as fire,” I explained, plunging on. “Unlike dragons, firedrakes are as comfortable in the sea as in the flames.”
“They’re also able to fly,” Vivian said. “Firedrakes actually represent a triplicity of elemental power.”
Sarah looked at her in astonishment.
Vivian shrugged. “I have a master’s degree in medieval literature. Wyverns—or firedrakes, if you prefer—were once common in European mythology and legends.”
“But you . . . you’re my accountant,” Sarah sputtered.
“Do you have any idea how many English majors are accountants?” Vivian asked with raised eyebrows. She returned her attention to me. “Can you fly, Diana?”
“Yes,” I admitted reluctantly. Flight was not a common talent among witches. It was showy, and therefore undesirable if you wanted to live quietly among humans.
“Do other weavers shimmer like you?” Abby asked, tilting her head.
“I don’t know if there are other weavers. There weren’t many left, even in the sixteenth century.
Goody Alsop was the only one in the British Isles after the Scottish weaver was executed. There was a weaver in Prague. And my father was a weaver, too. It runs in families.”
“Stephen Proctor was not a weaver,” Sarah said tartly. “He never shimmered and had no familiar.
Your father was a perfectly ordinary witch.”
“The Proctors haven’t produced a really first-rate witch for generations,” Vivian said apologetically.
“Most weavers aren’t first-rate at anything—not by traditional standards.” It was even true at a genetic level, where Matthew’s tests had revealed all sorts of contradictory markers in my blood. “That’s why I was never any good with the craft. Sarah can teach anybody how to work a spell—but not me. I was a disaster.” My laugh was shaky. “Daddy told me I should have let the spells go in one ear and out the other and then make up my own.”
“When did Stephen tell you that?” Sarah’s voice cracked across the room.
“In London. Daddy was there in 1591, too. I got my timewalking abilities from him, after all.” In spite of Matthew’s insistence that I didn’t have to tell Sarah everything at once, that’s how the story was coming out.
“Did you see Rebecca?” Sarah was wide-eyed.
“No. Just Daddy.” Like meeting Philippe de Clermont, seeing my own father again had been an unexpected gift on our journey.
“I’ll be damned,” Sarah murmured.
“He wasn’t there long, but for a few days, there were three weavers in London. We were the talk of the town.” And not only because my father kept feeding plot points and lines of dialogue to William Shakespeare.
Sarah opened her mouth to fire off another question, but Vivian held her hand up for quiet.
“If weaving runs in families, why are there so few of you?” Vivian asked.
“Because a long time ago, other witches set out to destroy us.” My fingers tightened on the towel that Matthew had wrapped around my shoulders.
“Goody Alsop told us that whole families were murdered to ensure that no children carried on the legacy.” Matthew’s fingers pressed into the tense muscles in my neck. “Those who survived went into hiding. War, disease, and infant mortality would have put considerable stress on those few remaining bloodlines.”
“Why eradicate weavers? New spells would be highly desirable in any coven,” Caleb asked.
“I’d kill for a spell that would unfreeze my computer when John jams the keys,” Abby added. “I’ve tried everything: the charm for stuck wheels, the spell for broken locks, the blessing for new endeavors.
None of them seem to work with these modern electronics.”
“Maybe weavers were too powerful and other witches were jealous. Maybe it was just fear. When it comes right down to it, I don’t think creatures are any more accepting of difference than humans are. . . .” My words faded into silence.
“New spells.” Caleb whistled. “Where do you start?”
“That depends on the weaver. With me it’s a question or a desire. I focus on that, and my cords do the rest.” I held my hands up. “I guess my fingers will have to do it now.”
“Let me see your hands, Diana,” Sarah said. I rose and stood before her, palms outstretched.
Sarah looked closely at the colors. Her fingers traced the pentacle-shaped knot with five crossings on my right wrist.
“That’s the fifth knot,” I explained while Sarah continued her examination. “Weavers use it to cast spells to overcome challenges or heighten experiences.”
“The pentacle represents the five elements.” Sarah tapped my palm where the brown, yellow, blue, and red streaks twined together. “Here are the four colors that traditionally represent earth, air, water, and fire. And the green on your thumb is associated with the goddess—the goddess as mother in particular.”
“Your hand is a magical primer, Diana,” Vivian observed, “with the four elements, the pentacle, and the goddess all inscribed on it. It’s everything a witch needs to work the craft.”
“And this must be the tenth knot.” Sarah gently released my right hand to take up my left. She studied the loop around the pulse at my wrist. “It looks like the symbol on the flag flying over Sept Tours.”
“It is. Not all weavers can make the tenth knot, even though it looks so simple.” I took a deep breath. “It’s the knot of creation. And destruction.”
Sarah closed my fingers into a fist and folded her own hand around mine. She and Vivian exchanged a worried look.
“Why is one of my fingers missing a color?” I asked, suddenly uneasy.
“Let’s talk about that tomorrow,” Sarah said. “It’s late. And it’s been a long evening.”
“We should get these kids into bed.” Abby climbed to her feet, careful not to disturb her daughter. “Wait until the rest of the coven hears that Diana can make new spells. Cassie and Lydia will have a fit.”
“We can’t tell the coven.” Sarah said firmly. “Not until we figure out what it all means.”
“Diana really is awfully shiny,” Abby pointed out. “I didn’t notice it before, but even the humans are going to see it.”
“I was wearing a disguising spell. I can cast another.” One glimpse of Matthew’s forbidding expression had me hastily adding, “I wouldn’t wear it at home, of course.”
“Disguising spell or no, the O’Neils are bound to know something is going on,” Vivian said.
Caleb looked somber. “We don’t have to inform the whole coven, Sarah, but we can’t keep everybody in the dark either. We should choose who to tell and what to tell them.”
“It will be far harder to explain Diana’s pregnancy than it will be to come up with a good reason for her shimmering,” Sarah said, stating the obvious. “She’s just starting to show, but with twins the pregnancy is going to be impossible to ignore very soon.”
“Which is exactly why we need to be completely honest,” Abby argued. “Witches can smell a half truth just as easily as a lie.”
“This will be a test of the coven’s loyalty and open-mindedness,” Caleb said thoughtfully.
“And if we fail this test?” Sarah asked.
“That would divide us forever,” he replied.
“Maybe we should leave.” I’d experienced what such divisiveness could do firsthand, and I still had nightmares about what had happened in Scotland when witch turned against witch and the Berwick trials began. I didn’t want to be responsible for destroying the Madison coven, forcing people to uproot themselves from houses and farms their families had owned for generations.
“Vivian?” Caleb turned to the coven’s leader.
“The decision should be left to Sarah,” Vivian said.
“Once I would have believed that all this weaving business should be shared. But I’ve seen witches do terrible things to each other, and I’m not talking solely about Emily.” Sarah glanced in my direction but didn’t elaborate.
“I can keep Corra indoors—mostly. I can even avoid going into town. But I’m not going to be able to hide my differences forever, no matter how good my disguising spell,” I warned the assembled witches.
“I realize that,” Vivian said calmly. “But this isn’t just a test—it’s an opportunity. When witches set out to destroy the weavers those many years ago, we lost more than lives. We lost bloodlines, expertise, knowledge—all because we feared a power we didn’t understand. This is our chance to begin again.”
“‘For storms will rage and oceans roar,’” I whispered.
“‘When Gabriel stands on sea and shore.
And as he blows his wondrous horn,
Old worlds die and new be born.’”
Were we in the midst of just such a change?
“Where did you learn that?” Sarah’s voice was sharp.
“Goody Alsop shared it with me. It was her teacher’s prophecy—Mother Ursula.”
“I know whose prophecy it is, Diana,” Sarah said. “Mother Ursula was a famous cunning woman and a powerful seer.”
“She was?” I wondered why Goody Alsop hadn’t told me.
“Yes, she was. For a historian you really are appallingly ignorant of witches’ lore,” Sarah replied.
“I’ll be damned. You learned how to weave spells from one of Ursula Shipton’s apprentices.” Sarah’s voice held a note of real respect.
“Then we haven’t lost everything,” Vivian said softly, “so long as we don’t lose you.”
Abby and Caleb packed their van with chairs, leftovers, and children. I was on the driveway, waving good-bye, when Vivian approached me, a container of potato salad in one hand.
“If you want Sarah to snap out of her funk and stop staring at that tree, tell her more about weaving.
Show her how you do it—insofar as you can.”
“I’m still not very good at it, Vivian.”
“All the more reason to enlist Sarah’s help. She may not be a weaver, but Sarah knows more about the architecture of spells than any witch I’ve ever met. It will give her a purpose, now that Emily is gone.” Vivian gave my hand an encouraging squeeze.
“And the coven?”
“Caleb says this is a test,” she replied. “Let’s see if we can pass it.”
Vivian pulled down the driveway, her car’s headlights sweeping the old fence. I returned to the house, turned off the lights, and climbed the stairs to my husband.
“Did you lock the front door?” Matthew asked, putting down his book. He was stretched out on the bed, which was barely long enough to contain him.
“I couldn’t. It’s a dead bolt, and Sarah lost the key.” My eyes strayed to the key to our bedroom door, which the house had helpfully supplied on an earlier occasion. The memories of that night pushed my lips up into a smile.
“Dr. Bishop, are you feeling wanton?” Matthew’s tone was as seductive as a caress.
“We’re married.” I shucked off my shoes and reached for the top button on my seersucker shirt.
“It’s my wifely duty to have carnal desires where you’re concerned.”
“And it’s my husbandly obligation to satisfy them.” Matthew moved from the bed to the bureau at the speed of light. He gently replaced my fingers with his own and slid the button through its hole. Then he moved on to the next, and the next. Each inch of revealed flesh earned a kiss, a soft press of teeth.
Five buttons later I was shivering slightly in the humid summer air.
“How strange that you’re shivering,” he murmured, sliding his hands around to release the clasp on my bra. Matthew brushed his lips over the crescent-shaped scar near my heart. “You don’t feel cold.”
“It’s all relative, vampire.” I tightened my fingers in his hair, and he chuckled. “Now, are you going to love me, or do you just want to take my temperature?”
Later I held my hand up before me, turning it this way and that in the silver light. The middle and ring fingers on my left hand each bore a colored line, one the shade of a moonbeam and the other as gold as the sun. The vestiges of the other cords had faded slightly, though a pearly knot was still barely visible on the pale flesh of each wrist.
“What do you think it all means?” Matthew asked, his lips moving against my hair while his fingers traced figure eights and circles on my shoulders.
“That you’ve married the tattooed lady—or someone possessed by aliens.” Between the new lives rooting within me, Corra, and now my weaver’s cords, I was beginning to feel crowded inside my own skin.
“I was proud of you tonight. You thought of a way to save Grace so quickly.”
“I didn’t think at all. When Grace screamed, it flipped some switch in me. I was all instinct then.” I twisted in his arms. “Is that dragon thing still on my back?”
“Yes. And it’s darker than it was before.” Matthew’s hands slid around my waist, and he turned me back to face him. “Any theories as to why?”
“Not yet.” The answer was just out of my reach. I could feel it, waiting for me.
“Perhaps it has something to do with your power. It’s stronger now than it’s ever been.” Matthew carried my wrist to his mouth. He drank in my scent, then pressed his lips to my veins. “You still give off the scent of summer lightning, but now there’s also a note like dynamite when the lit fuse first touches the powder.”
“I have enough power. I don’t want any more,” I said, burrowing into Matthew.
But since we’d returned to Madison, a dark desire was stirring in my blood.
Liar, whispered a familiar voice.
My skin prickled as if a thousand witches were looking at me. But it was only one creature who watched me now: the goddess.
I stole a glance around the room, but there was no sign of her. If Matthew were to detect the goddess’s presence, he’d start asking questions I didn’t want to answer. And he might uncover one secret I was still hiding. “Thank goodness,” I said under my breath.
“Did you say something?” Matthew asked. “No,” I lied again, and crept closer to Matthew. “You must be hearing things.”
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