Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(11)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(11)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"Baldwin?" Gallowglass gave a delicate shiver. "Even before I became a wearh, I knew better than to let that monster near my neck. Besides, my people were ulfheonar, not berserkers. And I'm only part Norse-the gentle part, if you must know. The rest is Scots, by way of Ireland."

"Foul-tempered, the Scots," Hancock added.

Gallowglass acknowledged his companion's remark with a gentle tug on his ear. A golden ring glinted in the light, incised with the outlines of a coffin. A man was stepping free of it, and there was a motto around the edges.

"You're knights." I looked for a matching ring on Hancock's finger. There it was, oddly placed on his thumb. Here at last was evidence that Matthew was involved in the business of the Order of Lazarus, too.

"We-elll," Gallowglass drawled, sounding suddenly like the Scot he professed to be, "there's always been a dispute about that. We're not really the shining-armor type, are we Davy?"

"No. But the de Clermonts have deep pockets. Money like that is hard to refuse," Hancock observed, "especially when they promise you a long life for the enjoying of it."

"They're fierce fighters, too." Gallowglass rubbed the bridge of his nose again. It was flattened, as though it had been broken and never healed properly.

"Oh, aye. The bastards killed me before they saved me. Fixed my bad eye, while they were at it," Hancock said cheerfully, pointing to his gammy lid.

"Then you're loyal to the de Clermonts." Sudden relief washed through me. I would prefer to have Gallowglass and Hancock as allies rather than enemies, given the disaster unfolding.

"Not always," replied Gallowglass darkly.

"Not to Baldwin. He's a sly bugger. And when Matthew behaves like a fool, we pay no attention to him either." Hancock sniffed and pointed to the gingerbread, which lay forgotten on the table. "Is someone going to eat that, or can we pitch it into the fire? Between Matthew's scent and Charles's cooking, I feel ill."

"Given our approaching visitors, our time would be better spent devising a course of action than talking about family history," Walter said impatiently.

"Jesu, there's no time to come up with a plan," Hancock said cheerfully. "Matthew and his lordship should say a prayer instead. They're men of God. Maybe He's listening."

"Perhaps the witch could fly away," Gallowglass murmured. He held up both hands in mute surrender when Matthew glared at him.

"Oh, but she can't." All eyes turned to Marlowe. "She can't even conjure Matthew a beard."

"You've taken up with a witch, against all the Congregation's strictures, and she's worthless?" It was impossible to tell if Gallowglass was more indignant or incredulous. "A wife who can summon a storm or give your enemy a horrible skin affliction has certain advantages, I grant you. But what good is a witch who can't even serve as her husband's barber?"

"Only Matthew would wed a witch from God-knows-where with no sorcery to speak of," Hancock muttered to Walter.

"Quiet, all of you!" Matthew exploded. "I can't think for all the senseless chatter. It's not Diana's fault that Widow Beaton is a meddling old fool or that she can't perform magic on command. My wife was spellbound. And there's an end to it. If one more person in this room questions me or criticizes Diana, I'll rip your heart out and feed it to you while it still beats."

"There is our lord and master," Hancock said with a mocking salute. "For a minute I was afraid you were the one who was bewitched. Hang on, though. If she's spellbound, what's wrong with her? Is she dangerous? Mad? Both?"

Unnerved by the influx of nephews, agitated parsons, and the trouble brewing in Woodstock, I reached behind me for the chair. With my reach restricted by the unfamiliar clothes, I lost my balance and began to fall. A rough hand shot out and gripped me by the elbow, lowering me to the seat with surprising gentleness.

"It's all right, Auntie." Gallowglass made a soft noise of sympathy. "I'm not sure what's amiss in your head, but Matthew will take care of you. He has a warm spot in his heart for lost souls, bless him."

"I'm dizzy, not deranged," I retorted.

Gallowglass's eyes were flinty as his mouth approached my ear. "Your speech is disordered enough to stand for madness, and I doubt the priest cares one way or the other. Given that you aren't from Chester or anywhere else I've been-and that's a fair number of places, Auntie-you might want to mind your manners unless you want to find yourself locked in the church crypt."

Long fingers clamped around Gallowglass's shoulder and pulled him away. "If you're quite finished trying to frighten my wife-a pointless exercise, I assure you-you might tell me about the men you passed," Matthew said frostily. "Were they armed?"

"No." After a long, interested look at me, Gallowglass turned toward his uncle.

"And who was with the minister?"

"How the hell should we know, Matthew? All three were warmbloods and not worth a second thought. One was fat and gray-haired, the other was medium size and complained about the weather," Gallowglass said impatiently.

"Bidwell," Matthew and Walter said at the same moment.

"It's probably Iffley with him," remarked Walter. "The two of them are always complaining-about the state of the roads, the noise at the inn, the quality of the beer."

"Who's Iffley?" I wondered aloud.

"A man who fancies himself the finest glover in all England. Somers works for him," Walter replied.

"Master Iffley does craft the queen's gloves," George acknowledged.

"He made her a single pair of hunting gauntlets two decades ago. That's hardly enough to make Iffley the most important man for thirty miles, dearly as he might covet the honor." Matthew snorted contemptuously. "Singly none of them are terribly bright. Together they're downright foolish. If that's the best the village can do, we can return to our reading."

"That's it?" Walter's voice was brittle. "We sit and let them come to us?" "Yes. But Diana doesn't leave my sight-or yours, Gallowglass," Matthew warned.

"You don't have to remind me of my family duty, Uncle. I'll be sure your feisty wife makes it to your bed tonight."

"Feisty, am I? My husband is a member of the Congregation. A posse of men is coming on horseback to accuse me of harming a friendless old woman. I'm in a strange place and keep getting lost on my way to the bedroom. I still have no shoes. And I'm living in a dormitory full of adolescent boys who never stop talking!" I fumed. "But you needn't trouble yourself on my account. I can take care of myself!"

"Take care of yourself?" Gallowglass laughed at me and shook his head. "No you can't. And when the fighting's done, we'll need to see to that accent of yours. I didn't understand half of what you just said."

"She must be Irish," Hancock said, glaring at me. "That would explain the spellbinding and the disordered speech. The whole lot of them are mad."

"She's not Irish," Gallowglass said. "Mad or no, I would have understood her accent if that were the case."

"Quiet!" Matthew bellowed.

"The men from the village are at the gatehouse," Pierre announced in the ensuing silence.

"Go and fetch them," Matthew ordered. He turned his attention to me. "Let me do the talking. Don't answer their questions unless and until I tell you to do so. Now," he continued briskly, "we can't afford to have anything . . . unusual happen tonight as it did when Widow Beaton was here. Are you still dizzy? Do you need to lie down?"

"Curious. I'm curious," I said, hands clenched. "Don't worry about my magic or my health. Worry about how many hours it's going to take you to answer my questions after the minister is gone. And if you try to wiggle out of them with the excuse that 'it's not my tale to tell,' I'll flatten you."

"You are perfectly fine, then." Matthew's mouth twitched. He dropped a kiss on my forehead. "I love you, ma lionne."

"You might reserve your professions of love until later and give Auntie a chance to compose herself," Gallowglass suggested.

"Why does everyone feel compelled to tell me how to manage my own wife?" Matthew shot back. The cracks in his composure were starting to show.

"I really couldn't say," Gallowglass replied serenely. "She reminds me a bit of Granny, though. We give Philippe advice morning, noon, and night about how best to control her. Not that he listens."

The men arranged themselves around the room. The apparent randomness of their positions created a human funnel-wider at the entrance to the room, narrower at the fireside where Matthew and I sat. As George and Kit would be the first to greet the man of God and his companions, Walter whisked away their dice and the manuscript of Doctor Faustus in favor of a copy of Herodotus's Histories. Though it was not a Bible, Raleigh assured us it would lend proper gravitas to the situation. Kit was still protesting the unfairness of the substitution when footsteps and voices sounded.

Pierre ushered the three men inside. One so strongly resembled the reedy young man who had measured me for shoes that I knew at once he was Joseph Bidwell. He started at the sound of the door closing behind him and looked uneasily over his shoulder. When his bleary eyes faced forward again and he saw the size of the assembly awaiting him, he jumped once more. Walter, who occupied a position of strategic importance in the middle of the room with Hancock and Henry, ignored the nervous shoemaker and cast a look of disdain at a man in a bedraggled religious habit.

"What brings you here on such a night, Mr. Danforth?" Raleigh demanded.

"Sir Walter," Danforth said with a bow, taking a cap from his head and twisting it between his fingers. He spotted the Earl of Northumberland. "My lord! I did not know you were still amongst us."

"Is there something you need, ?" Matthew asked pleasantly. He remained seated, legs stretched out in apparent relaxation.

"Ah. Master Roydon." Danforth made another bow, this one directed at us. He gave me a curious look before fear overtook him and redirected his eyes to his hat. "We have not seen you in church or in town. Bidwell thought you might be indisposed."

Bidwell shifted on his feet. The leather boots he wore squelched and complained, and the man's lungs joined in the chorus with wheezes and a barking cough. A wilted ruff constricted his windpipe and quivered every time he tried to draw breath. Its pleated linen was distinctly the worse for wear, and a greasy brown spot near his chin suggested he'd had gravy with supper.

"Yes, I was taken sick in Chester, but it has passed with God's grace and thanks to my wife's care." Matthew reached out and clasped my hand with husbandly devotion. "My physician thought it would be best if my hair were shorn to rid me of the fever, but it was Diana's insistence on cool baths that made the difference."

"Wife?" Danforth said faintly. "Widow Beaton did not tell me-"

"I do not share my private affairs with ignorant women," Matthew said sharply.

Bidwell sneezed. Matthew examined him first with concern, then with a carefully managed look of dawning understanding. I was learning a great deal about my husband this evening, including the fact that he could be a surprisingly good actor.

"Oh. But of course you are here to ask Diana to cure Bidwell." Matthew made a sound of regret. "There is so much idle gossip. Has the news of my wife's skill spread already?"

In this period medicinal knowledge was perilously close to a witch's lore. Was Matthew trying to get me in trouble?

Bidwell wanted to respond, but all he could manage was a gurgle and a shake of his head.

"If you are not here for physic, then you must be here to deliver Diana's shoes." Matthew looked at me fondly, then to the minister. "As you have no doubt heard, my wife's possessions were lost during our journey, Mr. Danforth." Matthew's attention returned to the shoemaker, and a shade of reproach crept into his tone. "I know you are a busy man, Bidwell, but I hope you've finished the pattens at least. Diana is determined to go to church this week, and the path to the vestry is often flooded. Someone really should see to it."

Iffley's chest had been swelling with indignation since Matthew had started speaking. Finally the man could stand it no more.

"Bidwell brought the shoes you paid for, but we are not here to secure your wife's services or trifle with pattens and puddles!" Iffley drew his cloak around his h*ps in a gesture that was intended to convey dignity, but the soaked wool only emphasized his resemblance to a drowned rat, with his pointy nose and beady eyes. "Tell her, Mr. Danforth."

The Reverend Danforth looked as though he would rather be roasting in hell than standing in Matthew Roydon's house, confronting his wife.

"Go on. Tell her," urged Iffley.

"Allegations have been made-" That was far as Danforth got before Walter, Henry, and Hancock closed ranks.

"If you are here to make allegations, sir, you can direct them to me or to his lordship," Walter said sharply.

"Or to me," George piped up. "I am well read in the law." "Ah . . . Er . . . Yes . . . Well . . ." The cleric subsided into silence. "Widow Beaton has fallen ill. So has young Bidwell," said Iffley, determined to forge on in spite of Danforth's failing nerve.

"No doubt it is the same ague that afflicted me and now the boy's father," my husband said softly. His fingers tightened on mine. Behind me Gallowglass swore under his breath. "Of what, exactly, are you accusing my wife, Iffley?"

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