Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(12)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(12)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"Widow Beaton refused to join her in some evil business. Mistress Roydon vowed to afflict her joints and head with pains."

"My son has lost his hearing," Bidwell complained, his voice thick with misery and phlegm. "There is a fierce ringing in his ears, like unto the sound of a bell. Widow Beaton says he has been bewitched."

"No," I whispered. The blood left my head in a sudden, startling drop. Gallowglass's hands were on my shoulders in an instant, keeping me upright.

The word "bewitched" had me staring into a familiar abyss. My greatest fear had always been that humans would discover I was descended from Bridget Bishop. Then the curious glances would start, and the suspicions. The only possible response was flight. I tried to worm my fingers from Matthew's grasp, but he might have been made of stone for all the good it did me, and Gallowglass still had charge of my shoulders.

"Widow Beaton has long suffered from rheumatism, and Bidwell's son has recurrent putrid throats. They often cause pain and deafness. These illnesses occurred before my wife came to Woodstock." Matthew made a lazy, dismissive gesture with his free hand. "The old woman is jealous of Diana's skill, and young Joseph was taken with her beauty and envious of my married state. These are not allegations, but idle imaginings."

"As a man of God, Master Roydon, it is my responsibility to take them seriously. I have been reading." Mr. Danforth reached into his black robes and pulled out a tattered sheaf of papers. It was no more than a few dozen sheets crudely stitched together with coarse string. Time and heavy use had softened the papers' fibers, fraying the edges and turning the pages gray. I was too far away to make out the title page. All three vampires saw it, though. So did George, who blanched.

"That's part of the Malleus Maleficarum. I did not know that your Latin was good enough to comprehend such a difficult work, Mr. Danforth," Matthew said. It was the most influential witch-hunting manual ever produced, and a title that struck terror into a witch's heart.

The minister looked affronted. "I attended university, Master Roydon."

"I'm relieved to hear it. That book shouldn't be in the possession of the weak-minded or superstitious."

"You know it?" Danforth asked.

"I, too, attended university," Matthew replied mildly.

"Then you understand why I must question this woman." Danforth attempted to advance into the room. Hancock's low growl brought him to a standstill.

"My wife has no difficulties with her hearing. You needn't come closer."

"I told you Mistress Roydon has unnatural powers!" Iffley said triumphantly.

Danforth gripped his book. "Who taught you these things, Mistress Roydon?" he called down the echoing expanse of the hall. "From whom did you learn your witchcraft?"

This was how the madness began: with questions designed to trap the accused into condemning other creatures. One life at a time, witches were caught up in the web of lies and destroyed. Thousands of my people had been tortured and killed thanks to such tactics. Denials burbled up into my throat.

"Don't." Matthew's single word of warning was uttered in an icy murmur.

"Strange things are happening in Woodstock. A white stag crossed Widow Beaton's path," Danforth continued. "It stopped in the road and stared until her flesh turned cold. Last night a gray wolf was seen outside her house. Its eyes glowed in the darkness, brighter than the lamps that were hung out to help travelers find shelter in the storm. Which of these creatures is your familiar? Who gifted you with it?" Matthew didn't need to tell me to keep silent this time. The priest's questions were following a well-known pattern, one I had studied in graduate school.

"The witch must answer your questions, Mr. Danforth," Iffley insisted, pulling at his companion's sleeve. "Such insolence from a creature of darkness cannot be allowed in a godly community."

"My wife speaks to no one without my consent," said Matthew. "And mind whom you call witch, Iffley." The more the villagers challenged him, the harder it was for Matthew to restrain himself.

The minister's eyes traveled from me to Matthew and back again. I stifled a whimper.

"Her agreement with the devil makes it impossible for her to speak the truth," Bidwell said.

"Hush, Master Bidwell," Danforth chided. "What do you wish to say, my child? Who introduced you to the devil? Was it another woman?"

"Or man," Iffley said under his breath. "Mistress Roydon is not the only child of darkness to be found here. There are strange books and instruments, and midnight gatherings are held to conjure spirits."

Harriot sighed and thrust his book at Danforth. "Mathematics, sir, not magic. Widow Beaton spotted a geometry text."

"It is not your place to determine the extent of the evil here," Iffley sputtered.

"If it's evil you're seeking, look for it at Widow Beaton's." Though he'd done his best to remain calm, Matthew was rapidly losing his temper.

"Do you accuse her of witchcraft, then?" Danforth asked sharply.

"No, Matthew. Not that way," I whispered, tugging on his hand to gain his attention.

Matthew turned to me. His face looked inhuman, his pupils glassy and enormous. I shook my head, and he took a deep breath, trying to calm both his fury at the invasion of his home and his fierce instinct to protect me.

"Stop your ears against his words, Mr. Danforth. Roydon might be an instrument of the devil, too," Iffley warned.

Matthew faced the delegation. "If you have reason to charge my wife with some offense, find a magistrate and do so. Otherwise get out. And before you return, Danforth, consider whether aligning with Iffley and Bidwell is a wise course of action."

The parson gulped.

"You heard him," Hancock barked. "Out!"

"Justice will be served, Master Roydon-God's justice," Danforth proclaimed as he backed out of the room.

"Only if my version doesn't resolve the matter first, Danforth," Walter promised.

Pierre and Charles materialized from the shadows, throwing open the doors to shepherd the wide-eyed warmbloods from the room. Outside, it was blowing a gale. The fierceness of the waiting storm would only confirm their suspicions about my supernatural powers.

Out, out, out! called an insistent voice in my head. Panic flooded my system with adrenaline. I had been reduced to prey once more. Gallowglass and Hancock turned toward me, intrigued by the scent of fear seeping from my pores.

"Stay where you are," Matthew warned the vampires. He crouched before me. "Diana's instincts are telling her to flee. She'll be fine in a moment."

"This is never going to end. We came for help, but even here I'm hunted." I bit my lip.

"There's nothing to fear. Danforth and Iffley will think twice before causing any more trouble," Matthew said firmly, taking my clasped hands in his. "No one wants me for an enemy-not other creatures, not the humans."

"I understand why the creatures might fear you. You're a member of the Congregation and have the power destroy them or, even worse, expose them to the humans. No wonder Widow Beaton came here when you commanded. But that doesn't explain this human reaction to you. Danforth and Iffley must suspect that you're a . . . wearh." I caught myself just before the word vampire spilled out.

"Oh, he's in no danger from them," said Hancock dismissively. "These men are nobodies. Unfortunately, they're likely to bring this business to the attention of humans who do matter."

"Ignore him," Matthew told me.

"Which humans?" I whispered.

Gallowglass gasped. "By all that is holy, Matthew. I've seen you do terrible things, but how could you keep this from your wife, too?"

Matthew looked into the fire. When his eyes finally met mine, they were filled with regret.

"Matthew?" I prompted. The knot that had been forming in my stomach since the arrival of the first bag of mail tightened further.

"They don't think I'm a vampire. They know I'm a spy."

Chapter Six

"A spy?" I repeated numbly.

"We prefer to be called intelligencers," Kit said tartly.

"Shut it, Marlowe," Hancock growled, "or I'll stop that mouth for you." "Spare us, Hancock. No one takes you seriously when you sputter like that." Marlowe's chin jutted into the room. "And if you don't keep a civil tongue with me, there will soon be an end to all these Welsh kings and soldiers on the stage. I'll make you all traitors and servants with low cunning."

"What is a vampire?" George asked, reaching for his notebook with one hand and a piece of gingerbread with the other. As usual, no one was paying much attention to him.

"So you're some kind of Elizabethan James Bond? But . . ." I looked at Marlowe, horrified. He would be murdered in a knife fight in Deptford before he reached the age of thirty, and the crime would be linked to his life as a spy.

"The London hatmaker near St. Dunstan's who turns such a neat brim? That James Bond?" George chuckled. "Whyever would you think Matthew was a hatmaker, Mistress Roydon?"

"No, George, not that James Bond." Matthew remained crouched before me, watching my reactions. "You were better off not knowing about this." "Bullshit." I neither knew nor cared if this was an appropriately Elizabethan oath. "I deserve the truth."

"Perhaps, Mistress Roydon, but if you truly love him, it is pointless to insist upon it," Marlowe said. "Matthew can no longer distinguish between what is true and what is not. This is why he is invaluable to Her Majesty." "We're here to find you a teacher," Matthew insisted, his eyes locked on me. "The fact that I am both a member of the Congregation and the queen's agent will keep you from harm. Nothing happens in the country without my being aware of it."

"For someone who claims to know everything, you were blissfully unaware that I've thought for days that something was going on in this house. There is too much mail. And you and Walter have been arguing." "You see what I want you to see. Nothing more." Even though Matthew's tendency toward imperiousness had grown exponentially since we

came to the Old Lodge, my jaw dropped at his tone.

"How dare you," I said slowly. Matthew knew I'd spent my whole life surrounded by secrets. I'd paid a high price for it, too. I stood.

"Sit down," he grated out. "Please." He caught my hand.

Matthew's best friend, Hamish Osborne, had warned me that he wouldn't be the same man here. How could he be, when the world was such a different place? Women were expected to accept without question what a man told them. Among his friends it was all too easy for Matthew to slip back into old behaviors and patterns of thinking.

"Only if you answer me. I want the name of the person you report to and how you got embroiled in this business." I glanced over at his nephew and his friends, worried that these were state secrets.

"They already know about Kit and me," Matthew said, following my eyes. He struggled to find the words. "It all started with Francis Walsingham.

"I'd left England late in Henry's reign. I spent time in Constantinople, went to Cyprus, wandered through Spain, fought at Lepanto-even set up

a printing business in Antwerp," Matthew explained. "It's the usual path for a wearh. We search for a tragedy, an opportunity to slip into someone else's life. But nothing suited me, so I returned home. France was on the verge of religious and civil war. When you've lived as long as I have, you learn the signs. A Huguenot schoolmaster was happy to take my money and go to Geneva, where he could raise his daughters in safety. I took the identity of his long-dead cousin, moved into his house in Paris, and started over as Matthew de la Foret."

"'Matthew of the Forest'?" My eyebrows lifted at the irony. "That was the schoolmaster's name," he said wryly. "Paris was dangerous, and Walsingham, as English ambassador, was a magnet for every disenchanted rebel in the country. Late in the summer of 1572, all the simmering anger in France came to a boil. I helped Walsingham escape, along with the English Protestants he was sheltering."

"The massacre on St. Bartholomew's Day." I shivered, thinking of the blood-soaked wedding between a French Catholic princess and her Protestant husband.

"I became the queen's agent later, when she sent Walsingham back to Paris. He was supposed to be brokering Her Majesty's marriage to one of the Valois princes." Matthew snorted. "It was clear the queen had no real interest in the match. It was during that visit that I learned of Walsingham's network of intelligencers."

My husband met my eyes briefly, then looked away. He was still keeping something from me. I reviewed the story, detected the fault lines in his account, and followed them to a single, inescapable conclusion: Matthew was French, Catholic, and he could not possibly have been aligned politically with Elizabeth Tudor in 1572-or in 1590. If he was working for the English Crown, it was for some larger purpose. But the Congregation had vowed to stay out of human politics. Philippe de Clermont and his Knights of Lazarus had not.

"You're working for your father. And you're not only a vampire but a Catholic in a Protestant country."

The fact that Matthew was working for the Knights of Lazarus, not just Elizabeth, exponentially increased the danger. It wasn't just witches who were hunted down and executed in Elizabethan England-so were traitors, creatures with unusual powers, and people of different faiths. "The Congregation is of no help if you get involved with human politics. How could your own family ask you to do something so risky?"

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