Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(15)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(15)
Author: Deborah Harkness

Rima picked up the small volume sitting on the corner of her desk and swung a pair of brightly colored glasses down from the top of her head, where they were holding back her black hair. She'd noticed the book a week ago, when one of the maintenance workers had dropped a wooden crate before her with a grunt of displeasure. Since then she'd entered it into the collection as Gonçalve Manuscript 4890 along with the description "English commonplace book, anonymous, late 16th century." Like most commonplace books, it was mostly blank. Rima had seen one Spanish example owned by a Gonçalve heir sent to the University of Seville in 1628. It had been finely bound, indexed, ruled, and paginated with ornate numbers set in swirls of multicolored ink. There was not a single word in it. Even in the past, people never quite lived up to their aspirations.

Commonplace books like this one were repositories for biblical passages, snatches of poetry, mottoes, and the sayings of classical authors. They typically included doodles and shopping lists as well as lyrics to bawdy songs and accounts of strange and important events. This one was no different, Rima thought as her black eyes darted over the pages. Sadly, someone had ripped out the first page. Once it had probably borne the owner's name. Without it there was virtually no chance of identifying the owner, or any of the other people mentioned only by initials. Historians were far less interested in this sort of nameless, faceless evidence, as though its anonymity somehow made the person behind it less important.

On the remaining pages there was a chart listing all the English coinage in use in the sixteenth century and its relative worth. One page in the back had a hastily scribbled list of clothing: a cloak, two pairs of shoes, a gown trimmed in fur, six smocks, four petticoats, and a pair of gloves. There were a few dated entries that made no sense at all and a headache cure-a caudle, made with milk and wine. Rima smiled and wondered if it would work on her migraines.

She should have returned the little volume to the locked rooms on the third floor where the manuscripts were stored, but something about it made her want to keep it nearby. It was clear that a woman had written it. The round hand was endearingly shaky and uncertain, and the words snaked up and down on pages liberally sprinkled with inkblots. No learned sixteenth-century man wrote like that, unless he was ill or aged. This book's author was neither. There was a curious vibrancy to the entries that was strangely at odds with the tentative handwriting.

She had shown the manuscript to Javier Lopez, the charming yet entirely unqualified person hired by the last of the Gonçalves to transform the family's house and personal effects into a library and museum. His expansive ground-floor office was paneled in fine mahogany and had the only working heaters in the building. During their brief interview, he'd dismissed her suggestion that the book deserved more careful study. He also forbade her to take photographs of it so she could share the images with colleagues in the United Kingdom. As for her belief that the book's owner had been a woman, the director had muttered something about feminists and waved her out of his office.

And so the book remained on her desk. In Seville such a book would always be unwanted and unimportant. Nobody came to Spain to look for English commonplace books. They went to the British Library, or the Folger Shakespeare Library in the United States.

There was that strange man who came by now and again to comb through the collections. He was French, and his appraising stare made Rima uncomfortable. Herbert Cantal-or maybe it was Gerbert Cantal. She couldn't remember. He'd left a card on his last visit and had encouraged her to get in touch if anything interesting turned up. When Rima asked what, exactly, might qualify, the man had said he was interested in everything. It was not the most helpful of responses.

Now something interesting had turned up. Unfortunately, the man's business card had not, though she'd cleaned out her desk in an effort to locate it. Rima would have to wait until he appeared again to share this little book with him. Perhaps he would be more interested in it than her boss was.

Rima flipped through the pages. There was a tiny sprig of lavender and a few crumbling rosemary leaves pressed between two of the pages. She hadn't seen them before and picked them carefully from the crevice of the binding. For a moment there was a trace of scent in the faded bloom, forging a connection between herself and a person who had lived hundreds of years ago. Rima smiled wistfully, thinking about the woman she would never know.

"Mas basura." Daniel from building maintenance was back, his worn gray overalls grimy from transporting boxes from the attic. He slid several more boxes off the beaten-up dolly and onto the floor. In spite of the cool weather, sweat stood out on his forehead, and he wiped it off with his sleeve, leaving a smudge of black dust. "Cafe?"

It was the third time this week he'd asked her out. Rima knew that he found her attractive. Her mother's Berber ancestry appealed to some men-not surprising, since it had bestowed upon her soft curves, warm skin, and almond-shaped eyes. Daniel had been muttering salacious comments, brushing against her backside when she went to the mail room, and ogling her br**sts for years. That he was five inches shorter than she and twice her age didn't seem to deter him.

"Estoy muy ocupada," Rima replied. Daniel's grunt was infused with deep skepticism. He glanced back at the boxes as he left. The one on top held a moldering fur muff and a stuffed wren attached to a piece of cedar. Daniel shook his head, astonished that she would prefer to spend her time with dead animals than with him.

"Gracias," Rima murmured as he departed. She closed the book gently and returned it to its place on her desk.

While she transferred the box's contents to a nearby table, Rima's eyes strayed back to the little volume in its simple leather cover. In four hundred years, would the only proof of her existence be a page from her calendar, a shopping list, and a scrap of paper with her grandmother's recipe for alfajores on it, all placed in a file labeled "Anonymous, of no importance" and stored in an archive no one ever visited?

Such dark thoughts were bound to be unlucky. Rima shivered and touched the hand-shaped amulet of the Prophet's daughter, Fatima. It hung around her neck on a leather cord and had been passed down among the women of her family for as long as anyone could remember.

"Khamsa fi ainek," she whispered, hoping her words would ward off any evil spirit she might have unwittingly called.

Sept-Tours and the Village of Saint-Lucien

Chapter Eight

"The usual place?" Gallowglass asked quietly as he put down his oars and raised the solitary sail. Though it would be more than four hours before the sun rose, other craft were visible in the darkness. I picked out the shadowed outlines of another sail, a lantern swinging from a post in the stern of a neighboring vessel.

"Walter said we were going to Saint-Malo," I said, my head turning in consternation. Raleigh had accompanied us from the Old Lodge to Portsmouth and had piloted the boat that took us to Guernsey. We'd left him standing on the dock near the village of Saint-Pierre-Port. He could go no farther-not with a price on his head in Catholic Europe.

"I remember well enough where Raleigh told me to go, Auntie, but he's a pirate. And English. And he's not here. I'm asking Matthew."

"'Immensi tremor oceani,'" Matthew whispered as he contemplated the heaving seas. Staring out across the black water, he had all the expression of a carved figurehead. And his reply to his nephew's question was odd-the trembling of the immense ocean. I wondered if I had somehow misunderstood his Latin.

"The tide will be with us, and it is closer to Fougeres by horse than to Saint-Malo." Gallowglass continued as though Matthew were making sense. "She'll be no colder on the water than on land in this weather, and still plenty of riding before her."

"And you will be leaving us." It wasn't a question but a pronouncement of fact. Matthew's eyelids dropped. He nodded. "Very well."

Gallowglass drew in the sail, and the boat changed from a southerly to a more easterly course. Matthew sat on the deck next to me, his back against the curved supports of the hull, and drew me into the circle of his arms so that his cloak was wrapped around me.

True sleep was impossible, but I dozed against Matthew's chest. It had been a grueling journey thus far, with horses pushed to the limit and boats commandeered. The temperature was frigid, and a thin layer of frost built up on the nap of our English wool. Gallowglass and Pierre kept up a steady patter of conversation in some French dialect, but Matthew remained quiet. He responded to their questions yet kept his own thoughts hidden behind an eerily composed mask.

The weather changed to a misty snow around dawn. Gallowglass's beard turned white, transforming him into a fair imitation of Santa Claus. Pierre adjusted the sails at his command, and a landscape of grays and whites revealed the coast of France. No more than thirty minutes later, the tide began to race toward the shore. The boat was lifted up on the waves, and through the mist a steeple pierced the clouds. It was surprisingly close, the base of the structure obscured by the weather. I gasped.

"Hold tight," Gallowglass said grimly as Pierre released the sail.

The boat shot through the mist. The call of seagulls and the slap of water against rock told me we were nearing shore, but the boat didn't slow. Gallowglass jammed an oar into the flooding tide, angling us sharply. Someone cried out, in warning or greeting.

"Il est le chevalier de Clermont!" Pierre called back, cupping his hands around his mouth. His words were met with silence before scurrying footfalls sounded through the cold air.

"Gallowglass!" We were heading straight for a wall. I scrabbled for an oar to fend off certain disaster. No sooner had my fingers closed around it than Matthew plucked it from my grasp.

"He's been putting in at this spot for centuries, and his people for longer than that," Matthew said calmly, holding the oar lightly in his hands. Improbably, the boat's bow took another sharp left and the hull was broadside to slabs of rough-hewn granite. High above, four men with hooks and ropes emerged to snare the boat and hold it steady. The water level continued to rise with alarming speed, carrying the boat upward until we were level with a small stone house. A set of stairs climbed into invisibility. Pierre hopped onto the landing, talking fast and low and gesturing at the boat. Two armed soldiers joined us for a moment, then sped off in the direction of the stairs.

"We have arrived at Mont Saint-Michel, madame." Pierre held out his hand. I took it and stepped from the boat. "Here you will rest while milord speaks with the abbot."

My knowledge of the island was limited to the stories swapped by friends of mine who sailed every summer around the Isle of Wight: that it was surrounded at low tide by quicksand and at high tide by such dangerous currents that boats were crushed against the rocks. I looked over my shoulder at our tiny boat and shuddered. It was a miracle that we were still alive.

While I tried to get my bearings, Matthew studied his nephew, who remained motionless in the stern. "It would be safer for Diana if you came along."

"When your friends aren't getting her into trouble, your wife seems able to care of herself." Gallowglass looked up at me with a smile.

"Philippe will ask after you."

"Tell him-" Gallowglass stopped, stared off into the distance. The vampire's blue eyes were deep with longing. "Tell him I have not yet succeeded in forgetting."

"For his sake you must try to forgive," said Matthew quietly.

"I will never forgive," Gallowglass said coldly, "and Philippe would never ask it of me. My father died at the hands of the French, and not a single creature stood up to the king. Until I have made peace with the past, I will not set foot in France."

"Hugh is gone, God rest his soul. Your grandfather is still among us. Don't squander your time with him." Matthew lifted his foot from the boat. Without a word of farewell, he turned and took my elbow, steering me toward a bedraggled huddle of trees with barren branches. Feeling the cold weight of Gallowglass's stare, I turned and locked eyes with the Gael. His hand rose in a silent gesture of leave.

Matthew was quiet as we approached the stairs. I couldn't see where they led and soon lost count of the number of them. I concentrated instead on keeping my footing on the worn, slick treads. Chips of ice fell from the hem of my skirts, and the wind whistled within my wide hood. A sturdy door, ornamented with heavy straps of iron that were rusted and pitted from the salt spray, opened before us.

More steps. I pressed my lips together, lifted my skirts, and kept going.

More soldiers. As we approached, they flattened themselves against the walls to make room for us to pass. Matthew's fingers tightened a fraction on my elbow, but otherwise the men might have been wraiths for all the attention he paid them.

We entered a room with a forest of columns holding up its vaulted roof. Large fireplaces studded the walls, spreading blessed warmth. I sighed with relief and shook out my cloak, shedding water and ice in all directions. A gentle cough directed my attention to a man standing before one of the blazes. He was dressed in the red robes of a cardinal and appeared to be in his late twenties-a terribly young age for someone to have risen so high in the Catholic Church's hierarchy.

"A h, Chevalier de Clermont. Or are we calling you something else these days? You have long been out of France. Perhaps you have taken Walsingham's name along with his position, now that he is gone to hell where he belongs." The cardinal's English was impeccable although heavily accented. "We have, on the seigneur's instructions, been watching for you for three days. There was no mention of a woman."

Matthew dropped my arm so that he could step forward. He genuflected with a smooth bend of his left knee and kissed the ring on the man's extended hand. "eminence. I thought you were in Rome, choosing our new pope. Imagine my delight at finding you here." Matthew didn't sound happy. I wondered uneasily what we'd stepped into by coming to Mont Saint-Michel and not Saint-Malo as Walter had planned.

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