Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(17)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(17)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"Amazing," I breathed from between stiff lips.

Cold fingers grasped my chin and turned it. "You're blue," Matthew said.

"I will bring a brazier for her feet, and warm wine," Alain promised. "And we will build up the fires."

A warmblooded human appeared and took my wet cloak. Matthew turned sharply in the direction of what I knew as the breakfast room. I listened but heard nothing.

Alain shook his head apologetically. "He is not in a good temper."

"Evidently not." Matthew looked down. "Philippe is bellowing for us. Are you sure, Diana? If you don't want to see him tonight, I'll brave his wrath."

But Matthew would not be alone for his first meeting with his father in more than six decades. He had stood by me while I'd faced my ghosts, and I would do the same for him. Then I was going to go to bed, where I planned to remain until Christmas.

"Let's go," I said resolutely, picking up my skirts.

Sept-Tours was too ancient to have modern conveniences like corridors, so we snaked through an arched door to the right of the fireplace and into the corner of a room that would one day be Ysabeau's grand salon. It wasn't overstuffed with fine furniture now but decorated with the same austerity as every other place I'd seen on our journey. The heavy oak furniture resisted casual theft and could sustain the occasional ill effects of battle, as evidenced by the deep slash that cut diagonally across the surface of a chest.

From there Alain led us into the room where Ysabeau and I would one day take our breakfast amid warm terra-cotta walls at a table set with pottery and weighty silver cutlery. It was a far cry from that place in its present state, with only a table and chair. The tabletop was covered with papers and other tools of the secretary. There was no time to see more before we were climbing a worn stone staircase to an unfamiliar part of the chateau.

The stairs came to an abrupt halt on a wide landing. A long gallery opened up to the left, housing an odd assortment of gadgets, clocks, weaponry, portraits, and furniture. A battered golden crown perched casually on the marble head of some ancient god. A lumpy pigeon's-blood ruby the size of an egg winked malevolently at me from the crown's center.

"This way," Alain said, motioning us forward into the next chamber. Here was another staircase, this one leading up rather than down. A few uncomfortable benches sat on either side of a closed door. Alain waited, patiently and silently, for a response to our presence. When it came, the single Latin word resounded through the thick wood:

"Introite."

Matthew started at the sound. Alain cast a worried look at him and pushed the door. It silently swung open on substantial, well-oiled hinges.

A man sat opposite, his back to us and his hair gleaming. Even seated it was evident that he was quite tall, with the broad shoulders of an athlete. A pen scratched against paper, providing a steady treble note to harmonize with the intermittent pops of wood burning in the fireplace and the gusts of wind howling outside.

A bass note rumbled into the music of the place: "Sedete."

Now it was my turn to jump. With no door to muffle its impact, Philippe's voice resonated until my ears tingled. The man was used to being obeyed, at once and without question. My feet moved toward the two awaiting chairs so that I could sit as he'd commanded. I took three steps before realizing that Matthew was still in the doorway. I returned to his side and grasped his hand in mine. Matthew stared down, bewildered, and shook himself free from his memories.

In moments we had crossed the room. I settled into a chair with the promised wine and a pierced-metal foot warmer to prop up my legs. Alain withdrew with a sympathetic glance and a nod. Then we waited. It was difficult for me but impossible for Matthew. His tension increased until he was nearly vibrating with suppressed emotion.

By the time his father acknowledged our presence, my anxiety and temper were both dangerously close to the surface. I was staring down at my hands and wondering if they were strong enough to strangle him when two ferociously cold spots bloomed on my bowed head. Lifting my chin, I found myself gazing into the tawny eyes of a Greek god.

When I had first seen Matthew, my instinctive response had been to run. But Matthew-large and brooding as he'd been that September night in the Bodleian Library-hadn't appeared half so otherworldly. And it wasn't because Philippe de Clermont was a monster. On the contrary. He was, quite simply, the most breathtaking creature I had ever seen-supernatural, preternatural, daemonic, or merely human.

No one could look at Philippe de Clermont and think he was mortal flesh. The vampire's features were too perfect, and eerily symmetrical. Straight, dark eyebrows settled over eyes that were a pale, mutable golden brown touched with flecks of green. Exposure to sun and elements had touched his brown hair with strands of gleaming gold, silver, and bronze. Philippe's mouth was soft and sensual, though anger had drawn his lips hard and tight tonight.

Pressing my own lips together to keep my jaw from dropping, I met his appraising stare. Once I did, his eyes moved slowly and deliberately to Matthew.

"Explain yourself." The words were quiet, but they didn't conceal Philippe's fury. There was more than one angry vampire in the room, however. Now that the shock of seeing Philippe had passed, Matthew tried to take the upper hand.

"You commanded me to Sept-Tours. Here I am, alive and well, despite your grandson's hysterical reports." Matthew tossed the silver coin onto his father's oak table. It landed on its edge and whirled on an invisible axis before toppling flat.

"Surely it would have been better for your wife to remain at home this time of year." Like Alain, Philippe spoke English as flawlessly as a native.

"Diana is my mate, Father. I could hardly leave her in England with Henry and Walter simply because it might snow."

"Stand down, Matthew," Philippe growled. The sound was as leonine as the rest of him. The de Clermont family was a menagerie of formidable beasts. In Matthew's presence I was always reminded of wolves. With Ysabeau it was falcons. Gallowglass had made me think of a bear. Philippe was akin to yet another deadly predator.

"Gallowglass and Walter tell me the witch requires my protection." The lion reached for a letter. He tapped the edge of it on the table and stared at Matthew. "I thought that protecting weaker creatures was your job now that you occupy the family's seat on the Congregation."

"Diana isn't weak-and she needs more protection than the Congregation can afford, given the fact that she is married to me. Will you bestow it?" The challenge was in Matthew's tone now, as well as his bearing.

"First I need to hear her account," Philippe said. He looked at me and lifted his eyebrows.

"We met by chance. I knew she was a witch, but the bond between us was undeniable," Matthew said. "Her own people have turned on her-"

A hand that might have been mistaken for a paw rose in a gesture commanding quiet. Philippe returned his attention to his son.

"Matthaios." Philippe's lazy drawl had the efficiency of a slow-moving whip, silencing his son immediately. "Am I to understand that you need my protection?"

"Of course not," Matthew said indignantly.

"Then hush and let the witch speak."

Intent on giving Matthew's father what he wanted so that we could get out of his unnerving presence as quickly as possible, I considered how best to recount our recent adventures. Rehearsing every detail would take too long, and the chances that Matthew might explode in the meantime were excellent. I took a deep breath and began.

"My name is Diana Bishop, and my parents were both powerful witches. Other witches killed them when they were far from home, when I was still a child. Before they died, they spellbound me. My mother was a seer, and she knew what was to come."

Philippe's eyes narrowed with suspicion. I understood his caution. It was still difficult for me to understand why two people who loved me had broken the witches' ethical code and placed their only daughter in magical shackles.

"Growing up, I was a family disgrace-a witch who couldn't light a candle or perform a spell properly. I turned my back on the Bishops and went to university." With this revelation Matthew began to shift uneasily in his seat. "I studied the history of alchemy."

"Diana studies the art of alchemy," Matthew corrected, shooting me a warning glance. But his convoluted half-truths wouldn't satisfy his father.

"I'm a timewalker." The word hung in the air between the three of us. "You call it a fileuse de temps."

"Oh, I am well aware of what you are," Philippe said in the same lazy tone. A fleeting look of surprise touched Matthew's face. "I have lived a long time, madame, and have known many creatures. You are not from this time, nor the past, so you must be from the future. And Matthaios traveled back with you, for he is not the same man he was eight months ago. The Matthew I know would never have looked twice at a witch." The vampire drew in a deep breath. "My grandson warned me that you both smelled very odd."

"Philippe, let me explain-" But Matthew was not destined to finish his sentences this evening.

"As troubling as many aspects of this situation are, I am glad to see that we can look forward to a sensible attitude toward shaving in the years to come." Philippe idly scratched his own neatly clipped beard and mustache. "Beards are a sign of lice, not wisdom, after all."

"I'm told Matthew looks like an invalid." I drew a tired sigh. "But I don't know a spell to fix it."

Philippe waved my words away. "A beard is easy enough to arrange. You were telling me of your interest in alchemy."

"Yes. I found a book-one that many others have sought. I met Matthew when he came to steal it from me, but he couldn't because I'd already let it out of my hands. Every creature for miles was after me then. I had to stop working!"

A sound that might have been suppressed laughter set a muscle in Philippe's jaw throbbing. It was, I discovered, hard to tell with lions whether they were amused or about to pounce.

"We think it's the book of origins," Matthew said. His expression was proud, though my calling of the manuscript had been completely accidental. "It came looking for Diana. By the time the other creatures realized what she'd found, I was already in love."

"So this went on for some time, then." Philippe tented his fingers in front of his chin, resting his elbows on the edges of the table. He was sitting on a simple four-legged stool, even though a splendid, thronelike eyesore sat empty next to him.

"No," I said after doing some calculations, "just a fortnight. Matthew wouldn't admit to his feelings for the longest time, though-not until we were at Sept-Tours. But it wasn't safe here either. One night I left Matthew's bed and went outside. A witch took me from the gardens."

Philippe's eyes darted from me to Matthew. "There was a witch inside the walls of Sept-Tours?"

"Yes," said Matthew tersely.

"Down into them," I corrected gently, capturing his father's attention once more. "I don't believe any witch's foot ever touched the ground, if that's important. Well, mine did, of course."

"Of course," Philippe acknowledged with a tip of his head. "Continue."

"She took me to La Pierre. Domenico was there. So was Gerbert." The look on Philippe's face told me that neither the castle nor the two vampires who had met me inside it were unfamiliar.

"Curses, like chickens, come home to roost," Philippe murmured.

"It was the Congregation who ordered my abduction, and a witch named Satu tried to force the magic from me. When she failed, Satu threw me into the oubliette."

Matthew's hand strayed to the small of my back as it always did when that night was mentioned. Philippe watched the movement but said nothing.

"After I escaped, I couldn't stay at Sept-Tours and put Ysabeau in danger. There was all this magic coming out of me, you see, and powers I couldn't control. Matthew and I went home, to my aunts' house." I paused, searching for a way to explain where that house was. "You know the legends told by Gallowglass's people, about lands across the ocean to the west?" Philippe nodded. "That's where my aunts live. More or less."

"And these aunts are both witches?"

"Yes. Then a manjasang came to kill Matthew-one of Gerbert's creatures-and she nearly succeeded. There was nowhere we could go that would be beyond the Congregation's reach, except the past." I paused, shocked at the venomous look that Philippe gave Matthew. "But we haven't found a haven here. People in Woodstock know I'm a witch, and the trials in Scotland might affect our lives in Oxfordshire. So we're on the run again." I reviewed the outlines of the story, making sure I hadn't left out anything important. "That's my tale."

"You have a talent for relating complicated information quickly and succinctly, madame. If you would be so kind as to share your methods with Matthew, it would be a service to the family. We spend more than we should on paper and quills." Philippe considered his fingertips for a moment, then stood with a vampiric efficiency that turned a simple movement into an explosion. One minute he was seated, and then, the next, his muscles sprang into action so that all six feet of him suddenly, and startlingly, loomed over the table. The vampire fixed his attention on his son.

"This is a dangerous game you are playing, Matthew, one with everything to lose and very little to gain. Gallowglass sent a message after you parted. The rider took a different route and arrived before you did. While you've been taking your time getting here, the king of Scotland has arrested hundreds of witches and imprisoned them in Edinburgh. The Congregation no doubt thinks you are on your way there to persuade King James to drop this matter."

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