Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(21)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(21)
Author: Deborah Harkness

After thirty minutes of discussion and three more sheets of paper, I was left alone with my books, papers, and a pounding headache. Sometime later I heard a commotion in the great hall, followed by a bellow of laughter. A familiar voice, somehow richer and warmer than I knew it, called out in greeting.

Matthew.

Before I could set my papers aside, he was there.

"Did you notice I was gone after all?" Matthew's face was touched with color. His fingers pulled loose a tendril of hair as he gripped my neck and planted a kiss on my lips. There was no blood on his tongue, only the taste of the wind and the outdoors. Matthew had ridden, but he hadn't fed. "I'm sorry about what happened earlier, mon coeur," he whispered into my ear. "Forgive me for behaving so badly." The ride had lifted his spirits, and his behavior toward his father was natural and unforced for the first time.

"Diana," Philippe said, stepping from behind his son. He reached for the nearest book and took it to the fire, leafing through the pages. "You are reading The History of the Franks-not for the first time, I trust. This book would be more enjoyable, of course, if Gregory's mother had overseen the writing of it. Armentaria's Latin was most impressive. It was always a pleasure to receive her letters."

I had never read Gregory of Tours's famous book on French history, but there was no reason for Philippe to know that.

"When he and Matthew attended school in Tours, your famous Gregory was a boy of twelve. Matthew was far older than the teacher, never mind the other pupils, and allowed the boys to ride him like a horse when it was time for their recreation." Philippe scanned the pages. "Where is the part about the giant? It's my favorite."

Alain entered, bearing a tray with two silver cups. He set it on the table by the fire.

"Merci, Alain." I gestured at the tray. "You both must be hungry. Chef sent your meal here. Why don't you tell me about your morning?"

"I don't need-" Matthew began. His father and I both made sounds of exasperation. Philippe deferred to me with a gentle incline of his head.

"Yes you do," I said. "It's partridge blood, which you should be able to stomach at this hour. I hope you will hunt tomorrow, though, and Saturday, too. If you intend to fast for the next four weeks, you have to feed while you can." I thanked Alain, who bowed, shot a veiled glance at his master, and left hastily. "Yours is stag's blood, Philippe. It was drawn only this morning."

"What do you know of partridge blood and fasting?" Matthew's fingers tugged gently on my loose curl. I looked up into my husband's gray-green eyes.

"More than I did yesterday." I freed my hair before handing him his cup.

"I will take my meal elsewhere," Philippe interjected, "and leave you to your argument."

"There's no argument. Matthew must remain healthy. Where did you go on your ride?" I picked up the cup of stag's blood and held it out to Philippe.

Philippe's attention traveled from the silver cup to his son's face and back to me. He gave me a dazzling smile, but there was no mistaking his appraising look. He took the proffered cup and raised it in salute.

"Thank you, Diana," he said, his voice full of friendship.

But those unnatural eyes that missed nothing continued to watch me as Matthew described their morning. A sensation of spring thaw told me when Philippe's attention moved to his son. I couldn't resist glancing in his direction to see if it was possible to tell what he was thinking. Our gazes crossed, clashed. The warning was unmistakable.

Philippe de Clermont was up to something.

"How did you find the kitchens?" Matthew asked, turning the conversation in my direction.

"Fascinating," I said, meeting Philippe's shrewd eyes with a challenging stare. "Absolutely fascinating."

Chapter Ten

Philippe might be fascinating, but he was maddening and inscrutable, too-just as Matthew had promised.

Matthew and I were in the great hall the next morning when my fatherin-law seemed to materialize out of thin air. No wonder humans thought vampires could shape-shift into bats. I lifted a spindle of toasted bread from my soft-boiled egg's golden yolk.

"Good morning, Philippe." "Diana." Philippe nodded. "Come, Matthew. You must feed. Since you will not do so in front of your wife, we will hunt."

Matthew hesitated, restlessly glancing at me and then away. "Perhaps tomorrow."

Philippe muttered something under his breath and shook his head. "You must attend to your own needs, Matthaios. A famished, exhausted manjasang is not an ideal traveling companion for anyone, least of all a warmblooded witch."

Two men entered the hall, stomping the snow from their boots. Chilly winter air billowed around the wooden screen and through the lacy carvings. Matthew cast a longing look toward the door. Chasing stags across the frozen landscape would not only feed his body-it would clear his mind as well. And if yesterday was any indication, he'd be in a much better mood when he returned.

"Don't worry about me. I have plenty to do," I said, taking his hand in mine to give it a reassuring squeeze.

After breakfast Chef and I discussed the menu for Saturday's pre-Advent feast. This done, I discussed my clothing needs with the village tailor and seamstress. Given my grasp of French, I feared I had ordered a circus tent. By late morning I was desperate for some fresh air, and persuaded Alain to take me on a tour of the courtyard workshops. Almost everything the chateau residents needed, from candles to drinking water, could be found there. I tried to remember every detail of how the blacksmith smelted his metals, aware that the knowledge would be useful when I returned to my real life as a historian.

With the exception of the hour spent at the forge, my day so far had been typical of a noblewoman's of the time. Feeling that I'd made good progress toward my goal of fitting in, I spent several pleasant hours reading and practicing my handwriting. When I heard the musicians setting up for the last feast before the monthlong fast I asked them to give me a dancing lesson. Later I treated myself to an adventure in the stillroom and was soon happily occupied with a glorified double boiler, a copper still, and a small barrel of old wine. Two young boys borrowed from the kitchens kept the glowing embers of the fire alight with a pair of leather bellows that sighed gently whenever Thomas and etienne pressed them into action.

Being in the past provided a perfect opportunity for me to practice what I knew only via books. After poking through Marthe's equipment, I settled on a plan to make spirit of wine, a basic substance used in alchemical procedures. I was soon cursing, however.

"This will never condense properly," I said crossly, looking at the steam escaping from the still. The kitchen boys, who knew no English, made sympathetic noises while I consulted a tome I'd pulled from the de Clermont library. There were all sorts of interesting volumes on the shelves. One of them must explain how to repair leaks.

"Madame?" Alain called softly from the doorway.

"Yes?" I turned and wiped my hands on the bunched-up folds of my linen smock.

Alain surveyed the room, aghast. My dark sleeveless robe was flung over the back of a nearby chair, my heavy velvet sleeves were draped over the edge of a copper pot, and my bodice hung from the ceiling on a convenient pothook. Though relatively unclothed by sixteenth-century standards, I still wore a corset, a high-necked, long-sleeved linen smock, several petticoats, and a voluminous skirt-far more clothing than I normally wore to lecture. Feeling na**d nonetheless, I lifted my chin and dared Alain to say a word. Wisely, he looked away.

"Chef does not know what to do about this evening's meal," Alain said.

I frowned. Chef unfailingly knew what to do.

"The household is hungry and thirsty, but they cannot sit down without you. So long as there is a member of the family at Sept-Tours, that person must preside over the evening meal. It is tradition."

Catrine appeared with a towel and a bowl. I dipped my fingers into the warm, lavender-scented water.

"How long have they been waiting?" I took the towel from Catrine's arm. A great hall filled with both hungry warmbloods and equally famished vampires couldn't be wise. My newfound confidence in my ability to manage the de Clermont family home evaporated.

"More than an hour. They will continue to wait until word comes from the village that Roger is closing down for the night. He runs the tavern. It is cold, and many hours until breakfast. Sieur Philippe led me to believe . . ." He trailed off into apologetic silence.

"Vite," I said, pointing at my discarded clothing. "You must get me dressed, Catrine."

"Bien sur." Catrine put down her bowl and headed for my suspended bodice. The large splotch of ink on it put an end to my hope of looking respectable.

When I entered the hall, benches scraped against the stone floor as more than three dozen creatures stood. There was a note of reproach in the sound. Once seated, they ate their delayed meal with gusto, while I picked apart a chicken leg and waved away everything else.

After what seemed an interminable length of time, Matthew and his father returned. "Diana!" Matthew rounded the wooden screen, confused to see me sitting at the head of the family table. "I expected you to be upstairs, or in the library."

"I thought it was more courteous for me to sit here, considering how much work Chef put into preparing the meal." My eyes traveled to Philippe. "How was your hunting, Philippe?"

"Adequate. But animal blood provides only so much nourishment." He beckoned to Alain, and his cold eyes nudged my high collar.

"Enough." Though his voice was low, the warning in Matthew's tone was unmistakable. Heads swiveled in his direction. "You should have instructed them to start without us. Let me take you upstairs, Diana." Heads swiveled back to me, waiting for my reply.

"I have not finished," I said, gesturing at my plate, "nor have the others. Sit by me and take some wine." Matthew might be a Renaissance prince in substance as well as style, but I would not heel when he clicked his fingers.

Matthew sat by my side while I forced myself to swallow some chicken. When the tension was unbearable, I rose. Once more, benches scraped against stone as the household stood.

"Finished so soon?" Philippe asked with surprise. "Good night, then, Diana. Matthew, you will return at once. I have a strange desire to play chess."

Matthew ignored his father and extended his arm. We didn't exchange a word as we passed out of the great hall and climbed to the family rooms. At my door Matthew at last had himself under enough control to risk conversation.

"Philippe is treating you like a glorified housekeeper. It's intolerable."

"Your father is treating me like a woman of the time. I'll manage, Matthew." I paused, gathering my courage. "When did you last feed on a creature that walks on two legs?" I'd forced him to take blood from me before we left Madison, and he'd fed on some nameless warmblood in Canada. Several weeks prior to that, he'd killed Gillian Chamberlain in Oxford. Maybe he had fed on her, too. Otherwise I didn't believe that a drop of anything other than animal blood had crossed his lips in months.

"What makes you ask?" Matthew's tone was sharp.

"Philippe says you aren't as strong as you should be." My hand tightened on his. "If you need to feed and won't take blood from a stranger, then I want you to take mine."

Before Matthew could respond, a chuckle came from the stairs. "Careful, Diana. We manjasang have sharp ears. Offer your blood in this house and you'll never keep the wolves at bay." Philippe was standing with arms braced against the sides of the carved stone archway.

Matthew swung his head around, furious. "Go away, Philippe."

"The witch is reckless. It's my responsibility to make sure her impulses don't go unchecked. Otherwise she could destroy us."

"The witch is mine," Matthew said coldly.

"Not yet," Philippe said, descending the stairs with a regretful shake of his head. "Maybe not ever."

After that encounter Matthew was even more guarded and remote. He was angry with his father, but rather than taking his frustration out on its source, Matthew snapped at everyone else: me, Alain, Pierre, Chef, and any other creature unfortunate enough to cross his path. The household was in a state of high anxiety already because of the feast, and after putting up with his bad behavior for several hours, Philippe gave his son a choice. He could sleep off his bad humor or feed. Matthew chose a third option and went off to search the de Clermont archives for some hint as to the present whereabouts of Ashmole 782. Left to my own devices, I returned to the kitchens.

Philippe found me in Marthe's room, crouched over the malfunctioning still with my sleeves rolled up and the room full of steam.

"Has Matthew fed from you?" he asked abruptly, his eyes moving over my forearms.

I lifted my left arm in reply. The soft linen pooled around my shoulder, exposing the pink traces of a jagged scar on my inner elbow. I'd cut into the flesh so that Matthew could drink from me more easily.

"Anywhere else?" Philippe directed his attention to my torso.

With the other hand, I exposed my neck. The wound there was deeper, but it had been made by a vampire and was far neater.

"What a fool you are, to allow a besotted manjasang to take the blood from not only your arm but your neck," Philippe said, stunned. "The covenant forbids the manjasang to take the blood of witches or daemons. Matthew knows this."

"He was dying, and mine was the only blood available!" I said fiercely. "If it makes you feel better, I had to force him."

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