Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(22)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(22)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"So that's it. My son has no doubt convinced himself that so long as he has taken only your blood and not your body, he will be able to let you go." Philippe shook his head. "He is wrong. I've been watching him. You will never be free of Matthew, whether he beds you or not."

"Matthew knows I'd never leave him."

"Of course you will. One day your life on this earth will draw to a close and you will make your final journey into the underworld. Rather than grieve, Matthew will want to follow you into death." Philippe's words rang with truth.

Matthew's mother had shared with me the story of his making: how he fell from the scaffolding while helping to lay the stones for the village church. Even when I first heard it, I'd wondered if Matthew's despair over losing his wife, Blanca, and his son, Lucas, had driven him to suicide.

"It is too bad that Matthew is a Christian. His God is never satisfied."

"How so?" I asked, perplexed by the sudden change of topic.

"When you or I have done wrong, we settle our accounts with the gods and return to living with the hope of doing better in future. Ysabeau's son confesses his sins and atones again and again-for his life, for who he is, for what he has done. He is always looking backward, and there is no end to it."

"That's because Matthew is a man of great faith, Philippe." There was a spiritual center to Matthew's life that colored his attitudes toward science and death.

"Matthew?" Philippe sounded incredulous. "He has less faith than anyone I have ever known. All he possesses is belief, which is quite different and depends on the head rather than the heart. Matthew has always had a keen mind, one capable of dealing with abstractions like God. It is how he came to accept who he had become after Ysabeau made him one of the family. For every manjasang it is different. My sons chose other paths- war, love, mating, conquest, the acquisition of riches. For Matthew it was always ideas."

"It still is," I said softly.

"But ideas are seldom strong enough to provide the basis for courage. Not without faith in the future." His expression turned thoughtful. "You don't know your husband as well as you should."

"Not as well as you do, no. We're a witch and a vampire who love even though we're forbidden to do so. The covenant doesn't permit us lingering public courtship and moonlight strolls." My voice heated as I continued. "I can't hold his hand or touch his face outside of these four walls without fearing that someone will notice and he will be punished for it."

"Matthew goes to the church in the village around midday, when you think he is looking for your book. It's where he went today." Philippe's remark was strangely disconnected from our conversation. "You might follow him one day. Perhaps then you would come to know him better."

I went to the church at eleven on Monday morning, hoping to find it empty. But Matthew was there, just as Philippe had promised. He couldn't have failed to hear the heavy door close behind me or my steps echoing as I crossed the floor, but he didn't turn around. Instead he remained kneeling just to the right of the altar. In spite of the cold, Matthew was wearing an insubstantial linen shirt, breeches, hose, and shoes. I felt frozen just looking at him and drew my cloak more firmly around me.

"Your father told me I'd find you here," I said at last, into the resonant silence.

It was the first time I'd been in this church, and I looked around with curiosity. Like many religious buildings in this part of France, SaintLucien's house of worship was already ancient in 1590. Its simple lines were altogether different from the soaring heights and lacy stonework of a Gothic cathedral. Brightly colored murals surrounded the wide arch separating the apse from the nave and decorated the stone bands that topped the arcades underneath the high clerestory windows. Most of the windows opened to the elements, though someone had made a halfhearted attempt to glaze those closest to the door. The peaked roof above was crisscrossed by stout wooden beams, testifying to the skills of the carpenter as well as the mason.

When I'd first visited the Old Lodge, Matthew's house had reminded me of him. His personality was evident here, too, in the geometric details carved into the beams and in the perfectly spaced arches that spanned the widths between columns.

"You built this."

"Part of it." Matthew's eyes rose to the curved apse with its image of Christ on His throne, one hand raised and ready to mete out justice. "The nave, mostly. The apse was completed while I was . . . away."

The composed face of a male saint stared gravely at me from over Matthew's right shoulder. He held a carpenter's square and a long-stemmed white lily. It was Joseph, the man who asked no questions when he took a pregnant virgin for a wife.

"We have to talk, Matthew." I surveyed the church again. "Maybe we should move this conversation to the chateau. There's nowhere to sit." I had never thought of wooden pews as inviting until I entered a church without them.

"Churches weren't built for comfort," Matthew said.

"No. But making the faithful miserable couldn't have been their only purpose." I searched the murals. If faith and hope were intertwined as closely as Philippe suggested, then there might be something here to lighten Matthew's mood.

I found Noah and his ark. A global disaster and the narrowly avoided extinction of all life-forms were not auspicious. A saint heroically slew a dragon, but it was too reminiscent of hunting for my comfort. The entrance of the church was dedicated to the Last Judgment. Rows of angels at the top blew golden trumpets as the tips of their wings swept the floor, but the image of hell at the bottom-positioned so that you couldn't leave the church without making eye contact with the damned-was horrifying. The resurrection of Lazarus would be little comfort to a vampire. The Virgin Mary wouldn't help either. She stood across from Joseph at the entrance to the apse, otherworldy and serene, another reminder of all that Matthew had lost.

"At least it's private. Philippe seldom sets foot in here," Matthew said tiredly.

"We'll stay, then." I took a few steps toward him and plunged in. "What's wrong, Matthew? At first I thought it was the shock of being immersed in a former life, then the prospect of seeing your father again while keeping his death a secret." Matthew remained kneeling, head bowed, his back to me. "But your father knows his future now. So there must be another reason for it."

The air in the church was oppressive, as if my words had removed all the oxygen from the place. There wasn't a sound except for the cooing of the birds in the belfry.

"Today is Lucas's birthday," Matthew said at last.

His words hit me with the force of a blow. I sank to my knees behind him, cranberry skirts pooling around me. Philippe was right. I didn't know Matthew as well as I should.

His hand rose and pointed to a spot on the floor between him and Joseph. "He's buried there, with his mother."

No inscription on the stone marked what rested underneath. Instead there were smooth hollows, the kind made by the steady passage of feet on stair treads. Matthew's fingers reached out, fit into the grooves perfectly, stilled, withdrew.

"Part of me died when Lucas did. It was the same for Blanca. Her body followed a few days later, but her eyes were empty and her soul already flown. Philippe chose his name. It's Greek for 'Bright One.' On the night he was born, Lucas was so white and pale. When the midwife held him up in the darkness, his skin caught the light from the fire the way the moon catches her light from the sun. Strange how after so many years my memory of that night is still clear." Matthew paused in his ramblings, wiped at his eye. His fingers came away red.

"When did you and Blanca meet?"

"I threw snowballs at her during her first winter in the village. I'd do anything to get her attention. She was delicate and remote, and many of us sought her company. By the time spring came, Blanca would let me walk her home from the market. She liked berries. Every summer the hedge outside the church was full of them." He examined the red streaks on his hand. "Whenever Philippe saw the stains from their juice on my fingers, he'd laugh and predict a wedding come autumn."

"I take it he was right."

"We wed in October, after the harvest. Blanca was already more than two months pregnant." Matthew could wait to consummate our marriage but hadn't been able to resist Blanca's charms. It was far more than I had wanted to know about their relationship.

"We made love for the first time during the heat of August," he continued. "Blanca was always concerned with pleasing others. When I look back, I wonder if she was abused when she was a child. Not punished-we were all punished, and in ways no modern parent would dream of-but something more. It broke her spirit. My wife had learned to give in to what someone older, stronger, and meaner wanted. I was all of those things, and I wanted her to say yes that summer night, so she did."

"Ysabeau told me the two of you were deeply in love, Matthew. You didn't force her to do anything against her will." I wanted to offer him what comfort I could, in spite of the sting his memories inflicted.

"Blanca didn't possess a will. Not until Lucas. Even then she only exercised it when he was in danger or when I was angry with him. All her life she wanted someone weaker and smaller to protect. Instead Blanca had a succession of what she saw as failures. Lucas wasn't our first child, and with every miscarriage she grew softer and sweeter, more tractable. Less likely to say no."

Except in its general outlines, this was not the tale Ysabeau had told of her son's early life. Hers had been a story of deep love and shared grief. Matthew's version was one of unmitigated sorrow and loss.

I cleared my throat. "And then there was Lucas."

"Yes. After years of filling her with death, I gave her Lucas." He fell silent.

"There was nothing you could do, Matthew. It was the sixth century, and there was an epidemic. You couldn't save either of them."

"I could have stopped myself from having her. Then there would have been no one to lose!" Matthew exclaimed. "She wouldn't say no, but her eyes always held some reluctance when we made love. Each time I promised her that this time the babe would survive. I would have given anything-"

It hurt to know that Matthew was still so deeply attached to his dead wife and son. Their spirits haunted this place, and him, too. But at least now I had an explanation for why he shied away from me: this deep sense of guilt and grief that he'd been carrying for so many centuries. In time, perhaps, I could help loosen Blanca's hold on Matthew. I stood and went to him. He flinched when my fingers came to rest on his shoulder. "There's more."

I froze.

"I tried to give my own life, too. But God didn't want it." Matthew's head rose. He stared at the worn, grooved stone before him, then at the roof above.

"Oh, Matthew."

"I'd been thinking about joining Lucas and Blanca for weeks, but I was worried that they would be in heaven and God would keep me in hell because of my sins," Matthew said, matter-of-fact. "I asked one of the women in the village for advice. She thought I was being haunted-that Blanca and Lucas were tied to this place because of me. Up on the scaffolding, I looked down and thought their spirits might be trapped under the stone. If I fell on it, God might have no choice but to release them. That or let me join them-wherever they were."

This was the flawed logic of a man in despair, not the lucid scientist I knew.

"I was so tired," he said wearily. "But God wouldn't let me sleep. Not after what I'd done. For my sins He gave me to a creature who transformed me into someone who cannot live, or die, or even find fleeting peace in dreams. All I can do is remember."

Matthew was exhausted again, and so very cold. His skin felt colder than the frigid air that surrounded us. Sarah would have known a spell to ease him, but all I could do was pull his resistant body into mine and lend him what little warmth I could.

"Philippe has despised me ever since. He thinks me weak-far too weak to marry someone like you." Here was the key to Matthew's feeling of unworthiness.

"No," I said roughly, "your father loves you." Philippe had exhibited many emotions toward his son in the brief time we'd been at Sept-Tours, but never any hint of disgust.

"Brave men don't commit suicide, except in battle. He said so to Ysabeau when I was newly made. Philippe said I lacked the courage to be a manjasang. As soon as my father could, he sent me away to fight. 'If you're determined to end your own life,' he said, 'at least it can be for some greater purpose than self-pity.' I've never forgotten his words."

Hope, faith, courage: the three elements of Philippe's simple creed. Matthew felt he possessed nothing but doubt, belief, and bravado. But I knew different.

"You've been torturing yourself with these memories for so long that you can't see the truth anymore." I moved around to face him and dropped to my knees before him. "Do you know what I see when I look at you? I see someone very like your father."

"We all want to see Philippe in those we love. But I'm nothing like him. It was Gallowglass's father, Hugh, who if he had lived would have-" Matthew turned away, his hand trembling on his knee. There was something more, a secret that he had yet to reveal.

"I've already granted you one secret, Matthew: the name of the de Clermont who is a member of the Congregation in the present. You can't keep two."

"You want me to share my darkest secret?" An interminable time passed before Matthew was willing to reveal it. "I took his life. He begged Ysabeau to do it, but she couldn't." Matthew turned away.

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Drawn into Love (Fluke My Life #4)
» Nightchaser (Endeavor #1)
» Right Where I Want You
» Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)
» Be the Girl
» Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)
» If I Only Knew
» Vengeance Road (Torpedo Ink #2)
» 99 Percent Mine
» Free (Chaos #6)
» Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3
» Moonlight Scandals (de Vincent #3)