Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(23)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(23)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"Hugh?" I whispered, my heart breaking for him and Gallowglass.

"Philippe."

The last barrier between us fell.

"The Nazis drove him insane with pain and deprivation. Had Hugh survived, he might have convinced Philippe that there was still hope for some kind of life in the wreckage that remained. But Philippe said he was too tired to fight. He wanted to sleep, and I . . . I knew what it was to want to close your eyes and forget. God help me, I did what he asked."

Matthew was shaking now. I gathered him in my arms again, not caring that he resisted, knowing only that he needed something-someone- to hold on to while the waves of memory crashed over him.

"After Ysabeau refused his pleas, we found Philippe trying to cut his wrists. He couldn't hold the knife securely enough to do the job. He'd cut himself repeatedly, and there was blood everywhere, but the wounds were shallow and healed quickly." Matthew was speaking rapidly, the words pouring from him at last. "The more blood Philippe shed, the wilder he became. He couldn't stand the sight of it after being in the camp. Ysabeau took the knife from him and said she would help him end his life. But Maman would never have forgiven herself."

"So you cut him," I said, meeting his eyes. I had never turned away from the knowledge of what he'd done to survive as a vampire. I couldn't turn away from the sins of the husband, the father, and the son either.

Matthew shook his head. "No. I drank every drop of his blood, so Philippe wouldn't have to watch as his life force was spilled."

"But then you saw . . ." I couldn't keep the horror out of my voice. When a vampire drank from another creature, that creature's memories came along with the fluid in fleeting, teasing glimpses. Matthew had freed his father from torment, but only after first sharing everything Philippe had suffered.

"Most creatures' memories come in a smooth stream, like a ribbon unwinding in the darkness. With Philippe it was like swallowing shards of glass. Even when I got past the recent events, his mind was so badly fractured that I almost couldn't continue." His shaking intensified. "It took forever. Philippe was broken, lost, and frightened, but his heart was still fierce. His last thoughts were of Ysabeau. They were the only memories that were still whole, still his."

"It's all right," I murmured again and again, holding him tightly until finally his limbs began to quiet.

"You asked me who I am at the Old Lodge. I'm a killer, Diana. I've killed thousands," Matthew said eventually, his voice muffled. "But I never had to look any of them in the face again. Only Ysabeau knows the truth, and she cannot look at me without remembering my father's death. Now I have to face you, too."

I cradled his head between my hands and drew him away so that our eyes met. Matthew's perfect face usually masked the ravages of time and experience. But all the evidence was on display now, and it only made him more beautiful to me. At last the man I loved made sense: his insistence that I face who and what I was, his reluctance to kill Juliette even to save his own life, his conviction that once I truly knew him, I could never love him.

"I love all of you, Matthew: warrior and scientist, killer and healer, dark and light."

"How can you?" he whispered, disbelieving.

"Philippe couldn't have gone on like that. Your father would have kept trying to take his own life, and from everything you say, he'd suffered enough." I couldn't imagine how much, but my beloved Matthew had witnessed it all. "What you did was an act of mercy."

"I wanted to disappear when it was over, to leave Sept-Tours and never come back," he confessed. "But Philippe made me promise to keep the family and the brotherhood together. I swore that I would take care of Ysabeau, too. So I stayed here, sat in his chair, pulled the political strings he wanted pulled, finished the war he gave his life to win."

"Philippe wouldn't have put Ysabeau's welfare in the hands of someone he despised. Or placed a coward in charge of the Order of Lazarus."

"Baldwin accused me of lying about Philippe's wishes. He thought the brotherhood would go to him. No one could fathom why our father had decided to give the Order of Lazarus to me instead. Perhaps it was his final act of madness."

"It was faith," I said softly, reaching down and lacing my fingers through his. "Philippe believes in you. So do I. These hands built this church. They were strong enough to hold your son and your father during their final moments on this earth. And they still have work to do."

High above there was a beating of wings. A dove had flown through the clerestory windows and lost its way among the exposed roof beams. It struggled, freed itself, and swooped down into the church. The dove landed on the stone that marked the final resting place of Blanca and Lucas and moved its feet in a deliberate circular dance until it faced Matthew and me. Then it cocked its head and studied us with one blue eye.

Matthew shot to his feet at the sudden intrusion, and the startled dove flew toward the other side of the apse. It beat its wings, slowing before the likeness of the Virgin. When I was convinced it was going to crash into the wall, it swiftly reversed direction and flew back out the way it had entered.

A long white feather from the dove's wing drifted and curled on the currents of air, landing on the pavement before us. Matthew bent to pick it up, his expression puzzled as he held it before him.

"I've never seen a white dove in the church before." Matthew looked to the half dome of the apse where the same bird hovered over Christ's head.

"It's a sign of of resurrection and hope. Witches believe in signs, you know." I closed his hands around the feather. I kissed him lightly on the forehead and turned to leave. Perhaps now that he had shared his memories, he could find peace.

"Diana?" Matthew called. He was still by his family's grave. "Thank you for hearing my confession."

I nodded. "I'll see you at home. Don't forget your feather."

He watched me as I passed the scenes of torment and redemption on the portal between the world of God and the world of man. Pierre was waiting outside, and he took me back to Sept-Tours without speaking a word. Philippe heard our approach and was waiting for me in the hall.

"Did you find him in the church?" he asked quietly. The sight of him- so hale and hearty-made my heart drop. How had Matthew endured it?

"Yes. You should have told me it was Lucas's birthday." I handed my cloak to Catrine.

"We have all learned to anticipate these black moods when Matthew is reminded of his son. You will, too."

"It's not just Lucas." Fearing I'd said too much, I bit my lip.

"Matthew told you about his own death, too." Philippe tugged his fingers through his hair, a rougher version of his son's habitual gesture. "I understand grief, but not this guilt. When will he put the past behind him?"

"Some things can never be forgotten," I said, looking Philippe squarely in the eye. "No matter what you think you understand, if you love him, you'll let him battle his own demons."

"No. He is my son. I will not fail him." Philippe's mouth tightened. He turned and stalked away. "And I've received word from Lyon, madame," he called over his shoulder. "A witch will arrive shortly to help you, just as Matthew wished."

Chapter Eleven

"Meet me in the hay barn on your way back from the village." Philippe had resumed his annoying habit of appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye and was standing before us in the library.

I looked up from my book and frowned. "What's in the hay barn?" "Hay." Matthew's revelations in the church had only made him more restless and short-tempered. "I'm writing to our new pope, Father. Alain tells me that the conclave will announce today that poor Niccolò has been elected despite begging to be spared the burdens of office. What are the wishes of one man when weighed against the aspirations of Philip of Spain and Philippe de Clermont?"

Philippe reached for his belt. A loud clap exploded from Matthew's direction. Matthew held a dagger between his palms, the point of the blade resting against his breastbone.

"His Holiness can wait." Philippe considered the position of his weapon. "I should have targeted Diana. You would have moved faster."

"You must forgive me for ruining your sport." Matthew was coldly furious. "It's been some time since I've had a knife thrown at me. I fear I am out of practice."

"If you are not at the barn before the clock strikes two, I will come looking for you. And I will be carrying more than this dagger." He plucked it out of Matthew's hands and bellowed for Alain, who was right behind him.

"No one should go to the lower barn until told otherwise," Philippe said as he rammed his weapon back into its leather sheath.

"I had apprehended as much, sieur." It was as close to a reproach as Alain was ever likely to utter.

"I'm tired of living with so much testosterone. No matter what Ysabeau thinks of witches, I wish she were here. And before you ask what testosterone is, it's you," I said, jabbing my finger at Philippe. "And your son is not much better."

"The company of women, eh?" Philippe pulled on his beard and looked at Matthew, openly calculating just how much further he could push his son. "Why did I not think of it before? While we wait for Diana's witch to arrive from Lyon, we should send her to Margot for instruction on how to behave like a proper French lady."

"What Louis and Margot get up to at Usson is worse than anything they did in Paris. That woman isn't a proper role model for anyone, least of all my wife," Matthew told his father with a withering look. "Unless they're more careful, people are going to know that Louis's carefully managed, very expensive assassination was a sham."

"For someone wedded to a witch you are quick to judge the passions of others, Matthaios. Louis is your brother."

Goddess bless us, another brother.

"Passions?" Matthew's eyebrow lifted. "Is that what you call taking a string of men and women to bed?"

"There are countless ways to love. What Margot and Louis do is not your concern. Ysabeau's blood runs in Louis's veins, and he will always have my loyalty-as will you, in spite of your own considerable transgressions." Philippe disappeared in a blur of movement.

"Just how many de Clermonts are there? And why do you all have to be men?" I demanded when there was silence once more.

"Because Philippe's daughters were so terrifying we held a family council and begged him to stop making them. Stasia can strip the paint from walls simply by looking at them, and Verin makes her look meek. As for Freyja . . . well, Philippe named her after the Norse goddess of war for a reason."

"They sound wonderful." I gave him a perfunctory peck on the cheek. "You can tell me about them later. I'll be in the kitchen, trying to stop up that leaky cauldron that Marthe calls a still."

"I could take a look at it for you. I'm good with lab equipment," Matthew offered. He was eager to do anything that would keep him from Philippe and the mysterious hay barn. I understood, but there was no way for him to evade his father. Philippe would simply invade my stillroom and harass him there.

"Not necessary," I said over my shoulder as I departed. "Everything is under control."

Everything was not, as it turned out. My eight-year-old bellows boys had let the fire go out, but not before the flames had burned too high and produced a thick black residue in the bottom of the distillation apparatus. I made notes in the margins of one of the de Clermonts' alchemical books about what had gone wrong and how it could be fixed, while Thomas, the more trustworthy of my two young assistants, stoked the fire. I was not the first to make use of the book's wide, clean borders, and some of the earlier scribblings had been quite useful. In time maybe mine would be, too.

etienne, my other errant assistant, ran into the room, whispered in his partner's ear, and received something shiny in exchange.

"Milord encore," the boy whispered back.

"What are you betting on, Thomas?" I demanded. The two of them looked at me blankly and shrugged. Something about their studied innocence made me concerned for Matthew's welfare. "The hay barn. Where is it?" I said, ripping off my apron.

With great reluctance, Thomas and etienne led me through the castle's front gate and toward a wood-and-stone structure with a steeply pitched roof. A ramp sloped up to the wide, barred entrance doors, but the boys pointed instead to a ladder pushed against the far end. The rungs disappeared into fragrant darkness.

Thomas went up first, making quieting gestures with his hands and imploring me to be silent with facial contortions worthy of an actor in a silent film. etienne held the ladder while I climbed, and the village blacksmith hauled me into the dusty loft.

My appearance was met with interest, but not surprise, by half of the Sept-Tours staff. I had thought it odd that only one guard was on duty at the front gate. The rest of them were here, along with Catrine, her older sister Jehanne, most of the kitchen crew, the blacksmith, and the grooms.

A softly keening whoosh, unlike anything I'd heard before, captured my attention. The sharp clang and the shriek of metal against metal were more recognizable. Matthew and his father had dispensed with sniping and progressed to armed combat. My hand rose to stifle a gasp when the point of Philippe's sword pierced Matthew's shoulder. Bloody slashes covered their shirts, breeches, and hose. They'd evidently been fighting for some time, and this was no genteel fencing match.

Alain and Pierre stood silently against the opposite wall. The ground around them looked like a pincushion, bristling with a variety of discarded weapons stabbed into the packed soil. Both of the de Clermont servants were acutely aware of what was happening around them, including my arrival. They lifted their eyes a fraction to the loft and slid a worried glance at each other. Matthew was oblivious. His back was to me, and the other strong scents in the barn masked my presence. Philippe, who was facing my way, seemed either not to notice or not to care.

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