Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(24)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(24)
Author: Deborah Harkness

Matthew's blade went straight through Philippe's arm. When Philippe winced, his son gave him a mocking smile. "'Don't consider painful what's good for you,'" Matthew muttered.

"I should never have taught you Greek-or English either. Your knowledge of them has caused me no end of trouble," Philippe replied, unperturbed. He pulled his arm free from the blade.

Swords struck, clashed, and swung. Matthew had a slight height advantage, and his longer arms and legs increased his reach and the span of his lunges. He was fighting with a long, tapering blade, sometimes using one hand, sometimes two. The hilt was constantly shifting in his grip so that he could counter his father's moves. But Philippe had more strength and delivered punishing strikes with a shorter sword that he wielded easily in one hand. Philippe also held a round shield, which he used to deflect Matthew's blows. If Matthew had held such a defensive asset, it was gone now. Though the two men were well matched physically, their styles of fighting were entirely different. Philippe was enjoying himself and kept up a running commentary while he sparred. Matthew, on the other hand, remained largely silent and focused, not betraying by so much as the quirk of an eyebrow that he was listening to what his father was saying.

"I've been thinking of Diana. Neither earth nor ocean produces a creature as savage and monstrous as woman," Philippe said sorrowfully.

Matthew lunged at him, the blade whooshing with amazing speed in a wide arc toward his father's neck. I blinked, during which time Philippe managed to slip beneath the blade. He reappeared on Matthew's other side, slicing at his son's calf.

"Your technique is wild this morning. Is something wrong?" Philippe inquired. This direct question got his son's attention.

"Christ, you are impossible. Yes. Something is wrong," Matthew said between clenched teeth. He swung again, the sword glancing off Philippe's quickly raised shield. "Your constant interference is driving me insane."

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad." Philippe's words caused Matthew to falter. Philippe took advantage of the misstep and slapped him on the backside with the flat of his sword.

Matthew swore. "Did you give away all of your best lines?" he demanded. Then he saw me.

What happened next took place in a heartbeat. Matthew began to straighten from his fighting crouch, his attention fixed on the hayloft where I stood. Philippe's sword plunged, circled, and lifted Matthew's weapon out of his hand. With both swords in his possession, Philippe threw one against the wall and leveled the other at Matthew's jugular.

"I taught you better, Matthaios. You do not think. You do not blink. You do not breathe. When you are trying to survive, all you do is react." Philippe raised his voice. "Come down here, Diana."

The blacksmith regretfully helped me to another ladder. You're in for it now, promised his expression. I lowered myself onto the floor behind Philippe.

"Is she why you lost?" he demanded, pressing the blade against his son's flesh until a dark ribbon of blood appeared.

"I don't know what you mean. Let me go." Some strange emotion overtook Matthew. His eyes went inky, and he clawed at his father's chest. I took a step toward him.

A shining object flew at me with a whistle, sliding between my left arm and my torso. Philippe had thrown a weapon at me without so much as a backward glance to check his aim, yet it had not even nicked my skin. The dagger pinned my sleeve to a rung of the ladder, and when I wrenched my arm free, the fabric tore across the elbow, exposing my jagged scar.

"That's what I mean. Did you take your eyes off your opponent? Is that how you nearly died, and Diana with you?" Philippe was angrier than I'd ever seen him.

Matthew's concentration flickered to me again. It took no more than a second, but it was long enough for Philippe to find yet another dagger tucked into his boot. He plunged it into the flesh of Matthew's thigh.

"Pay attention to the man with the blade at your throat. If you don't, she's dead." Then Philippe addressed me without turning. "As for you, Diana, stay clear of Matthew when he is fighting."

Matthew looked up at his father, black eyes shining with desperation as the pupils dilated. I'd seen the reaction before, and it usually signaled he was losing his control. "Let me go. I need to be with her. Please."

"You need to stop looking over your shoulder and accept who you are- a manjasang warrior with responsibilities to his family. When you put your mother's ring on Diana's finger, did you take time to consider what it promises?" Philippe said, his voice rising.

"My whole life, and the end of it. And a warning to remember the past." Matthew tried to kick his father, but Philippe anticipated the move and reached down to twist the knife still embedded in his son's leg. Matthew hissed with pain.

"It's always the dark things with you, never the light." Philippe swore. He dropped the sword and kicked it out of Matthew's reach, his fingers tightening on his son's throat. "Do you see his eyes, Diana?"

"Yes," I whispered.

"Take another step toward me."

When I did, Matthew began to thrash, though his father was exerting a crushing pressure on his windpipe. I cried out, and the thrashing worsened.

"Matthew is in a blood rage. We manjasang are closer to nature than other creatures-pure predators, no matter how many languages we speak or what fine clothes we wear. This is the wolf in him trying to free himself so that he can kill."

"A blood rage?" My words came out in a whisper.

"Not all of our kind are prone to it. The sickness is in Ysabeau's blood, passed from her maker and on to her children. Ysabeau and Louis were spared, but not Matthew or Louisa. And Matthew's son Benjamin has the affliction, too."

Though I knew nothing of this son, Matthew had told me hair-raising stories about Louisa. The same blood-borne tendency to excess was in Matthew as well-and he could pass it down to any children we might have. Just when I thought I knew all the secrets that kept Matthew from my bed, here was another: the fear of hereditary illness.

"What sets it off?" I forced the words past the tightness in my throat.

"Many things, and it is worse when he is tired or hungry. Matthew does not belong to himself when the rage is upon him, and it can make him act against his true nature."

Eleanor. Could this be how one of Matthew's great loves had died, trapped between an enraged Matthew and Baldwin in Jerusalem? His repeated warnings about his possessiveness, and the danger that would result, didn't seem idle anymore. Like my panic attacks, this was a physiological reaction that Matthew might never be entirely able to control.

"Is this why you ordered him down here today? To force him into showing his vulnerabilities to the world?" I demanded furiously of Philippe. "How could you? You're his father!"

"We are a treacherous breed. I might turn against him one day." Philippe shrugged. "I might turn on you, witch."

At that, Matthew reversed their positions and was pressing Philippe back toward the far wall. Before he could gain the advantage, Philippe grabbed him by the neck. The two of them stood, locked nose to nose. "Matthew," Philippe said sharply.

His son kept pushing, his humanity gone. Matthew's only desire was to beat his opponent, or kill him if he must. There had been moments in our brief relationship when the frightening human legends about vampires made sense, and this was one of them. But I wanted my Matthew back. I took a step in his direction, but it only made his rage worse.

"Don't come closer, Diana."

"You do not want to do this, milord," Pierre said, going to his master's side. He reached out an arm. I heard a snap, watched the arm drop uselessly to his side thanks to the break at the shoulder and elbow, and saw the blood pouring out of a wound at his neck. Pierre winced, his fingers rising to press against the savage bite.

"Matthew!" I cried.

It was the wrong thing to do. The sound of my distress made Matthew wilder. Pierre was nothing more than an obstacle to him now. Matthew flung him across the room, where he hit the wall of the hay barn, all the while retaining a one-handed grip on his father's throat.

"Silence, Diana. Matthew is beyond reason. Matthaios!" Philippe barked out his name. Matthew stopped trying to push his father away from me, though his grip never loosened.

"I know what you have done." Philippe waited while his words penetrated Matthew's awareness. "Do you hear me, Matthew? I know my future. You would have beaten back the rage if you could have."

Philippe had deduced that his son had killed him, but not how or why. The only explanation available to him was Matthew's illness.

"You don't know," Matthew said numbly. "You can't."

"You are behaving as you always do when you regret a kill: guilty, furtive, distracted," Philippe said. "Te absolvo, Matthaios."

"I'll take Diana away," Matthew said with sudden lucidity. "Let us both go, Philippe."

"No. We will face it together, the three of us," Philippe said, his face full of compassion. I had been wrong. Philippe had not been trying to break Matthew, but only his guilt. Philippe had not failed his son after all.

"No!" Matthew cried, twisting away. But Philippe was stronger.

"I forgive you," his father repeated, throwing his arms around his son in a fierce embrace. "I forgive you."

Matthew shuddered once, his body shaking from head to foot, then went limp as though some evil spirit had fled. "Je suis desole," he whispered, the words slurred with emotion. "So sorry."

"And I have forgiven you. Now you must put it behind you." Philippe released his son and looked at me. "Come to him, Diana, but move carefully. He still is not himself."

I ignored Philippe and went to Matthew in a rush. He took me into his arms and breathed in my scent as if it had the power to sustain him. Pierre moved forward, too, his arm already healed. He handed Matthew a cloth for his hands, which were slick with blood. Matthew's ferocious look kept his servant several paces away, the white cloth flapping like a flag of surrender. Philippe retreated a few steps, and Matthew's eyes darted at the sudden movement.

"That's your father and Pierre," I said, taking Matthew's face in my hands. Incrementally, the black in his eyes retreated as a ring of dark green iris appeared first, then a sliver of gray, then the distinctive pale celadon that rimmed the pupil.

"Christ." Matthew sounded disgusted. He reached for my hands and drew them from his face. "I haven't lost control like that for ages."

"You are weak, Matthew, and the blood rage is too close to the surface. If the Congregation were to challenge your right to be with Diana and you responded like this, you would lose. We cannot let there be any question whether she is a de Clermont." Philippe drew his thumb deliberately across his lower teeth. Blood, darkly purple, rose from the wound. "Come here, child."

"Philippe!" Matthew held me back, dumbfounded. "You have never-"

"Never is a very long time. Do not pretend to know more about me than you do, Matthaios." Philippe studied me gravely. "There is nothing to fear, Diana." I looked at Matthew, wanting to be sure this wasn't going to cause another outburst of rage.

"Go to him." Matthew released me as the creatures in the loft watched with rapt attention.

"The manjasang make families through death and blood," Philippe began when I stood before him. His words sent fear instinctively trilling through my bones. He smudged his thumb in a curve that started in the center of my forehead near my hairline, crept near my temple, and finished at my brow. "With this mark you are dead, a shade among the living without clan or kin." Philippe's thumb returned to the place where he began, and he made a mirror image of the mark on the other side, finishing between my brows. My witch's third eye tingled with the cool sensation of vampire blood. "With this mark you are reborn, my blood-sworn daughter and forever a member of my family."

Hay barns had corners, too. Philippe's words set them alight with shimmering strands of color-not just blue and amber but green and gold. The noise made by the threads rose to a soft keen of protest. Another family awaited me in another time after all. But the murmurs of approval in the barn soon drowned out the sound. Philippe looked up to the loft as if noticing his audience for the first time.

"As for you-madame has enemies. Who among you is prepared to stand for her when milord cannot?" Those with some grasp of English translated the question for the others.

"Mais il est debout," Thomas protested, pointing at Matthew. Philippe took care of the fact that Matthew was upright by clipping his son's injured leg at the knee, sending him onto his back with a thud.

"Who stands for madame?" Philippe repeated, one booted foot placed carefully on Matthew's neck.

"Je vais." It was Catrine, my daemonic assistant and maid, who spoke first.

"Et moi," piped up Jehanne, who, though older, followed wherever her sister led.

Once the girls had declared their allegiance, Thomas and etienne threw in their lot with me, as did the blacksmith and Chef, who had appeared in the loft carrying a basket of dried beans. After he glared at his staff, they grudgingly acquiesced as well.

"Madame's enemies will come without warning, so you must be ready. Catrine and Jehanne will distract them. Thomas will lie." There were knowing chuckles from the adults. "etienne, you must run and find help, preferably milord. As for you, you know what to do." Philippe regarded Matthew grimly.

"And my job?" I asked.

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