Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(25)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(25)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"To think, as you did today. Think-and stay alive." Philippe clapped his hands. "Enough entertainment. Back to work."

Amid good-natured grumbling, the people in the hayloft scattered to resume their duties. With a c*ck of his head, Philippe sent Alain and Pierre out after them. Philippe followed, taking off his shirt as he went. Surprisingly, he returned and dropped the wadded-up garment at my feet. Nestled within it was a lump of snow.

"Take care of the wound on his leg, and the one over his kidney that is deeper than I would have wished," Philippe instructed. Then he, too, was gone.

Matthew climbed to his knees and began to tremble. I grabbed him by the waist and lowered him gently to the ground. Matthew tried to pull free and draw me into his arms instead.

"No, you stubborn man," I said. "I don't need comforting. Let me take care of you for once."

I investigated his wounds, beginning with the ones Philippe had flagged. With Matthew's help I cleared the rent hose from the wound on his thigh. The dagger had gone deep, but it was already closing thanks to the healing properties of vampire blood. I packed a wad of snow around it anyway-Matthew assured me it would help, though his exhausted flesh was barely warmer. The wound on his kidney was similarly on the mend, but the surrounding bruise made me wince in sympathy.

"I think you're going to live," I said, putting a final ice pack into place over his left flank. I smoothed the hair away from his forehead. A sticky spot of half-dried blood near his eye had captured a few black strands. Gently I freed them.

"Thank you, mon coeur. Since you're cleaning me up, would you mind if I returned the favor and removed Philippe's blood from your forehead?" Matthew looked sheepish. "It's the scent, you see. I don't like it on you."

He was afraid of the blood rage's return. I rubbed at the skin myself, and my fingers came away tinged with black and red. "I must look like a pagan priestess."

"More so than usual, yes." Matthew scooped some of the snow from his thigh and used it and the hem of his shirt to remove the remaining evidence of my adoption.

"Tell me about Benjamin," I said while he wiped at my face.

"I made Benjamin a vampire in Jerusalem. I gave him my blood thinking to save his life. But in doing so, I took his reason. I took his soul."

"And he has your tendency toward anger?"

"Tendency! You make it sound like high blood pressure." Matthew shook his head in amazement. "Come. You'll freeze if you stay here any longer."

Slowly we made our way to the chateau, our hands clasped. For once neither of us cared who might see or what anyone who did see might think. The snow was falling, making the forbidding, pitted winter landscape appear soft once again. I looked up at Matthew in the fading light and saw his father once more in the harsh lines of his face and the way that his shoulders squared under the burdens they bore.

The next day was the Feast of St. Nicholas, and the sun shone on the snow that had fallen earlier in the week. The chateau perked up considerably with the finer weather, even though it was still Advent, a somber time of reflection and prayer. Humming under my breath, I headed for the library to retrieve my stash of alchemical books. Though I took a few into the stillroom each day, I was careful to return them. Two men were talking inside the book-filled room. Philippe's calm, almost lazy tones I recognized. The other was unfamiliar. I pushed the door open.

"Here she is now," Philippe said as I entered. The man with him turned, and my flesh tingled.

"I am afraid her French is not very good, and her Latin is worse," Philippe said apologetically. "Do you speak English?"

"Enough," the witch replied. His eyes swept my body, making my skin crawl. "The girl seems in good health, but she should not be here among your people, sieur."

"I would happily be rid of her, Monsieur Champier, but she has nowhere to go and needs help from a fellow witch. That is why I sent for you. Come, Madame Roydon," Philippe said, beckoning me forward.

The closer I got, the more uncomfortable I became. The air felt full, tingling with an almost electrical current. I half expected to hear a rumble of thunder, the atmosphere was so thick. Peter Knox had been mentally invasive, and Satu had inflicted great pain at La Pierre, but this witch was different and somehow even more dangerous. I walked quickly past the wizard and looked at Philippe in mute appeal for answers.

"This is Andre Champier," Philippe said. "He is a printer, from Lyon. Perhaps you have heard of his cousin, the esteemed physician, now alas departed from this world and no longer able to share his wisdom on matters philosophical and medical."

"No," I whispered. I watched Philippe, hoping for clues as to what he expected me to do. "I don't believe so."

Champier tilted his head in acknowledgment of Philippe's compliments. "I never knew my cousin, sieur, as he was dead before I was born. But it is a pleasure to hear you speak of him so highly." Since the printer looked at least twenty years older than Philippe, he must know that the de Clermonts were vampires.

"He was a great student of magic, as you are." Philippe's comment was typically matter-of-fact, which kept it from sounding obsequious. To me he explained, "This is the witch I sent for soon after you arrived, thinking he might be able to help solve the mystery of your magic. He says he felt your power while still some distance from Sept-Tours."

"It would seem my instincts have failed me," Champier murmured. "Now that I am with her, she seems to have little power after all. Perhaps she is not the English witch that people were speaking about in Limoges."

"Limoges, eh? How extraordinary for news of her to travel so far so fast. But Madame Roydon is, thankfully, the only wandering Englishwoman we have had to take in, Monsieur Champier." Philippe's dimples flashed as he poured himself some wine. "It is bad enough to be plagued with French vagrants at this time of year, without being overrun with foreigners as well."

"The wars have loosened many from their homes." One of Champier's eyes was blue, the other brown. It was the mark of a powerful seer. The wizard had a wiry energy that fed on the power that pulsed in the atmosphere around him. Instinctively I took a step away. "Is that what happened to you, madame?"

"Who can tell what horrors she has seen or been subjected to?" Philippe said with a shrug. "Her husband had been dead ten days when we found her in an isolated farmhouse. Madame Roydon might have fallen victim to all kinds of predators." The elder de Clermont was as talented at fabricating life stories as was his son or Christopher Marlowe.

"I will find out what has happened to her. Give me your hand." When I didn't immediately acquiesce, Champier grew impatient. With a flick of his fingers, my left arm shot toward him. Panic, sharp and bitter, flooded my system as he grasped my hand. He stroked the flesh on my palm, progressing deliberately over each finger in an intimate search for information. My stomach flipped.

"Does her flesh give you knowledge of her secrets?" Philippe sounded only mildly curious, but there was a muscle ticking in his neck.

"A witch's skin can be read, like a book." Champier frowned and brought his fingers to his nose. He sniffed. His face soured. "She has been too long with vampires. Who has been feeding from her?"

"That is forbidden," Philippe said silkily. "No one in my household has shed the girl's blood, for sport or for sustenance."

"The manjasang can read a creature's blood as easily as I can read her flesh." Champier yanked at my arm, pushing my sleeve up and ripping the fine cord that held the cuffs snug against my wrist. "You see? Someone has been enjoying her. I am not the only one who wishes to know more about this English witch."

Philippe bent closer to inspect my exposed elbow, his breath a cool puff over my skin. My pulse was beating a tattoo of alarm. What was Philippe after? Why wasn't Matthew's father stopping this?

"That wound is too old for her to have received it here. As I said, she has been in Saint-Lucien for only a week."

Think. Stay alive. I repeated Philippe's instructions from yesterday.

"Who took your blood, sister?" Champier demanded.

"It is a knife wound," I said hesitantly. "I made it myself." It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either. I prayed that the goddess would let it pass. My prayers went unanswered.

"Madame Roydon is keeping something from me-and from you, too, I believe. I must report it to the Congregation. It is my duty, sieur." Champier looked expectantly at Philippe.

"Of course," Philippe murmured. "I would not dream of standing between you and your duty. How might I help?"

"If you would restrain her, I would be grateful. We must delve deeper for the truth," Champier said. "Most creatures find the search painful, and even those with nothing to hide instinctively resist a witch's touch."

Philippe pulled me from Champier's grasp and roughly sat me in his chair. He clamped one hand around my neck, the other at the crown of my head. "Like this?"

"That is ideal, sieur." Champier stood before me, frowning at my forehead. "But what is this?" Fingers stained with ink smoothed over my forehead. His hands felt like scalpels, and I whimpered and twisted.

"Why does your touch cause her such pain?" Philippe wondered.

"It is the act of reading that does it. Think of it as extracting a tooth," Champier explained, his fingers lifting for a brief, blessed moment. "I will take her thoughts and secrets from the root, rather than leaving them to fester. It is more painful but leaves nothing behind and provides a clearer picture of what she is trying to hide. This is the great benefit of magic, you see, and university education. Witchcraft and the traditional arts known to women are crude, even superstitious. My magic is precise."

"A moment, monsieur. You must forgive my ignorance. Are you saying this witch will have no memory of what you've done or the pain you've caused?"

"None save a lingering sense that something once had is now lost." Champier's fingers resumed stroking my forehead. He frowned. "But this is very strange. Why did a manjasang put his blood here?"

Being adopted into Philippe's clan was a memory of mine that I didn't intend Champier to have. Nor did I want him sifting through my recollections of teaching at Yale, Sarah and Em, or Matthew. My parents. My fingers clawed into the arms of the chair while a vampire held my head and a witch prepared to inventory and steal my thoughts. And yet no whisper of witchwind or flicker of witchfire came to my aid. My power had gone entirely quiet.

"It was you who marked this witch," Champier said sharply, his eyes accusing.

"Yes." Philippe offered no explanation.

"That is most irregular, sieur." His fingers kept probing my mind. Champier's eyes opened in wonder. "But this is impossible. How can she be a-" He gasped and looked down at his chest.

A dagger stuck out between two of Champier's ribs, the weapon's blade buried deep within his chest. My fingers were wrapped tightly around the hilt. When he scrabbled to dislodge it, I pushed it in further. The wizard's knees began to crumple.

"Leave it, Diana." Philippe commanded, reaching over to loosen my hand. "He's going to die, and when he does, he will fall. You cannot hold up a dead weight."

But I couldn't let go of the dagger. The man was still alive, and as long as he was breathing, Champier could take what was mine.

A white face with inkblot eyes appeared briefly over Champier's shoulder before a powerful hand wrested his lolling head to the side with a crack of bones and sinew. Matthew battened onto the man's throat, drinking deeply.

"Where have you been, Matthew?" Philippe snapped. "You must move quickly. Diana struck before he could finish his thought."

While Matthew drank, Thomas and etienne pelted into the room, a dazed Catrine in tow. They stopped, stunned. Alain and Pierre hovered in the hallway with the blacksmith, Chef, and the two soldiers who usually stood by the front gate.

"Vous avez bien fait," Philippe assured them. "It is over now."

"I was supposed to think." My fingers were numb, but I still couldn't seem to unwrap them from the dagger.

"And stay alive. You did that admirably," Philippe replied.

"He's dead?" I croaked.

Matthew removed his mouth from the witch's neck.

"Resolutely so," Philippe said. "Well, I suppose that's one less nosy Calvinist to worry about. Had he told any of his friends he was coming here?"

"Not as far as I could determine," Matthew said. Slowly his eyes turned gray again as he studied me. "Diana. My love. Let me have the dagger." Somewhere in the distance, something metal clattered to the floor, followed by the softer thud of Andre Champier's mortal remains. Mercifully cool, familiar hands cupped my chin.

"He discovered something in Diana that surprised him," said Philippe.

"I saw as much. But the blade reached his heart before I could find out what." Matthew drew me gently into his arms. My own had gone boneless, and I offered no resistance.

"I didn't-couldn't-think, Matthew. Champier was going to take my memories-extract them from the root. Memories are all I have of my parents. And what if I'd forgotten my historical knowledge? How could I go back home and teach after that?"

"You did the right thing." Matthew had one arm wrapped around my waist. The other circled my shoulders, pressing the side of my face against his chest. "Where did you get the knife?"

"My boot. She must have seen me pull it out yesterday," Philippe replied.

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