Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(26)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(26)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"See. You were thinking, ma lionne." Matthew pressed his lips against my hair. "What the hell drew Champier to Saint-Lucien?"

"I did," replied Philippe.

"You betrayed us to Champier?" Matthew turned on his father. "He's one of the most reprehensible creatures in all of France!"

"I needed to be sure of her, Matthaios. Diana knows too many of our secrets. I had to know that she could be trusted with them, even among her own people." Philippe was unapologetic. "I don't take risks with my family."

"And would you have stopped Champier before he stole her thoughts?" Matthew demanded, his eyes blacker by the second.

"That depends."

"On what?" Matthew exploded, his arms tightening around me.

"Had Champier arrived three days ago, I would not have interfered. It would have been a matter between witches, and not worth the trouble to the brotherhood."

"You would have let my mate suffer." Matthew's tone revealed his disbelief.

"As recently as yesterday, it would have been your responsibility to intervene on your mate's behalf. Had you failed to do so, it would have proved that your commitment to the witch was not what it should be."

"And today?" I asked.

Philippe studied me. "Today you are my daughter. So no, I would not have let Champier's attack go much further. But I didn't need to do anything, Diana. You saved yourself."

"Is that why you made me your daughter-because Champier was coming?" I whispered.

"No. You and Matthew survived one test in the church and another in the hay barn. The blood swearing was simply the first step in making you a de Clermont. And now it's time to finish it." Philippe turned toward his second-in-command. "Fetch the priest, Alain, and tell the village to assemble at the church on Saturday. Milord is getting married, with book and priest and all of Saint-Lucien to witness the ceremony. There will be nothing hole-in-corner about this wedding."

"I just killed a man! This isn't the moment to discuss our marriage."

"Nonsense. Marrying amid bloodshed is a de Clermont family tradition," Philippe said briskly. "We only seem to mate creatures who are desired by others. It is a messy business."

"I. Killed. Him." Just to be sure my message was clear, I pointed to the body on the floor.

"Alain, Pierre, please remove Monsieur Champier. He is upsetting madame. The rest of you have too much to do to remain here gawking." Philippe waited until the three of us were alone before he continued.

"Mark me well, Diana: Lives will be lost because of your love for my son. Some will sacrifice themselves. Others will die because someone must, and it will be for you to decide if it is you or them or someone you love. So you must ask yourself this: What does it matter who deals the deathblow? If you do not do it, then Matthew will. Would you rather he had Champier's death on his conscience?"

"Of course not," I said quickly.

"Pierre, then? Or Thomas?"

"Thomas? He's just a boy!" I protested.

"That boy promised to stand between you and your enemies. Did you see what he clutched in his hands? The bellows from the stillroom. Thomas filed its metal point into a weapon. If you hadn't killed Champier, that boy would have shoved it through his guts at the first opportunity."

"We're not animals but civilized creatures," I protested. "We should be able to talk about this and settle our differences without bloodshed."

"Once I sat at a table and talked for three hours with a man-a king. No doubt you and many others would have considered him a civilized creature. At the end of our conversation, he ordered the death of thousands of men, women, and children. Words kill just as swords do."

"She's not accustomed to our ways, Philippe," Matthew warned.

"Then she needs to become so. The time for diplomacy has passed." Philippe's voice never rose, nor did it lose its habitual evenness. Matthew might have tells, but his father had yet to betray his deeper emotions.

"No more discussion. Come Saturday, you and Matthew will be married. Because you are my daughter in blood as well as name, you will be married not only as a good Christian but in a way that will honor my ancestors and their gods. This is your last chance to say no, Diana. If you have reconsidered and no longer want Matthew and the life-and death-that marrying him entails, I will see you safely back to England."

Matthew set me away from him. It was only a matter of inches, but it was symbolic of so much more. Even now he was giving me the choice, though his was long since made. So was mine.

"Will you marry me, Matthew?" Given that I was a murderer, it seemed only right to ask.

Philippe gave a choking cough.

"Yes, Diana. I will marry you. I already have, but I'm happy to do it again to please you."

"I was satisfied the first time. This is for your father." It was impossible to think any more about marriage when my legs were still shaking and there was blood on the floor.

"Then we are all agreed. Take Diana to her room. It would be best if she remained there until we are sure Champier's friends aren't nearby." Philippe paused on his way out the door. "You have found a woman who is worthy of you, with courage and hope to spare, Matthaios."

"I know," Matthew said, taking my hand.

"Know this, too: You are equally worthy of her. Stop regretting your life. Start living it."

Chapter Twelve

The wedding Philippe planned for us was to span three days. From Friday to Sunday, the chateau staff, the villagers, and everyone else for miles around would be involved in what he insisted was a small family affair.

"It has been some time since we had a wedding, and winter is a cheerless time of year. We owe it to the village," was how Philippe brushed aside our protests. Chef, too, was irritated when Matthew suggested that it wasn't feasible to produce three last-minute feasts while food stores were running low and Christians practiced abstemiousness. So there was a war on and it was Advent, Chef scoffed. That was no reason to refuse a party.

With the whole house in an uproar and no one interested in our help, Matthew and I were left to our own devices.

"Just what does this marriage ceremony involve?" I wondered as we lay in front of the fire in the library. I was wearing Matthew's wedding gift: one of his shirts, which extended to my knees, and a pair of his old hose. Each leg had been ripped along the top inner seam, and then Matthew had stitched the two legs together into something vaguely approximating leggings-minus the waistband and the spandex. Some gesture toward the former came from a narrow leather belt fashioned from a piece of old tack that Matthew found in the stables. It was the most comfortable clothing I'd worn since Halloween, and Matthew, who had not seen much of my legs lately, was riveted.

"I have no idea, mon coeur. I've never attended an ancient Greek wedding before." Matthew's fingers traced the hollow behind my knee.

"Surely the priest won't allow Philippe to do anything overtly pagan. The actual ceremony will have to be Catholic."

"The family never puts 'surely' and 'Philippe' in the same sentence. It always ends badly." Matthew planted a kiss on my hip.

"At least tonight's event is just a feast. I should be able to get through that without too much trouble." Sighing, I rested my head on my hands. "The groom's father usually pays for the rehearsal dinner. I suppose what Philippe is doing is basically the same thing."

Matthew laughed. "Almost indistinguishable-so long as the menu includes grilled eel and a gilded peacock. Besides, Philippe has managed to appoint himself not only the father of the groom, but the father of the bride."

"I still don't see why we have to make such a fuss." Sarah and Em hadn't had a formal ceremony. Instead an elder in the Madison coven performed a handfasting. Looking back, it reminded me of the vows Matthew and I had exchanged before we timewalked: simple, intimate, and quickly over.

"Weddings aren't for the benefit of the bride or the groom. Most couples would be content to go off on their own as we did, say a few words, and then leave for a holiday. Weddings are rites of passage for the community." Matthew rolled over onto his back. I propped myself up on my elbows.

"It's just an empty ritual."

"There's no such thing." Matthew frowned. "If you can't bear it, you must say so."

"No. Let Philippe have his wedding. It's just a bit . . . overwhelming."

"You must wish Sarah and Emily were here to share this with us."

"If they were, they'd be surprised that I'm not eloping. I'm known for being a loner. I used to think you were a loner, too."

"Me?" Matthew laughed. "Except on television or in the movies, vampires are seldom alone. We prefer the company of others. Even witches will do, in a pinch." He kissed me to prove it.

"So if this marriage was taking place in New Haven, who would you invite?" he asked sometime later.

"Sarah and Em, of course. My friend Chris." I bit my lip. "Maybe the chair of my department." Silence fell.

"That's it?" Matthew looked aghast.

"I don't have many friends." Restless, I got to my feet. "I think the fire's going out."

Matthew pulled me back down. "The fire is fine. And you have plenty of kith and kin now."

The mention of family was the opening I'd been waiting for. My eyes strayed to the chest at the end of the bed. Marthe's box was hidden within, tucked into the clean linen.

"There's something we need to discuss." This time he let me go without interfering. I pulled the box free.

"What's that?" Matthew asked, frowning.

"Marthe's herbs-the ones she uses in her tea. I found them in the stillroom."

"I see. And have you been drinking it?" His question was sharp.

"Of course not. Whether we have children or not can't be my decision alone." When I opened the lid, the dusty aroma of dried herbs seeped into the air.

"No matter what Marcus and Miriam said back in New York, there is no evidence whatsoever that you and I can have children. Even herbal contraceptives like these can have unsafe side effects," Matthew said, coolly clinical.

"Let's say, for argument's sake, one of your scientific tests revealed we could have children. Would you want me to take the tea then?"

"Marthe's mixture isn't very reliable." Matthew looked away.

"Okay. What are the alternatives?" I asked.

"Abstinence. Withdrawal. And there are condoms, though they're not reliable either. Especially not the kind available to us in this day and age." Matthew was right. Sixteenth-century condoms were made from linen, leather, or animal intestines.

"And if one of these methods were reliable?" My patience was wearing thin.

"If-if-we could conceive a child together, it would be a miracle, and therefore no form of contraception would be effective."

"Your time at Paris wasn't a total waste of time, no matter what your father thinks. That was an argument worthy of a medieval theologian." Before I could close the box, Matthew's hands covered mine.

"If we could conceive, and if this tea were effective, I'd still want you to leave the herbs in the stillroom."

"Even though you could pass your blood rage on to another child?" I forced myself to be honest with him, despite the fact that my words would hurt.

"Yes." Matthew considered his words before continuing. "When I study patterns of extinction and see the evidence in the laboratory that we are dying out, the future seems hopeless. But if I detect a single chromosomal shift, or the discovery of an unexpected descendant when I thought a bloodline had died out, the sense of inevitable destruction lifts. I feel the same way now." Usually I had problems when Matthew adopted a position of scientific objectivity, but not this time. He took the box from my hands. "What about you?"

I'd been trying to figure that out for weeks, ever since Miriam and Marcus had appeared at Aunt Sarah's house with my DNA results and first raised the issue of children. I was sure about my future with Matthew but less so about what that future might involve.

"I wish I had more time to decide." It was becoming my common refrain. "If we were still in the twenty-first century, I'd be taking the birthcontrol pills you prescribed for me." I hesitated. "Even so, I'm not sure the pills would work for us."

Matthew still waited for my answer.

"When I drove Philippe's dagger into Champier, all I could think of was that he was going to take my thoughts and memories and I wouldn't be the same person when I returned to our modern lives. But even if we were to go back right this minute, we would already be different people. All the places we've gone, the people I've met, the secrets we've shared-I'm no longer the same Diana Bishop, and you aren't the same Matthew Clairmont. A baby would change us even more."

"So you want to prevent pregnancy," he said carefully.

"I'm not sure."

"Then the answer is yes. If you're not sure you want to be a parent, we must use whatever birth control is available." Matthew's voice was firm. And so was his chin.

"I do want to be a parent. I'm surprised by how much, if you must know." I pressed my fingers into my temples. "I like the idea of you and me raising a child. It just feels so soon."

"It is soon. So we'll do what we must to limit the possibility until-if- you are ready. But don't get your hopes up. The science is clear, Diana: Vampires reproduce through resurrection, not procreation. Our relationship might be different, but we aren't so special as to overturn thousands of years of biology."

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