Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(28)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(28)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"When I was a child, there were always stories at the end of a banquet such as this, and tales of heroes and great warriors." Philippe plucked the strings, eliciting a shower of sound. "And just like all men, heroes fall in love." His strumming continued, lulling the audience into the rhythms of his story.

"A hero with dark hair and green eyes named Peleus left his home to seek his fortune. It was a place much like Saint-Lucien, hidden in the mountains, but Peleus had long dreamed of the sea and the adventures he might have in foreign lands. He gathered his friends together, and they voyaged through the oceans of the world. One day they arrived at an island famed for its beautiful women and the powerful magic that they had at their command." Matthew and I exchanged long glances. Philippe's deep voice sang out his next words:

Far happier then were the times for men,

Fondly yearned for now!

You heroes, so bred Of gods in those silver days, favor me

As I call you now with my magic song.

The room was mesmerized by Philippe's otherworldly bass.

"There Peleus first saw Thetis, daughter of Nereus, the god of the sea who told no lies and saw the future. From her father Thetis had the gift of prophecy and could twist her shape from moving water to living fire to the very air itself. Though Thetis was beautiful, no one would take her for a wife, for an oracle foretold that her son would be more powerful than his father."

"Peleus loved Thetis in spite of the prophecy. But to marry such a woman, he had to be brave enough to hold Thetis while she changed from one element into another. Peleus took Thetis from the island and clasped her to his heart while she transformed herself from water to fire to serpent to lioness. When Thetis became a woman once more, he took her to his home and the two were wed."

"And the child? Did Thetis's son destroy Peleus as the omens foretold?" a woman whispered when Philippe fell silent, his fingers still drawing music from the kithara.

"The son of Peleus and Thetis was a great hero, a warrior blessed in both life and death, called Achilles." Philippe gave the woman a smile. "But that is a tale for another night."

I was glad that his father didn't give a full account of the wedding and how the Trojan War got started there. And I was even happier that he didn't go on to tell the tale of Achilles' youth: the horrible spells his mother used to try to make him immortal as she was and the young man's uncontrollable rage-which caused him far more trouble than did his famously unprotected heel.

"It's just a story," Matthew whispered, sensing my unease. But it was the stories that creatures told, over and over without knowing what they meant, that were often the most important, just as it was these time-worn rituals of honor, marriage, and family that people held most sacred even though they often seemed to ignore them.

"Tomorrow is an important day, one that we have all longed for."

Philippe stood, kithara in his hands. "It is customary for the bride and groom to separate until the wedding."

This was another ritual: a final, formal moment of parting to be followed by a lifetime of togetherness.

"The bride may, however, give the groom some token of affection to make sure he does not forget her during the lonely hours of the night,"

Philippe said, eyes twinkling with mischief.

Matthew and I rose. I smoothed down my skirts, my attention fixed resolutely on his doublet. The stitches on it were very fine, I noticed, tiny and regular. Gentle fingers lifted my chin, and I was lost instead in the play of smooth curves and sharp angles that made up Matthew's face. All sense of performance disappeared as we contemplated each other. We stood in the midst of the hall and the wedding guests, our kiss a spell that carried us to an intimate world of our own.

"I'll see you tomorrow afternoon," Matthew murmured against my lips as we parted.

"I'll be the one in the veil." Most brides didn't wear them in the sixteenth century, but they were an ancient custom, and Philippe said that no daughter of his was going to the church without one.

"I'd know you anywhere," he replied, flashing me a smile, "veil or no veil."

Matthew's eyes never wavered as Alain escorted me from the room. I felt the touch of them, cool and unblinking, long after I left the hall.

The next day Catrine and Jehanne were so quiet that I slumbered through their usual morning chores. The sun was almost fully up when they finally pulled the bed curtains aside and announced it was time for my bath.

A procession of women with pitchers came to my chamber, chattering like magpies and filling an enormous copper tub that I suspected was normally used to make wine or cider. But the water was piping hot and the copper vessel retained the glorious warmth, so I wasn't inclined to quibble. I groaned in ecstasy and sank beneath the water's surface.

The women left me to soak, and I noticed that my few belongings- books, the notes I'd taken on alchemy and Occitan phrases-had disappeared. So, too, had the long, low chest that stored my clothes. When I asked Catrine, she explained that everything had been moved to milord's chambers on the other side of the chateau.

I was no longer Philippe's putative daughter, but Matthew's wife. My property had been relocated accordingly.

Mindful of their responsibility, Catrine and Jehanne had me out of the tub and dried off by the time the clock struck one. Overseeing their efforts was Marie, Saint-Lucien's best seamstress, who had come to put the finishing touches on her work. The contributions to my wedding gown that had been made by the village's tailor, Monsieur Beaufils, were not acknowledged.

To be fair to Marie, La Robe (I thought of my ensemble only in French, and always in capitals) was spectacular. How she had managed to complete it in such a short period of time was a deeply kept secret, though I suspected that every woman in the vicinity had contributed at least a stitch. Before Philippe announced I was getting married, the plan had been for a relatively simple dress of heavy, slate-colored silk. I had insisted on one pair of sleeves, not two, and a high neckline to keep out the winter drafts. There was no need to trouble with embroidery, I told Marie. I had also declined the outrageous birdcagelike supports that would extend the skirt in every direction.

Marie had used her powers of misunderstanding and creativity to modify my initial design long before Philippe told her where and when the gown would be worn. After that there was no holding the woman back.

"Marie, La Robe est belle," I told her, fingering the heavily embroidered silk. Stylized cornucopias, familiar symbols of abundance and fertility, were stitched all over in gold, black, and rose thread. Rosettes and sprigs of leaves accompanied the flower-filled horns, while bands of embroidery edged both pairs of sleeves. The same bands trimmed the edges of the bodice in a sinuous pattern of scrolls, moons, and stars. At the shoulders a row of square flaps called pickadils hid the laces that tied sleeve to bodice. Despite the elaborate ornamentation, the bodice's elegant curves fit perfectly, and my wishes on the subject of farthingales had at least been honored. The skirts were full, but that was due to the volume of fabric rather than any wire contraption. The only thing I wore under the petticoats was the stuffed doughnut that rested on my h*ps and silk hose.

"It has a strong line. Very simple," Marie assured me, tugging on the bottom of the bodice to help it lie more smoothly.

The women were almost finished with my hair when a knock sounded. Catrine rushed to open the door, turning over a basket of towels on her way.

It was Philippe, looking splendid in a rich brown suit, with Alain standing behind him. Matthew's father stared.

"Diana?" Philippe sounded unsure.

"What? Is something wrong?" I surveyed my gown and anxiously patted at my hair. "We don't have a mirror large enough for me to see-"

"You are beautiful, and the look on Matthew's face when he sees you will tell you this better than any reflection," Philippe said firmly.

"And you have a silver tongue, Philippe de Clermont," I said with a laugh. "What do you need?"

"I came to give you your wedding gifts." Philippe held out his hand, and Alain placed a large velvet bag in his palm. "There was no time to have something made, I'm afraid. These are family pieces."

He tipped the bag's contents into his hand. A stream of light and fire poured out: gold, diamonds, sapphires. I gasped. But there were more treasures hidden inside the velvet, including a rope of pearls, several crescent moons encrusted with opals, and an unusually shaped golden arrowhead, its edges softened with age.

"What are they for?" I asked in wonder.

"For you to wear, of course," Philippe said, chuckling. "The chain was mine, but when I saw Marie's gown, I thought the yellow diamonds and the sapphires would not look out of place. The style is old, and some would say it is too masculine for a bride, but the chain will sit on your shoulders and lie flat. Originally a cross hung from the center, but I thought you might prefer to suspend the arrow instead."

"I don't recognize the flowers." The slender yellow buds reminded me of freesia, and they were interspersed with gold fleurs-de-lis rimmed with sapphires.

"Planta genista. The English call it broom. The Angevins used it as their emblem."

The Plantagenets: the most powerful royal family in English history. The Plantagenets had expanded Westminster Abbey, given in to the barons and signed the Magna Carta, established Parliament, and supported the foundation of Oxford and Cambridge universities. Plantagenet rulers had fought in the Crusades and through the Hundred Years' War with France. And one of them had given this chain to Philippe as a sign of royal favor. Nothing else could account for its splendor.

"Philippe, I can't possibly-" My protests stopped when he passed the other jewels to Catrine and lowered the chain over my head. The woman who gazed back at me from the murky mirror was no more a modern historian than Matthew was a modern scientist. "Oh," I said in amazement.

"Breathtaking," he agreed. His face softened with regret. "I wish Ysabeau could be here to see you like this, and to witness Matthew's happiness."

"I'll tell her everything one day," I promised softly, holding his reflected gaze as Catrine fastened the arrow to the front of the chain and wound the rope of pearls through my hair. "I'll take good care of the jewels tonight, too, and make sure they're returned to you in the morning."

"These belong to you now, Diana, to do with what you will. As does this." Philippe pulled another bag from his belt, this one made from serviceable leather, and handed it to me.

It was heavy. Very heavy.

"The women in this family manage their own finances. Ysabeau insists upon it. All of the coins in here are English or French. They do not hold their value as well as Venetian ducats, but they will raise fewer questions when you spend them. If you need more, you have only to ask Walter or another member of the brotherhood."

When I'd arrived in France, I was entirely dependent on Matthew. In little more than a week, I had learned how to conduct myself, converse, manage a household, and distill spirit of wine. I now had my own property, and Philippe de Clermont had claimed me publicly as his daughter.

"Thank you, for all of this," I said softly. "I didn't think you wanted me as a daughter-in-law."

"Not at first, perhaps. But even old men can change their minds." Philippe's grin flashed. "And I always get what I want in the end."

The women wrapped me in my cloak. At the very last moment, Catrine and Jehanne dropped a filmy piece of silk over my head and attached it to my hair with the opal crescent moons, which had tiny, tenacious claws on the back.

Thomas and etienne, who now saw themselves as my personal champions, ran ahead of us through the chateau and proclaimed our approach at the top of their lungs. Soon we formed a procession, moving through the twilight in the direction of the church. Someone must have been up in the bell tower, and once whoever that was spotted us, the bells began to ring.

I faltered as we came to the church. The entire village had assembled outside its doors, along with the priest. I searched for Matthew and found him standing at the top of the short flight of stairs. Through the transparent veil, I could feel his regard. Like sun and moon, we were unconcerned at this moment with time, distance, and difference. All that mattered was our position relative to each other.

I gathered my skirts and went to him. The brief climb felt endless. Did time misbehave this way for all brides, I wondered, or only for witches?

The priest beamed at me from the door but made no effort to admit us to the church. He was clutching a book in his hands but didn't open it. I frowned in confusion.

"A ll right, mon coeur?" Matthew murmured.

"Aren't we going inside?"

"Marriages take place at the church door to avoid bloody disputes later over whether or not the ceremony took place as reported. We can thank God there isn't a blizzard."

"Commencez!" the priest commanded, nodding at Matthew.

My entire role in the ceremony was to utter eleven words. Matthew was charged with fifteen. Philippe had informed the priest that we would then repeat our vows, in English, because it was important that the bride fully understand what she was promising. This brought the total number of words necessary to make us husband and wife to fifty-two.

"Maintenant!" The priest was shivering and wanted his supper.

"Je, Matthew, donne mon corps a toi, Diana, en loyal mariage." Matthew took my hands in his. "I, Matthew, give my body to you, Diana, in faithful matrimony."

"Et je le reçois," I replied. "And I receive it."

We were halfway through. I took a deep breath and kept going.

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