Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(3)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(3)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"She is not only a witch but a fileuse de temps as well?" Françoise asked Matthew quietly. The unfamiliar term-"time spinner"-conjured up images of the many different-colored threads we'd followed to reach this particular past.

"She is." Matthew nodded, his attention focused on me while he sipped at his cup.

"But if she has come from another time, that means . . ." Françoise began, wide-eyed. Then her expression became thoughtful. Matthew must sound and behave differently.

She suspects that this is not the same Matthew, I thought, alarmed.

"It is enough for us to know that she is under milord's protection," Pierre said roughly, a clear warning in his tone. He handed Matthew a dagger. "What it means is not important."

"It means I love her, and she loves me in return." Matthew looked at his servant intently. "No matter what I say to others, that is the truth. Understood?"

"Yes," replied Pierre, though his tone suggested quite the opposite.

Matthew shot an inquiring look at Françoise, who pursed her lips and nodded grudgingly.

She returned her attention to getting me ready, wrapping me in a thick linen towel. Françoise had to have noticed the other marks on my body, those I had received over the course of that one interminable day with the witch Satu, as well as my other, later scars. Françoise asked no further questions, however, but sat me in a chair next to the fire while she ran a comb through my hair.

"And did this insult happen after you declared your love for the witch, milord?" Françoise asked.

"Yes." Matthew buckled the dagger around his waist.

"It was not a manjasang, then, who marked her," Pierre murmured. He used the old Occitan word for vampire-"blood eater." "None would risk the anger of the de Clermonts."

"No, it was another witch." Even though I was shielded from the cold air, the admission made me shiver.

"Two manjasang stood by and let it happen, though," Matthew said grimly. "And they will pay for it."

"What's done is done." I had no wish to start a feud among vampires. We had enough challenges facing us.

"If milord had accepted you as his wife when the witch took you, then it is not done." Françoise's swift fingers wove my hair into tight braids. She wound them around my head and pinned them in place. "Your name might be Roydon in this godforsaken country where there is no loyalty to speak of, but we will not forget that you are a de Clermont."

Matthew's mother had warned me that the de Clermonts were a pack. In the twenty-first century, I had chafed under the obligations and restrictions that came with membership. In 1590, however, my magic was unpredictable, my knowledge of witchcraft almost nonexistent, and my earliest known ancestor hadn't yet been born. Here I had nothing to rely on but my own wits and Matthew.

"Our intentions to each other were clear then. But I want no trouble now." I looked down at Ysabeau's ring and felt the band with my thumb. My hope that we could blend seamlessly into the past now seemed unlikely as well as naive. I looked around me. "And this . . ."

"We're here for only two reasons, Diana: to find you a teacher and to locate that alchemical manuscript if we can." It was the mysterious manuscript called Ashmole 782 that had brought us together in the first place. In the twenty-first century, it had been safely buried among the millions of books in Oxford's Bodleian Library. When I'd filled out the call slip, I'd had no idea that the simple action would unlock an intricate spell that bound the manuscript to the shelves, or that the same spell would reactivate the moment I returned it. I was also ignorant of the many secrets about witches, vampires, and daemons its pages were rumored to reveal. Matthew had thought it would be wiser to locate Ashmole 782 in the past than to try to unlock the spell for a second time in the modern world.

"Until we go back, this will be your home," he continued, trying to reassure me.

The room's solid furnishings were familiar from museums and auction catalogs, but the Old Lodge would never feel like home. I fingered the thick linen of the towel-so different from the faded terry-cloth sets that Sarah and Em owned, all worn thin from too many washes. Voices in another room lilted and swayed in a rhythm that no modern person, historian or not, could have anticipated. But the past was our only option. Other vampires had made that clear during our final days in Madison, when they'd hunted us down and nearly killed Matthew. If the rest of our plan was going to work, passing as a proper Elizabethan woman had to be my first priority.

"'O brave new world.'" It was a gross historical violation to quote from Shakespeare's Tempest two decades before it was written, but this had been a difficult morning.

""Tis new to thee,'" Matthew responded. "Are you ready to meet your trouble, then?"

"Of course. Let's get me dressed." I squared my shoulders and rose from the chair. "How does one say hello to an earl?"

Chapter Two

My concern over proper etiquette was unnecessary. Titles and forms of address weren't important when the earl in question was a gentle giant named Henry Percy.

Françoise, to whom propriety mattered, clucked and fussed while she finished dressing me in scavenged apparel: someone else's petticoats; quilted stays to confine my athletic figure into a more traditionally feminine shape; an embroidered smock that smelled of lavender and cedar, with a high, ruffled neck; a black, bell-shaped skirt made of velvet; and Pierre's best jacket, the only tailored article of clothing that was remotely my size. Try though she might, Françoise couldn't button this last item over my br**sts. I held my breath, tucked in my stomach, and hoped for a miracle as she pulled the corset's laces tight, but nothing short of divine intervention was going to give me a sylphlike silhouette.

I asked Françoise a number of questions during the complicated process. Portraits of the period had led me to expect an unwieldy birdcage called a farthingale that would hold my skirts out at the hips, but Françoise explained that these were for more formal occasions. Instead she tied a stuffed cloth form shaped like a doughnut around my waist beneath my skirts. The only positive thing to say about it was that it held the layers of fabric away from my legs, enabling me to walk without too much difficulty-provided there was no furniture in the way and my destination could be reached if I moved in a straight line. But I would be expected to curtsy, too. Françoise quickly taught me how to do so while explaining how Henry Percy's various titles worked-he was "Lord Northumberland" even though his last name was Percy and he was an earl.

But I had no chance to use any of this newly acquired knowledge. As soon as Matthew and I entered the great hall, a lanky young man in soft brown leather traveling clothes spattered with mud jumped up to greet us. His broad face was enlivened with an inquisitive look that lifted his heavy, ash-colored eyebrows toward a forehead with a pronounced widow's peak.

"Hal." Matthew smiled with the indulgent familiarity of an older brother. But the earl ignored his old friend and moved in my direction instead.

"M-m-mistress Roydon." The earl's deep bass was toneless, with hardly a trace of inflection or accent. Before coming down, Matthew had explained that Henry was slightly deaf and had stammered since childhood. He was, however, adept at lip-reading. Here, at last, was someone I could talk to without feeling self-conscious.

"Upstaged by Kit again, I see," Matthew said with a rueful smile. "I had hoped to tell you myself."

"What does it matter who shares such happy news?" Lord Northumberland bowed. "I thank you for your hospitality, mistress, and apologize for greeting you in this state. It is good of you to suffer your husband's friends so soon. We should have left immediately once we learned of your arrival. The inn would be more than adequate."

"You are most welcome here, my lord." This was the moment to curtsy, but my heavy black skirts weren't easy to manage and the corset was laced so tightly I couldn't bend at the waist. I arranged my legs in an appropriately reverential position but teetered as I bent my knees. A large, bluntfingered hand shot out to steady me.

"Just Henry, mistress. Everyone else calls me Hal, so my given name is considered quite formal." Like many who are hard of hearing, the earl kept his voice deliberately soft. He released me and turned his attention to Matthew. "Why no beard, Matt? Have you been ill?"

"A touch of ague, nothing more. Marriage has cured me. Where are the rest of them?" Matthew glanced around for Kit, George, and Tom.

The Old Lodge's great hall looked very different in daylight. I had seen it only at night, but this morning the heavy paneling turned out to be shutters, all of which were thrown open. It gave the space an airy feeling, despite the monstrous fireplace on the far wall. It was decorated with bits and pieces of medieval stonework, no doubt rescued by Matthew from the rubble of the abbey that once stood here-the haunting face of a saint, a coat of arms, a Gothic quatrefoil.

"Diana?" Matthew's amused voice interrupted my examination of the room and its contents. "The others are in the parlor, reading and playing cards. Hal didn't feel it was right to join them until he had been invited to stay by the lady of the house."

"The earl must stay, of course, and we can join your friends immediately." My stomach rumbled.

"Or we could get you something to eat," he suggested, eyes twinkling. Now that I had met Henry Percy without mishap, Matthew was beginning to relax. "Has anyone fed you, Hal?"

"Pierre and Françoise have been attentive as ever," he reassured us. "Of course, if Mistress Roydon will join me . . ." The earl's voice trailed off, and his stomach gurgled with mine. The man was as tall as a giraffe. It must take huge quantities of food to keep his body fueled.

"I, too, am fond of a large breakfast, my lord," I said with a laugh.

"Henry," the earl corrected me gently, his grin showing off the dimple in his chin.

"Then you must call me Diana. I cannot call the Earl of Northumberland by his first name if he keeps referring to me as 'Mistress Roydon.'" Françoise had been insistent on the need to honor the earl's high rank.

"Very well, Diana," Henry said, extending his arm.

He led me across a drafty corridor and into a cozy room with low ceilings. It was snug and inviting, with only a single array of south-facing windows. In spite of its relatively small size, three tables had been wedged into the room, along with stools and benches. A low hum of activity, punctuated by a rattle of pots and pans, told me we were near the kitchens. Someone had tacked a page from an almanac on the wall and a map lay on the central table, one corner held down with a candlestick, the other by a shallow pewter dish filled with fruit. The arrangement looked like a Dutch still life, with its homely detail. I stopped short, dizzied by the scent.

"The quinces." My fingers reached out to touch them. They looked just as they had in my mind's eye back in Madison when Matthew had described the Old Lodge.

Henry seemed puzzled by my reaction to an ordinary dish of fruit but was too well bred to comment. We settled ourselves at the table, and a servant added fresh bread along with a platter of grapes and a bowl of apples to the still life before us. It was comforting to see such familiar fare. Henry helped himself, and I followed his example, carefully noting which foods he selected and how much of them he consumed. It was always the little differences that gave strangers away, and I wanted to appear as ordinary as possible. While we filled our plates, Matthew poured himself a glass of wine.

Throughout our meal Henry behaved with unfailing courtesy. He never asked me anything personal, nor did he pry into Matthew's affairs. Instead he kept us laughing with tales of his dogs, his estates, and his martinet of a mother, all the while providing a steady supply of toasted bread from the fire. He was just beginning an account of moving house in London when a clatter arose in the courtyard. The earl, whose back was to the door, didn't notice.

"She is impossible! You all warned me, but I didn't believe anyone could be so ungrateful. After all the riches I've poured into her coffers, the least she could do was- Oh." Our new guest's broad shoulders filled the doorway, one of them swathed in a cloak as dark as the hair that curled around his splendid feathered hat. "Matthew. Are you ill?"

Henry turned with surprise. "Good day, Walter. Why aren't you at court?"

I tried to swallow a morsel of toast. Our new arrival was almost certainly the missing member of Matthew's School of Night, Sir Walter Raleigh.

"Cast out of paradise for want of a position, Hal. And who is this?" Piercing blue eyes settled on me, and teeth gleamed from his dark beard. "Henry Percy, you sly imp. Kit told me you were intent on bedding the fair Arabella. If I'd known your tastes ran to something more mature than a girl of fifteen, I would have yoked you to a lusty widow long ago."

Mature? Widow? I had just turned thirty-three.

"Her charms have induced you to stay home from church this Sunday. We must thank the lady for getting you off your knees and onto a horse, where you belong," Raleigh continued, his accent as thick as Devonshire cream.

The Earl of Northumberland rested his toasting fork on the hearth and considered his friend. He shook his head and returned to his work. "Go out, come in again, and ask Matt for his news. And look contrite when you do it."

"No." Walter stared at Matthew, openmouthed. "She's yours?"

"With the ring to prove it." Matthew kicked a stool from under the table with one long, booted leg. "Sit down, Walter, and have some ale."

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Drawn into Love (Fluke My Life #4)
» Nightchaser (Endeavor #1)
» Right Where I Want You
» Tangled Like Us (Like Us #4)
» Be the Girl
» Playing for Keeps (Heartbreaker Bay #7)
» If I Only Knew
» Vengeance Road (Torpedo Ink #2)
» 99 Percent Mine
» Free (Chaos #6)
» Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3
» Moonlight Scandals (de Vincent #3)