Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(4)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(4)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"You swore you would never wed," Walter said, clearly confused.

"It took some persuasion."

"I expect it did." Walter Raleigh's appraising glance settled on me once more. "'Tis a pity she is wasted on a cold-blooded creature. I wouldn't have delayed for an instant."

"Diana knows my nature and doesn't mind my 'coldness,' as you put it. Besides, it was she who needed persuading. I fell in love with her at first glance," said Matthew.

Walter snorted in response.

"Don't be so cynical, old friend. Cupid may yet catch you." Matthew's gray eyes lit up with the mischief born from certain knowledge of Raleigh's future.

"Cupid will have to wait to turn his arrows on me. I'm entirely occupied at present fending off the unfriendly advances of the queen and the admiral." Walter tossed his hat onto a nearby table, where it slid over the shiny surface of a backgammon board, disturbing the game in progress. He groaned and sat next to Henry. "Everyone wants a bit of my hide, it seems, but no one will give me a speck of preferment while this business of the colony hangs over my head. The idea for this year's anniversary celebration was mine, yet that woman put Cumberland in charge of the ceremonies." His temper rose again.

"Still no news from Roanoke?" Henry inquired gently, handing Walter a cup of thick, brown ale. My stomach lurched at the mention of Raleigh's doomed venture in the New World. It was the first time anyone had wondered aloud about the outcome of a future event, but it would not be the last.

"White arrived back at Plymouth last week, driven home by foul weather. He had to abandon the search for his daughter and granddaughter." Walter took a long draft of ale and stared into space. "Christ knows what happened to them all."

"Come spring, you will return and find them." Henry sounded sure, but Matthew and I knew that the missing Roanoke colonists would never be found and Raleigh would never again set foot on the soil of North Carolina.

"I pray you are right, Hal. But enough of my troubles. What part of the country are your people from, Mistress Roydon?"

"Cambridge," I said softly, keeping my response brief and as truthful as possible. The town was in Massachusetts, not England, but if I started making things up now, I'd never keep my stories straight.

"So you are a scholar's daughter. Or perhaps your father was a theologian? Matt would be pleased to have someone to talk to about matters of faith. With the exception of Hal, his friends are hopeless when it comes to doctrine." Walter sipped his ale and waited.

"Diana's father died when she was quite young." Matthew took my hand.

"I am sorry for you, Diana. The loss of a f-f-father is a terrible blow," Henry murmured.

"And your first husband, did he leave you with sons and daughters for comfort?" asked Walter, a trace of sympathy creeping into his voice.

Here and now a woman my age would have been married before and have had a brood of three or four children. I shook my head. "No."

Walter frowned, but before he could pursue the matter further, Kit arrived, with George and Tom in tow.

"At last. Talk sense into him, Walter. Matthew cannot keep playing Odysseus to her Circe." Kit grabbed the goblet sitting in front of Henry. "Good day, Hal."

"Talk sense into whom?" Walter asked testily.

"Matt, of course. That woman is a witch. And there's something not quite right about her." Kit's eyes narrowed. "She's hiding something."

"A witch," Walter repeated carefully.

A servant carrying an armful of logs froze in the doorway.

"As I said," Kit affirmed with a nod. "Tom and I recognized the signs straightaway."

The maid dumped the logs in the waiting basket and scurried off.

"For a maker of plays, Kit, you have a lamentable sense of time and place." Walter's blue eyes turned to Matthew. "Shall we go elsewhere to discuss the matter, or is this merely one of Kit's idle fancies? If it is the latter, I would like to stay where it is warm and finish my ale." The two men studied each other. When Matthew's expression didn't waver, Walter cursed under his breath. Pierre appeared, as if on cue.

"There is a fire in the parlor, milord," the vampire told Matthew, "and wine and food are laid out for your guests. You will not be disturbed."

The parlor was neither as cozy as the room where we'd taken our breakfast nor as imposing as the great hall. The abundance of carved armchairs, rich tapestries, and ornately framed paintings suggested that its primary purpose was to entertain the house's most important guests. A splendid rendering of St. Jerome and his lion by Holbein hung by the fireplace. It was unfamiliar to me, as was the Holbein portrait next to it of a piggy-eyed Henry VIII holding a book and a pair of spectacles and looking pensively at the viewer, the table before him strewn with precious objects. Henry's daughter, the first and current Queen Elizabeth, stared at him with hauteur from across the room. Their tense standoff did nothing to lighten the mood as we took our seats. Matthew propped himself up by the fire with his arms crossed over his chest, looking every bit as formidable as the Tudors on the walls.

"Are you still going to tell them the truth?" I whispered to him.

"It is generally easier that way, mistress," Raleigh said sharply, "not to mention more fitting among friends."

"You forget yourself, Walter," Matthew warned, anger flaring.

"Forget myself! This from someone who has taken up with a witch?" Walter had no trouble keeping pace with Matthew when it came to irritation. And there was a note of real fear in his voice as well.

"She is my wife," Matthew retorted. He rubbed his hand over his hair. "As for her being a witch, we are all in this room vilified for something, be it real or imaginary."

"But to wed her-whatever were you thinking?" Walter asked numbly.

"That I loved her," Matthew said. Kit rolled his eyes and poured a fresh cup of wine from a silver pitcher. My dreams of sitting with him by a cozy fire discussing magic and literature faded further in the harsh light of this November morning. I had been in 1590 for less than twenty-four hours, but I was already heartily sick of Christopher Marlowe.

At Matthew's response the room fell silent while he and Walter studied each other. With Kit, Matthew was indulgent and a bit exasperated. George and Tom brought out his patience and Henry his brotherly affection. But Raleigh was Matthew's equal-in intelligence, power, perhaps even in ruthlessness-which meant that Walter's was the only opinion that mattered. They had a wary respect for each other, like two wolves determining who had the strength to lead their pack.

"So it's like that," Walter said slowly, acceding to Matthew's authority.

"It is." Matthew planted his feet more evenly on the hearth.

"You keep too many secrets and have too many enemies to take a wife. And yet you've done so anyway." Walter looked amazed. "Other men have accused you of relying overmuch on your own subtlety, but I never agreed with them until now. Very well, Matthew. If you are so cunning, tell us what to say when questions are raised."

Kit's cup slammed onto the table, red wine sloshing over his hand. "You cannot expect us to-"

"Quiet." Walter shot a furious glance at Marlowe. "Given the lies we tell on your behalf, I'm surprised you would dare to object. Go on, Matthew."

"Thank you, Walter. You are the only five men in the kingdom who might listen to my tale and not think me mad." Matthew raked his hands through his hair. "Do you recall when we spoke last of Giordano Bruno's ideas about an infinite number of worlds, unlimited by time or space?"

The men exchanged glances.

"I am not sure," Henry began delicately, "that we understand your meaning."

"Diana is from the New World." Matthew paused, which gave Marlowe the opportunity to look triumphantly about the room. "From the New World to come."

In the silence that followed, all eyes swiveled in my direction.

"She said she was from Cambridge," said Walter blankly.

"Not that Cambridge. My Cambridge is in Massachusetts." My voice creaked from stress and disuse. I cleared my throat. "The colony will exist north of Roanoke in another forty years."

A din of exclamations rose, and questions came at me from all directions. Harriot reached over and hesitantly touched my shoulder. When his finger met solid flesh, he withdrew it in wonder.

"I have heard about creatures who could bend time to their will. This is a marvelous day, is it not, Kit? Did you ever think to know a time spinner? We must be careful around her, of course, or we might get entangled in her web and lose our way." Harriot's face was wistful, as if he might enjoy being caught up in another world.

"And what brings you here, Mistress Roydon?" Walter's deep voice cut through the chatter.

"Diana's father was a scholar," Matthew replied for me. There were murmurs of interest, quelled by Walter's upraised hand. "Her mother, too. Both were witches and died under mysterious circumstances."

"That is something we share, then, D-D-Diana," Henry said with a shudder. Before I could ask the earl what he meant, Walter waved Matthew on.

"As a result her education as a witch was . . . overlooked," Matthew continued.

"It is easy to prey on such a witch." Tom frowned. "Why, in this New World to come, is more care not taken with such a creature?"

"My magic, and my family's long history with it, meant nothing to me. You must understand what it is like to want to go beyond the restrictions of your birth." I looked at Kit, the shoemaker's son, hoping for agreement if not sympathy, but he turned away.

"Ignorance is an unforgivable sin." Kit fussed with a bit of red silk that was peeking out of one of the dozens of jagged slashes cut into his black doublet.

"So is disloyalty," said Walter. "Go on, Matthew."

"Diana may not have been trained in the craft of a witch, but she is far from ignorant. She is a scholar, too," Matthew said proudly, "with a passion for alchemy."

"Lady alchemists are nothing but kitchen philosophers," Kit sniffed, "more interested in improving their complexions than understanding the secrets of nature."

"I study alchemy in the library-not the kitchen," I snapped, forgetting to modulate my tone or accent. Kit's eyes widened. "Then I teach students about the subject at a university."

"They will let women teach at the university?" George said, fascinated and repelled in equal measure.

"Matriculate, too," Matthew murmured, pulling on the tip of his nose apologetically. "Diana went to Oxford."

"That must have improved attendance at lectures," Walter commented drily. "Had women been allowed at Oriel, even I might have taken another degree. And are lady scholars under attack in this future colony somewhere north of Roanoke?" It was a reasonable conclusion to have drawn from Matthew's story thus far.

"Not all of them, no. But Diana found a lost book at the university." The members of the School of Night pitched forward in their seats. Lost books were of far more interest to this group than were ignorant witches and lady scholars. "It contains secret information about the world of creatures."

"The Book of Mysteries that is supposed to tell of our creation?" Kit looked amazed. "You've never been interested in those fables before, Matthew. In fact, you've dismissed them as superstition."

"I believe in them now, Kit. Diana's discovery brought enemies to her door."

"And you were with her. So her enemies lifted the latch and entered." Walter shook his head.

"Why did Matthew's regard effect such dire consequences?" George asked. His fingers searched out the black grosgrain ribbon that tied his spectacles to the fastenings on his doublet. The doublet was fashionably puffed out over his stomach and the stuffing rustled like a bag of oatmeal whenever he moved. George lifted the round frames to his face and examined me as if I were an interesting new object of study.

"Because witches and wearhs are forbidden to marry," Kit said promptly. I'd never heard the word wearh before, with its whistling w at the beginning and guttural sound at the end.

"So are daemons and wearhs." Walter clamped a warning hand on Kit's shoulder.

"Really?" George blinked at Matthew, then at me. "Does the queen forbid such a match?"

"It is an ancient covenant between creatures that none dares to disobey." Tom sounded frightened. "Those who do so are called to account by the Congregation and punished."

Only vampires as old as Matthew could remember a time before the covenant had established how creatures were to behave with one another and interact with the humans who surrounded us. "No fraternizing between otherworldly species" was the most important rule, and the Congregation policed the boundaries. Our talents-creativity, strength, supernatural power-were impossible to ignore in mixed groups. It was as if the power of a witch highlighted the creative energy of any nearby daemons, and the genius of a daemon made a vampire's beauty more striking. As for our relationships with humans, we were supposed to keep a low profile and steer clear of politics and religion.

Just this morning Matthew had insisted there were too many other problems facing the Congregation in the sixteenth century-religious war, the burning of heretics, and the popular hunger for the strange and bizarre newly fed by the technology of the printing press-for its members to bother with something so trivial as a witch and a vampire who had fallen in love. Given the bewildering and dangerous events that had taken place since I'd met Matthew in late September, I had found this difficult to believe.

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