Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(6)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(6)
Author: Deborah Harkness

"You can't be sure of that," I protested.

"Let history take care of itself, Diana," he said decisively, as if the matter were now closed. But I couldn't let go of the future-or my worries about the effects that our presence in the past might have on it.

"And I still don't think we should let Kit keep that chess piece." The memory of Marlowe triumphantly brandishing the tiny figure of Diana haunted me. She occupied the role of the white queen in Matthew's costly silver chess set and had been the third object I'd used to steer us to the proper place in the past, along with Ysabeau's earring and Matthew's copy of Kit's play Doctor Faustus. Two unfamiliar young daemons, Sophie Norman and her husband Nathaniel Wilson, had unexpectedly delivered it to my aunts' house in Madison just as we were deciding to timewalk.

"Kit won it from me fair and square last night-just as he was supposed to do. At least this time I could see how he managed it. He distracted me with his rook." Matthew dashed off a note with enviable speed before folding the pages into a neat packet. He dropped a molten blob of vermilion across the edges of the letter before pressing his signet ring into it. The golden surface of the ring bore the simple glyph for the planet Jupiter, not the more elaborate emblem that Satu had burned into my flesh. The wax crackled as it cooled. "Somehow my white queen went from Kit to a family of witches in North Carolina. We have to believe that it will do so again, with or without our help."

"Kit didn't know me before. And he doesn't like me."

"All the more reason not to worry. As long as it pains him to look upon the likeness of Diana, he won't be able to part with it. Christopher Marlowe is a masochist of the first order." Matthew took up another letter and sliced it open with his knife.

I surveyed the other items on my table and picked up a pile of coins. A working knowledge of Elizabethan currency had not been covered in my graduate education. Nor had household management, the proper order of donning undergarments, forms of address for servants, or how to make a medicine for Tom's headache. Discussions with Françoise about my wardrobe revealed my ignorance of common names for ordinary colors. "Gooseturd green" was familiar to me, but the peculiar shade of grizzled brown known as "rat hair" was not. My experiences thus far had me planning to throttle the first Tudor historian I met upon my return for gross dereliction of duty.

But there was something compelling about figuring out the details of everyday life, and I quickly forgot my annoyance. I picked through the coins in my palm, looking for a silver penny. It was the cornerstone on which my precarious knowledge was built. The coin was no bigger than my thumbnail, as thin as a wafer, and bore the same profile of Queen Elizabeth as did most of the others. I organized the rest according to relative worth and began an orderly account of them on the next clean page in my book.

"Thank you, Pierre," Matthew murmured, barely glancing up as his servant whisked away the sealed letters and deposited still more correspondence on the surface.

We wrote in companionable silence. Soon finished with my list of coins, I tried to remember what Charles, the household's laconic cook, had taught me about making a caudle-or was it a posset?

A Caudle for pains in the head... Satisfied with the relatively straight line of text, three tiny blots, and the wobbly C, I continued.

Set your water to boil. Beat two egge yolkes. Add white wine and beat some more. When the water boils, set it to cool, then add the wine and egge. Stirre it as it boils again, adding saffron and honey.

The resulting mixture had been revolting-violently yellow with the consistency of runny cottage cheese-but Tom had slurped it down without complaint. Later, when I'd asked Charles for the proper proportion of honey to wine, he'd thrown up his hands in disgust at my ignorance and stalked away without a word.

Living in the past had always been my secret desire, but it was far more difficult than I'd ever imagined. I sighed.

"You'll need more than that book to feel at home here." Matthew's eyes didn't leave his correspondence. "You should have a room of your own, too. Why don't you take this one? It's bright enough to serve as a library. Or you could turn it into an alchemical laboratory-although you might want somewhere more private if you're planning to turn lead into gold. There's a room by the kitchen that might do."

"The kitchen may not be ideal. Charles doesn't approve of me," I replied.

"He doesn't approve of anyone. Neither does Françoise-except for Charles, of course, whom she venerates as a misunderstood saint despite his fondness for drink."

Sturdy feet tromped down the hall. The disapproving Françoise appeared at the threshold. "There are men here for Mistress Roydon," she announced, stepping aside to reveal a gray-haired septuagenarian with callused hands and a much younger man who shifted from one foot to the other. Neither of these men was a creature.

"Somers." Matthew frowned. "And is that young Joseph Bidwell?"

"Aye, Master Roydon." The younger man pulled his cap from his head.

"Mistress Roydon will allow you to take her measurements now," Françoise said.

"Measurements?" The look Matthew directed to me and Françoise demanded an answer-quickly.

"Shoes. Gloves. For madame's wardrobe," Françoise said. Unlike petticoats, shoes were not one-size-fits-most.

"I asked Françoise to send for them," I explained, hoping to gain Matthew's cooperation. Somers's eyes widened at my strange accent before his face returned to an expression of neutral deference.

"My wife's journey was unexpectedly difficult," Matthew said smoothly, coming to stand by my side, "and her belongings were lost. Regrettably, Bidwell, we have no shoes for you to copy." He rested a warning hand on my shoulder, hoping to silence any further commentary.

"May I, Mistress Roydon?" Bidwell asked, lowering himself until his fingers hovered over the ties that secured a pair of ill-fitting shoes to my feet. The borrowed footwear was a giveaway that I wasn't who I was pretending to be.

"Please," Matthew replied before I could respond. Françoise gave me a sympathetic look. She knew what it was like to be silenced by Matthew Roydon.

The young man started when he came into contact with a warm foot and its frequent pulse. Clearly he expected a colder, less lively extremity.

"About your business," Matthew said sharply.

"Sir. My lord. Master Roydon." The young man blurted out most available titles except for "Your Majesty" and "Prince of Darkness." These were implied nonetheless.

"Where's your father, lad?" Matthew's voice softened.

"Sick abed these four days past, Master Roydon." Bidwell drew a piece of felt from a bag tied around his waist and placed each of my feet on it, tracing the outlines with a stick of charcoal. He made some notations on the felt and, quickly finished, lowered my foot gently to the floor. Bidwell pulled out a curious book made from squares of colored hide sewn together with leather thongs and offered it to me.

"What colors are popular, Master Bidwell?" I asked, waving the leather samples away. I needed advice, not a multiple-choice test.

"Ladies who are going to court are having white stamped with gold or silver."

"We're not going to court," Matthew said swiftly.

"Black then, and a nice tawny." Bidwell held up for approval a patch of leather the color of caramel. Matthew gave it before I could say a word.

Then it was the older man's turn. He, too, was surprised when he took my hand and felt the calluses on my palms. Well-bred ladies who married men such as Matthew didn't row boats. Somers took in the lump on my middle finger. Ladies didn't have bumps from holding pens too tightly either. He slid a buttery-soft glove that was much too large onto my right hand. A needle charged with coarse thread was tucked into the hem.

"Does your father have everything he needs, Bidwell?" Matthew asked the shoemaker.

"Yes, thank you, Master Roydon," Bidwell replied with a bob of his head.

"Charles will send him custard and venison." Matthew's gray eyes flickered over the young man's thin frame. "Some wine, too."

"Master Bidwell will be grateful for your kindness," Somers said, his fingers drawing the thread through the leather so that the glove fit snugly.

"Is anyone else ill?" Matthew asked.

"Rafe Meadows's girl was sick with a terrible fever. We feared for Old Edward, but he is only afflicted with an ague," Somers replied tersely.

"I trust Meadows's daughter has recovered."

"No." Somers snapped the thread. "They buried her three days ago, God rest her soul."

"Amen," said everyone in the room. Françoise lifted her eyebrows and jerked her head in Somers's direction. Belatedly I joined in.

Their business concluded and the shoes and gloves promised for later in the week, both men bowed and departed. Françoise turned to follow them out, but Matthew stopped her.

"No more appointments for Diana." There was no mistaking the seriousness in his tone. "See to it that Edward Camberwell has a nurse to look after him and sufficient food and drink."

Françoise curtsied in acquiescence and departed with another sympathetic glance.

"I'm afraid the men from the village know I don't belong here." I drew a shaking hand across my forehead. "My vowels are a problem. And my sentences go down when they should go up. When are you supposed to say 'amen'? Somebody needs to teach me how to pray, Matthew. I have to start somewhere, and-"

"Slow down," he said, sliding his hands around my corseted waist. Even through several layers of clothing, his touch was soothing. "This isn't an Oxford viva, nor are you making your stage debut. Cramming information and rehearsing your lines isn't going to help. You should have asked me before you summoned Bidwell and Somers."

"How can you pretend to be someone new, someone else, over and over again?" I wondered. Matthew had done this countless times over the centuries as he pretended to die only to reemerge in a different country, speaking a different language, known by a different name.

"The first trick is to stop pretending." My confusion must have been evident, and he continued. "Remember what I told you in Oxford. You can't live a lie, whether it's masquerading as a human when you're really a witch or trying to pass as Elizabethan when you're from the twenty-first century. This is your life for now. Try not to think of it as a role."

"But my accent, the way that I walk . . ." Even I had noticed the length of my steps relative to that of the other women in the house, but Kit's open mockery of my masculine stride had brought the point home.

"You'll adjust. Meanwhile people will talk. But no one's opinion in Woodstock matters. Soon you will be familiar and the gossip will stop."

I looked at him doubtfully. "You don't know much about gossip, do you?"

"Enough to know you are simply this week's curiosity." He glanced at my book, taking in the blotches and indecisive script. "You're holding your pen too tightly. That's why the point keeps breaking and the ink won't flow. You're holding on to your new life too tightly as well."

"I never thought it would be so difficult."

"You're a fast learner, and so long as you're safely at the Old Lodge, you're among friends. But no more visitors for the time being. Now, what have you been writing?"

"My name, mostly."

Matthew flipped a few pages in my book, examining what I'd recorded. One eyebrow lifted. "You've been preparing for your economics and culinary examinations, too. Why don't you write about what's happening here at the house instead?"

"Because I need to know how to manage in the sixteenth century. Of course, a diary might be useful, too." I considered the possibility. It would certainly help me sort out my still-muddled sense of time. "I shouldn't use full names. People in 1590 use initials to save paper and ink. And nobody reflects on thoughts or emotions. They record the weather and the phases of the moon."

"Top marks on sixteenth-century English record keeping," said Matthew with a laugh.

"Do women write down the same things as men?"

He took my chin in his fingers. "You're impossible. Stop worrying about what other women do. Be your own extraordinary self." When I nodded, he kissed me before returning to his table.

Holding the pen as loosely as possible, I began a fresh page. I decided to use astrological symbols for the days of the week and record the weather as well as a few cryptic notes about life at the Old Lodge. That way no one reading them in a future time would find anything out of the ordinary. Or so I hoped.

31 October 1590 rain, clearing

On this day I was introduced to my husband's good friend CM

1 November 1590 cold and dry

In the early hours of the morning I made the acquaintance of GC. After sunrise, T H,

HP, WR arrived, all friends of my husband. The moon was full. Some future scholar might suspect that these initials referred to the School of Night, especially given the name Roydon on the first page, but there would be no way to prove it. Besides, these days few scholars were interested in this group of intellectuals. Educated in the finest Renaissance style, the members of the School of Night were able to move between ancient and modern languages with alarming speed. All of them knew Aristotle backward and forward. And when Kit, Walter, and Matthew began talking politics, their encyclopedic command of history and geography made it nearly impossible for anyone else to keep up. Occasionally George and Tom managed to squeak in an opinion, but Henry's stammer and slight deafness made his full participation in the intricate discussions impossible. He spent most of the time quietly observing the others with a shy deference that was endearing, considering that the earl outranked everyone in the room. If there weren't so many of them, I might be able to keep up, too.

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