Home > Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(7)

Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)(7)
Author: Deborah Harkness

As for Matthew, gone was the thoughtful scientist brooding over his test results and worrying about the future of the species. I'd fallen in love with that Matthew but found myself doing so all over again with this sixteenth-century version, charmed by every peal of his laughter and each quick rejoinder he made when battles broke out over some fine point of philosophy. Matthew shared jokes over dinner and hummed songs in the corridors. He wrestled with his dogs by the fire in the bedroom-two enormous, shaggy mastiffs named Anaximander and Pericles. In modern Oxford or France, Matthew had always seemed slightly sad. But he was happy here in Woodstock, even when I caught him looking at his friends as though he couldn't quite believe they were real.

"Did you realize how much you missed them?" I asked, unable to refrain from interrupting his work.

"Vampires can't brood over those we leave behind," he replied. "We'd go mad. I have had more to remember them by than is usually the case: their words, their portraits. You forget the little things, though-a quirk of expression, the sound of their laughter."

"My father kept caramels in his pocket," I whispered. "I had no memory of them, until La Pierre." When I shut my eyes, I could still smell the tiny candies and hear the rustle of the cellophane against the soft broadcloth of his shirts.

"And you wouldn't give up that knowledge now," Matthew said gently, "not even to be rid of the pain."

He took up another letter, his pen scratching against the page. The tight look of concentration returned to his face, along with a small crease over the bridge of his nose. I imitated the angle at which he held the quill, the length of time that elapsed before he dipped it in the ink. It was indeed easier to write when you didn't hold the pen in a death grip. I poised the pen over the paper and prepared to write more.

Today was the feast of All Souls, the traditional day to remember the dead. Everyone in the house was remarking upon the thick frost that iced the leaves in the garden. Tomorrow would be even colder, Pierre promised.

2 November 1590 frost Measured for shoes and gloves. Françoise sewing.

Françoise was making me a cloak to keep the chill away, and a warm suit of clothes for the wintry weather ahead. She had been in the attics all morning, sorting through Louisa de Clermont's abandoned wardrobe. Matthew's sister's gowns were sixty years out of date, with their square necklines and bell-shaped sleeves, but Françoise was altering them to better fit what Walter and George insisted was the current style as well as my less statuesque frame. She wasn't pleased to be ripping apart the seams of one particularly splendid black-and-silver garment, but Matthew had insisted. With the School of Night in residence, I needed formal clothes as well as more practical outfits.

"But Lady Louisa was wed in that gown, my lord," Françoise protested. "Yes, to an eighty-five-year-old with no living offspring, a bad heart, and numerous profitable estates. I believe the thing has more than repaid the family's investment in it," Matthew replied. "It will do for Diana until you can make her something better."

My book couldn't refer to that conversation, of course. Instead I'd chosen all my words carefully so that they would mean nothing to anyone else even though they conjured vivid images of particular people, sounds, and conversations for me. If this book survived, a future reader would find these tiny snippets of my life sterile and dry. Historians pored over documents like this, hoping in vain to see the rich, complex life hidden behind the simple lines of text.

Matthew swore under his breath. I was not the only one in this house hiding something. My husband received many letters today and gave me this booke to keep my memories.

As I lifted my pen to replenish its ink, Henry and Tom entered the room looking for Matthew. My third eye blinked open, surprising me with sudden awareness. Since we had arrived, my other nascent powers-witchfire, witchwater, and witchwind-had been oddly absent. With the unexpected extra perception offered by my witch's third eye, I could discern not only the black-red intensity of the atmosphere around Matthew but also Tom's silvery light and Henry's barely perceptible green-black shimmer, each as individual as a fingerprint.

Thinking back on the threads of blue and amber that I'd seen in the corner of the Old Lodge, I wondered what the disappearance of some powers and the emergence of others might signify. There had been the episode this morning, too. . . .

Something in the corner had caught my eye, another glimmer of amber shot through with hints of blue. There was an echo, something so quiet it was more felt than heard. When I'd turned my head to locate its source, the sensation faded. Strands of color and light pulsed in my peripheral vision, as if time were beckoning me to return home.

Ever since my first timewalk in Madison, when I'd traveled a brief span of minutes, I'd thought of time as a substance made of threads of light and color. With enough concentration you could focus on a single thread and follow it to its source. Now, after walking through several centuries, I knew that apparent simplicity masked the knots of possibility that tied an unimaginable number of pasts to a million presents and untold potential futures. Isaac Newton had believed that time was an essential force of nature that couldn't be controlled. After fighting our way back to 1590, I was prepared to agree with him.

"Diana? Are you all right?" Matthew's insistent voice broke through my reveries. His friends looked at me with concern.

"Fine," I said automatically.

"You're not fine." He tossed the quill onto the table. "Your scent has changed. I think your magic might be changing, too. Kit is right. We must find you a witch as quickly as possible."

"It's too soon to bring in a witch," I protested. "It's important that I be able to look and sound as if I belong."

"Another witch will know you're a timewalker," he said dismissively. "She'll make allowances. Or is there something else?"

I shook my head, unwilling to meet his eyes.

Matthew hadn't needed to see time unwinding in the corner to sense that something was out of joint. If he already suspected that there was more going on with my magic than I was willing to reveal, there would be no way for me to conceal my secrets from any witch who might soon come to call.

Chapter Four

The bells of St. Mary's Church sounded the hour, faint echoes of their music lingering long after the peals ceased. Quince, rosemary, and lavender scented the air. I was perched on an uncomfortable wooden chair in a confining array of smocks, petticoats, sleeves, skirts, and a tightly laced bodice. My career-oriented, twenty-first-century life faded further with each restricted breath. I stared out into the murky daylight, where cold rain pinged against the panes of glass in the leaded windows.

"Elle est ici," Pierre announced, his glance flicking in my direction. "The witch is here to see madame."

"At last," Matthew said. His friends had been eager to help him find the creature. Their suggestions illuminated a collective disregard for women, witches, and everyone who lacked a university education. Henry thought London might provide the most fertile ground for the search, but Walter assured him that it would be impossible to conceal me from superstitious neighbors in the crowded city. George wondered if the scholars of Oxford might be persuaded to lend their expertise, since they at least had proper intellectual credentials. Tom and Matthew gave a brutal critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the natural philosophers in residence, and that idea was cast aside, too. Kit didn't believe it was wise to trust any woman with the task and drew up a list of local gentlemen who might be willing to establish a training regimen for me. It included the parson of St. Mary's, who was alert to apocalyptic signs in the heavens, a nearby landowner named Smythson, who dabbled in alchemy and had been looking for a witch or daemon to assist him, and a student at Christ Church College who paid his overdue book bills by casting horoscopes.

Matthew vetoed all these suggestions and called on Widow Beaton, Woodstock's cunning woman and midwife. She was poor and female- precisely the sort of creature the School of Night scorned-but this, Matthew argued, would better ensure her cooperation. Besides, Widow Beaton was the only creature for miles with purported magical talents. All others had long since fled, he admitted, rather than live near a wearh.

"Summoning Widow Beaton may not be a good idea," I said later when we were getting ready for bed.

"So you've mentioned," Matthew replied with barely concealed impatience. "But if Widow Beaton can't help us, she'll be able to recommend someone who can."

"The late sixteenth century really isn't a good time to openly ask around for a witch, Matthew." I'd been able to do little more than hint at the prospect of witch-hunts when we were with the School of Night, but Matthew knew the horrors to come. Once again he dismissed my concern.

"The Chelmsford witch trials are only memories now, and it will be another twenty years before the Lancashire hunts begin. I wouldn't have brought you here if a witch-hunt were about to break out in England." Matthew picked through a few letters that Pierre had left for him on the table.

"With reasoning like that, it's a good thing you're a scientist and not a historian," I said bluntly. "Chelmsford and Lancashire were extreme outbursts of far more widespread concerns."

"You think a historian can understand the tenor of the present moment better than the men living through it?" Matthew's eyebrow cocked up in open skepticism.

"Yes," I said, bristling. "We often do."

"That's not what you said this morning when you couldn't figure out why there weren't any forks in the house," he observed. It was true that I'd searched high and low for twenty minutes before Pierre gently broke it to me that the utensils were not yet common in England.

"Surely you aren't one of those people who believe that historians do nothing but memorize dates and learn obscure facts," I said. "My job is to understand why things happened in the past. When something occurs right in front of you, it's hard to see the reasons for it, but hindsight provides a clearer perspective."

"Then you can relax, because I have both experience and hindsight," Matthew said. "I understand your reservations, Diana, but calling on Widow Beaton is the right decision." Case closed, his tone made clear.

"In the 1590s there are food shortages, and people are worried about the future," I said, ticking the items off on my fingers. "That means people are looking for scapegoats to take the blame for the bad times. Already, human cunning women and midwives fear being accused of witchcraft, though your male friends may not be aware of it."

"I am the most powerful man in Woodstock," Matthew said, taking me by the shoulders. "No one will accuse you of anything." I was amazed at his hubris.

"I'm a stranger, and Widow Beaton owes me nothing. If I draw curious eyes, I pose a serious threat to her safety," I retorted. "At the very least, I need to pass as an upper-class Elizabethan woman before we ask her for help. Give me a few more weeks."

"This can't wait, Diana," he said brusquely.

"I'm not asking you to be patient so I can learn how to embroider samplers and make jam. There are good reasons for it." I looked at him sourly. "Call in your cunning woman. But don't be surprised when this goes badly."

"Trust me." Matthew lowered his lips toward mine. His eyes were smoky, and his instincts to pursue his prey and push it into submission were sharp. Not only did the sixteenth-century husband want to prevail over his wife, but the vampire wanted to capture the witch.

"I don't find arguments the slightest bit arousing," I said, turning my head. Matthew clearly did, however. I moved a few inches away from him.

"I'm not arguing," Matthew said softly, his mouth close to my ear. "You are. And if you think I would ever touch you in anger, wife, you are very much mistaken." After pinning me to the bedpost with frosty eyes, he turned and snatched up his breeches. "I'm going downstairs. Someone will still be awake to keep me company." He stalked toward the door. Once he'd reached it, he paused.

"And if you really want to behave like an Elizabethan woman, stop questioning me," he said roughly as he departed.

The next day one vampire, two daemons, and three humans examined my appearance in silence across the wide floorboards. The severe lines of Matthew's doublet made him look even broader through the shoulders, while the acorns and oak leaves stitched in black around the edges of his white collar accentuated the paleness of his skin. He angled his dark head to gain a fresh perspective on whether I passed muster as a respectable Elizabethan wife.

"Well?" he demanded. "Will that do?" George lowered his spectacles. "Yes. The russet of this gown suits her far better than the last one did and gives a pleasant cast to her hair."

"Mistress Roydon looks the part, George, it is true. But we cannot explain away her unusual speech simply by saying that she comes from the c-c-country," Henry said in his toneless bass. He stepped forward to twitch the folds of my brocade skirt into place. "And her height. There is no disguising that. She is taller even than the queen."

"Are you sure we can't pass her off as French, Walt, or Dutch?" Tom lifted a clove-studded orange to his nose with ink-stained fingers. "Perhaps Mistress Roydon could survive in London after all. Daemons cannot fail to notice her, of course, but ordinary men may not give her a second glance."

Walter snorted with amusement and unspooled from a low settle. "Mistress Roydon is finely shaped as well as uncommon tall. Ordinary men between the ages of thirteen and sixty will find reason enough to study her. No, Tom, she's better off here, with Widow Beaton."

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