Home > The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(12)

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(12)
Author: Deborah Harkness

“Blood rage?” Marcus looked at his father incredulously. “That’s impossible. It turns you into a cold-blooded killer, without reason or compassion. There hasn’t been a case of it for nearly two millennia. You told me so yourself.”

“I lied.” Matthew’s voice cracked at the admission.

“You can’t have blood rage, Matt,” Hamish said. “There was a mention of it in the family papers.

Its symptoms include blind fury, the inability to reason, and an overwhelming instinct to kill. You’ve never shown any sign of the disease.”

“I’ve learned to control it,” Matthew said. “Most of the time.”

“Thank God for that. If the Congregation were to find out, there would be a price on your head.

According to what I’ve read here, other creatures would have carte blanche to destroy you,” Hamish observed.

“Not just me.” Matthew’s glance flickered over my rounding abdomen. “My children, too.”

Sarah’s expression was stricken. “The babies . . .”

“And Marcus?” Phoebe’s knuckles showed white on the edge of the table though her voice was calm.

“Marcus is only a carrier,” Matthew tried to reassure her. “The symptoms manifest immediately, and he’s never shown any signs of them.”

“And how did Marcus contract blood rage? Someone he fed from?” Phoebe asked.

“It’s genetic. I thought once that it was a virus, but it was in my blood and I passed it on to Marcus the moment I made him.” Matthew looked his son squarely in the eye. “When I made you, I genuinely believed that I was cured. It had been almost a century since I’d had an episode. It was the Age of Reason. In our pride we believed that all sorts of past evils had been eradicated, from smallpox to superstition. Then you went to New Orleans.”

“My own children.” Marcus looked wild, and then understanding dawned. “You and Juliette Durand came to the city, and they started turning up dead. You killed them because of their blood rage.”

“Your father had no choice,” Ysabeau said. “The Congregation knew there was trouble in New Orleans. Philippe ordered Matthew to deal with it before the vampires found out the cause. Had Matthew refused, you all would have died.”

“The other vampires on the Congregation were convinced that the old scourge of blood rage had returned,” Matthew said. “They wanted to raze the city and burn it out of existence, but I argued that the madness was a result of youth and inexperience, not blood rage. I was supposed to kill them all. I was supposed to kill you, too, Marcus.”

Marcus looked surprised. Ysabeau did not.

“Philippe was furious with me, but I destroyed only those who were symptomatic. I killed them quickly, without pain or fear,” Matthew said, his voice dead. I hated the secrets he kept and the lies he told to cover them up, but my heart hurt for him nonetheless. “I explained away the rest of my grandchildren’s excesses however I could—poverty, inebriation, greed. Then I took responsibility for what happened in New Orleans, resigned my seat on the Congregation, and swore that you would make no more children until you were older and wiser.”

“You told me I was a failure—a disgrace to the family.” Marcus was hoarse with suppressed emotion.

“I had to make you stop. I didn’t know what else to do.” Matthew confessed his sins without asking for forgiveness.

“Who else knows your secret, Matthew?” Sarah asked.

“Verin, Baldwin, Stasia, and Freyja. Fernando and Gallowglass. Miriam. Marthe. Alain.” Matthew extended his fingers one by one as the names tumbled from his mouth. “So did Hugh, Godfrey, Hancock, Louisa, and Louis.”

Marcus looked at his father bitterly. “I want to know everything. From the beginning.”

“Matthew cannot tell you the beginning of this tale,” Ysabeau said softly. “Only I can.”

“No, Maman, ” Matthew said, shaking his head. “That’s not necessary.”

“Of course it is,” Ysabeau said. “I brought the disease into the family. I am a carrier, like Marcus.”

“You?” Sarah looked stunned.

“The disease was in my sire. He believed it was a great blessing for a lamia to carry his blood, for it made you truly terrifying and nearly impossible to kill.” The contempt and loathing with which Ysabeau said the word “sire” made me understand why Matthew disliked the term.

“There was constant warfare between vampires then, and any possible advantage was seized. But I was a disappointment,” Ysabeau continued. “My maker’s blood did not work in me as he had hoped, though the blood rage was strong in his other children. As a punishment—”

Ysabeau stopped and drew a shaky breath.

“As a punishment,” she repeated slowly, “I was locked in a cage to provide my brothers and sisters with a source of entertainment, as well as a creature on whom they could practice killing. My sire did not expect me to survive.”

Ysabeau touched her fingers to her lips, unable for a moment to go on.

“I lived for a very long time in that tiny, barred prison—filthy, starving, wounded inside and out, unable to die though I longed for it. But the more I fought and the longer I survived, the more interesting I became. My sire—my father—took me against my will, as did my brothers. Everything that was done to me stemmed from a morbid curiosity to see what might finally tame me. But I was fast—and smart.

My sire began to think I might be useful to him after all.”

“That’s not the story Philippe told,” Marcus said numbly. “Grandfather said he rescued you from a fortress—that your maker had kidnapped you and made you a vampire against your will because you were so beautiful he couldn’t bear to let anyone else have you. Philippe said your sire made you to serve as his wife.”

“All of that was the truth—just not the whole truth.” Ysabeau met Marcus’s eyes squarely.

“Philippe did find me in a fortress and rescued me from that terrible place. But I was no beauty then, no matter what romantic stories your grandfather told later. I’d shorn my head with a broken shell that a bird had dropped on the window ledge, so that they couldn’t use my hair to hold me down. I still have the scars, though they are hidden now. One of my legs was broken. An arm, too, I think,” Ysabeau said vaguely. “Marthe will remember.”

No wonder Ysabeau and Marthe had treated me so tenderly after La Pierre. One had been tortured, and the other had put her back together again after the ordeal. But Ysabeau’s tale was not yet finished.

“When Philippe and his soldiers came, they were the answer to my prayers,” Ysabeau said. “They killed my sire straightaway. Philippe’s men demanded all of my sire’s children be put to death so that the evil poison in our blood would not spread. One morning they came and took my brothers and sisters away. Philippe kept me behind. He would not let them touch me. Your grandfather lied and said that I had not been infected with my maker’s disease—that someone else had made me and I had killed only to survive. There was no one left to dispute it.”

Ysabeau looked at her grandson. “It is why Philippe forgave Matthew for not killing you, Marcus, though he had ordered him to do so. Philippe knew what it was to love someone too much to see him perish unjustly.”

But Ysabeau’s words did not lift the shadows from Marcus’s eyes.

“We kept my secret—Philippe and Marthe and I—for centuries. I made many children before we came to France, and I thought that blood rage was a horror we had left behind. My children all lived long lives and never showed a trace of the illness. Then came Matthew . . .” Ysabeau trailed off. A drop of red formed along her lower lid. She blinked away the blood tear before it could fall.

“By the time I made Matthew, my sire was nothing more than a dark legend among vampires. He was held up as an example of what would happen to us if we gave in to our desires for blood and power.

Any vampire even suspected of having blood rage was immediately put down, as was his sire and any offspring,” Ysabeau said dispassionately. “But I could not kill my child, and I would not let anyone else do so either. It was not Matthew’s fault that he was sick.”

“It was no one’s fault, Maman, ” Matthew said. “It’s a genetic disease—one that we still don’t understand. Because of Philippe’s initial ruthlessness, and all the family has done to hide the truth, the Congregation doesn’t know that the sickness is in my veins.”

“They may not know for sure,” Ysabeau warned, “but some of the Congregation suspect it. There were vampires who believed that your sister’s illness was not madness, as we claimed, but blood rage.”

“Gerbert,” I whispered.

Ysabeau nodded. “Domenico, too.”

“Don’t borrow trouble,” Matthew said, trying to comfort her. “I’ve sat at the council table while the disease was discussed, and no one had the slightest inkling I was afflicted with it. So long as they believe blood rage is all but extinct, our secret is safe.”

“I’m afraid I have bad news, then. The Congregation believes blood rage is back,” Marcus said.

“What do you mean?” Matthew asked.

“The vampire murders,” Marcus explained.

I’d seen the press clippings Matthew had collected back in his Oxford laboratory last year. The mysterious killings were widespread and had taken place over a number of months. Investigators had been stymied, and the murders had captured human attention.

“The killings seemed to stop this winter, but the Congregation is still dealing with the sensational headlines,” Marcus continued. “The perpetrator was never caught, so the Congregation is braced for the killings to resume at any moment. Gerbert told me so in April, when I made my initial request that the covenant be repealed.”

“No wonder Baldwin is reluctant to acknowledge me as his sister,” I said. “With all the attention Philippe’s blood vow would bring to the de Clermont family, someone might start asking questions. You might all become murder suspects.”

“The Congregation’s official pedigree contains no mention of Benjamin. What Phoebe and Marcus have discovered are only family copies,” Ysabeau said. “Philippe said there was no need to share Matthew’s . . . indiscretion. When Benjamin was made, the Congregation’s pedigrees were in Constantinople. We were in far away Outremer, struggling to hold our territory in the Holy Land. Who would know if we left him out?”

“But surely other vampires in the Crusader colonies knew about Benjamin?” Hamish asked.

“Very few of those vampires survive. Even fewer would dare to question Philippe’s official story,”

Matthew said. Hamish looked skeptical.

“Hamish is right to worry. When Matthew’s marriage to Diana becomes common knowledge—not to mention Philippe’s blood vow and the existence of the twins—some who have remained silent about my past may not be willing to do so any longer,” Ysabeau said.

This time it was Sarah who repeated the name we were all thinking. “Gerbert.”

Ysabeau nodded. “Someone will remember Louisa’s escapades. And then another vampire may recall what happened among Marcus’s children in New Orleans. Gerbert might remind the Congregation that once, long ago, Matthew showed signs of madness, though he seemed to grow out of them. The de Clermonts will be vulnerable as they have never been before.”

“And one or both of the twins might have the disease,” Hamish said. “A six-month-old killer is a terrifying prospect. No creature would blame the Congregation for taking action.”

“Perhaps a witch’s blood will somehow prevent the disease from taking root,” Ysabeau said.

“Wait.” Marcus’s face was still as he concentrated. “When exactly was Benjamin made?”

“In the early twelfth century,” Matthew replied, frowning. “After the First Crusade.”

“And when did the witch in Jerusalem give birth to a vampire baby?”

“What vampire baby?” Matthew’s voice echoed through the room like a gunshot.

“The one that Ysabeau told us about in January,” Sarah said. “It turns out you and Diana aren’t the only special creatures in the world. This has all happened before.”

“I’ve always thought it was nothing more than a rumor spread to turn creatures against one another,” Ysabeau said, her voice shaking. “But Philippe believed the tale. And now Diana has come home pregnant. . . .”

“Tell me, Maman, ” Matthew said. “Everything.”

“A vampire raped a witch in Jerusalem. She conceived his child,” Ysabeau said, the words coming out in a rush. “We never knew who the vampire was. The witch refused to identify him.”

Only weavers could carry a vampire’s child—not ordinary witches. Goody Alsop had told me as much in London.

“When?” Matthew’s tone was hushed.

“After the First Crusade.” Ysabeau looked thoughtful. “Just before the Congregation was formed and the covenant was signed.”

“Just after I made Benjamin,” Matthew said.

“Perhaps Benjamin inherited more than blood rage from you,” Hamish said.

“And the child?” Matthew asked.

“Died of starvation,” Ysabeau whispered. “The babe refused his mother’s breast.”

Matthew shot to his feet.

“Many newborns will not take their mother’s milk,” Ysabeau protested.

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