Home > The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(14)

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(14)
Author: Deborah Harkness

Matthew stole my next words with a kiss. I pounded on his shoulders until my strength—and my interest in beating him to a pulp—subsided. He pulled away with a wry smile.

“You must try to allow me to finish my thoughts. Never”—he caught my fist before it made contact with his shoulder—“never again will I make the mistake of underestimating you.”

Matthew took advantage of my astonishment to kiss me more thoroughly than before.

“No wonder Philippe always looked so exhausted,” he said ruefully when he was through. “It’s very fatiguing pretending you’re in charge when your wife actually rules the roost.”

“Hmph,” I said, finding his analysis of the dynamics of our relationship somewhat suspect.

“While I have your attention, let me make myself clear: I want you to tell Sarah about being a weaver and what happened in London.” Matthew’s tone was stern. “After that, there will be no more disguising spells at home. Understood?”

“Promise.” I hoped he didn’t notice my crossed fingers.

Alain was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs, wearing his usual look of circumspection and a dark suit.

“Is everything ready?” I asked him.

“Of course,” he murmured, handing me the final menu.

My eyes darted over it. “Perfect. The place cards are arranged? The wine was brought up and decanted? And you found the silver cups?”

Alain’s mouth twitched. “All of your instructions were followed to the letter, Madame de Clermont . ”

“There you are. I was beginning to think you two were going to leave me to the lions.”

Gallowglass’s efforts to dress for dinner had yielded only combed hair and something leather in place of his worn denims, though I supposed cowboy boots qualified as formalwear of a sort. He was, alas, still wearing a T-shirt. This particular garment instructed us to KEEP CALM AND HARLEY ON. It also revealed a staggering number of tattoos.

“Sorry about the shirt, Auntie. It is black,” Gallowglass apologized, tracking my glances. “Matthew sent over one of his shirts, but it split down the back when I did up the buttons.”

“You look very dashing.” I searched the hall for signs of our other guests. I found Corra instead, perched on the statue of a nymph like an oddly shaped hat. She’d spent the whole day flying around Sept-Tours and Saint-Lucien in exchange for promises of good behavior tomorrow while we were traveling.

“What were you two doing up there all this time?” Sarah emerged from the salon and gave Matthew a suspicious once-over. Like Gallowglass, Sarah took a limited view of formalwear. She was wearing a long lavender shirt that extended past her h*ps and a pair of ankle-length beige trousers. “We thought we were going to have to send up a search party.”

“Diana couldn’t find her shoes,” Matthew said smoothly. He slid an apologetic glance toward Victoire, who was standing by with a tray of drinks. She had, of course, left my shoes next to the bed.

“That doesn’t sound like Victoire.” Sarah’s eyes narrowed.

Corra squawked and chattered her teeth in agreement, blowing her breath through her nose so that a rain of sparks fell down onto the stone floors. Thankfully, there was no rug.

“Honestly, Diana, couldn’t you have brought home something from Elizabethan England that wasn’t so much trouble?” Sarah looked at Corra with a sour expression.

“Like what? A snow globe?” I asked.

“First I was subjected to witchwater falling from the tower. Now there is a dragon in my hallway.

This is what comes of having witches in the family.” Ysabeau appeared in a pale silk suit that perfectly matched the color of the Champagne in the glass she took from Victoire. “There are days when I cannot help thinking the Congregation is right to keep us apart.”

“Drink, Madame de Clermont?” Victoire turned to me, rescuing me from the need to respond.

“Thank you,” I replied. Her tray held not only wine but also glasses filled with ice cubes containing blue borage flowers and mint leaves, topped up with sparkling water.

“Hello, sister . ” Verin sauntered out of the salon behind Ysabeau wearing knee-high black boots and an exceedingly short, sleeveless black dress that left more than a few inches of her pearly white legs exposed, as well as the tip of the scabbard strapped to her thigh.

Wondering why Verin thought she needed to dine armed, I reached up with nervous fingers and drew the golden arrowhead from where it had fallen inside the neck of my blouse. It felt like a talisman, and it reminded me of Philippe. Ysabeau’s cold eyes latched on to it.

“I thought that arrowhead was lost forever,” she said quietly.

“Philippe gave it to me on my wedding day.” I started to lift the chain from my neck, thinking it must belong to her.

“No. Philippe wanted you to have it, and it was his to bestow.” Ysabeau gently closed my fingers around the worn metal. “You must keep this safe, my child. It is very old and not easily replaced.”

“Is dinner ready?” Baldwin boomed, arriving at my side with the suddenness of an earthquake and his usual disregard for a warmblood’s nervous system.

“It is,” Alain whispered in my ear.

“It is,” I said brightly, plastering a smile on my face.

Baldwin offered me his arm.

“Let’s go in, Matthieu,” Ysabeau murmured, taking her son by the hand.

“Diana?” Baldwin prompted, his arm still extended.

I stared up at him with loathing, ignored his proffered arm, and marched toward the door behind Matthew and Ysabeau.

“This is an order, not a request. Defy me and I will turn you and Matthew over to the Congregation without a second thought.” Baldwin’s voice was menacing.

For a few moments, I considered resisting and to hell with the consequences. If I did, Baldwin would win. Think, I reminded myself. And stay alive. Then I rested my hand atop his rather taking his elbow like a modern woman. Baldwin’s eyes widened slightly.

“Why so surprised, brother?” I demanded. “You’ve been positively feudal since the moment you arrived. If you’re determined to play the role of king, we should do it properly.”

“Very well, sister. ” Baldwin’s fist tightened under my fingers. It was a reminder of his authority, as well as his power.

Baldwin and I entered the dining room as though it were the audience chamber at Greenwich and we were the king and queen of England. Fernando’s mouth twitched at the sight, and Baldwin glowered at him in response.

“Does that little cup have blood in it?” Sarah, seemingly oblivious to the tension, bent over and sniffed at Gallowglass’s plate.

“I did not know we still had these,” Ysabeau said, holding up one of the engraved silver beakers.

She gave me a smile as Marcus settled her into the spot to his left while Matthew rounded the table and did the honors for Phoebe, who sat opposite.

“I had Alain and Marthe search for them. Philippe used them at our wedding feast.” I fingered the golden arrowhead. Courtly Ernst pulled out my chair. “Please. Everybody sit.”

“The table is beautifully arranged, Diana,” Phoebe said appreciatively. But she wasn’t looking at the crystal, the precious porcelain, or the fine silver. Instead Phoebe was taking careful note of the arrangement of creatures around the gleaming expanse of rosewood.

Mary Sidney had once told me that the order of table precedence at a banquet was no less complex than the arrangement of troops before a battle. I had observed the rules I’d learned in Elizabethan England as strictly as possible while minimizing the risk of outright war.

“Thank you, Phoebe, but it was all Marthe and Victoire’s doing. They picked out the china,” I said, deliberately misunderstanding her.

Verin and Fernando stared at the plates before them and exchanged a look. Marthe adored the eye-popping Bleu Celeste pattern Ysabeau had commissioned in the eighteenth century, and Victoire’s first choice had been an ostentatious gilded service decorated with swans. I couldn’t imagine eating off either and had selected dignified black-and-white neoclassical place settings with the de Clermont ouroboros surrounding a crowned letter C.

“I believe we are in danger of being civilized,” Verin muttered. “And by warmbloods, too.”

“Not a moment too soon,” Fernando said, picking up his napkin and spreading it on his lap.

“A toast,” Matthew said, raising his glass. “To lost loved ones. May their spirits be with us tonight and always.”

There were murmurs of agreement and echoes of his first line as glasses were lifted. Sarah dashed a tear from her eye, and Gallowglass took her hand and gave it a gentle kiss.

“Another toast to the health of my sister Diana and to Marcus’s fiancée—the newest members of my family.” Baldwin raised his glass once more.

“Diana and Phoebe,” Marcus said, joining in.

Glasses were lifted around the table, although I thought for a moment that Matthew might direct the contents of his at Baldwin. Sarah took a hesitant sip of her sparkling wine and made a face.

“Let’s eat,” she said, putting the glass down hastily. “Emily hated it when the food got cold, and I don’t imagine Marthe will be any more forgiving.”

Dinner proceeded seamlessly. There was cold soup for the warmbloods and tiny silver beakers of blood for the vampires. The trout served for the fish course had been swimming along in the nearby river without a care in the world only a few hours before. Roast chicken came next out of deference to Sarah, who couldn’t abide the taste of game birds. Some at the table then had venison, though I abstained. At the end of the meal, Marthe and Alain put footed compotes draped with fruit on the table, along with bowls of nuts and platters of cheese.

“What an excellent meal,” Ernst said, sitting back in his chair and patting his lean stomach.

There was a gratifying amount of agreement around the room. Despite the rocky start, we’d enjoyed a perfectly pleasant evening as a family. I relaxed into my chair.

“Since we’re all here, we have some news to share,” Marcus said, smiling across the table at Phoebe. “As you know, Phoebe has agreed to marry me.”

“Have you set a date?” Ysabeau asked.

“Not yet. We’ve decided to do things the old-fashioned way, you see,” Marcus replied.

All the de Clermonts in the room turned to Matthew, their faces frozen.

“I’m not sure old-fashioned is an option,” Sarah commented drily, “given the fact the two of you are already sharing a room.”

“Vampires have different traditions, Sarah,” Phoebe explained. “Marcus asked if I would like to be with him for the rest of his life. I said yes.”

“Oh,” Sarah said with a puzzled frown.

“You can’t mean . . .” I trailed off, my eyes on Matthew.

“I’ve decided to become a vampire.” Phoebe’s eyes shone with happiness as she looked at her once-and-forever husband. “Marcus insists that I get used to that before we marry, so yes, our engagement may be a bit longer than we’d like.”

Phoebe sounded as though she were contemplating minor plastic surgery or a change of hairstyle, rather than a complete biological transformation.

“I don’t want her to have any regrets,” Marcus said softly, his face split into a wide grin.

“Phoebe will not become a vampire. I forbid it.” Matthew’s voice was quiet, but it seemed to echo in the crowded room.

“You don’t get a vote. This is our decision—Phoebe’s and mine,” Marcus said. Then he threw down the gauntlet. “And of course Baldwin’s. He is head of the family.”

Baldwin tented his fingers in front of his face as though considering the question, while Matthew looked at his son in disbelief. Marcus returned his father’s stare with a challenging one of his own.

“All I’ve ever wanted is a traditional marriage, like Grandfather and Ysabeau enjoyed,” Marcus said. “When it comes to love, you’re the family revolutionary, Matthew. Not me.”

“Even if Phoebe were to become a vampire, it could never be traditional. Because of the blood rage, she should never take blood from your heart vein,” Matthew said.

“I’m sure Grandfather took Ysabeau’s blood.” Marcus looked to his grandmother. “Isn’t that right?”

“Do you want to take that risk, knowing what we know now about blood-borne diseases?” Matthew said. “If you truly love her, Marcus, don’t change her.”

Matthew’s phone rang, and he reluctantly looked at the display. “It’s Miriam,” he said, frowning.

“She wouldn’t call at this hour unless something important had come up in the lab,” Marcus said.

Matthew switched on the phone’s speaker so the warmbloods could hear as well as the vampires and answered the call. “Miriam?”

“No, Father. It’s your son. Benjamin.”

The voice on the other end of the line was both alien and familiar, as the voices in nightmares often were.

Ysabeau rose to her feet, her face the color of snow.

“Where is Miriam?” Matthew demanded.

“I don’t know,” Benjamin replied, his tone lazy. “Perhaps with someone named Jason. He’s called a few times. Or someone named Amira. She called twice. Miriam is your bitch, Father. Perhaps if you snap your fingers, she will come running.”

Marcus opened his mouth, and Baldwin hissed a warning that made his nephew’s jaws snap shut.

“I’m told there was trouble at Sept-Tours. Something about a witch,” Benjamin said.

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