Home > The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(15)

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(15)
Author: Deborah Harkness

Matthew refused to take the bait.

“The witch had discovered a de Clermont secret, I understand, but died before she could reveal it.

Such a shame.” Benjamin made a sound of mocking sympathy. “Was she anything like the one you were holding in thrall in Prague? A fascinating creature.”

Matthew swung his head around, automatically checking that I was safe.

“You always said I was the black sheep of the family, but we’re more alike than you want to admit,” Benjamin continued. “I’ve even come to share your appreciation for the company of witches.”

I felt the change in the air as the rage surged through Matthew’s veins. My skin prickled, and a dull throbbing started in my left thumb.

“Nothing you do interests me,” Matthew said coldly.

“Not even if it involves the Book of Life?” Benjamin waited for a few moments. “I know you’re looking for it. Does it have some relevance to your research? Difficult subject, genetics.”

“What do you want?” Matthew asked.

“Your attention.” Benjamin laughed.

Matthew fell silent once more.

“You’re not often at a loss for words, Matthew,” Benjamin said. “Happily, it’s your turn to listen. At last I’ve found a way to destroy you and the rest of the de Clermonts. Neither nor your pathetic vision of science can help you now.”

“I’m going to enjoy making a liar out of you,” Matthew promised.

“Oh, I don’t think so.” Benjamin’s voice dropped, as though he were imparting a great secret. “You see, I know what the witches discovered all those years ago. Do you?”

Matthew’s eyes locked on mine.

“I’ll be in touch,” Benjamin said. The line went dead.

“Call the lab,” I said urgently, thinking only of Miriam.

Matthew’s fingers raced to make the call.

“It’s about time you phoned, Matthew. Exactly what am I supposed to be looking for in your DNA?

Marcus said to look for reproductive markers. What is that supposed to mean?” Miriam sounded sharp, annoyed, and utterly like herself. “Your in-box is overflowing, and I’m due a vacation, by the way.”

“Are you safe?” Matthew’s voice was hoarse.

“Yes. Why?”

“Do you know where your phone is?” Matthew asked.

“No. I left it somewhere today. A shop, probably. I’m sure whoever has it will call me.”

“He called me instead.” Matthew swore. “Benjamin has your phone, Miriam.”

The line went silent.

“Your Benjamin?” Miriam asked, horrified. “I thought he was dead.”

“Alas, he’s not,” Fernando said with real regret.

“Fernando?” His name came out of Miriam’s mouth with a whoosh of relief.

“Sim, Miriam. Tudo bem contigo?” Fernando asked gently.

“Thank God you’re there. Yes, yes, I’m fine.” Miriam’s voice shook, but she made a valiant effort to control it. “When was the last time anyone heard from Benjamin?”

“More than a century ago,” Baldwin said. “And yet Matthew has been home for only a few weeks, and Benjamin has already found a way to contact him.”

“That means Benjamin has been watching and waiting for him,” Miriam whispered. “Oh, God.”

“Was there anything about our research on your phone, Miriam?” Matthew asked. “Stored e-mails?

Data?”

“No. You know I delete my e-mails after I read them.” She paused. “My address book. Benjamin has your phone numbers now.”

“We’ll get new ones,” Matthew said briskly. “Don’t go home. Stay with Amira at the Old Lodge. I don’t want either of you alone. Benjamin mentioned Amira by name.” Matthew hesitated. “Jason, too.”

Miriam sucked in her breath. “Bertrand’s son?”

“It’s all right, Miriam,” Matthew said, trying to be soothing. I was glad she couldn’t see the expression in his eyes. “Benjamin noticed he’d called you a few times, that’s all.”

“Jason’s picture is in my photos. Now Benjamin will be able to recognize him!” Miriam said, clearly rattled. “Jason is all that I have left of my mate, Matthew. If anything were to happen to him—”

“I’ll make sure Jason is aware of the danger.” Matthew looked to Gallowglass, who immediately picked up his phone.

“Jace?” Gallowglass murmured as he left the room, shutting the door softly behind him.

“Why has Benjamin reappeared now?” Miriam asked numbly.

“I don’t know.” Matthew looked in my direction. “He knew about Emily’s death and mentioned our genetics research and the Book of Life.”

I could sense some crucial piece in a larger puzzle fall into place.

“Benjamin was in Prague in 1591,” I said slowly. “That must be where Benjamin heard about the Book of Life. Emperor Rudolf had it.”

Matthew gave me a warning look. When he spoke, his tone had turned brisk. “Don’t worry, Miriam. We’ll figure out what Benjamin’s after, I promise.” Matthew urged Miriam to be careful and told her he’d call her once we reached Oxford. After he hung up, the silence was deafening.

Gallowglass slipped back into the room. “Jace hasn’t seen anything out of the ordinary, but he promised to be on guard. So. What do we do now?”

“We?” Baldwin said, brows arched.

“Benjamin is my responsibility,” Matthew said grimly.

“Yes, he is,” Baldwin agreed. “It’s high time you acknowledged that and dealt with the chaos you’ve caused, instead of hiding behind Ysabeau’s skirts and indulging in these intellectual fantasies about curing blood rage and discovering the secret of life.”

“You may have waited too long, Matthew,” Verin added. “It would have been easy to destroy Benjamin in Jerusalem after he was first reborn, but it won’t be now. Benjamin couldn’t have remained hidden for so long without having children and allies around him.”

“Matthew will manage somehow. He is the family assassin, isn’t he?” Baldwin said mockingly.

“I’ll help,” Marcus said to Matthew.

“You aren’t going anywhere, Marcus. You’ll stay here, at my side, and welcome the Congregation’s delegation. So will Gallowglass and Verin. We need a show of family solidarity.” Baldwin studied Phoebe closely. She returned his look with an indignant one of her own.

“I’ve considered your wish to become a vampire, Phoebe,” Baldwin reported when his inspection of her was complete, “and I’m prepared to support it, irrespective of Matthew’s feelings. Marcus’s desire for a traditional mate will demonstrate that the de Clermonts still honor the old ways. You will stay here, too.”

“If Marcus wishes me to do so, I would be delighted to remain here in Ysabeau’s house. Would that be all right, Ysabeau?” Phoebe used courtesy as both a weapon and a crutch, as only the British could.

“Of course,” Ysabeau said, sitting down at last. She gathered her composure and smiled weakly at her grandson’s fiancée. “You are always welcome, Phoebe.”

“Thank you, Ysabeau,” Phoebe replied, giving Baldwin a pointed look.

Baldwin turned his attention to me. “All that’s left to decide is what to do with Diana.”

“My wife—like my son—is my concern,” said Matthew.

“You cannot return to Oxford now.” Baldwin ignored his brother’s interruption. “Benjamin might still be there.”

“We’ll go to Amsterdam,” Matthew said promptly.

“Also out of the question,” Baldwin said. “The house is indefensible. If you cannot ensure her safety, Matthew, Diana will stay with my daughter Miyako.”

“Diana would hate Hachiōji,” Gallowglass stated with conviction.

“Not to mention Miyako,” Verin murmured.

“Then Matthew had better do his duty.” Baldwin stood. “Quickly.” Matthew’s brother left the room so fast he seemed to vanish. Verin and Ernst quickly said their good-nights and followed. Once they’d gone, Ysabeau suggested we adjourn to the salon. There was an ancient stereo there and enough Brahms to muffle the lengthiest of conversations.

“What will you do, Matthew?” Ysabeau still looked shattered. “You cannot let Diana go to Japan.

Miyako would eat her alive.”

“We’re going to the Bishop house in Madison,” I said. It was hard to know who was most surprised by this revelation we were going to New York: Ysabeau, Matthew, or Sarah.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Matthew said cautiously.

“Em discovered something important here at Sept-Tours—something she’d rather die than reveal.”

I marveled at how calm I sounded.

“What makes you think so?” Matthew asked.

“Sarah said Em had been poking through things in the Round Tower, where all the de Clermont family records are kept. If she knew about the witch’s baby in Jerusalem, she would have wanted to know more,” I replied.

“Ysabeau told both of us about the baby,” Sarah said, looking at Ysabeau for confirmation. “Then we told Marcus. I still don’t see why this means we should go to Madison.”

“Because whatever it was that Emily discovered drove her to summon up spirits,” I said. “Sarah thinks Emily was trying to reach Mom. Maybe Mom knew something, too. If that’s true, we might be able to find out more about it in Madison.”

“That’s a lot of thinks, mights, and maybes, Auntie,” Gallowglass said with a frown.

I looked at my husband, who had not responded to my suggestion but was instead staring absently into his wineglass. “What do you think, Matthew?”

“We can go to Madison,” he said. “For now.”

“I’ll go with you,” Fernando murmured. “Keep Sarah company.” She smiled at him gratefully.

“There’s more going on here than meets the eye—and it involves Knox and Gerbert. Knox came to Sept-Tours because of a letter he’d found in Prague that mentioned Ashmole 782.” Matthew looked somber. “It can’t be a coincidence that Knox’s discovery of that letter coincides with Emily’s death and Benjamin’s reappearance.”

“You were in Prague. was in Prague. Benjamin was in Prague. Knox found something in Prague,” Fernando said slowly. “You’re right, Matthew. That’s more than a coincidence.

It’s a pattern.”

“There’s something else—something we haven’t told you about the Book of Life,” Matthew said.

“It’s written on parchment made from the skins of daemons, vampires, and witches.”

Marcus’s eyes widened. “That means it contains genetic information.”

“That’s our suspicion,” Matthew said. “We can’t let it fall into Knox’s hands—or, God forbid, Benjamin’s.”

“Finding and its missing pages still has to be our top priority,” I agreed.

“Not only could it tell us about creature origins and evolution, it may help us understand blood rage,” Marcus said. “But we might not be able to gather any useful genetic information from it.”

“The Bishop house returned the page with the chemical wedding to Diana shortly after we came back,” Matthew said. The house was known among the area’s witches for its magical misbehavior and often took cherished items for safekeeping, only to restore them to their owners at a later date. “If we can get to a lab, we could test it.”

“Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to talk your way into state-of-the-art genetics laboratories.” Marcus shook his head. “And Baldwin is right. You can’t go to Oxford.”

“Maybe Chris could find you something at Yale. He’s a biochemist, too. Would his lab have the right equipment?” My understanding of laboratory practices petered out around 1715.

“I’m not analyzing a page from in a college laboratory,” Matthew said. “Working with ancient DNA is exacting. I’ll look for a private laboratory. There must be something I can hire out.”

“Ancient DNA is fragile. And we’ll need more than a single page to work with if we want reliable results,” Marcus warned.

“Another reason to get Ashmole 782 out of the Bodleian,” I said. “It’s safe where it is, Diana,”

Matthew assured me.

“For the moment,” I replied.

“Aren’t there two more loose pages out there in the world?” Marcus said. “We could look for them first.”

“Maybe I can help,” Phoebe offered.”

“Thanks, Phoebe.” I’d seen Marcus’s mate in research mode in the Round Tower. I’d be happy to have her skills at my disposal.

“And Benjamin?” Ysabeau asked. “Do you know what he meant when he said he had come to share your appreciation for witches, Matthew?”

Matthew shook his head.

My witch’s sixth sense told me that finding out the answer to Ysabeau’s question might well be the key to everything.

She who is born when the sun is in Leo shall be naturally subtle and witty, and

desirous of learning. Whatsoever she heareth or seeth if it seems to comprise any difficulty of matter immediately will she desire to know it. The magic sciences will do her great stead. She shall be familiar to and well beloved by princes. Her first child shall be a female, and the second a male. During her life she shall sustain many troubles and perils.

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