Home > The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(17)

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(17)
Author: Deborah Harkness

“How is that post maul working out for Mr. Clairmont?” Smitty asked, tapping his sheaf of junk mail against the brim of his John Deere hat. “Haven’t sold one of them in ages. Most people want post pounders these days.”

“Matthew seems quite happy with it.” Most people aren’t six-foot-three vampires, I thought, chucking the sales flyer for the local grocery store and the offers for new tires into the recycling bin.

“You’ve caught a good one there,” Smitty said, eyeing my wedding ring. “And he seems to be getting along with Miz Bishop, too.” This last was said in a slightly awed tone.

My mouth twitched. I picked up the stack of catalogs and bills that remained and put them in my bag. “You take care, Smitty.”

“Bye, Mrs. Clairmont. Tell Mr. Clairmont to let me know when he decides about that roller for the driveway.”

“It’s not Mrs. Clairmont. I still use— Oh, never mind,” I said, catching Smitty’s confused expression. I opened the door and stepped aside to let two children enter. The kids were in hot pursuit of lollipops, which Mrs. Hutchinson kept on the counter. I was almost out the door when I heard Smitty whispering to the postmistress.

“Have you met Mr. Clairmont, Annie? Nice guy. I was beginning to think Diana was going to be a spinster like Miz Bishop, if you know what I mean,” Smitty said, giving Mrs. Hutchinson a meaningful wink.

I turned west onto Route 20, through green fields and past old farmsteads that had once provided food to the area’s residents. Many of the properties had been subdivided and their land turned to different purposes. There were schools and offices, a granite yard, a yarn shop in a converted barn.

When I pulled in to the parking lot of the supermarket in nearby Hamilton, it was practically deserted. Even when college was in session, it was never more than half full.

I maneuvered Sarah’s car into one of the plentiful open spaces near the doors, parking next to one of the vans that people bought when they had children. It had sliding doors to allow for the easy installation of car seats, lots of cup holders, and beige carpets to hide the cereal that got flung on the floor. My future life flashed before my eyes.

Sarah’s zippy little car was a welcome reminder that there were other options, though Matthew would probably insist on a Panzer tank once the twins were born. I eyed the silly green witch on the antenna. As I murmured a few words, the wires in the antenna rerouted themselves through the soft foam ball and the witch’s hat. No one would be stealing Sarah’s mascot on my watch.

“Nice binding spell,” a dry voice said from behind me. “I don’t believe I know that one.”

I whirled around. The woman standing there was fiftyish with shoulder-length hair that had gone prematurely silver and emerald green eyes. A low hum of power surrounded her—not showy, but solid.

This was the high priestess of Madison’s coven.

“Hello, Mrs. Harrison.” The Harrisons were an old Hamilton family. They’d come from Connecticut, and, like the Bishops, the women kept the family name regardless of marriage. Vivian’s husband, Roger, had taken the radical step of changing his last name from Barker to Harrison when the two wed, earning him a revered spot in the coven annals for his willingness to honor tradition and a fair amount of ribbing from the other husbands.

“I think you’re old enough to call me Vivian, don’t you?” Her eyes dropped to my abdomen.

“Going shopping?”

“Uh-huh.” No witch could lie to a fellow witch. Under the circumstances it was best to keep my responses brief.

“What a coincidence. So am I.” Behind Vivian two shopping carts detached themselves from the stack and rolled out of their corral.

“So you’re due in January?” she asked once we were inside. I fumbled and nearly dropped the paper bag of apples grown on a nearby farm.

“Only if I carry the babies to full term. I’m expecting twins.”

“Twins are a handful,” Vivian said ruefully. “Just ask Abby.” She waved at a woman holding two cartons of eggs.

“Hi, Diana. I don’t think we’ve met.” Abby put one of the cartons in the section of the cart designed for toddlers. She buckled the eggs into place using the flimsy seat belt. “Once the babies are born, you’ll have to come up with a different way to keep them from getting broken. I’ve got some zucchini for you in the car, so don’t even think of buying any.”

“Does everybody in the county know that I’m pregnant?” I asked. Not to mention what I was shopping for today.

“Only the witches,” Abby said. “And anybody who talks to Smitty.” A four-year-old boy in a striped shirt and wearing a Spider-Man mask sped by. “John Pratt! Stop chasing your sister!”

“Not to worry. I found Grace in the cookie aisle,” said a handsome young man in shorts and a gray and maroon Colgate University T-shirt. He was holding a squirming toddler whose face was smeared with chocolate and cookie crumbs. “Hi, Diana. I’m Abby’s husband, Caleb Pratt. I teach here.” Caleb’s voice was easy, but there was a crackle of energy around him. Could he have a touch of elemental magic?

My question highlighted the fine threads that surrounded him, but Vivian distracted me before I could be certain.

“Caleb is a professor in the anthropology department,” Vivian said with pride. “He and Abby have been a welcome addition to the community.”

“Nice to meet you,” I murmured. The whole coven must shop at the Cost Cutter on Thursday.

“Only when we need to talk business,” Abby said, reading my mind with ease. So far as I could tell, she had considerably less magical talent than Vivian or Caleb, but there was obviously some power in her blood. “We expected to see Sarah today, but she’s avoiding us. Is she okay?”

“Not really.” I hesitated. Once the Madison coven had represented everything I wanted to deny about myself and about being a Bishop. But the witches of London had taught me that there was a price to pay for living cut off from other witches. And the simple truth was that Matthew and I couldn’t manage on our own. Not after everything that had transpired at Sept-Tours.

“Something you want to say, Diana?” Vivian looked at me shrewdly.

“I think we need your help.” The words slipped out easily. My astonishment must have shown, for the three witches all started to laugh.

“Good. That’s what we’re here for,” she said, casting an approving smile at me. “What’s the problem?”

“Sarah’s stuck,” I said bluntly. “And Matthew and I are in trouble.”

“I know. My thumbs have been bothering me for weeks,” Caleb said, bouncing Grace on his hip.

“At first I thought it was just the vampires.”

“It’s more than that.” My voice was grim. “It involves witches, too. And the Congregation. My mother may have had a premonition about it, but I don’t know where to begin searching for more information.”

“What does Sarah say?” Vivian asked.

“Not much. She’s mourning Emily all over again. Sarah sits by the fireplace, watches the tree growing out of the hearth, and waits for the ghosts to come back.”

“And your husband?” Caleb’s eyebrows lifted.

“Matthew’s replacing fence posts.” I pushed a hand through my hair, lifting the damp strands from my neck. If it got any warmer, you’d be able to fry an egg on Sarah’s car.

“A classic example of displaced aggression,” Caleb said thoughtfully, “as well as a need to establish firm boundaries.”

“What kind of magic is that?” I was astonished that he could know so much about Matthew from my few words.

“It’s anthropology.” Caleb grinned.

“Maybe we should talk about this somewhere else.” Vivian smiled warmly at the growing crowd of onlookers in the produce section. The few humans in the store couldn’t help noticing the gathering of four otherworldly creatures, and several were openly listening in on our conversation while pretending to judge the ripeness of cantaloupes and watermelons.

“I’ll meet you back at Sarah’s in twenty minutes,” I said, eager to get away.

“The arborio rice is in aisle five,” Caleb said helpfully, handing Grace back to Abby. “It’s the closest thing to paella rice in Hamilton. If that’s not good enough, you can stop by and see Maureen at the health-food store. She’ll special-order some Spanish rice for you. Otherwise you’ll have to drive to Syracuse.”

“Thanks,” I said weakly. There would be no stops at the health-food store, which was the local hangout for witches when they weren’t at the Cost Cutter. I pushed my cart in the direction of aisle five.

“Good idea.”

“Don’t forget the milk!” Abby called after me.

When I got back home, Matthew and Fernando were standing in the field, deep in conversation. I put the groceries away and found the bucket in the sink where I’d left it. My fingers automatically reached for the tap, ready to twist it open so that the water flowed.

“What the hell is wrong with me?” I muttered, pulling the empty bucket out of the sink. I carried it back to the stillroom and let the door swing shut.

This room had seen some of my greatest humiliations as a witch. Even though I understood that my past difficulties with magic had come about because I was a weaver and spellbound to boot, it was still difficult to leave the memories of failure behind.

But it was time to try.

Placing the bucket on the hearth, I felt for the tide that always flowed through me. Thanks to my father, not only was I a weaver, but my blood was full of water. Crouching next to the pail, I directed my hand into the shape of a spout and focused on my desires.

Clean. Fresh. New.

Within moments my hand looked like metal rather than flesh and water poured from my fingers, hitting the plastic with a dull thud. Once the bucket was full, my hand was just a hand again. I smiled and sat back on my heels, pleased that I’d been able to work magic in the Bishop house. All around me the air sparkled with colored threads. It no longer felt thick and heavy but bright and full of potential. A cool breeze blew through the open window. Maybe I couldn’t solve all of our problems with a single knot, but if I were going to find out what Emily and my mother knew, I had to start somewhere.

“With knot of one, the spell’s begun,” I whispered, snagging a silver thread and knotting it securely.

Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed the full skirts and a brightly embroidered bodice that belonged to my ancestor Bridget Bishop.

Welcome home, granddaughter, said her ghostly voice.

8

Matthew swung the maul and lowered it onto the head of the wooden post. It landed with a satisfying thwack that reverberated up his arms, across his shoulders, and down his back. He lifted the maul again.

“I don’t believe you need to strike the post a third time,” Fernando drawled from behind him. “It should still be standing straight and tall when the next ice age comes.”

Matthew rested the business end of the maul on the ground and propped his arms on the shaft. He was not sweaty or winded. He was, however, annoyed at the interruption.

“What is it, Fernando?”

“I heard you speaking to Baldwin last night,” he replied.

Matthew picked up the posthole digger without responding.

“I take it he told you to stay here and not to cause any trouble—for now,” Fernando continued.

Matthew thrust the two sharp blades into the earth. They descended quite a bit farther into the soil than they would have if a human had been wielding the tool. He gave the implement a twist, withdrew it from the ground, and picked up a wooden post.

“Come, Mateus. Fixing Sarah’s fence is hardly the most useful way to spend your time.”

“The most useful way to spend my time would be to find Benjamin and rid the family of the monster once and for all.” Matthew held the seven-foot fence post in one hand as easily as though it weighed no more than a pencil and drove the tip into the soft earth. “Instead I’m waiting for Baldwin to give me permission to do what I should have done long ago.”

“Hmm.” Fernando studied the fence post. “Why don’t you go, then? To hell with Baldwin and his dictatorial ways. See to Benjamin. It will be no trouble for me to look after Diana as well as Sarah.”

Matthew turned a scathing glance on Fernando. “I am not going to leave my pregnant mate in the middle of nowhere—not even with you.”

“So your plan is to stay here, fixing whatever you can find that is broken, until the happy moment when Baldwin rings to authorize you to kill your own child. Then you will drag Diana along to whatever godforsaken hole Benjamin occupies and eviscerate him in front of your wife?” Fernando flung his hands up in disgust. “Don’t be absurd.”

“Baldwin won’t tolerate anything but obedience, Fernando. He made that very clear at Sept-Tours.”

Baldwin had dragged the de Clermont men and Fernando out into the night and explained in brutal and detailed terms just what would befall each and every one of them if he detected a whisper of protest or a glimmer of insurrection. Afterward even Gallowglass had looked shaken.

“There was a time when you enjoyed outflanking Baldwin. But since your father died, you have let your brother treat you abominably.” Fernando snagged the post maul before Matthew could get his hands on it.

“I couldn’t lose Sept-Tours. Maman wouldn’t have survived it—not after Philippe’s death.”

Matthew’s mother had been far from invincible then. She had been as fragile as blown glass. “The château might technically belong to the Knights of Lazarus, but everyone knows that the brotherhood belongs to the de Clermonts. If Baldwin wanted to challenge Philippe’s will and claim Sept-Tours, he would have succeeded, and Ysabeau would have been out in the cold.”

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