Home > The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(7)

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy #3)(7)
Author: Deborah Harkness

“We will compromise,” Baldwin said. “Surely Philippe would be satisfied if, when the witch’s children are born, their names are listed among my kin on the de Clermont family pedigree.” His words sounded magnanimous, but I was sure there was some darker purpose to them.

“My children are not your kin.” Matthew’s voice sounded like thunder.

“They are if Diana is a de Clermont as she claims,” Baldwin said with a smile.

“Wait. What pedigree?” I needed to back up a step in the argument.

“The Congregation maintains official pedigrees of all vampire families,” Baldwin said. “Some no longer observe the tradition. The de Clermonts do. The pedigrees include information about rebirths, deaths, and the names of mates and their offspring.”

My hand automatically covered my belly. I wanted the Congregation to remain unaware of my children for as long as possible. Based on the wary look in Matthew’s eyes, he felt the same way.

“Maybe your timewalking will be enough to satisfy questions about the blood vow, but only the blackest of magics—or infidelity—can explain this pregnancy,” Baldwin said, relishing his brother’s discomfort. “The children cannot be yours, Matthew.”

“Diana is carrying my children,” Matthew said, his eyes dangerously dark.

“Impossible,” Baldwin stated flatly.

“True,” Matthew retorted.

“If so, they’ll be the most hated—and the most hunted—children the world has ever known.

Creatures will be baying for their blood. And yours,” Baldwin said.

I registered Matthew’s sudden departure from my side at the same moment that I heard Baldwin’s chair break. When the blur of movement ceased, Matthew stood behind his brother with his arm locked around Baldwin’s throat, pressing a knife into the skin over his brother’s heart.

Verin looked down at her boot in amazement and found nothing but an empty scabbard. She swore.

“You may be head of the family, Baldwin, but never forget that I am its assassin,” Matthew growled.

“Assassin?” I tried to hide my confusion as another hidden side of Matthew was brought to light.

Scientist. Vampire. Warrior. Spy. Prince.

Assassin.

Matthew had told me he was a killer—repeatedly—but I had always considered this part and parcel of being a vampire. I knew he’d killed in self-defense, in battle, and to survive. I’d never dreamed that Matthew committed murder at his family’s behest.

“Surely you knew this?” Verin asked in a voice tinged with malice, her cold eyes studying me closely. “If Matthew weren’t so good at it, one of us would have put him down long ago.”

“We all have a role in this family, Verin.” Matthew’s voice dripped with bitterness. “Does Ernst know yours—how it begins between soft sheets and a man’s thighs?”

Verin moved like lightning, her fingers bent into lethal claws as she went for Matthew.

Vampires were fast, but magic was faster.

I pushed Verin against a wall with a blast of witchwind, keeping her away from my husband and Baldwin long enough for Matthew to exact some promise from his brother and release him.

“Thank you, ma lionne. ” It was Matthew’s usual endearment when I’d done something brave—or incredibly stupid. He handed me Verin’s knife. “Hold on to this.”

Matthew lifted Verin to her feet while Gallowglass moved closer to stand at my elbow.

“Well, well,” Verin murmured when she was standing upright again. “I see why Atta was drawn to your wife, but I wouldn’t have thought you had the stones for such a woman, Matthew.”

“Things change,” Matthew said shortly.

“Apparently.” Verin gave me an appraising look.

“You’ll be keeping your promise to Granddad, then?” Gallowglass asked Verin.

“We’ll see,” she said cautiously. “I have months to decide.”

“Time will pass, but nothing will change.” Baldwin looked at me with barely concealed loathing.

“Recognizing Matthew’s wife will have catastrophic consequences, Verin.”

“I honored Atta’ s wishes while he lived,” Verin said. “I cannot ignore them now that he is dead.”

“We must take comfort from the fact that the Congregation is already looking for Matthew and his mate,” Baldwin said. “Who knows? They may both be dead before December.”

After giving us a final, contemptuous look, Baldwin stalked from the room. Verin stole an apologetic glance at Gallowglass and trailed after him.

“So . . . that went well,” Gallowglass muttered “Are you all right, Auntie? You’ve gone a bit shiny.”

“The witchwind blew my disguising spell out of place.” I tried to tug it around me again.

“Given what happened here this morning, I think you’d better keep it on while Baldwin is at home,” Gallowglass suggested.

“Baldwin cannot know of Diana’s power. I’d appreciate your help with that, Gallowglass.

Fernando’s, too.” Matthew didn’t specify what form this assistance would take.

“Of course. I’ve been watching over Auntie her whole life,” Gallowglass said, matter-of-fact. “I’ll not be stopping now.”

At these words parts of my past that I had never understood slid into place like jagged puzzle pieces. As a child I’d often felt other creatures watching me, their eyes nudging and tingling and freezing my skin. One had been Peter Knox, my father’s enemy and the same witch who had come to Sept-Tours looking for Matthew and me only to kill Em. Could another have been this giant bear of a man, whom I now loved like a brother but had not even met until we traveled back to the sixteenth century?

“You were watching me?” My eyes filled, and I blinked back the tears.

“I promised Granddad I’d keep you safe. For Matthew’s sake.” Gallowglass’s blue eyes softened.

“And it’s a good thing, too. You were a right hellion: climbing trees, running after bicycles in the street, and heading into the forest without a hint as to where you were going. How your parents managed is beyond me.”

“Did Daddy know?” I had to ask. My father had met the big Gael in Elizabethan London, when he’d unexpectedly run into Matthew and me on one of his regular timewalks. Even in modern-day Massachusetts, my father would have recognized Gallowglass on sight. The man was unmistakable.

“I did my best not to show myself.”

“That’s not what I asked, Gallowglass.” I was getting better at ferreting out a vampire’s half-truths.

“Did my father know you were watching over me?”

“I made sure Stephen saw me just before he and your mother left for Africa that last time,”

Gallowglass confessed, his voice little more than a whisper. “I thought it might help him to know, when the end came, that I was nearby. You were still such a wee thing. Stephen must have been beside himself with worry thinking about how long it would be before you were with Matthew.”

Unbeknownst to Matthew or me, the Bishops and the de Clermonts had been working for years, even centuries, to bring us safely together: Philippe, Gallowglass, my father, Emily, my mother.

“Thank you, Gallowglass,” Matthew said hoarsely. Like me, he was surprised by the morning’s revelations.

“No need, Uncle. I did it gladly.” Gallowglass cleared the emotion from his throat and departed.

An awkward silence fell.

“Christ.” Matthew raked his fingers through his hair. It was the usual sign he’d been driven to the end of his patience.

“What are we going to do?” I said, still trying to regain my equilibrium after Baldwin’s sudden appearance.

A gentle cough announced a new presence in the room and kept Matthew from responding.

“I am sorry to interrupt, milord. ” Alain Le Merle, Philippe de Clermont’s onetime squire, stood in the doorway to the library. He was holding an ancient coffer with the initials P.C. picked out on the top in silver studs and a small ledger bound in green buckram. His salt-and-pepper hair and kind expression were the same as when I’d first met him in 1590. Like Matthew and Gallowglass, he was a fixed star in my universe of change.

“What is it, Alain?” Matthew asked.

“I have business with Madame de Clermont,” Alain replied.

“Business?” Matthew frowned. “Can it wait?”

“I’m afraid not,” Alain said apologetically. “This is a difficult time I know, milord, but Sieur Philippe was adamant that Madame de Clermont be given her things as soon as possible.”

Alain ushered us back up to our tower. What I saw on Matthew’s desk drove the events of the past hour completely from my mind and left me breathless.

A small book bound in brown leather.

An embroidered sleeve, threadbare with age.

Priceless jewels—pearls and diamonds and sapphires.

A golden arrowhead on a long chain.

A pair of miniatures, their bright surfaces as fresh as the day they were painted.

Letters, tied with a faded carnation ribbon.

A silver rat trap, tarnish clinging to the fine engraving.

A gilded astronomical instrument fit for an emperor.

A wooden box carved by a wizard out of a branch from a rowan tree.

The collection of objects didn’t look like much, but they held enormous significance, for they represented the past eight months.

I picked up the small book with a trembling hand and flipped it open. Matthew had given it to me soon after we’d arrived at his mansion in Woodstock. In the autumn of 1590, the book’s binding had been fresh and the pages creamy. Today the leather was speckled and the paper yellowed with age. In the past I’d tucked the book away on a high shelf in the Old Lodge, but a bookplate inside told me that it was now the property of a library in Seville. The call mark, “Manuscrito Gonçalves 4890, ” was inked onto the flyleaf . Someone—Gallowglass, no doubt—had removed the first page. Once it had been covered with my tentative attempts to record my name. The blots from that missing leaf had seeped through to the page below, but the list I’d made of the Elizabethan coins in circulation in 1590 was still legible.

I flipped through the rest of the pages, remembering the headache cure I’d attempted to master in a futile attempt to appear a proper Elizabethan housewife. My diary of daily happenings brought back bittersweet memories of our time with the School of Night. I’d dedicated a handful of pages to an overview of the twelve signs of the zodiac, copied down a few more recipes, and scribbled a packing list for our journey to Sept-Tours in the back. I heard the gentle chime as past and present rubbed against each other, and I spotted the blue and amber threads that were barely visible in the corners of the fireplace.

“How did you get this?” I said, focusing on the here and now.

“Master Gallowglass gave it to Dom Fernando long ago. When he arrived at Sept-Tours in May, Dom Fernando asked me to return it to you,” Alain explained.

“It’s a miracle anything survived. How did you manage to keep all this hidden from me for so many years?” Matthew picked up the silver rat trap. He had teased me when I’d commissioned one of London’s most expensive clockmakers to make the mechanism to catch the rats prowling our attics in the Blackfriars. Monsieur Vallin had designed it to resemble a cat, with ears set on the crossbars and a little mouse perched on the fierce feline’s nose. Matthew deliberately sprang the mechanism, and the cat’s sharp teeth dug into the flesh of his finger.

“We did as we must, milord. We waited. We kept silent. We never lost faith that time would bring Madame de Clermont back to us.” A sad smile played at the corners of Alain’s mouth. “If only Sieur

Philippe could have lived to see this day.”

At the thought of Philippe, my heart skittered. He must have known how badly his children would react to having me as a sister. Why had he put me in such an impossible situation?

“All right, Diana?” Matthew gently laid his hand over mine.

“Yes. Just a bit overwhelmed.” I took up the portraits of Matthew and me wearing fine Elizabethan clothing. Nicholas Hilliard had painted them at the Countess of Pembroke’s request. She and the Earl of Northumberland had given the tiny likenesses to us as wedding gifts. The two of them had been Matthew’s friends at first—along with the other members of the School of Night: Walter Raleigh, George Chapman, Thomas Harriot, and Christopher Marlowe. In time most of them became my friends, too.

“It was Madame Ysabeau who found the miniatures,” Alain explained. “She scoured the newspapers every day looking for traces of you—anomalies that stood out from the rest of the day’s events. When Madame Ysabeau saw these in an auction notice, she sent Master Marcus to London. It’s how he met Mademoiselle Phoebe.”

“This sleeve came from your wedding dress.” Matthew touched the fragile fabric, tracing the outlines of a cornucopia, the traditional symbol of abundance. “I will never forget the sight of you, coming down the hill to the village with the torches blazing and the children clearing the way through the snow.” His smile was full of love and a pleased pride.

“After the wedding many men in the village offered to pay Madame de Clermont court, should you tire of her.” Alain chuckled.

“Thank you for keeping all of these memories for me.” I looked down at the desk. “It’s much too easy to think I somehow imagined everything—that we were never really there in 1590. This makes that time seem real again.”

“Sieur Philippe thought you might feel that way. Alas, there are two more items that require your attention, Madame de Clermont.” Alain held out the ledger. A tied string kept it from being opened, and a blob of wax sealed the knot to the cover.

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