I was waiting under the sign of the Golden Gosling for Annie to pick up some stew for tonight's supper when the steady regard of a vampire drove the hint of summer from the air.
"Father Hubbard," I said, turning in the direction of the coldness.
The vampire's eyes flickered over my rib cage. "I am surprised your husband allows you to walk about the city unaccompanied, given what happened at Greenwich-and that you are carrying his child."
My firedrake, who had become fiercely protective since the incident in the tiltyard, coiled her tail around my hips.
"Everybody knows that wearhs can't father children on warmblooded women," I said dismissively.
"It seems that the impossible holds little sway with a witch such as you." Hubbard's grim countenance tightened further. "Most creatures believe that Matthew's contempt for witches is unchangeable, for example. Few would entertain the notion that it was he who made it possible for Barbara Napier to escape the pyre in Scotland." The events in Berwick continued to occupy Matthew's time as well as creature and human gossip in London.
"Matthew was nowhere near Scotland at the time."
"He didn't need to be. Hancock was in Edinburgh, posing as one of Napier's 'friends.' It was he who brought the matter of her pregnancy to the court's attention." Hubbard's breath was cold and smelled of the forest.
"The witch was innocent of the charges against her," I said brusquely, drawing my shawl around my shoulders. "The jury acquitted her."
"Of a single charge." Hubbard held my gaze. "She was found guilty of many more. And, given your recent return, perhaps you have not heard: King James found a way to reverse the jury's decision in Napier's case."
"Reverse it?" I'd never heard of such a thing.
"The king of Scots is not greatly enamored of the Congregation these days, no small thanks to your husband. Matthew's slippery sense of the covenant and his interference in Scottish politics have inspired His Majesty to find his own legal loopholes. James is putting the jurors who acquitted the witch on trial themselves. They are charged with miscarrying the king's justice. Intimidating the jurors will better ensure the outcome of future trials."
"That wasn't Matthew's plan," I said, my mind reeling.
"It sounds sufficiently devious for Matthew de Clermont. Napier and her babe may live, but dozens more innocent creatures will die because of it." Hubbard's expression was deadly. "Isn't that what the de Clermonts want? To win at any cost?"
"How dare you!"
"I have the-" Annie stepped out onto the street and nearly dropped her pot. I reached out and hooked her into my arm.
"Thank you, Annie."
"Do you know where your husband is this fine May morning, Mistress Roydon?"
"He is out on business." Matthew had made sure I ate my breakfast, kissed me, and left the house with Pierre. Jack had been inconsolable when Matthew told him he must stay behind with Harriot. I felt a flicker of unease. It wasn't like Matthew to refuse Jack a trip into town.
"No," Hubbard said softly, "he is in Bedlam with his sister and Christopher Marlowe."
Bedlam was an oubliette in all but name-a place for forgetting, where the insane were locked up with those interred by their own families on some trumped-up charge simply to be rid of them. With nothing but straw for bedding, no regular supply of food, not a shred of kindness from the jailers, and no treatment of any sort, most inmates never escaped. If they did, they rarely recovered from the experience.
"Not content with altering the judgment in Scotland, Matthew now seeks to mete out his own justice here in London," Hubbard continued. "He went to question them this morning. I understand he is still there."
It was past noon.
"I have seen Matthew de Clermont kill quickly, when he is enraged. It is terrible to behold. To see him do so slowly, painstakingly, would make the most resolute atheist believe in the devil."
Kit. Louisa was a vampire and shared Ysabeau's blood. She could fend for herself. But a daemon . . .
"Go to Goody Alsop, Annie. Tell her I've gone to Bedlam to look after Master Marlowe and Master Roydon's sister." I turned the girl in the proper direction and released her, putting my own body squarely between her and the vampire.
"I must stay with you," Annie said, her eyes huge. "Master Roydon made me promise!"
"Someone must know where I've gone, Annie. Tell Goody Alsop what you heard here. I can find my way to Bedlam." In truth I had only a vague notion of the notorious asylum's location, but I had other means of discovering Matthew's whereabouts. I wrapped imaginary fingers around the chain within me and got ready to pull it.
"Wait." Hubbard's hand closed around my wrist. I jumped. He called to someone in the shadows. It was the angular young man Matthew referred to by the strangely fitting name Amen Corner. "My son will take you."
"Matthew will know I've been with you now." I looked down at Hubbard's hand. It was still wrapped around my wrist, transferring his telltale scent to my warm skin. "He'll take it out on your son."
Hubbard's grip tightened, and I let out a soft sound of understanding.
"If you wanted to accompany me to Bedlam as well, Father Hubbard, all you needed to do was ask."
Hubbard knew every shortcut and back alley between St. James Garlickhythe and Bishopsgate. We passed beyond the city limits and into one of London's squalid suburbs. Like Cripplegate, the area around Bedlam was poverty-stricken and desperately crowded. But the true horrors were yet to come.
The keeper met us at the gate and led us into what had once been known as the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem. Master Sleford was well acquainted with Father Hubbard and could not bow and scrape enough as he led us to one of the stout doors across the pitted courtyard. Even with the thick wood and stone of the old medieval priory between us, the inmates' screams were piercing. Most of the windows were unglazed and open to the elements. The stench of rot, filth, and age was overwhelming.
"Don't," I said, refusing Hubbard's offer of assistance as we entered the dank, close confines. There was something obscene about taking his help when I was free and the inmates were offered no assistance at all.
Inside, I was bombarded by the ghosts of past inmates and the jagged threads that twisted around the hospital's current tormented inhabitants. I dealt with the horror by engaging in macabre mathematical exercises, dividing the men and women I saw into smaller groups only to lump them together in a new way.
I counted twenty inmates during our walk down the corridor. Fourteen were daemons. A half dozen of the twenty were completely naked, and ten more were dressed only in rags. A woman wearing a filthy though expensive man's suit stared at us with open hostility. She was one of the three humans in the place. There were two witches and one vampire as well. Fifteen of the poor souls were manacled to the wall, chained to the floor, or both. Four of the other five were unable to stand and crouched by the walls chattering and scraping at the stone. One of the patients was free. He danced, naked, down the corridor ahead of us.
One room had a door. Something told me that Louisa and Kit were behind it.
The keeper unlocked the door and knocked sharply. When he didn't get an immediate response, he pounded.
"I heard you the first time, Master Sleford." Gallowglass looked decidedly the worse for wear, with fresh scratches down his cheek and blood on his doublet. When he saw me standing behind Sleford, he did a double take. "Auntie."
"Let me in."
"That's not such a good-" Gallowglass took another look at my expression and stepped aside. "Louisa's lost a fair bit of blood. She's hungry. Stay away from her, unless you're of a mind to be bitten or clawed. I've trimmed her nails, but there's not much I can do about her teeth."
Although nothing stood in my way, I remained rooted to the threshold. The beautiful, cruel Louisa was chained to an iron ring set into the stone floor. Her dress was in tatters, and blood from deep gashes in her neck covered her. Someone had been feeding from Louisa-someone stronger and angrier than she was.
I searched the shadows until I found a dark figure crouched over a lump on the floor. Matthew's head swung up, his face ghostly pale and his eyes black as night. Not a speck of blood was on him. Like Hubbard's offer of help, his cleanliness was somehow obscene.
"You should be at home, Diana." Matthew stood.
"I am exactly where I need to be, thank you." I moved in my husband's direction. "Blood rage and poppy don't mix, Matthew. How much of their blood have you taken?" The lump on the floor stirred.
"I am here, Christopher," Hubbard called. "You will come to no more harm."
Marlowe wept with relief, his body racked with sobs.
"Bedlam isn't in London, Hubbard," Matthew said coldly. "You're out of your bailiwick, and Kit is beyond your protection."
"Christ, here we go again." Gallowglass closed the door in Sleford's stunned face. "Lock it!" he barked through the wood, punctuating his command with a thud of his fist.
Louisa sprang to her feet when the metal mechanism ground shut, the chains rattling around her ankles and wrists. One of them snapped, and I jumped as the broken length of metal chimed against the floor. A sympathetic banging of chains sounded along the corridor.
"Notmybloodnotmybloodnotmyblood," Louisa chanted. She was as flat as possible against the far wall. When I met her eyes, she whimpered and turned away. "Begone, fantome. I have already died once and have nothing to fear from ghosts like you."
"Be quiet." Matthew's voice was low, but it cracked through the room with enough force that we all jumped.
"Thirsty," Louisa croaked. "Please, Matthew."
There was a regular splat of wetness against stone. With each splash Louisa's body jerked. Someone had suspended a stag's head by the antlers, its black eyes empty and staring. Blood fell, one drop at a time, from its severed neck and onto the floor just beyond the reach of Louisa's chains.
"Stop torturing her!" I stepped forward, but Gallowglass's hand held me back.
"I can't let you interfere, Auntie," he said firmly. "Matthew's right: You don't belong in the middle of this."
"Gallowglass." Matthew shook his head in warning. Gallowglass released my arm and watched his uncle warily.
"Let me answer your earlier question, Auntie, Matthew has had just enough of Kit's blood to keep his blood rage burning. You may need this if you want to talk to him." Gallowglass tossed me a knife. I made no move to catch it, and the blade clattered to the stones.
"You are more than this disease, Matthew." I stepped over the blade. We stood so close that my skirts brushed against his boots. "Let Father Hubbard see to Kit."
"No." Matthew's expression was unyielding.
"What would Jack think if he saw you this way?" I was willing to use guilt rather than steel to bring Matthew to his senses. "You're his hero. Heroes do not torment their friends or family."
"They tried to kill you!" Matthew's roar reverberated through the small room.
"They were out of their minds with opiates and alcohol. Neither of them knew what they were doing," I retorted. "Nor, may I add, do you in your present state."
"Don't fool yourself. Both of them knew exactly what they were doing. Kit was ridding himself of an obstacle to his happiness without a care for anyone else. Louisa was succumbing to the same cruel urges she's indulged since the day she was made." Matthew ran his fingers through his hair. "I know what I'm doing, too."
"Yes-you're punishing yourself. You've convinced yourself that biology is destiny, at least so far as your own blood rage is concerned. As a result you think you're just like Louisa and Kit. Just another madman. I asked you to stop denying your instincts, Matthew, not to become a slave to them."
This time, when I took a step toward Matthew's sister, she sprang at me, spitting and snarling.
"And there's your greatest fear for the future: that you will be reduced to an animal, chained up and waiting for the next punishment because it's what you deserve." I went back to him, gripping his shoulders. "You are not this man, Matthew. You never were."
"I've told you before not to romanticize me," he said shortly. He dragged his eyes away from mine, but not before I'd seen the desperation there.
"So this is for my benefit, too? You're still trying to prove that you're not worth loving?" His hands were clenched at his sides. I reached for them and forced them open, pulling them flat against my belly. "Hold our child, look me in the eye, and tell us that there's no hope for a different ending to this story."
As on the night I'd waited for him to take my vein, time stretched out to infinity while Matthew wrestled with himself. Now, as then, I could do nothing to speed the process or help him choose life over death. He had to grab hope's fragile thread without any help from me.
"I don't know," he finally admitted. "Once I knew that love between a vampire and a witch was wrong. I was sure the four species were distinct. I accepted the deaths of witches if it meant that vampires and daemons survived." Though his pupils still eclipsed his eyes, a bright sliver of green appeared. "I told myself that the madness among daemons and the weaknesses among vampires were relatively recent developments, but now that I see Louisa and Kit . . ."
"You don't know." I lowered my voice. "None of us do. It's a frightening prospect. But we have to hope in the future, Matthew. I don't want our children to be born under this same shadow, hating and fearing who they are."
I waited for him to fight me further, but he remained silent.
"Let Gallowglass take responsibility for your sister. Allow Hubbard to take Kit. And try to forgive them."
"Wearhs do not forgive as easily as warmbloods do," Gallowglass said gruffly. "You cannot ask that of him."
"Matthew asked it of you," I pointed out.
"Aye, and I told him the best he could hope for was that I might, in time, forget. Don't demand more from Matthew than he can give, Auntie. He is his own worst rack master, and he needs no assistance from you." Gallowglass's voice held a warning.
"I would like to forget, witch," Louisa said primly, as if she were making a simple choice of fabric for a new gown. She waved her hand in the air. "All of this. Use your magic and make these horrible dreams go away."
It was in my power to do it. I could see the threads binding her to Bedlam, to Matthew, and to me. But though I didn't want to torture Louisa, I was not so forgiving as to grant her peace.
"No, Louisa," I said. "You will remember Greenwichfor the rest of your days , and me, and even how you hurt Matthew. Let that be your prison, and not this place." I turned to Gallowglass. "Make sure she isn't a danger to herself or anyone else, before you set her free."
"Oh, she won't enjoy any freedom," Gallowglass promised. "She'll go from here to wherever Philippe sends her. After what she's done here, my grandfather will never let her roam again."
"Tell them, Matthew!" Louisa pleaded. "You understand what it is to have these . . . things crawling in your skull. I cannot bear them!" She pulled at her hair with a manacled hand.
"And Kit?" Gallowglass asked. "You are sure you want Hubbard to take care of him, Matthew? I know that Hancock would be delighted to dispatch him."
"He is Hubbard's creature, not mine." Matthew's tone was absolute. "I care not what happens to him."
"What I did was out of love-" Kit began.
"You did it out of spite," Matthew said, turning his back on his best friend.
"Father Hubbard," I called as he rushed to collect his charge. "Kit's actions at Greenwich will be forgotten, provided that what happened here stays within these walls."
"You promise this, on behalf of all the de Clermonts?" Hubbard's pale eyebrows lifted. "Your husband must give me this assurance, not you."
"My word is going to have to be enough," I said, standing my ground.
"Very well, Madame de Clermont." It was the first time that Hubbard had used the title. "You are indeed Philippe's daughter. I accept your family's terms."
Even after we left Bedlam, I could feel its darkness clinging to us. Matthew did, too. It followed us everywhere we went in London, accompanied us to dinner, visited with our friends. There was only one way to rid ourselves of it.
We had to return to our present.
Without discussion or conscious plans, we both began putting our affairs in order, snipping the threads that bound us to the past we now shared. Françoise had been planning to rejoin us in London, but we sent word for her to remain at the Old Lodge. Matthew had long and complicated conversations with Gallowglass about the lies his nephew would have to tell so as not to reveal to the sixteenth-century Matthew that he'd been temporarily replaced by his future self. The sixteenth-century Matthew could not be allowed to see Kit or Louisa, for neither could be trusted. Walter and Henry would make up some story to explain any discontinuities in behavior. Matthew sent Hancock to Scotland to prepare for a new life there. I worked with Goody Alsop, perfecting the knots I would use to weave the spell that would carry us into the future.
Matthew met me in St. James Garlickhythe after one of my lessons and suggested we stroll through St. Paul's Churchyard on our way home. It was two weeks from midsummer, and the days were sunny and bright in spite of Bedlam's persistent pall.
Though Matthew still looked drawn after his experience with Louisa and Kit, it felt almost like old times when we stopped at the booksellers to see the latest titles and news. I was reading a fresh volley in the war of words between two spatting Cambridge graduates when Matthew stiffened.
"Chamomile. And coffee." His head swung around at the unfamiliar scent.
"Coffee?" I asked, wondering how something that had not yet come to England could possibly be scenting the air around St. Paul's. But Matthew was no longer beside me to answer. Instead he was pushing his way through the crowd, his sword in one hand.
I sighed. Matthew couldn't stop himself from going after every thief in the market. At times I wished his eyesight were not so keen, his moral compass less absolute.
This time he was pursuing a man about five inches shorter than he was, with thick brown curls peppered with gray. The man was slender and slightly stooped at the shoulders, as though he spent too much time hunched over books. Something about the combination tugged at my memory.
The man sensed the danger approaching and turned. Alas, he carried a pitifully small dagger no bigger than a penknife. That wasn't going to be much use against Matthew. Hoping to avoid a bloodbath, I hurried after my husband.
Matthew grabbed the poor man's hand so tightly that his inadequate weapon fell to the ground. With one knee the vampire pressed his prey against the bookstall, the flat of his sword against the man's neck. I did a double take.
"Daddy?" I whispered. It couldn't be. I stared at him incredulously, my heart hammering with excitement and shock.
"Hello, Miss Bishop," my father replied, glancing up from Matthew's sharp-edged blade. "Fancy meeting you here."
P/S: Copyright -->www_novelfreereadonline_Com