Assembling the twenty-six most powerful witches in London was no small feat. The Rede did not take place as I had imagined-in a single, courtroom-style meeting with witches arrayed in neat rows and me standing before them. Instead it unfolded over several days in shops, taverns, and parlors all over the city. There were no formal introductions, and no time was wasted on other social niceties. I saw so many unfamiliar witches that soon they all blurred together.
Some aspects of the experience stood out, however. For the first time I felt the unquestionable power of a firewitch. Goody Alsop hadn't misled me-there was no mistaking the burning intensity of the redheaded witch's gaze or touch. Though the flames in my blood leaped and danced when she was near, I was clearly no firewitch. This was confirmed when I met two more firewitches in a private room at the Mitre, a tavern in Bishopsgate.
"She'll be a challenge," one observed after she'd finished reading my skin.
"A time-spinning weaver with plenty of water and fire in her," the other agreed. "Not a combination I thought to see in my lifetime."
The Rede's windwitches convened at Goody Alsop's house, which was more spacious than its modest exterior suggested. Two ghosts wandered the rooms, as did Goody Alsop's fetch, who met visitors at the door and glided about silently making sure that everyone was comfortable.
The windwitches were a less fearsome lot than the firewitches, their touches light and dry as they quietly assessed my strengths and shortcomings.
"A stormy one," murmured a silver-haired witch of fifty or so. She was petite and lithe and moved with a speed that suggested gravity did not have the same hold on her as on the rest of us.
"Too much direction," another said, frowning. "She needs to let matters take their own course, or every draft she makes is likely to become a fullblown gale."
Goody Alsop accepted their comments with thanks, but when they all left, she seemed relieved.
"I will rest now, child," she said weakly, rising from her chair and moving toward the rear of the house. Her fetch trailed after her like a shadow.
"Are there any men among the Rede, Goody Alsop?" I asked, taking her elbow.
"Only a handful remain. All the young wizards have gone off to university to study natural philosophy," she said with a sigh. "These are strange times, Diana. Everyone is in such a rush for something new, and witches think books will teach them better than experience. I'll take my leave of you now. My ears are ringing from all that talking."
A solitary waterwitch came to the Hart and Crown on Thursday morning. I was lying down, exhausted from traipsing all over town the previous day. Tall and supple, the waterwitch did not so much step as flow into the house. She met a solid obstacle, however, in the wall of vampires in the entrance hall.
"It's all right, Matthew," I said from the door of our bedchamber, beckoning her forward.
When we were alone, the waterwitch surveyed me from head to toe. Her glance tingled like salt water on my skin, as bracing as a dip in the ocean on a summer day.
"Goody Alsop was right," she said in a low, musical voice. "There is too much water in your blood. We cannot meet with you in groups for fear of causing a deluge. You must see us one at a time. It will take all day, I'm afraid."
So instead of my going to the waterwitches, the waterwitches came to me. They trickled in and out of the house, driving Matthew and Françoise mad. But there was no denying my affinity with them, or the undertow that I felt in a waterwitch's presence.
"The water did not lie," one waterwitch murmured after sliding her fingertips over my forehead and shoulders. She turned my hands over to examine the palms. She was scarcely older than me, with striking coloring: white skin, black hair, and eyes the color of the Caribbean.
"What water?" I asked as she traced the tributaries leading away from my lifeline.
"Every waterwitch in London collected rainwater from midsummer to Mabon, then poured it into the Rede's scrying bowl. It revealed that the long-awaited weaver would have water in her veins." The waterwitch let out a sigh of relief and released my hands. "We are in need of new spells after helping turn back the Spanish fleet. Goody Alsop has been able to replenish the windwitches' supply, but the Scottish weaver was gifted with earth, so she could not help us-even if she had wished to. You are a true daughter of the moon, though, and will serve us well."
On Friday morning a messenger came to the house with an address on Bread Street and instructions for me to go there at eleven o'clock to meet the last remaining members of the Rede: the two earthwitches. Most witches had some degree of earth magic within them. It was the foundation for the craft, and in modern covens earthwitches had no special distinction. I was curious to see if the Elizabethan earthwitches were any different.
Matthew and Annie went with me, as Pierre was occupied on an errand for Matthew and Françoise was out shopping. We were just clearing St. Paul's Churchyard when Matthew turned on an urchin with a filthy face and painfully thin legs. Matthew's blade was at the child's ear in a flash. "Move that finger so much as a hair, lad, and I'll take your ear off," he said softly.
I looked down with surprise to see the child's fingers brushing against the bag I wore at my waist.
There was always a hint of potential violence about Matthew, even in my own time, but in Elizabeth's London it was much closer to the surface. Still, there was no need for him to turn his venom on one so small.
"Matthew," I warned, noting the terror on the child's face, "stop it."
"Another man would have your ear or have you before the bailiffs." Matthew narrowed his eyes, and the child blanched further.
"Enough," I said shortly. I touched the child's shoulder, and he flinched. In a flash my witch's eye saw a man's heavy hand striking the child and driving him into a wall. Beneath my fingers, concealed by a rough shirt that was all the boy had to keep out the cold, blood suffused his skin in an ugly bruise. "What's your name?"
"Jack, my lady," the boy whispered. Matthew's knife was still pressed to his ear, and we were beginning to attract attention.
"Put the dagger away, Matthew. This child is no danger to either of us."
Matthew withdrew his knife with a hiss.
"Where are your parents?"
Jack shrugged. "Haven't any, my lady."
"Take the boy home, Annie, and have Françoise get him some food and clothes. Introduce him to warm water, if you can, and put him in Pierre's bed. He looks tired."
"You cannot adopt every stray in London, Diana." Matthew drove his dagger into its sheath for emphasis.
"Françoise could use someone to run errands for her." I smoothed the boy's hair back from his forehead. "Will you work for me, Jack?"
"Aye, mistress." Jack's stomach gave an audible gurgle, and his wary eyes held a trace of hope. My witch's third eye opened wide, seeing into his cavernous stomach and hollow, trembling legs. I drew a few coins from my purse.
"Buy him a slice of pie from Master Prior on the way, Annie. He's ready to drop from hunger, but that should hold him until Françoise can make him a proper meal."
"Yes, Mistress," Annie said. She gripped Jack around the arm and towed him in the direction of the Blackfriars.
Matthew frowned at their departing backs and then at me. "You're doing that child no favors. This Jack-if that's his real name, which I sincerely doubt-won't live out the year if he continues to steal."
"The child won't live out the week unless an adult takes responsibility for him. What is that you said? Love, a grown-up to care for them, and a soft place to land?"
"Don't turn my words against me, Diana. That was about our child, not some homeless waif." Matthew, who had met more witches in the past few days than most vampires did in a lifetime, was spoiling for a fight.
"I was a homeless waif once."
My husband drew back as if I'd slapped him.
"Not so easy to turn him away now, is it?" I didn't wait for him to respond. "If Jack doesn't come with us, we might as well take him straight to Andrew Hubbard. There he'll either be fitted for a coffin or had for supper. Either way he'll be looked after better than he would be out here on the streets."
"We have servants enough," Matthew said coolly.
"And you have money to spare. If you can't afford it, I'll pay his wages out of my own funds."
"You'd better come up with a fairy tale to tuck him into bed with while you're at it." Matthew gripped my elbow. "Do you think he won't notice he's living with three wearhs and two witches? Human children always see more clearly into the world of creatures than adults do."
"Do you think Jack will care what we are if he has a roof over his head, food in his belly, and a bed where he can sleep the night in safety?" A woman stared at us in confusion from across the street. A vampire and a witch shouldn't be having such a heated discussion in public. I pulled the hood closer around my face.
"The more creatures we let into our lives here, the trickier this all becomes," Matthew said. He noticed the woman watching us and released my arm. "And that goes double for the humans."
After visiting the two solid, grave earthwitches, Matthew and I retreated to opposite ends of the Hart and Crown until our tempers cooled. Matthew attacked his mail, bellowing for Pierre and letting out a voluble stream of curses against Her Majesty's government, his father's whims, and the folly of King James of Scotland. I spent the time talking to Jack about his duties. While the boy had a fine skill set when it came to picking locks, pockets, and country bumpkins who could be fleeced of all their possessions in confidence games, he could not read, write, cook, sew, or do anything else that might assist Françoise and Annie. Pierre, however, took a serious interest in the boy, especially after he recovered his lucky charm from the inner pocket of the boy's secondhand doublet.
"Come with me, Jack," Pierre said, holding open the door and jerking his head toward the stairs. He was on his way out to collect the latest missives from Matthew's informants, and he clearly planned on taking advantage of our young charge's familiarity with London's underworld.
"Yes, sir," Jack said, his voice eager. He already looked better after just one meal.
"Nothing dangerous," I warned Pierre.
"Of course not, madame," the vampire said innocently.
"I mean it," I retorted. "And have him back before dark."
I was sorting through papers on my desk when Matthew came out from his study. Françoise and Annie had gone to Smithfield to see the butchers for meat and blood, and we had the house to ourselves.
"I'm sorry, mon coeur," Matthew said, sliding his hands around my waist from behind. He dropped a kiss on my neck. "Between the Rede and the queen, it's been a long week."
"I'm sorry, too. I understand why you don't want Jack here, Matthew, but I couldn't ignore him. He was hurt and hungry."
"I know," Matthew said, drawing me in tightly so that my back fit against his chest.
"Would your reaction have been different if we'd found the boy in modern Oxford?" I asked, staring into the fire rather than meeting his eyes. Ever since the incident with Jack, I had been preoccupied with the question of whether Matthew's behavior was rooted in vampire genetics or Elizabethan morals.
"Probably not. It's not easy for vampires to live among warmbloods, Diana. Without an emotional bond, warmbloods are nothing more than a source of nourishment. No vampire, however civilized and well mannered, can remain in close proximity to one without feeling the urge to feed on them." His breath was cool against my neck, tickling the sensitive spot where Miriam had used her blood to heal the wound Matthew had made there.
"You don't seem to want to feed on me." There had been no indication that Matthew wrestled with such an urge, and he had flatly refused his father's suggestions that he take my blood.
"I can manage my cravings far better than when we first met. Now my desire for your blood is not so much about nourishment as control. To feed from you would primarily be an assertion of dominance now that we're mated."
"And we have sex for that," I said matter-of-factly. Matthew was a generous and creative lover, but he definitely considered the bedroom his domain.
"Excuse me?" he said, his eyebrows drawn into a scowl.
"Sex and dominance. It's what modern humans think vampire relationships are all about," I said. "Their stories are full of crazed alpha-male vampires throwing women over their shoulders before dragging them off for dinner and a date."
"Dinner and a date?" Matthew was aghast. "Do you mean . . . ?"
"Uh-huh. You should see what Sarah's friends in the Madison coven read. Vampire meets girl, vampire bites girl, girl is shocked to find out there really are vampires. The sex, blood, and overprotective behavior all come quickly thereafter. Some of it is pretty explicit." I paused. "There's no time for bundling, that's for sure. I don't remember much poetry or dancing either."
Matthew swore. "No wonder your aunt wanted to know if I was hungry."
"You really should read this stuff, if only to see what humans think. It's a public-relations nightmare. Far worse than what witches have to overcome." I turned around to face him. "You'd be surprised how many women seem to want a vampire boyfriend anyway, though."
"What if their vampire boyfriends were to behave like callous bastards in the street and threaten starving orphans?"
"Most fictional vampires have hearts of gold, barring the occasional jealous rage and consequent dismemberment." I smoothed the hair away from his eyes.
"I can't believe we're having this conversation," Matthew said.
"Why? Vampires read books about witches. The fact that Kit's Doctor Faustus is pure fantasy doesn't stop you from enjoying a good supernatural yarn."
"Yes, but all that manhandling and then making love . . ." Matthew shook his head.
"You've manhandled me, as you so charmingly put it. I seem to recall being hoisted into your arms at Sept-Tours on more than one occasion," I pointed out.
"Only when you were injured!" Matthew said indignantly. "Or tired."
"Or when you wanted me in one spot and I was in another. Or when the horse was too tall, or the bed was too high, or the seas were too rough. Honestly, Matthew. You have a very selective memory when it suits you. As for making love, it's not always the tender act that you describe. Not in the books I've seen. Sometimes it's just a good, hard-"
Before I could finish my sentence, a tall, handsome vampire flung me over his shoulder.
"We will continue this conversation in private."
"Help! I think my husband is a vampire!" I laughed and pounded on the backs of his thighs.
"Be quiet," he growled. "Or you'll have Mistress Hawley to contend with."
"If I were a human woman and not a witch, that growly sound you just made would make me swoon. I'd be all yours, and you could have your way with me." I giggled.
"You're already all mine," Matthew reminded me, depositing me on the bed. "I'm changing this ridiculous plot, by the way. In the interests of originality-not to mention verisimilitude-we're skipping dinner and moving right on to the date."
"Readers would love a vampire who said that!" I said.
Matthew seemed not to care about my editorial contributions. He was too busy lifting my skirts. We were going to make love fully clothed. How deliciously Elizabethan.
"Wait a minute. At least let me take off my bum roll." Annie had informed me that this was the proper name for the doughnut-shaped thing that kept my skirts respectably full and flouncy.
But Matthew was not inclined to wait.
"To hell with the bum roll." He loosened the front ties on his breeches, grabbed my hands, and pinned them over my head. With one thrust he was inside me.
"I had no idea that talking about popular fiction would have this effect on you," I said breathlessly as he started to move. "Remind me to discuss it with you more often."
We were just sitting down to supper when I was called to Goody Alsop's house.
The Rede had made its ruling.
When Annie and I arrived with our two vampire escorts and Jack trailing behind, we found her in the front parlor with Susanna and three unfamiliar witches. Goody Alsop sent the men to the Golden Gosling and steered me toward the group by the fire.
"Come, Diana, and meet your teachers." Goody Alsop's fetch pointed me to an empty chair and withdrew into her mistress's shadow. All five witches studied me. They looked like a bunch of prosperous city matrons, with their thick woolen gowns in dark, wintry colors. Only their tingling glances gave them away as witches.
"So the Rede agreed with your initial plan," I said slowly, trying to meet their eyes. It was never good to show a teacher fear.
"They did," Susanna said with resignation. "You will forgive me, Mistress Roydon. I have two boys to think of, and a husband too ill to provide for us. A neighbor's goodwill can be lost overnight."
"Let me introduce you to the others," Goody Alsop said, turning slightly toward the woman to her right. She was around sixty, short in stature, round of face, and, if her smile was any indication, generous of spirit. "This is Marjorie Cooper."
"Diana," Marjorie said with a nod that set her small ruff rustling. "Welcome to our gathering."
While meeting the Rede, I'd learned that Elizabethan witches used the term "gathering" much as modern witches used the word "coven" to indicate a recognized community of witches. Like everything else in London, the city's gatherings coincided with parish boundaries. Though it was strange to think of witches' covens and Christian churches fitting so neatly together, it made sound organizational sense and provided an extra measure of safety, since it kept the witches' affairs among close neighbors.
There were, therefore, more than a hundred gatherings in London proper and a further two dozen in the suburbs. Like the parishes, the gatherings were organized into larger districts known as wards. Each ward sent one of its elders to the Rede, which oversaw all of the witches' affairs in the city.
With panics and witch-hunts brewing, the Rede was worried that the old system of governance was breaking down. London was bursting with creatures already, and more poured in every day. I had heard muttering about the size of the Aldgate gathering-which included more than sixty witches instead of the normal thirteen to twenty-as well as the large gatherings in Cripplegate and Southwark. To avoid the notice of humans, some gatherings had started "hiving off" and splitting into different septs. But new gatherings with inexperienced leaders were proving problematic in these difficult times. Witches in the Rede who were gifted with second sight foresaw troubles ahead.
"Marjorie is gifted with the magic of earth, like Susanna. Her specialty is remembering," Goody Alsop explained.
"I have no need of grimoires or these new almanacs all the booksellers are peddling," Marjorie said proudly.
"Marjorie perfectly remembers every spell she has ever mastered and can recall the exact configuration of the stars for every year she has been alive-and for many years when she was not yet born."
"Goody Alsop feared you would not be able to write down all you learn here and take it with you. Not only will I help you find the right words so that another witch might use the spells you devise, but I'll teach you how to be at one with those words so that none can ever take them from you." Marjorie's eyes sparkled, and her voice lowered conspiratorially. "And my husband is a vintner. He can get you much better wine than you are drinking now. I understand wine is important to wearhs."
I laughed aloud at this, and the other witches joined in. "Thank you, Mistress Cooper. I will pass your offer on to my husband."
"Marjorie. We are sisters here." For once I didn't cringe at being called another witch's sister.
"I am Elizabeth Jackson," said the elderly woman on the other side of Goody Alsop. She was somewhere between Marjorie and Goody Alsop in age.
"You're a waterwitch." I felt the affinity as soon as she spoke.
"I am." Elizabeth had steely gray hair and eyes and was as tall and straight as Marjorie was short and round. While many of the waterwitches in the Rede had been sinuous and flowing, Elizabeth had the brisk clarity of a mountain stream. I sensed she would always tell me the truth, even when I didn't want to hear it.
"Elizabeth is a gifted seer. She will teach you the art of scrying."
"My mother was known for her second sight," I said hesitantly. "I would like to follow in her footsteps."
"But she had no fire," Elizabeth said decidedly, beginning her truthtelling immediately. "You may not be able to follow your mother in everything, Diana. Fire and water are a potent mix, provided they don't extinguish each other."
"We will see to it that doesn't happen," the last witch promised, turning her eyes to me. Until then she'd been studiously avoiding my gaze. Now I could see why: There were golden sparks in her brown eyes, and my third eye shot open in alarm. With that extra sight, I could see the nimbus of light that surrounded her. This must be Catherine Streeter.
"You're even . . . even more powerful than the firewitches in the Rede," I stammered.
"Catherine is a special witch," Goody Alsop admitted, "a firewitch born of two firewitches. It happens rarely, as though nature herself knows that such a light cannot be hidden."
When my third eye closed, dazzled by the sight of the thrice-blessed firewitch, Catherine seemed to fade. Her brown hair dulled, her eyes dimmed, and her face was handsome but unmemorable. Her magic sprang to life again, however, as soon as she spoke.
"You have more fire than I expected," she said thoughtfully.
"'Tis a pity she was not here when the Armada came," Elizabeth said.
"So it's true? The famous 'English wind' that blew the Spanish ships away from England's shores was raised by witches?" I asked. It was part of witches' lore, but I'd always dismissed it as a myth.
"Goody Alsop was most useful to Her Majesty," Elizabeth said proudly. "Had you been here, I think we might have been able to make burning water-or fiery rain at the very least."
"Let us not get ahead of ourselves," Goody Alsop said, holding up one hand. "Diana has not yet made her weaver's forspell."
"Forspell?" I asked. Like gatherings and the Rede, this was not a term I knew.
"A forspell reveals the shape of a weaver's talents. Together we will form a blessed circle. There we will temporarily turn your powers loose to find their own way, unencumbered by words or desires," Goody Alsop replied. "It will tell us much about your talents and what we must do to train them, as well as reveal your familiar."
"Witches don't have familiars." This was another human conceit, like worshipping the devil.
"Weavers do," Goody Alsop said serenely, motioning toward her fetch. "This is mine. Like all familiars, she is an extension of my talents."
"I'm not sure having a familiar is such a good idea in my case," I said, thinking about the blackened quinces, Mary's shoes, and the chick. "I have enough to worry about."
"That is the reason you cast a forspell-to face your deepest fears so that you can work your magic freely. Still, it can be a harrowing experience. There have been weavers who entered the circle with hair the color of a raven's wing and left it with tresses as white as snow," Goody Alsop admitted.
"But it will not be as heartbreaking as the night the wearh left Diana and the waters rose in her," Elizabeth said softly.
"Or as lonely as the night she was closed in the earth," Susanna said with a shiver. Marjorie nodded sympathetically.
"Or as frightening as the time the firewitch tried to open you," Catherine assured me, her fingers turning orange with fury.
"The moon will be full dark on Friday. Candlemas is but a few weeks away. And we are entering a period that is propitious for spells inclining children toward study," Marjorie remarked, her face creased with concentration as she recalled the relevant information from her astonishing memory.
"I thought this was the week for snakebite charms?" Susanna said, drawing a small almanac out of her pocket.
While Marjorie and Susanna discussed the magical intricacies of the schedule, Goody Alsop, Elizabeth, and Catherine stared at me intently.
"I wonder . . ." Goody Alsop looked at me with open speculation and tapped a finger against her lips.
"Surely not," Elizabeth said, voice hushed.
"We are not getting ahead of ourselves, remember?" Catherine said. "The goddess has blessed us enough." As she said it, her brown eyes sparked green, gold, red, and black in rapid succession. "But perhaps . . ."
"Susanna's almanac is all wrong. But we have decided it will be more auspicious if Diana weaves her forspell next Thursday, under the waxing crescent moon," Marjorie said, clapping her hands with delight.
"Oof," Goody Alsop said, poking her finger in her ear to shield it from the disturbance in the air. "Gently, Marjorie, gently."
With my new obligations to the St. James Garlickhythe gathering and my ongoing interest in Mary's alchemical experiments, I found myself spending more time outside the house while the Hart and Crown continued to serve as a center for the School of Night and the hub for Matthew's work. Messengers came and went with reports and mail, George often stopped by for a free meal and to tell us about his latest futile efforts to find Ashmole 782, and Hancock and Gallowglass dropped off their laundry downstairs and whiled away the hours by my fire, scantily clad, until it was returned to them. Kit and Matthew had reached an uneasy truce after the business with Hubbard and John Chandler, which meant that I often found the playwright in the front parlor, staring moodily into the distance and then writing furiously. The fact that he helped himself to my supply of paper was an additional source of annoyance.
Then there were Annie and Jack. Integrating two children into the household was a full-time business. Jack, whom I supposed to be about seven or eight (he had no idea of his actual age), delighted in deviling the teenage girl. He followed her around and mimicked her speech. Annie would burst into tears and pelt upstairs to fling herself on her bed. When I chastised Jack for his behavior, he sulked. Desperate for a few quiet hours, I found a schoolmaster willing to teach them reading, writing, and reckoning, but the two of them quickly drove the recent Cambridge graduate away with their blank stares and studied innocence. Both preferred shopping with Françoise and running around London with Pierre to sitting quietly and doing their sums.
"If our child behaves like this, I'll drown him," I told Matthew, seeking a moment of respite in his study.
"She will behave like this, you can be certain of it. And you won't drown her," Matthew said, putting down his pen. We still disagreed about the baby's sex.
"I've tried everything. I've reasoned, cajoled, pleaded-hell, I even bribed them." Master Prior's buns had only ratcheted up Jack's energy level.
"Every parent makes those mistakes," he said with a laugh. "You're trying to be their friend. Treat Jack and Annie like pups. The occasional sharp nip on the nose will establish your authority better than a mince pie will."
"Are you giving me parenting tips from the animal kingdom?" I was thinking of his early research into wolves.
"As a matter of fact, I am. If this racket continues, they'll have me to contend with, and I don't nip. I bite." Matthew glowered at the door as a particularly loud crash echoed through our rooms, followed by an abject "Sorry, mistress."
"Thanks, but I'm not desperate enough to resort to obedience training. Yet," I said, backing out of the room.
Two days of using my teacher voice and administering time-outs instilled some degree of order, but the children required a great deal of activity to keep their exuberance in check. I abandoned my books and papers and took them on long walks down Cheapside and into the suburbs to the west. We went to the markets with Françoise and watched the boats unloading their cargo at the docks in the Vintry. There we imagined where the goods came from and speculated about the origins of the crews.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling like a tourist and started feeling as though Elizabethan London was my home.
We were shopping Saturday morning at the Leadenhall Market, London's premier emporium for fine groceries, when I saw a one-legged beggar. I was fishing a penny out of my bag for him when the children disappeared into a hatmaker's shop. They could wreak havoc-expensive havoc-in such a place.
"Annie! Jack!" I called, dropping the penny in the man's palm. "Keep your hands to yourselves!"
"You are far from home, Mistress Roydon," a deep voice said. The skin on my back registered an icy stare, and I turned to find Andrew Hubbard.
"Father Hubbard," I said. The beggar inched away.
Hubbard looked around. "Where is your woman?"
"If you are referring to Françoise, she is in the market," I said tartly. "Annie is with me, too. I haven't had a chance to thank you for sending her to us. She is a great help."
"I understand you have met with Goody Alsop."
I made no reply to this blatant fishing expedition.
"Since the Spanish came, she does not stir from her house unless there is good reason."
Still I was silent. Hubbard smiled.
"I am not your enemy, mistress."
"I didn't say you were, Father Hubbard. But who I see and why is not your concern."
"Yes. Your father-in-law-or do you think of him as your father?-made that quite clear in his letter. Philippe thanked me for assisting you, of course. With the head of the de Clermont family, the thanks always precede the threats. It is a refreshing change from your husband's usual behavior."
My eyes narrowed. "What is it that you want, Father Hubbard?"
"I suffer the presence of the de Clermonts because I must. But I am under no obligation to continue doing so if there is trouble." Hubbard leaned toward me, his breath frosty. "And you are causing trouble. I can smell it. Taste it. Since you've come, the witches have been . . . difficult."
"That's an unfortunate coincidence," I said, "but I'm not to blame. I'm so unschooled in the arts of magic that I can't even crack an egg into a bowl." Françoise came out of the market. I dropped Hubbard a curtsy and moved to step past him. His hand shot out and grabbed me around the wrist. I looked down at his cold fingers.
"It's not just creatures who emit a scent, Mistress Roydon. Did you know that secrets have their own distinct odor?"
"No," I said, drawing my wrist from his grasp.
"Witches can tell when someone lies. Wearhs can smell a secret like a hound can scent a deer. I will run your secret to ground, Mistress Roydon, no matter how you try to conceal it."
"Are you ready, madame?" Françoise asked, frowning as she drew closer. Annie and Jack were with her, and when the girl spotted Hubbard, she blanched.
"Yes, Françoise," I said, finally looking away from Hubbard's uncanny, striated eyes. "Thank you for your counsel, Father Hubbard, and the information."
"If the boy is too much for you, I would be happy to take care of him," Hubbard murmured as I walked by. I turned and strode back to him.
"Keep your hands off what's mine." Our eyes locked, and this time it was Hubbard who looked away first. I returned to my huddle of vampire, witch, and human. Jack looked anxious and was now shifting from one foot to the other as if considering bolting. "Let's go home and have some gingerbread," I said, taking hold of his arm.
"Who is that man?" he whispered.
"That's Father Hubbard" was Annie's hushed reply.
"The one in the songs?" Jack said, looking over his shoulder. Annie nodded.
"Yes, and when he-"
"Enough, Annie. What did you see in the hat shop?" I asked, gripping Jack more tightly. I extended my hand toward the overflowing basket of groceries. "Let me take that, Françoise."
"It will not help, madame," Françoise said, though she handed me the basket. "Milord will know you have been with that fiend. Not even the cabbage's scent will hide it." Jack's head turned in interest at this morsel of information, and I gave Françoise a warning look.
"Let's not borrow trouble," I said as we turned toward home.
Back at the Hart and Crown, I divested myself of basket, cloak, gloves, and children and took a cup of wine in to Matthew. He was at his desk, bent over a sheaf of paper. My heart lightened at the now-familiar sight.
"Still at it?" I asked, reaching over his shoulder to put the wine before him. I frowned. His paper was covered with diagrams, X's and O's, and what looked like modern scientific formulas. I doubted that it had anything to do with espionage or the Congregation, unless he was devising a code. "What are you doing?"
"Just trying to figure something out," Matthew said, sliding the paper away.
"Something genetic?" The X's and O's reminded me of biology and Gregor Mendel's peas. I drew the paper back. There weren't just X's and O's on the page. I recognized initials belonging to members of Matthew's family: YC, PC, MC, MW. Others belonged to my own: DB, RB, SB, SP. Matthew had drawn arrows between individuals, and lines crisscrossed from generation to generation.
"Not strictly speaking," Matthew said, interrupting my examination. It was a classic Matthew nonanswer.
"I suppose you'd need equipment for that." At the bottom of the page, a circle surrounded two letters: B and C-Bishop and Clairmont. Our child. This had something to do with the baby.
"In order to draw any conclusions, certainly." Matthew picked up the wine and carried it toward his lips.
"What's your hypothesis, then? You don't need a laboratory to come up with a theory," I observed. "If it involves the baby, I want to know what it is."
Matthew froze, his nostrils flaring. He put the wine carefully on the table and took my hand, pressing his lips to my wrist in a seeming gesture of affection. His eyes went black.
"You saw Hubbard," he said accusingly.
"Not because I sought him out." I pulled away. That was a mistake.
"Don't," Matthew rasped, his fingers tightening. He drew another shuddering breath. "Hubbard touched you on the wrist. Only the wrist. Do you know why?"
"Because he was trying to get my attention," I said.
"No. He was trying to capture mine. Your pulse is here," Matthew said, his thumb sweeping over the vein. I shivered. "The blood is so close to the surface that I can see it as well as smell it. Its heat magnifies any foreign scent placed there." His fingers circled my wrist like a bracelet. "Where was Françoise?"
"In Leadenhall Market. I had Jack and Annie with me. There was a beggar, and-" I felt a brief, sharp pain. When I looked down, my wrist was torn and blood welled from a set of shallow, curved nicks. Teeth marks.
"That's how fast Hubbard could have taken your blood and known everything about you." Matthew's thumb pressed firmly into the wound.
"But I didn't see you move," I said numbly.
His black eyes gleamed. "Nor would you have seen Hubbard, if he'd wanted to strike."
Perhaps Matthew wasn't as overprotective as I thought.
"Don't let him get close enough to touch you again. Are we clear?"
I nodded, and Matthew began the slow business of managing his anger. Only when he was in control of it did he answer my initial question.
"I'm trying to determine the likelihood of passing my blood rage to our child," he said, a tinge of bitterness in his tone. "Benjamin has the affliction. Marcus doesn't. I hate the fact that I could curse an innocent child with it."
"Do you know why Marcus and your brother Louis were resistant, when you, Louisa, and Benjamin were not?" I carefully avoided assuming that this accounted for all his children. Matthew would tell me more when-if-he was able.
His shoulders lost their sharp edge. "Louis and Louisa died long before it was possible to run blood tests. I have only my blood, Marcus's blood, and Ysabeau's blood to work with-and that's not enough to draw any reliable conclusions."
"You have a theory, though," I said, thinking of his diagrams.
"I've always thought of blood rage as a kind of infection and supposed Marcus and Louis had a natural resistance to it. But when Goody Alsop told us that only a weaver could bear a wearh child, it made me wonder if I've been looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps it's not something in Marcus that's resistant but something in me that's receptive, just as a weaver is receptive to a wearh's seed, unlike any other warmblooded woman."
"A genetic predisposition?" I asked, trying to follow his reasoning.
"Perhaps. Possibly something recessive that seldom shows up in the population unless both parents carry the gene. I keep thinking of your friend Catherine Streeter and your description of her as 'thrice-blessed,' as though her genetic whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts."
Matthew was quickly lost in the intricacies of his intellectual puzzle. "Then I started wondering whether the fact that you are a weaver is sufficient to explain your ability to conceive. What if it's a combination of recessive genetic traits-not only yours but mine as well?" When his hands drove through his hair in frustration, I took it as a sign that the last of the blood rage was gone and heaved a silent sigh of relief.
"When we get back to your lab, you'll be able to test your theory." I dropped my voice. "And once Sarah and Em hear they're going to be aunts, you'll have no problem getting them to give you a blood sample-or to baby-sit. They both have bad cases of granny lust and have been borrowing the neighbors' children for years to satisfy it."
That conjured a smile at last.
"Granny lust? What a rude expression." Matthew approached me. "Ysabeau's probably developed a dire case of it, too, over the centuries."
"It doesn't bear thinking about," I said with a mock shudder.
It was in these moments-when we talked about the reactions of others to our news rather than analyzing our own responses to it-that I felt truly pregnant. My body had barely registered the new life it was carrying, and in the day-to-day busyness at the Hart and Crown it was easy to forget that we would soon be parents. I could go for days without thinking about it, only to be reminded of my condition when Matthew came to me, deep in the night, to rest his hands on my belly in silent communion while he listened for the signs of new life.
"Nor can I bear to think of you in harm's way." Matthew took me in his arms. "Be careful, ma lionne," he whispered against my hair.
"I will. I promise."
"You wouldn't recognize danger if it came to you with an engraved invitation." He drew away so that he could look into my eyes. "Just remember: Vampires are not like warmbloods. Don't underestimate how lethal we can be."
Matthew's warning echoed long after he delivered it. I found myself watching the other vampires in the household for the small signs that they were thinking of moving or that they were hungry or tired, restless or bored. The signs were subtle and easy to miss. When Annie walked past Gallowglass, his lids dropped to shutter the avid expression in his eyes, but it was over so quickly I might have imagined it, just as I might have imagined the flaring of Hancock's nostrils when a group of warmbloods passed by on the street below.
I was not imagining the extra laundry charges to clean the blood from their linen, however. Gallowglass and Hancock were hunting and feeding in the city, though Matthew did not join them. He confined himself to what Françoise could procure from the butchers.
When Annie and I went to Mary's on Monday afternoon, as was our custom, I remained more alert to my surroundings than I had been since our arrival. This time it wasn't to absorb the details of Elizabethan life but to make sure we weren't being watched or followed. I kept Annie safely within arm's reach, and Pierre retained a firm grip on Jack. We had learned the hard way that it was the only hope we had of keeping the boy from "magpie-ing," as Hancock called it. In spite of our efforts, Jack still managed to commit numerous acts of petty theft. Matthew instituted a new household ritual in an effort to combat it. Jack had to empty his pockets every night and confess how he'd come by his extraordinary assortment of shiny objects. So far it hadn't put a damper on his activities.
Given his light fingers, Jack could not yet be trusted in the Countess of Pembroke's well-appointed home. Annie and I took our leave of Pierre and Jack, and the girl's expression brightened considerably at the prospect of a long gossip with Mary's maid, Joan, and a few hours of freedom from Jack's unwanted attentions.
"Diana!" Mary cried when I crossed the threshold of her laboratory. No matter how many times I entered, it never failed to take my breath away, with its vivid murals illustrating the making of the philosopher's stone. "Come, I have something to show you."
"Is this your surprise?" Mary had been hinting that she would soon delight me with a display of her alchemical proficiency.
"Yes," Mary replied, drawing her notebook from the table. "See here, it is now the eighteenth of January, and I began the work on the ninth of December. It has taken exactly forty days, just as the sages promised."
Forty was a significant number in alchemical work, and Mary could have been undertaking any number of experiments. I looked through her laboratory entries in an effort to figure out what she'd been doing. Over the past two weeks, I'd learned Mary's shorthand and the symbols she used for the various metals and substances. If I understood correctly, she began this process with an ounce of silver dissolved in aqua fortis-the "strong water" of the alchemists, known in my own time as nitric acid. To this, Mary added distilled water.
"Is this your mark for mercury?" I asked, pointing to an unfamiliar glyph.
"Yes-but only the mercury I obtain from the finest source in Germany." Mary spared no expense when it came to her laboratory, chemicals, or equipment. She drew me toward another example of her commitment to quality at any price: a large glass flask. It was free of imperfections and clear as crystal, which meant it had come from Venice. The English glass made in Sussex was marred with tiny bubbles and faint shadows. The Countess of Pembroke preferred the Venetian stuff-and could afford it.
When I saw what was inside, a premonitory finger brushed against my shoulders.
A silver tree grew from a small seed in the bottom of the flask. Branches had sprouted from the trunk, forking out and filling the top of the vessel with glittering strands. Tiny beads at the ends of the branches suggested fruit, as though the tree were ripe and ready for harvesting.
"The arbor Dianæ," Mary said proudly. "It is as though God inspired me to make it so that it would be here to welcome you. I have tried to grow the tree before, but it has never taken root. No one could see such a thing and doubt the truth and power of the alchemical art."
Diana's tree was a sight to behold. It gleamed and grew before my eyes, sending out new shoots to fill the remaining space in the vessel. Knowing that it was nothing more than a dendritic amalgam of crystallized silver did little to diminish my wonder at seeing a lump of metal go through what looked like a vegetative process.
On the wall opposite, a dragon sat over a vessel similar to the one Mary had used to house the arbor Dianæ. The dragon held his tail in his mouth, and drops of his blood fell into the silvery liquid below. I sought out the next image in the series: the bird of Hermes who flew toward the chemical marriage. The bird reminded me of the illustration of the wedding from Ashmole 782.
"I think it might be possible to devise a quicker method to achieve the same result," Mary said, drawing back my attention. She pulled a pen from her upswept hair, leaving a black smudge over her ear. "What do you imagine would happen if we filed the silver before dissolving it in the aqua fortis?"
We spent a pleasant afternoon discussing new ways to make the arbor Dianæ, but it was over all too soon.
"Will I see you Thursday?" Mary asked.
"I'm afraid I have another obligation," I said. I was expected at Goody Alsop's before sunset.
Mary's face fell. "Friday, then?"
"Friday," I agreed.
"Diana," Mary said hesitantly, "are you well?"
"Yes," I said in surprise. "Do I seem ill?"
"You are pale and look tired," she admitted. "Like most mothers I am prone to- Oh." Mary stopped abruptly and turned bright pink. Her eyes dropped to my stomach, then flew back to my face. "You are with child."
"I will have many questions for you in the weeks ahead," I said, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze.
"How far along are you?" she asked.
"Not far," I said, keeping my answer deliberately vague.
"But the child cannot be Matthew's. A wearh is not able to father a child." Mary said, her hand rising to her cheek in wonder. "Matthew welcomes the babe, even though it is not his?"
Though Matthew had warned me that everybody would assume the child belonged to another man, we hadn't discussed how to respond. I would have to punt.
"He considers it his own blood," I said firmly. My answer only seemed to increase her concern.
"You are fortunate that Matthew is so selfless when it comes to protecting those who are in need. And you-can you love the child, though you were taken against your will?"
Mary thought I'd been raped-and perhaps that Matthew had married me only to shield me from the stigma of being pregnant and single.
"The child is innocent. I cannot refuse it love." I was careful neither to deny nor confirm Mary's suspicions. Happily, she was satisfied with my response, and, characteristically, she probed no further. "As you can imagine," I added, "we are eager to keep this news quiet for as long as possible."
"Of course," Mary agreed. "I will have Joan make you a soft custard that fortifies the blood yet is very soothing to the stomach if taken at night before you sleep. It was a great help to me in my last pregnancy and seemed to lessen my sickness in the morning."
"I have been blessedly free of that complaint so far," I said, drawing on my gloves. "Matthew promises me it will come any day now."
"Hmm," Mary mused, a shadow crossing her face. I frowned, wondering what was worrying her now. She saw my expression and smiled brightly. "You should guard against fatigue. When you are here on Friday, you must not stand so long but take your ease on a stool while we work." Mary fussed over the arrangement of my cloak. "Stay out of drafts. And have Françoise make a poultice for your feet if they start to swell. I will send a receipt for it with the custard. Shall I have my boatman take you to Water Lane?"
"It's only a five-minute walk!" I protested with a laugh. Finally Mary let me leave on foot, but only after I assured her that I would avoid not only drafts but also cold water and loud noises.
That night I dreamed I slept under the limbs of a tree that grew from my womb. Its branches shielded me from the moonlight while, high above, a dragon flew through the night. When it reached the moon, the dragon's tail curled around it and the silver orb turned red.
I awoke to an empty bed and blood-soaked sheets.
"Françoise!" I cried, feeling a sudden, sharp cramp.
Matthew came running instead. The devastated look on his face when he reached my side confirmed what I already knew.
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