A similar pitcher held icy-cold water, and Marthe put this in another goblet, which she handed to me. She poured a steaming cup of tea, which I recognized immediately as coming from Mariage Freres in Paris. Apparently Matthew had raided my cupboards while I slept last night and been quite specific with his shopping lists. Marthe poured thick cream into the cup before he could stop her, and I shot him a warning glance. At this point I needed al ies. Besides, I was too thirsty to care. He leaned back in his chair meekly, sipping his wine.
Marthe pul ed more items from her tray-a silver place setting, salt, pepper, butter, jam, toast, and a golden omelet flecked with fresh herbs.
"Merci, Marthe," I said with heartfelt gratitude.
"Eat!" she commanded, aiming her towel at me this time.
Marthe looked satisfied with the enthusiasm of my first few bites. Then she sniffed the air. She frowned and directed an exclamation of disgust at Matthew before striding to the fireplace. A match snapped, and the dry wood began to crackle.
"Marthe," Matthew protested, standing up with his wineglass, "I can do that."
"She is cold," Marthe grumbled, clearly aggravated that he hadn't anticipated this before he sat down, "and you are thirsty. I wil make the fire."
Within minutes there was a blaze. Though no fire would make the enormous room toasty, it took the chil from the air. Marthe brushed her hands together and stood. "She must sleep. I can smel she has been afraid."
"She'l sleep when she's through eating," Matthew said, holding up his right hand in a pledge. Marthe looked at him for a long moment and shook her finger at him as though he were fifteen, and not fifteen hundred, years old. Final y his innocent expression convinced her. She left the room, her ancient feet moving surely down the chal enging stairs.
"Occitan is the language of the troubadours, isn't it?" I asked, after Marthe had departed. The vampire nodded. "I didn't realize it was spoken this far north."
"We're not that far north," Matthew said with a smile.
"Once, Paris was nothing more than an insignificant borderlands town. Most people spoke Occitan then. The hil s kept the northerners-and their language-at a distance. Even now people here are wary of outsiders."
"What do the words mean?" I asked.
"'You are the tree and branch,'" he said, fixing his eyes on the slashes of countryside visible through the nearest window, "'where delight's fruit ripens. '" Matthew shook his head rueful y. "Marthe wil hum the song al afternoon and make Ysabeau crazy."
The fire continued to spread its warmth through the room, and the heat made me drowsy. By the time the eggs were gone, it was difficult to keep my eyes open.
I was in the middle of a jaw-splitting yawn when Matthew drew me from the chair. He scooped me into his arms, my feet swinging in midair. I started to protest.
"Enough," he said. "You can barely sit up straight, never mind walk."
He put me gently on the end of the bed and pul ed the coverlet back. The snowy-white sheets looked so crisp and inviting. I dropped my head onto the mountain of down pil ows arranged against the bed's intricate walnut carvings.
"Sleep." Matthew took the bed's curtains in both hands and gave them a yank.
"I'm not sure I'l be able to," I said, stifling another yawn.
"I'm not good at napping."
"Al appearances to the contrary," he said drily. "You're in France now. You're not supposed to try. I'l be downstairs.
Cal if you need anything."
With one staircase leading from the hal up to his study and the other staircase leading to the bedroom from the opposite side, no one could reach this room without going past-and through-Matthew. The rooms had been designed as if he needed to protect himself from his own family.
A question rose to my lips, but he gave the curtains a final tug until they were closed, effectively silencing me. The heavy bed hangings didn't al ow the light to penetrate, and they shut out the worst of the drafts as wel . Relaxing into the firm mattress, my body's warmth magnified by the layers of bedding, I quickly fel asleep.
I woke up to the rustle of turning pages and sat bolt upright, trying to imagine why someone had shut me into a box made of fabric. Then I remembered.
France. Matthew. At his home.
"Matthew?" I cal ed softly.
He parted the curtains and looked down with a smile.
Behind him, candles were lit-dozens and dozens of them.
Some were set into the sconces around the room, and others stood in ornate candelabras on the floor and tables.
"For someone who doesn't nap, you slept quite soundly,"
he said with satisfaction. As far as he was concerned, the trip to France had already proved a success.
"What time is it?"
"I'm going to get you a watch if you don't stop asking me that." Matthew glanced at his old Cartier. "It's nearly two in the afternoon. Marthe wil probably be here any minute with some tea. Do you want to shower and change?"
The thought of a hot shower had me eagerly pushing back the covers. "Yes, please!"
Matthew dodged my flying limbs and helped me to the floor, which was farther away than I had expected. It was cold, too, the stone flagstones stinging against my bare feet.
"Your bag is in the bathroom, the computer is downstairs in my study, and there are fresh towels. Take your time." He watched as I skittered into the bathroom.
"This is a palace!" I exclaimed. An enormous white, freestanding tub was tucked between two of the windows, and a long wooden bench held my dilapidated Yale duffel.
In the far corner, a showerhead was set into the wal .
I started running the water, expecting to wait a long time for it to heat up. Miraculously, steam enveloped me immediately, and the honey-and-nectarine scent of my soap helped to lift the tension of the past twenty-four hours.
Once my muscles were unkinked, I slipped on jeans and a turtleneck, along with a pair of socks. There was no outlet for my blow dryer, so I settled instead for roughly toweling my hair and dragging a comb through it before tying it back in a ponytail.
"Marthe brought up tea," he said when I walked into the bedroom, glancing at a teapot and cup sitting on the table.
"Do you want me to pour you some?"
I sighed with pleasure as the soothing liquid went down my throat. "When can I see the Aurora manuscript?"
"When I'm sure you won't get lost on your way to the library. Ready for the grand tour?"
"Yes, please." I slid loafers on over my socks and ran back into the bathroom to get a sweater. As I raced around, Matthew waited patiently, standing near the top of the stairs.
"Should we take the teapot down?" I asked, skidding to a halt.
"No, she'd be furious if I let a guest touch a dish. Wait twenty-four hours before helping Marthe."
Matthew slipped down the stairs as if he could handle the uneven, smooth treads blindfolded. I crept along, guiding my fingers against the stone wal .
When we reached his study, he pointed to my computer, already plugged in and resting on a table by the window, before we descended to the salon. Marthe had been there, and a warm fire was crackling in the fireplace, sending the smel of wood smoke through the room. I grabbed Matthew.
"The library," I said. "The tour needs to start there."
It was another room that had been fil ed over the years with bric-a-brac and furniture. An Italian Savonarola folding chair was pul ed up to a French Directory secretary, while a vast oak table circa 1700 held display cabinets that looked as if they'd been plucked from a Victorian museum.
Despite the mismatches, the room was held together by miles of leather-bound books on walnut shelving and by an enormous Aubusson carpet in soft golds, blues, and browns.
As in most old libraries, the books were shelved by size.
There were thick manuscripts in leather bindings, shelved with spines in and ornamental clasps out, the titles inked onto the fore edges of the vel um. There were tiny incunabula and pocket-size books in neat rows on one bookcase, spanning the history of print from the 1450s to the present. A number of rare modern first editions, including a run of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and T. H. White's The Sword in the Stone, were there, too. One case held nothing but large folios- botanical books, atlases, medical books. If al this was downstairs, what treasures lived in Matthew's tower study?
He let me circle the room, peering at the titles and gasping. When I returned to his side, al I could do was shake my head in disbelief.
"Imagine what you'd have if you'd been buying books for centuries," Matthew said with a shrug that reminded me of Ysabeau. "Things pile up. We've gotten rid of a lot over the years. We had to. Otherwise this room would be the size of the Bibliotheque Nationale."
"So where is it?"
"You're already out of patience, I see." He went to a shelf, his eyes darting among the volumes. He pul ed out a smal book with black tooled covers and presented it to me.
When I looked for a velveteen cradle to put it on, he laughed.
"Just open it, Diana. It's not going to disintegrate."
It felt strange to hold such a manuscript in my hands, trained as I was to think of them as rare, precious objects rather than reading material. Trying not to open the covers too wide and crack the binding, I peeked inside. An explosion of bright colors, gold, and silver leaped out.
"Oh," I breathed. The other copies I'd seen of Aurora Consurgens were not nearly so fine. "It's beautiful. Do you know who did the il uminations?"
"A woman named Bourgot Le Noir. She was quite popular in Paris in the middle of the fourteenth century."
Matthew took the book from me and opened it ful y. "There.
Now you can see it properly."
The first il umination showed a queen standing on a smal hil , sheltering seven smal creatures inside her outspread cloak. Delicate vines framed the image, twisting and turning their way across the vel um. Here and there, buds burst into flowers, and birds sat on the branches. In the afternoon light, the queen's embroidered golden dress glowed against a bril iant vermilion background. At the bottom of the page, a man in a black robe sat atop a shield that bore a coat of arms in black and silver. The man's attention was directed at the queen, a rapt expression on his face and his hands raised in supplication.
"Nobody is going to believe this. An unknown copy of Aurora Consurgens- with il uminations by a woman?" I shook my head in amazement. "How wil I cite it?"
"I'l loan the manuscript to the Beinecke Library for a year, if that helps. Anonymously, of course. As for Bourgot, the experts wil say it's her father's work. But it's al hers.
We probably have the receipt for it somewhere," Matthew said vaguely, looking around. "I'l ask Ysabeau where Godfrey's things are."
"Godfrey?" The unfamiliar coat of arms featured a fleur- de-lis, surrounded by a snake with its tail in its mouth.
"My brother." The vagueness left his voice, and his face darkened. "He died in 1668, fighting in one of Louis XIV's infernal wars." Closing the manuscript gently, he put it on a nearby table. "I'l take this up to my study later so you can look at it more closely. In the morning Ysabeau reads her newspapers here, but otherwise it sits empty. You're welcome to browse the shelves whenever you like."
With that promise he moved me through the salon and into the great hal . We stood by the table with the Chinese bowl, and he pointed out features of the room, including the old minstrels' gal ery, the trapdoor in the roof that had let the smoke out before the fireplaces and chimneys were constructed, and the entrance to the square watchtower overlooking the main approach to the chateau. That climb could wait until another day.
Matthew led me down to the lower ground floor, with its maze of store-rooms, wine cel ars, kitchens, servants' rooms, larders, and pantries. Marthe stepped out of one of the kitchens, flour covering her arms up to the elbows, and handed me a warm rol fresh from the oven. I munched on it as Matthew walked the corridors, pointing out the old purposes of every room-where the grain was stored, the venison hung, the cheese made.
"Vampires don't eat anything," I said, confused.
"No, but our tenants did. Marthe loves to cook."
I promised to keep her busy. The rol was delicious, and the eggs had been perfect.
Our next stop was the gardens. Though we had descended a flight of stairs to get to the kitchens, we left the chateau at ground level. The gardens were straight out of the sixteenth century, with divided beds ful of herbs and autumn vegetables. Rosebushes, some with a few lonely blooms remaining, fil ed the borders.
But the aroma that intrigued me wasn't floral. I made a beeline for a low-slung building.
"Be careful, Diana," he cal ed, striding across the gravel, "Balthasar bites."
"Which one is Balthasar?"
He rounded the stable entrance, an anxious look on his face. "The stal ion using your spine as a scratching post,"
Matthew replied tightly. I was standing with my back to a large, heavy-footed horse while a mastiff and a wolfhound circled my feet, sniffing me with interest.
"Oh, he won't bite me." The enormous Percheron maneuvered his head so he could rub his ears on my hip.
"And who are these gentlemen?" I asked, ruffling the fur on the wolf hound's neck while the mastiff tried to put my hand in his mouth.
"The hound is Fal on, and the mastiff is Hector." Matthew snapped his fingers, and both dogs came running to his side, where they sat obediently and watched his face for further instructions. "Please step away from that horse."
"Why? He's fine." Balthasar stamped the ground in agreement and pitched an ear back to look haughtily at Matthew.
"' If the butterfly wings its way to the sweet light that attracts it, it's only because it doesn't know that the fire can consume it,'" Matthew murmured under his breath.
"Balthasar is only fine until he gets bored. I'd like you to move away before he kicks the stal door down."
"We're making your master nervous, and he's started reciting obscure bits of poetry written by mad Italian clerics.
I'l be back tomorrow with something sweet." I turned and kissed Balthasar on the nose. He nickered, his hooves dancing with impatience.
Matthew tried to cover his surprise. "You recognized that?"
"Giordano Bruno. ' If the thirsty stag runs to the brook, it's only because he isn't aware of the cruel bow,'" I continued.
"' If the unicorn runs to its chaste nest, it's only because he doesn't see the noose prepared for him.'"
"You know the work of the Nolan?" Matthew used the sixteenth-century mystic's own way of referring to himself.
My eyes narrowed. Good God, had he known Bruno as wel as Machiavel i ? Matthew seemed to have been attracted to every strange character who'd ever lived. "He was an early supporter of Copernicus, and I'm a historian of science. How do you know Bruno's work?"
"I'm a great reader," he said evasively.
"You knew him!" My tone was accusing. "Was he a daemon?"
"One who crossed the madness-genius divide rather too frequently, I'm afraid."
"I should have known. He believed in extraterrestrial life and cursed his inquisitors on the way to the stake," I said, shaking my head.
"Nevertheless, he understood the power of desire."
I looked sharply at the vampire. "' Desire urges me on, as fear bridles me.' Did Bruno feature in your essay for Al Souls?"
"A bit." Matthew's mouth flattened into a hard line. "Wil you please come away from there? We can talk about philosophy another time."
Other passages drifted through my mind. There was something else about Bruno's work that might make Matthew think of him. He wrote about the goddess Diana.
I stepped away from the stal .
"Balthasar isn't a pony," Matthew warned, pul ing my elbow.
"I can see that. But I could handle that horse." Both the alchemical manuscript and the Italian philosopher vanished from my mind at the thought of such a chal enge.
"You don't ride as wel ?" Matthew asked in disbelief.
"I grew up in the country and have ridden since I was a child-dressage, jumping, everything." Being on a horse was even more like flying than rowing was.
"We have other horses. Balthasar stays where he is," he said firmly.
Riding was an unforeseen bonus of coming to France, one that almost made Ysabeau's cold presence bearable.
Matthew led me to the other end of the stables, where six more fine animals waited. Two of them were big and black -although not as large as Balthasar-one a fairly round chestnut mare, another a bay gelding. There were two gray Andalusians as wel , with large feet and curved necks. One came to the door to see what was going on in her domain.
"This is Nar Rakasa," he said, gently rubbing her muzzle.
"Her name means 'fire dancer.' We usual y just cal her Rakasa. She moves beautiful y, but she's wil ful. You two should get along famously."
I refused to take the bait, though it was charmingly offered, and let Rakasa sniff at my hair and face. "What's her sister's name?"
"Fiddat-'silver.'" Fiddat came forward when Matthew said her name, her dark eyes affectionate. "Fiddat is Ysabeau's horse, and Rakasa is her sister." Matthew pointed to the two blacks. "Those are mine. Dahr and Sayad."
"What do their names mean?" I asked, walking to their stal s.
"Dahr is Arabic for 'time,' and Sayad means 'hunter,'"
Matthew explained, joining me. "Sayad loves riding across the fields chasing game and jumping hedges. Dahr is patient and steady."
We continued the tour, Matthew pointing out features of the mountains and orienting me to the town. He showed me where the chateau had been modified and how restorers had used a different kind of stone because the original was no longer available. By the time we were finished, I wasn't likely to get lost-in part due to the central keep, which was hard to misplace.
"Why am I so tired?" I yawned as we returned to the chateau.
"You're hopeless," Matthew said in exasperation. "Do you real y need me to recount the events of the past thirty- six hours?"
At his urging I agreed to another nap. Leaving him in the study, I climbed the stairs and flung myself into bed, too tired to even blow out the candles.
Moments later I was dreaming of riding through a dark forest, a loose green tunic belted around my waist. There were sandals tied onto my feet, their leather fastenings crossed around my ankles and calves. Dogs bayed and hooves crashed in the underbrush behind me. A quiver of arrows nestled against my shoulder, and in one fist I held a bow. Despite the ominous sounds of my pursuers, I felt no fear.
In my dream I smiled with the knowledge I could outrun those who hunted me.
"Fly," I commanded-and the horse did.