"I'l be gone more quickly if you let me deliver my message," Domenico warned. "If I have to come back, I won't be alone. Today's visit was a courtesy to you, Ysabeau."
"She doesn't have the book," Matthew said sharply.
"I'm not here about the witches' damned book, Matthew.
Let them keep it. I've come from the Congregation."
Ysabeau exhaled, soft and long, as if she'd been holding her breath for days. A question burbled to my lips, but she silenced it with a warning look.
"Wel done, Domenico. I'm surprised you have the time to cal on old friends, with al your new responsibilities."
Matthew's voice was scornful. "Why is the Congregation wasting time paying official visits on the de Clermont family when there are vampires leaving bloodless corpses al over Europe for humans to find?"
"It's not forbidden for vampires to feed on humans- though the carelessness is regrettable. As you know, death fol ows vampires wherever we go." Domenico shrugged off the brutality, and I shivered at his casual disregard for frail, warmblooded life. "But the covenant clearly forbids any liaison between a vampire and a witch."
I turned and stared at Domenico. "What did you say?"
"She can speak!" Domenico clasped his hands in mock delight. "Why not let the witch take part in this conversation?"
Matthew reached around and drew me forward. Ysabeau remained entwined through my other arm. We stood in a short, tight line of vampire, witch, and vampire.
"Diana Bishop." Domenico bowed low. "It's an honor to meet a witch of such ancient, distinguished lineage. So few of the old families are stil with us." Every word he uttered- no matter how formal y phrased-sounded like a threat.
"Who are you?" I asked. "And why are you concerned with whom I spend time?"
The Venetian looked at me with interest before his head fel back and he howled with laughter. "They said you were argumentative like your father, but I didn't believe them."
My fingers tingled slightly, and Ysabeau's arm grew fractional y tighter.
"Have I made your witch angry?" Domenico's eyes were fixed on Ysabeau's arm.
"Say what you came to say and get off our land."
Matthew's voice was entirely conversational.
"My name is Domenico Michele. I have known Matthew since I was reborn, and Ysabeau nearly as long. I know neither of them so wel as I knew the lovely Louisa, of course. But we should not speak lightly of the dead." The Venetian crossed himself piously.
"You should try not to speak of my sister at al ." Matthew sounded calm, but Ysabeau looked murderous, her lips white.
"You stil haven't answered my question," I said, drawing Domenico's attention once more.
The Venetian's eyes glittered with frank appraisal.
"Diana," Matthew said, unable to stop the rumble in his throat. It was as close as he'd ever been to growling at me.
Marthe came out of the kitchens, a look of alarm on her face.
"She is more fiery than most of her kind, I see. Is that why you're risking everything to keep her with you? Does she amuse you? Or do you intend to feed on her until you get bored and then discard her, as you have with other warmbloods?"
Matthew's hands strayed to Lazarus's coffin, evident only as a bump under his sweater. He hadn't touched it since we'd arrived in Sept-Tours.
Domenico's keen eyes noticed the gesture, too, and his answering smile was vindictive. "Feeling guilty?"
Furious at the way Domenico was baiting Matthew, I opened my mouth to speak.
"Diana, go back to the house immediately." Matthew's tone suggested that we would have a serious, unpleasant talk later. He pushed me slightly in Ysabeau's direction and put himself even more squarely between his mother, me, and the dark Venetian. By that time Marthe was nearby, her arms crossed over her sturdy body in a striking imitation of Matthew.
"Not before the witch hears what I have to say. I have come to serve you with a warning, Diana Bishop.
Relationships between witches and vampires are forbidden. You must leave this house and no longer associate with Matthew de Clermont or any of his family. If you don't, the Congregation wil take whatever steps are necessary to preserve the covenant."
"I don't know your Congregation, and I agreed to no such covenant," I said, stil furious. "Besides, covenants aren't enforceable. They're voluntary."
"Are you a lawyer as wel as a historian? You modern women with your fine educations are so fascinating. But women are no good at theology," Domenico continued sorrowful y, "which is why we never thought it worth educating you in the first place. Do you think we adhered to the ideas of that heretic Calvin when we made these promises to one another? When the covenant was sworn, it bound al vampires, daemons, and witches-past, present, and future. This is not a path you can fol ow or not as you please."
"You've delivered your warning, Domenico," Matthew said in a voice like silk.
"That's al I have to say to the witch," the Venetian replied.
"I have more to say to you."
"Then Diana wil return to the house. Get her out of here, Maman, " he said tersely.
This time his mother did what he asked immediately, and Marthe fol owed. "Don't," Ysabeau hissed when I turned to look back at Matthew.
"Where did that thing come from?" Marthe asked once we were safely inside.
"From hel , presumably," said Ysabeau. She touched my face briefly with her fingertips, drawing them back hastily when they met the warmth of my angry cheeks. "You are brave, girl, but what you did was reckless. You are not a vampire. Do not put yourself at risk by arguing with Domenico or any of his al ies. Stay away from them."
Ysabeau gave me no time to respond, speeding me through the kitchens, the dining room, the salon, and into the great hal . Final y she towed me toward the arch that led to the keep's most formidable tower. My calves seized up at the thought of the climb.
"We must," she insisted. "Matthew wil be looking for us there."
Fear and anger propel ed me halfway up the stairs. The second half I conquered through sheer determination.
Lifting my feet from the final tread, I found myself on a flat roof with a view for miles in every direction. A faint breeze blew, loosening my braided hair and coaxing the mist around me.
Ysabeau moved swiftly to a pole that extended another dozen feet into the sky. She raised a forked black banner adorned with a silver ouroboros. It unfurled in the gloomy light, the snake holding its shimmering tail in its mouth. I ran to the far side of the crenel ated wal s, and Domenico looked up.
Moments later a similar banner rose over the top of a building in the vil age and a bel began to tol . Men and women slowly came out of houses, bars, shops, and offices, their faces turned toward Sept-Tours, where the ancient symbol of eternity and rebirth snapped in the wind. I looked at Ysabeau, my question evident on my face.
"Our family's emblem, and a warning to the vil age to be on their guard," she explained. "We fly the banner only when others are with us. The vil agers have grown too accustomed to living among vampires, and though they have nothing to fear from us, we have kept it for times such as this. The world is ful of vampires who cannot be trusted, Diana. Domenico Michele is one of them."
"You didn't need to tel me that. Who the hel is he?"
"One of Matthew's oldest friends," Ysabeau murmured, eyes on her son, "which makes him a very dangerous enemy."
My attention turned to Matthew, who continued to exchange words with Domenico across a precisely drawn zone of engagement. There was a blur of black and gray movement, and the Venetian hurtled backward toward the chestnut tree he'd been leaning against when we first spotted him. A loud crack carried across the grounds.
"Wel done," Ysabeau muttered.
"Where's Marthe?" I looked over my shoulder toward the stairs.
"In the hal . Just in case." Ysabeau's keen eyes remained fixed on her son.
"Would Domenico real y come in here and rip my throat open?"
Ysabeau turned her black, glittering gaze on me. "That would be al too easy, my dear. He would play with you first.
He always plays with his prey. And Domenico loves an audience."
I swal owed hard. "I'm capable of taking care of myself."
"You are, if you have as much power as Matthew believes. Witches are very good at protecting themselves, I've found, with a little effort and a drop of courage,"
"What is this Congregation that Domenico mentioned?" I asked.
"A council of nine-three from each order of daemons, witches, and vampires. It was established during the Crusades to keep us from being exposed to the humans.
We were careless and became too involved in their politics and other forms of insanity." Ysabeau's voice was bitter.
"Ambition, pride, and grasping creatures like Michele who were never content with their lot in life and always wanted more-they drove us to the covenant."
"And you agreed to certain conditions?" It was ludicrous to think that promises made by creatures in the Middle Ages could affect Matthew and me.
Ysabeau nodded, the breeze catching a few strands of her heavy, honeyed hair and moving them around her face.
"When we mixed with one another, we were too conspicuous. When we became involved in human affairs, they grew suspicious of our cleverness. They are not quick, the poor creatures, but they are not entirely stupid either."
"By 'mixing,' you don't mean dinners and dancing."
"No dinners, no dancing-and no kissing and singing songs to each other," Ysabeau said pointedly. "And what comes after the dancing and the kissing was forbidden as wel . We were ful of arrogance before we agreed to the covenant. There were more of us, and we'd become accustomed to taking whatever we wanted, no matter the cost."
"What else does this promise cover?"
"No politics or religion. Too many princes and popes were otherworldly creatures. It became more difficult to pass from one life to the next once humans started writing their chronicles." Ysabeau shuddered. "Vampires found it difficult to feign a good death and move on to a new life with humans nosing around."
I glanced quickly at Matthew and Domenico, but they were stil talking outside the chateau's wal s. "So," I repeated, ticking items off my fingers. "No mixing between different types of creatures. No careers in human politics or religion. Anything else?" Apparently my aunt's xenophobia and fierce opposition to my studying the law derived from her imperfect understanding of this long-ago agreement.
"Yes. If any creature breaks the covenant, it is the responsibility of the Congregation to see that the misconduct is stopped and the oath is upheld."
"And if two creatures break the covenant?"
The silence stretched taut between us.
"To my knowledge it has never happened," she said grimly. "It is a very good thing, therefore, that the two of you have not done so."
Last night I'd made a simple request that Matthew join me in my bed. But he'd known it wasn't a simple request. It wasn't me he was unsure of, or his feelings. Matthew wanted to know how far he could go before the Congregation would intervene.
The answer had come quickly. They weren't going to let us get very far at al .
My relief was quickly replaced by anger. Had no one complained, as our relationship developed, he might never have told me about the Congregation or the covenant. And his silence would have had implications for my relationship with my own family, and with his. I might have gone to my grave believing that my aunt and Ysabeau were bigots.
Instead they were living up to a promise made long ago- which was less understandable but somehow more excusable.
"Your son needs to stop keeping things from me." My temper rose, the tingling mounting in my fingertips. "And you should worry less about the Congregation and more about what I'm going to do when I see him again."
She snorted. "You won't get the chance to do much before he takes you to task for questioning his authority in front of Domenico."
"I'm not under Matthew's authority."
"You, my dear, have a great deal to learn about vampires," she said with a note of satisfaction.
"And you have a great deal to learn about me. So does the Congregation."
Ysabeau took me by the shoulders, her fingers digging into the flesh of my arms. "This is not a game, Diana!
Matthew would wil ingly turn his back on creatures he has known for centuries to protect your right to be whatever you imagine you want to be in your fleeting life. I'm begging you not to let him do it. They wil kil him if he persists."
"He's his own man, Ysabeau," I said coldly. "I don't tel Matthew what to do."
"No, but you have the power to send him away. Tel him you refuse to break the covenant for him, for his sake-or that you feel nothing more for him than curiosity-witches are famous for it." She flung me away. "If you love him, you'l know what to say."
"It is over," Marthe cal ed from the top of the stairs.
We both rushed to the edge of the tower. A black horse and rider streaked out of the stables and cleared the paddock fence before thundering into the forest.