Before I met Matthew, there didn't seem to be room in my life for a single additional element-especial y not something as significant as a fifteen-hundred-year-old vampire. But he'd slipped into unexplored, empty places when I wasn't looking.
Now that he'd left, I was terribly aware of his absence. As I sat on the roof of the watchtower, my tears softened my determination to fight for him. Soon there was water everywhere. I was sitting in a puddle of it, and the level just kept rising.
It wasn't raining, despite the cloudy skies.
The water was coming out of me.
My tears fel normal y but swel ed as they dropped into globules the size of snowbal s that hit the stone roof of the watchtower with a splash. My hair snaked over my shoulders in sheets of water that poured over the curves of my body. I opened my mouth to take a breath because the water streaming down my face was blocking my nose, and water gushed out in a torrent that tasted of the sea.
Through a film of moisture, Marthe and Ysabeau watched me. Marthe's face was grim. Ysabeau's lips were moving, but the roar of a thousand sea-shel s made it impossible to hear her.
I stood, hoping the water would stop. It didn't. I tried to tel the two women to let the water carry me away along with my grief and the memory of Matthew-but al that produced was another gush of ocean. I reached out, thinking that would help the water drain from me. Even more water cascaded from my fingertips. The gesture reminded me of my mother's arm reaching toward my father, and the waves increased.
As the water poured forth, my control slipped further.
Domenico's sudden appearance had frightened me more than I'd been wil ing to admit. Matthew was gone. And I had vowed to fight for him against enemies I couldn't identify and didn't understand. It was now clear that Matthew's past was not composed simply of homely elements of firelight, wine, and books. Nor had it unfolded solely within the limits of a loyal family. Domenico had al uded to something darker that was ful of enmity, danger, and death.
Exhaustion overtook me, and the water pul ed me under.
A strange sense of exhilaration accompanied the fatigue. I was poised between mortality and something elemental that held within it the promise of a vast, incomprehensible power. If I surrendered to the undertow, there would be no more Diana Bishop. Instead I would become water- nowhere, everywhere, free of my body and the pain.
"I'm sorry, Matthew." My words were nothing more than a burble as the water began its inexorable work.
Ysabeau stepped toward me, and a sharp crack sounded in my brain. My warning to her was lost in a roar like a tidal wave coming ashore. The winds rose around my feet, whipping the water into a hurricane. I raised my arms to the sky, water and wind shaping themselves into a funnel that encircled my body.
Marthe grabbed Ysabeau's arm, her mouth moving rapidly. Matthew's mother tried to pul away, her own mouth shaping the word "no," but Marthe held on, staring at her fixedly. After a few moments, Ysabeau's shoulders slumped. She turned toward me and started to sing.
Haunting and yearning, her voice penetrated the water and cal ed me back to the world.
The winds began to die down. The de Clermont standard, which had been whipping around, resumed its gentle swaying. The cascade of water from my fingertips slowed to a river, then to a trickle, and stopped entirely. The waves flowing from my hair subsided into swel s, and then they, too, disappeared. At last nothing came out of my mouth but a gasp of surprise. The bal s of water fal ing from my eyes were the last vestige of the witchwater to disappear, just as they had been the first sign of its power moving through me. The remains of my deluge sluiced toward smal holes at the base of the crenel ated wal s. Far, far below, water splashed onto the courtyard's thick bed of gravel.
When the last of the water left me, I felt scooped out like a pumpkin, and freezing cold, too. My knees buckled, banging painful y on the stone.
"Thank God," Ysabeau murmured. "We almost lost her."
I was shaking violently from exhaustion and cold. Both women flew at me and lifted me to my feet. They each gripped an elbow and supported me down the curving flight of stairs with a speed that made me shiver. Once in the hal , Marthe headed toward Matthew's rooms and Ysabeau pul ed in the opposite direction.
"Mine are closer," Matthew's mother said sharply.
"She wil feel safer closer to him," Marthe said.
With a sound of exasperation, Ysabeau conceded.
At the bottom of Matthew's staircase, Ysabeau blurted out a string of colorful phrases that sounded total y incongruous coming from her delicate mouth. "I'l carry her,"
she said when she was finished cursing her son, the forces of nature, the powers of the universe, and many other unspecified individuals of questionable parentage who'd taken part in building the tower. Ysabeau lifted my much larger body easily. "Why he had to make these stairs so twisting-and in two separate flights-is beyond my understanding."
Marthe tucked my wet hair into the crook of Ysabeau's elbow and shrugged. "To make it harder, of course. He has always made things harder. For him. For everyone else, too."
No one had thought to come up in the late afternoon to light the candles, but the fire stil smoldered and the room retained some of its warmth. Marthe disappeared into the bathroom, and the sound of running water made me examine my fingers with alarm. Ysabeau threw two enormous logs onto the grate as if they were kindling, snapping a long splinter off one before it caught. She stirred the coals into flames with it and then used it to light a dozen candles in the space of a few seconds. In their warm glow, she surveyed me anxiously from head to foot.
"He wil never forgive me if you become il ," she said, picking up my hands and examining my nails. They were bluish again, but not from electricity. Now they were blue with cold and wrinkled from witchwater. She rubbed them vigorously between her palms.
Stil shaking so much that my teeth were chattering, I withdrew my hands to hug myself in an attempt to conserve what little warmth was left in my body. Ysabeau picked me up again without ceremony and swept me into the bathroom.
"She needs to be in there now," Ysabeau said brusquely.
The room was ful of steam, and Marthe turned from the bath to help strip off my clothes. Soon I was naked and the two of them were lifting me into the hot water, one cold, vampiric hand in each armpit. The shock of the water's heat on my frigid skin was extreme. Crying out, I struggled to pul myself from Matthew's deep bathtub.
"Shh," Ysabeau said, holding my hair away from my face while Marthe pushed me back into the water. "It wil warm you. We must get you warm."
Marthe stood sentinel at one end of the tub, and Ysabeau remained at the other, whispering soothing sounds and humming softly under her breath. It was a long time before the shaking stopped.
At one point Marthe murmured something in Occitan that included the name Marcus.
Ysabeau and I said no at the same moment.
"I'l be fine. Don't tel Marcus what happened. Matthew mustn't know about the magic. Not now," I said through chattering teeth.
"We just need some time to warm you." Ysabeau sounded calm, but she looked concerned.
Slowly the heat began to reverse the changes the witchwater had worked on my body. Marthe kept adding fresh hot water to the tub as my body cooled it down.
Ysabeau grabbed a beat-up tin pitcher from under the window and dipped it into the bath, pouring hot water over my head and shoulders. Once my head was warm, she wrapped it in a towel and pushed me slightly lower in the water.
"Soak," she commanded.
Marthe bustled between the bathroom and the bedroom, carrying clothes and towels. She tutted over my lack of pajamas and the old yoga clothes I'd brought to sleep in.
None of them met her requirements for warmth.
Ysabeau felt my cheeks and the top of my head with the back of her hand. She nodded.
They let me get myself out of the tub. The water fal ing off my body reminded me of the watchtower roof, and I dug my toes into the floor to resist the element's insidious pul .
Marthe and Ysabeau bundled me into towels fresh from the fireside that smel ed faintly of wood smoke. In the bedroom they somehow managed to dry me without ever exposing an inch of my flesh to the air, rol ing me this way and that inside the towels until I could feel heat radiating from my body. Rough strokes of another towel scratched against my hair before Marthe's fingers raked through the strands and twisted them into a tight braid against my scalp. Ysabeau tossed the damp towels onto a chair near the fire as I shed them to dress, seemingly unconcerned by their contact with antique wood and fine upholstery.
Now ful y clothed, I sat down and stared mindlessly at the fire. Marthe disappeared without a word into the lower regions of the chateau and returned with a tray of tiny sandwiches and a steaming pot of her herbal tea.
"You wil eat. Now." It was not a request but a command.
I brought one of the sandwiches to my mouth and nibbled around the edges.
Marthe's eyes narrowed at this sudden change in my eating habits. "Eat."
The food tasted like sawdust, but my stomach rumbled nonetheless. After I'd swal owed two of the tiny sandwiches, Marthe thrust a mug into my hands. She didn't need to tel me to drink. The hot liquid slid down my throat, carrying away the water's salty vestiges.
"Was that witchwater?" I shivered at the memory of al that water coming out of me.
Ysabeau, who had been standing by the window looking out into the darkness, walked toward the opposite sofa.
"Yes," she said. "It has been a long time, though, since we have seen it come forth like that."
"Thank God that wasn't the usual way," I said faintly, swal owing another sip of tea.
"Most witches today are not powerful enough to draw on the witchwater as you did. They can make waves on ponds and cause rain when there are clouds. They do not become the water." Ysabeau sat across from me, studying me with evident curiosity.
I had become the water. Knowing that this was no longer common made me feel vulnerable-and even more alone.
A phone rang.
Ysabeau reached into her pocket and pul ed out a smal red phone that seemed uncharacteristical y bright and high- tech against her pale skin and classic, buff-colored clothes.
"Oui? Ah, good. I am glad that you are there and safe."
She spoke English out of courtesy to me and nodded in my direction. "Yes, she is fine. She is eating." She stood and handed me the phone. "Matthew would like to speak with you."
"Diana?" Matthew was barely audible.
"Yes?" I didn't trust myself to say much for fear that more than words would tumble out.
He made a soft sound of relief. "I just wanted to make sure you were al right."
"Your mother and Marthe are taking good care of me."
And I didn't flood the castle, I thought.
"You're tired." The distance between us was making him anxious, and he was tuned into every nuance of our exchange.
"I am. It's been a long day."
"Sleep, then," he said, his tone unexpectedly gentle. My eyes closed against the sudden sting of tears. There would be little sleep for me tonight. I was too worried about what he might do in some half-baked, heroic attempt to protect me.
"Have you been to the lab?"
"I'm headed there now. Marcus wants me to go over everything careful y and make sure we've taken al the necessary precautions. Miriam's checked the security at the house as wel ." He told the half-truth with smooth conviction, but I knew it for what it was. The silence stretched out until it became uncomfortable.
"Don't do it, Matthew. Please don't try to negotiate with Knox."
"I'l make sure you're safe before you return to Oxford."
"Then there's nothing more to say. You've decided. So have I." I returned the phone to Ysabeau.
She frowned, her cold fingers pul ing it from my grip.
Ysabeau said good-bye to her son, his reply audible only as a staccato burst of unintel igible sound.
"Thank you for not tel ing him about the witchwater," I said quietly after she'd disconnected the line.
"That is your tale to tel , not mine." Ysabeau drifted toward the fireplace.
"It's no good trying to tel a story you don't understand.
Why is the power coming out now? First it was the wind, then the visions, and now the water, too." I shuddered.
"What kind of visions?" Ysabeau asked, her curiosity evident.
"Didn't Matthew tel you? My DNA has al this . . . magic, "
I said, stumbling over the word, "in it. The tests warned there might be visions, and they've begun."
"Matthew would never tel me what your blood revealed- certainly not without your permission, and probably not with your permission either."
"I've seen them here in the chateau." I hesitated. "How did you learn to control them?"
"Matthew told you that I had visions before I became a vampire." Ysabeau shook her head. "He should not have."
"Were you a witch?" That might explain why she disliked me so much.
"A witch? No. Matthew wonders if I was a daemon, but I'm sure I was an ordinary human. They have their visionaries, too. It's not only creatures who are blessed and cursed in this way."
"Did you ever manage to control your second sight and anticipate it?"
"It gets easier. There are warning signs. They can be subtle, but you wil learn. Marthe helped me as wel ."
It was the only piece of information I had about Marthe's past. Not for the first time, I wondered how old these two women were and what workings of fate had brought them together.
Marthe stood with her arms crossed. "Òc, " she said, giving Ysabeau a tender, protective look. "It is easier if you let the visions move through you without fighting."
"I'm too shocked to fight," I said, thinking back to the salon and the library.
"Shock is your body's way of resisting," Ysabeau said.
"You must try to relax."
"It's difficult to let go when you see knights in armor and the faces of women you've never met mixed up with scenes from your own past." My jaw cracked with a yawn.
"You are too exhausted to think about this now." Ysabeau rose to her feet.
"I'm not ready to sleep." I smothered another yawn with the back of my hand.
She eyed me speculatively, like a beautiful falcon scrutinizing a field mouse. Ysabeau's glance turned mischievous. "Get into bed, and I wil tel you how I made Matthew."
Her offer was too tempting to resist. I did as she told me while she pul ed up a chair and Marthe busied herself with dishes and towels.
"So where do I begin?" She drew herself straighter in the chair and stared into the candles' flames. "I cannot begin simply with my part of the story but must start with his birth, here in the vil age. I remember him as a baby, you know.