Ysabeau gasped as the last shreds fel from my back.
"Maria, Deu maire." Marthe sounded stunned.
"What is it? What did she do?" The room was swinging like a chandelier in an earthquake. Matthew whipped me around to face his mother. Grief and sympathy were etched on her face.
"La sorciere est morte," Matthew said softly.
He was already planning on kil ing another witch. Ice fil ed my veins, and there was blackness at the edges of my vision.
Matthew's hands held me upright. "Stay with me, Diana."
"Did you have to kil Gil ian?" I sobbed.
"Yes." His voice was flat and dead.
"Why did you let me hear this from someone else? Satu told me you'd been in my rooms-that you were using your blood to drug me. Why, Matthew? Why didn't you tel me?"
"Because I was afraid of losing you. You know so little about me, Diana. Secrecy, the instinct to protect-to kil if I must. This is who I am."
I turned to face him, wearing nothing but a towel around my waist. My arms were crossed over my bare chest, and my emotions careened from fear to anger to something darker. "So you'l kil Satu also?"
"Yes." He made no apologies and offered no further explanation, but his eyes were ful of barely control ed rage.
Cold and gray, they searched my face. "You're far braver than I am. I've told you that before. Do you want to see what she did to you?" Matthew asked, gripping my elbows.
I thought for a moment, then nodded.
Ysabeau protested in rapid Occitan, and Matthew stopped her with a hiss.
"She survived the doing of it, Maman. The seeing of it cannot possibly be worse."
Ysabeau and Marthe went downstairs to fetch two mirrors while Matthew patted my torso with feather-light touches of a towel until it was barely damp.
"Stay with me," he repeated every time I tried to slip away from the rough fabric.
The women returned with one mirror in an ornate gilt frame from the salon and a tal cheval glass that only a vampire could have carried up to the tower. Matthew positioned the larger mirror behind me, and Ysabeau and Marthe held the other in front, angling it so that I could see both my back and Matthew, too.
But it couldn't be my back. It was someone else's- someone who had been flayed and burned until her skin was red, and blue, and black. There were strange marks on it, too-circles and symbols. The memory of fire erupted along the lesions.
"Satu said she was going to open me up," I whispered, mesmerized. "But I kept my secrets inside, Mama, just like you wanted."
Matthew's attempt to catch me was the last thing I saw reflected in the mirror before the blackness overtook me.
I awoke next to the bedroom fire again. My lower half was stil wrapped up in a towel, and I was sitting on the edge of one damask-covered chair, bent over at the waist, with my torso draped across a stack of pil ows on another damask- covered chair. Al I could see was feet, and someone was applying ointment to my back. It was Marthe, her rough strength clearly distinguishable from Matthew's cool touches.
"Matthew?" I croaked, swiveling my head to the side to look for him.
His face appeared. "Yes, my darling?"
"Where did the pain go?"
"It's magic," he said, attempting a lopsided grin for my benefit.
"Morphine," I said slowly, remembering the list of drugs he'd given to Marthe.
"That's what I said. Everyone who has ever been in pain knows that morphine and magic are the same. Now that you're awake, we're going to wrap you up." He tossed a spool of gauze to Marthe, explaining that it would keep down the swel ing and further protect my skin. It also had the benefit of binding my breasts, since I would not be wearing a bra in the near future.
The two of them unrol ed miles of white surgical dressing around my torso. Thanks to the drugs, I underwent the process with a curious sense of detachment. It vanished, however, when Matthew began to rummage in his medical bag and talk about sutures. As a child I'd fal en and stuck a long fork used for toasting marshmal ows into my thigh. It had required sutures, too, and my nightmares had lasted for months. I told Matthew my fears, but he was resolute.
"The cut on your arm is deep, Diana. It won't heal properly unless it's sutured."
Afterward the women got me dressed while Matthew drank some wine, his fingers shaking. I didn't have anything that fastened up the front, so Marthe disappeared once more, returning with her arms ful of Matthew's clothing.
They slid me into one of his fine cotton shirts. It swam on me but felt silky against my skin. Marthe careful y draped a black cashmere cardigan with leather-covered buttons- also Matthew's-around my shoulders, and she and Ysabeau snaked a pair of my own stretchy black pants up my legs and over my hips. Then Matthew lowered me into a nest of pil ows on the sofa.
"Change," Marthe ordered, pushing him in the direction of the bathroom.
Matthew showered quickly and emerged from the bathroom in a fresh pair of trousers. He dried his hair roughly by the fire before pul ing on the rest of his clothes.
"Wil you be al right if I go downstairs for a moment?" he asked. "Marthe and Ysabeau wil stay with you."
I suspected his trip downstairs involved his brother, and I nodded, stil feeling the effects of the powerful drug.
While he was gone, Ysabeau muttered every now and again in a language that was neither Occitan nor French, and Marthe clucked and fussed. They'd removed most of the ruined clothes and bloody linen from the room by the time Matthew reappeared. Fal on and Hector were padding along at his side, their tongues hanging out.
Ysabeau's eyes narrowed. "Your dogs do not belong in my house."
Fal on and Hector looked from Ysabeau to Matthew with interest. Matthew clicked his fingers and pointed to the floor. The dogs sank down, their watchful faces turned to me.
"They'l stay with Diana until we leave," he said firmly, and though his mother sighed, she didn't argue with him.
Matthew picked up my feet and slid his body underneath them, his hands lightly stroking my legs. Marthe plunked down a glass of wine in front of him, then thrust a mug of tea into my hands. She and Ysabeau withdrew, leaving us alone with the watchful dogs.
My mind drifted, soothed by the morphine and the hypnotic touch of Matthew's fingers. I sorted through my memories, trying to distinguish what was real from what I'd only imagined. Had my mother's ghost real y been in the oubliette, or was that a recol ection of our time together before Africa? Or was it my mind's attempt to cope with stress by fracturing off into an imaginary world? I frowned.
"What is it, ma lionne?" Matthew asked, his voice concerned. "Are you in pain?"
"No. I'm just thinking." I focused on his face, pul ing myself through the fog to his safer shores. "Where was I?"
"La Pierre. It's an old castle that no one has lived in for years."
"I met Gerbert." My brain was playing hopscotch, not wanting to linger in one place for too long.
Matthew's fingers stil ed. "He was there?"
"Only in the beginning. He and Domenico were waiting when we arrived, but Satu sent them away."
"I see. Did he touch you?" Matthew's body tensed.
"On the cheek." I shivered. "He had the manuscript, Matthew, long, long ago. Gerbert boasted about how he'd taken it from Spain. It was under a spel even then. He kept a witch enthral ed, hoping she would be able to break the enchantment."
"Do you want to tel me what happened?"
I thought it was too soon and was about to tel him so, but the story spil ed out. When I recounted Satu's attempts to open me so that she could find the magic inside, Matthew rose and replaced the pil ows supporting my back with his own body, cradling the length of me between his legs.
He held me while I spoke, and when I couldn't speak, and when I cried. Whatever Matthew's emotions when I shared Satu's revelations about him, he held them firmly in check.
Even when I told him about my mother sitting under an apple tree whose roots spread across La Pierre's stone floors, he never pressed for more details, though he must have had a hundred unanswered questions.
It was not the whole tale-I left out my father's presence, my vivid memories of bedtime stories, and running through the fields behind Sarah's house in Madison. But it was a start, and the rest of it would come in time.
"What do we do now?" I asked when finished. "We can't let the Congregation harm Sarah or Em-or Marthe and Ysabeau."
"That's up to you," Matthew replied slowly. "I'l understand if you've had enough." I craned my neck to look at him, but he wouldn't meet my eyes, staring resolutely out the window into the darkness.
"You told me we were mated for life."
"Nothing wil change the way I feel about you, but you aren't a vampire. What happened to you today-" Matthew stopped, started again. "If you've changed your mind about this-about me-I'l understand."
"Not even Satu could change my mind. And she tried. My mother sounded so certain when she told me that you were the one I'd been waiting for. That was when I flew." That wasn't exactly it-my mother had said that Matthew was the one we had been waiting for. But since it made no sense, I kept it to myself.
"You're sure?" Matthew tilted my chin up and studied my face.
His face lost some of its anguish. He bent his head to kiss me, then drew back.
"My lips are the only part of me that doesn't hurt."
Besides, I needed to be reminded that there were creatures in the world who could touch me without causing pain.
He pressed his mouth gently against mine, his breath ful of cloves and spice. It took away the memories of La Pierre, and for a few moments I could close my eyes and rest in his arms. But an urgent need to know what would happen next pul ed me back to alertness.
"So . . . what now?" I asked again.
"Ysabeau is right. We should go to your family. Vampires can't help you learn about your magic, and the witches wil keep pursuing you."
"When?" After La Pierre, I was oddly content to let him do whatever he thought best.
Matthew twitched slightly underneath me, his surprise at my compliance evident. "We'l join Baldwin and take the helicopter to Lyon. His plane is fueled and ready to leave.
Satu and the Congregation's other witches won't come back here immediately, but they wil be back," he said grimly.
"Ysabeau and Marthe wil be safe at Sept-Tours without you?"
Matthew's laughter rumbled under me. "They've been in the thick of every major armed conflict in history. A pack of hunting vampires or a few inquisitive witches are unlikely to trouble them. I have something to see to, though, before we leave. Wil you rest, if Marthe stays with you?"
"I'l need to get my things together."
"Marthe wil do it. Ysabeau wil help, if you'l let her."
I nodded. The idea of Ysabeau's returning to the room was surprisingly comforting.
Matthew rearranged me on the pil ows, his hands tender.
He cal ed softly to Marthe and Ysabeau and gestured the dogs to the stairs, where they took up positions reminiscent of the lions at the New York Public Library.
The two women moved silently about the room, their quiet puttering and snippets of conversation providing a soothing background noise that final y lul ed me to sleep.
When I woke several hours later, my old duffel bag was packed and waiting by the fire and Marthe was bent over it tucking a tin inside.
"What's that?" I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
"Your tea. One cup every day. Remember?"
"Yes, Marthe." My head fel back on the pil ows. "Thank you. For everything."
Marthe's gnarled hands stroked my forehead. "He loves you. You know this?" Her voice was gruffer than usual.
"I know, Marthe. I love him, too."
Hector and Fal on turned their heads, their attention caught by a sound on the stairs that was too faint for me to hear. Matthew's dark form appeared. He came to the sofa and took stock of me and nodded with approval after he felt my pulse. Then he scooped me into his arms as if I weighed nothing, the morphine ensuring that there was no more than an unpleasant tug on my back as he carried me down the stairs. Hector and Fal on brought up the rear of our little procession as we descended.
His study was lit only by firelight, and it cast shadows on the books and objects there. His eyes flickered to the wooden tower in a silent good-bye to Lucas and Blanca.
"We'l be back-as soon as we can," I promised.
Matthew smiled, but it never touched his eyes.
Baldwin was waiting for us in the hal . Hector and Fal on mil ed around Matthew's legs, keeping anyone from getting close. He cal ed them off so Ysabeau could approach.
She put her cold hands on my shoulders. "Be brave, daughter, but listen to Matthew," she instructed, giving me a kiss on each check.
"I'm so sorry to have brought this trouble to your house."
"Hein, this house has seen worse," she replied before turning to Baldwin.
"Let me know if you need anything, Ysabeau." Baldwin brushed her cheeks with his lips.
"Of course, Baldwin. Fly safely," she murmured as he walked outside.
"There are seven letters in Father's study," Matthew told her when his brother was gone. He spoke low and very fast.
"Alain wil come to fetch them. He knows what to do."
Ysabeau nodded, her eyes bright.
"And so it begins again," she whispered. "Your father would be proud of you, Matthew." She touched him on the arm and picked up his bags.
We made our way-a line of vampires, dogs, and witch -across the chateau's lawns. The helicopter's blades started moving slowly when we appeared. Matthew took me by the waist and lifted me into the cabin, then climbed in behind me.
We lifted off and hovered for a moment over the chateau's il uminated wal s before heading east, where the lights of Lyon were visible in the dark morning sky.