A combination of exhaustion, medication, and the familiarity of home kept me in bed for hours. I woke on my stomach, one knee bent and arm outstretched, searching vainly for Matthew.
Too groggy to sit up, I turned my head toward the door. A large key sat in the lock, and there were low voices on the other side. As the muzziness of sleep slowly gave way to awareness, the mumbling became clearer.
"It's appal ing," Matthew snapped. "How could you let her go on this way?"
"We didn't know about the extent of her power-not absolutely," Sarah said, sounding equal y furious. "She was bound to be different, given her parents. I never expected witchfire, though."
"How did you recognize she was trying to cal it, Emily?"
Matthew softened his voice.
"A witch on Cape Cod summoned it when I was a child.
She must have been seventy," Em said. "I never forgot what she looked like or what it felt like to be near that kind of power."
"Witchfire is lethal. No spel can ward it off, and no witchcraft can heal the burns. My mother taught me to recognize the signs for my own protection-the smel of sulfur, the way a witch's arms moved," said Sarah. "She told me that the goddess is present when witchfire is cal ed.
I thought I'd go to my grave without witnessing it, and I certainly never expected my niece to unleash it on me in my own kitchen. Witchfire-and witchwater, too?"
"I hoped the witchfire would be recessive," Matthew confessed. "Tel me about Stephen Proctor." Until recently, the authoritative tone he adopted in moments like this had seemed a vestige of his past life as a soldier. Now that I knew about the Knights of Lazarus, I understood it as part of his present, too.
Sarah was not accustomed to having anyone use that tone with her, however, and she bristled. "Stephen was private. He didn't flaunt his power."
"No wonder the witches went digging to discover it, then."
My eyes closed tightly against the sight of my father's body, opened up from throat to groin so that other witches could understand his magic. His fate had nearly been mine.
Matthew's bulk shifted in the hal , and the house protested at the unusual weight. "He was an experienced wizard, but he was no match for them. Diana might have inherited his abilities-and Rebecca's, too, God help her.
But she doesn't have their knowledge, and without it she's helpless. She might as wel have a target painted on her."
I continued eavesdropping shamelessly.
"She's not a transistor radio, Matthew," Sarah said defensively. "Diana didn't come to us with batteries and an instruction manual. We did the best we could. She became a different child after Rebecca and Stephen were kil ed, withdrawing so far that no one could reach her. What should we have done? Forced her to face what she was so determined to deny?"
"I don't know." Matthew's exasperation was audible. "But you shouldn't have left her like this. That witch held her captive for more than twelve hours."
"We'l teach her what she needs to know."
"For her sake, it had better not take too long."
"It wil take her whole life," Sarah snapped. "Magic isn't macrame. It takes time."
"We don't have time," Matthew hissed. The creaking of the floorboards told me Sarah had taken an instinctive step away from him. "The Congregation has been playing cat- and-mouse games, but the mark on Diana's back indicates those days are over."
"How dare you cal what happened to my niece a game? "
Sarah's voice rose.
"Shh," Em said. "You'l wake her."
"What might help us understand how Diana is spel bound, Emily?" Matthew was whispering now. "Can you remember anything about the days before Rebecca and Stephen left for Africa-smal details, what they were worried about?"
The word echoed in my mind as I slowly drew myself upright.
Spel binding was reserved for extreme circumstances-life-threatening danger, madness, pure and uncontrol able evil. Merely to threaten it earned you the censure of other witches.
By the time I got to my feet, Matthew was at my side. He was frowning. "What do you need?"
"I want to talk to Em." My fingers were snapping and turning blue. So were my toes, sticking out of the bandages that protected my ankle. The gauze on my foot snagged an old nail head poking up from the floor's pine boards as I pushed past him.
Sarah and Em were waiting on the landing, trepidation on their faces.
"What's wrong with me?" I demanded.
Emily crept into the crook of Sarah's arm. "There's nothing wrong with you."
"You said I'm spel bound. That my own mother did it." I was some kind of monster. It was the only possible explanation.
Emily heard my thoughts as if I'd spoken them aloud.
"You're not a monster, honey. Rebecca did it because she was afraid for you."
"She was afraid of me, you mean." My blue fingers provided an excel ent reason for someone to be terrified. I tried to hide them but didn't want to singe Matthew's shirt, and resting them on the old wooden stair rail risked setting the whole house on fire.
Watch the rug, girl! The tal female ghost from the keeping room was peeking around Sarah and Em's door and pointing urgently at the floor. I lifted my toes slightly.
"No one is afraid of you." Matthew stared with frosty intensity at my back, wil ing me to face him.
"They are." I pointed a sparkling finger at my aunts, eyes resolutely in their direction.
So am I, confessed another dead Bishop, this one a teenage boy with slightly protruding teeth. He was carrying a berry basket and wore a pair of ripped britches.
My aunts took a step backward as I continued to glare at them.
"You have every right to be frustrated." Matthew moved so that he was standing just behind me. The wind rose, and touches of snow from his glance glazed my thighs, too.
"Now the witchwind has come because you feel trapped."
He crept closer, and the air around my lower legs increased slightly. "See?"
Yes, that roiling feeling might be frustration rather than anger. Distracted from the issue of spel binding, I turned to ask him more about his theories. The color in my fingers was already fading, and the snapping sound was gone.
"You have to try to understand," Em pleaded. "Rebecca and Stephen went to Africa to protect you. They spel bound you for the same reason. Al they wanted was for you to be safe."
The house moaned through its timbers and held its breath, its old wooden joists creaking.
Coldness spread through me from the inside out.
"Is it my fault they died? They went to Africa and someone kil ed them-because of me?" I looked at Matthew in horror.
Without waiting for an answer, I made my way blindly to the stairs, unconcerned with the pain in my ankle or anything else except fleeing.
"No, Sarah. Let her go," Matthew said sharply.
The house opened al the doors before me and slammed them behind as I went through the front hal , the dining room, the family room, and into the kitchen. A pair of Sarah's gardening boots slipped over my bare feet, their rubber surfaces cold and smooth. Once outside, I did what I'd always done when the family was too much for me and went into the woods.
My feet didn't slow until I had made it through the scraggy apple trees and into the shadows cast by the ancient white oaks and sugar maples. Out of breath and shaking with shock and exhaustion, I found myself at the foot of an enormous tree almost as wide as it was tal . Low, sprawling branches nearly touched the ground, their red and purple deeply lobed leaves standing out against the ashy bark.
Al through my childhood and adolescence, I'd poured out my heart-break and loneliness underneath its limbs.
Generations of Bishops had found the same solace here and carved their initials into the tree. Mine were gouged with a penknife next to the "RB" my mother had left before me, and I traced their curves before curling up in a bal near the rough trunk and rocking myself like a child.
There was a cool touch on my hair before the blue parka settled over my shoulders. Matthew's solid frame lowered to the ground, his back scraping against the tree's bark.
"Did they tel you what's wrong with me?" My voice was muffled against my legs.
"There's nothing wrong with you, mon coeur. "
"You have a lot to learn about witches." I rested my chin on my knees but stil wouldn't look at him. "Witches don't spel bind someone without a damn good reason."
Matthew was quiet. I slid a sidelong glance in his direction. His legs were just visible from the corner of my eye-one stretched forward and the other bent-as was a long, white hand. It was draped loosely over his knee.
"Your parents had a damn good reason. They were saving their daughter's life." His voice was quiet and even, but there were stronger emotions underneath. "It's what I would have done."
"Did you know I was spel bound, too?" It wasn't possible for me to keep from sounding accusatory.
"Marthe and Ysabeau figured it out. They told me just before we left for La Pierre. Emily confirmed their suspicions. I hadn't had a chance to tel you."
"How could Em keep this from me?" I felt betrayed and alone, just as I had when Satu told me about what Matthew had done.
"You must forgive your parents and Emily. They were doing what they thought was best-for you."
"You don't understand, Matthew," I said, shaking my head stubbornly. "My mother tied me up and went to Africa as if I were an evil, deranged creature who couldn't be trusted."
"Your parents were worried about the Congregation."
"That's nonsense." My fingers tingled, and I pushed the feeling back toward my elbows, trying to control my temper.
"Not everything is about the damn Congregation, Matthew."
"No, but this is. You don't have to be a witch to see it."
My white table appeared before me without warning, events past and present scattered on its surface. The puzzle pieces began to arrange themselves: my mother chasing after me while I clapped my hands and flew over the linoleum floor of our kitchen in Cambridge, my father shouting at Peter Knox in his study at home, a bedtime story about a fairy godmother and magical ribbons, both my parents standing over my bed saying spel s and working magic while I lay quietly on top of the quilt. The pieces clicked into place, and the pattern emerged.
"My mother's bedtime stories," I said, turning to him in amazement. "She couldn't tel me her plans outright, so she turned it al into a story about evil witches and enchanted ribbons and a fairy godmother. Every night she told me, so that some part of me would remember."
"And do you remember anything else?"
"Before they spel bound me, Peter Knox came to see my father." I shuddered, hearing the doorbel ringing and seeing again the expression on my father's face when he opened the door. "That creature was in my house. He touched my head." Knox's hand resting on the back of my skul had produced an uncanny sensation, I recal ed.
"My father sent me to my room, and the two of them fought. My mother stayed in the kitchen. It was strange that she didn't come to see what was going on. Then my father went out for a long time. My mother was frantic. She cal ed Em that night." The memories were coming thick and fast now.
"Emily told me Rebecca's spel was cast so that it would hold until the 'shadowed man' came. Your mother thought I would be able to protect you from Knox and the Congregation." His face darkened.
"Nobody could have protected me-except me. Satu was right. I'm a sorry excuse for a witch." My head went back to my knees again. "I'm not like my mother at al ."
Matthew stood, extending one hand. "Get up," he said abruptly.
I slid my hand into his, expecting him to comfort me with a hug. Instead he pushed my arms into the sleeves of the blue parka and stepped away.
"You are a witch. It's time you learned how to take care of yourself."
"Not now, Matthew."
"I wish we could let you decide, but we can't," he said brusquely. "The Congregation wants your power-or the knowledge of it at the very least. They want Ashmole 782, and you're the only creature in more than a century to see it."
"They want you and the Knights of Lazarus, too." I was desperate to make this about something besides me and my il -understood magic.
"They could have brought down the brotherhood before.
The Congregation has had plenty of chances." Matthew was obviously sizing me up and gauging my few strengths and considerable weaknesses. It made me feel vulnerable.
"But they don't real y care about that. They don't want me to have you or the manuscript."
"But I'm surrounded by protectors. You're with me- Sarah and Em, too."
"We can't be with you every moment, Diana. Besides, do you want Sarah and Emily to risk their lives to save yours?"
It was a blunt question, and his face twisted. He backed away from me, eyes narrowed to slits.
"You're frightening me," I said as his body lowered into a crouch. The final, lingering touches of morphine drifted through my blood, chased away by the first rush of adrenaline.
"No I'm not." He shook his head slowly, looking every inch a wolf as his hair swayed around his face. "I'd smel it if you were truly frightened. You're just off balance."
A rumbling began in the back of Matthew's throat that was a far cry from the sounds he made when he felt pleasure. I took a wary step away from him.
"That's better," he purred. "At least you have a taste of fear now."
"Why are you doing this?" I whispered.
He was gone without a word.
I blinked. "Matthew?"
Two cold patches bored into the top of my skul .
Matthew was hanging like a bat between two tree limbs, his arms outstretched like wings. His feet were hooked around another branch. He watched me intently, little flickers of frost my only indication of the changes in his focus.
"I'm not a col eague you're having an argument with. This isn't an academic dispute-this is life or death."
"Come down from there," I said sharply. "You've made your point."
I didn't see him land at my side, but I felt his cold fingers at my neck and chin, twisting my head to the side and exposing my throat. "If I were Gerbert, you'd be dead already," he hissed.
"Stop it, Matthew." I struggled to break free but made no progress.
"No." His grip tightened. "Satu tried to break you, and you want to disappear because of it. But you have to fight back."
"I am." I pushed against his arms to prove my point.
"Not like a human," Matthew said contemptuously. "Fight back like a witch."
He vanished again. This time he wasn't in the tree, nor could I feel his cold eyes on me.
"I'm tired. I'm going back to the house." After I'd taken only three steps in that direction, there was a whoosh.
Matthew had slung me over his shoulder, and I was moving -fast-the opposite way.
"You aren't going anywhere."
"Sarah and Em wil be out here if you keep this up." One of them was bound to sense that something was wrong.