"'You're old enough now, too, to take up the hunt that we began when you were born-the hunt for information about you and your magic. We received the enclosed note and drawing when you were three. It came to us in an envelope with an Israeli stamp. The department secretary told us there was no return address or signature-just the note and the picture.
"'We've spent much of the past four years trying to make sense of it. We couldn't ask too many questions.
But we think the picture shows a wedding. '"
"It is a wedding-the chemical marriage of mercury and sulfur. It's a crucial step in making the philosopher's stone."
My voice sounded harsh after Matthew's rich tones.
It was one of the most beautiful depictions of the chemical wedding I'd ever seen. A golden-haired woman in a pristine white gown held a white rose in one hand. It was an offering to her pale, dark-haired husband, a message that she was pure and worthy of him. He wore black-and- red robes and clasped her other hand. He, too, held a rose -but his was as red as fresh-spil ed blood, a token of love and death. Behind the couple, chemicals and metals were personified as wedding guests, mil ing around in a landscape of trees and rocky hil s. A whole menagerie of animals gathered to witness the ceremony: ravens, eagles, toads, green lions, peacocks, pelicans. A unicorn and a wolf stood side by side in the center background, behind the bride and groom. The whole scene was gathered within the outspread wings of a phoenix, its feathers flaming at the the outspread wings of a phoenix, its feathers flaming at the edges and its head curved down to watch the scene unfold.
"What does it mean?" Em asked.
"That someone has been waiting for Matthew and me to find each other for a long time."
"How could that picture possibly be about you and Matthew?" Sarah craned her neck to inspect it more closely.
"The queen is wearing Matthew's crest." A gleaming silver-and-gold circlet held back the bride's hair. In its midst, resting against her forehead, was a jewel in the shape of a crescent moon with a star rising above it.
Matthew reached past the picture and took up the rest of my mother's letter. "Do you mind if I continue?" he asked gently.
I shook my head, the page from the manuscript stil resting on my knees. Em and Sarah, wary of its power, were exercising proper caution in the presence of an unfamiliar bewitched object and remained where they were.
"'We think the woman in white is meant to be you, Diana. We are less certain about the identity of the dark man. I've seen him in your dreams, but he's hard to place.
He walks through your future, but he's in the past as well.
He's always in shadows, never in the light. And though he's dangerous, the shadowed man doesn't pose a threat to you. Is he with you now? I hope so. I wish I could have known him. There is so much I would have liked to tell him about you.'" Matthew's voice stumbled over the last words.
"'We hope the two of you will be able to discover the source of this picture. Your father thinks it's from an old book. Sometimes we see text moving on the back of the page, but then the words disappear again for weeks, even months, at a time. '"
Sarah sprang out of her chair. "Give me the picture."
"It's from the book I told you about. The one in Oxford." I handed it to her reluctantly.
"It feels so heavy," she said, walking toward the window with a frown. She turned the picture over and angled the page this way and that. "But I don't see any words. Of course, it's no wonder. If this page was removed from the book it belongs to, then the magic is badly damaged."
"Is that why the words I saw were moving so fast?"
Sarah nodded. "Probably. They were searching for this page and couldn't find it."
"Pages." This was a detail I hadn't told Matthew.
"What do you mean, 'pages'?" Matthew came around the chair, flicking little shards of ice over my features.
"This isn't the only page that's missing from Ashmole 782."
"How many were removed?"
"Three," I whispered. "Three pages were missing from the front of the manuscript. I could see the stubs. It didn't seem important at the time."
"Three," Matthew repeated. His voice was flat, and it sounded as though he were about to break something apart with his bare hands.
"What does it matter whether there are three pages missing or three hundred?" Sarah was stil trying to detect the hidden words. "The magic is stil broken."
"Because there are three types of otherworldly creatures." Matthew touched my face to let me know he wasn't angry at me.
"And if we have one of the pages . . ." I started.
"Then who has the others?" Em finished.
"Damn it al to hel , why didn't Rebecca tel us about this?" Sarah, too, sounded like she wanted to destroy something. Emily took the picture from her hands and laid it careful y on an antique tea table.
Matthew continued reading. "'Your father says that you will have to travel far to unlock its secrets. I won't say more, for fear this note will fall into the wrong hands. But you will figure it out, I know. '"
He handed the sheet to me and went on to the next. "'The house wouldn't have shared this letter if you weren't ready.
That means you also know that your father and I spellbound you. Sarah will be furious, but it was the only way to protect you from the Congregation before the shadowed man was with you. He will help you with your magic. Sarah will say it's not his business because he's not a Bishop. Ignore her.'"
Sarah snorted and looked daggers at the vampire.
"'Because you will love him as you love no one else, I tied your magic to your feelings for him. Even so, only you will have the ability to draw it into the open. I'm sorry about the panic attacks. They were the only thing I could think of.
Sometimes you're too brave for your own good. Good luck learning your spells-Sarah is a perfectionist.'"
Matthew smiled. "There always was something odd about your anxiety."
"After we met in the Bodleian, it was almost impossible to provoke you into panicking."
"But I panicked when you came out of the fog by the boathouses."
"You were startled. Your instincts should have been screaming with panic whenever I was near. Instead you came closer and closer." Matthew dropped a kiss on my head and turned to the last page.
"'It's hard to know how to finish this letter when there is so much in my heart. The past seven years have been the happiest of my life. I wouldn't give up a moment of our precious time with you-not for an ocean of power or a long, safe life without you. We don't know why the goddess entrusted you to us, but not a day has passed that we didn't thank her for it.'"
I suppressed a sob but couldn't stop the tears.
"'I cannot shield you from the challenges you will face.
You will know great loss and danger, but also great joy.
You may doubt your instincts in the years to come, but your feet have been walking this path since the moment you were born. We knew it when you came into the world a caulbearer. You've remained between worlds ever since.
It's who you are, and your destiny. Don't let anyone keep you from it.'"
"What's a caulbearer?" I whispered.
"Someone born with the amniotic sac stil intact around them. It's a sign of luck," Sarah explained.
Matthew's free hand cradled the back of my skul . "Much more than luck is associated with the caul. In times past, it was thought to foretel the birth of a great seer. Some believed it was a sign you would become a vampire, a witch, or a werewolf." He gave me a lopsided grin.
"Where is it?" Em asked Sarah.
Matthew and I swung our heads in quick unison. "What?"
we asked simultaneously.
"Cauls have enormous power. Stephen and Rebecca would have saved it."
We al looked at the crack in the paneling. A phonebook landed in the grate with a thud, sending a cloud of ash into the room.
"How do you save a caul?" I wondered aloud. "Do you put it in a baggie or something?"
"Traditional y, you press a piece of paper or fabric onto the baby's face and the caul sticks to it. Then you save the paper," explained Em.
Al eyes swiveled to the page from Ashmole 782. Sarah picked it up and studied it closely. She muttered a few words and stared some more.
"There's something uncanny about this picture," she reported, "but it doesn't have Diana's caul attached to it."
That was a relief. It would have been one strange thing too many.
"So is that al , or does my sister have any other secrets she'd like to share with us?" Sarah asked tartly. Matthew frowned at her. "Sorry, Diana," she murmured.
"There's not much more. Can you manage it, mon coeur?"
I grabbed his free hand and nodded. He perched on one of the chair's padded arms, which creaked slightly under his weight.
"'Try not to be too hard on yourself as you journey into the future. Keep your wits about you, and trust your instincts. It's not much in the way of advice, but it's all that a mother can give. We can scarcely bear leaving you, but the only alternative is to risk losing you forever. Forgive us. If we have wronged you, it was because we loved you so much. Mom.'"
The room was silent, and even the house was holding its breath. A sound of loss started somewhere deep within me just before a tear fel from my eye. It swel ed to the size of a softbal and hit the floor with a splash. My legs felt liquid.
"Here it comes," Sarah warned.
Matthew dropped the page from the letter and swept me out of the chair and through the front door. He set me on the driveway, and my toes gripped the soil. The witchwater released harmlessly into the ground while my tears continued to flow. After a few moments, Matthew's hands slid around my waist from behind. His body shielded me from the rest of the world, and I relaxed against his chest.
"Let it al go," he murmured, his lips against my ear.
The witchwater subsided, leaving behind an aching sense of loss that would never go away completely.
"I wish they were here," I cried. "My mother and father would know what to do."
"I know you miss them. But they didn't know what to do- not real y. Like al parents, they were just doing their best from moment to moment."
"My mother saw you, and what the Congregation might do. She was a great seer."
"And so wil you be, one day. Until then we're going to have to manage without knowing what the future holds. But there are two of us. You don't have to do it by yourself."
We went back inside, where Sarah and Em were stil scrutinizing the page from the manuscript. I announced that more tea and a fresh pot of coffee were in order, and Matthew came with me into the kitchen, though his eyes lingered on the brightly colored image.
The kitchen looked like a war zone, as usual. Every surface was covered with dishes. While the kettle came to the boil and the coffee brewed, I rol ed up my sleeves to do the dishes.
Matthew's phone buzzed in his pocket. He was ignoring it, intent on putting more logs into the already overloaded fireplace.
"You should get that," I said, squirting dish liquid into the sink.
He pul ed out his phone. His face revealed that this was not a cal he wanted to take. "Oui?"
It must be Ysabeau. Something had gone wrong, someone wasn't where he or she was supposed to be-it was impossible for me to fol ow the particulars given their rapid exchange, but Matthew's annoyance was clear. He barked out a few orders and disconnected the phone.
"Is Ysabeau al right?" I swished my fingers through the warm water, hoping there was no new crisis.
Matthew's hands pushed my shoulders gently away from my ears, kneading the tight muscles. "She's fine. This had nothing to do with Ysabeau. It was Alain. He was doing some business for the family and ran into an unexpected situation."
"Business?" I picked up the sponge and started washing.
"For the Knights of Lazarus?"
"Yes," he said shortly.
"Who is Alain?" I set the clean plate in the drainer.
"He began as my father's squire. Philippe couldn't manage without him, in war or in peace, so Marthe made him a vampire. He knows every aspect of the brotherhood's business. When my father died, Alain transferred his loyalty from Philippe to me. He cal ed to warn me that Marcus wasn't pleased to receive my message."
I turned to meet his eyes. "Was it the same message you gave to Baldwin at La Guardia?"
"I'm nothing but trouble to your family."
"This isn't a de Clermont family matter anymore, Diana.
The Knights of Lazarus protect those who cannot protect themselves. Marcus knew that when he accepted a place among them."
Matthew's phone buzzed again.
"And that wil be Marcus," he said grimly.
"Go talk to him in private." I tilted my chin toward the door.
Matthew kissed my cheek before pushing the green button on his phone and heading into the backyard.
"Hel o, Marcus," he said warily, shutting the door behind him.
I continued moving the soapy water over the dishes, the repetitive motion soothing.
"Where's Matthew?" Sarah and Em were standing in the doorway, holding hands.
"Outside, talking to England," I said, nodding again in the direction of the back door.
Sarah got another clean mug out of the cabinet-the fourth she'd used that morning, by my count-and fil ed it with fresh coffee. Emily picked up the newspaper. Stil , their eyes tingled with curiosity. The back door opened and closed. I braced for the worst.
"How is Marcus?"
"He and Miriam are on their way to New York. They have something to discuss with you." Matthew's face looked like a thundercloud.
"Me? What is it?"
"He wouldn't tel me."
"Marcus didn't want you to be on your own with only witches to keep you company." I smiled at him, and some of the tension left his face.
"They'l be here by nightfal and wil check in to the inn we passed on our way through town. I'l go by and see them tonight. Whatever they need to tel you can wait until tomorrow." Matthew's worried eyes darted to Sarah and Em.
I turned to the sink again. "Cal him back, Matthew. They should come straight here."
"They won't want to disturb anyone," he said smoothly.
Matthew didn't want to upset Sarah and the rest of the Bishops by bringing two more vampires into the house. But my mother would never have let Marcus travel so far only to stay in a hotel.
Marcus was Matthew's son. He was my son.
My fingers prickled, and the cup I was washing slipped from my grasp. It bobbed in the water for a few moments, then sank.
"No son of mine is checking in to a hotel. He belongs in the Bishop house, with his family, and Miriam shouldn't be alone. They're both staying here, and that's final," I said firmly.
"Son?" said Sarah faintly.
"Marcus is Matthew's son, which makes him my son, too.
That makes him a Bishop, and this house belongs to him as much as it does to you, or me, or Em." I turned to face them, grabbing the sleeves of my shirt tightly with my wet hands, which were shaking.
My grandmother drifted down the hal way to see what the fuss was about.
"Did you hear me, Grandma?" I cal ed.
I believe we all heard you, Diana, she said in her rustly voice.
"Good. No acting up. And that goes for every Bishop in this house-living and dead."
The house opened its front and back doors in a premature gesture of welcome, sending a gust of chil y air through the downstairs rooms.
"Where wil they sleep?" Sarah grumbled.
"They don't sleep, Sarah. They're vampires." The prickling in my fingers increased.
"Diana," Matthew said, "please step away from the sink.
The electricity, mon coeur. "
I gripped my sleeves tighter. The edges of my fingers were bright blue.
"We get the message," Sarah said hastily, eyeing my hands. "We've already got one vampire in the house."
"I'l get their rooms ready," Emily said, with a smile that looked genuine. "I'm glad we'l have a chance to meet your son, Matthew."
Matthew, who had been leaning against an ancient wooden cupboard, pul ed himself upright and walked slowly toward me. "Al right," he said, drawing me from the sink and tucking my head under his chin. "You've made your point. I'l cal Marcus and let him know they're welcome here."
"Don't tel Marcus I cal ed him my son. He may not want a stepmother."
"You two wil have to sort that out," Matthew said, trying to suppress his amusement.
"What's so funny?" I tipped my face up to look at him.
"With al that's happened this morning, the one thing you're worried about is whether Marcus wants a stepmother. You confound me." Matthew shook his head.
"Are al witches this surprising, Sarah, or is it just Bishops?"
Sarah considered her answer. "Just Bishops."
I peeked around Matthew's shoulder to give her a grateful smile.
My aunts were surrounded by a mob of ghosts, al of whom were solemnly nodding in agreement.