"Diana," I said unnecessarily. The goddess was represented exactly, from the tips of the crescent moon on her brow to her sandaled feet. She was in motion, one foot striding forward while a hand reached over her shoulders to draw an arrow from her quiver. The other hand rested on the antlers of a stag.
"Where did you get that?" Matthew sounded strange, and his face had gone gray again.
Sophie shrugged. "Nobody knows. The Normans have always had it. It's been passed down in the family from witch to witch. 'When the time comes, give it to the one who has need of it.' That's what my granny told my father, and my father told me. It used to be written on a little piece of paper, but that was lost a long time ago."
"What is it, Matthew?" Marcus looked uneasy. So did Nathaniel.
"It's a chess piece," Matthew's voice broke. "The white queen."
"How do you know that?" Sarah looked at the figurine critical y. "It's not like any chess piece I ever saw."
Matthew had to force the words out from behind tight lips.
"Because it was once mine. My father gave it to me."
"How did it end up in North Carolina?" I stretched my fingers toward the silver object, and the figurine slid across the table as if it wanted to be in my possession. The stag's antlers cut into my palm as my hand closed around it, the metal quickly warming to my touch.
"I lost it in a wager," Matthew said quietly. "I have no idea how it got to North Carolina." He buried his face in his hands and murmured a single word that made no sense to me. "Kit."
"Do you remember when you last had it?" Sarah asked sharply.
"I remember precisely." Matthew lifted his head. "I was playing a game with it many years ago, on Al Souls' Night.
It was then that I lost my wager."
"That's next week." Miriam shifted in her seat so that she could meet Sarah's eyes. "Would timewalking be easier around the feasts of Al Saints and Al Souls?"
"Miriam," Matthew snarled, but it was too late.
"What's timewalking?" Nathaniel whispered to Sophie.
"Mama was a timewalker," Sophie whispered back. "She was good at it, too, and always came back from the 1700s with lots of ideas for pots and jugs."
"Your mother visited the past?" Nathaniel asked faintly.
He looked around the room at the motley assortment of creatures, then at his wife's bel y. "Does that run in witches' families, too, like second sight?"
Sarah answered Miriam over the daemons' whispered conversation. "There's not much keeping the living from the dead between Hal oween and Al Souls. It would be easier to slip between the past and the present then."
Nathaniel looked more anxious. "The living and the dead? Sophie and I just came to deliver that statue or whatever it is so she can sleep through the night."
"Wil Diana be strong enough?" Marcus asked Matthew, ignoring Nathaniel.
"This time of year, it should be much easier for Diana to timewalk," Sarah mused aloud.
Sophie looked contentedly around the table. "This reminds me of the old days when granny and her sisters got together and gossiped. They never seemed to pay attention to one another, but they always knew what had been said."
The room's many competing conversations stopped abruptly when the dining-room doors banged open and shut, fol owed by a booming sound produced by the heavier keeping-room doors. Nathaniel, Miriam, and Marcus shot to their feet.
"What the hel was that?" Marcus asked.
"The house," I said wearily. "I'l go see what it wants."
Matthew scooped up the figurine and fol owed me.
The old woman with the embroidered bodice was waiting at the keeping room's threshold.
"Hel o, ma'am." Sophie had fol owed right behind and was nodding politely to the old woman. She scrutinized my features. "The lady looks a bit like you, doesn't she?"
So you've chosen your road, the old woman said. Her voice was fainter than before.
"We have," I said. Footsteps sounded behind me as the remaining occupants of the dining room came to see what the commotion was about.
You'll be needing something else for your journey, she replied.
The coffin doors swung open, and the press of creatures at my back was matched by the crowd of ghosts waiting by the fireplace.
This should be interesting, my grandmother said drily from her place at the head of the ghostly bunch.
There was a rumbling in the wal s like bones rattling. I sat in my grandmother's rocker, my knees no longer able to hold my weight.
A crack developed in the paneling between the window and the fireplace. It stretched and widened in a diagonal slash. The old wood shuddered and squeaked. Something soft with legs and arms flew out of the gap. I flinched when it landed in my lap.
"Holy shit," Sarah said.
That paneling will never look the same, my grandmother commented, shaking her head regretful y at the cracked wood.
Whatever flew at me was made of rough-spun fabric that had faded to an indiscriminate grayish brown. In addition to its four limbs, it had a lump where the head belonged, adorned with faded tufts of hair. Someone had stitched an X where the heart should be.
"What is it?" I reached my index finger toward the uneven, rusty stitches.
"Don't touch it!" Em cried.
"I'm already touching it," I said, looking up in confusion.
"It's sitting on my lap."
"I've never seen such an old poppet," said Sophie, peering down at it.
"Poppet?" Miriam frowned. "Didn't one of your ancestors get in trouble over a poppet?"
"Bridget Bishop." Sarah, Em, and I said the name at the same moment.
The old woman with the embroidered bodice was now standing next to my grandmother.
"Is this yours?" I whispered.
A smile turned up one corner of Bridget's mouth.
Remember to be canny when you find yourself at a crossroads, daughter. There's no telling what secrets are buried there.
Looking down at the poppet, I lightly touched the X on its chest. The fabric split open, revealing a stuffing made of leaves, twigs, and dried flowers and releasing the scent of herbs into the air. "Rue," I said, recognizing it from Marthe's tea.
"Clover, broom, knotweed, and slippery elm bark, too, from the smel of it." Sarah gave the air a good sniff. "That poppet was made to draw someone-Diana, presumably -but it's got a protection spel on it, too."
You did well by her, Bridget told my grandmother with an approving nod at Sarah.
Something was gleaming through the brown. When I pul ed at it gently, the poppet came apart in pieces.
And there's an end to it, Bridget said with a sigh. My grandmother put a comforting arm around her.
"It's an earring." Its intricate golden surfaces caught the light, and an enormous, teardrop-shaped pearl shone at the end.
"How the hel did one of my mother's earrings get into Bridget Bishop's poppet?" Matthew's face was back to that pasty gray color.
"Were your mother's earrings in the same place as your chess set on that long-ago night?" Miriam asked. Both the earring and the chess piece were old-older than the poppet, older than the Bishop house.
Matthew thought a moment, then nodded. "Yes. Is a week enough time? Can you be ready?" he asked me urgently.
"I don't know."
"Sure you'l be ready," Sophie crooned to her bel y.
"She'l make things right for you, little witch. You'l be her godmother," Sophie said with a radiant smile. "She'l like that."
"Counting the baby-and not counting the ghosts, of course," Marcus said in a deceptively conversational tone that reminded me of the way Matthew spoke when he was stressed, "there are nine of us in this room."
"Four witches, three vampires, and two daemons,"
Sophie said dreamily, her hands stil on her bel y. "But we're short a daemon. Without one we can't be a conventicle. And once Matthew and Diana leave, we'l need another vampire, too. Is Matthew's mother stil alive?"
"She's tired," Nathaniel said apologetical y, his hands tightening on his wife's shoulders. "It makes it difficult for her to focus."
"What did you say?" Em asked Sophie. She was struggling to keep her voice calm.
Sophie's eyes lost their dreaminess. "A conventicle.
That's what they cal ed a gathering of dissenters in the old days. Ask them." She inclined her head in the direction of Marcus and Miriam.
"I told you this wasn't about the Bishops or the de Clermonts," Em said to Sarah. "It's not even about Matthew and Diana and whether they can be together. It's about Sophie and Nathaniel, too. It's about the future, just as Diana said. This is how we'l fight the Congregation-not just as individual families but as a-What did you cal it?"
"Conventicle," Miriam answered. "I always liked that word -so delightful y ominous." She settled back on her heels with a satisfied smile.
Matthew turned to Nathaniel. "It would seem your mother was right. You do belong here, with us."
"Of course they belong here," Sarah said briskly. "Your bedroom is ready, Nathaniel. It's upstairs, the second door to the right."
"Thank you," Nathaniel said, a note of cautious relief in his voice, though he stil eyed Matthew warily.
"I'm Marcus." Matthew's son held out his hand to the daemon. Nathaniel clasped it firmly, barely reacting to the shocking coldness of vampire flesh.
"See? We didn't need to make reservations at that hotel, sweetie," Sophie told her husband with a beatific smile.
She looked for Em in the crowd. "Are there more cookies?"