"Nothing." This would be the hardest thing about timewalking for him. "What are you always tel ing me?
Close your eyes, relax, and let me do the rest." I grinned wickedly.
He laced his fingers through mine. "Witch."
"You won't even know it's happening," I assured him. "It's fast. Just pick up your foot and put it down again when I tel you. And don't let go."
"Not a chance," Matthew said, tightening his grip.
I thought about that night, our first alone after my encounter with Satu. I remembered his touch against my back, fierce and gentle at the same time. I felt the connection, immediate and tenacious, to that shared moment in our past.
"Now," I whispered. Our feet rose together.
But timewalking with Matthew was different. Having him along slowed us down, and for the first time I was aware of what was happening.
The past, present, and future shimmered around us in a spiderweb of light and color. Each strand in the web moved slowly, almost imperceptibly, sometimes touching another filament before moving gently away again as if caught by a breeze. Each time strands touched-and mil ions of strands were touching al the time-there was the soft echo of an original, inaudible sound.
Momentarily distracted by the seemingly limitless possibilities before us, we found it easy to lose sight of the twisted red-and-white strand of time we were fol owing. I brought my concentration back to it, knowing it would take us back to our first night in Madison.
I put my foot down and felt rough floorboards against my bare skin.
"You told me it would be fast," he said hoarsely. "That didn't feel fast to me."
"No, it was different," I agreed. "Did you see the lights?"
Matthew shook his head. "There was nothing but blackness. I was fal ing, slowly, with only your hand keeping me from hitting bottom." He raised it to his mouth and kissed it.
There was a lingering smel of chili in the quiet house, and it was night outside. "Can you tel who's here?"
His nostrils flared, and he closed his eyes. Then he smiled and sighed with happiness. "Just Sarah and Em, and you and me. None of the children."
I giggled, drawing him closer.
"If this house gets any more crowded, it's going to burst."
Matthew buried his face in my neck, then drew back. "You stil have your bandage. It means that when we go back in time, we don't stop being who we are in the present or forget what happened to us here." His cold hands crept under the hem of my turtleneck. "Given your rediscovered talents as a timewalker, how accurate are you at gauging the passing of time?"
Though we happily lingered in the past, we were back in the present before Emily finished making the salad.
"Timewalking agrees with you, Matthew," Sarah said, scrutinizing his relaxed face. She rewarded him with a glass of red wine.
"Thank you, Sarah. I was in good hands." He raised his glass to me in salute.
"Glad to hear it," Sarah said drily, sounding like my ghostly grandmother. She threw some sliced radishes into the biggest salad bowl I'd ever seen.
"Where did that come from?" I peered into the bowl to hide my reddened lips.
"The house," Em said, beating the salad dressing with a whisk. "It enjoys having so many mouths to feed."
Next morning the house let us know it was anticipating yet another addition.
Sarah, Matthew, and I were discussing whether my next timewalk should be to Oxford or to Sept-Tours when Em appeared with a load of laundry in her arms. "Somebody is coming."
Matthew put down his paper and stood. "Good. I was expecting a delivery today."
"It's not a delivery, and they're not here yet. But the house is ready for them." She disappeared into the laundry room.
"Another room? Where did the house put this one?"
Sarah shouted after her.
"Next to Marcus." Em's reply echoed from the depths of the washing machine.
We took bets on who it would be. The guesses ranged from Agatha Wilson to Emily's friends from Cherry Val ey who liked to show up unannounced for the coven's Hal oween party.
Late in the morning, there was an authoritative knock on the door. It opened to a smal , dark man with intel igent eyes. He was instantly recognizable from pictures taken at celebrity parties in London and television news conferences. Any remaining doubts about his identity were erased by the familiar nudges against my cheekbones.
Our mystery houseguest was Matthew's friend Hamish Osborne.
"You must be Diana," he said without pleasure or preamble, his Scottish accent lending length to the vowels.
Hamish was dressed for business, in a pin-striped charcoal suit that had been tailored to fit him exactly, a pale pink shirt with heavy silver cuff links, and a fuchsia tie embroidered with tiny black flies.
"I am. Hel o, Hamish. Was Matthew expecting you?" I stepped aside to let him in.
"Probably not," Hamish said crisply, remaining on the stoop. "Where is he?"
"Hamish." Matthew was moving so quickly I felt the breeze behind me before hearing him approach. He extended his hand. "This is a surprise."
Hamish stared at the outstretched hand, then turned his eyes to its owner. "Surprise? Let's discuss surprises. When I joined your . . . 'family firm,' you swore to me this would never arrive." He brandished an envelope, its black seal broken but stil clinging to the flaps.
"I did." Matthew dropped his hand and looked at Hamish warily.
"So much for your promises, then. I'm given to understand from this letter, and from my conversation with your mother, that there's some kind of trouble." Hamish's eyes flickered to me, then back to Matthew.
"Yes." Matthew's lips tightened. "But you're the ninth knight. You don't have to become involved."
"You made a daemon the ninth knight?" Miriam had come through the dining room with Nathaniel.
"Who's he?" Nathaniel shook a handful of Scrabble tiles in his cupped hand while surveying the new arrival.
"Hamish Osborne. And who might you be?" Hamish asked, as if addressing an impertinent employee. The last thing we needed was more testosterone in the house.
"Oh, I'm nobody," Nathaniel said airily, leaning against the dining-room door. He watched Marcus as he passed by.
"Hamish, why are you here?" Marcus looked confused, then saw the letter. "Oh."
My ancestors were congregating in the keeping room, and the house was stirring on its foundations. "Could we continue this inside? It's the house, you see. It's a little uneasy, given you're a daemon-and angry."
"Come, Hamish." Matthew tried to draw him out of the doorway. "Marcus and Sarah haven't demolished the whiskey supply yet. We'l get you a drink and sit you by the fire."
Hamish remained where he was and kept talking.
"While visiting with your mother, who was far more wil ing to answer my questions than you would have been, I learned that you wanted a few things from home. It seemed a shame for Alain to make such a long trip, when I was already going to come and ask you what the hel you were up to." He lifted a bulky leather briefcase with soft sides and a formidable lock, and a smal er, hard-sided case.
"Thank you, Hamish." The words were cordial enough, but Matthew was clearly displeased at having his arrangements altered.
"Speaking of explanations, it's a damn good thing the French don't care about the exportation of English national treasures. Have you any idea of the paperwork that would have been required to get this out of England? If they'd let me remove it at al , which I doubt."
Matthew took the briefcases from Hamish's fingers, gripped him by the elbow, and pul ed his friend inside.
"Later," he said hastily. "Marcus, take Hamish and introduce him to Diana's family while I put these away."
"Oh, it's you," said Sophie with delight, coming out of the dining room. The bulge of her bel y showed plainly underneath a stretched University of North Carolina sweatshirt. "You're like Nathaniel, not scatterbrained like me. Your face is on one of my pots, too." She beamed at Hamish, who looked both charmed and startled.
"Are there more?" he asked me, with a cock of his head that made him resemble a tiny, bright-eyed bird.
"Many more," Sophie replied happily. "You won't see them, though."
"Come and meet my aunts," I said hastily.
"The witches?" It was impossible to know what Hamish was thinking. His sharp eyes missed nothing, and his face was nearly as impassive as Matthew's.
"Yes, the witches."
Matthew disappeared upstairs while Marcus and I introduced Hamish to Em. He seemed less annoyed with her than he was with Matthew and me, and she immediately started fussing over him. Sarah met us at the stil room door, wondering what the commotion was about.
"We're a proper conventicle now, Sarah," Sophie observed as she reached for the pyramid of freshly baked cookies on the kitchen island. "Al nine-three witches, three daemons, and three vampires-present and accounted for."
"Looks like it," Sarah agreed, sizing up Hamish. She watched her partner buzzing around the kitchen like a bewildered bee. "Em, I don't think our new guest needs tea or coffee. Is the whiskey in the dining room?"
"Diana and I cal it the 'war room,'" Sophie confided, grabbing Hamish familiarly by the forearm, "though it seems unlikely we could fight a war without the humans finding out. It's the only place big enough to hold us now.
Some of the ghosts manage to squeeze in, too."
"Ghosts?" Hamish reached up and loosened his tie.
"The dining room." Sarah gripped Hamish's other elbow.
"Everybody in the dining room."
Matthew was already there. The aroma of hot wax fil ed the air. When al of us had grabbed our chosen drink and found a seat, he took charge.
"Hamish has questions," Matthew said. "Nathaniel and Sophie, too. And I suppose this is my tale to tel -mine and Diana's."
With that, Matthew took a deep breath and plunged in.
He included everything-Ashmole 782, the Knights of Lazarus, the break-ins at Oxford, Satu and what happened at La Pierre, even Baldwin's fury. There were poppets and earrings and face jugs as wel . Hamish looked at Matthew sharply when he discussed timewalking and the three objects I would need to travel back to a particular time and place.
"Matthew Clairmont," Hamish hissed, leaning across the table. "Is that what I brought from Sept-Tours? Does Diana know?"
"No," Matthew confessed, looking slightly uncomfortable.
"She'l know on Hal oween."
"Wel , she'd have to know on Hal oween, wouldn't she?"
Hamish let out an exasperated sigh.
Though the exchange between Hamish and Matthew was heated, there were only two moments when the tension threatened to escalate into outright civil war. Both of them, not surprisingly, involved Matthew and Nathaniel.
The first was when Matthew explained to Sophie what this war would be like-the unexpected attacks, the long- simmering feuds between vampires and witches that would come to a boil, the brutal deaths that were bound to occur as creature fought creature using magic, witchcraft, brute strength, speed, and preternatural cunning.
"That's not how wars are fought anymore." Nathaniel's deep voice cut through the resulting chatter.
Matthew's eyebrow floated up, and his face took on an impatient expression. "No?"
"Wars are fought on computers. This isn't the thirteenth century. Hand-to-hand combat isn't required." He gestured at his laptop on the sideboard. "With computers you can take down your enemy without ever firing a shot or shedding a drop of blood."
"This may not be the thirteenth century, Nathaniel, but some of the combatants wil have lived through those times, and they have a sentimental attachment to destroying people the old-fashioned way. Leave this to me and Marcus." Matthew thought this was the end of the matter.
Nathaniel shook his head and stared fixedly at the table.
"Do you have something else to say?" Matthew asked, an ominous purring starting in the back of his throat.
"You've made it perfectly clear you'l do what you want in any case." Nathaniel lifted his frank brown eyes in chal enge, then shrugged. "Suit yourself. But you're making a mistake if you think your enemies won't use more modern methods to destroy you. There are humans to consider, after al . They'l notice if vampires and witches start fighting one another in the streets."
The second battle between Matthew and Nathaniel had to do not with war but with blood. It began innocently enough, with Matthew talking about Nathaniel's relationship to Agatha Wilson and about Sophie's witch parents.
"It's imperative that their DNA be analyzed. The baby's, too, once it's born."
Marcus and Miriam nodded, unsurprised. The rest of us were somewhat startled.
"Nathaniel and Sophie bring into question your theory that daemonic traits result from unpredictable mutations rather than heredity," I said, thinking aloud.
"We have so little data." Matthew eyed Hamish and Nathaniel with the dispassionate gaze of a scientist examining two fresh specimens. "Our current findings might be misleading."
"Sophie's case also raises the issue of whether daemons are more closely related to witches than we'd thought." Miriam directed her black eyes at the daemon's bel y. "I've never heard of a witch giving birth to a daemon, never mind a daemon giving birth to a witch."
"You think I'm going to hand over Sophie's blood-and my child's blood-to a bunch of vampires?" Nathaniel looked perilously close to losing control.
"Diana isn't the only creature in this room the Congregation wil want to study, Nathaniel." Matthew's words did nothing to soothe the daemon. "Your mother appreciated the danger your family was facing, or she wouldn't have sent you here. One day you might discover your wife and child gone. If you do, it's highly unlikely you'l ever see them again."
"That's enough," Sarah said sharply. "There's no need to threaten him."
"Keep your hands off my family," Nathaniel said, breathing heavily.
"I'm not a danger to them," Matthew said. "The danger comes from the Congregation, from the possibility of open hostility between the three species, and above al from pretending this isn't happening."
"They'l come for us, Nathaniel. I've seen it." Sophie's voice was purposeful, and her face had the same sudden sharpness that Agatha Wilson's had back in Oxford.
"Why didn't you tel me?" Nathaniel said.
"I started to tel Agatha, but she stopped me and ordered me not to say another word. She was so frightened. Then she gave me Diana's name and the address for the Bishop house." Sophie's face took on its characteristic fuzzy look.
"I'm glad Matthew's mother is stil alive. She'l like my pots.
I'l put her face on one of them. And you can have my DNA whenever you want it, Matthew-the baby's, too."
Sophie's announcement effectively put an end to Nathaniel's objections. When Matthew had entertained al the questions he was wil ing to answer, he picked up an envelope that had been sitting unnoticed at his elbow. It was sealed with black wax.
"That leaves one piece of unfinished business." He stood and held out the letter. "Hamish, this is for you."
"Oh, no you don't." Hamish crossed his arms over his chest. "Give it to Marcus."
"You may be the ninth knight, but you're also the seneschal of the Knights of Lazarus, and my second in command. There's a protocol we must fol ow," Matthew said, tight-lipped.
"Matthew would know," Marcus muttered. "He's the only grand master in the history of the order who's ever resigned."
"And now I'l be the only grand master to have resigned twice," Matthew said, stil holding out the envelope.
"To hel with protocol," Hamish snapped, banging his fist on the table. "Everybody out of this room except Matthew, Marcus, and Nathaniel. Please," he added as an afterthought.
"Why do we have to leave?" Sarah asked suspiciously.
Hamish studied my aunt for a moment. "You'd better stay, too."
The five of them were closeted in the dining room for the rest of the day. Once an exhausted Hamish came out and requested sandwiches. The cookies, he explained, were long gone.
"Is it me, or do you also feel that the men sent us out of the room so they could smoke cigars and talk politics?" I asked, trying to distract myself from the meeting in the dining room by flipping through a jarring mix of old movies and afternoon television. Em and Sophie were both knitting, and Miriam was doing a puzzle she'd found in a
promising Demonically Difficult Sudoku. She chuckled now and then and made a mark in the margins.
"What are you doing, Miriam?" Sophie asked.
"Keeping score," Miriam said, making another mark on the page.
"What are they talking about? And who's winning?" I asked, envious of her ability to hear the conversation.
"They're planning a war, Diana. As for who's winning, either Matthew or Hamish-it's too close to cal ," Miriam replied. "Marcus and Nathaniel managed to get in a few good shots, though, and Sarah's holding her own."
It was already dark, and Em and I were making dinner when the meeting broke up. Nathaniel and Sophie were talking quietly in the family room.
"I need to catch up on a few cal s," Matthew said after he'd kissed me, his mild tone at odds with his tense face.
Seeing how tired he was, I decided my questions could wait.
"Of course," I said, touching his cheek. "Take your time.
Dinner wil be in an hour."
Matthew kissed me again, longer and deeper, before going out the back door.
"I need a drink," Sarah groaned, heading to the porch to sneak a cigarette.
Matthew was nothing more than a shadow through the haze of Sarah's smoke as he passed through the orchard and headed for the hop barn. Hamish came up behind me, nudging my back and neck with his eyes.
"Are you ful y recovered?" he asked quietly.
"What do you think?" It had been a long day, and Hamish made no effort to hide his disapproval of me. I shook my head.
Hamish's eyes drifted away, and mine fol owed. We both watched as Matthew's white hands streaked through his hair before he disappeared into the barn.
"'Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night,'"
Hamish said, quoting Wil iam Blake. "That poem has always reminded me of him."
I rested my knife on the cutting board and faced him.
"What's on your mind, Hamish?"
"Are you certain of him, Diana?" he asked. Em wiped her hands on her apron and left the room, giving me a sad look.
"Yes." I met his eyes, trying to make my confidence in Matthew clear.
Hamish nodded, unsurprised. "I did wonder if you would take him on, once you knew who he was-who he stil is. It would seem you're not afraid to have a tiger by the tail."
Wordlessly I turned back to the counter and resumed my chopping.
"Be careful." Hamish rested his hand on my forearm, forcing me to look at him. "Matthew won't be the same man where you're going."
"Yes he wil ." I frowned. "My Matthew is going with me.
He'l be exactly the same."
"No," Hamish said grimly. "He won't."
Hamish had known Matthew far longer. And he'd pieced together where we were going based on the contents of that briefcase. I stil knew nothing, except that I was headed to a time before 1976 and a place where Matthew had played chess.
Hamish joined Sarah outside, and soon two plumes of gray smoke rose into the night sky.
"Is everything al right in there?" I asked Em when she returned from the family room, where Miriam, Marcus, Nathaniel, and Sophie were talking and watching TV.
"Yes," she replied. "And here?"
"Just fine." I focused on the apple trees and waited for Matthew to come in from the dark.