"A spy?" I repeated numbly.
"We prefer to be called intelligencers," Kit said tartly.
"Shut it, Marlowe," Hancock growled, "or I'll stop that mouth for you." "Spare us, Hancock. No one takes you seriously when you sputter like that." Marlowe's chin jutted into the room. "And if you don't keep a civil tongue with me, there will soon be an end to all these Welsh kings and soldiers on the stage. I'll make you all traitors and servants with low cunning."
"What is a vampire?" George asked, reaching for his notebook with one hand and a piece of gingerbread with the other. As usual, no one was paying much attention to him.
"So you're some kind of Elizabethan James Bond? But . . ." I looked at Marlowe, horrified. He would be murdered in a knife fight in Deptford before he reached the age of thirty, and the crime would be linked to his life as a spy.
"The London hatmaker near St. Dunstan's who turns such a neat brim? That James Bond?" George chuckled. "Whyever would you think Matthew was a hatmaker, Mistress Roydon?"
"No, George, not that James Bond." Matthew remained crouched before me, watching my reactions. "You were better off not knowing about this." "Bullshit." I neither knew nor cared if this was an appropriately Elizabethan oath. "I deserve the truth."
"Perhaps, Mistress Roydon, but if you truly love him, it is pointless to insist upon it," Marlowe said. "Matthew can no longer distinguish between what is true and what is not. This is why he is invaluable to Her Majesty." "We're here to find you a teacher," Matthew insisted, his eyes locked on me. "The fact that I am both a member of the Congregation and the queen's agent will keep you from harm. Nothing happens in the country without my being aware of it."
"For someone who claims to know everything, you were blissfully unaware that I've thought for days that something was going on in this house. There is too much mail. And you and Walter have been arguing." "You see what I want you to see. Nothing more." Even though Matthew's tendency toward imperiousness had grown exponentially since we
came to the Old Lodge, my jaw dropped at his tone.
"How dare you," I said slowly. Matthew knew I'd spent my whole life surrounded by secrets. I'd paid a high price for it, too. I stood.
"Sit down," he grated out. "Please." He caught my hand.
Matthew's best friend, Hamish Osborne, had warned me that he wouldn't be the same man here. How could he be, when the world was such a different place? Women were expected to accept without question what a man told them. Among his friends it was all too easy for Matthew to slip back into old behaviors and patterns of thinking.
"Only if you answer me. I want the name of the person you report to and how you got embroiled in this business." I glanced over at his nephew and his friends, worried that these were state secrets.
"They already know about Kit and me," Matthew said, following my eyes. He struggled to find the words. "It all started with Francis Walsingham.
"I'd left England late in Henry's reign. I spent time in Constantinople, went to Cyprus, wandered through Spain, fought at Lepanto-even set up
a printing business in Antwerp," Matthew explained. "It's the usual path for a wearh. We search for a tragedy, an opportunity to slip into someone else's life. But nothing suited me, so I returned home. France was on the verge of religious and civil war. When you've lived as long as I have, you learn the signs. A Huguenot schoolmaster was happy to take my money and go to Geneva, where he could raise his daughters in safety. I took the identity of his long-dead cousin, moved into his house in Paris, and started over as Matthew de la Foret."
"'Matthew of the Forest'?" My eyebrows lifted at the irony. "That was the schoolmaster's name," he said wryly. "Paris was dangerous, and Walsingham, as English ambassador, was a magnet for every disenchanted rebel in the country. Late in the summer of 1572, all the simmering anger in France came to a boil. I helped Walsingham escape, along with the English Protestants he was sheltering."
"The massacre on St. Bartholomew's Day." I shivered, thinking of the blood-soaked wedding between a French Catholic princess and her Protestant husband.
"I became the queen's agent later, when she sent Walsingham back to Paris. He was supposed to be brokering Her Majesty's marriage to one of the Valois princes." Matthew snorted. "It was clear the queen had no real interest in the match. It was during that visit that I learned of Walsingham's network of intelligencers."
My husband met my eyes briefly, then looked away. He was still keeping something from me. I reviewed the story, detected the fault lines in his account, and followed them to a single, inescapable conclusion: Matthew was French, Catholic, and he could not possibly have been aligned politically with Elizabeth Tudor in 1572-or in 1590. If he was working for the English Crown, it was for some larger purpose. But the Congregation had vowed to stay out of human politics. Philippe de Clermont and his Knights of Lazarus had not.
"You're working for your father. And you're not only a vampire but a Catholic in a Protestant country."
The fact that Matthew was working for the Knights of Lazarus, not just Elizabeth, exponentially increased the danger. It wasn't just witches who were hunted down and executed in Elizabethan England-so were traitors, creatures with unusual powers, and people of different faiths. "The Congregation is of no help if you get involved with human politics. How could your own family ask you to do something so risky?"
Hancock grinned. "That's why there's always a de Clermont on the Congregation-to make sure lofty ideals don't get in the way of good business."
"This isn't the first time I've worked for Philippe, nor will it be the last. You're good at uncovering secrets. I'm good at keeping them," Matthew said simply.
Scientist. Vampire. Warrior. Spy. Another piece of Matthew fell into place, and with it I better understood his ingrained habit of never sharing anything-major or minor-unless he was forced to do so.
"I don't care how much experience you have! Your safety depends on Walsingham-and you're deceiving him." His words had only made me angrier.
"Walsingham is dead. I report to William Cecil now."
"The canniest man alive," Gallowglass said quietly. "Except for Philippe, of course."
"And Kit? Does he work for Cecil or for you?"
"Tell her nothing, Matthew," Kit said. "The witch cannot be trusted."
"Why, you sly, wee boggart," Hancock said softly. "It's you who's been stirring up the villagers."
Kit's cheeks burned red in twin pronouncements of guilt.
"Christ, Kit. What have you done?" Matthew asked, astonished.
"Nothing," said Marlowe sullenly.
"You've been telling tales again." Hancock waggled his finger in admonishment. "I've warned you before that we won't stand for that, Master Marlowe."
"Woodstock was already buzzing with news of Matthew's wife," Kit protested. "The rumors were bound to bring the Congregation down upon us. How was I supposed to know that the Congregation was already here?"
"Surely you'll let me kill him now, de Clermont. I've wanted to do so for ages," Hancock said, cracking his knuckles.
"No. You can't kill him." Matthew rubbed a hand over his tired face.
"There would be too many questions, and I don't have the patience to come up with convincing answers at present. It's just village gossip. I'll handle it."
"This gossip comes at a bad time," Gallowglass reported quietly. "It's not just Berwick. You know how anxious people were about witches in Chester. When we went north into Scotland, the situation was worse."
"If this business spreads south into England, she'll be the death of us," Marlowe promised, pointing at me.
"This trouble will stay confined to Scotland," Matthew retorted. "And there will be no more visits to the village, Kit."
"She appeared on All Hallows' Eve, just when the arrival of a fearsome witch was predicted. Don't you see? Your new wife raised the storms against King James, and now she has turned her attention to England. Cecil must be told. She poses a danger to the queen."
"Quiet, Kit," Henry cautioned, pulling at his arm.
"You cannot silence me. Telling the queen is my duty. Once you would have agreed with me, Henry. But since the witch came, everything's changed! She has enchanted everyone in the house." Kit's eyes were frantic.
"You dote on her like a sister. George is half in love. Tom praises her wit, and Walter would have her skirts up and her back against a wall if he weren't afraid of Matt. Return her to where she belongs. We were happy before."
"Matthew wasn't happy."
Tom had been drawn to our end of the room by Marlowe's angry energy.
"You say you love him." Kit turned to me, his face full of entreaty. "Do you truly know what he is? Have you seen him feed, felt the hunger in him when a warmblood is near? Can you accept Matthew completely-the blackness in his soul along with the light-as I do? You have your magic for solace, but I am not fully alive without him. All poetry flies from my mind when he is gone, and only Matthew can see what little good I have in me. Leave him to me. Please."
"I can't," I said simply.
Kit wiped his sleeve across his mouth as if the gesture might remove all trace of me. "When the rest of the Congregation discovers your affections for him-"
"If my affection for him is forbidden, so is yours," I interrupted. Marlowe flinched. "But none of us choose whom we love."
"Iffley and his friends won't be the last to accuse you of witchcraft," Kit said with a note of sour triumph. "Mark me well, Mistress Roydon. Daemons often see the future as plainly as witches."
Matthew's hand moved to my waist. The cold, familiar touch of his fingers swept from one side of my rib cage to the other, following the curved path that marked me as belonging to a vampire. For Matthew it was a powerful reminder of his earlier failure to keep me safe. Kit made a horrible, half-swallowed sound of distress at the intimacy of the gesture. "If you are so prescient, then you should have foreseen what your betrayal would mean to me," Matthew said, gradually unfolding himself.
"Get out of my sight, Kit, or so help me God there will be nothing left of you to bury."
"You would have her over me?" Kit sounded dumbfounded.
"In a heartbeat. Get out," repeated Matthew.
Kit's passage out of the room was measured, but once in the corridor his pace quickened. His feet echoed on the wooden stairs, faster and faster, as he climbed to his room.
"We'll have to watch him." Gallowglass's shrewd eyes turned from Kit's departing back to Hancock. "He can't be trusted now."
"Marlowe could never be trusted," Hancock muttered.
Pierre slipped through the open door looking stricken, another piece of mail in his hand.
"Not now, Pierre," Matthew groaned, sitting down and reaching for his wine. His shoulders sagged against the back of his chair. "There simply isn't room in this day for one more crisis-be it queen, country, or Catholics. Whatever it is can wait until morning."
"But . . . milord," Pierre stammered, holding out the letter. Matthew glanced at the decisive writing that marched across the front. "Christ and all His saints." His fingers rose to touch the paper, then froze. Matthew's throat moved as he struggled for control. Something red and bright appeared in the corner of his eye, then slid down his cheek and splashed onto the folds of his collar. A vampire's blood tear.
"What is it, Matthew?" I looked over his shoulder, wondering what had caused so much grief.
"Ah. The day is not over yet," Hancock said uneasily while he backed away. "There is one small matter that requires your attention. Your father thinks you're dead."
In my own time, it was Matthew's father, Philippe, who was dead-horribly, tragically, irrevocably so. But this was 1590, which meant he was alive. Ever since we'd arrived, I had worried about a chance encounter with Ysabeau or with Matthew's laboratory assistant, Miriam, and the ripples such a meeting might cause in future times. Not once had I considered what seeing Philippe would do to Matthew.
Past, present, and future collided. Had I looked into the corners, I would surely have seen time unspooling in protest at the clash. But my eyes were fixed on Matthew instead, and the blood tear caught in the snowy linen at his throat.
Gallowglass brusquely picked up the tale. "With the news from Scotland and your sudden disappearance, we feared you'd gone north for the queen and been caught up in the madness there. We looked for two days. When we couldn't find a trace of you-hell, Matthew, we had no choice but to tell Philippe you had vanished. It was that or raise the alarm with the Congregation."
"There's more, milord." Pierre flipped the letter over. The seal on it was like the others I associated with the Knights of Lazarus-except that the wax used here was a vivid swirl of black and red and an ancient silver coin had been pushed into its surface, the edges worn and thin, instead of the usual impression of the order's seal. The coin was stamped with a cross and a crescent, two de Clermont family symbols.
"What did you tell him?" Matthew was transfixed by the pale moon of silver floating in its red-black sea.
"Our words are of little consequence now that this has arrived. You must be on French soil within the next week. Otherwise Philippe will set out for England," Hancock mumbled.
"My father cannot come here, Hancock. It is impossible."
"Of course it's impossible. The queen would have his head after all he's done to stir the pot of English politics. You must go to him. So long as you travel night and day, you will have plenty of time," Hancock assured him.
"I can't." Matthew's gaze was fixed on the unopened letter.
"Philippe will have horses waiting. You will be back before long," Gallowglass murmured, resting his hand on his uncle's shoulder.
Matthew looked up, eyes suddenly wild. "It's not the distance. It's-" Matthew stopped abruptly.