"The usual place?" Gallowglass asked quietly as he put down his oars and raised the solitary sail. Though it would be more than four hours before the sun rose, other craft were visible in the darkness. I picked out the shadowed outlines of another sail, a lantern swinging from a post in the stern of a neighboring vessel.
"Walter said we were going to Saint-Malo," I said, my head turning in consternation. Raleigh had accompanied us from the Old Lodge to Portsmouth and had piloted the boat that took us to Guernsey. We'd left him standing on the dock near the village of Saint-Pierre-Port. He could go no farther-not with a price on his head in Catholic Europe.
"I remember well enough where Raleigh told me to go, Auntie, but he's a pirate. And English. And he's not here. I'm asking Matthew."
"'Immensi tremor oceani,'" Matthew whispered as he contemplated the heaving seas. Staring out across the black water, he had all the expression of a carved figurehead. And his reply to his nephew's question was odd-the trembling of the immense ocean. I wondered if I had somehow misunderstood his Latin.
"The tide will be with us, and it is closer to Fougeres by horse than to Saint-Malo." Gallowglass continued as though Matthew were making sense. "She'll be no colder on the water than on land in this weather, and still plenty of riding before her."
"And you will be leaving us." It wasn't a question but a pronouncement of fact. Matthew's eyelids dropped. He nodded. "Very well."
Gallowglass drew in the sail, and the boat changed from a southerly to a more easterly course. Matthew sat on the deck next to me, his back against the curved supports of the hull, and drew me into the circle of his arms so that his cloak was wrapped around me.
True sleep was impossible, but I dozed against Matthew's chest. It had been a grueling journey thus far, with horses pushed to the limit and boats commandeered. The temperature was frigid, and a thin layer of frost built up on the nap of our English wool. Gallowglass and Pierre kept up a steady patter of conversation in some French dialect, but Matthew remained quiet. He responded to their questions yet kept his own thoughts hidden behind an eerily composed mask.
The weather changed to a misty snow around dawn. Gallowglass's beard turned white, transforming him into a fair imitation of Santa Claus. Pierre adjusted the sails at his command, and a landscape of grays and whites revealed the coast of France. No more than thirty minutes later, the tide began to race toward the shore. The boat was lifted up on the waves, and through the mist a steeple pierced the clouds. It was surprisingly close, the base of the structure obscured by the weather. I gasped.
"Hold tight," Gallowglass said grimly as Pierre released the sail.
The boat shot through the mist. The call of seagulls and the slap of water against rock told me we were nearing shore, but the boat didn't slow. Gallowglass jammed an oar into the flooding tide, angling us sharply. Someone cried out, in warning or greeting.
"Il est le chevalier de Clermont!" Pierre called back, cupping his hands around his mouth. His words were met with silence before scurrying footfalls sounded through the cold air.
"Gallowglass!" We were heading straight for a wall. I scrabbled for an oar to fend off certain disaster. No sooner had my fingers closed around it than Matthew plucked it from my grasp.
"He's been putting in at this spot for centuries, and his people for longer than that," Matthew said calmly, holding the oar lightly in his hands. Improbably, the boat's bow took another sharp left and the hull was broadside to slabs of rough-hewn granite. High above, four men with hooks and ropes emerged to snare the boat and hold it steady. The water level continued to rise with alarming speed, carrying the boat upward until we were level with a small stone house. A set of stairs climbed into invisibility. Pierre hopped onto the landing, talking fast and low and gesturing at the boat. Two armed soldiers joined us for a moment, then sped off in the direction of the stairs.
"We have arrived at Mont Saint-Michel, madame." Pierre held out his hand. I took it and stepped from the boat. "Here you will rest while milord speaks with the abbot."
My knowledge of the island was limited to the stories swapped by friends of mine who sailed every summer around the Isle of Wight: that it was surrounded at low tide by quicksand and at high tide by such dangerous currents that boats were crushed against the rocks. I looked over my shoulder at our tiny boat and shuddered. It was a miracle that we were still alive.
While I tried to get my bearings, Matthew studied his nephew, who remained motionless in the stern. "It would be safer for Diana if you came along."
"When your friends aren't getting her into trouble, your wife seems able to care of herself." Gallowglass looked up at me with a smile.
"Philippe will ask after you."
"Tell him-" Gallowglass stopped, stared off into the distance. The vampire's blue eyes were deep with longing. "Tell him I have not yet succeeded in forgetting."
"For his sake you must try to forgive," said Matthew quietly.
"I will never forgive," Gallowglass said coldly, "and Philippe would never ask it of me. My father died at the hands of the French, and not a single creature stood up to the king. Until I have made peace with the past, I will not set foot in France."
"Hugh is gone, God rest his soul. Your grandfather is still among us. Don't squander your time with him." Matthew lifted his foot from the boat. Without a word of farewell, he turned and took my elbow, steering me toward a bedraggled huddle of trees with barren branches. Feeling the cold weight of Gallowglass's stare, I turned and locked eyes with the Gael. His hand rose in a silent gesture of leave.
Matthew was quiet as we approached the stairs. I couldn't see where they led and soon lost count of the number of them. I concentrated instead on keeping my footing on the worn, slick treads. Chips of ice fell from the hem of my skirts, and the wind whistled within my wide hood. A sturdy door, ornamented with heavy straps of iron that were rusted and pitted from the salt spray, opened before us.
More steps. I pressed my lips together, lifted my skirts, and kept going.
More soldiers. As we approached, they flattened themselves against the walls to make room for us to pass. Matthew's fingers tightened a fraction on my elbow, but otherwise the men might have been wraiths for all the attention he paid them.
We entered a room with a forest of columns holding up its vaulted roof. Large fireplaces studded the walls, spreading blessed warmth. I sighed with relief and shook out my cloak, shedding water and ice in all directions. A gentle cough directed my attention to a man standing before one of the blazes. He was dressed in the red robes of a cardinal and appeared to be in his late twenties-a terribly young age for someone to have risen so high in the Catholic Church's hierarchy.
"A h, Chevalier de Clermont. Or are we calling you something else these days? You have long been out of France. Perhaps you have taken Walsingham's name along with his position, now that he is gone to hell where he belongs." The cardinal's English was impeccable although heavily accented. "We have, on the seigneur's instructions, been watching for you for three days. There was no mention of a woman."
Matthew dropped my arm so that he could step forward. He genuflected with a smooth bend of his left knee and kissed the ring on the man's extended hand. "eminence. I thought you were in Rome, choosing our new pope. Imagine my delight at finding you here." Matthew didn't sound happy. I wondered uneasily what we'd stepped into by coming to Mont Saint-Michel and not Saint-Malo as Walter had planned.
"France needs me more than the conclave does at present. These recent murders of kings and queens do not please God." The cardinal's eyes sparked a warning. "Your queen will discover that soon enough, when she meets Him."
"I am not here on English business, Cardinal Joyeuse. This is my wife, Diana" Matthew held his father's thin silver coin between his first and middle fingers. "We are returning home."
"So I am told. Your father sent this to ensure your safe passage." Joyeuse tossed a gleaming object to Matthew, who caught it neatly. "Philippe de Clermont forgets himself and behaves as though he were the king of France."
"My father has no need to rule, for he is the sharp sword that makes and unmakes kings," Matthew said softly. He slid the heavy golden ring over the gloved knuckle of his middle finger. Set within it was a carved red stone. I was sure the pattern incised in the ring was the same as the mark on my back. "Your masters know that if it were not for my father, the Catholic cause would be lost in France. Otherwise you would not be here."
"Perhaps it would be better for all concerned if the seigneur really were king, given the throne's present Protestant occupant. But that is a topic for us to discuss in private," Cardinal Joyeuse said tiredly. He gestured to a servant standing in the shadows by the door. "Take the chevalier's wife to her room. We must leave you, madame. Your husband has been too long among heretics. An extended period spent kneeling on a cold stone floor will remind him who he truly is."
My face must have shown my dismay at being alone in such a place.
"Pierre will stay with you," Matthew assured me before he bent and pressed his lips to mine. "We ride out when the tide turns."
And that was the last glimpse I had of Matthew Clairmont, scientist. The man who strode toward the door was no longer an Oxford don but a Renaissance prince. It was in his bearing, the set of his shoulders, his aura of banked strength, and the cold look in his eyes. Hamish had been right to warn me that Matthew would not be the same man here. Under Matthew's smooth surface, a profound metamorphosis was taking place.
Somewhere high above, the bells tolled the hours.
Scientist. Vampire. Warrior. Spy. The bells paused before the final knell.
I wondered what more our journey would reveal about this complex man I had married.
"Let us not keep God waiting, Cardinal Joyeuse," Matthew said sharply. Joyeuse followed behind, as if Mont Saint-Michel belonged to the de Clermont family and not the church.
Beside me, Pierre let out a gentle exhalation. "Milord est lui-meme," he murmured with relief.
Milord is himself. But was he still mine?
Matthew might be a prince, but there was no doubt who was king. With every strike of our horses' hooves on the frozen roads, the power and influence of Matthew's father grew. As we drew closer to Philippe de Clermont, his son became more remote and imperious-a combination that put my teeth on edge and led to several heated arguments. Matthew always apologized for his high-handed conduct once his temper came off the boil, and, knowing the stress he was under as we approached his reunion with his father, I forgave him.
After braving the exposed sands around Mont Saint-Michel at low tide and traveling inland, de Clermont allies welcomed us into the city of Fougeres and lodged us in a comfortably appointed tower on the ramparts overlooking the French countryside. Two nights later, footmen with torches met us on the road outside the city of Bauge. There was a familiar badge on their livery: Philippe's insignia of a cross and crescent moon. I'd seen the symbol before when rooting through Matthew's desk drawer at SeptTours.
"What is this place?" I asked after the footmen led us to a deserted chateau. It was surprisingly warm for an empty residence, and the delicious smell of cooked food floated through the echoing corridors.
"The house of an old friend." Matthew pried the shoes off my frozen feet. His thumbs pressed into my frigid soles, and the blood began to return to my extremities. I groaned. Pierre put a cup of warm, spicy wine in my hands. "This was Rene's favorite hunting lodge. It was so full of life when he lived here, with artists and scholars in every room. My father manages it now. With the constant wars, there hasn't been an opportunity to give the chateau the attention it needs."
While we were still at the Old Lodge, Matthew and Walter had lectured me on the ongoing struggles between French Protestants and Catholics over who would control the Crown-and the country. From our windows at Fougeres, I'd seen distant plumes of smoke marking the Protestant army's latest encampment, and ruined houses and churches dotted our route. I was shocked by the extent of the devastation.
Because of the conflict, my carefully constructed background story had to change. In England I was supposed to be a Protestant woman of French descent fleeing her native land to save her life and practice her faith. Here it was essential that I be a long-suffering English Catholic. Somehow Matthew managed to remember all the lies and half-truths required to maintain our multiple assumed identities, not to mention the historical details of every place through which we traveled.
"We're in the province of Anjou now." Matthew's deep voice brought my attention back. "The people you meet will suspect you're a Protestant spy because you speak English, no matter what story we tell them. This part of France refuses to acknowledge the king's claim to the throne and would prefer a Catholic ruler."
"As would Philippe," I murmured. It was not just Cardinal Joyeuse who was benefiting from Philippe's influence. Catholic priests with hollow cheeks and haunted eyes had stopped to speak with us along the way, sharing news and sending thanks to Matthew's father for his assistance. None left empty-handed.
"He doesn't care about the subtleties of Christian belief. In other parts of the country, my father supports the Protestants."
"That's a remarkably ecumenical view."
"All Philippe cares about is saving France from itself. This past August our new king, Henri of Navarre, tried to force the city of Paris to his religious and political position. Parisians chose to starve rather than bow to a Protestant king." Matthew raked his fingers through his hair, a sign of distress. "Thousands died, and now my father does not trust the humans to sort out the mess."