When my door swung open the next morning, Matthew was propped against the stone wall opposite. Judging from his state, he hadn't gotten any sleep either. He sprang to his feet, much to the amusement of the two young servingwomen who stood giggling behind me. They weren't used to seeing him this way, all mussed and tousled. A scowl darkened his face.
"Good morning." I stepped forward, cranberry skirts swinging. Like my bed, my servants, and practically everything else I touched, the outfit belonged to Louisa de Clermont. Her scent of roses and civet had been suffocatingly thick last night, emanating from the embroidered hangings that surrounded the bed. I took a deep breath of cold, clear air and sought out the notes of clove and cinnamon that were essentially and indisputably Matthew. Some of the fatigue left my bones as soon as I detected them, and, comforted by their familiarity, I burrowed into the sleeveless, black wool robe that the maids had lowered over my shoulders. It reminded me of my academic regalia and provided an additional layer of warmth.
Matthew's expression lifted as he drew me close and kissed me with admirable dedication to detail. The maids continued to giggle and make what he took to be encouraging remarks. A sudden gust around my ankles indicated that another witness had arrived. Our lips parted.
"You are too old to moon about in antechambers, Matthaios," his father commented, sticking his tawny head out of the next room. "The twelfth century was not good for you, and we allowed you to read entirely too much poetry. Compose yourself before the men see you, please, and bring Diana downstairs. She smells like a beehive at midsummer, and it will take time for the household to grow accustomed to her scent. We don't want any unfortunate bloodshed."
"There would be less chance of that if you would stop interfering. This separation is absurd," Matthew said, grasping my elbow. "We are husband and wife."
"You are not, thank the gods. Go down, and I will join you shortly." He shook his head ruefully and withdrew.
Matthew was tight-lipped as we faced each other across one of the long tables in the chilly great hall. There were few people in the room at this hour, and those who lingered left quickly after getting a good look at his forbidding expression. Bread, hot from the oven, and spiced wine were laid before me on the table. It wasn't tea, but it would do. Matthew waited to speak until I had taken my first long sip.
"I've seen my father. We'll leave at once."
I wrapped my fingers more tightly around the cup without responding. Bits of orange peel floated in the wine, plumped up with the warm liquid. The citrus made it seem slightly more like a breakfast drink.
Matthew looked around the room, his face haunted. "Coming here was unwise."
"Where are we to go instead? It's snowing. Back at Woodstock the village is ready to drag me before a judge on charges of witchcraft. At SeptTours we may have to sleep apart and put up with your father, but perhaps he'll be able to find a witch willing to help me." So far Matthew's hasty decisions had not worked out well.
"Philippe is a meddler. As for finding a witch, he's not much fonder of your people than is Maman." Matthew studied the scarred wooden table and picked at a bit of candle wax that had trickled down into one of the cracks. "My house in Milan might do. We could spend Christmas there. Italian witches have a considerable reputation for magic and are known for their uncanny foresight."
"Surely not Milan." Philippe appeared before us with the force of a hurricane and slid onto the bench next to me. Matthew carefully moderated his speed and strength in deference to warmblooded nerves. So, too, did Miriam, Marcus, Marthe, and even Ysabeau. His father showed no such consideration.
"I've performed my act of filial piety, Philippe," Matthew said curtly. "There's no reason to tarry, and we will be fine in Milan. Diana knows the Tuscan tongue."
If he meant Italian, I was capable of ordering tagliatelle in restaurants and books at the library. Somehow I doubted that would be sufficient.
"How useful for her. It is regrettable that you are not going to Florence, then. But it will be a long time before you will be welcomed back to that city, after your latest escapades there," Philippe said mildly. "Parlez-vous français, madame?"
"Oui," I said warily, certain that this conversation was taking a multilingual turn for the worse.
"Hmm." Philippe frowned. "Dicunt mihi vos es philologus." "She is a scholar," Matthew interjected testily. "If you want a rehearsal of her credentials, I'll be pleased to provide it, in private, after breakfast."
"Loquerisne latine?" Philippe asked me, as if his son hadn't spoken. "Milas ellinika?"
"Mea lingua latina est mala," I replied, putting down my wine. Philippe's eyes shot wide at my appallingly schoolgirl response, his expression taking me straight back to the horrors of Latin 101. Put a Latin alchemical text in front of me and I could read it. But I wasn't prepared for a discussion. I soldiered bravely on, hoping I had deduced correctly that his second question probed my grasp of Greek. "Tamen mea lingua graeca est peior."
"Then we shall not converse in that language either," murmured Philippe in a pained tone. He turned to Matthew in indignation. "Den tha ekpaidefsoun gynaikes sto mellon?"
"Women in Diana's time receive considerably more schooling than you would think wise, Father," Matthew answered. "Just not in Greek."
"They have no need for Aristotle in the future? What a strange world it must be. I am glad that I will not encounter it for some time to come." Philippe gave the wine pitcher a suspicious sniff and decided against it. "Diana will have to become more fluent in French and Latin. Only a few of our servants speak English, and none at all belowstairs." He tossed a heavy ring of keys across the table. My fingers opened automatically to catch them.
"Absolutely not," Matthew said, reaching to pluck them from my grasp. "Diana won't be here long enough to trouble herself with the household."
"She is the highest-ranking woman at Sept-Tours, and it is her due. You should begin, I think, with the cook," Philippe said, pointing to the largest of the keys. "That one opens the food stores. The others unlock the bakehouse, the brewhouse, all the sleeping chambers save my own, and the cellars."
"Which one opens the library?" I asked, fingering the worn iron surfaces with interest.
"We don't lock up books in this house," Philippe said, "only food, ale, and wine. Reading Herodotus or Aquinas seldom leads to bad behavior."
"There's a first time for everything," I said under my breath. "And what is the cook's name?"
"No, his given name," I said, confused.
Philippe shrugged. "He is in charge, so he is Chef. I've never called him anything else. Have you, Matthaios?" Father and son exchanged a look that had me worried about the future of the trestle table that separated them.
"I thought you were in charge. If I'm to call the cook 'Chef,' what am I to call you?" My sharp tone temporarily distracted Matthew, who was about to toss the table aside and wrap his long fingers around his father's neck.
"Everyone here calls me either 'sire' or 'Father.' Which would you prefer?" Philippe's question was silky and dangerous.
"Just call him Philippe," Matthew rumbled. "He goes by many other titles, but those that fit him best would blister your tongue."
Philippe grinned at his son. "You didn't lose your combativeness when you lost your sense, I see. Leave the household to your woman and join me for a ride. You look puny and need proper exercise." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
"I am not leaving Diana," Matthew retorted. He was fiddling nervously with an enormous silver salt, the ancestor of the humble salt crock that sat by my stove in New Haven.
"Why not?" Philippe snorted. "Alain will play nursemaid."
Matthew opened his mouth to reply.
"Father?" I said sweetly, cutting into the exchange. "Might I speak with my husband privately before he meets you in the stables?"
Philippe's eyes narrowed. He stood and bowed slowly in my direction. It was the first time the vampire had moved at anything resembling normal speed. "Of course, madame. I will send for Alain to attend upon you. Enjoy your privacy-while you have it."
Matthew waited, his eyes on me, until his father left the room.
"What are you up to, Diana?" he asked quietly as I rose and made a slow progress around the table.
"Why is Ysabeau in Trier?" I asked.
"What does it matter?" he said evasively.
I swore like a sailor, which effectively removed the innocent expression from his face. There had been a lot of time to think last night, lying alone in Louisa's rose-scented room-enough time for me to piece together the events of the past weeks and square them with what I knew about the period.
"It matters because there's nothing much to do in Trier in 1590 but hunt witches!" A servant scuttled through the room, headed for the front door. There were still two men sitting by the fire, so I lowered my voice. "This is neither the time nor the place to discuss your father's current role in early-modern geopolitics, why a Catholic cardinal allowed you to order him around Mont Saint-Michel as if it were your private island, or the tragic death of Gallowglass's father. But you will tell me. And we definitely will require further time and privacy for you to explain the more technical aspects of vampire mating."
I whirled around to get away from him. He waited until I was far enough away to think escape was possible before neatly catching my elbow and turning me back. It was the instinctive maneuver of a predator. "No, Diana. We'll talk about our marriage before either of us leaves this room."
Matthew turned in the direction of the last huddle of servants enjoying their morning meal. A jerk of his head sent them scurrying.
"What marriage?" I demanded. Something dangerous sparked in his eyes and was gone.
"Do you love me, Diana?" Matthew's mild question surprised me.
"Yes," I responded instantaneously. "But if loving you were all that mattered, this would be simple and we would still be in Madison."
"It is simple." Matthew rose to his feet. "If you love me, my father's words don't have the power to dissolve our promises to each other, any more than the Congregation can make us abide by the covenant."
"If you truly loved me, you would give yourself to me. Body and soul."
"That's not so simple," Matthew said sadly. "From the first I warned you that a relationship with a vampire would be complicated."
"Philippe doesn't seem to think so."
"Then bed him. If it's me you want, you'll wait." Matthew was composed, but it was the calm of a frozen river: hard and smooth on the surface but raging underneath. He'd been using words as weapons since we left the Old Lodge. He'd apologized for the first few cutting remarks, but there would be no apology for this. Now that he was with his father again, Matthew's civilized veneer was too thin for something so modern and human as regret.
"Philippe isn't my type," I said coldly. "You might, however, do me the courtesy of explaining why I should wait for you."
"Because there is no such thing as vampire divorce. There's mating and there's death. Some vampires-my mother and Philippe included- separate for a time if there are"-he paused-"disagreements. They take other lovers. With time and distance, they resolve their differences and come together again. But that isn't going to work for me."
"Good. It wouldn't be my first choice for a marriage either. But I still don't see why that makes you so reluctant to consummate our relationship." He'd already learned my body and its responses with the careful attention of a lover. It wasn't me or the idea of sex that made him hesitate.
"It's too soon to curb your freedom. Once I lose myself inside you, there will be no other lovers and no separations. You need to be sure if being wed to a vampire is what you really want."
"You get to choose me, over and over again, but when I want the same, you think I don't know my own mind?"
"I've had ample opportunity to know what I want. Your fondness for me may be nothing more than a way of alleviating your fear of the unknown, or satisfying your desire to embrace this world of creatures that you've denied for so long."
"Fondness? I love you. It makes no difference whether I have two days or two years. My decision will be the same."
"The difference will be that I will not have done to you what your parents did!" he exploded, pushing past me. "Mating a vampire is no less confining than being spellbound by witches. You're living on your own terms for the first time, yet you're ready to swap one set of restraints for another. But mine aren't the enchanted stuff of fairy tales, and no charm will remove them when they begin to chafe."
"I'm your lover, not your prisoner."
"And I am a vampire, not a warmblood. Mating instincts are primitive and difficult to control. My entire being will be focused on you. No one deserves that kind of ruthless attention, least of all the woman I love."
"So I can either live without you or be locked in a tower by you." I shook my head. "This is fear talking, not reason. You're scared of losing me, and being with Philippe is making it worse. Pushing me away isn't going to ease your pain, but talking about it might."
"Now that I'm with my father again, my wounds open and bleeding, am I not healing as quickly as you hoped?" The cruelty was back in Matthew's tone. I winced. Regret flickered over his features before they hardened again.
"You would rather be anywhere than here. I know that, Matthew. But Hancock was right: I wouldn't last long in a place like London or Paris, where we might be able to find a willing witch. Other women will spot my differences straightaway, and they won't be as forgiving as Walter or Henry. I'd be turned in to the authorities-or the Congregation-in a matter of days."
The acuity of Matthew's gaze gave weight to his warning about what it would feel like to be the object of a vampire's single-minded attention. "Another witch won't care," he said stubbornly, dropping my arms and turning away. "And I can manage the Congregation."
The few feet that separated Matthew and me stretched until we might have been on opposite sides of the world. Solitude, my old companion, no longer felt like a friend.
"We can't go on this way, Matthew. With no family and no property, I'm utterly dependent on you," I continued. Historians had some things right about the past, including the structural weaknesses associated with being female, friendless, and without money. "We need to stay at SeptTours until I can walk into a room and not draw every curious eye. I have to be able to manage on my own. Starting with these." I held up the keys to the castle.
"You want to play house?" he said doubtfully.
"I'm not playing house. I'm playing for keeps." Matthew quirked his lips at my words, but it wasn't a real smile. "Go. Spend time with your father. I'll be too busy to miss you."
Matthew left for the stables without a kiss or word of farewell. The absence of his usual reassurances left me feeling strangely unresolved. After his scent had dissipated, I called softly for Alain, who arrived suspiciously quickly, accompanied by Pierre. They must have heard every word of our exchange.
"Staring out the window doesn't hide your thoughts, Pierre. It's one of your master's few tells, and every time he does it, I know he's concealing something."
"Tells?" Pierre looked at me, confused. The game of poker had yet to be invented.
"An outward sign of an inward concern. Matthew looks away when he's anxious or doesn't want to tell me something. And he runs his fingers through his hair when he doesn't know what to do. These are tells."
"So he does, madame." Pierre looked at me, awestruck. "Does milord know that you used a witch's powers of divination to see into his soul? Madame de Clermont knows these habits, and milord's brothers and father do as well. But you have known him for such a short time and yet know so much."
Pierre looked horrified. "I forget myself, madame. Please forgive me."