"Indeed?" George studied me with renewed interest. There were no nudges to indicate that this man was a daemon, no witchy tingles, nor the frosty aftereffects of a vampire's glance. George was just an ordinary, warmblooded human-one who appeared middle-aged and tired, as though life had already worn him out. "But you do not like witches any more than Kit does, Matthew. You have always discouraged me from attending to the subject. When I set out to write a poem about Hecate, you told me to-"
"I like this one. So much so, I married her," Matthew interrupted, bestowing a firm kiss on my lips to help convince him.
"Married her!" George's eyes shifted to Kit. He cleared his throat. "So there are two unexpected joys to celebrate: You were not delayed on business as Pierre thought, and you have returned to us with a wife. My felicitations." His portentous tone reminded me of a commencement address, and I stifled a smile. George beamed at me in return and bowed. "I am George Chapman, Mistress Roydon."
His name was familiar. I picked through the disorganized knowledge stored in my historian's brain. Chapman was not an alchemist-that was my research specialty, and I did not find his name in the spaces devoted to that arcane subject. He was another writer, like Marlowe, but I couldn't recall any of the titles.
Once we'd dispensed with introductions, Matthew agreed to sit before the fire for a few moments with his guests. There the men talked politics and George made an effort to include me in the conversation by asking about the state of the roads and the weather. I said as little as possible and tried to observe the little tricks of gesture and word choice that would help me pass for an Elizabethan. George was delighted with my attentiveness and rewarded it with a long dissertation on his latest literary efforts. Kit, who didn't enjoy being relegated to a supporting role, brought George's lecture to a halt by offering to read aloud from his latest version of Doctor Faustus.
"It will serve as a rehearsal among friends," the daemon said, eyes gleaming, "before the real performance later."
"Not now, Kit. It's well past midnight, and Diana is tired from her journey," Matthew said, drawing me to my feet.
Kit's eyes remained on us as we left the room. He knew we were hiding something. He had leaped on every strange turn of phrase when I'd ventured into the conversation and grown thoughtful when Matthew couldn't remember where his own lute was kept.
Matthew had warned me before we left Madison that Kit was unusually perceptive, even for a daemon. I wondered how long it would be before Marlowe figured out what that hidden something was. The answer to my question came within hours.
The next morning we talked in the recesses of our warm bed while the household stirred.
At first Matthew was willing to answer my questions about Kit (the son of a shoemaker, it turned out) and George (who was not much older than Marlowe, I learned to my surprise). When I turned to the practical matters of household management and female behavior, however, he was quickly bored.
"What about my clothes?" I asked, trying to focus him on my immediate concerns.
"I don't think married women sleep in these," Matthew said, plucking at my fine linen night rail. He untied its ruffled neckline and was about to plant a kiss underneath my ear to persuade me to his point of view when someone ripped open the bed's curtains. I squinted against the bright sunlight.
"Well?" Marlowe demanded.
A second, dark-complected daemon peered over Marlowe's shoulder. He resembled an energetic leprechaun with his slight build and pointed chin, which was accented by an equally sharp auburn beard. His hair evidently had not seen a comb for weeks. I grabbed at the front of my night rail, keenly aware of its transparency and my lack of underclothes.
"You saw Master White's drawings from Roanoke, Kit. The witch looks nothing at all like the natives of Virginia," the unfamiliar daemon replied, disappointed. Belatedly he noticed Matthew, who was glaring at him. "Oh. Good morning, Matthew. Would you allow me to borrow your sector? I promise not to take it to the river this time."
Matthew lowered his forehead to my shoulder and closed his eyes with a groan.
"She must be from the New World-or Africa," Marlowe insisted, refusing to refer to me by name. "She's not from Chester, nor from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, or the Empire. I don't believe she's Dutch or Spanish either."
"Good morning to you, Tom. Is there some reason you and Kit must discuss Diana's birthplace now, and in my bedchamber?" Matthew drew the ties of my night rail together.
"It is too fine to lie abed, even if you have been out of your mind with an ague. Kit says you must have married the witch in the midst of the fever's crisis. Otherwise there is no way to account for your recklessness." Tom rattled on in true daemonic fashion, making no effort to answer Matthew's question. "The roads were dry, and we arrived hours ago." "And the wine is already gone," Marlowe complained.
"We"? There were more of them? The Old Lodge already felt stuffed to bursting.
"Out! Madame must wash before she greets his lordship." Françoise entered the room with a steaming basin of water in her hands. Pierre, as usual, trailed behind.
"Has something of import happened?" George inquired from beyond the curtains. He'd entered the room unannounced, neatly foiling Françoise's efforts to herd the other men out. "Lord Northumberland has been left alone in the great hall. If he were my patron, I would not treat him thus!"
"Hal is reading a treatise on the construction of a balance sent to me by a mathematician in Pisa. He's quite content," Tom replied crossly, sitting on the edge of the bed.
He must be talking about Galileo, I realized with excitement. In 1590, Galileo was an entry-level professor at the university in Pisa. His work on the balance wasn't published-yet.
Tom. Lord Northumberland. Someone who corresponded with Galileo. My lips parted in astonishment. The daemon perched on the quilted coverlet was Thomas Harriot.
"Françoise is right. Out. All of you," Matthew said, sounding as cross as Tom.
"What should we tell Hal?" Kit asked, sliding a meaningful glance in my direction.
"That I'll be down shortly," Matthew said. He rolled over and pulled me close.
I waited until Matthew's friends streamed out of the room before I thumped his chest.
"What is that for?" He winced in mock pain, but all I'd bruised was my own fist.
"For not telling me who your friends are!" I propped up on one elbow and stared down at him. "The great playwright Christopher Marlowe. George Chapman, poet and scholar. Mathematician and astronomer Thomas Harriot, if I'm not mistaken. And the Wizard Earl is waiting downstairs!"
"I can't remember when Henry earned that nickname, but nobody calls him that yet." Matthew looked amused, which only made me more furious.
"All we need is Sir Walter Raleigh and we'll have the entire School of Night in the house." Matthew looked out the window at my mention of this legendary group of radicals, philosophers, and free-thinkers. Thomas Harriot. Christopher Marlowe. George Chapman. Walter Raleigh. And-
"Just who are you, Matthew?" I hadn't thought to ask him before we departed.
"Matthew Roydon," he said with a tip of his head, as though we were only this moment being introduced. "Friend to poets."
"Historians know almost nothing about you," I said, stunned. Matthew Roydon was the most shadowy figure associated with the mysterious School of Night.
"You aren't surprised, are you, now that you know who Matthew Roydon really is?" His black brow rose.
"Oh, I'm surprised enough to last a lifetime. You might have warned me before dropping me into the middle of all this."
"What would you have done? We barely had time to get dressed before we left, never mind conduct a research project." He sat up and swung his legs onto the floor. Our private time had been lamentably brief. "There's no reason for you to be concerned. They're just ordinary men, Diana."
No matter what Matthew said, there was nothing ordinary about them. The School of Night held heretical opinions, sneered at the corrupt court of Queen Elizabeth, and scoffed at the intellectual pretensions of church and university. "Mad, bad, and dangerous to know" described this group perfectly. We hadn't joined a cozy reunion of friends on Halloween night. We'd fallen into a hornet's nest of Elizabethan intrigue.
"Putting aside how reckless your friends can be, you can't expect me to be blase when you introduce me to people I've spent my adult life studying," I said. "Thomas Harriot is one of the foremost astronomers of the time. Your friend Henry Percy is an alchemist." Pierre, familiar with the signs of a woman on the edge, hastily thrust a set of black britches at my husband so he wouldn't be bare-legged when my anger erupted.
"So are Walter and Tom." Matthew ignored the proffered clothing and scratched his chin. "Kit dabbles, too, though without any success. Try not to dwell on what you know about them. It's probably wrong anyway. And you should be careful with your modern historical labels, too," he continued, finally snatching at his britches and stepping into them. "Will dreams up the School of Night as a jab at Kit, but not for a few years yet."
"I don't care what William Shakespeare has done, is doing, or will do in the future-provided he isn't at this moment in the great hall with the Earl of Northumberland!" I retorted, sliding out of the high bed.
"Of course Will's not down there." Matthew waved his hand dismissively. "Walter doesn't approve of his command of meter, and Kit thinks he's a hack and a thief."
"Well, that's a relief. What do you plan on telling them about me? Marlowe knows we're hiding something."
Matthew's gray-green eyes met mine. "The truth, I suppose." Pierre handed him a doublet-black, with intricate quilting-and stared fixedly at a point over my shoulder, the very model of a good servant. "That you're a timewalker and a witch from the New World."
"The truth," I said flatly. Pierre could hear every word but showed no reaction, and Matthew ignored him as though he were invisible. I wondered if we would be here long enough for me to become so oblivious to his presence.
"Why not? Tom will write down everything you say and compare it with his notes on the Algonquian language. Otherwise no one will pay much attention." Matthew seemed more concerned with his clothing than with the reactions of his friends.
Françoise returned with two warmblooded young women bearing armfuls of clean clothes. She gestured at my night rail, and I ducked behind the bedpost to disrobe. Grateful that my time in locker rooms had squashed most of my qualms about changing in front of strangers, I drew the linen over my hips and up to my shoulders.
"Kit will. He's been looking for a reason to dislike me, and this will give him several."
"He won't be a problem," Matthew said confidently.
"Is Marlowe your friend or your puppet?" I was still wrestling my head out of the fabric when there was a gasp of horror, a muffled "Mon Dieu."
I froze. Françoise had seen my back and the crescent-shaped scar that stretched from one side of my lower rib cage to the other, along with the star that rested between my shoulder blades.
"I will dress madame," Françoise coolly told the maids. "Leave the clothing and return to your work."
The maids departed with nothing more than a curtsy and a look of idle curiosity. They hadn't seen the markings. When they were gone, we all began to speak at once. Françoise's aghast "Who did this?" tumbled over Matthew's "No one must know" and my own, slightly defensive "It's just a scar."
"Someone branded you with a badge of the de Clermont family," Françoise insisted with a shake of her head, "one that is used by milord."
"We broke the covenant." I fought the sick feeling that twisted my stomach whenever I thought about the night another witch had marked me a traitor. "This was the Congregation's punishment."
"So that is why you are both here." Françoise snorted. "The covenant was a foolish idea from the start. Philippe de Clermont should never have gone along with it."
"One that's kept us safe from the humans." I had no great fondness for the agreement, or the nine-member Congregation who enforced it, but its long-term success at hiding otherworldly creatures from the attention of humans was undeniable. The ancient promises made among daemons, vampires, and witches prohibited meddling in human politics or religion and forbade personal alliances among the three different species. Witches were meant to keep to themselves, as were vampires and daemons. They were not supposed to fall in love and intermarry.
"Safe? Do not think you are safe here, madame. None of us are. The English are a superstitious people, prone to seeing a ghost in every churchyard and witches around every cauldron. The Congregation is all that is standing between us and utter destruction. You are wise to take refuge here. Come, you must dress and join the others." Françoise helped me out of the night rail and handed me a wet towel and a dish of goop that smelled of rosemary and oranges. I found it odd to be treated like a child but knew that it was customary for people of Matthew's rank to be washed, dressed, and fed like dolls. Pierre handed Matthew a cup of something too dark to be wine.
"She is not only a witch but a fileuse de temps as well?" Françoise asked Matthew quietly. The unfamiliar term-"time spinner"-conjured up images of the many different-colored threads we'd followed to reach this particular past.
"She is." Matthew nodded, his attention focused on me while he sipped at his cup.
"But if she has come from another time, that means . . ." Françoise began, wide-eyed. Then her expression became thoughtful. Matthew must sound and behave differently.
She suspects that this is not the same Matthew, I thought, alarmed.
"It is enough for us to know that she is under milord's protection," Pierre said roughly, a clear warning in his tone. He handed Matthew a dagger. "What it means is not important."
"It means I love her, and she loves me in return." Matthew looked at his servant intently. "No matter what I say to others, that is the truth. Understood?"
"Yes," replied Pierre, though his tone suggested quite the opposite.
Matthew shot an inquiring look at Françoise, who pursed her lips and nodded grudgingly.
She returned her attention to getting me ready, wrapping me in a thick linen towel. Françoise had to have noticed the other marks on my body, those I had received over the course of that one interminable day with the witch Satu, as well as my other, later scars. Françoise asked no further questions, however, but sat me in a chair next to the fire while she ran a comb through my hair.
"And did this insult happen after you declared your love for the witch, milord?" Françoise asked.
"Yes." Matthew buckled the dagger around his waist.
"It was not a manjasang, then, who marked her," Pierre murmured. He used the old Occitan word for vampire-"blood eater." "None would risk the anger of the de Clermonts."
"No, it was another witch." Even though I was shielded from the cold air, the admission made me shiver.
"Two manjasang stood by and let it happen, though," Matthew said grimly. "And they will pay for it."
"What's done is done." I had no wish to start a feud among vampires. We had enough challenges facing us.
"If milord had accepted you as his wife when the witch took you, then it is not done." Françoise's swift fingers wove my hair into tight braids. She wound them around my head and pinned them in place. "Your name might be Roydon in this godforsaken country where there is no loyalty to speak of, but we will not forget that you are a de Clermont."
Matthew's mother had warned me that the de Clermonts were a pack. In the twenty-first century, I had chafed under the obligations and restrictions that came with membership. In 1590, however, my magic was unpredictable, my knowledge of witchcraft almost nonexistent, and my earliest known ancestor hadn't yet been born. Here I had nothing to rely on but my own wits and Matthew.
"Our intentions to each other were clear then. But I want no trouble now." I looked down at Ysabeau's ring and felt the band with my thumb. My hope that we could blend seamlessly into the past now seemed unlikely as well as naive. I looked around me. "And this . . ."
"We're here for only two reasons, Diana: to find you a teacher and to locate that alchemical manuscript if we can." It was the mysterious manuscript called Ashmole 782 that had brought us together in the first place. In the twenty-first century, it had been safely buried among the millions of books in Oxford's Bodleian Library. When I'd filled out the call slip, I'd had no idea that the simple action would unlock an intricate spell that bound the manuscript to the shelves, or that the same spell would reactivate the moment I returned it. I was also ignorant of the many secrets about witches, vampires, and daemons its pages were rumored to reveal. Matthew had thought it would be wiser to locate Ashmole 782 in the past than to try to unlock the spell for a second time in the modern world.
"Until we go back, this will be your home," he continued, trying to reassure me.
The room's solid furnishings were familiar from museums and auction catalogs, but the Old Lodge would never feel like home. I fingered the thick linen of the towel-so different from the faded terry-cloth sets that Sarah and Em owned, all worn thin from too many washes. Voices in another room lilted and swayed in a rhythm that no modern person, historian or not, could have anticipated. But the past was our only option. Other vampires had made that clear during our final days in Madison, when they'd hunted us down and nearly killed Matthew. If the rest of our plan was going to work, passing as a proper Elizabethan woman had to be my first priority.
"'O brave new world.'" It was a gross historical violation to quote from Shakespeare's Tempest two decades before it was written, but this had been a difficult morning.
""Tis new to thee,'" Matthew responded. "Are you ready to meet your trouble, then?"
"Of course. Let's get me dressed." I squared my shoulders and rose from the chair. "How does one say hello to an earl?"