Philippe might be fascinating, but he was maddening and inscrutable, too-just as Matthew had promised.
Matthew and I were in the great hall the next morning when my fatherin-law seemed to materialize out of thin air. No wonder humans thought vampires could shape-shift into bats. I lifted a spindle of toasted bread from my soft-boiled egg's golden yolk.
"Good morning, Philippe." "Diana." Philippe nodded. "Come, Matthew. You must feed. Since you will not do so in front of your wife, we will hunt."
Matthew hesitated, restlessly glancing at me and then away. "Perhaps tomorrow."
Philippe muttered something under his breath and shook his head. "You must attend to your own needs, Matthaios. A famished, exhausted manjasang is not an ideal traveling companion for anyone, least of all a warmblooded witch."
Two men entered the hall, stomping the snow from their boots. Chilly winter air billowed around the wooden screen and through the lacy carvings. Matthew cast a longing look toward the door. Chasing stags across the frozen landscape would not only feed his body-it would clear his mind as well. And if yesterday was any indication, he'd be in a much better mood when he returned.
"Don't worry about me. I have plenty to do," I said, taking his hand in mine to give it a reassuring squeeze.
After breakfast Chef and I discussed the menu for Saturday's pre-Advent feast. This done, I discussed my clothing needs with the village tailor and seamstress. Given my grasp of French, I feared I had ordered a circus tent. By late morning I was desperate for some fresh air, and persuaded Alain to take me on a tour of the courtyard workshops. Almost everything the chateau residents needed, from candles to drinking water, could be found there. I tried to remember every detail of how the blacksmith smelted his metals, aware that the knowledge would be useful when I returned to my real life as a historian.
With the exception of the hour spent at the forge, my day so far had been typical of a noblewoman's of the time. Feeling that I'd made good progress toward my goal of fitting in, I spent several pleasant hours reading and practicing my handwriting. When I heard the musicians setting up for the last feast before the monthlong fast I asked them to give me a dancing lesson. Later I treated myself to an adventure in the stillroom and was soon happily occupied with a glorified double boiler, a copper still, and a small barrel of old wine. Two young boys borrowed from the kitchens kept the glowing embers of the fire alight with a pair of leather bellows that sighed gently whenever Thomas and etienne pressed them into action.
Being in the past provided a perfect opportunity for me to practice what I knew only via books. After poking through Marthe's equipment, I settled on a plan to make spirit of wine, a basic substance used in alchemical procedures. I was soon cursing, however.
"This will never condense properly," I said crossly, looking at the steam escaping from the still. The kitchen boys, who knew no English, made sympathetic noises while I consulted a tome I'd pulled from the de Clermont library. There were all sorts of interesting volumes on the shelves. One of them must explain how to repair leaks.
"Madame?" Alain called softly from the doorway.
"Yes?" I turned and wiped my hands on the bunched-up folds of my linen smock.
Alain surveyed the room, aghast. My dark sleeveless robe was flung over the back of a nearby chair, my heavy velvet sleeves were draped over the edge of a copper pot, and my bodice hung from the ceiling on a convenient pothook. Though relatively unclothed by sixteenth-century standards, I still wore a corset, a high-necked, long-sleeved linen smock, several petticoats, and a voluminous skirt-far more clothing than I normally wore to lecture. Feeling naked nonetheless, I lifted my chin and dared Alain to say a word. Wisely, he looked away.
"Chef does not know what to do about this evening's meal," Alain said.
I frowned. Chef unfailingly knew what to do.
"The household is hungry and thirsty, but they cannot sit down without you. So long as there is a member of the family at Sept-Tours, that person must preside over the evening meal. It is tradition."
Catrine appeared with a towel and a bowl. I dipped my fingers into the warm, lavender-scented water.
"How long have they been waiting?" I took the towel from Catrine's arm. A great hall filled with both hungry warmbloods and equally famished vampires couldn't be wise. My newfound confidence in my ability to manage the de Clermont family home evaporated.
"More than an hour. They will continue to wait until word comes from the village that Roger is closing down for the night. He runs the tavern. It is cold, and many hours until breakfast. Sieur Philippe led me to believe . . ." He trailed off into apologetic silence.
"Vite," I said, pointing at my discarded clothing. "You must get me dressed, Catrine."
"Bien sur." Catrine put down her bowl and headed for my suspended bodice. The large splotch of ink on it put an end to my hope of looking respectable.
When I entered the hall, benches scraped against the stone floor as more than three dozen creatures stood. There was a note of reproach in the sound. Once seated, they ate their delayed meal with gusto, while I picked apart a chicken leg and waved away everything else.
After what seemed an interminable length of time, Matthew and his father returned. "Diana!" Matthew rounded the wooden screen, confused to see me sitting at the head of the family table. "I expected you to be upstairs, or in the library."
"I thought it was more courteous for me to sit here, considering how much work Chef put into preparing the meal." My eyes traveled to Philippe. "How was your hunting, Philippe?"
"Adequate. But animal blood provides only so much nourishment." He beckoned to Alain, and his cold eyes nudged my high collar.
"Enough." Though his voice was low, the warning in Matthew's tone was unmistakable. Heads swiveled in his direction. "You should have instructed them to start without us. Let me take you upstairs, Diana." Heads swiveled back to me, waiting for my reply.
"I have not finished," I said, gesturing at my plate, "nor have the others. Sit by me and take some wine." Matthew might be a Renaissance prince in substance as well as style, but I would not heel when he clicked his fingers.
Matthew sat by my side while I forced myself to swallow some chicken. When the tension was unbearable, I rose. Once more, benches scraped against stone as the household stood.
"Finished so soon?" Philippe asked with surprise. "Good night, then, Diana. Matthew, you will return at once. I have a strange desire to play chess."
Matthew ignored his father and extended his arm. We didn't exchange a word as we passed out of the great hall and climbed to the family rooms. At my door Matthew at last had himself under enough control to risk conversation.
"Philippe is treating you like a glorified housekeeper. It's intolerable."
"Your father is treating me like a woman of the time. I'll manage, Matthew." I paused, gathering my courage. "When did you last feed on a creature that walks on two legs?" I'd forced him to take blood from me before we left Madison, and he'd fed on some nameless warmblood in Canada. Several weeks prior to that, he'd killed Gillian Chamberlain in Oxford. Maybe he had fed on her, too. Otherwise I didn't believe that a drop of anything other than animal blood had crossed his lips in months.
"What makes you ask?" Matthew's tone was sharp.
"Philippe says you aren't as strong as you should be." My hand tightened on his. "If you need to feed and won't take blood from a stranger, then I want you to take mine."
Before Matthew could respond, a chuckle came from the stairs. "Careful, Diana. We manjasang have sharp ears. Offer your blood in this house and you'll never keep the wolves at bay." Philippe was standing with arms braced against the sides of the carved stone archway.
Matthew swung his head around, furious. "Go away, Philippe."
"The witch is reckless. It's my responsibility to make sure her impulses don't go unchecked. Otherwise she could destroy us."
"The witch is mine," Matthew said coldly.
"Not yet," Philippe said, descending the stairs with a regretful shake of his head. "Maybe not ever."
After that encounter Matthew was even more guarded and remote. He was angry with his father, but rather than taking his frustration out on its source, Matthew snapped at everyone else: me, Alain, Pierre, Chef, and any other creature unfortunate enough to cross his path. The household was in a state of high anxiety already because of the feast, and after putting up with his bad behavior for several hours, Philippe gave his son a choice. He could sleep off his bad humor or feed. Matthew chose a third option and went off to search the de Clermont archives for some hint as to the present whereabouts of Ashmole 782. Left to my own devices, I returned to the kitchens.
Philippe found me in Marthe's room, crouched over the malfunctioning still with my sleeves rolled up and the room full of steam.
"Has Matthew fed from you?" he asked abruptly, his eyes moving over my forearms.
I lifted my left arm in reply. The soft linen pooled around my shoulder, exposing the pink traces of a jagged scar on my inner elbow. I'd cut into the flesh so that Matthew could drink from me more easily.
"Anywhere else?" Philippe directed his attention to my torso.
With the other hand, I exposed my neck. The wound there was deeper, but it had been made by a vampire and was far neater.
"What a fool you are, to allow a besotted manjasang to take the blood from not only your arm but your neck," Philippe said, stunned. "The covenant forbids the manjasang to take the blood of witches or daemons. Matthew knows this."
"He was dying, and mine was the only blood available!" I said fiercely. "If it makes you feel better, I had to force him."
"So that's it. My son has no doubt convinced himself that so long as he has taken only your blood and not your body, he will be able to let you go." Philippe shook his head. "He is wrong. I've been watching him. You will never be free of Matthew, whether he beds you or not."
"Matthew knows I'd never leave him."
"Of course you will. One day your life on this earth will draw to a close and you will make your final journey into the underworld. Rather than grieve, Matthew will want to follow you into death." Philippe's words rang with truth.
Matthew's mother had shared with me the story of his making: how he fell from the scaffolding while helping to lay the stones for the village church. Even when I first heard it, I'd wondered if Matthew's despair over losing his wife, Blanca, and his son, Lucas, had driven him to suicide.
"It is too bad that Matthew is a Christian. His God is never satisfied."
"How so?" I asked, perplexed by the sudden change of topic.
"When you or I have done wrong, we settle our accounts with the gods and return to living with the hope of doing better in future. Ysabeau's son confesses his sins and atones again and again-for his life, for who he is, for what he has done. He is always looking backward, and there is no end to it."
"That's because Matthew is a man of great faith, Philippe." There was a spiritual center to Matthew's life that colored his attitudes toward science and death.
"Matthew?" Philippe sounded incredulous. "He has less faith than anyone I have ever known. All he possesses is belief, which is quite different and depends on the head rather than the heart. Matthew has always had a keen mind, one capable of dealing with abstractions like God. It is how he came to accept who he had become after Ysabeau made him one of the family. For every manjasang it is different. My sons chose other paths- war, love, mating, conquest, the acquisition of riches. For Matthew it was always ideas."
"It still is," I said softly.
"But ideas are seldom strong enough to provide the basis for courage. Not without faith in the future." His expression turned thoughtful. "You don't know your husband as well as you should."
"Not as well as you do, no. We're a witch and a vampire who love even though we're forbidden to do so. The covenant doesn't permit us lingering public courtship and moonlight strolls." My voice heated as I continued. "I can't hold his hand or touch his face outside of these four walls without fearing that someone will notice and he will be punished for it."
"Matthew goes to the church in the village around midday, when you think he is looking for your book. It's where he went today." Philippe's remark was strangely disconnected from our conversation. "You might follow him one day. Perhaps then you would come to know him better."
I went to the church at eleven on Monday morning, hoping to find it empty. But Matthew was there, just as Philippe had promised. He couldn't have failed to hear the heavy door close behind me or my steps echoing as I crossed the floor, but he didn't turn around. Instead he remained kneeling just to the right of the altar. In spite of the cold, Matthew was wearing an insubstantial linen shirt, breeches, hose, and shoes. I felt frozen just looking at him and drew my cloak more firmly around me.
"Your father told me I'd find you here," I said at last, into the resonant silence.
It was the first time I'd been in this church, and I looked around with curiosity. Like many religious buildings in this part of France, SaintLucien's house of worship was already ancient in 1590. Its simple lines were altogether different from the soaring heights and lacy stonework of a Gothic cathedral. Brightly colored murals surrounded the wide arch separating the apse from the nave and decorated the stone bands that topped the arcades underneath the high clerestory windows. Most of the windows opened to the elements, though someone had made a halfhearted attempt to glaze those closest to the door. The peaked roof above was crisscrossed by stout wooden beams, testifying to the skills of the carpenter as well as the mason.
When I'd first visited the Old Lodge, Matthew's house had reminded me of him. His personality was evident here, too, in the geometric details carved into the beams and in the perfectly spaced arches that spanned the widths between columns.
"You built this."
"Part of it." Matthew's eyes rose to the curved apse with its image of Christ on His throne, one hand raised and ready to mete out justice. "The nave, mostly. The apse was completed while I was . . . away."