The wedding Philippe planned for us was to span three days. From Friday to Sunday, the chateau staff, the villagers, and everyone else for miles around would be involved in what he insisted was a small family affair.

"It has been some time since we had a wedding, and winter is a cheerless time of year. We owe it to the village," was how Philippe brushed aside our protests. Chef, too, was irritated when Matthew suggested that it wasn't feasible to produce three last-minute feasts while food stores were running low and Christians practiced abstemiousness. So there was a war on and it was Advent, Chef scoffed. That was no reason to refuse a party.

With the whole house in an uproar and no one interested in our help, Matthew and I were left to our own devices.

"Just what does this marriage ceremony involve?" I wondered as we lay in front of the fire in the library. I was wearing Matthew's wedding gift: one of his shirts, which extended to my knees, and a pair of his old hose. Each leg had been ripped along the top inner seam, and then Matthew had stitched the two legs together into something vaguely approximating leggings-minus the waistband and the spandex. Some gesture toward the former came from a narrow leather belt fashioned from a piece of old tack that Matthew found in the stables. It was the most comfortable clothing I'd worn since Halloween, and Matthew, who had not seen much of my legs lately, was riveted.

"I have no idea, mon coeur. I've never attended an ancient Greek wedding before." Matthew's fingers traced the hollow behind my knee.

"Surely the priest won't allow Philippe to do anything overtly pagan. The actual ceremony will have to be Catholic."

"The family never puts 'surely' and 'Philippe' in the same sentence. It always ends badly." Matthew planted a kiss on my hip.

"At least tonight's event is just a feast. I should be able to get through that without too much trouble." Sighing, I rested my head on my hands. "The groom's father usually pays for the rehearsal dinner. I suppose what Philippe is doing is basically the same thing."

Matthew laughed. "Almost indistinguishable-so long as the menu includes grilled eel and a gilded peacock. Besides, Philippe has managed to appoint himself not only the father of the groom, but the father of the bride."

"I still don't see why we have to make such a fuss." Sarah and Em hadn't had a formal ceremony. Instead an elder in the Madison coven performed a handfasting. Looking back, it reminded me of the vows Matthew and I had exchanged before we timewalked: simple, intimate, and quickly over.

"Weddings aren't for the benefit of the bride or the groom. Most couples would be content to go off on their own as we did, say a few words, and then leave for a holiday. Weddings are rites of passage for the community." Matthew rolled over onto his back. I propped myself up on my elbows.

"It's just an empty ritual."

"There's no such thing." Matthew frowned. "If you can't bear it, you must say so."

"No. Let Philippe have his wedding. It's just a bit . . . overwhelming."

"You must wish Sarah and Emily were here to share this with us."

"If they were, they'd be surprised that I'm not eloping. I'm known for being a loner. I used to think you were a loner, too."

"Me?" Matthew laughed. "Except on television or in the movies, vampires are seldom alone. We prefer the company of others. Even witches will do, in a pinch." He kissed me to prove it.

"So if this marriage was taking place in New Haven, who would you invite?" he asked sometime later.

"Sarah and Em, of course. My friend Chris." I bit my lip. "Maybe the chair of my department." Silence fell.

"That's it?" Matthew looked aghast.

"I don't have many friends." Restless, I got to my feet. "I think the fire's going out."

Matthew pulled me back down. "The fire is fine. And you have plenty of kith and kin now."

The mention of family was the opening I'd been waiting for. My eyes strayed to the chest at the end of the bed. Marthe's box was hidden within, tucked into the clean linen.

"There's something we need to discuss." This time he let me go without interfering. I pulled the box free.

"What's that?" Matthew asked, frowning.

"Marthe's herbs-the ones she uses in her tea. I found them in the stillroom."

"I see. And have you been drinking it?" His question was sharp.

"Of course not. Whether we have children or not can't be my decision alone." When I opened the lid, the dusty aroma of dried herbs seeped into the air.

"No matter what Marcus and Miriam said back in New York, there is no evidence whatsoever that you and I can have children. Even herbal contraceptives like these can have unsafe side effects," Matthew said, coolly clinical.

"Let's say, for argument's sake, one of your scientific tests revealed we could have children. Would you want me to take the tea then?"

"Marthe's mixture isn't very reliable." Matthew looked away.

"Okay. What are the alternatives?" I asked.

"Abstinence. Withdrawal. And there are condoms, though they're not reliable either. Especially not the kind available to us in this day and age." Matthew was right. Sixteenth-century condoms were made from linen, leather, or animal intestines.

"And if one of these methods were reliable?" My patience was wearing thin.

"If-if-we could conceive a child together, it would be a miracle, and therefore no form of contraception would be effective."

"Your time at Paris wasn't a total waste of time, no matter what your father thinks. That was an argument worthy of a medieval theologian." Before I could close the box, Matthew's hands covered mine.

"If we could conceive, and if this tea were effective, I'd still want you to leave the herbs in the stillroom."

"Even though you could pass your blood rage on to another child?" I forced myself to be honest with him, despite the fact that my words would hurt.

"Yes." Matthew considered his words before continuing. "When I study patterns of extinction and see the evidence in the laboratory that we are dying out, the future seems hopeless. But if I detect a single chromosomal shift, or the discovery of an unexpected descendant when I thought a bloodline had died out, the sense of inevitable destruction lifts. I feel the same way now." Usually I had problems when Matthew adopted a position of scientific objectivity, but not this time. He took the box from my hands. "What about you?"

I'd been trying to figure that out for weeks, ever since Miriam and Marcus had appeared at Aunt Sarah's house with my DNA results and first raised the issue of children. I was sure about my future with Matthew but less so about what that future might involve.

"I wish I had more time to decide." It was becoming my common refrain. "If we were still in the twenty-first century, I'd be taking the birthcontrol pills you prescribed for me." I hesitated. "Even so, I'm not sure the pills would work for us."

Matthew still waited for my answer.

"When I drove Philippe's dagger into Champier, all I could think of was that he was going to take my thoughts and memories and I wouldn't be the same person when I returned to our modern lives. But even if we were to go back right this minute, we would already be different people. All the places we've gone, the people I've met, the secrets we've shared-I'm no longer the same Diana Bishop, and you aren't the same Matthew Clairmont. A baby would change us even more."

"So you want to prevent pregnancy," he said carefully.

"I'm not sure."

"Then the answer is yes. If you're not sure you want to be a parent, we must use whatever birth control is available." Matthew's voice was firm. And so was his chin.

"I do want to be a parent. I'm surprised by how much, if you must know." I pressed my fingers into my temples. "I like the idea of you and me raising a child. It just feels so soon."

"It is soon. So we'll do what we must to limit the possibility until-if- you are ready. But don't get your hopes up. The science is clear, Diana: Vampires reproduce through resurrection, not procreation. Our relationship might be different, but we aren't so special as to overturn thousands of years of biology."

"The picture of the alchemical wedding from Ashmole 782-it is about us. I know it. And Miriam was right: The next step in the process of alchemical transformation after the marriage of gold and silver is conception."

"Conception?" Philippe drawled from the door. His boots creaked as he pushed away from the frame. "No one mentioned that possibility."

"That's because it's impossible. I've had sex with other warmblooded women, and they've never become pregnant. The image of the chemical wedding may have been intended as a message, as Diana says, but the chances of representation becoming reality are slim." Matthew shook his head. "No manjasang has ever fathered a child like that before."

"Never is a long time, Matthew, as I told you. As for the impossible, I have walked this earth longer than man's memories and have seen things that later generations discounted as myth. Once there were creatures who swam like fish in the sea and others who wielded lightning bolts instead of spears. They are gone now, replaced with something new. 'Change is the only reliable thing in the world.'"

"Heraclitus," I murmured.

"The wisest of men," said Philippe, pleased that I recognized the quote. "The gods like to surprise us when we grow complacent. It's their favorite form of entertainment." He studied my unusual costume. "Why are you wearing Matthew's shirt and hose?"

"He gave them to me. It's fairly close to what I wear in my own time, and Matthew wanted me to be comfortable. He sewed the legs together himself, I think." I turned to show off the ensemble. "Who knew the de Clermont men could thread a needle, never mind stitch a straight seam?"

Philippe's eyebrows rose. "Did you think Ysabeau mended our torn garments when we came home from battle?"

The idea of Ysabeau sewing quietly while she waited for her men to return made me giggle. "Hardly."

"You know her well, I see. If you are determined to dress like a boy, put breeches on, at the very least. If the priest sees you, his heart will stop and tomorrow's ceremony will have to be delayed."

"But I'm not going outside," I said, frowning.

"I'd like to take you to a place sacred to the old gods before you are wed. It is not far," Philippe said when Matthew drew a breath to complain, "and I'd like us to be alone, Matthaios."

"I'll meet you in the stables," I agreed without hesitation. Some time in the fresh air would provide a welcome opportunity for me to clear my head.

Outside, I enjoyed the sting of the cold air on my cheeks and the wintry peace of the countryside. Soon Philippe and I came to a hilltop that was flatter than most of the rounded ridges around Sept-Tours. The ground was punctuated with protrusions of stone that struck me as oddly symmetrical. Though ancient and overgrown with vegetation, these weren't natural outcroppings. They were manmade.

Philippe swung down from his horse and motioned for me to do the same. Once I dismounted, he took me by the elbow and guided me through two of the strange lumps and into a smooth expanse of snow-covered ground. All that marred the pristine surface were the tracks of wildlife-the heart-shaped outline of a deer's hoof, the five-clawed marks of bear, the combination of triangular and oval pads belonging to a wolf.

"What is this place?" I asked, my voice hushed.

"A temple dedicated to Diana stood here once, overlooking the woods and valleys where the stags liked to run. Those who revered the goddess planted sacred cypress trees to grow alongside the native oak and alder." Philippe pointed to the thin columns of green that stood guard around the area. "I wanted to bring you here because when I was a child, far away and before I became a manjasang, brides would go to a temple like this before their wedding and make a sacrifice to the goddess. We called her Artemis then."

"A sacrifice?" My mouth was dry. There had been enough bloodshed.

"No matter how much we change, it is important to remember the past and honor it." Philippe handed me a knife and a bag whose contents shifted and chimed. "It is also wise to set old wrongs to rights. The goddesses have not always been pleased with my actions. I would like to make sure that Artemis receives her due before my son marries you tomorrow. The knife is to take a lock of your hair. It is a symbol of your maidenhood, and the customary gift. The money is a symbol of your worth." Philippe's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "There would have been more, but I had to save some for Matthew's god, too."

Philippe led me to a small plinth in the center of the ruined structure. An assortment of offerings rested on it-a wooden doll, a child's shoe, a bowl of sodden grain dusted with snow.

"I'm surprised that anyone still comes here," I said.

"All over France women still curtsy to the moon when she is full. Such habits die hard, especially those that sustain people during difficult times." Philippe went forward to the makeshift altar. He didn't bow, or kneel, or make any of the other familiar signs of respect to a deity, but when he began to speak, his voice was so quiet I had to strain to hear him. The strange mixture of Greek and English made little sense. Philippe's solemn intentions were clear, however.

"Artemis Agrotere, renowned huntress, Alcides Leontothymos beseeches you to hold this child Diana in your hand. Artemis Lykeie, lady of the wolves, protect her in every way. Artemis Patroia, goddess of my ancestors, bless her with children so that my lineage continues."

Tags: Deborah Harkness All Souls Trilogy Fantasy