Philippe's lineage. I was part of it now, by marriage as well as the giving of his blood.
"Artemis Phosphoros, bring the light of your wisdom when she is in darkness. Artemis Upis, watch over your namesake during her journey in this world." Philippe finished the invocation and motioned me forward.
After carefully placing the bag of coins next to the child's shoe, I reached up and pulled a strand of hair away from the nape of my neck. The knife was sharp, and it easily removed the curl with a single swipe of the blade.
We stood quietly in the dimming afternoon light. A surge of power washed through the ground underneath my feet. The goddess was here. For a moment I could imagine the temple as it once was-pale, gleaming, whole. I stole a glance at Philippe. With a bear pelt draped over his shoulders, he, too, looked like the savage remainder of a lost world. And he was waiting for something.
A white buck with curved antlers picked its way out of the cypress and stood, breath steaming from its nostrils. With quiet steps the buck picked his way over to me. His huge brown eyes were challenging, and he was close enough for me to see the sharp edges on his horns. The buck looked haughtily at Philippe and bellowed, one beast's greeting to another.
"Sas efxaristo," Philippe said gravely, his hand over his heart. He turned to me. "Artemis has accepted your gifts. We can go now."
Matthew had been listening for sounds of our arrival and was waiting, his face uncertain, in the courtyard as we rode up. "Ready yourself for the banquet," Philippe suggested as I dismounted. "Our guests will be arriving soon."
I gave Matthew what I hoped was a confident smile before I went upstairs. As darkness fell, the hum of activity told me the chateau was filling up with people. Soon Catrine and Jehanne came to get me dressed. The gown they'd laid out was by far the grandest thing I'd ever worn. The dark green fabric reminded me of the cypress by the temple now, rather than the holly that decorated the chateau for Advent. And the silver oak leaves embroidered on the bodice caught the light from the candles as the buck's antlers had caught the rays of the setting sun.
The girls' eyes were shining when they finished. I'd been able to get only a glimpse of my hair (swept up into coils and twisted into braids) and my pale face in Louisa's polished silver mirror. But their expressions indicated that my transformation was weddingworthy.
"Bien," Jehanne said softly.
Catrine opened the door with a flourish, and the gown's silver stitches flared to life in the torchlight from the hall. I held my breath while I waited for Matthew's reaction.
"Jesu," he said, stunned. "You are beautiful, mon coeur." Matthew took my hands and lifted my arms to see the full effect. "Good God, are you wearing two sets of sleeves?"
"I think there are three," I said with a laugh. I had on a linen smock with tight lace cuffs, tight green sleeves that matched my bodice and skirts, and voluminous puffs of green silk that fell from my shoulders and were caught up at the elbows and wrists. Jehanne, who had been in Paris last year to attend upon Louisa, assured me the design was a la mode.
"But how am I supposed to kiss you with all this in the way?" Matthew drew his finger around my neck. My pleated ruff, which was standing out a good four inches, quivered in response.
"If you squash it, Jehanne will have a stroke," I murmured as he carefully took my face in his hands. She'd employed a contraption resembling a curling iron to bend yards of linen into the crisp figure-eight formations. It had taken her hours.
"Never fear. I'm a doctor." Matthew leaned in and pressed his mouth to mine. "There, not a pleat disturbed."
Alain coughed gently. "They are waiting for you."
"Matthew," I said, catching at his hand, "I need to tell you something."
He motioned to Alain, and we were left alone in the corridor.
"What is it?" he said uneasily.
"I sent Catrine to the stillroom to put away Marthe's herbs." It was a far bigger step into the unknown than the one that I'd taken in Sarah's hop barn to bring us here.
"I'm sure," I said, remembering Philippe's words at the temple.
Our entry into the hall was greeted with whispers and sidelong glances. The changes in my appearance had been noted, and the nods told me that at last I looked like someone who was fit to marry milord.
"There they are," Philippe boomed from the family's usual table. Someone began to clap, and soon the hall rang with the sound. Matthew's smile was shy at first, but as the noise increased, it broadened into a proud grin.
We were seated in the places of honor on either side of Philippe, who then called for the first course and music to accompany it. I was offered small portions of everything Chef had prepared. There were dozens of dishes: a soup made with chickpeas, grilled eel, a delicious puree of lentils, salt cod in garlic sauce, and an entire fish that swam through a gelatinous sea of aspic, with sprigs of lavender and rosemary impersonating water plants. Philippe explained that the menu had been the subject of heated negotiations between Chef and the village priest. After the exchange of several embassies, the two had finally agreed that tonight's meal would strictly adhere to the Friday dietary prohibitions against meat, milk, and cheese, while tomorrow's banquet would be a no-holds-barred extravaganza.
As befitted the groom, Matthew's portions were somewhat heartier than mine-unnecessarily so, since he ate nothing and drank little. The men at the adjoining tables joked with him about the need to bolster his strength for the ordeals to come.
By the time the hippocras started flowing and a delicious nut brittle made with walnuts and honey was passed along the table, their commentary was downright ribald and Matthew's responses were just as barbed. Happily, most of the insults and advice were delivered in languages I didn't fully understand, but Philippe clapped his hands over my ears occasionally anyway.
My heart lifted as the laughter and music swelled. Tonight Matthew didn't look like a fifteen-hundred-year-old vampire but like every other groom the night before his wedding: sheepish, pleased, a bit anxious. This was the man I loved, and my heart stilled for just a moment whenever his gaze settled on me.
The singing started when Chef served the last selection of wine and the candied fennel and cardamom seeds. A man at the opposite end of the hall sang out in a deep bass, and his neighbors picked up the melody. Soon everybody was joining in, with so much stomping and clapping that you couldn't hear the musicians trying desperately to keep up with them.
While the guests were busily devising new songs, Philippe made the rounds, greeting everyone by name. He threw babies into the air, inquired after animals, and listened attentively while the elderly cataloged their aches and pains.
"Just look at him," Matthew marveled, taking my hand. "How does Philippe manage to make every one of them feel that they're the most important guest in the room?"
"You tell me," I said with a laugh. When Matthew looked confused, I shook my head. "Matthew, you are exactly the same. All you need do to take charge of a roomful of people is to enter it."
"If you want a hero like Philippe, you're going to be disappointed in me," he said.
I took his face in my hands. "For your wedding gift, I wish I had a spell that could make you see yourself as others do."
"Based on what's reflected in your eyes, I look much the same. A little nervous, perhaps, given what Guillaume just shared with me about the carnal appetites of older women," Matthew joked, trying to distract me. But I was having none of it.
"If you aren't seeing a leader of men, then you're not looking carefully." Our faces were so close I could smell the spice on his breath. Without thinking, I drew him to me. Philippe had tried to tell Matthew he was worthy of being loved. Perhaps a kiss would be more convincing.
In the distance I heard shouts and more clapping. Then there was whooping.
"Leave the girl something to look forward to tomorrow, Matthaios, or she may not meet you at the church!" Philippe called out, drawing more laughter from the crowd. Matthew and I parted in happy embarrassment. I searched the hall and found Matthew's father by the fireside, tuning an instrument with seven strings. Matthew told me it was a kithara. A hush of anticipation fell over the room.
"When I was a child, there were always stories at the end of a banquet such as this, and tales of heroes and great warriors." Philippe plucked the strings, eliciting a shower of sound. "And just like all men, heroes fall in love." His strumming continued, lulling the audience into the rhythms of his story.
"A hero with dark hair and green eyes named Peleus left his home to seek his fortune. It was a place much like Saint-Lucien, hidden in the mountains, but Peleus had long dreamed of the sea and the adventures he might have in foreign lands. He gathered his friends together, and they voyaged through the oceans of the world. One day they arrived at an island famed for its beautiful women and the powerful magic that they had at their command." Matthew and I exchanged long glances. Philippe's deep voice sang out his next words:
Far happier then were the times for men,
Fondly yearned for now!
You heroes, so bred Of gods in those silver days, favor me
As I call you now with my magic song.
The room was mesmerized by Philippe's otherworldly bass.
"There Peleus first saw Thetis, daughter of Nereus, the god of the sea who told no lies and saw the future. From her father Thetis had the gift of prophecy and could twist her shape from moving water to living fire to the very air itself. Though Thetis was beautiful, no one would take her for a wife, for an oracle foretold that her son would be more powerful than his father."
"Peleus loved Thetis in spite of the prophecy. But to marry such a woman, he had to be brave enough to hold Thetis while she changed from one element into another. Peleus took Thetis from the island and clasped her to his heart while she transformed herself from water to fire to serpent to lioness. When Thetis became a woman once more, he took her to his home and the two were wed."
"And the child? Did Thetis's son destroy Peleus as the omens foretold?" a woman whispered when Philippe fell silent, his fingers still drawing music from the kithara.
"The son of Peleus and Thetis was a great hero, a warrior blessed in both life and death, called Achilles." Philippe gave the woman a smile. "But that is a tale for another night."
I was glad that his father didn't give a full account of the wedding and how the Trojan War got started there. And I was even happier that he didn't go on to tell the tale of Achilles' youth: the horrible spells his mother used to try to make him immortal as she was and the young man's uncontrollable rage-which caused him far more trouble than did his famously unprotected heel.
"It's just a story," Matthew whispered, sensing my unease. But it was the stories that creatures told, over and over without knowing what they meant, that were often the most important, just as it was these time-worn rituals of honor, marriage, and family that people held most sacred even though they often seemed to ignore them.
"Tomorrow is an important day, one that we have all longed for."
Philippe stood, kithara in his hands. "It is customary for the bride and groom to separate until the wedding."
This was another ritual: a final, formal moment of parting to be followed by a lifetime of togetherness.
"The bride may, however, give the groom some token of affection to make sure he does not forget her during the lonely hours of the night,"
Philippe said, eyes twinkling with mischief.
Matthew and I rose. I smoothed down my skirts, my attention fixed resolutely on his doublet. The stitches on it were very fine, I noticed, tiny and regular. Gentle fingers lifted my chin, and I was lost instead in the play of smooth curves and sharp angles that made up Matthew's face. All sense of performance disappeared as we contemplated each other. We stood in the midst of the hall and the wedding guests, our kiss a spell that carried us to an intimate world of our own.
"I'll see you tomorrow afternoon," Matthew murmured against my lips as we parted.
"I'll be the one in the veil." Most brides didn't wear them in the sixteenth century, but they were an ancient custom, and Philippe said that no daughter of his was going to the church without one.
"I'd know you anywhere," he replied, flashing me a smile, "veil or no veil."
Matthew's eyes never wavered as Alain escorted me from the room. I felt the touch of them, cool and unblinking, long after I left the hall.
The next day Catrine and Jehanne were so quiet that I slumbered through their usual morning chores. The sun was almost fully up when they finally pulled the bed curtains aside and announced it was time for my bath.
A procession of women with pitchers came to my chamber, chattering like magpies and filling an enormous copper tub that I suspected was normally used to make wine or cider. But the water was piping hot and the copper vessel retained the glorious warmth, so I wasn't inclined to quibble. I groaned in ecstasy and sank beneath the water's surface.
The women left me to soak, and I noticed that my few belongings- books, the notes I'd taken on alchemy and Occitan phrases-had disappeared. So, too, had the long, low chest that stored my clothes. When I asked Catrine, she explained that everything had been moved to milord's chambers on the other side of the chateau.
I was no longer Philippe's putative daughter, but Matthew's wife. My property had been relocated accordingly.
Mindful of their responsibility, Catrine and Jehanne had me out of the tub and dried off by the time the clock struck one. Overseeing their efforts was Marie, Saint-Lucien's best seamstress, who had come to put the finishing touches on her work. The contributions to my wedding gown that had been made by the village's tailor, Monsieur Beaufils, were not acknowledged.
To be fair to Marie, La Robe (I thought of my ensemble only in French, and always in capitals) was spectacular. How she had managed to complete it in such a short period of time was a deeply kept secret, though I suspected that every woman in the vicinity had contributed at least a stitch. Before Philippe announced I was getting married, the plan had been for a relatively simple dress of heavy, slate-colored silk. I had insisted on one pair of sleeves, not two, and a high neckline to keep out the winter drafts. There was no need to trouble with embroidery, I told Marie. I had also declined the outrageous birdcagelike supports that would extend the skirt in every direction.
Marie had used her powers of misunderstanding and creativity to modify my initial design long before Philippe told her where and when the gown would be worn. After that there was no holding the woman back.
"Marie, La Robe est belle," I told her, fingering the heavily embroidered silk. Stylized cornucopias, familiar symbols of abundance and fertility, were stitched all over in gold, black, and rose thread. Rosettes and sprigs of leaves accompanied the flower-filled horns, while bands of embroidery edged both pairs of sleeves. The same bands trimmed the edges of the bodice in a sinuous pattern of scrolls, moons, and stars. At the shoulders a row of square flaps called pickadils hid the laces that tied sleeve to bodice. Despite the elaborate ornamentation, the bodice's elegant curves fit perfectly, and my wishes on the subject of farthingales had at least been honored. The skirts were full, but that was due to the volume of fabric rather than any wire contraption. The only thing I wore under the petticoats was the stuffed doughnut that rested on my hips and silk hose.
"It has a strong line. Very simple," Marie assured me, tugging on the bottom of the bodice to help it lie more smoothly.
The women were almost finished with my hair when a knock sounded. Catrine rushed to open the door, turning over a basket of towels on her way.
It was Philippe, looking splendid in a rich brown suit, with Alain standing behind him. Matthew's father stared.
"Diana?" Philippe sounded unsure.
"What? Is something wrong?" I surveyed my gown and anxiously patted at my hair. "We don't have a mirror large enough for me to see-"
"You are beautiful, and the look on Matthew's face when he sees you will tell you this better than any reflection," Philippe said firmly.
"And you have a silver tongue, Philippe de Clermont," I said with a laugh. "What do you need?"
"I came to give you your wedding gifts." Philippe held out his hand, and Alain placed a large velvet bag in his palm. "There was no time to have something made, I'm afraid. These are family pieces."
He tipped the bag's contents into his hand. A stream of light and fire poured out: gold, diamonds, sapphires. I gasped. But there were more treasures hidden inside the velvet, including a rope of pearls, several crescent moons encrusted with opals, and an unusually shaped golden arrowhead, its edges softened with age.
"What are they for?" I asked in wonder.