In the middle of the night, I was awakened by conversation coming from Matthew's study. I felt the bed, but he was no longer with me. The leather straps that held up the mattress squeaked and stretched as I jumped to the cold floor. I shivered and threw on a shawl before leaving the room.
Judging by the pools of wax in the shallow candlestands, Matthew had been working for hours. Pierre was with him, standing next to the shelves built into a recess by the fireplace. He looked as though he'd been dragged backward through the Thames mud at low tide.
"I've been all over the city with Gallowglass and his Irish friends," Pierre murmured. "If the Scots know anything more about the schoolmaster, they will not divulge it, milord."
"What schoolmaster?" I stepped into the room. It was then I spotted the narrow door hidden in the wooden paneling.
"I am sorry, madame. I did not mean to wake you." Pierre's dismay showed through the filth, and the stench that accompanied him made my eyes water.
"It's all right, Pierre. Go. I'll find you later." Matthew waited while his servant fled, shoes squelching. Matthew's eyes drifted to the shadows by the fireplace.
"The room that lies beyond that door wasn't on your welcome tour," I pointed out, going to his side. "What's happened now?"
"More news from Scotland. A jury sentenced a wizard named John Fian-a schoolmaster from Prestonpans-to death. While I was away, Gallowglass tried to find out what truth, if any, lies behind the wild accusations: worshipping Satan, dismembering dead bodies in a graveyard, transforming moles' feet into pieces of silver so he was never without money, going to sea in a ship with the devil and Agnes Sampson to thwart the king's policies." Matthew tossed a paper onto the table in front of him. "So far as I can tell, Fian is one of what we used to call the tempestarii, and nothing more."
"A windwitch, or possibly a waterwitch," I said, translating the unfamiliar term.
"Yes," Matthew agreed with a nod. "Fian augmented his teacher's salary by causing thunderstorms during dry spells and early thaws when it looked as if the Scottish winter would never end. His fellow villagers adored him, by all accounts. Even Fian's pupils had nothing but praise. Fian might have been a bit of a seer-he's credited with foretelling people's deaths, but that could have been something Kit cooked up to embellish the story for an English audience. He's obsessed with a witch's second sight, as you'll remember."
"Witches are vulnerable to the shifting moods of our neighbors, Matthew. One minute we're friends, the next we're run out of town-or worse."
"What happened to Fian was definitely worse," Matthew said grimly.
"I can imagine," I said with a shudder. If Fian had been tortured as Agnes Sampson had, he must have welcomed death. "What's in that room?"
Matthew considered telling me that it was a secret but wisely refrained. He stood. "It would be better if I showed you. Stay by me. It's not yet dawn, and we can't take a candle into the room for fear that someone will see it from outside. I don't want you to trip." I nodded mutely and took his hand.
We stepped across the threshold into a long room with a row of windows barely larger than arrow slits tucked under the eaves. After a few moments, my eyes adjusted and gray shapes began to emerge from the gloom. A pair of old garden chairs woven from willow twigs stood across from each other, their backs curved forward. Low, battered benches were set out in two rows down the center of the room. Each bore a strange assortment of objects: books, papers, letters, hats, and clothes. From the right came a gleam of metal: swords, hilts up and points down. A pile of daggers rested on the floor nearby. There was a scratching sound, too, and a scurry of feet.
"Rats." Matthew's voice was matter-of-fact, but I couldn't help drawing my night rail tight against my legs. "Pierre and I do what we can, but it's impossible to get rid of them entirely. They find all this paper irresistible." He gestured up, and I noticed for the first time the bizarre festoons on the walls.
I crept closer and peered at the garlands. Each one hung from a thin, twisted cord affixed to the plaster with a square-headed nail. The cord had then been threaded through the upper-left-hand corner of a series of documents. The knot in the end of the cord was slung back up and looped around the same nail, creating a wreath of paper.
"One of the world's first file cabinets. You say I keep too many secrets," he said softly, reaching out and snagging one of the garlands. "You can add these to your reckoning."
"But there are thousands of them." Surely not even a fifteen-hundredyear-old vampire could possess so many.
"There are," Matthew agreed. He watched as my eyes swept the room, taking in the archive he guarded. "We remember what other creatures want to forget, and that makes it possible for the Knights of Lazarus to protect those in our care. Some of the secrets go back to the reign of the queen's grandfather. Most of the older files have already been moved to Sept-Tours for safekeeping."
"So many trails of paper," I murmured, "and all of them ultimately lead back to you and the de Clermonts." The room faded until I saw only the loops and swirls of the words unwinding into long, intertwined filaments. They formed a map of connections that linked subjects, authors, dates. There was something I needed to understand about these crisscrossing lines. . . .
"I've been going through these papers since you fell asleep, looking for references to Fian. I thought that there might be mention of him here," Matthew said, leading me back into his study, "something that might explain why his neighbors turned on him. There must be a pattern that will tell us why the humans are behaving this way."
"If you find it, my fellow historians will be eager to know. But understanding Fian's case doesn't guarantee you can prevent the same thing from happening to me." The ticking muscle in Matthew's jaw told me that my words found their target. "And I'm quite sure you didn't delve into the matter this closely before."
"I'm no longer that man who turned a blind eye to all this suffering- and I don't want to become him again." Matthew pulled out his chair and dropped heavily into it. "There must be something I can do."
I gathered him in my arms. Even seated, Matthew was so tall that the top of his head hit my rib cage. He burrowed into me. He stilled, then drew slowly away, his eyes fixed on my abdomen.
"Diana. You're-" He stopped.
"Pregnant. I thought so," I said matter-of-factly. "My period's been irregular ever since Juliette, so I wasn't sure. I was sick on the way from Calais to Dover, but the seas were rough and that fish I had before we left was definitely dodgy."
He continued to stare at my belly. I rattled on nervously.
"My high-school health teacher was right: You really can get pregnant the first time you have sex with a guy." I'd done the math and was pretty sure conception had occurred during our wedding weekend.
Still he was silent.
"Say something, Matthew."
"It's impossible." He looked stunned.
"Everything about us is impossible." I lowered a trembling hand to my stomach.
Matthew twined his fingers through mine and finally looked me in the eye. I was surprised by what I saw there: awe, pride, and a hint of panic. Then he smiled. It was an expression of complete joy.
"What if I'm no good at being a parent?" I asked uncertainly. "You've been a father-you know what to do."
"You're going to be a wonderful mother" was his prompt response. "All that children need is love, a grown-up to take responsibility for them, and a soft place to land." Matthew moved our clasped hands over my belly in a gentle caress. "We'll tackle the first two together. The last will be up to you. How are you feeling?"
"A bit tired and queasy, physically. Emotionally, I don't know where to begin." I drew a shaky breath. "Is it normal to be frightened and fierce and tender all at once?"
"Yes-and thrilled and anxious and sick with dread, too," he said softly.
"I know it's ridiculous, but I keep worrying that my magic might hurt the baby, even though thousands of witches give birth every year." But they aren't married to vampires.
"This isn't a normal conception," Matthew said, reading my mind. "Still, I don't think you need to concern yourself." A shadow moved through his eyes. I could practically see him adding one more worry to his list.
"I don't want to tell anyone. Not yet." I thought of the room next door. "Can your life include one more secret-at least for a little while?"
"Of course," Matthew said promptly. "Your pregnancy won't show for months. But Françoise and Pierre will know soon from your scent, if they don't already, and so will Hancock and Gallowglass. Happily, vampires don't usually ask personal questions."
I laughed softly. "It figures that I'll be the one to give the secret away. You can't possibly be any more protective, so no one is going to guess what we're hiding based on your behavior."
"Don't be too sure of that," he said, smiling broadly. Matthew flexed his fingers over mine. It was a distinctly protective gesture.
"If you keep touching me that way, people are going to figure it out pretty quickly," I agreed drily, running my fingers along his shoulder. He shivered, and I smiled. "You're not supposed to shiver when you feel something warm."
"That's not why I'm shivering." Matthew stood, blocking out the light from the candles.
My heart caught at the sight of him. He smiled, hearing the slight irregularity, and drew me toward the bed. We shed our clothes, tossing them to the floor, where they lay in two white pools that caught the silvery light from the windows.
Matthew's touches were feather-light while he tracked the minute changes already taking place in my body. He lingered over each centimeter of tender flesh, but his cool attention increased the ache rather than soothing it. Every kiss was as knotted and complex as our feelings about sharing a child. At the same time, the words he whispered in the darkness encouraged me to focus solely on him. When I could bear waiting no longer, Matthew seated himself within me, his movements unhurried and gentle, like his kiss.
I arched my back in an effort to increase the contact between us, and Matthew stilled. With my spine bowed, he was poised at the entrance to my womb. And in that brief, forever moment, father, mother, and child were as close as any three creatures could be.
"My whole heart, my whole life," he promised, moving within me.
I cried out, and Matthew held me close until the trembling stopped. He then kissed his way down the length of my body, starting with my witch's third eye and continuing on to my lips, throat, breastbone, solar plexus, navel, and, at last, my abdomen.
He stared down at me, shook his head, and gave me a boyish grin. "We made a child," he said, dumbfounded.
"We did," I agreed with an answering smile.
Matthew slid his shoulders between my thighs, pushing them wide. With one arm wrapped around my knee, and the other twined around the opposite hip so his hand could rest on the pulse there, he lowered his head onto my belly as though it were a pillow and let out a contented sigh. Utterly quiet, he listened for the soft whooshing of the blood that now sustained our child. When he heard it, he tilted his head so our eyes met. He smiled, bright and true, and returned to his vigil.
In the candlelit darkness of Christmas morning, I felt the quiet power that came from sharing our love with another creature. No longer a solitary meteor moving through space and time, I was now part of a complicated planetary system. I needed to learn how to keep my own center of gravity while being pulled this way and that by bodies larger and more powerful than I was. Otherwise Matthew, the de Clermonts, our child-and the Congregation-might pull me off course.
My time with my mother had been too short, but in seven years she had taught me plenty. I remembered her unconditional love, the hugs that seemed to encompass days, and how she was always right where I needed her to be. It was as Matthew said: Children needed love, a reliable source of comfort, and an adult willing to take responsibility for them.
It was time to stop treating our sojourn here as an advanced seminar in Shakespeare's England and recognize it instead as my last, best chance to figure out who I was, so that I could help my child understand his place in the world.
But first I needed to find a witch.