"I'm going out."
Françoise looked up from her sewing. Thirty seconds later Pierre was climbing the stairs. Had Matthew been at home, he would no doubt have appeared as well, but he was out conducting some mysterious business in the city. I'd woken to the sight of his damp suit still drying by the fireplace. He'd been called away in the night and returned, only to leave once more.
"Indeed?" Françoise's eyes narrowed. She had suspected I was up to no good ever since I'd gotten dressed. Instead of grumbling about the number of petticoats she pulled over my head, today I'd added another made out of warm gray flannel. Then we argued about which gown I should wear. I preferred the comfortable clothes I'd brought from France over Louisa de Clermont's more splendid garments. Matthew's sister, with her dark hair and porcelain skin, could pull off a gown of vivid turquoise velvet ("Verdigris," Françoise had corrected me) or a sickly gray-green taffeta (appropriately called "Dying Spaniard"), but they looked ghastly with my faint freckles and reddish-blond curls, and they were too grand to wear around town.
"Perhaps madame should wait until Master Roydon returns," Pierre suggested. He shifted nervously from one foot to the other.
"No, I think not. I've made a list of things I need, and I want to go shopping for them myself." I scooped up the leather bag of coins given to me by Philippe. "Is it all right to carry a bag, or am I supposed to stick the money into my bodice and fish the coins out when necessary?" This aspect of historical fiction had always fascinated me-women stuffing things into their dresses-and I was looking forward to discovering whether the items were as easy to remove in public as the novelists suggested. Sex was certainly not as easy to arrange in the sixteenth century as it was made out to be in some romances. There were too many clothes in the way, for a start.
"Madame will not carry money at all!" Françoise pointed to Pierre, who loosened the strings of a bag tied around his waist. It was apparently bottomless and held a considerable stash of pointy implements, including pins, needles, something that looked like a set of picklocks, and a dagger. Once my leather bag was included, it jingled at his slightest movement.
Out on Water Lane, I strode with as much determination as my pattens (those helpful wooden wedges that slipped over my shoes and kept me from the muck) would allow in the direction of St. Paul's. The fur-lined cloak billowed around my feet, its thick fabric a barrier to the clinging fog. We were enjoying a temporary reprieve from the recent downpours, but the weather was by no means dry.
Our first stop was at Master Prior's bakery for some buns studded with currants and candied fruit. I was often hungry in the late afternoons and would want something sweet. My next visit was near the alley that linked the Blackfriars to the rest of London, at a busy printing shop marked with the sign of an anchor.
"Good morning, Mistress Roydon," the proprietor said the moment I crossed the threshold. Apparently my neighbors knew me without introduction. "You are here to pick up your husband's book?"
I nodded confidently in spite of not knowing which book he was talking about, and he pulled at a slim volume that was resting on a high shelf. A flip through the pages revealed that it dealt with military affairs and ballistics.
"I am sorry there was no bound copy of your physic book," he said as he wrapped Matthew's purchase. "When you can part with it, I will have it bound to suit you."
So this was where my compendium of illnesses and cures had come from. "I thank you, Master . . ." I trailed off.
"Field," he supplied.
"Master Field," I repeated. A bright-eyed young woman with a baby on her hip came out of the office at the back of the shop, a toddler clinging to her skirts. Her fingers were rough and ingrained with ink.
"Mistress Roydon, this is my wife, Jacqueline."
"Ah. Madame Roydon." The woman's accent was softly French and reminded me of Ysabeau. "Your husband told us you are a great reader, and Margaret Hawley reports that you study alchemy."
Jacqueline and her husband knew a great deal about my business. No doubt they also were apprised of my shoe size and the type of meat pie I preferred. It struck me as even odder, therefore, that no one in the Blackfriars seemed to have noticed I was a witch.
"Yes," I said, straightening the seams of my gloves. "Do you sell unbound paper, Master Field?"
"Of course," Field said with a confused frown. "Have you filled your book with commonplaces already?" Ah. He was the source of my notebook, too.
"I require paper for correspondence," I explained. "And sealing wax. And a signet. Can I purchase them here?" The Yale bookstore had all kinds of stationery, pens, and sticks of brightly colored, entirely pointless wax along with cheap brass seals made in the shape of letters. Field and his wife exchanged glances.
"I will send more paper this afternoon," he said. "But you'll want a goldsmith for the signet so it can be made into a ring. All I have here are worn letters from the printing press that are waiting to be melted down and recast."
"Or you could see Nicholas Vallin," Jacqueline suggested. "He is expert with metals, Mistress Roydon, and also makes fine clocks."
"Just down the lane?" I said, pointing over my shoulder.
"He is not a goldsmith," Field protested. "We do not want to cause Monsieur Vallin trouble."
Jacqueline was unperturbed. "There are benefits to living in the Blackfriars, Richard. Working outside the regulations of the guilds is one of them. Besides, the Goldsmiths Company will not bother anyone here for something as insignificant as a woman's ring. If you want sealing wax, Mistress Roydon, you will need to go to the apothecary."
Soap was on my list of purchases, too. And apothecaries used distillation apparatus. Even though my focus was necessarily shifting from alchemy to magic, there was no need to forgo an opportunity to learn something more useful.
"Where is the nearest apothecary?"
Pierre coughed. "Perhaps you should consult with Master Roydon."
Matthew would have all sorts of opinions, most of which would involve sending Françoise or Pierre to fetch what I required. The Fields awaited my reply with interest.
"Perhaps," I said, staring at Pierre indignantly. "But I would like Mistress Field's recommendation all the same."
"John Hester is highly regarded," Jacqueline said with a touch of mischief, pulling the toddler free of her skirts. "He provided a tincture for my son's ear that cured its aching." John Hester, if memory served, was interested in alchemy, too. Perhaps he knew a witch. Even better, he might be a witch, which would suit my real intentions admirably. I was not simply out shopping today. I was out to be seen. Witches were a curious bunch. If I offered myself up as bait, one would bite.
"It is said that even the Countess of Pembroke seeks his advice for the young lord's megraines," her husband added. So the entire neighborhood knew I'd been to Baynard's Castle, too. Mary was right: We were being watched.
"Master Hester's shop is near Paul's Wharf, marked with the sign of a still," she continued.
"Thank you, Mistress Field." Paul's Wharf must be near St. Paul's Churchyard, and I could go there that afternoon. I redrew my mental map of today's excursion.
After we said our farewells, Françoise and Pierre turned down the lane toward home.
"I'm going on to the cathedral," I said, heading in the other direction.
Impossibly, Pierre was standing before me. "Milord will not be pleased."
"Milord is not here. Matthew left strict instructions that I wasn't to go there without you. He didn't say I was a prisoner in my own house." I thrust the book and the buns at Françoise. "If Matthew returns before I do, tell him where we are and that I'll be back soon."
Françoise took the parcels, exchanged a long look with Pierre, and proceeded down Water Lane.
"Prenez garde, madame," Pierre murmured as I passed him.
"I'm always careful," I said calmly, stepping straight into a puddle.
Two coaches had collided and were jammed in the street leading to St. Paul's. The lumbering vehicles resembled enclosed wagons and were nothing like the dashing carriages in Jane Austen films. I skirted them with Pierre on my heels, dodging the irritated horses and the no-less-irritated occupants, who stood in the middle of the street and shouted about who was to blame. Only the coachmen seemed unconcerned, chatting to each other quietly from their perches above the fray.
"Does this happen often?" I asked Pierre, pulling back my hood so that I could see him.
"These new conveyances are a nuisance," he said sourly. "It was much better when people walked or rode horses. But it is no matter. They will never catch on."
That's what they told Henry Ford, I thought.
"How far is Paul's Wharf?"
"Milord does not like John Hester."
"That's not what I asked, Pierre."
"What does madame wish to purchase in the churchyard?" Pierre's distraction technique was familiar to me from years in the classroom. But I had no intention of telling anyone the real reason we were picking our way across London.
"Books," I said shortly. We entered the precincts of St. Paul's, where every inch not taken up by paper was occupied by someone selling a good or service. A kindly middleaged man sat on a stool, inside a lean-to affixed to a shed, which was itself built up against one of the cathedral walls. This was by no means an unusual office environment for the place. A huddle of people gathered around his stall. If I were lucky, there would be a witch among them.
I made my way through the crowd. They all seemed to be human. What a disappointment.
The man looked up, startled, from a document he was carefully transcribing for a waiting customer. A scrivener. Please, let this not be William Shakespeare, I prayed.
"Can I help you, Mistress Roydon?" he said in a French accent. Not Shakespeare. But how did he know my identity?
"Do you have sealing wax? And red ink?"
"I am not an apothecary, Mistress Roydon, but a poor teacher." His customers began to mutter about the scandalous profits enjoyed by grocers, apothecaries, and other extortionists.
"Mistress Field tells me that John Hester makes excellent sealing wax." Heads turned in my direction.
"Rather expensive, though. So is his ink, which he makes from iris flowers." The man's assessment was confirmed by murmurs from the crowd.
"Can you point me in the direction of his shop?"
Pierre grabbed my elbow. "Non," he hissed in my ear. As this only earned us more human attention, he quickly dropped it again.
The scrivener's hand rose and pointed east. "You will find him at Paul's Wharf. Go to the Bishop's Head and then turn south. But Monsieur Cornu knows the way."
I glanced back at Pierre, who was staring fixedly at a spot somewhere above my head. "Does he? Thank you."
"That's Matthew Roydon's wife?" someone said with a chuckle as we stepped out of the throng. "Mon dieu. No wonder he looks exhausted."
I didn't move immediately in the direction of the apothecary. Instead, with my eyes fixed on the cathedral, I began a slow circumnavigation of its enormous bulk. It was surprisingly graceful given its size, but that unfortunate lightning strike had ruined its appearance forever.
"This is not the fastest way to the Bishop's Head." Pierre was one step behind me instead of his usual three and therefore ran into me when I stopped to look up.
"How tall was the spire?"
"Almost as tall as the building is long. Milord was always fascinated by how they managed to build it so high." The missing spire would have made the whole building soar, with the slender pinnacle echoing the delicate lines of the buttresses and the tall Gothic windows.
I felt a surge of energy that reminded me of the temple to the goddess near Sept-Tours. Deep under the cathedral, something sensed my presence. It responded with a whisper, a slight stirring beneath my feet, a sigh of acknowledgment-and then it was gone. There was power here-the kind that was irresistible to witches.
Pushing my hood from my face, I slowly surveyed the buyers and sellers in St. Paul's Churchyard. Daemons, witches, and vampires sent flickers of attention my way, but there was too much activity for me to stand out. I needed a more intimate situation.
I continued past the north side of the cathedral and rounded its eastern end. The noise increased. Here all attention was focused on a man in a raised, open-air pulpit covered by a cross-topped roof. In the absence of an electric public-address system, the man kept his audience engaged by shouting, making dramatic gestures, and conjuring up images of fire and brimstone.
There was no way that one witch could compete with so much hell and damnation. Unless I did something dangerously conspicuous, any witch who spotted me would think I was nothing more than a fellow creature out shopping. I smothered a sigh of frustration. My plan had seemed infallible in its simplicity. In the Blackfriars there were no witches. But here in St. Paul's, there were too many. And Pierre's presence would deter any curious creature who might approach me.
"Stay here and don't move," I ordered, giving him a stern look. My chances of catching the eye of a friendly witch might increase if he weren't standing by radiating vampire disapproval. Pierre leaned against the upright support of a bookstall and fixed his eyes on me without comment.
I waded into the crowd at the foot of Paul's Cross, looking from left to right as if to locate a lost friend. I waited for a witch's tingle. They were here. I could feel them.
"Mistress Roydon?" a familiar voice called. "What brings you here?"
George Chapman's ruddy face poked out between the shoulders of two dour-looking gentlemen who were listening to the preacher blame the ills of the world on an unholy cabal of Catholics and merchant adventurers.
There was no witch to be found, but the members of the School of Night were, as usual, everywhere.
"I'm looking for ink. And sealing wax." The more I repeated this, the more inane it sounded.
"You'll need an apothecary, then. Come, I'll take you to my own man." George held out his elbow. "He is quite reasonable, as well as skilled."
"It is getting late, Master Chapman," Pierre said, materializing from nowhere.
"Mistress Roydon should take the air while she has the opportunity. The watermen say the rain will return soon, and they are seldom wrong. Besides, John Chandler's shop is just outside the walls, on Red Cross Street. It's not half a mile."
Meeting up with George now seemed fortuitous rather than exasperating. Surely we would pass a witch on our stroll.
"Matthew would not object to my walking with Master Chapman- especially not with you accompanying me, too," I told Pierre, taking George's arm. "Is your apothecary anywhere near Paul's Wharf?"
"Quite the opposite," George said. "But you don't want to shop on Paul's Wharf. John Hester is the only apothecary there, and his prices are beyond the bounds of good sense. Master Chandler will do you a better service, at half the cost."
I put John Hester on my to-do list for another day and took George's arm. We strolled out of St. Paul's Churchyard to the north, passing grand houses and gardens.
"That's where Henry's mother lives," George said, gesturing at a particularly imposing set of buildings to our left. "He hates the place and lived around the corner from Matt until Mary convinced him that his lodgings were beneath an earl's dignity. Now he's moved into a house on the Strand. Mary is pleased, but Henry finds it gloomy, and the damp disagrees with his bones."
The city walls were just beyond the Percy family house. Built by the Romans to defend Londinium from invaders, they still marked its official boundaries. Once we'd passed through Aldersgate and over a low bridge, there were open fields and houses clustered around churches. My gloved hand rose to my nose at the smell that accompanied this pastoral view.
"The city ditch," George said apologetically, gesturing at a river of sludge beneath our feet. "It is, alas, the most direct route. We will be in better air soon." I wiped at my watering eyes and sincerely hoped so.
George steered me along the street, which was broad enough to accommodate passing coaches, wagons full of food, and even a team of oxen. While we walked, he chatted about his visit with his publisher, William Ponsonby. Chapman was crushed that I didn't recognize the name. I knew little about the nuances of the Elizabethan book trade and so drew him out about the subject. George was happy to gossip about the many playwrights Ponsonby snubbed, including Kit. Ponsonby preferred to work with the serious literary set, and his stable of authors was illustrious indeed: Edmund Spenser, the Countess of Pembroke, Philip Sidney.
"Ponsonby would publish Matt's poetry as well, but he has refused." George shook his head, perplexed.
"His poetry?" That brought me to a sudden halt. I knew that Matthew admired poetry, but not that he wrote it.
"Yes. Matt insists his verses are fit only for the eyes of friends. We are all fond of his elegy for Mary's brother, Philip Sidney. 'But eies and eares and ev'ry thought / Were with his sweete perfections caught.'" George smiled. "It is marvelous work. But Matthew has little use for the press and complains that it has only resulted in discord and ill-considered opinions."
In spite of his modern laboratory, Matthew was an old fuddy-duddy with his fondness for antique watches and vintage automobiles. I pressed my lips together to keep from smiling at this latest evidence of his traditionalism. "What are his poems about?"
"Love and friendship for the most part, though recently he and Walter have been exchanging verses about . . . darker subjects. They seem to think out of a single mind these days."
"Darker?" I frowned.
"He and Walter do not always approve of what happens around them," George said in a low voice, his eyes darting over the faces of passersby. "They can be prone to impatience-Walter especially-and often give the lie to those in positions of power. It is a dangerous tendency."
"Give the lie," I said slowly. There was a famous poem called "The Lie." It was anonymous, but attributed to Walter Raleigh. "'Say to the court, it glows / And shines like rotten wood'?"
"So Matt has shared his verses with you." George sighed once more. "He manages to convey in a few words a full range of feeling and meaning. It is a talent I envy."
Though the poem was familiar, Matthew's relationship to it was not. But there would be plenty of time in the evenings ahead to pursue my husband's literary efforts. I dropped the subject and listened while George offered his opinions on whether writers were now required to publish too much in order to survive, and the need for decent copy editors to keep errors from creeping into printed books.
"There is Chandler's shop," George said, pointing to the intersection where an off-kilter cross sat on a raised platform. A gang of boys was busy chipping one of the rough cobbles out of the base. It didn't take a witch to foresee that the stone might soon be launched through a shop window.
The closer we got to the apothecary's place of business, the colder the air felt. Just as at St. Paul's, there was another surge of power, but an oppressive atmosphere of poverty and desperation hung over the neighborhood. An ancient tower crumbled on the northern side of the street, and the houses around it looked as though a gust of wind might carry them away. Two youths shuffled closer, eyeing us with interest, until a low hiss from Pierre stopped them in their tracks.