Matthew was waiting for me in Mary's airy solar at Baynard's Castle the next afternoon, staring out at the Thames with an amused expression. He turned at my approach, grinning at the Elizabethan version of a lab coat that covered my golden brown bodice and skirts. The underlying white sleeves that stuck out from my shoulders were ridiculously padded, but the ruff around my neck was small and unobtrusive, making it one of my more comfortable outfits.
"Mary can't leave her experiment. She said we should come in time for dinner on Monday." I flung my arms around his neck and kissed him soundly. He reared back.
"Why do you smell of vinegar?"
"Mary washes in it. It cleans your hands better than soap." "You left my house covered with the sweet scent of bread and honey,
and the Countess of Pembroke returns you to me smelling like a pickle." Matthew's nose went to the patch of skin behind my ear. He gave a satisfied sigh. "I knew I could find some place the vinegar hadn't reached."
"Matthew," I murmured. The countess's maid, Joan, was standing right behind us.
"You're behaving like a prim Victorian rather than a bawdy Elizabethan," Matthew said, laughing. He straightened with one last caress of my neck. "How was your afternoon?"
"Have you seen Mary's laboratory?" I exchanged the shapeless gray coat for my cloak before sending Joan away to tend to her other duties. "She's taken over one of the castle's towers and painted the walls with images of the philosopher's stone. It's like working inside a Ripley scroll! I've seen the Beinecke's copy at Yale, but it's only twenty feet long. Mary's murals are twice as big. It made it hard to focus on the work."
"What was your experiment?"
"We hunted the green lion," I replied proudly, referring to a stage of the alchemical process that combined two acidic solutions and produced startling color transformations. "We almost caught it, too. But then something went wrong and the flask exploded. It was fantastic!"
"I'm glad you don't work in my lab. Generally speaking, explosions are to be avoided when working with nitric acid. You two might do something a bit less volatile next time, like distilling rose water." Matthew's eyes narrowed. "You weren't working with mercury?"
"Don't worry. I wouldn't do anything that might harm the baby," I said defensively.
"Every time I say something about your well-being, you assume my concern lies elsewhere." His brows drew together in a scowl. Thanks to his dark beard and mustache-which I was still getting used to-Matthew looked even more forbidding. But I didn't want to argue with him.
"Sorry," I said quickly before changing the subject. "Next week we're going to mix up a fresh batch of prima materia. That has mercury in it, but I promise not to touch it. Mary wants to see if it will putrefy into the alchemical toad by the end of January."
"That sounds like a festive start to the New Year." Matthew said, settling the cloak over my shoulders.
"What were you looking at?" I peered out the windows.
"Someone's building a bonfire across the river for New Year's Eve. Every time they send the wagon for fresh wood, the local residents filch what's already there. The pile gets smaller by the hour. It's like watching Penelope ply her needle."
"Mary said no one will be working tomorrow. Oh, and to be sure to tell Françoise to buy extra manchet-that's bread, right?-and to soak it in milk and honey to make it soft again for Saturday's breakfast." It was Elizabethan French toast in all but name. "I think Mary's worried I might go hungry in a house run by vampires."
"Lady Pembroke has a don't-ask, don't-tell policy when it comes to creatures and their habits," Matthew observed.
"She certainly never mentioned what happened to her shoes," I said thoughtfully.
"Mary Sidney survives as her mother did: by turning a blind eye to every inconvenient truth. The women in the Dudley family have had to do so."
"Dudley?" I frowned. That was a family of notorious troublemakers- nothing at all like the mild-mannered Mary.
"Lady Pembroke's mother was Mary Dudley, a friend of Her Majesty and sister to the queen's favorite, Robert." Matthew's mouth twisted. "She was brilliant, just like her daughter. Mary Dudley filled her head with ideas so there was no room in it for knowledge of her father's treason, or her brothers' missteps. When she caught smallpox from our blessed sovereign, Mary Dudley never acknowledged that both the queen and her own husband thereafter preferred the company of others rather than face her disfigurement."
I stopped, shocked. "What happened to her?"
"She died alone and embittered, like most Dudley women before her. Her greatest triumph was marrying off her fifteen-year-old namesake to the forty-year-old Earl of Pembroke."
"Mary Sidney was a bride at fifteen?" The shrewd, vibrant woman ran an enormous household, reared a pack of energetic children, and was devoted to her alchemical experiments, all with no apparent effort. Now I understood how. Lady Pembroke was younger than me by a few years, but by the age of thirty she'd been juggling these responsibilities for half her life.
"Yes. But Mary's mother provided her all the tools necessary for her survival: iron discipline, a deep sense of duty, the best schooling money could buy, a love of poetry, and her passion for alchemy."
I touched my bodice, thinking of the life growing within me. What tools would he need to survive in the world?
We talked about chemistry on our way home. Matthew explained that the crystals that Mary brooded over like a hen were oxidized iron ore and that she would later distill them in a flask to make sulfuric acid. I'd always been more interested in the symbolism of alchemy than in its practical aspects, but my afternoon with the Countess of Pembroke had shown me how intriguing the links between the two might be.
Soon we were safely inside the Hart and Crown and I was sipping a warm tisane made from mint and lemon balm. It turned out the Elizabethans did have teas, but they were all herbal. I was chattering on about Mary when I noticed Matthew's smile.
"What's so funny?"
"I haven't seen you like this before," he commented.
"So animated-full of questions and reports of what you've been doing and all the plans you and Mary have for next week."
"I like being a student again," I confessed. "It was difficult at first, not to have all the answers. Over the years I've forgotten how much fun it is to have nothing but questions."
"And you feel free here, in a way that you didn't in Oxford. Secrets are a lonely business." Matthew's eyes were sympathetic as his fingers moved along my jaw.
"I was never lonely."
"Yes you were. I think you still are," he said softly.
Before I could shape a response, Matthew had me out of my seat and was backing us toward the wall by the fireplace. Pierre, who was nowhere to be seen only moments before, appeared at the threshold.
Then a knock sounded. Matthew's shoulder muscles bunched, and a dagger flashed at his thigh. When he nodded, Pierre stepped out onto the landing and flung open the door.
"We have a message from Father Hubbard." Two male vampires stood there, both dressed in expensive clothes that were beyond the reach of most messengers. Neither was more than fifteen. I'd never seen a teenage vampire and had always imagined there must be prohibitions against it.
"Master Roydon." The taller of the two vampires tugged at the tip of his nose and studied Matthew with eyes the color of indigo. Those eyes moved from Matthew to me, and my skin smarted from the cold. "Mistress." Matthew's hand tightened on his dagger, and Pierre moved to stand more squarely between us and the door.
"Father Hubbard wants to see you," the smaller vampire said, looking with contempt at the weapon in Matthew's hand. "Come when the clocks toll seven."
"Tell Hubbard I'll be there when it's convenient," said Matthew with a touch of venom.
"Not just you," the taller boy said.
"I haven't seen Kit," Matthew said with a touch of impatience. "If he's in trouble, your master has a better idea where to look for him than I do, Corner." It was an apt name for the boy. His adolescent frame was all angles and points.
"Marlowe's been with Father Hubbard all day." Corner's tone dripped with boredom.
"Has he?" Matthew said, eyes sharp.
"Yes. Father Hubbard wants the witch," Corner's companion said.
"I see." Matthew's voice went flat. There was a blur of black and silver, and his polished dagger was quivering, point first, in the doorjamb near Corner's eye. Matthew strolled in their direction. Both vampires took an involuntary step back. "Thank you for the message, Leonard." He nudged the door closed with his foot.
Pierre and Matthew exchanged a long, silent look while adolescent vampire feet racketed down the stairs.
"Hancock and Gallowglass," ordered Matthew.
"At once." Pierre whirled out of the room, narrowly avoiding Françoise. She pulled the dagger from the doorframe.
"We had visitors," Matthew explained before she could complain about the state of the woodwork.
"What is this about, Matthew?" I asked.
"You and I are going to meet an old friend." His voice remained ominously even.
I eyed the dagger, which was now lying on the table. "Is this old friend a vampire?"
"Wine, Françoise." Matthew grabbed at a few sheets of paper, disordering my carefully arranged piles. I muffled a protest as he picked up one of my quills and wrote with furious speed. He hadn't looked at me since the knock on the door.
"There is fresh blood from the butcher. Perhaps you should . . ."
Matthew looked up, his mouth compressed into a thin line. Françoise poured him a large goblet of wine without further protest. When she was finished, he handed her two letters.
"Take this to the Earl of Northumberland at Russell House. The other goes to Raleigh. He'll be at Whitehall." Françoise went immediately, and Matthew strode to the window, staring up the street. His hair was tangled in his high linen collar, and I had a sudden urge to put it to rights for him. But the set of his shoulders warned me that he wouldn't welcome such a proprietary gesture.
"Father Hubbard?" I reminded him. But Matthew's mind was elsewhere.
"You're going to get yourself killed," he said roughly, his back still turned. "Ysabeau warned me you have no instinct for self-preservation. How many times does something like this have to happen before you develop one?"
"What have I done now?"
"You wanted to be seen, Diana," he said harshly. "Well, you were."
"Stop looking out the window. I'm tired of talking to the back of your head." I spoke quietly, though I wanted to throttle him. "Who is Father Hubbard?"
"Andrew Hubbard is a vampire. He rules London."
"What do you mean, he rules London? Do all the vampires in the city obey him?" In the twenty-first century, London's vampires were renowned for their strong allegiance to the pack, their nocturnal habits, and their loyalty-or so I'd heard from other witches. Not as flamboyant as the vampires in Paris, Venice, or Istanbul, nor as bloodthirsty as those in Moscow, New York, and Beijing, London vampires were a well-organized bunch.
"Not just the vampires. Witches and daemons, too." Matthew turned on me, his eyes cold. "Andrew Hubbard is a former priest, one with a poor education and enough grasp of theology to cause trouble. He became a vampire when the plague first came to London. It had killed nearly half the city by 1349. Hubbard survived the first wave of the epidemic, caring for the sick and burying the dead, but in time he succumbed."
"And someone saved him by making him a vampire."
"Yes, though I've never been able to find out who it was. There are plenty of legends, though, most about his supposedly divine resurrection. When he was certain he was going to die, people say he dug a grave for himself in the churchyard and climbed into it to wait for God. Hours later Hubbard rose and walked out among the living." Matthew paused. "I don't believe he's been entirely sane since.
"Hubbard gathers up lost souls," Matthew continued. "There were too many to count in those days. He took them in-orphans, widows, men who had lost entire families in a single week. Those who fell ill he made into vampires, rebaptizing them and ensuring they had homes, food, and jobs. Hubbard considers them his children."
"Even the witches and daemons?"
"Yes," said Matthew tersely. "He takes them through a ritual of adoption, but it's nothing at all like the one Philippe performed. Hubbard tastes their blood. He claims it reveals the content of their souls and provides proof that God has entrusted them to his care."
"It reveals their secrets to him, too," I said slowly.
Matthew nodded. No wonder he wanted me to stay far away from this Father Hubbard. If a vampire tasted my blood, he would know about the baby-and who his father was.
"Philippe and Hubbard reached an agreement that exempted the de Clermonts from his family rituals and obligations. I probably should have told him you were my wife before we entered the city."
"But you chose not to," I said carefully, hands clenching. Now I knew why Gallowglass had requested that we dock somewhere other than at the foot of Water Lane. Philippe was right. There were times when Matthew behaved like an idiot-or the most arrogant man alive.
"Hubbard stays out of my way, and I stay out of his. As soon as he knows you're a de Clermont, he'll leave you alone, too." Matthew spotted something in the street below. "Thank God." Heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs, and a minute later Gallowglass and Hancock stood in our parlor. "It took you two long enough."
"And hello to you, Matthew," Gallowglass said. "So Hubbard's demanded an audience at last. And before you suggest it, don't even think about tweaking his nose by leaving Auntie here. Whatever the plan, she's going, too."
Uncharacteristically, Matthew ran his hand through his hair from back to front.
"Shit," Hancock said, watching the progress of Matthew's fingers. Making his hair stand up like a cockscomb was apparently another of Matthew's tells-one that meant his creative well of evasion and half-truths had run dry. "Your only plan was to avoid Hubbard. You don't have another. We've never been certain if you were a brave man or a fool, de Clermont, but I think this might decide the question-and not in your favor."
"I planned to take Diana to Hubbard on Monday."
"After she'd been in the city for ten days," Gallowglass observed.
"There was no need for haste. Diana is a de Clermont. Besides, we aren't in the city," Matthew said quickly. At my look of confusion, he continued. "The Blackfriars isn't really part of London."
"I'm not going into Hubbard's den and arguing the geography of the city with him again," Gallowglass said, slapping his gloves against his thigh. "He didn't agree when you made this argument so you could station the brotherhood in the Tower after we arrived to help the Lancastrians in 1485, and he's not going to agree to it now."
"Let's not keep him waiting," said Hancock.
"We have plenty of time." Matthew's tone was dismissive.
"You never have understood the tides, Matthew. I assume we're going by water, since you think the Thames isn't really part of the city either. If so, we may already be too late. Let's move." Gallowglass jerked his thumb in the direction of the front door.
Pierre was waiting for us there, tugging black leather over his hands. He'd swapped his usual brown cloak for a black one that was far too long to be fashionable. A silver device covered his right arm: a snake circling a cross with a crescent moon tucked into the upper quadrant. This was Philippe's crest, distinct from Matthew's only by the absence of the star and fl e u r - d e - l i s.
Once Gallowglass and Pierre were similarly outfitted, Françoise settled a matching cloak on Matthew's shoulders. Its heavy folds swept the floor, making him look taller and even more imposing. When the four of them stood together, it was an intimidating sight, one that provided a plausible inspiration for every human account of darkly cloaked vampires ever written.
At the bottom of Water Lane, Gallowglass surveyed the available vessels. "That one might hold us all," he said, pointing to a long rowboat and letting out an ear-piercing whistle. When the man standing by it asked where we were headed, the vampire embarked on a complicated set of instructions regarding our route, which of the city's many docks we were going to put in to, and who would be rowing. After Gallowglass growled at him, the poor man huddled near the lamp in the bow of his boat and looked nervously over his shoulder every now and again.
"Frightening every boatman we meet is not going to improve relations with our neighbors," I commented as Matthew boarded, looking pointedly at the brewery next door. Hancock picked me up without ceremony and handed me off to my husband. Matthew's arm tightened around me as the boat shot out into the river. Even the waterman gasped at the speed.