"There's no need to draw attention to ourselves, Gallowglass," Matthew said sharply.
"Do you want to row and I'll keep your wife warm?" When Matthew didn't reply, Gallowglass shook his head. "Thought not."
The soft glow of lamps from London Bridge penetrated the gloom ahead of us, and the crashing sound of fast-moving water became louder with each stroke that Gallowglass took. Matthew eyed the shoreline. "Put in at the Old Swan Stairs. I want to be back in this boat and headed upstream before the tide ebbs."
"Quiet." Hancock's whisper had a sharp edge. "We're supposed to be sneaking up on Hubbard. We might as well have proceeded down Cheapside with trumpets and banners for all the noise you're making."
Gallowglass turned back toward the stern and gave two powerful pulls with his left hand. A few more pulls put us at the landing-nothing more than a rickety set of steps, really, attached to some listing pylons-where several men waited. The boatman waved them off with a few terse words, hopping out of the boat as soon as he was able.
We climbed to street level and wended through winding lanes in silence, darting between houses and across small gardens. The vampires moved with the stealth of cats. I moved less surely, stumbling on loose stones and stepping into waterlogged potholes. At last we turned in to a broad street. Laughter came from the far end, and light spilled into the street from wide windows. I rubbed my hands together, drawn to the warmth. Perhaps that was our destination. Perhaps this would be simple, and we could meet Andrew Hubbard, show him my wedding ring, and return home.
Matthew led us across the street instead and into a desolate churchyard whose gravestones tipped toward each other as if the dead sought comfort from one another. Pierre had a solid metal ring full of keys, and Gallowglass fitted one into the lock of the door next to the bell tower. We walked through the ramshackle nave and passed through a wooden door to the left of the altar. Narrow stone stairs twisted down into the darkness. With my limited warmblooded sight, there was no way to keep my bearings as we twisted and turned through narrow passageways and crossed expanses that smelled of wine, must, and human decay. The experience was straight out of the tales that humans told to discourage people from lingering in church basements and graveyards.
We moved deeper into a warren of tunnels and subterranean rooms and entered a dimly lit crypt. Hollow eyes stared out from the heaped skulls in a small ossuary. A vibration in the stone floor and the muffled sound of bells indicated that somewhere above us the clocks were striking seven. Matthew hurried us along into another tunnel that showed a soft glow in the distance.
At the end we stepped into a cellar used to store wine unloaded from ships on the Thames. A few barrels stood by the walls, and the fresher scent of sawdust competed with the smell of old wine. I spied the source of the former aromas: neatly stacked coffins, arranged by size from long boxes capable of holding Gallowglass to minuscule caskets for infants. Shadows moved and flickered in the deep corners, and in the center of the room a ritual of some kind was taking place amid a throng of creatures.
"My blood is yours, Father Hubbard." The man who spoke was frightened. "I give it willingly, that you might know my heart and number me among your family." There was silence, a cry of pain. Then the air filled with a taut sense of expectation.
"I accept your gift, James, and promise to protect you as my child," a rough voice answered. "In exchange you will honor me as your father. Greet your brothers and sisters."
Amid the hubbub of welcome, my skin registered a sensation of ice.
"You're late." The rumble of sound cut through the chatter and set the hair on my neck prickling. "And traveling with a full retinue, I see."
"That's impossible, since we had no appointment." Matthew gripped my elbow as dozens of glances nudged, tingled, and chilled my skin.
Soft steps approached, circled. A tall, thin man appeared directly before me. I met his stare without flinching, knowing better than to show fear to a vampire. Hubbard's eyes were deep-set under a heavy brow bone with veins of blue, green, and brown radiating through the slate-colored iris.
The vampire's eyes were the only colorful thing about him. Otherwise he was preternaturally pale, with white-blond hair cropped close to his skull, nearly invisible eyebrows and lashes, and a wide horizontal slash of lips set in a clean-shaven face. His long black coat, which looked like a cross between a scholar's gown and a cleric's cassock, accentuated his cadaverous build. There was no mistaking the strength in his broad, slightly stooped shoulders, but the rest of him was practically skeletal.
There was a blur of motion as blunt, powerful fingers took my chin and jerked my head to the side. In the same instant, Matthew's hand wrapped around the vampire's wrist.
Hubbard's cold glance touched my neck, taking in the scar there. For once I wished Françoise had outfitted me with the largest ruff she could find. He exhaled in an icy gust smelling of cinnabar and fir before his wide mouth tightened, the edges of his lips turning from pale peach to white.
"We have a problem, Master Roydon," said Hubbard.
"We have several, Father Hubbard. The first is that you have your hands on something that belongs to me. If you don't remove them, I'll tear this den to pieces before sunrise. What happens afterward will make every creature in the city-daemon, human, wearh, and witch-think the end of days is upon us." Matthew's voice vibrated with fury.
Creatures emerged from the shadows. I saw John Chandler, the apothecary from Cripplegate, who met my eyes defiantly. Kit was there, too, standing next to another daemon. When his friend's arm slid through the crook in his elbow, Kit pulled away slightly.
"Hello, Kit," Matthew said, his voice dead. "I thought you would have run off and hidden by now."
Hubbard held my chin for a few moments longer, pulling my head back until I faced him once more. My anger at Kit and the witch who had betrayed us must have shown, and he shook his head in warning.
"'Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart,'" he murmured, releasing me. Hubbard's eyes swept the room. "Leave us."
Matthew's hands cupped my face, and his fingers smoothed the skin of my chin to erase Hubbard's scent. "Go with Gallowglass. I'll see you shortly."
"She stays," Hubbard said.
Matthew's muscles twitched. He wasn't used to being countermanded. After a considerable pause, he ordered his friends and family to wait outside. Hancock was the only one not to obey immediately.
"Your father says a wise man can see more from the bottom of a well than a fool can from a mountaintop. Let's hope he's right," Hancock muttered, "because this is one hell of a hole you've put us in tonight." With one last look, he followed Gallowglass and Pierre through a break in the far wall. A heavy door closed, and there was silence.
The three of us stood so close that I could hear the next soft expulsion of air from Matthew's lungs. As for Hubbard, I wondered if the plague had done more than drive him mad. His skin was waxy rather than porcelain, as though he still suffered the lingering effect of illness.
"May I remind you, Monsieur de Clermont, you are here under my sufferance." Hubbard sat in the chamber's grand, solitary chair. "Even though you represent the Congregation, I permit your presence in London because your father demands it. But you have flouted our customs and allowed your wife to enter the city without introducing her to me and to my flock. And then there is the matter of your knights."
"Most of the knights who accompanied me have lived in this city longer than you have, Andrew. When you insisted they join your 'flock' or leave the city boundaries, they resettled outside the walls. You and my father agreed that the de Clermonts would not bring more of the brotherhood into the city. I haven't."
"And you think my children care about these subtleties? I saw the rings they wore and the devices on their cloaks." Hubbard leaned forward, his eyes menacing. "I was led to believe you were halfway to Scotland. Why are you still here?"
"Perhaps you don't pay your informants enough," Matthew suggested. "Kit's very short on funds these days."
"I don't buy love and loyalty, nor do I resort to intimidation and torment to have my way. Christopher willingly does what I ask, like all godly children do when they love their father."
"Kit has too many masters to be faithful to any one of them."
"Couldn't the same be said of you?" After delivering his challenge to Matthew, Hubbard turned to me and deliberately drank in my scent. He made a soft, sorrowful sound. "But let us speak of your marriage. Some of my children believe that relationships between a witch and a wearh are abhorrent. But the Congregation and its covenant are no more welcome in my city than are your father's vengeful knights. Both interfere with God's wish that we live as one family. Also, your wife is a time spinner," Hubbard said. "I do not approve of time spinners, for they tempt men and women with ideas that do not belong here."
"Ideas like choice and freedom of thought?" I interjected. "What are you afraid-"
"Next," Hubbard interrupted, his focus still on Matthew as though I were invisible, "there is the matter of your feeding on her." His eyes moved to the scar that Matthew had left on my neck. "When the witches discover it, they will demand an inquiry. If your wife is found guilty of willingly offering her blood to a vampire, she will be shunned and cast out of London. If you are found guilty of taking it without her consent, you will be put to death."
"So much for family sentiment," I muttered.
"Diana," Matthew warned.
Hubbard tented his fingers and studied Matthew once more. "And finally, she is breeding. Will the child's father come looking for her?"
That brought my responses to a halt. Hubbard had not yet ferreted out our biggest secret: that Matthew was the father of my child. I fought down the panic. Think-and stay alive. Maybe Philippe's advice would get us out of this predicament.
"No," Matthew said shortly.
"So the father is dead-from natural causes or by your hand," Hubbard said, casting a long look at Matthew. "In that case the witch's child will be brought into my flock when it is born. His mother will become one of my children now."
"No," Matthew repeated, "she will not."
"How long do you imagine the two of you will survive outside London when the rest of the Congregation hears of these offenses?" Hubbard shook his head. "Your wife will be safe here so long as she is a member of my family and there is no more sharing of blood between you."
"You will not put Diana through that perverted ceremony. Tell your 'children' that she belongs to you if you must, but you will not take her blood or that of her child."
"I will not lie to the souls in my care. Why is it, my son, that secrets and war are the only responses you have when God puts a challenge before you? They only lead to destruction." Hubbard's throat worked with emotion. "God reserves salvation for those who believe in something greater than themselves, Matthew."
Before Matthew could shoot back a reply, I put my hand on his arm to quiet him.
"Excuse me, Father Hubbard," I said. "If I understand correctly, the de Clermonts are exempt from your governance?"
"That is correct, Mistress Roydon. But you are not a de Clermont. You are merely married to one."
"Wrong," I retorted, keeping my husband's sleeve in a tight grip. "I am Philippe de Clermont's blood-sworn daughter, as well as Matthew's wife. I'm a de Clermont twice over, and neither I nor my child will ever call you father."
Andrew Hubbard looked stunned. As I heaped silent blessings on Philippe for always staying three steps ahead of the rest of us, Matthew's shoulders finally relaxed. Though far away in France, his father had ensured our safety once more.
"Check if you like. Philippe marked my forehead here," I said, touching the spot between my brows where my witch's third eye was located. It was slumbering at the moment, unconcerned with vampires.
"I believe you, Mistress Roydon," Hubbard said finally. "No one would have the temerity to lie about such a thing in a house of God."
"Perhaps you can help me, then. I'm in London to seek help with some finer points of magic and witchcraft. Who among your children would you recommend for the task?" My request erased Matthew's grin.
"Diana," he growled.
"My father would be very pleased if you could assist me," I said, calmly ignoring him.
"And what form would this pleasure take?" Andrew Hubbard was a Renaissance prince, too, and interested in gaining whatever strategic advantage he could.
"First, my father would be pleased to hear about our quiet evening at home on the eve of the New Year," I said, meeting his eyes. "Everything else I tell him in my next letter will depend on the witch you send to the Hart and Crown."
Hubbard considered my request. "I will discuss your needs with my children and decide who might best serve you."
"Whoever he sends will be a spy," Matthew warned.
"You're a spy, too," I pointed out. "I'm tired. I want to go home."
"Our business here is done, Hubbard. I trust that Diana, like all de Clermonts, is in London with your approval." Matthew turned to leave without waiting for an answer.
"Even de Clermonts must be careful in the city," Hubbard called after us. "See that you remember it, Mistress Roydon."
Matthew and Gallowglass spoke in low voices on our row home, but I was silent. I refused help getting out of the boat and began the climb up Water Lane without waiting for them. Even so, Pierre was ahead of me by the time I reached the passage into the Hart and Crown, and Matthew was at my elbow. Inside, Walter and Henry were waiting for us. They shot to their feet.
"Thank God," Walter said.
"We came as soon as we heard that you were in need. George is sick abed, and neither Kit nor Tom could be found," Henry explained, eyes darting anxiously between me and Matthew.
"I'm sorry to have called you. My alarm was premature," Matthew said, his cloak swirling around his feet as he took it from his shoulders.
"If it concerns the order-" Walter began, eyeing the cloak.
"It doesn't," Matthew assured him.
"It concerns me," I said. "And before you come up with some other disastrous scheme, understand this: The witches are my concern. Matthew is being watched, and not just by Andrew Hubbard."
"He's used to it," Gallowglass said gruffly. "Pay the gawpers no mind, Auntie."
"I need to find my own teacher, Matthew," I said. My hand fluttered down to where the point of my bodice covered the top of my belly. "No witch is going to part with her secrets so long as any of you are involved. Everyone who enters this house is either a wearh, a philosopher, or a spy. Which means, in the eyes of my people, that any one of you could turn us into the authorities. Berwick may seem far away, but the panic is spreading."
Matthew's gaze was frosty, but at least he was listening.
"If you order a witch here, one will come. Matthew Roydon always gets his way. But instead of help, I'll get another performance like the one Widow Beaton gave. That's not what I need."
"You need Hubbard's help even less," Hancock said sourly.
"We don't have much time," I reminded Matthew. Hubbard didn't know that the baby was Matthew's, and Hancock and Gallowglass hadn't perceived the changes to my scent-yet. But this evening's events had driven home our precarious position.
"All right, Diana. We'll leave the witches to you. But no lies," Matthew said, "and no secrets either. One of the people in this room has to know where you are at all times."
"Matthew, you cannot-" Walter protested.
"I trust my wife's judgment," Matthew said firmly.
"That's what Philippe says about Granny," Gallowglass muttered under his breath. "Just before all hell breaks loose."