"Thank you, Walter. You are the only five men in the kingdom who might listen to my tale and not think me mad." Matthew raked his hands through his hair. "Do you recall when we spoke last of Giordano Bruno's ideas about an infinite number of worlds, unlimited by time or space?"

The men exchanged glances.

"I am not sure," Henry began delicately, "that we understand your meaning."

"Diana is from the New World." Matthew paused, which gave Marlowe the opportunity to look triumphantly about the room. "From the New World to come."

In the silence that followed, all eyes swiveled in my direction.

"She said she was from Cambridge," said Walter blankly.

"Not that Cambridge. My Cambridge is in Massachusetts." My voice creaked from stress and disuse. I cleared my throat. "The colony will exist north of Roanoke in another forty years."

A din of exclamations rose, and questions came at me from all directions. Harriot reached over and hesitantly touched my shoulder. When his finger met solid flesh, he withdrew it in wonder.

"I have heard about creatures who could bend time to their will. This is a marvelous day, is it not, Kit? Did you ever think to know a time spinner? We must be careful around her, of course, or we might get entangled in her web and lose our way." Harriot's face was wistful, as if he might enjoy being caught up in another world.

"And what brings you here, Mistress Roydon?" Walter's deep voice cut through the chatter.

"Diana's father was a scholar," Matthew replied for me. There were murmurs of interest, quelled by Walter's upraised hand. "Her mother, too. Both were witches and died under mysterious circumstances."

"That is something we share, then, D-D-Diana," Henry said with a shudder. Before I could ask the earl what he meant, Walter waved Matthew on.

"As a result her education as a witch was . . . overlooked," Matthew continued.

"It is easy to prey on such a witch." Tom frowned. "Why, in this New World to come, is more care not taken with such a creature?"

"My magic, and my family's long history with it, meant nothing to me. You must understand what it is like to want to go beyond the restrictions of your birth." I looked at Kit, the shoemaker's son, hoping for agreement if not sympathy, but he turned away.

"Ignorance is an unforgivable sin." Kit fussed with a bit of red silk that was peeking out of one of the dozens of jagged slashes cut into his black doublet.

"So is disloyalty," said Walter. "Go on, Matthew."

"Diana may not have been trained in the craft of a witch, but she is far from ignorant. She is a scholar, too," Matthew said proudly, "with a passion for alchemy."

"Lady alchemists are nothing but kitchen philosophers," Kit sniffed, "more interested in improving their complexions than understanding the secrets of nature."

"I study alchemy in the library-not the kitchen," I snapped, forgetting to modulate my tone or accent. Kit's eyes widened. "Then I teach students about the subject at a university."

"They will let women teach at the university?" George said, fascinated and repelled in equal measure.

"Matriculate, too," Matthew murmured, pulling on the tip of his nose apologetically. "Diana went to Oxford."

"That must have improved attendance at lectures," Walter commented drily. "Had women been allowed at Oriel, even I might have taken another degree. And are lady scholars under attack in this future colony somewhere north of Roanoke?" It was a reasonable conclusion to have drawn from Matthew's story thus far.

"Not all of them, no. But Diana found a lost book at the university." The members of the School of Night pitched forward in their seats. Lost books were of far more interest to this group than were ignorant witches and lady scholars. "It contains secret information about the world of creatures."

"The Book of Mysteries that is supposed to tell of our creation?" Kit looked amazed. "You've never been interested in those fables before, Matthew. In fact, you've dismissed them as superstition."

"I believe in them now, Kit. Diana's discovery brought enemies to her door."

"And you were with her. So her enemies lifted the latch and entered." Walter shook his head.

"Why did Matthew's regard effect such dire consequences?" George asked. His fingers searched out the black grosgrain ribbon that tied his spectacles to the fastenings on his doublet. The doublet was fashionably puffed out over his stomach and the stuffing rustled like a bag of oatmeal whenever he moved. George lifted the round frames to his face and examined me as if I were an interesting new object of study.

"Because witches and wearhs are forbidden to marry," Kit said promptly. I'd never heard the word wearh before, with its whistling w at the beginning and guttural sound at the end.

"So are daemons and wearhs." Walter clamped a warning hand on Kit's shoulder.

"Really?" George blinked at Matthew, then at me. "Does the queen forbid such a match?"

"It is an ancient covenant between creatures that none dares to disobey." Tom sounded frightened. "Those who do so are called to account by the Congregation and punished."

Only vampires as old as Matthew could remember a time before the covenant had established how creatures were to behave with one another and interact with the humans who surrounded us. "No fraternizing between otherworldly species" was the most important rule, and the Congregation policed the boundaries. Our talents-creativity, strength, supernatural power-were impossible to ignore in mixed groups. It was as if the power of a witch highlighted the creative energy of any nearby daemons, and the genius of a daemon made a vampire's beauty more striking. As for our relationships with humans, we were supposed to keep a low profile and steer clear of politics and religion.

Just this morning Matthew had insisted there were too many other problems facing the Congregation in the sixteenth century-religious war, the burning of heretics, and the popular hunger for the strange and bizarre newly fed by the technology of the printing press-for its members to bother with something so trivial as a witch and a vampire who had fallen in love. Given the bewildering and dangerous events that had taken place since I'd met Matthew in late September, I had found this difficult to believe.

"Which congregation?" George asked with interest. "Is this some new religious sect?"

Walter ignored his friend's question and gave Matthew a piercing look. Then he turned to me. "And do you still have this book?"

"No one has it. It went back into the library. The witches expect me to recall it for them."

"So you are hunted for two reasons. Some want to keep you from a wearh, others see you as a necessary means to a desired end." Walter pinched the bridge of his nose and looked at Matthew tiredly. "You are a veritable lodestone when it comes to trouble, my friend. And this couldn't have happened at a more inopportune time. The queen's anniversary celebration is less than three weeks away. You're expected at court."

"Never mind the queen's celebration! We are not safe with a time twister in our midst. She can see what fate has in store for each of us. The witch will be able to undo our futures, cause ill fortune-even hasten our deaths." Kit rocketed out of his chair to stand before Matthew. "How by all that is holy could you do this?"

"It seems your much-vaunted atheism has failed you, Kit," said Matthew evenly. "Afraid you might have to answer for your sins after all?"

"I may not believe in a beneficent, all-powerful deity as you do, Matthew, but there is more to this world than what's described in your philosophy books. And this woman-this witch-cannot be allowed to meddle in our affairs. You may be in her thrall, but I have no intention of putting my future in her hands!" Kit retorted.

"A moment." A look of growing astonishment passed over George's face. "Did you come to us from Chester, Matthew, or-"

"No. You must not answer, Matt," Tom said with sudden lucidity. "Janus has come among us to work some purpose, and we must not interfere."

"Talk sense, Tom-if you can," Kit said nastily.

"With one face, Matthew and Diana look to the past. With the other, they consider the future," Tom said, unconcerned with Kit's interruption.

"But if Matt is not . . ." George trailed off into silence.

"Tom is right," Walter said gruffly. "Matthew is our friend and has asked for our help. It is, so far as I can recall, the first time he has done so. That is all we need to know."

"He asks too much," Kit retorted.

"Too much? It's little and late, in my opinion. Matthew paid for one of my ships, saved Henry's estates, and has long kept George and Tom in books and dreams. As for you"-Walter surveyed Marlowe from head to toe-"everything in you and on you-from your ideas to your last cup of wine to the hat on your head-is thanks to Matthew Roydon's good graces. Providing a safe port for his wife during this present tempest is a trifle in comparison."

"Thank you, Walter." Matthew looked relieved, but the smile he turned on me was tentative. Winning over his friends-Walter in particular-had been more difficult than he'd anticipated.

"We will need to devise a story to explain how your wife came to be here," Walter said thoughtfully, "something to divert attention from her strangeness."

"Diana needs a teacher, too," added Matthew.

"She must be taught some manners, certainly," Kit grumbled. "No, her teacher must be another witch," Matthew corrected him.

Walter made a low sound of amusement. "I doubt there's a witch within twenty miles of Woodstock. Not with you living here."

"And what of this book, Mistress Roydon?" George whipped out a pointed gray stick wrapped in string from a pocket hidden away in the bulbous outlines of his short britches. He licked the tip of his pencil and held it expectantly. "Can you tell me its size and contents? I will look for it in Oxford."

"The book can wait," I said. "First I need proper clothes. I can't go out of the house wearing Pierre's jacket and the skirt that Matthew's sister wore to Jane Seymour's funeral."

"Go out of the house?" Kit scoffed. "Utter lunacy."

"Kit is right," George said apologetically. He made a notation in his book. "Your speech makes it apparent you are a stranger to England. I would be happy to give you elocution lessons, Mistress Roydon." The idea of George Chapman playing Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle was enough to make me look longingly at the exit.

"She shouldn't be allowed to speak at all, Matt. You must keep her quiet," Kit insisted.

"What we need is a woman, someone to advise Diana. Why is there not one daughter, wife, or mistress to be had among the five of you?" Matthew demanded. Deep silence fell.

"Walter?" Kit asked archly, sending the rest of the men into a fit of laughter and lightening the heavy atmosphere as though a summer storm had blown through the room. Even Matthew joined in.

Pierre entered as the laughter faded, kicking up sprigs of rosemary and lavender strewn among the rushes laid down to keep dampness from being tromped through the house. At the same moment, the bells began to toll the hour of twelve. Like the sight of the quinces, the combination of sounds and smells took me straight back to Madison.

Past, present, and future met. Rather than a slow, fluid unspooling, there was a moment of stillness as if time had stopped. My breath hitched.

"Diana?" Matthew said, taking me by the elbows.

Something blue and amber, a weave of light and color, caught my attention. It was tightly meshed in the corner of the room, where nothing could fit but cobwebs and dust. Fascinated, I tried to move toward it.

"Is she having a fit?" Henry asked, his face coming into focus over Matthew's shoulder.

The tolling of the bell stopped, and the scent of lavender faded. Blue and amber flickered to gray and white before disappearing.

"I'm sorry. I thought I saw something in the corner. It must have been a trick of the light," I said, pressing my hand to my cheek.

"Perhaps you are suffering from timelag, mon coeur," Matthew murmured. "I promised you a walk in the park. Will you go outside with me to clear your head?"

Maybe it was the aftereffects of timewalking, and perhaps fresh air would help. But we had just arrived, and Matthew hadn't seen these men for more than four centuries.

"You should be with your friends," I said firmly, though my eyes drifted to the windows.

"They'll still be here, drinking my wine, when we return," Matthew said with a smile. He turned to Walter. "I'm going to show Diana her house and make sure she is able to find her way through the gardens."

"We will need to talk further," Walter warned. "There is business to discuss."

Matthew nodded and tucked his hand around my waist. "It can wait."

We left the School of Night in the warm parlor and headed outdoors. Tom had already lost interest in the problems of vampire and witch and was engrossed in his reading. George was similarly consumed by his own thoughts and busily writing in a notebook. Kit's glance was watchful, Walter's wary, and Henry's eyes were filled with sympathy. The three men looked like an unkindness of ravens with their dark clothes and attentive expressions. It reminded me of what Shakespeare would soon say about this extraordinary group.

"How does it begin?" I murmured softly. "'Black is the badge of hell'?"

Matthew looked wistful. "'Black is the badge of hell / The hue of dungeons, and the school of night.'"

"The hue of friendship would be more accurate," I said. I'd seen Matthew manage the readers at the Bodleian, but his influence over the likes of Walter Raleigh and Kit Marlowe was still unexpected. "Is there anything they wouldn't do for you, Matthew?

"Pray God we never find out," he said somberly.

Tags: Deborah Harkness All Souls Trilogy Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com