"Was I right to call you, Goody Alsop?" Susanna twisted her hands in her apron and looked at me anxiously. "I nearly sent her home," she said weakly. "If I had . . ."

"But you didn't, Susanna." Goody Alsop was so old and thin that her skin clung to the bones of her hands and wrists. The witch's voice was strangely hearty for someone so frail, however, and intelligence snapped in her eyes. The woman might be an octogenarian, but no one would dare call her infirm.

Now that Goody Alsop had arrived, the main room in the Norman apartments was full to bursting. With some reluctance Susanna allowed Matthew and Pierre to stand just inside the door, provided they didn't touch anything. Jeffrey and John divided their attention between the vampires and the chick, now safely nestled inside John's cap by the fire. Its feathers were beginning to fluff in the warm air, and it had, mercifully, stopped peeping. I sat on a stool by the fire next to Goody Alsop, who occupied the room's only chair.

"Let me have a look at you, Diana." When Goody Alsop reached her fingers toward my face, just as Widow Beaton and Champier had, I flinched. The witch stopped and frowned. "What is it, child?"

"A witch in France tried to read my skin. It felt like knives," I explained in a whisper.

"It will not be entirely comfortable-what examination is?-but it should not hurt." Her fingers explored my features. Her hands were cool and dry, the veins standing out against mottled skin and crawling over bent joints. I felt a slight digging sensation, but it was nothing like the pain I'd experienced at Champier's hands.

"Ah," she breathed when she reached the smooth skin of my forehead. My witch's eye, which had lapsed into its typical frustrating inactivity the moment Susanna and Annie found me with the chick, opened fully. Goody Alsop was a witch worth knowing.

Looking into Goody Alsop's third eye, I was plunged into a world of color. Try as I might, the brightly woven threads refused to resolve into something recognizable, though I felt once more the tantalizing prospect that they could be put to some use. Goody Alsop's touch tingled as she probed my body and mind with her second sight, energy pulsing around her in a purple-tinged orange. In my limited experience, no one had ever manifested that particular combination of colors. She tutted here and there, made an approving sound or two.

"She's a strange one, isn't she?" Jeffrey whispered, peering over Goody Alsop's shoulder.

"Jeffrey!" Susanna gasped, embarrassed at her son's behavior. "Mistress Roydon, if you please."

"Very well. Mistress Roydon's a strange one," said Jeffrey, unrepentant. He shifted his hands to his knees and bent closer.

"What do you see, young Jeffrey?" Goody Alsop asked.

"She-Mistress Roydon-is all the colors of a rainbow. Her witch's eye is blue, even though the rest of her is green and silver, like the goddess. And why is there a rim of red and black there?" Jeffrey pointed to my forehead.

"That's a wearh's mark," Goody Alsop said, smoothing it with her fingers. "It tells us she belongs to Master Roydon's family. Whenever you see this, Jeffrey-and it is quite rare-you must heed it as a warning. The wearh who made it will not take it kindly if you meddle with the warmblood he has claimed."

"Does it hurt?" the child wondered.

"Jeffrey!" Susanna cried again. "You know better than to pester Goody Alsop with questions."

"We face a dark future if children stop asking questions, Susanna," Goody Alsop remarked.

"A wearh's blood can heal, but it doesn't harm," I told the boy before Goody Alsop could answer. There was no need for another witch to grow up fearing what he didn't understand. My eyes shifted to Matthew, whose claim on me went far deeper than his father's blood oath. Matthew was willing to let Goody Alsop's examination continue-for now-but his eyes never left the woman. I mustered a smile, and his mouth tightened a fraction in response.

"Oh." Jeffrey sounded mildly interested at this piece of intelligence. "Can you make the glaem again, Mistress Roydon?" To their chagrin, the boys had missed that manifestation of magical energy.

Goody Alsop rested a gnarled finger in the indentation over Jeffrey's lip, effectively silencing the boy. "I need to talk to Annie now. After we're through, Master Roydon's man is going to take all three of you to the river. When you get back, you can ask me whatever you'd like."

Matthew inclined his head toward the door, and Pierre rounded up his two young charges and, after a wary look at the old woman, took them downstairs to wait. Like Jeffrey, Pierre needed to overcome his fear of other creatures.

"Where is the girl?" Goody Alsop asked, turning her head.

Annie crept forward. "Here, Goody."

"Tell us true, Annie," Goody Alsop said in a firm tone. "What have you promised Andrew Hubbard?"

"N-nothing," Annie stammered, her eyes shifting to mine.

"Don't lie, Annie. 'Tis a sin," Goody Alsop chided. "Out with it."

"I'm to send word if Master Roydon plans to leave London again. And Father Hubbard sends one of his men when the mistress and master are still abed to question me about what goes on in the house." Annie's words tumbled out. When through, she clapped her hands over her mouth as though she couldn't believe she'd revealed so much.

"We must abide by the letter of Annie's agreement with Hubbard, if not its spirit." Goody Alsop thought for a moment. "If Mistress Roydon leaves the city for any reason, Annie will send word to me first. Wait an hour before you let Hubbard know, Annie. And if you speak a word to anyone of what happens here, I'll clap a binding spell on your tongue that thirteen witches won't be able to break." Annie looked justifiably terrified at the prospect. "Go and join the boys, but open all the doors and windows before you leave. I will send for you when it is time to return."

Annie's expression while she opened the shutters and doors was full of apology and dread, and I gave her an encouraging nod. The poor child was in no position to stand up to Hubbard and had done what she had to in order to survive. With one more frightened look at Matthew, whose attitude toward her was distinctly chilly, she left.

At last, the house quiet and drafts swirling around my ankles and shoulders, Matthew spoke. He was still propped up against the door, his black clothes absorbing what little light there was in the room.

"Can you help us, Goody Alsop?" His courteous tone bore no resemblance to his high-handed treatment of Widow Beaton.

"I believe so, Master Roydon," Goody Alsop replied.

"Please take your ease," Susanna said, gesturing Matthew toward a nearby stool. There was, alas, little chance of a man of Matthew's size being comfortable on a small three-legged stool, but he straddled it without complaint. "My husband is sleeping in the next room. He mustn't overhear the wearh, or our conversation."

Goody Alsop plucked at the gray wool and pearly linen that covered her neck and drew her fingers away, pulling something insubstantial with them. The witch stretched out her hand and flicked her wrist, releasing a shadowy figure into the room. Her exact replica walked off into Susanna's bedchamber.

"What was that?" I asked, hardly daring to breathe.

"My fetch. She will watch over Master Norman and make sure we are not disturbed." Goody Alsop's lips moved, and the drafts stopped. "Now that the doors and windows are sealed, we will not be overheard either. You can rest easy on that score, Susanna."

Here were two spells that might prove useful in a spy's household. I opened my mouth to ask Goody Alsop how she'd managed them, but before I could utter a word, she held up her hand and chuckled.

"You are very curious for a grown woman. I fear you'll try Susanna's patience even more than Jeffrey does." She sat back and regarded me with a pleased expression. "I have waited a long time for you, Diana."

"Me?" I said doubtfully.

"Without question. It has been many years since the first auguries foretold your arrival, and with the passing of time some among us gave up hope. But when our sisters told us of the portents in the north, I knew to expect you." Goody Alsop was referring to Berwick and the strange occurrences in Scotland. I sat forward, ready to question her further, but Matthew shook his head slightly. He still wasn't sure the witch could be trusted. Goody Alsop saw my husband's silent request and chuckled again.

"So I was right, then," Susanna said, relieved.

"Yes, child. Diana is indeed a weaver." Goody Alsop's words reverberated in the room, potent as any spell.

"What's that?" I whispered.

"There is much we don't understand about our present situation, Goody Alsop." Matthew took my hand. "Perhaps you should treat us both like Jeffrey and explain it as you would to a child."

"Diana is a maker of spells," Goody Alsop said. "We weavers are rare creatures. That is why the goddess sent you to me."

"No, Goody Alsop. You're mistaken," I protested with a shake of my head. "I'm terrible with spells. My Aunt Sarah has great skill, but not even she has been able to teach me the craft of the witch."

"Of course you cannot perform the spells of other witches. You must devise your own." Goody Alsop's pronouncement went against everything I'd been taught. I looked at her in amazement.

"Witches learn spells. We don't invent them." Spells were passed from generation to generation, within families and among coven members. We jealously guarded that knowledge, recording words and procedures in grimoires along with the names of the witches who mastered their accompanying magic. More experienced witches trained the younger members of the coven to follow in their footsteps, mindful of the nuances of each spell and every witch's past experience with it.

"Weavers do," Goody Alsop replied.

"I've never heard of a weaver," Matthew said carefully.

"Few have. We are a secret, Master Roydon, one that few witches discover, let alone wearhs. You are familiar with secrets and how to keep them, I think." Her eyes twinkled with mischief.

"I've lived many years, Goody Alsop. I find it hard to believe that witches could keep the existence of weavers from other creatures all that time." He scowled. "Is this another of Hubbard's games?"

"I am too old for games, Monsieur de Clermont. Oh, yes, I know who you really are and what position you occupy in our world," Goody Alsop said when Matthew looked surprised. "Perhaps you cannot hide the truth from witches as well as you think."

"Perhaps not," Matthew purred in warning. His growling further amused the old woman.

"That trick might frighten children like Jeffrey and John and moontouched daemons like your friend Christopher, but it does not scare me." Her voice turned serious. "Weavers hide because once we were sought out and murdered, just like your father's knights. Not everyone approved of our power. As you well know, it can be easier to survive when your enemies think you are already dead."

"But who would do such a thing, and why?" I hoped that the answer wouldn't lead us back to the long-standing enmity between vampires and witches.

"It wasn't the wearhs or the daemons who hunted us down, but other witches," Goody Alsop said calmly. "They fear us because we are different. Fear breeds contempt, then hate. It is a familiar story. Once witches destroyed whole families lest the babes grew to be weavers, too. The few weavers who survived sent their own children into hiding. A parent's love for a child is powerful, as you will both soon discover."

"You know about the baby," I said, my hands moving protectively over my belly.

"Yes." Goody Alsop nodded gravely. "You are already making a powerful weaving, Diana. You will not be able to keep it hidden from other witches for long."

"A child?" Susanna's eyes were huge. "Conceived between a witch and a wearh?"

"Not just any witch. Only weavers can work such magic. There is a reason the goddess chose you for this task, Susanna, just as there is a reason she called me. You are a midwife, and all your skills will be needed in the days ahead."

"I have no experience that will help Mistress Roydon," Susanna protested.

"You have been assisting women in childbirth for years," Goody Alsop observed.

"Warmblooded women, Goody, with warmblooded babes!" Susanna said indignantly. "Not creatures like-"

"Wearhs have arms and legs, just like the rest of us," Goody Alsop interrupted. "I cannot imagine this child will be any different."

"Just because it has ten fingers and ten toes does not mean it has a soul," Susanna said, eyeing Matthew with suspicion.

"I'm surprised at you, Susanna. Master Roydon's soul is as clear to me as your own. Have you been listening to your husband again, and his prattle about the evil in wearhs and daemons?"

Susanna's mouth tightened. "What if I have, Goody?"

"Then you are a fool. Witches see the truth plainly-even if their husbands are full of nonsense."

"It is not such an easy matter as you make it out to be," Susanna muttered.

"Nor does it need to be so difficult. The long-awaited weaver is among us, and we must make plans."

"Thank you, Goody Alsop," Matthew said. He was relieved that someone agreed with him at last. "You are right. Diana must learn what she needs to know quickly. She cannot have the child here."

"That isn't entirely your decision, Master Roydon. If the child is meant to be born in London, then that is where it will be born."

"Diana doesn't belong here," Matthew said, adding quickly, "in London."

"Bless us, that is clear enough. But as she is a time spinner, merely moving her to another place will not help. Diana would be no less conspicuous in Canterbury or York."

"So you know another of our secrets." Matthew gave the old woman a cold stare. "As you know so much, you must have also divined that Diana will not be returning to her own time alone. The child and I will be going with her. You will teach her what she needs in order to do it." Matthew was taking charge, which meant that things were about to take their usual turn for the worse.

"Your wife's education is my business now, Master Roydon-unless you think you know more about what it means to be a weaver than I do," Goody Alsop said mildly.

"He knows that this is a matter between witches," I told Goody Alsop, putting a restraining hand on his arm. "Matthew won't interfere."

"Everything about my wife is my business, Goody Alsop," said Matthew. He turned to me. "And this is not a matter solely between witches. Not if the witches here might turn against my mate and my child."

"So it was a witch and not a wearh who injured you," Goody Alsop said softly. "I felt the pain and knew that a witch was part of it but hoped that was because the witch was healing the damage done to you rather than causing it. What has the world come to that one witch would do such a thing to another?"

Matthew fixed his attention on Goody Alsop. "Maybe the witch also realized that Diana was a weaver."

It hadn't occurred to me that Satu might have known. Given what Goody Alsop had told me about my fellow witches' attitude toward weavers, the idea that Peter Knox and his cronies in the Congregation might suspect me of harboring such a secret sent my blood racing. Matthew sought my hand, taking it between both of his.

Deborah Harkness Books | Fantasy Books | All Souls Trilogy Series Books
Source: www.StudyNovels.com