Before I could finish my sentence, a tall, handsome vampire flung me over his shoulder.
"We will continue this conversation in private."
"Help! I think my husband is a vampire!" I laughed and pounded on the backs of his thighs.
"Be quiet," he growled. "Or you'll have Mistress Hawley to contend with."
"If I were a human woman and not a witch, that growly sound you just made would make me swoon. I'd be all yours, and you could have your way with me." I giggled.
"You're already all mine," Matthew reminded me, depositing me on the bed. "I'm changing this ridiculous plot, by the way. In the interests of originality-not to mention verisimilitude-we're skipping dinner and moving right on to the date."
"Readers would love a vampire who said that!" I said.
Matthew seemed not to care about my editorial contributions. He was too busy lifting my skirts. We were going to make love fully clothed. How deliciously Elizabethan.
"Wait a minute. At least let me take off my bum roll." Annie had informed me that this was the proper name for the doughnut-shaped thing that kept my skirts respectably full and flouncy.
But Matthew was not inclined to wait.
"To hell with the bum roll." He loosened the front ties on his breeches, grabbed my hands, and pinned them over my head. With one thrust he was inside me.
"I had no idea that talking about popular fiction would have this effect on you," I said breathlessly as he started to move. "Remind me to discuss it with you more often."
We were just sitting down to supper when I was called to Goody Alsop's house.
The Rede had made its ruling.
When Annie and I arrived with our two vampire escorts and Jack trailing behind, we found her in the front parlor with Susanna and three unfamiliar witches. Goody Alsop sent the men to the Golden Gosling and steered me toward the group by the fire.
"Come, Diana, and meet your teachers." Goody Alsop's fetch pointed me to an empty chair and withdrew into her mistress's shadow. All five witches studied me. They looked like a bunch of prosperous city matrons, with their thick woolen gowns in dark, wintry colors. Only their tingling glances gave them away as witches.
"So the Rede agreed with your initial plan," I said slowly, trying to meet their eyes. It was never good to show a teacher fear.
"They did," Susanna said with resignation. "You will forgive me, Mistress Roydon. I have two boys to think of, and a husband too ill to provide for us. A neighbor's goodwill can be lost overnight."
"Let me introduce you to the others," Goody Alsop said, turning slightly toward the woman to her right. She was around sixty, short in stature, round of face, and, if her smile was any indication, generous of spirit. "This is Marjorie Cooper."
"Diana," Marjorie said with a nod that set her small ruff rustling. "Welcome to our gathering."
While meeting the Rede, I'd learned that Elizabethan witches used the term "gathering" much as modern witches used the word "coven" to indicate a recognized community of witches. Like everything else in London, the city's gatherings coincided with parish boundaries. Though it was strange to think of witches' covens and Christian churches fitting so neatly together, it made sound organizational sense and provided an extra measure of safety, since it kept the witches' affairs among close neighbors.
There were, therefore, more than a hundred gatherings in London proper and a further two dozen in the suburbs. Like the parishes, the gatherings were organized into larger districts known as wards. Each ward sent one of its elders to the Rede, which oversaw all of the witches' affairs in the city.
With panics and witch-hunts brewing, the Rede was worried that the old system of governance was breaking down. London was bursting with creatures already, and more poured in every day. I had heard muttering about the size of the Aldgate gathering-which included more than sixty witches instead of the normal thirteen to twenty-as well as the large gatherings in Cripplegate and Southwark. To avoid the notice of humans, some gatherings had started "hiving off" and splitting into different septs. But new gatherings with inexperienced leaders were proving problematic in these difficult times. Witches in the Rede who were gifted with second sight foresaw troubles ahead.
"Marjorie is gifted with the magic of earth, like Susanna. Her specialty is remembering," Goody Alsop explained.
"I have no need of grimoires or these new almanacs all the booksellers are peddling," Marjorie said proudly.
"Marjorie perfectly remembers every spell she has ever mastered and can recall the exact configuration of the stars for every year she has been alive-and for many years when she was not yet born."
"Goody Alsop feared you would not be able to write down all you learn here and take it with you. Not only will I help you find the right words so that another witch might use the spells you devise, but I'll teach you how to be at one with those words so that none can ever take them from you." Marjorie's eyes sparkled, and her voice lowered conspiratorially. "And my husband is a vintner. He can get you much better wine than you are drinking now. I understand wine is important to wearhs."
I laughed aloud at this, and the other witches joined in. "Thank you, Mistress Cooper. I will pass your offer on to my husband."
"Marjorie. We are sisters here." For once I didn't cringe at being called another witch's sister.
"I am Elizabeth Jackson," said the elderly woman on the other side of Goody Alsop. She was somewhere between Marjorie and Goody Alsop in age.
"You're a waterwitch." I felt the affinity as soon as she spoke.
"I am." Elizabeth had steely gray hair and eyes and was as tall and straight as Marjorie was short and round. While many of the waterwitches in the Rede had been sinuous and flowing, Elizabeth had the brisk clarity of a mountain stream. I sensed she would always tell me the truth, even when I didn't want to hear it.
"Elizabeth is a gifted seer. She will teach you the art of scrying."
"My mother was known for her second sight," I said hesitantly. "I would like to follow in her footsteps."
"But she had no fire," Elizabeth said decidedly, beginning her truthtelling immediately. "You may not be able to follow your mother in everything, Diana. Fire and water are a potent mix, provided they don't extinguish each other."
"We will see to it that doesn't happen," the last witch promised, turning her eyes to me. Until then she'd been studiously avoiding my gaze. Now I could see why: There were golden sparks in her brown eyes, and my third eye shot open in alarm. With that extra sight, I could see the nimbus of light that surrounded her. This must be Catherine Streeter.
"You're even . . . even more powerful than the firewitches in the Rede," I stammered.
"Catherine is a special witch," Goody Alsop admitted, "a firewitch born of two firewitches. It happens rarely, as though nature herself knows that such a light cannot be hidden."
When my third eye closed, dazzled by the sight of the thrice-blessed firewitch, Catherine seemed to fade. Her brown hair dulled, her eyes dimmed, and her face was handsome but unmemorable. Her magic sprang to life again, however, as soon as she spoke.
"You have more fire than I expected," she said thoughtfully.
"'Tis a pity she was not here when the Armada came," Elizabeth said.
"So it's true? The famous 'English wind' that blew the Spanish ships away from England's shores was raised by witches?" I asked. It was part of witches' lore, but I'd always dismissed it as a myth.
"Goody Alsop was most useful to Her Majesty," Elizabeth said proudly. "Had you been here, I think we might have been able to make burning water-or fiery rain at the very least."
"Let us not get ahead of ourselves," Goody Alsop said, holding up one hand. "Diana has not yet made her weaver's forspell."
"Forspell?" I asked. Like gatherings and the Rede, this was not a term I knew.
"A forspell reveals the shape of a weaver's talents. Together we will form a blessed circle. There we will temporarily turn your powers loose to find their own way, unencumbered by words or desires," Goody Alsop replied. "It will tell us much about your talents and what we must do to train them, as well as reveal your familiar."
"Witches don't have familiars." This was another human conceit, like worshipping the devil.
"Weavers do," Goody Alsop said serenely, motioning toward her fetch. "This is mine. Like all familiars, she is an extension of my talents."
"I'm not sure having a familiar is such a good idea in my case," I said, thinking about the blackened quinces, Mary's shoes, and the chick. "I have enough to worry about."
"That is the reason you cast a forspell-to face your deepest fears so that you can work your magic freely. Still, it can be a harrowing experience. There have been weavers who entered the circle with hair the color of a raven's wing and left it with tresses as white as snow," Goody Alsop admitted.
"But it will not be as heartbreaking as the night the wearh left Diana and the waters rose in her," Elizabeth said softly.
"Or as lonely as the night she was closed in the earth," Susanna said with a shiver. Marjorie nodded sympathetically.
"Or as frightening as the time the firewitch tried to open you," Catherine assured me, her fingers turning orange with fury.
"The moon will be full dark on Friday. Candlemas is but a few weeks away. And we are entering a period that is propitious for spells inclining children toward study," Marjorie remarked, her face creased with concentration as she recalled the relevant information from her astonishing memory.
"I thought this was the week for snakebite charms?" Susanna said, drawing a small almanac out of her pocket.
While Marjorie and Susanna discussed the magical intricacies of the schedule, Goody Alsop, Elizabeth, and Catherine stared at me intently.
"I wonder . . ." Goody Alsop looked at me with open speculation and tapped a finger against her lips.
"Surely not," Elizabeth said, voice hushed.
"We are not getting ahead of ourselves, remember?" Catherine said. "The goddess has blessed us enough." As she said it, her brown eyes sparked green, gold, red, and black in rapid succession. "But perhaps . . ."
"Susanna's almanac is all wrong. But we have decided it will be more auspicious if Diana weaves her forspell next Thursday, under the waxing crescent moon," Marjorie said, clapping her hands with delight.
"Oof," Goody Alsop said, poking her finger in her ear to shield it from the disturbance in the air. "Gently, Marjorie, gently."
With my new obligations to the St. James Garlickhythe gathering and my ongoing interest in Mary's alchemical experiments, I found myself spending more time outside the house while the Hart and Crown continued to serve as a center for the School of Night and the hub for Matthew's work. Messengers came and went with reports and mail, George often stopped by for a free meal and to tell us about his latest futile efforts to find Ashmole 782, and Hancock and Gallowglass dropped off their laundry downstairs and whiled away the hours by my fire, scantily clad, until it was returned to them. Kit and Matthew had reached an uneasy truce after the business with Hubbard and John Chandler, which meant that I often found the playwright in the front parlor, staring moodily into the distance and then writing furiously. The fact that he helped himself to my supply of paper was an additional source of annoyance.
Then there were Annie and Jack. Integrating two children into the household was a full-time business. Jack, whom I supposed to be about seven or eight (he had no idea of his actual age), delighted in deviling the teenage girl. He followed her around and mimicked her speech. Annie would burst into tears and pelt upstairs to fling herself on her bed. When I chastised Jack for his behavior, he sulked. Desperate for a few quiet hours, I found a schoolmaster willing to teach them reading, writing, and reckoning, but the two of them quickly drove the recent Cambridge graduate away with their blank stares and studied innocence. Both preferred shopping with Françoise and running around London with Pierre to sitting quietly and doing their sums.
"If our child behaves like this, I'll drown him," I told Matthew, seeking a moment of respite in his study.
"She will behave like this, you can be certain of it. And you won't drown her," Matthew said, putting down his pen. We still disagreed about the baby's sex.
"I've tried everything. I've reasoned, cajoled, pleaded-hell, I even bribed them." Master Prior's buns had only ratcheted up Jack's energy level.
"Every parent makes those mistakes," he said with a laugh. "You're trying to be their friend. Treat Jack and Annie like pups. The occasional sharp nip on the nose will establish your authority better than a mince pie will."
"Are you giving me parenting tips from the animal kingdom?" I was thinking of his early research into wolves.
"As a matter of fact, I am. If this racket continues, they'll have me to contend with, and I don't nip. I bite." Matthew glowered at the door as a particularly loud crash echoed through our rooms, followed by an abject "Sorry, mistress."
"Thanks, but I'm not desperate enough to resort to obedience training. Yet," I said, backing out of the room.
Two days of using my teacher voice and administering time-outs instilled some degree of order, but the children required a great deal of activity to keep their exuberance in check. I abandoned my books and papers and took them on long walks down Cheapside and into the suburbs to the west. We went to the markets with Françoise and watched the boats unloading their cargo at the docks in the Vintry. There we imagined where the goods came from and speculated about the origins of the crews.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling like a tourist and started feeling as though Elizabethan London was my home.
We were shopping Saturday morning at the Leadenhall Market, London's premier emporium for fine groceries, when I saw a one-legged beggar. I was fishing a penny out of my bag for him when the children disappeared into a hatmaker's shop. They could wreak havoc-expensive havoc-in such a place.
"Annie! Jack!" I called, dropping the penny in the man's palm. "Keep your hands to yourselves!"
"You are far from home, Mistress Roydon," a deep voice said. The skin on my back registered an icy stare, and I turned to find Andrew Hubbard.
"Father Hubbard," I said. The beggar inched away.
Hubbard looked around. "Where is your woman?"
"If you are referring to Françoise, she is in the market," I said tartly. "Annie is with me, too. I haven't had a chance to thank you for sending her to us. She is a great help."
"I understand you have met with Goody Alsop."
I made no reply to this blatant fishing expedition.
"Since the Spanish came, she does not stir from her house unless there is good reason."
Still I was silent. Hubbard smiled.
"I am not your enemy, mistress."
"I didn't say you were, Father Hubbard. But who I see and why is not your concern."
"Yes. Your father-in-law-or do you think of him as your father?-made that quite clear in his letter. Philippe thanked me for assisting you, of course. With the head of the de Clermont family, the thanks always precede the threats. It is a refreshing change from your husband's usual behavior."
My eyes narrowed. "What is it that you want, Father Hubbard?"
"I suffer the presence of the de Clermonts because I must. But I am under no obligation to continue doing so if there is trouble." Hubbard leaned toward me, his breath frosty. "And you are causing trouble. I can smell it. Taste it. Since you've come, the witches have been . . . difficult."
"That's an unfortunate coincidence," I said, "but I'm not to blame. I'm so unschooled in the arts of magic that I can't even crack an egg into a bowl." Françoise came out of the market. I dropped Hubbard a curtsy and moved to step past him. His hand shot out and grabbed me around the wrist. I looked down at his cold fingers.
"It's not just creatures who emit a scent, Mistress Roydon. Did you know that secrets have their own distinct odor?"
"No," I said, drawing my wrist from his grasp.
"Witches can tell when someone lies. Wearhs can smell a secret like a hound can scent a deer. I will run your secret to ground, Mistress Roydon, no matter how you try to conceal it."
"Are you ready, madame?" Françoise asked, frowning as she drew closer. Annie and Jack were with her, and when the girl spotted Hubbard, she blanched.
"Yes, Françoise," I said, finally looking away from Hubbard's uncanny, striated eyes. "Thank you for your counsel, Father Hubbard, and the information."
"If the boy is too much for you, I would be happy to take care of him," Hubbard murmured as I walked by. I turned and strode back to him.
"Keep your hands off what's mine." Our eyes locked, and this time it was Hubbard who looked away first. I returned to my huddle of vampire, witch, and human. Jack looked anxious and was now shifting from one foot to the other as if considering bolting. "Let's go home and have some gingerbread," I said, taking hold of his arm.