"Who is that man?" he whispered.
"That's Father Hubbard" was Annie's hushed reply.
"The one in the songs?" Jack said, looking over his shoulder. Annie nodded.
"Yes, and when he-"
"Enough, Annie. What did you see in the hat shop?" I asked, gripping Jack more tightly. I extended my hand toward the overflowing basket of groceries. "Let me take that, Françoise."
"It will not help, madame," Françoise said, though she handed me the basket. "Milord will know you have been with that fiend. Not even the cabbage's scent will hide it." Jack's head turned in interest at this morsel of information, and I gave Françoise a warning look.
"Let's not borrow trouble," I said as we turned toward home.
Back at the Hart and Crown, I divested myself of basket, cloak, gloves, and children and took a cup of wine in to Matthew. He was at his desk, bent over a sheaf of paper. My heart lightened at the now-familiar sight.
"Still at it?" I asked, reaching over his shoulder to put the wine before him. I frowned. His paper was covered with diagrams, X's and O's, and what looked like modern scientific formulas. I doubted that it had anything to do with espionage or the Congregation, unless he was devising a code. "What are you doing?"
"Just trying to figure something out," Matthew said, sliding the paper away.
"Something genetic?" The X's and O's reminded me of biology and Gregor Mendel's peas. I drew the paper back. There weren't just X's and O's on the page. I recognized initials belonging to members of Matthew's family: YC, PC, MC, MW. Others belonged to my own: DB, RB, SB, SP. Matthew had drawn arrows between individuals, and lines crisscrossed from generation to generation.
"Not strictly speaking," Matthew said, interrupting my examination. It was a classic Matthew nonanswer.
"I suppose you'd need equipment for that." At the bottom of the page, a circle surrounded two letters: B and C-Bishop and Clairmont. Our child. This had something to do with the baby.
"In order to draw any conclusions, certainly." Matthew picked up the wine and carried it toward his lips.
"What's your hypothesis, then? You don't need a laboratory to come up with a theory," I observed. "If it involves the baby, I want to know what it is."
Matthew froze, his nostrils flaring. He put the wine carefully on the table and took my hand, pressing his lips to my wrist in a seeming gesture of affection. His eyes went black.
"You saw Hubbard," he said accusingly.
"Not because I sought him out." I pulled away. That was a mistake.
"Don't," Matthew rasped, his fingers tightening. He drew another shuddering breath. "Hubbard touched you on the wrist. Only the wrist. Do you know why?"
"Because he was trying to get my attention," I said.
"No. He was trying to capture mine. Your pulse is here," Matthew said, his thumb sweeping over the vein. I shivered. "The blood is so close to the surface that I can see it as well as smell it. Its heat magnifies any foreign scent placed there." His fingers circled my wrist like a bracelet. "Where was Françoise?"
"In Leadenhall Market. I had Jack and Annie with me. There was a beggar, and-" I felt a brief, sharp pain. When I looked down, my wrist was torn and blood welled from a set of shallow, curved nicks. Teeth marks.
"That's how fast Hubbard could have taken your blood and known everything about you." Matthew's thumb pressed firmly into the wound.
"But I didn't see you move," I said numbly.
His black eyes gleamed. "Nor would you have seen Hubbard, if he'd wanted to strike."
Perhaps Matthew wasn't as overprotective as I thought.
"Don't let him get close enough to touch you again. Are we clear?"
I nodded, and Matthew began the slow business of managing his anger. Only when he was in control of it did he answer my initial question.
"I'm trying to determine the likelihood of passing my blood rage to our child," he said, a tinge of bitterness in his tone. "Benjamin has the affliction. Marcus doesn't. I hate the fact that I could curse an innocent child with it."
"Do you know why Marcus and your brother Louis were resistant, when you, Louisa, and Benjamin were not?" I carefully avoided assuming that this accounted for all his children. Matthew would tell me more when-if-he was able.
His shoulders lost their sharp edge. "Louis and Louisa died long before it was possible to run blood tests. I have only my blood, Marcus's blood, and Ysabeau's blood to work with-and that's not enough to draw any reliable conclusions."
"You have a theory, though," I said, thinking of his diagrams.
"I've always thought of blood rage as a kind of infection and supposed Marcus and Louis had a natural resistance to it. But when Goody Alsop told us that only a weaver could bear a wearh child, it made me wonder if I've been looking at this the wrong way. Perhaps it's not something in Marcus that's resistant but something in me that's receptive, just as a weaver is receptive to a wearh's seed, unlike any other warmblooded woman."
"A genetic predisposition?" I asked, trying to follow his reasoning.
"Perhaps. Possibly something recessive that seldom shows up in the population unless both parents carry the gene. I keep thinking of your friend Catherine Streeter and your description of her as 'thrice-blessed,' as though her genetic whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts."
Matthew was quickly lost in the intricacies of his intellectual puzzle. "Then I started wondering whether the fact that you are a weaver is sufficient to explain your ability to conceive. What if it's a combination of recessive genetic traits-not only yours but mine as well?" When his hands drove through his hair in frustration, I took it as a sign that the last of the blood rage was gone and heaved a silent sigh of relief.
"When we get back to your lab, you'll be able to test your theory." I dropped my voice. "And once Sarah and Em hear they're going to be aunts, you'll have no problem getting them to give you a blood sample-or to baby-sit. They both have bad cases of granny lust and have been borrowing the neighbors' children for years to satisfy it."
That conjured a smile at last.
"Granny lust? What a rude expression." Matthew approached me. "Ysabeau's probably developed a dire case of it, too, over the centuries."
"It doesn't bear thinking about," I said with a mock shudder.
It was in these moments-when we talked about the reactions of others to our news rather than analyzing our own responses to it-that I felt truly pregnant. My body had barely registered the new life it was carrying, and in the day-to-day busyness at the Hart and Crown it was easy to forget that we would soon be parents. I could go for days without thinking about it, only to be reminded of my condition when Matthew came to me, deep in the night, to rest his hands on my belly in silent communion while he listened for the signs of new life.
"Nor can I bear to think of you in harm's way." Matthew took me in his arms. "Be careful, ma lionne," he whispered against my hair.
"I will. I promise."
"You wouldn't recognize danger if it came to you with an engraved invitation." He drew away so that he could look into my eyes. "Just remember: Vampires are not like warmbloods. Don't underestimate how lethal we can be."
Matthew's warning echoed long after he delivered it. I found myself watching the other vampires in the household for the small signs that they were thinking of moving or that they were hungry or tired, restless or bored. The signs were subtle and easy to miss. When Annie walked past Gallowglass, his lids dropped to shutter the avid expression in his eyes, but it was over so quickly I might have imagined it, just as I might have imagined the flaring of Hancock's nostrils when a group of warmbloods passed by on the street below.
I was not imagining the extra laundry charges to clean the blood from their linen, however. Gallowglass and Hancock were hunting and feeding in the city, though Matthew did not join them. He confined himself to what Françoise could procure from the butchers.
When Annie and I went to Mary's on Monday afternoon, as was our custom, I remained more alert to my surroundings than I had been since our arrival. This time it wasn't to absorb the details of Elizabethan life but to make sure we weren't being watched or followed. I kept Annie safely within arm's reach, and Pierre retained a firm grip on Jack. We had learned the hard way that it was the only hope we had of keeping the boy from "magpie-ing," as Hancock called it. In spite of our efforts, Jack still managed to commit numerous acts of petty theft. Matthew instituted a new household ritual in an effort to combat it. Jack had to empty his pockets every night and confess how he'd come by his extraordinary assortment of shiny objects. So far it hadn't put a damper on his activities.
Given his light fingers, Jack could not yet be trusted in the Countess of Pembroke's well-appointed home. Annie and I took our leave of Pierre and Jack, and the girl's expression brightened considerably at the prospect of a long gossip with Mary's maid, Joan, and a few hours of freedom from Jack's unwanted attentions.
"Diana!" Mary cried when I crossed the threshold of her laboratory. No matter how many times I entered, it never failed to take my breath away, with its vivid murals illustrating the making of the philosopher's stone. "Come, I have something to show you."
"Is this your surprise?" Mary had been hinting that she would soon delight me with a display of her alchemical proficiency.
"Yes," Mary replied, drawing her notebook from the table. "See here, it is now the eighteenth of January, and I began the work on the ninth of December. It has taken exactly forty days, just as the sages promised."
Forty was a significant number in alchemical work, and Mary could have been undertaking any number of experiments. I looked through her laboratory entries in an effort to figure out what she'd been doing. Over the past two weeks, I'd learned Mary's shorthand and the symbols she used for the various metals and substances. If I understood correctly, she began this process with an ounce of silver dissolved in aqua fortis-the "strong water" of the alchemists, known in my own time as nitric acid. To this, Mary added distilled water.
"Is this your mark for mercury?" I asked, pointing to an unfamiliar glyph.
"Yes-but only the mercury I obtain from the finest source in Germany." Mary spared no expense when it came to her laboratory, chemicals, or equipment. She drew me toward another example of her commitment to quality at any price: a large glass flask. It was free of imperfections and clear as crystal, which meant it had come from Venice. The English glass made in Sussex was marred with tiny bubbles and faint shadows. The Countess of Pembroke preferred the Venetian stuff-and could afford it.
When I saw what was inside, a premonitory finger brushed against my shoulders.
A silver tree grew from a small seed in the bottom of the flask. Branches had sprouted from the trunk, forking out and filling the top of the vessel with glittering strands. Tiny beads at the ends of the branches suggested fruit, as though the tree were ripe and ready for harvesting.
"The arbor Dianæ," Mary said proudly. "It is as though God inspired me to make it so that it would be here to welcome you. I have tried to grow the tree before, but it has never taken root. No one could see such a thing and doubt the truth and power of the alchemical art."
Diana's tree was a sight to behold. It gleamed and grew before my eyes, sending out new shoots to fill the remaining space in the vessel. Knowing that it was nothing more than a dendritic amalgam of crystallized silver did little to diminish my wonder at seeing a lump of metal go through what looked like a vegetative process.
On the wall opposite, a dragon sat over a vessel similar to the one Mary had used to house the arbor Dianæ. The dragon held his tail in his mouth, and drops of his blood fell into the silvery liquid below. I sought out the next image in the series: the bird of Hermes who flew toward the chemical marriage. The bird reminded me of the illustration of the wedding from Ashmole 782.
"I think it might be possible to devise a quicker method to achieve the same result," Mary said, drawing back my attention. She pulled a pen from her upswept hair, leaving a black smudge over her ear. "What do you imagine would happen if we filed the silver before dissolving it in the aqua fortis?"
We spent a pleasant afternoon discussing new ways to make the arbor Dianæ, but it was over all too soon.
"Will I see you Thursday?" Mary asked.
"I'm afraid I have another obligation," I said. I was expected at Goody Alsop's before sunset.
Mary's face fell. "Friday, then?"
"Friday," I agreed.
"Diana," Mary said hesitantly, "are you well?"
"Yes," I said in surprise. "Do I seem ill?"
"You are pale and look tired," she admitted. "Like most mothers I am prone to- Oh." Mary stopped abruptly and turned bright pink. Her eyes dropped to my stomach, then flew back to my face. "You are with child."
"I will have many questions for you in the weeks ahead," I said, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze.
"How far along are you?" she asked.
"Not far," I said, keeping my answer deliberately vague.
"But the child cannot be Matthew's. A wearh is not able to father a child." Mary said, her hand rising to her cheek in wonder. "Matthew welcomes the babe, even though it is not his?"
Though Matthew had warned me that everybody would assume the child belonged to another man, we hadn't discussed how to respond. I would have to punt.
"He considers it his own blood," I said firmly. My answer only seemed to increase her concern.
"You are fortunate that Matthew is so selfless when it comes to protecting those who are in need. And you-can you love the child, though you were taken against your will?"
Mary thought I'd been raped-and perhaps that Matthew had married me only to shield me from the stigma of being pregnant and single.
"The child is innocent. I cannot refuse it love." I was careful neither to deny nor confirm Mary's suspicions. Happily, she was satisfied with my response, and, characteristically, she probed no further. "As you can imagine," I added, "we are eager to keep this news quiet for as long as possible."
"Of course," Mary agreed. "I will have Joan make you a soft custard that fortifies the blood yet is very soothing to the stomach if taken at night before you sleep. It was a great help to me in my last pregnancy and seemed to lessen my sickness in the morning."
"I have been blessedly free of that complaint so far," I said, drawing on my gloves. "Matthew promises me it will come any day now."
"Hmm," Mary mused, a shadow crossing her face. I frowned, wondering what was worrying her now. She saw my expression and smiled brightly. "You should guard against fatigue. When you are here on Friday, you must not stand so long but take your ease on a stool while we work." Mary fussed over the arrangement of my cloak. "Stay out of drafts. And have Françoise make a poultice for your feet if they start to swell. I will send a receipt for it with the custard. Shall I have my boatman take you to Water Lane?"
"It's only a five-minute walk!" I protested with a laugh. Finally Mary let me leave on foot, but only after I assured her that I would avoid not only drafts but also cold water and loud noises.
That night I dreamed I slept under the limbs of a tree that grew from my womb. Its branches shielded me from the moonlight while, high above, a dragon flew through the night. When it reached the moon, the dragon's tail curled around it and the silver orb turned red.
I awoke to an empty bed and blood-soaked sheets.
"Françoise!" I cried, feeling a sudden, sharp cramp.
Matthew came running instead. The devastated look on his face when he reached my side confirmed what I already knew.