"We have all lost babes, Diana," Goody Alsop said sadly. "It is a pain most women know."

"All?" I looked around Goody Alsop's keeping room at the witches of the Garlickhythe gathering.

The stories tumbled out, of babies lost in childbirth and others who died at six months or six years. I didn't know any women who had miscarried- or I didn't think I did. Had one of my friends suffered such a loss, without my knowing it?

"You are young and strong," Susanna said. "There is no reason to think you cannot conceive another child."

No reason at all, except for the fact that my husband wouldn't touch me again until we were back in the land of birth control and fetal monitors.

"Maybe," I said with a noncommittal shrug.

"Where is Master Roydon?" Goody Alsop said quietly. Her fetch drifted around the parlor as if she thought she might find him in the window-seat cushions or sitting atop the cupboard.

"Out on business," I said, drawing my shawl tighter. It was Susanna's, and it smelled like burned sugar and chamomile, just as she did.

"I heard he was at the Middle Temple Hall with Christopher Marlowe last night. Watching a play, by all accounts." Catherine passed the box of comfits she'd brought to Goody Alsop.

"Ordinary men can pine terribly for a lost child. I am not surprised that a wearh would find it especially difficult. They are possessive, after all." Goody Alsop reached for something red and gelatinous. "Thank you, Catherine."

The women waited in silence, hoping I'd take Goody Alsop and Catherine up on their circumspect invitation to tell them how Matthew and I were faring.

"He'll be fine," I said tightly.

"He should be here," Elizabeth said sharply. "I can see no reason why his loss should be more painful than yours!"

"Because Matthew has endured a thousand years of heartbreak and I've only endured thirty-three," I said, my tone equally sharp. "He is a wearh, Elizabeth. Do I wish he were here rather than out with Kit? Of course. Will I beg him to stay at the Hart and Crown for my sake? Absolutely not." My voice was rising as my hurt and frustration spilled over. Matthew had been unfailingly sweet and tender with me. He'd comforted me as I faced the hundreds of fragile dreams for the future that had been destroyed when I miscarried our child.

It was the hours he was spending elsewhere that had me concerned.

"My head tells me Matthew must have a chance to grieve in his own way," I said. "My heart tells me he loves me even though he prefers to be with his friends now. I just wish he could touch me without regret." I could feel it whenever he looked at me, held me, took my hand. It was unbearable.

"I am sorry, Diana," Elizabeth said, her face contrite.

"It's all right," I assured her.

But it wasn't all right. The whole world felt discordant and wrong, with colors that were too bright and sounds so loud they made me jump. My body felt hollow, and no matter what I tried to read, the words failed to keep my attention.

"We will see you tomorrow, as planned," Goody Alsop said briskly as the witches departed.

"Tomorrow?" I frowned. "I'm in no mood to make magic, Goody Alsop."

"I'm in no mood to go to my grave without seeing you weave your first spell, so I shall expect you when the bells ring six."

That night I stared into the fire as the bells rang six, and seven, and eight, and nine, and ten. When the bells rang three, I heard a sound on the stairs. Thinking it was Matthew, I went to the door. The staircase was empty, but a clutch of objects sat on the stairs: an infant's sock, a sprig of holly, a twist of paper with a man's name written on it. I gathered them all up in my lap as I sank onto one of the worn treads, clutching my shawl tight around me.

I was still trying to figure out what the offerings meant and how they had gotten there when Matthew shot up the stairs in a soundless blur. He stopped abruptly.

"Diana." He drew the back of his hand across his mouth, his eyes green and glassy.

"At least you'll feed when you're with Kit," I said, getting to my feet. "It's nice to know that your friendship includes more than poetry and chess."

Matthew put his boot on the tread next to my feet. He used his knee to press me toward the wall, effectively trapping me. His breath was sweet and slightly metallic.

"You're going to hate yourself in the morning," I said calmly, turning my head away. I knew better than to run when the tang of blood was still on his lips. "Kit should have kept you with him until the drugs were out of your system. Does all the blood in London have opiates in it?" It was the second night in a row Matthew had gone out with Kit and come home high as a kite.

"Not all," Matthew purred, "but it is the easiest to come by."

"What are these?" I held up the sock, the holly, and the scroll.

"They're for you," Matthew said. "More arrive every night. Pierre and I collect them before you are awake."

"When did this start?" I didn't trust myself to say more.

"The week before- The week you met with the Rede. Most are requests for help. Since you- Since Saturday there have been gifts for you and the baby, too." Matthew held out his hand. "I'll take care of them."

I drew my hand closer to my heart. "Where are the rest?"

Matthew's mouth tightened, but he showed me where he was keeping them-in a box in the attic, shoved under one of the benches. I picked through the contents, which were somewhat similar to what Jack pulled out of his pockets each night: buttons, bits of ribbon, a piece of broken crockery. There were locks of hair, too, and dozens of pieces of paper inscribed with names. Though they were invisible to most eyes, I could see the jagged threads that hung from every treasure, all waiting to be tied off, joined up, or otherwise mended.

"These are requests for magic." I looked up at Matthew. "You shouldn't have kept this from me."

"I don't want you performing spells for every creature in the city of London," Matthew said, his eyes darkening.

"Well, I don't want you to eat out every night before going drinking with your friends! But you're a vampire, so sometimes that's what you need to do," I retorted. "I'm a witch, Matthew. Requests like this have to be handled carefully. My safety depends on my relations with our neighbors. I can't go stealing boats like Gallowglass or growling at people."

"Milord." Pierre stood at the far end of the attics, where a narrow stair twirled down to a hidden exit behind the laundresses' giant washtubs.

"What?" Matthew said impatiently.

"Agnes Sampson is dead." Pierre looked frightened. "They took her to Castlehill in Edinburgh on Monday, garroted her, and then burned the body." It was that night that I'd lost the baby, I realized with a touch of panic.

"Christ." Matthew paled.

"Hancock said she was fully dead before the wood was lit. She wouldn't have felt anything," Pierre went on. It was a small mercy, one not always afforded to a convicted witch. "They refused to read your letter, milord. Hancock was told to leave Scottish politics to the Scottish king or they'd put the screws to him the next time he showed his face in Edinburgh."

"Why can't I fix this?" Matthew exploded.

"So it's not just the loss of the baby that's driven you toward Kit's darkness. You're hiding from the events in Scotland, too."

"No matter how hard I try to set things right, I cannot seem to break this cursed pattern," Matthew said. "Before, as the queen's spy, I delighted in the trouble in Scotland. As a member of the Congregation, I considered Sampson's death an acceptable price to pay to maintain the status quo. But now . . ."

"Now you're married to a witch," I said. "And everything looks different."

"Yes. I'm caught between what I once believed and what I now hold most dear, what I once proudly defended as gospel truth and the magnitude of what I no longer know."

"I will go back into the city," Pierre said, turning toward the door. "There may be more to discover."

I studied Matthew's tired face. "You can't expect to understand all of life's tragedies, Matthew. I wish we still had the baby, too. And I know it seems hopeless right now, but that doesn't mean there isn't a future to look forward to-one in which our children and family are safe."

"A miscarriage this early in pregnancy is almost always a sign of a genetic anomaly that makes the fetus nonviable. If that happened once . . ." His voice trailed off.

"There are genetic anomalies that don't compromise the baby," I pointed out. "Take me, for instance." I was a chimera, with mismatching DNA. "I can't bear losing another child, Diana. I just . . . can't."

"I know." I was bone weary and wanted the blessed oblivion of sleep as much as he did. I had never known my child as he had known Lucas, and the pain was still unbearable. "I have to be at Goody Alsop's house at six tonight." I looked up at him. "Will you be out with Kit?"

"No," Matthew said softly. He pressed his lips to mine-briefly, regretfully. "I'll be with you."

Matthew was true to his word, and escorted me to Goody Alsop's before going to the Golden Gosling with Pierre. In the most courteous way possible, the witches explained that wearhs were not welcome. Taking a weaver safely through her forspell required a considerable mobilization of supernatural and magical energy. Wearhs would only get in the way.

My Aunt Sarah would have paid close attention to how Susanna and Marjorie readied the sacred circle. Some of the substances and equipment they used were familiar-like the salt they sprinkled on the floorboards to purify the space-but others were not. Sarah's witch's kit consisted of two knives (one with a black handle and one with a white), the Bishop grimoire, and various herbs and plants. Elizabethan witches required a greater variety of objects to work their magic, including brooms. I'd never seen a witch with a broom except on Halloween when they were de rigueur, along with pointed hats.

Each of the witches of the Garlickhythe gathering brought a unique broom with her to Goody Alsop's house. Marjorie's was fashioned from a cherry branch. At the top of the staff, someone had carved glyphs and symbols. Instead of the usual bristles, Marjorie had tied dried herbs and twigs to the bottom where the central limb forked into thinner branches. She told me that the herbs were important to her magic-agrimony to break enchantments, lacy feverfew with the white-and-yellow flowers still attached for protection, the sturdy stems of rosemary with their glaucous leaves for purification and clarity. Susanna's broom was made from elm, which was symbolic of the phases of life from birth to death and related to her profession as a midwife. So, too, were the plants tied to the staff: the fleshy green leaves of adder's tongue for healing, boneset's frothy white flower heads for protection, the spiky leaves of groundsel for good health.

Marjorie and Susanna carefully swept the salt in a clockwise direction until the fine grains had traveled over every inch of the floor. The salt would not only cleanse the space, Marjorie explained, but also ground it so that my power wouldn't spill over into the world once it was fully unbound.

Goody Alsop stopped up the windows, the doors-even the chimney. The house ghosts were given the option of staying out of the way amid the roof beams or finding temporary refuge with the family who lived downstairs. Not wishing to miss anything, and slightly jealous of the fetch who had no choice but to stay by her mistress, the ghosts flitted among the rafters and gossiped about whether any of the residents of Newgate Street would get a moment's peace now that the specters of medieval Queen Isabella and a murderess named Lady Agnes Hungerford had resumed their squabbling.

Elizabeth and Catherine settled my nerves-and drowned out the gruesome details of Lady Agnes's terrible deeds and death-by sharing some of their early magical adventures and drawing me out about my own. Elizabeth was impressed by how I'd channeled the water from under Sarah's orchard, pulling it into my palms drop by drop. And Catherine crowed with delight when I shared how a bow and arrow rested heavy in my hands just before the witchfire flew.

"The moon has risen," Marjorie said, her round face pink with anticipation. The windows were sealed, but none of the other witches questioned her.

"It is time, then," Elizabeth said briskly, all business.

Each witch went from one corner of the room to the next, breaking off a twig from her broom and placing it there. But these were not random piles. They'd arranged the twigs so as to overlap and form a pentacle, the witch's five-pointed star.

Goody Alsop and I took up our positions at the center of the circle. Though its boundaries were invisible, that would change when the other witches took their appointed places. Once they had, Catherine murmured a spell and a curved line of fire traveled from witch to witch, binding the circle.

Power surged in its center. Goody Alsop had warned me that what we were doing this night invoked ancient magics. Soon the buffeting wave of energy was replaced by something that tingled and snapped like a thousand witchy glances.

"Look around you with your witch's sight," Goody Alsop said, "and tell me what you see."

When my third eye opened, I half expected to find that the air itself had come to life, every particle charged with possibility. Instead the room was filled with filaments of magic.

"Threads," I said, "as though the world is nothing more than a tapestry."

Goody Alsop nodded. "To be a weaver is to be tied to the world around you and see it in strands and hues. While some ties fetter your magic, others yoke the power in your blood to the four elements and the great mysteries that lie beyond them. Weavers learn how to release the ties that bind and use the rest."

"But I don't know how to tell them apart." Hundreds of strands brushed against my skirts and bodice.

"Soon you will test them, like a bird tests its wings, to discover what secrets they hold for you. Now, we will simply cut them all away, so that they can return to you unbound. As I snip the threads, you must resist the temptation to grab at the power around you. Because you are a weaver, you will want to mend the broken threads. Leave your thoughts free and your mind empty. Let the power do as it will."

Goody Alsop released my arm and began to weave her spell with sounds that bore no resemblance to speech but were strangely familiar. With each utterance I saw the filaments fall away from me, coiling and twisting. A roaring filled my ears. My arms heeded the sound as if it were a command, rising up and stretching out until I was standing in the same T-shaped position that Matthew had placed me in at the Bishop house when I drew the water from underneath Sarah's old orchard.

The strands of magic-all those threads of power that I could borrow but not hold-crept back toward me as if they were made of iron filings and I were a magnet. As they came to rest in my hands, I struggled against the urge to close my fists around them. The desire to do so was strong, as Goody Alsop predicted it would be, but I let them slide over my skin like the satin ribbons in the stories my mother told me when I was a child.

So far everything had happened as Goody Alsop had told me it would. But no one could predict what might occur when my powers took shape, and the witches around the circle braced themselves to meet the unknown. Goody Alsop had warned me that not all weavers shaped a familiar in their forspell, so I shouldn't expect one to appear. But my life these past months has taught me that the unexpected was more likely than not when I was around.

The roaring intensified, and the air stirred. A swirling ball of energy hung directly over my head. It drew energy from the room but kept collapsing into its own center like a black hole. My witch's eye closed tightly against the dizzying, roiling sight.

Something pulsed in the midst of the storm. It pulled free and took on a shadowy form. As soon as it did so, Goody Alsop fell silent. She gave me one final, long look before she left me, alone, in the center of the circle.

There was a beating of wings, the lash of a barbed tail. A hot, moist breath licked across my cheek. A transparent creature with the reptilian head of a dragon hovered in the air, bright wings striking the rafters and sending the ghosts scuttling for cover. It had only two legs, and the curved talons on its feet looked as deadly as the points along its long tail.

"How many legs does it have?" Marjorie called, unable to see clearly from her position. "Is it just a dragon?"

Just a dragon?

"It's a firedrake," Catherine said in wonder. She raised her arms, ready to cast a warding spell if it decided to strike. Elizabeth Jackson's arms moved, too.

"Wait!" Goody Alsop cried, interrupting their magic. "Diana has not yet completed her weaving. Perhaps she will find a way to tame her."

Tame her? I looked at Goody Alsop incredulously. I wasn't even sure if the creature before me was substance or spirit. She seemed real, but I could see right through her.

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