"I don't know what to do," I said, beginning to panic. Every flap of the creature's wings sent a shower of sparks and drops of fire into the room.

"Some spells begin with an idea, others with a question. There are many ways to think about what comes next: tying a knot, twisting a rope, even forging a chain like the one that you made between you and your wearh," Goody Alsop said, her tone low and soothing. "Let the power move through you."

The firedrake roared in impatience, her feet extending toward me. What did she want? A chance to pick me up and carry me from the house? A comfortable place to perch and rest her wings?

The floor underneath me creaked.

"Step aside!" Marjorie cried.

I moved just in time. A moment later a tree sprouted from the place where my feet had recently been planted. The trunk rose up, divided into two stout limbs, and branched out further. Shoots grew into green leaves at the tips, and then came white blossoms, and finally red berries. In a matter of seconds, I was standing beneath a full-grown tree, one that was flowering and fruiting at the same time.

The firedrake's feet gripped at the tree's uppermost branches. For a moment she seemed to rest there. A branch creaked and cracked. The firedrake lifted back into the air, a gnarled piece of the tree clutched in her talons. The firedrake's tongue flicked out in a lash of fire, and the tree burst into flame. There were far too many flammable objects in the room-the wooden floors and furniture, the fabric that clothed the witches. All I could think was that I must stop the fire from spreading. I needed water-and lots of it.

There was a heavy weight in my right hand. I looked down, expecting to see a bucket. Instead I was holding an arrow. Witchfire. But what good was more fire?

"No, Diana! Don't try to shape the spell!" Goody Alsop warned.

I shook myself free of thoughts of rain and rivers. As soon as I did, instinct took over and my two arms rose in front of me, my right hand drew back, and once my fingers unfurled, the arrow flew into the heart of the tree. The flames shot up high and fast, blinding me. The heat died down, and when my sight returned, I found myself atop a mountain under a vast, starry sky. A huge crescent moon hung low in the heavens.

"I've been waiting for you." The goddess's voice was little more than a breath of wind. She was wearing soft robes, her hair cascading down her back. There was no sign of her usual weapons, but a large dog padded along at her side. He was so big and black he might have been a wolf.

"You." A sense of dread squeezed around my heart. I had been expecting to see the goddess since I lost the baby. "Did you take my child in exchange for saving Matthew's life?" My question came out part fury, part despair.

"No. That debt is settled. I have already taken another. A dead child is of no use to me." The huntress's eyes were green as the first shoots of willow in spring.

My blood ran cold. "Whose life have you taken?"

"Yours."

"Mine?" I said numbly. "Am I . . . dead?"

"Of course not. The dead belong to another. It is the living I seek." The huntress's voice was now as piercing and bright as a moonbeam. "You promised I could take anyone-anything-in exchange for the life of the one you love. I chose you. And I am not done with you yet."

The goddess took a step backward. "You gave your life to me, Diana Bishop. It is now time to make use of it."

A cry overhead alerted me to the presence of the firedrake. I looked up, trying to make her out against the moon. When I blinked, her outline was perfectly visible against Goody Alsop's ceiling. I was back in the witch's house, no longer on a barren hilltop with the goddess. The tree was gone, reduced to a heap of ash. I blinked again.

The firedrake blinked back at me. Her eyes were sad and familiar- black, with silver irises rather than white. With another harsh cry, she released her talons. The branch of the tree fell into my arms. It felt like the arrow's shaft, heavier and more substantial than its size would suggest. The firedrake bobbed her head, smoke coming in wisps from her nostrils. I was tempted to reach up and touch her, wondering if her skin would be warm and soft like a snake, but something told me she wouldn't welcome it. And I didn't want to startle her. She might rear back and poke her head through the roof. I was already worried about the condition of Goody Alsop's house after the tree and the fire.

"Thank you," I whispered.

The firedrake replied with a quiet moan of fire and song. Her silver-andblack eyes were ancient and wise as she studied me, her tail flicking back and forth pensively. She stretched her wings to their full extent before tightening them around her body and dematerializing.

All that was left of the firedrake was a tingling sensation in my ribs that told me somehow she was inside me, waiting until I needed her. With the weight of this beast heavily inside me, I fell to my knees, and the branch clattered to the floor. The witches rushed forward.

Goody Alsop reached me first, her thin arms reaching around to gather me close. "You did well, child, you did well," she whispered. Elizabeth cupped her hand and with a few words transformed it into a shallow silver dipper full of water. I drank from it, and when the cup was empty, it went back to being nothing more than a hand.

"This is a great day, Goody Alsop," Catherine said, her face wreathed in smiles.

"Aye, and a hard one for such a young witch," Goody Alsop said. "You do nothing by halves, Diana Roydon. First you are no ordinary witch but a weaver. And then you weave a forspell that called forth a rowan tree simply to tame a firedrake. Had I foreseen this, I would not have believed it."

"I saw the goddess," I explained as they helped me to my feet, "and a dragon."

"That was no dragon," Elizabeth said.

"It had but two legs," Marjorie explained. "That makes her not only a creature of fire but one of water, too, capable of moving between the elements. The firedrake is a union of opposites."

"What is true of the firedrake is true of the rowan tree as well," Goody Alsop said with a proud smile. "It is not every day that a rowan tree pushes its branches into one world while leaving its roots in another."

In spite of the happy chatter of the women who surrounded me, I felt lost and alone. Matthew was waiting at the Golden Gosling for news. My third eye opened, seeking out a twisted thread of black and red that led from my heart, across the room, through the keyhole, and into the darkness beyond. I gave it a tug, and the chain inside me responded with a sympathetic chime.

"If I'm not very much mistaken, Master Roydon will be around shortly to collect his wife," Goody Alsop said drily. "Let's get you on your feet, or he'll think we cannot be trusted with you."

"Matthew can be protective," I said apologetically. "Even more so since . . ."

"I've never known a wearh who wasn't. It's their nature," Goody Alsop said, helping me up. The air had gone particulate again, brushing softly against my skin as I moved.

"Master Roydon need not fear in this case," Elizabeth said. "We will make sure you can find your way back from the darkness, just like your firedrake."

"What darkness?"

The witches went silent.

"What darkness?" I repeated, pushing my fatigue aside.

Goody Alsop sighed. "There are witches-a very few witches-who can move between this world and the next."

"Time spinners," I said with a nod. "Yes, I know. I'm one of them."

"Not between this time and the next, Diana, but between this world and the next." Marjorie gestured at the branch by my feet. "Life-and death. You can be in both worlds. That is why the rowan chose you, not the alder or the birch."

"We did wonder if this might be the case. You were able to conceive a wearh's child, after all." Goody Alsop looked at me intently. The blood had drained from my face. "What is it, Diana?"

"The quinces. And the flowers." My knees weakened again but I remained standing. "Mary Sidney's shoe. And the oak tree in Madison."

"And the wearh," Goody Alsop said softly, understanding without my telling her. "So many signs pointing to the truth."

A muffled thumping rose from outdoors.

"He mustn't know," I said urgently, grabbing at Goody Alsop's hand. "Not now. It's too soon after the baby, and Matthew doesn't want me meddling with matters of life and death."

"It is a bit late for that," she said sadly.

"Diana!" Matthew's fist pounded on the door.

"The wearh will split the wood in two," Marjorie observed. "Master Roydon won't be able to break the binding spell and enter, but the door will make a fearsome crash when it gives way. Think of your neighbors, Goody Alsop."

Goody Alsop gestured with her hand. The air thickened, then relaxed.

Matthew was standing before me in the space of a heartbeat. His gray eyes raked over me. "What happened here?"

"If Diana wants you to know, she will tell you," said Goody Alsop. She turned to me. "In light of what happened tonight, I think you should spend time with Catherine and Elizabeth tomorrow."

"Thank you, Goody," I murmured, grateful that she had not revealed my secrets.

"Wait." Catherine went to the branch from the rowan tree and snapped off a thin twig. "Take this. You should have a piece with you at all times for a talisman." Catherine dropped the bit of wood into my palm.

Not only Pierre but Gallowglass and Hancock were waiting for us in the street. They hustled me into a boat that waited at the bottom of Garlic Hill. After we arrived back at Water Lane Matthew sent everyone away, and we were left in the blissful quiet of our bedchamber.

"I don't need to know what happened," Matthew said roughly, closing the door behind him. "I just need to know that you're truly all right."

"I'm truly fine." I turned my back to him so that he could loosen the laces on my bodice.

"You're afraid of something. I can smell it." Matthew spun me around to face him.

"I'm afraid of what I might find out about myself." I met his eyes squarely.

"You'll find your truth." He sounded so sure, so unconcerned. But he didn't know about the dragon and the rowan and what they meant for a weaver. Matthew didn't know that my life belonged to the goddess either, nor that it was because of the bargain I'd made to save him.

"What if I become someone else and you don't like her?"

"Not possible," he assured me, drawing me closer.

"Even if we find out that the powers of life and death are in my blood?"

Matthew pulled away.

"Saving you in Madison wasn't a fluke, Matthew. I breathed life into Mary's shoes, too-just as I sucked the life out of the oak tree at Sarah's and the quinces here."

"Life and death are big responsibilities." Matthew's gray-green eyes were somber. "But I will love you regardless. You forget, I have power over life and death, too. What is it you told me that night I went hunting in Oxford? You said there was no difference between us. 'Occasionally I eat partridge. Occasionally you feed on deer.'

"We are more similar, you and I, than either of us imagined," Matthew continued. "But if you can believe good of me, knowing what you do of my past deeds, then you must allow me to believe the same of you."

Suddenly I wanted to share my secrets. "There was a firedrake and a tree-"

"And the only thing that matters is that you are safely home," he said, quieting me with a kiss.

Matthew held me so long and so tightly that for a few blissful moments I-almost-believed him.

The next day I went to Goody Alsop's house to meet with Elizabeth Jackson and Catherine Streeter as promised. Annie accompanied me, but she was sent over to Susanna's house to wait until my lesson was done.

The rowan branch was propped up in the corner. Otherwise the room looked perfectly ordinary and not at all like the kind of place where witches drew sacred circles or summoned firedrakes. Still, I expected some more visible signs that magic was about to be performed-a cauldron, perhaps, or colored candles to signify the elements.

Goody Alsop gestured to the table, where four chairs were arranged. "Come, Diana, and sit. We thought we might begin at the beginning. Tell us about your family. Much is revealed by following a witch's bloodline."

"But I thought you would teach me how to weave spells with fire and water."

"What is blood, if not fire and water?" Elizabeth said.

Three hours later I was talked out and exhausted from dredging up memories of my childhood-the feeling of being watched, Peter Knox's visit to the house, my parents' death. But the three witches didn't stop there. I relived every moment of high school and college, too: the daemons who followed me, the few spells I could perform without too much trouble, the strange occurrences that began only after I met Matthew. If there was a pattern to any of it, I failed to see it, but Goody Alsop sent me off with assurances that they would soon have a plan.

I dragged myself to Baynard's Castle. Mary tucked me into a chair and refused my help, insisting I rest while she figured out what was wrong with our batch of prima materia. It had gone all black and sludgy, with a thin film of greenish goo on top.

My thoughts drifted while Mary worked. The day was sunny, and a beam of light sliced through the smoky air and fell on the mural depicting the alchemical dragon. I sat forward in my chair.

"No," I said. "It can't be."

But it was. The dragon was not a dragon for it had only two legs. It was a firedrake and carried its barbed tail in its mouth, like the ouroboros on the de Clermont banner. The firedrake's head was tilted to the sky, and it held a crescent moon in its jaws. A multipointed star rose above it. Matthew's emblem. How had I not noticed before?

"What is it, Diana?" asked a frowning Mary.

"Would you do something for me, Mary, even if the request is strange?" I was already untying the silk cord at my wrists in anticipation of her answer.

"Of course. What is it you need?"

The firedrake dripped squiggly blobs of blood into the alchemical vessel below its wings. There the blood swam in a sea of mercury and silver.

"I want you to take my blood and put it in a solution of aqua fortis, silver, and mercury," I said. Mary's glance moved from me to the firedrake and back. "For what is blood but fire and water, a conjunction of opposites, and a chemical wedding?"

"Very well, Diana," Mary agreed, sounding mystified. But she asked no more questions.

I flicked my finger confidently over the scar on my inner arm. I had no need for a knife this time. The skin parted, as I knew it would, and the blood welled up simply because I had need of it. Joan rushed forward with a small bowl to catch the red liquid. On the wall above, the silver and black eyes of the firedrake followed the drops as they fell.

"'It begins with absence and desire, it begins with blood and fear,'" I whispered.

"'It began with a discovery of witches,'" time responded, in a primeval echo that set alight the blue and amber threads that flickered against the room's stone walls.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com