"My two weeks are up. It's time for me to go."
My father's words weren't unexpected, but they felt like a blow nevertheless. My eyelids dropped to cover my reaction.
"Your mother will think I've taken up with an orange seller if I don't show up soon."
"Orange sellers are more of a seventeenth-century thing," I said absently, picking at the cords in my lap. I was now making steady progress with everything from simple charms against headaches to the more complicated weavings that could make waves ruffle on the Thames. I twined the gold and blue strands around my fingers. Strength and understanding.
"Wow. Nice recovery, Diana." My father turned to Matthew. "She bounces back fast."
"Tell me about it," was my husband's equally dry reply. They both relied on humor to smooth over the rough edges of their interactions, which sometimes made them unbearable.
"I'm glad I got to know you, Matthew-despite that scary look you get when you think I'm bossing Diana around," my father said with a laugh.
Ignoring their banter, I twisted the yellow cord in with the gold and blue. Persuasion.
"Can you stay until tomorrow? It would be a shame to miss the celebrations." It was Midsummer Eve, and the city was in a holiday mood. Worried that a final evening with his daughter would not be sufficient inducement, I shamelessly appealed to my father's academic interests. "There will be so many folk customs for you to observe."
"Folk customs?" My father laughed. "Very slick. Of course I'm staying until tomorrow. Annie made a wreath of flowers for my hair, and Will and I are going to share some tobacco with Walter. Then I'm going to visit with Father Hubbard."
Matthew frowned. "You know Hubbard?"
"Oh, sure. I introduced myself to him when I arrived. I had to, since he was the man in charge. Father Hubbard figured out I was Diana's father pretty quickly. You all have an amazing sense of smell." My father looked at Matthew benignly. "An interesting man, with his ideas about creatures all living as one big, happy family."
"It would be utter chaos," I pointed out.
"We all made it through last night with three vampires, two witches, a daemon, two humans, and a dog sharing one roof. Don't be so quick to dismiss new ideas, Diana." My father looked at me disapprovingly. "Then I suppose I'll hang out with Catherine and Marjorie. Lots of witches will be on the prowl tonight. Those two will definitely know where the most fun can be found." Apparently he was on a first-name basis with half the town.
"And you'll be careful. Especially around Will, Daddy. No 'Wow' or 'Well played, Shakespeare.'" My father was fond of slang. It was, he said, the hallmark of the anthropologist.
"If only I could take Will home with me, he'd make a cool-sorry, honey-colleague. He has a sense of humor. Our department could do with someone like him. Put a bit of leavening in the lump, if you know what I mean." My father rubbed his hands together. "What are your plans?"
"We don't have any." I looked at Matthew blankly, and he shrugged.
"I thought I would answer some letters," he said hesitantly. The mail had piled up to alarming levels.
"Oh, no." My father sat back in his chair, looking horrified.
"What?" I turned my head to see who or what had entered the room.
"Don't tell me you're the kind of academics who can't tell the difference between their life and their job." He flung up his hands as if warding off the plague. "I refuse to believe that my daughter could be one of them."
"That's a bit melodramatic, Daddy," I said stiffly. "We could spend the evening with you. I've never smoked. It will be historic to do it with Walter for the first time, since he introduced tobacco into England."
My father looked even more horrified. "Absolutely not. We'll be bonding as fellow men. Lionel Tiger argues-"
"I'm not a big fan of Tiger," Matthew interjected. "The social carnivore never made sense to me."
"Can we put the topic of eating people aside for a moment and discuss why you don't want to spend your last night with Matthew and me?" I was hurt.
"It's not that, honey. Help me out here, Matthew. Take Diana out on a date. You must be able to think of something to do."
"Like roller-skating?" Matthew's brows shot up. "There aren't any skating rinks in sixteenth-century London-and precious few of them left in the twenty-first century, I might add."
"Damn." My father and Matthew had been playing "fad versus trend" for days, and while my father was delighted to know that the popularity of disco and the Pet Rock would fade, he was shocked to hear that other things-like the leisure suit-were now the butt of jokes. "I love rollerskating. Rebecca and I go to a place in Dorchester when we want to get away from Diana for a few hours, and-"
"We'll go for a walk," I said hastily. My father could be unnecessarily frank when it came to discussing how he and my mother spent their free time. He seemed to think it might shock Matthew's sense of propriety. When that failed, he took to calling Matthew "Sir Lancelot" for an added measure of annoyance.
"A walk. You'll take a walk." My father paused. "You mean that literally, don't you?"
He pushed away from the table. "No wonder creatures are going the way of the dodo. Go out. Both of you. Now. And I'm ordering you to have fun." He ushered us toward the door.
"How?" I asked, utterly mystified.
"That is not a question a daughter should ask her father. It's Midsummer Eve. Go out and ask the first person you meet what you should do. Better yet, follow someone else's example. Howl at the moon. Make magic. Make out, at the very least. Surely even Sir Lancelot makes out." He waggled his eyebrows. "Get the picture, Miss Bishop?"
"I think so." My tone reflected my doubts about my father's notion of fun.
"Good. I won't be back until sunrise, so don't wait up. Better yet, stay out all night yourselves. Jack is with Tommy Harriot. Annie is with her aunt. Pierre is- I don't know where Pierre is, but he doesn't need a babysitter. I'll see you at breakfast."
"When did you start calling Thomas Harriot 'Tommy'?" I asked. My father pretended not to hear me.
"Give me a hug before you go. And don't forget to have fun, okay?" He enveloped me in his arms. "Catch you on the flip side, baby."
Stephen pushed us out the door and shut it in our faces. I extended my hand to the latch and found it taken into a vampire's cool grip.
"He'll be leaving in a few hours, Matthew." I reached for the door with the other hand. Matthew took that one, too.
"I know. So does he," Matthew explained.
"Then he should understand that I want to spend more time with him." I stared at the door, willing my father to open it. I could see the threads leading from me, through the grain in the wood, to the wizard on the other side. One of the threads snapped and struck the back of my hand like a rubber band. I gasped. "Daddy!"
"Get moving, Diana!" he shouted.
Matthew and I wandered around town, watching the shops close early and noting the revelers already filling the pubs. More than one butcher was casually stacking bones by the front door. They were white and clean, as though they had been boiled.
"What's going on with the bones?" I asked Matthew after we saw the third such display.
"They're for the bone fires."
"No," Matthew said, "the bone fires. Traditionally, people celebrate Midsummer Eve by lighting fires: bone fires, wood fires, and mixed fires. The mayor's warnings to cease and desist all such superstitious celebrations go up every year, and people light them anyway."
Matthew treated me to dinner at the famous Belle Savage Inn just outside the Blackfriars on Ludgate Hill. More than a simple eatery, the Belle Savage was an entertainment complex where customers could see plays and fencing matches-not to mention Marocco, the famous horse who could pick virgins out of the crowd. It wasn't roller-skating in Dorchester, but it was close.
The city's teenagers were out in force, shouting insults and innuendos at one another as they went from one watering hole to another. During the day most were hard at work as servants or apprentices. Even in the evenings their time was not their own, since their masters expected them to watch over the shops and houses, tend children, fetch food and water, and do the hundred other small chores that were required to keep an early-modern household going. Tonight London belonged to them, and they were making the most of it.
We passed back through Ludgate and approached the entrance to the Blackfriars as the bells tolled nine o'clock. It was the time the members of the Watch started to make their rounds, and people were expected to head for home, but no one seemed to be enforcing the rules tonight. Though the sun had set an hour earlier, the moon was only one day away from full, and the city streets were still bright with moonlight.
"Can we keep walking?" I asked. We were always going somewhere specific-to Baynard's Castle to see Mary, to St. James Garlickhythe to visit with the gathering, to St. Paul's Churchyard for books. Matthew and I had never taken a walk through the city without a destination in mind.
"I don't see why not, since we were ordered to stay out and have fun," Matthew said. He dipped his head and stole a kiss.
We walked around the western door of St. Paul's, which was bustling in spite of the hour, and out of the churchyard to the north. This put us on Cheapside, London's most spacious and prosperous street, where the goldsmiths plied their trade. We rounded the Cheapside Cross, which was being used as a paddling pool by a group of roaring boys, and headed east. Matthew traced the route of Anne Boleyn's coronation procession for me and pointed out the house where Geoffrey Chaucer had lived as a child. Some merchants invited Matthew to join them in a game of bowls. They booed him out of the competition after his third strike in a row, however.
"Happy now that you've proven you're top dog?" I teased as he put his arm around me and pulled me close.
"Very," he said. He pointed to a fork in the road. "Look."
"The Royal Exchange." I turned to him in excitement. "At night! You remembered."
"A gentleman never forgets," he murmured with a low bow. "I'm not sure if any shops are still open, but the lamps will be lit. Will you join me in a promenade across the courtyard?"
We entered through the wide arches next to the bell tower topped with a golden grasshopper. Inside, I turned around slowly to get the full experience of the four-storied building with its hundred shops selling everything from suits of armor to shoehorns. Statues of English monarchs looked down on the customers and merchants, and a further plague of grasshoppers ornamented the peak of each dormer window.
"The grasshopper was Gresham's emblem, and he wasn't shy about selfpromotion," Matthew said with a laugh, following my eyes.
Some shops were indeed open, the lamps in the arcades around the central courtyard were lit, and we were not the only ones enjoying the evening.
"Where is the music coming from?" I asked, looking around for the minstrels.
"The tower," Matthew said, pointing in the direction we had entered. "The merchants chip in and sponsor concerts in the warm weather. It's good for business."
Matthew was good for business, too, based on the number of shopkeepers who greeted him by name. He joked with them and asked after their wives and children.
"I'll be right back," he said, darting into a nearby store. Mystified, I stood listening to the music and watching an authoritative young woman organize an impromptu ball. People formed circles, holding hands and jumping up and down like popcorn in a hot skillet.
When he came back, Matthew presented to me-with all due ceremony-
"A mousetrap," I said, giggling at the little wooden box with its sliding door.
"That is a proper mousetrap," he said, taking my hand. He started walking backward, pulling me into the center of the merriment. "Dance with me."
"I definitely don't know that dance." It was nothing like the sedate dances at Sept-Tours or at Rudolf's court.
"Well, I do," Matthew said, not bothering to look at the whirling couples behind him. "It's an old dance-the Black Nag-with easy steps." He pulled me into place at one end of the line, plucking my mousetrap out of my hand and giving it into the safekeeping of an urchin. He promised the boy a penny if he returned it to us at the end of the song.
Matthew took my hand, stepped into the line of dancers, and when the others moved, we followed. Three steps and a little kick forward, three steps and a little dip back. After a few repetitions, we came to the more intricate steps when the line of twelve dancers divided into two lines of six and started changing places, crossing in diagonal paths from one line to the other, weaving back and forth.
When the dance finished, there were calls for more music and requests for specific tunes, but we left the Royal Exchange before the dances became any more energetic. Matthew retrieved my mousetrap and, instead of taking me straight home, wended his way south toward the river. We turned down so many alleys and cut across so many churchyards that I was hopelessly disoriented by the time we reached All Hallows the Great, with its tall, square tower and abandoned cloister where the monks had once walked. Like most of London's churches, All Hallows was on its way to becoming a ruin, its medieval stonework crumbling.
"Are you up for a climb?" Matthew asked, ducking into the cloister and through a low wooden door.
I nodded, and we began our ascent. We passed by the bells, which were happily not clanging at the moment, and Matthew pushed open a trapdoor in the roof. He scampered through the hole, then reached down and lifted me up to join him. Suddenly we were standing behind the tower's crenellations, with all of London spread at our feet.
The bonfires on the hills outside the city already burned bright, and lanterns bobbed up and down on the bows of boats and barges crossing the Thames. At this distance, with the darkness of the river as a backdrop, they looked like fireflies. I heard laughter, music, all the ordinary sounds of life I'd grown so accustomed to during the months we'd been here.
"So you've met the queen, seen the Royal Exchange at night, and actually been in a play instead of just watching one," Matthew said, ticking items off on his fingers.
"We found Ashmole 782, too. And I discovered I'm a weaver and that magic isn't as disciplined as I'd hoped." I surveyed the city, remembering when we'd first arrived and Matthew had to point out the landmarks for fear I'd get lost. Now I could name them myself. "There's Bridewell." I pointed. "And St. Paul's. And the bearbaiting arenas." I turned toward the quiet vampire standing beside me. "Thank you for tonight, Matthew. We've never been on a date-date-out in public like this. It was magical."
"I didn't do a very good job courting you, did I? We should have had more nights like this one, with dancing and looking at the stars." He tilted his face up, and the moon glanced off his pale skin.
"You're practically glowing," I said softly, reaching up to touch his chin.
"So are you." Matthew's hands slid to my waist, his gesture bringing the baby into our embrace. "That reminds me. Your father gave us a list, too."
"We've had fun. You made magic by taking me to the exchange and then surprising me with this view."
"That leaves only two more items. Lady's choice: I can howl at the moon or we can make out."
I smiled and looked away, strangely shy. Matthew tilted his head up to the moon again, readying himself.
"No howling. You'll bring out the Watch," I protested with a laugh.
"Kissing it is," he said softly, fitting his mouth to mine.
* * *
The next morning the entire household was yawning its way through breakfast after staying out until the early hours. Tom and Jack had just risen and were wolfing down bowls of porridge when Gallowglass came in and whispered something to Matthew. My mouth went dry at Matthew's sad look.
"Where's my dad?" I shot to my feet.
"He's gone home," Gallowglass said gruffly.
"Why didn't you stop him?" I asked Gallowglass, tears threatening.
"He can't be gone. I just needed a few more hours with him."
"All the time in the world wouldn't have been enough, Auntie," Gallowglass said sadly.
"But he didn't say good-bye," I whispered numbly.
"A parent should never have to say a final good-bye to his child," Matthew said.
"Stephen asked me to give you this," Gallowglass said. It was a piece of paper, folded up into an origami sailboat.
"Daddy sucked at swans," I said, wiping my eyes, "but he was really good at making boats." Carefully, I unfolded the note.
Diana: You are everything we dreamed you would one day become. Life is the strong warp of time. Death is only the weft. It will be because of your children, and your children's
children, that I will live forever. Dad
P.S. Every time you read "something is rotten in the state of Denmark" in Hamlet, think of me..
"You tell me that magic is just desire made real. Maybe spells are nothing more than words that you believe with all your heart," Matthew said, coming to rest his hands on my shoulders. "He loves you. Forever. So do I."
His words wove through the threads that connected us, witch and vampire. They carried the conviction of his feelings with them: tenderness, reverence, constancy, hope.
"I love you, too," I whispered, reinforcing his spell with mine.