My father had left London without saying a proper good-bye. I was determined to take my own leave differently. As a result my final days in the city were a complex weaving of words and desires, spells and magic.
Goody Alsop's fetch was waiting sadly for me at the end of the lane. She trailed listlessly behind me as I climbed the stairs to the witch's rooms.
"So you are leaving us," Goody Alsop said from her chair by the fire. She was wearing wool and a shawl, and a fire was blazing as well.
"We must." I bent down and kissed her papery cheek. "How are you today?"
"Somewhat better, thanks to Susanna's remedies." Goody Alsop coughed, and the force of it bent her frail frame in two. When she was recovered, she studied me with bright eyes and nodded. "This time the babe has taken root."
"It has," I said with a smile. "I have the sickness to prove it. Would you like me to tell the others?" I didn't want Goody Alsop to shoulder any extra burdens, emotional or physical. Susanna was worried about her frailty, and Elizabeth Jackson was already taking on some of the duties usually performed by the gathering's elder.
"No need. Catherine was the one to tell me. She said Corra was flying about a few days ago, chortling and chattering as she does when she has a secret."
We had come to an agreement, my firedrake and I, that she would limit her open-air flying to once a week, and only at night. I'd reluctantly agreed to a second night out during the dark of the moon, when the risk of anyone's seeing her and mistaking her for a fiery portent of doom was at its lowest.
"So that's where she went," I said with a laugh. Corra found the firewitch's company soothing, and Catherine enjoyed challenging her to firebreathing contests.
"We are all glad that Corra has found something to do with herself besides clinging to the chimneypieces and shrieking at the ghosts." Goody Alsop pointed to the chair opposite. "Will you not sit with me? The goddess may not afford us another chance."
"Did you hear the news from Scotland?" I asked as I took my seat.
"I have heard nothing since you told me that pleading her belly did not save Euphemia MacLean from the pyre." Goody Alsop's decline began the night I'd told her that a young witch from Berwick had been burned, in spite of Matthew's efforts.
"Matthew finally convinced the rest of the Congregation that the spiral of accusations and executions had to stop. Two of the accused witches have overturned their testimony and said their confessions were the result of torture."
"It must have given the Congregation pause to have a wearh speak out on behalf of a witch." Goody Alsop looked at me sharply. "He would give himself away if you were to stay. Matthew Roydon lives in a dangerous world of half-truths, but no one can avoid detection forever. Because of the babe, you must take greater care."
"We will," I assured her. "Meanwhile I'm still not absolutely sure my eighth knot is strong enough for the timewalking. Not with Matthew and the baby."
"Let me see it," Goody Alsop said, stretching out her hand. I leaned forward and put the cords into her palm. I would use all nine cords when we timewalked and make a total of nine different knots. No spell used more.
With practiced hands Goody Alsop made eight crossings in the red cord and then bound the ends together so that the knot was unbreakable. "That is how I do it." It was beautifully simple, with open loops and swirls like the stone traceries in a cathedral window.
"Mine did not look like that." My laugh was rueful. "It wiggled and squiggled around."
"Every weaving is as unique as the weaver who makes it. The goddess does not want us to imitate some ideal of perfection, but to be our true selves."
"Well, I must be all wiggle, then." I reached for the cords to study the design.
"There is another knot I would show you," Goody Alsop said.
"Another?" I frowned.
"A tenth knot. It is impossible for me to make it, though it should be the simplest." Goody Alsop smiled, but her chin trembled. "My own teacher could not make the knot either, but still we passed it on, in hope that a weaver such as you might come along."
Goody Alsop released the just-tied knot with a flick of her gnarled index finger. I handed the red silk back to her, and she made a simple loop. For a moment the cord fused in an unbroken ring. As soon as she took her fingers from it, however, the loop released.
"But you drew the ends together just a minute ago, and with a far more complicated weaving," I said, confused
"As long as there is a crossing in the cord, I can bind the ends and complete the spell. But only a weaver who stands between worlds can make the tenth knot," she replied. "Try it. Use the silver silk."
Mystified, I joined the ends of the cord into a circlet. The fibers snapped together to form a loop with no beginning and no ending. I lifted my fingers from the silk, but the circle held.
"A fine weaving," Goody Alsop said with satisfaction. "The tenth knot captures the power of eternity, a weaving of life and death. It is rather like your husband's snake, or the way Corra carries her tail in her mouth sometimes when it gets in her way." She held up the tenth knot. It was another ouroboros. The sense of the uncanny built in the room, lifting the hairs on my arm. "Creation and destruction are the simplest magics, and the most powerful, just as the simplest knot is the most difficult to make."
"I don't want to use magic to destroy anything," I said. The Bishops had a strong tradition of not doing harm. My Aunt Sarah believed that any witch who strayed away from this fundamental tenet would find the evil coming back to her in the end.
"No one wants to use the goddess's gifts as a weapon, but sometimes it is necessary. Your wearh knows that. After what happened here and in Scotland, you know it, too."
"Perhaps. But my world is different," I said. "There's less call for magical weapons."
"Worlds change, Diana." Goody Alsop fixed her attention on some distant memory. "My teacher, Mother Ursula, was a great weaver. I was reminded of one of her prophecies on All Hallows' Eve, when the terrible events in Scotland began-and when you came to change our world."
Her voice took on the singsong quality of an incantation.
"For storms will rage and oceans roar
When Gabriel stands on sea and shore.
And as he blows his wondrous horn,
Old worlds die, and new be born."
Not a breeze or a crackle of flame disturbed the room when Goody Alsop finished. She took a deep breath.
"It is all one, you see. Death and birth. The tenth knot with no beginning and no ending, and the wearh's snake. The full moon that shone earlier this week and the shadow Corra cast upon the Thames in a portent of your leaving. The old world and the new." Goody Alsop's smile wavered. "I was glad when you came to me, Diana Roydon. And when you go, as you must, my heart will be heavy."
"Usually Matthew tells me when he is leaving my city." Andrew Hubbard's white hands rested on the carved arms of his chair in the church crypt. High above us someone prepared for an upcoming church service. "What brings you here, Mistress Roydon?"
"I came to talk to you about Annie and Jack." Hubbard's strange eyes studied me as I pulled a small leather purse from my pocket. It contained five years of wages for each of them.
"I'm leaving London. I would like you to have this, for their care." I thrust the money in Hubbard's direction. He made no move to take it.
"That isn't necessary, mistress."
"Please. I would take them with me if I could. Since they cannot go, I need to know that someone will be watching out for them."
"And what will you give me in return?"
"Why . . . the money, of course." I held the pouch out once more.
"I don't want or need the money, Mistress Roydon." Hubbard settled back in his chair, his eyes drifting closed.
"What do you-" I stopped. "No."
"God does nothing in vain. There are no accidents in His plans. He wanted you to come here today, because He wants to be sure that no one of your blood will have anything to fear from me or mine."
"I have protectors enough," I protested.
"And can the same be said for your husband?" Hubbard glanced at my breast. "Your blood is stronger in his veins now than when you arrived. And there is the child to consider."
My heart stuttered. When I took my Matthew back to our present, Andrew Hubbard would be one of the few people who would know his future-and that there was a witch in it.
"You wouldn't use the knowledge of me against Matthew. Not after what he's done-how he's changed."
"Wouldn't I?" Hubbard's tight smile told me he would do whatever it took to protect his flock. "There is a great deal of bad blood between us."
"I'll find another way to see them safe," I said, deciding to go.
"Annie is my child already. She is a witch, and part of my family. I will see to her welfare. Jack Blackfriars is another matter. He is not a creature and will have to fend for himself."
"He's a child-a boy!"
"But not my child. Nor are you. I do not owe either of you anything. Good day, Mistress Roydon." Hubbard turned away.
"And if I were one of your family, what then? Would you honor my request about Jack? Would you recognize Matthew as one of my blood and therefore under your protection?" It was the sixteenth-century Matthew that I was thinking of now. When we returned to the present, that other Matthew would still be here in the past.
"If you offer me your blood, neither Matthew nor Jack nor your unborn child has anything to fear from me or mine." Hubbard imparted the information dispassionately, but his glance was touched with the avarice I'd seen in Rudolf's eyes.
"And how much blood would you need?" Think. Stay alive.
"Very little-no more than a drop." Hubbard's attention was unwavering.
"I couldn't let you take it directly from my body. Matthew would know-we are mates, after all," I said. Hubbard's eyes flickered to my breast.
"I always take my tribute directly from my children's neck."
"I'm sure you do, Father Hubbard. But you can understand why that isn't possible-or even desirable-in this case." I fell silent, hoping that Hubbard's hunger-for power, for knowledge of Matthew and me, for something to hold over the de Clermonts if he ever needed it-would win. "I could use a cup."
"No," Hubbard said with a shake of his head. "Your blood would be tainted. It must be pure."
"A silver cup, then," I said, thinking of Chef's lectures at Sept-Tours.
"You will open the vein in your wrist over my mouth and let the blood fall into it. We will not touch." Hubbard scowled at me. "Otherwise I will doubt the sincerity of your offer."
"Very well, Father Hubbard. I accept your terms." I loosened the tie at my right cuff and pushed up the sleeve. While I did so, I whispered a silent request to Corra. "Where do you wish to do this? From what I saw before, your children kneel before you, but that will not work if I'm to drip the blood into your mouth."
"It does not matter to God who kneels." To my surprise, Hubbard dropped to the floor before me. He handed me a knife.
"I don't need that." I flicked my finger at the blue traceries on my wrist and murmured a simple unbinding charm. A line of crimson appeared. The blood welled. "Are you ready?"
Hubbard nodded and opened his mouth, his eyes on my face. He was waiting for me to renege, or cheat him somehow. But I would obey the letter of this agreement, though not its spirit. Thank you, Goody Alsop, I said, sending her a silent blessing for showing me how to handle the man.
I held my wrist over his mouth and clenched my fist. A drop of blood rolled over the edge of my arm and began to fall. Hubbard's eyes flickered closed, as if he wanted to concentrate on what my blood would tell him.
"What is blood, if not fire and water?" I murmured. I called on the wind to slow the droplet's fall. As the power of the air increased, it froze the falling bead of blood so that it was crystalline and sharp when it landed on Hubbard's tongue. The vampire's eyes shot open in confusion.
"No more than a drop." The wind had dried the remaining blood against my skin in a maze of red streaks over the blue veins. "You are a man of God, a man of your word, are you not, Father Hubbard?"
Corra's tail loosened from around my waist. She'd used it to block our baby from having any knowledge of this sordid transaction, but now she seemed to want to use it to beat Hubbard senseless.
Slowly I withdrew my arm. Hubbard thought about grabbing it back to his mouth. I saw the idea cross his mind as clearly as I had seen Edward Kelley contemplate clubbing me with his walking stick. But he thought better of it. I whispered another simple spell to close the wound, and turned wordlessly to leave.
"When you are next in London," Hubbard said softly, "God will whisper it to me. And if He wills it, we shall meet again. But remember this. No matter where you go from now, even unto death, some small piece of you will live within me."
I stopped and looked back at him. His words were menacing, but the expression on his face was thoughtful, even sad. My pace quickened as I left the church crypt, wanting to put as much distance as I could between me and Andrew Hubbard.
"Farewell, Diana Bishop," he called after me.
I was halfway across town before I realized that no matter how little that single drop of blood might have revealed, Father Hubbard now knew my real name.
Walter and Matthew were shouting at each other when I returned to the Hart and Crown. Raleigh's groom could hear them, too. He was in the courtyard, holding the reins of Walter's black beast of a horse and listening to their argument through the open windows.
"It will mean my death-and hers, too! No one must know she is with child!" Oddly enough, it was Walter speaking.
"You cannot abandon the woman you love and your own child in an attempt to stay true to the queen, Walter. Elizabeth will find out that you have betrayed her, and Bess will be ruined forever."
"What do you expect me to do? Marry her? If I do so without the queen's permission, I'll be arrested."
"You'll survive no matter what happens," Matthew said flatly. "If you leave Bess without your protection, she will not."
"How can you pretend concern for marital honesty after all the lies you've told about Diana? Some days you insisted you were married but made us swear to deny it should any strange witches or wearhs come sniffing around asking questions." Walter's voice dropped, but the ferocity remained. "Do you expect me to believe you're going to return whence you came and acknowledge her as your wife?"
I slipped into the room unnoticed.
"I thought not," Walter said. He was pulling on his gloves.
"Is this how you two want to say your farewells?" I asked.
"Diana," Walter said warily.
"Hello, Walter. Your groom is downstairs with the horse."
He started toward the door, stopped. "Be sensible, Matthew. I cannot lose all credit at court. Bess understands the dangers of the queen's anger better than anyone. At the court of Elizabeth, fortune is fleeting, but disgrace endures forever."