My attempts to reach the Old Lodge's future from its past were unsuccessful. I focused on the look and smell of the place and saw the threads that bound Matthew and me to the house-brown and green and gold. But they slipped out of my fingers repeatedly.
I tried for Sept-Tours instead. The threads that linked us there were tinged with Matthew's idiosyncratic blend of silver, red, and black. I imagined the house full of familiar faces-Sarah and Em, Ysabeau and Marthe, Marcus and Miriam, Sophie and Nathaniel. But I couldn't reach that safe port either.
Resolutely ignoring the rising panic, I searched among hundreds of options for an alternative destination. Oxford? The Blackfriars underground station in modern London? St. Paul's Cathedral?
My fingers kept returning to the same strand in the warp and weft of time that was not silky and smooth but hard and rough. I inched along its twisting length and discovered that it was not a thread but a root connected to some unseen tree. With that realization I tripped, as over an invisible threshold, and fell into the keeping room of the Bishop House.
Home. I landed on my hands and knees, the knotted cords flattened between my palms and the floor. Centuries of polish and the passage of hundreds of ancestral feet had long since smoothed out its wide pine boards. They felt familiar under my hands, a token of permanence in a world of change. I looked up, half expecting to see my aunts waiting in the front hall. It had been so easy to find my way back to Madison that I assumed they were guiding us. But the air in the Bishop House was still and lifeless, as though not a soul had disturbed it since Halloween. Not even the ghosts seemed to be in residence.
Matthew was kneeling next to me, his hand still clasped in mine and his muscles trembling from the stress of moving through time.
"Are we alone?" I asked.
He took in the house's scents. "Yes."
With his quiet response, the house wakened and the atmosphere went from flat and lifeless to thick and uneasy in a blink. Matthew looked at me and smiled. "Your hair. It's changed again."
I glanced down to find not the strawberry blond curls I'd grown accustomed to but straight, silky strands that were a brighter reddish gold-just like my mother's hair.
"It must be the timewalking."
The house creaked and moaned. I felt it gathering its energy for an outburst.
"It's only me and Matthew."
My words were soothing, but my voice was oddly accented and harsh. The house recognized it nonetheless, and a sigh of relief filled the room. A breeze came down the chimney, carrying an unfamiliar aroma of chamomile mixed with cinnamon. I looked over my shoulder to the fireplace and the cracked wooden panels that surrounded it and scrambled to my feet.
"What the hell is that?"
A tree had erupted from under the grate. Its black trunk filled the chimney, and its limbs had pushed through the stone and the surrounding wood paneling.
"It's like the tree from Mary's alembic." Matthew crouched down by the hearth in his black velvet breeches and embroidered linen shirt. His finger touched a small lump of silver embedded in the bark. Like mine, his voice sounded out of time and place.
"That looks like your pilgrim's badge." I joined him, my full black skirts belling out over the floor. The outline of Lazarus's coffin was barely recognizable.
"I think it is. The ampulla had two gilded hollows inside to hold holy water. Before I left Oxford, I'd filled one with my blood and the other with yours." Matthew's eyes met mine. "Having our blood so close made me feel as though we could never be separated."
"It looks as though the ampulla was exposed to heat and partially melted. If the inside of the ampulla was gilded, traces of mercury would have been released along with the blood."
"So this tree was made with some of the same ingredients as Mary's arbor Dianæ." Matthew looked up into the bare branches.
The scent of chamomile and cinnamon intensified. The tree began to bloom-but not the usual fruit or flowers. Instead a key and a single sheet of vellum sprouted from the branches.
"It's the page from the manuscript," said Matthew, pulling it free.
"That means the book is still broken and incomplete in the twenty-first century. Nothing we did in the past altered that fact." I took a steadying breath.
"Then the likelihood is that Ashmole 782 is safely hidden in the Bodleian Library," Matthew said quietly. "This is the key to a car." He snagged it off the branches. For months I hadn't thought about any form of transportation besides a horse or a ship. I looked out the front window, but no vehicle awaited us there. Matthew's eyes followed mine.
"Marcus and Hamish would have made sure we had a way to get to Sept-Tours as planned without calling them for help. They probably have cars waiting all over Europe and America just in case. But they wouldn't have left one visible," Matthew continued.
"There's no garage."
"The hop barn." Matthew's hand automatically moved to slide the key into the pocket at his hip, but his clothing had no such modern conveniences.
"Would they have thought to leave clothes for us, too?" I gestured down at my embroidered jacket and full skirts. They were still dusty from the unpaved, sixteenth-century Oxford road.
"Let's find out." Matthew carried the key and the page from Ashmole 782 into the family room and kitchen.
"Still brown," I commented, looking at the checked wallpaper and ancient refrigerator.
"Still home," Matthew said, drawing me into the crook of his arm.
"Not without Em and Sarah." In contrast with the overstuffed household that had surrounded us for so many months, our modern family seemed fragile and its membership small. Here there was no Mary Sidney to discuss my troubles with in the course of a stormy evening. Neither Susanna nor Goody Alsop would drop by the house in the afternoon for a cup of wine and to help me perfect my latest spell. I wouldn't have Annie's cheerful assistance to get me out of my corset and skirts. Mop wasn't underfoot, or Jack. And if we needed help, there was no Henry Percy to rush to our aid without question or hesitation. I slid my hand around Matthew's waist, needing a reminder of his solid indestructibility.
"You will always miss them," he said softly, gauging my mood, "but the pain will fade in time."
"I'm beginning to feel more like a vampire than a witch," I said ruefully. "Too many good-byes, too many missing loved ones." I spotted the calendar on the wall. It showed the month of November. I pointed it out to Matthew.
"Is it possible that no one has been here since last year?" he wondered, worried.
"Something must be wrong," I said, reaching for the phone.
"No," said Matthew. "The Congregation could be tracing the calls or watching the house. We're expected at Sept-Tours. Whether our time away can be measured in an hour or a year, that's where we need to go."
We found our modern clothes on top of the dryer, slipped into a pillowcase to keep them from getting dusty. Matthew's briefcase sat neatly beside them. Em at least had been here since we left. No one else would have thought of such practicalities. I wrapped our Elizabethan clothes in the linens, reluctant to let go of these tangible remnants of our former lives, and tucked them under my arms like two lumpy footballs. Matthew slid the page from Ashmole 782 into his leather bag, closing it securely.
Matthew scanned the orchard and the fields before we left the house, his keen eyes alert to possible danger. I made my own sweep of the place with my witch's third eye, but no one seemed to be out there. I could see the water under the orchard, hear the owls in the trees, taste the summer sweetness in the air, but that was all.
"Come on," Matthew said, grabbing one of the bundles and taking my hand. We ran across the open space to the hop barn. Matthew put all his weight against the sliding door and pushed, but it wouldn't budge.
"Sarah put a spell on it." I could see it, twisted around the handle and through the grain of the wood. "A good one, too."
"Too good to break?" Matthew's mouth was tight with worry. It wasn't surprising that he was concerned. Last time we were here, I hadn't been able to light the Halloween pumpkins. I located the loose ends of the bindings and grinned.
"No knots. Sarah's good, but she's not a weaver." I'd tucked my Elizabethan silks into the waistband of my leggings. When I pulled them free, the green and brown cords in my hand reached out and latched onto Sarah's spell, loosening the restrictions my aunt had placed on the door faster than even our master thief Jack could have managed it.
Sarah's Honda was parked inside the barn.
"How the hell are we going to fit you into that?" I wondered.
"I'll manage," Matthew said, tossing our clothes into the back. He handed me the briefcase, folded himself into the front seat, and after a few false starts the car sputtered to life.
"Where next?" I asked, fastening my seat belt.
"Syracuse. Then Montreal. Then Amsterdam, where I have a house." Matthew put the car into drive and quietly rolled it into the field. "If anyone is watching for us, they'll be looking in New York, London, and Paris."
"We don't have passports," I observed.
"Look under the mat. Marcus would have told Sarah to leave them there," He said. I peeled up the filthy mats and found Matthew's French passport and my American one.
"Why isn't your passport burgundy?" I asked, taking them out of the sealed plastic bag (another Em touch, I thought).
"Because it's a diplomatic passport." He steered out onto the road and switched on the headlights. "There should be one for you."
My French diplomatic passport, inscribed with the name Diana de Clermont and noting my marital status relative to Matthew, was folded inside the ordinary U.S. version. How Marcus had managed to duplicate my passport photograph without damaging the original was anyone's guess.
"Are you a spy now, too?" I asked faintly.
"No. It's like the helicopters," he replied with a smile, "just another perk associated with being a de Clermont."
I left Syracuse as Diana Bishop and entered Europe the next day as Diana de Clermont. Matthew's house in Amsterdam turned out to be a seventeenth-century mansion on the most beautiful stretch of the Herengracht. He had, Matthew explained, bought it right after he left Scotland in 1605.
We lingered there only long enough to shower and change clothes. I kept on the same leggings that I'd worn since Madison, and swapped out my shirt for one of Matthew's. He donned his habitual gray and black cashmere and wool. It was odd not to see his legs. I'd grown accustomed to their being on display.
"It seems a fair trade," Matthew commented. "I haven't seen your legs for months, except in the privacy of our bedchamber."
Matthew nearly had a heart attack when he discovered that his beloved Range Rover was not waiting for him in the underground garage. Instead we found a blue sports car with a soft top.
"I'm going to kill him," Matthew said when he saw the low-slung vehicle. He used his house key to unlock a metal box bolted to the wall. Inside were another key and a note: "Welcome home. No one will expect you to be driving this. It's safe. And fast. Hi, Diana. M."
"What is it?" I said, looking at the airplane-style dials set into a flashy chrome dashboard.
"A Spyker Spyder. Marcus collects cars named after arachnids." Matthew activated the car doors, and they scissored up like the wings on a jet fighter. He swore. "It's the most conspicuous car imaginable."
We only made it as far as Belgium before Matthew pulled in to a car dealership, handed over the keys to Marcus's car, and pulled off the lot in something bigger and far less fun to drive. Safe in its heavy, boxy confines, we entered into France and some hours later began our slow ascent through the mountains of the Auvergne to Sept-Tours.
Glimpses of the fortress flickered between the trees-the pinkish gray stone, a dark tower window. I couldn't help drawing comparisons between the castle and its adjacent town now and how it had looked when last I saw it in 1590. This time no smoke hung over Saint-Lucien in a gray pall. A sound of distant bells made me turn my head, thinking to spot the descendants of the goats I had known coming home for their evening meal. Pierre wouldn't rush out with torches to meet us, though. Chef wasn't in the kitchen decapitating pheasants with a cleaver as the freshly killed game was efficiently prepared to feed both warmbloods and vampires.
And there would be no Philippe, and therefore no shouts of laughter, shrewd observations on human frailty lifted from Euripides, or acute insights into the problems that would face us now that we had returned to the present. How long would it take to stop bracing myself for the rush of motion and bellow of sound that heralded Philippe's arrival in a room? My heart hurt at the thought of my father-in-law. This harshly lit, fast-paced modern world had no place for heroes such as he.
"You're thinking of my father," Matthew murmured. Our silent rituals of a vampire's blood-taking and a witch's kiss had strengthened our ability to gauge each other's thoughts.
"So are you," I observed. He had been since we'd crossed over the border into France.
"The chateau has felt empty to me since the day he died. It has provided refuge, but little comfort." Matthew's eyes lifted to the castle, then settled back on the road before us. The air was heavy with responsibility and a son's need to live up to his father's legacy.
"Maybe it will be different this time. Sarah and Em are there. Marcus, too. Not to mention Sophie and Nathaniel. And Philippe is still here, if only we can learn to focus on his presence rather than his absence." He would be in the shadows of every room, every stone in the walls. I studied my husband's beautifully austere face, understanding better how experience and pain had shaped it. One hand curved around my belly, while the other sought him out to offer the comfort he so desperately needed.
His fingers clasped mine, squeezed. Then Matthew released me, and we didn't speak for a time. My fingers soon beat an impatient tattoo on my thigh in the quiet, however, and I was tempted several times to open the car's moonroof and fly to the chateau's front door.
"Don't you dare." Matthew's wide grin softened the warning note in his voice. I returned his smile as he downshifted around a deep curve.
"Hurry, then," I said, scarcely able to control myself. Despite my entreaties the speedometer stayed exactly where it was. I groaned with impatience. "We should have stuck with Marcus's car."
"Patience. We're almost there." And there's no chance of my going any faster, Matthew thought as he downshifted again.
"What did Sophie say about Nathaniel's driving when she was pregnant? 'He drives like an old lady.'"
"Imagine how Nathaniel might drive if he actually was an old lady-a centuries-old old lady, like me. That's how I will drive for the rest of my days, so long as you are in the car." He reached for my hand again, bringing it to his lips.
"Both hands on the wheel, old lady," I joked as we rounded the last bend, putting a straight stretch of road and walnut trees between us and the chateau's courtyard.
Hurry, I begged him silently. My eyes fixed on the roof of Matthew's tower as it came into view. When the car slowed, I looked at him in confusion.
"They've been expecting us," he explained, angling his head toward the windshield.
Sophie, Ysabeau, and Sarah were waiting, motionless, in the middle of the road.
Daemon, vampire, witch-and one more. Ysabeau held a baby in her arms. I could see its rich brown thatch of hair and chubby, long legs. One of the baby's hands was wrapped firmly around a strand of the vampire's honeyed locks, while her other hand stretched imperiously in our direction. There was a tiny, undeniable tingle when the baby's eyes focused on me. Sophie and Nathaniel's child was a witch, just as she had foretold.
I unbuckled the seat belt, flung the door open, and sped up the road before Matthew could bring the car to a complete stop. Tears streamed down my face, and Sarah ran to enfold me in familiar textures of fleece and flannel, surrounding me with the scents of henbane and vanilla.
Home, I thought.
"I'm so glad you're back safely," she said fiercely.
Over Sarah's shoulder I watched while Sophie gently took the baby from Ysabeau's grasp. Matthew's mother's face was as inscrutable and lovely as ever, but the tightness around her mouth suggested strong emotions as she gave up the child. That tightness was one of Matthew's tells, too. They were so much more similar in flesh and blood than the method of Matthew's making would suggest was possible.
Pulling myself loose from Sarah's embrace, I turned to Ysabeau.
"I was not sure you would come back. You were gone so long. Then Margaret began to demand that we take her to the road, and it was possible for me to believe that you might return to us safely after all." Ysabeau searched my face for some piece of information that I had not yet given her.
"We're back now. To stay." There had been enough loss in her long life. I kissed her softly on one cheek, then the other.
"Bien," she murmured with relief. "It will please us all to have you here-not just Margaret." The baby heard her name and began to chant "D-d-d-d" while her arms and legs moved like eggbeaters in an attempt to get to me. "Clever girl," Ysabeau said approvingly, giving Margaret and then Sophie a pat on the head.
"Do you want to hold your goddaughter?" Sophie asked. Her smile was wide, though there were tears in her eyes.
"Please," I said, taking the baby into my arms in exchange for a kiss on Sophie's cheek. Margaret felt so substantial.
"Hello, Margaret," I whispered, breathing in her baby smell.
"D-d-d-d." Margaret grabbed a hank of my hair and began to wave it around in her fist.
"You are a troublemaker," I said with a laugh. She dug her feet into my ribs and grunted in protest.
"She's as stubborn as her father, even though she's a Pisces," Sophie said serenely. "Sarah went through the ceremony in your place. Agatha was here. She's gone at the moment, but I suspect she'll be back soon. She and Marthe made a special cake wrapped up in strands of sugar. It was amazing. And Margaret's dress was beautiful. You sound different-as if you spent a lot of time in a foreign country. And I like your hair. It's different, too. Are you hungry?" Sophie's words came out of her mouth in a disorganized tumble, just like Tom or Jack. I felt the loss of our friends, even here in the midst of our family.
After kissing Margaret on the forehead, I handed her back to her mother. Matthew was still standing behind the Range Rover's open door, one foot in the car and the other resting on the ground of the Auvergne, as if he were unsure if we should be there.
"Where's Em?" I asked. Sarah and Ysabeau exchanged a look.
"Everybody is waiting for you in the chateau. Why don't we walk back?" Ysabeau suggested. "Just leave the car. Someone will get it. You must want to stretch your legs."
I put my arm around Sarah and took a few steps. Where was Matthew? I turned and held out my free hand. Come to your family, I said silently as our eyes connected. Come be with the people who love you.
He smiled, and my heart leaped in response.
Ysabeau hissed in surprise, a sibilant noise that carried in the summer air more surely than a whisper. "Heartbeats. Yours. And . . . two more?" Her beautiful green eyes darted to my abdomen and a tiny red drop welled up and threatened to fall. Ysabeau looked to Matthew in wonder. He nodded, and his mother's blood tear fully formed and slid down her cheek.
"Twins run in my family," I said by way of explanation. Matthew had detected the second heartbeat in Amsterdam, just before we'd climbed into Marcus's Spyder.
"Mine, too," Ysabeau whispered. "Then it is true, what Sophie has seen in her dreams? You are with child-Matthew's child?"
"Children," I said, watching the blood tear's slow progress.
"It's a new beginning, then," Sarah said, wiping a tear from her own eye. Ysabeau gave my aunt a bittersweet smile.
"Philippe had a favorite saying about beginnings. Something ancient. What was it, Matthieu?" Ysabeau asked her son.
Matthew stepped fully out of the car at last, as if some spell had been holding him back and its conditions had finally been met. He walked the few steps to my side, then kissed his mother softly on the cheek before reaching out and clasping my hand.
"'Omni fine initium novum,'" Matthew said, gazing upon the land of his father as though he had, at last, come home.
"'In every ending there is a new beginning.'"